The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'hip-hop'
Rapper, actor and performer Heavy D has passed away, aged 44. Born Dwight Arrington Myers in Jamaica, Heavy D made a name for himself in the New Jack Swing movement of the late 1980s and saw success during the period when hip-hop first hit the pop charts.
The New York Times has an article on Clyde Stubblefield, one of the most influential drummers of the recorded-music age, largely by virtue of him having drummed for James Brown, and particularly on a B-side titled Funky Drummer, whose drum break became one of the most sampled loops ever:
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mr. Stubblefield was first inspired by the industrial rhythms of the factories and trains around him, and he got his start playing with regional bands. One day in 1965 Brown saw him at a club in Macon, Ga., and hired him on the spot. Through 1971 Mr. Stubblefield was one of Brown’s principal drummers, and on songs like “Cold Sweat” and “Mother Popcorn” he perfected a light-touch style filled with the off-kilter syncopations sometimes called ghost notes.
The technology and conventions of sampling — isolating a musical snippet from one recording and reusing it for another — also kept him from greater recognition. “Funky Drummer” didn’t appear on an album until 1986, when it was on “In the Jungle Groove,” a Brown collection that was heavily picked over by the new generation of sampler-producers....and the rest was history, with the entire hip-hop world, and then everybody from Madonna to Kenny G who wanted to grab some of that streetwise cool for themselves, sampling the Funky Drummer break to ubiquity. Soon the record labels and collection agencies got wind of this and started making demands for royalties (at one time, PolyGram apparently had four people working full-time, listening to new releases for uncleared James Brown samples). Unfortunately for Stubblefield, musical copyright law puts little weight on rhythm in ascribing authorship, and consequently he has received little in the way of royalties.
Stubblefield didn't stop with the Funky Drummer; a lifelong career musician, he has been playing in bands and on records ever since (fellow Madison, Wisconsin resident Butch Vig got him in on 1990s alternative band Garbage's first record, on the grounds that it'd be nuts to use a sample when the actual drummer lives nearby). Unfortunately, now his health is declining and, like many American musicians, he has no health insurance (in the US, unless you're either wealthy or a full-time employee, health insurance is generally unaffordable). To make money, Stubblefield has recorded a set of sampled drum loops, which may be licensed for 15% of any commercial sales, and also has a special edition of the sampling documentary Copyright Criminals. Or, if you want to throw him a few bucks, you can do so here.
The Rap Guide To Human Nature is a hip-hop album about evolutionary psychology by a Canadian "rap troubador" named Baba Brinkman. It's not a joke: the beats are sharp, and Brinkman rhymes with the speed and dexterity of an accomplished rapper, deftly laying out the theories and controversies of evolutionary psychology, from kin selection to the biological roots of religious and political belief, twin studies to alternative models of human nature, and of course to areas such as sexual competition and social status where hip-hop culture and evolutionary psychology intersect. Note that, as expected from rap, the lyrics are probably not suitable for children.
(via Mind Hacks)
Police emergency phone lines in Manchester are being tied up by a nuisance caller who "chants, raps, sings, preaches and plays loud music" at the call handlers, often for five minutes at a time. The handlers are not allowed to hang up on a caller. The Greater Manchester Police have already blocked about 60 SIM cards he has called from, which has little effect; with cheap prepaid SIM cards, the mystery nuisance rapper seems to be making his way through the pool of unallocated mobile numbers:
During many of the calls, the operator answers the phone to be met with a barrage of music and rants. His rapping is difficult to decipher but during one call he started shouting about his citizen's rights.Greater Manchester Police have taken the unusual step of releasing a recording of one of his raps, in an attempt to track him down. Which could have unintended consequences; if that became standard practice, nuisance calls to emergency services could become the next bootleg grimetape distribution channel after MP3 blogs—you get your rap out, and are acknowledged as a police-certified badass at the same time.
Meanwhile, there's a small mystery of a less antisocial sort in Aberdeen, where the Google Street View van photographed a man with a horse's head.
Pitchfork has an interesting roundup of the music scenes in West Africa today; these have little to do with the "Afrobeat" that is a hipster touchstone in the West, which is ancient history over there:
The picture is so selective, actually, that many of my West African acquaintances might not recognize most of the music their country sells on the world stage. To take one example, Ghana's most famous musical export r emains highlife, a calypso- and jazz-influenced concoction birthed in the 50s by big bands like E.T. Mensah and the Tempos. Today, E.T. and his contemporaries are rarely played, performed, or discussed in public in Ghana; highlife tête (old/classic highlife) instead refers to mid-80s drum machine funk stars like Daddy Lumba and Kojo Antwi, artists who crooned like Luther Vandross over ultra-slick productions.Music in West Africa has moved at a rapid pace, fuelled by a baby boom eclipsing that experienced by America and Europe in the 1950s, and the availability of both high-end and low-end music-production technology (apparently Fruity Loops is huge over there). Of course, there's a panoply of scenes there, with different countries having their own scenes, and some scenes owing more to American or Caribbean music than others.
Ivoirian rhythms are so twitchy that crunk would have come like a tranquilizer on this dance-hungry, hyper-rhythmic nation. Some of the planet's best dancehalls and worst roadblocks are here, a testament to two of the country's nighttime priorities: clubbing and government extortion. The capital's CD shops are stocked with charismatic mic-hogs, loudmouths, and humor-mongers belting out tragic stories in the soothing tone of a drill sergeant. Military lockdown no doubt changed the way Ivoirians flow, the way their snare drums patter, the way their dance moves shake like the heebie-jeebies (e.g., the Bird Flu dance of 2006). This is post-traumatic stress rap. The explosive urban strain, the boastful comedy, and the displacement are all familiar. So too is the obsession with wealth and wealthier places that gave the genre its name: "Coupe Decale". In the Ivoirian French, it means to steal and run; to go out and explore the world, swipe a Parisian's pocketbook, then dash back to Abidjan.
And then there's the complex matter of the "Ghana Rap" contingent, the chunk that wants to be accepted as rappers-- members of the Black American experience-- first and Ghanaians second... It's tempting to write these guys off as social misfits-- bright minds in a struggling, post-colonial nation to compete for membership in a contest that doesn't even acknowledge their existence-- when they spend time channeling rap to imagine themselves as part of an American underworld they know little about. But there's plenty in it for their audience, too: There's something invigorating about hearing one's globally devalued local tongue voiced over a hip-hop beat, a real hip-hop beat with unpolished synth squeals, a reverberated handclap.
Perhaps because they don't deal with such a tiny, cash-strapped market, the Nigerian artists tend to be more confident, more refined, and more likely to cross the sea. Although the nation could do without more tired Internet fraud associations, I recommend most heartily Olu Maintain's "Yahooze"-- a single about scamming suckers online and wasting the money on Hennessey. More slick and more serious is Storm Records, whose roster has largely managed the nimble knack of mastering American idioms without being tripped up by the specifics (check out Naeto C, "Kini Big Deal", Ikechukwu, "Shobedobedoo"). These are the sorts of hits that don't demand the same kind of sociological preface that an Asem record calls for, and they could more easily travel.The article includes a lot of embedded audio streams with examples of the songs mentioned.
Unfortunately chosen brand name of the moment: Russian gas company Gazprom has recently launched a joint venture with the Nigerian gas firm NNPC. Unfortunately, the name they chose for their joint venture is Nigaz. Word.
I wonder whether the problem was caused by some Russian executive being unaware of pejorative words in English, or whether the name was deliberately chosen so that they can have a totally wicked gangsta-rap company anthem.
The International Herald Tribune has an article on underground hip-hop in China:
Dozens of hip-hop clubs have opened up in cities across the country, and thousands of raps and music videos by Chinese M.C.'s are spreading over the Internet. But making Chinese hip-hop is still a relatively profitless - and often subversive - activity. Some Chinese rappers address what they see as the country's most glaring injustices.
Shuo chang, the Chinese word for hip-hop, translates to "speak sing" and is a loaded term. It also describes a contentious subject for musicians, producers and fans in China. Hong Kong, mainland and Taiwanese pop stars who have their own spin on hip-hop dominate the mainstream here. Many tack high-speed raps onto the end of their songs, even ballads, and consider themselves rappers.Of course, fans of mainstream rap—clean, professional and uncontroversial enough to get played on Government-approved radio—would beg to differ:
Jay Chou, a popular pop singer turned rapper from Taiwan who has been featured in advertisements for Pepsi, Panasonic and China Mobile, is the archetype of a mainstream performer here. Clean-cut and handsome, he appeals to a sense of nationalist pride. His hit song "Huo Yuanjia" is based on a patriotic Chinese martial artist glorified in Chinese textbooks for traveling the country to challenge foreigners in physical combat. Fans of Chou vehemently assert that his music is hip-hop, while denigrating groups like Yin Tsar.
"I don't know what groups like Yin Tsar are trying to do," said Hua Lina, 35, an accountant. "They dress like bums, and sometimes they take off their shirts at performances, screaming like animals. Their lyrics are dirty - why would I want to pay to see that?"While the media in China is tightly controlled, and the internet is notoriously monitored by armies of censors, the country's music clubs are generally left alone, so those who don't mind reaching a small audience at a time can say more or less what they like.
Nerdcore hip-hop has made it into the Graun:
Obviously, that doesn't mean there were only eight people rapping on nerdy themes. Jazzy Jeff was doing just that a full two decades ago, and the lineage runs through MC Paul Barman, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, various Madlib and Kool Keith projects and even Lupe Fiasco. Yet these aren't nerdcore artists, not least because they never claimed to be; nerdcore, Frontalot tells me, is strictly an "opt-in identity".
In Nerdcore for Life, MC Chris makes a similar point, noting that mainstream hip-hop is getting geekier, to the point where even Jay-Z records now contain references to comic books and superheroes. High-C takes the argument even further: "The whole definition of a nerd is expanding. Everybody in the US uses computers, a great many of them play video games, and comic books are really coming back for adults. So there's a little bit of nerd in us all."Not surprisingly, nerdcore hip-hop has its critics. Some people think it's all a joke or a parody, and others regard it as inherently racist, being white people mocking black culture for their amusement. That claim, though, is predicated on the assumptions that (a) hip-hop is exclusively black culture and when white people do it, they're appropriating a black identity (which, given that there's a generation of non-Afro-American people who grew up listening to NWA and Public Enemy (not to mention the Beastie Boys) and for whom, hip-hop is pop music, seems a little naïve), and (b) that nerdcore is a joke or gimmick, like a Weird Al Yankovic novelty record or office gangsta Herbert "H-Dog" Kornfeld, rather than an authentic cultural expression from people within both the hip-hop and geek cultures:
Dan Lamoureux, whose Nerdcore For Life depicts black and Asian as well as white nerdcore artists, responds thus: "I spent more than two years studying nerdcore, and never once did I encounter anyone that I thought was trying to insult or disparage people of another race. The genre is not a parody. A lot of the music is very witty, but the primary goal isn't to make people laugh. I think that the confusion comes from the antiquated and prejudiced assumption that hip-hop is 'black' music and shouldn't be attempted by people of other races. The whole point of hip-hop is that it's supposed to be the voice of the people. It's evolved into a truly global art form, and the music is so ubiquitous that it's even permeated into geek culture."
Indeed, if a key tenet of hip-hop is "keeping it real", then a fantasy obsessive is being less true to the genre by pretending to have more bullet scars than 50 Cent than he is by rapping about Lord of the Rings. Though admittedly, Lords of the Rhymes, who in Nerdcore for Life do exactly that while dressed in Middle Earth costumes, remain on the wrong side of the crucial distinction made in the same film by MC Lars: between being "fun" but still being taken seriously, and being "funny", and hence perceived as a joke.
As France's right-wing bête noire president Nicolas Sarkozy's image is softened by his romance with an ex-model, his son, a hip-hop producer under the name "Mosey", is working with militantly political rappers from the banlieues, including a rapper named Poison (of no relation to the 1980s hair-metal band):
Mr Sarkozy, as Interior Minister, ordered the prosecution of half a dozen rappers for insulting the police and became their bête noir with his drive to “clean out the layabouts” from the estates. His creation of a Ministry of National Identity further fired the anti-Sarko ire of the rap world.
“I’m not a Sarkozy guy, I don’t give a s***,” said Poison, whose name is pronounced the English way. “The guy brought me some music. He does good sh**. I didn’t know at the start that it was the son of Sarko. When I found out, I blew a fuse and phoned him. He said ‘Yeah, but Poison, I didn’t wanna tell you ‘cos you wouldn’t wanna hang out wid me no more’. I told him, hey, no problem. You never done me wrong. We’ll bust nobody’s balls, we’ll just do good stuff.” In an anti-Sarkozy video with other rap singers last year, Poison chanted: “Anti-Sarko, anti-right, Nicolas don’t you hear. We’re anti-you.”I wonder whether Poison's working relationship with Mosey, or his status in the French hip-hop underground, will survive the publicity; I suspect something may have to give.
Something I didn't know until now: 1980s female rapper Roxanne Shanté (capsule summary: everything Missy Elliott did, she did 15 years earlier) is now a practicing psychologist in New York, having gotten her Ph.D by way of getting her label to write paying for her education into her contract and riding that sucker all the way, as she explains here.
(via Mind Hacks)
Nerdcore For Life is a documentary, currently in production, about the Nerdcore hip-hop scene; this is a predominantly American phenomenon, in which members of IT/geek subcultures have embraced hip-hop as a medium, producing beats on computer-based studios, recording raps about topics such as computers, cult sci-fi books/movies and copyright reform, and mostly releasing them as MP3s or via streaming internet radio shows. Some Nerdcore rappers take the hip-hop medium more seriously than others; the approach varies from straight adoption of the rap idiom to talk about issues of geek interest to self-referential parodies of mainstream hip-hop bordering on the Weird Al-esque.
Here is a 4 1/2-minute trailer for the documentary; it seems pretty interesting.
(via Boing Boing)
A UK university study has found correlations between musical taste and various aspects of lifestyle. According to the study, there is a positive correlation between fondness for hip-hop and dance music and sexual promiscuity, drug use, having committed (or claiming to have committed) crimes, and not giving a fuck about the environment or social justice (see also: "Get Rich Or Die Tryin'"). Which sounds like they have just discovered the Chav phenomenon.
In other surprises: fans of opera and classical music are most likely to have PhDs, have high incomes and not accumulate excessive credit card debt, and (along with jazz fans, who are a shade beneath them) are most likely to drink wine.
Skeet Spirit is a collection of Radiohead songs reinterpreted (rather loosely) in the "crunk" style (i.e., as an aggressive, hypersexualised thug music somewhere between Miami Booty Bass and gangsta rap). Includes songs like "No Sizzuruprises", "Creepin' (On Dat Ass)", and "Talk Show Hoes".
(via Boing Boing)
Slate's John Cook looks at the issue of whether disliking hip-hop makes one a racist, and specifically, whether allegations of racism against Stephin Merritt, who has made statements about his dislike of hip-hop, are justified:
[N]o less an influential music critic than The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones has used that word —"cracker"—to describe him. Frere-Jones has also called him "Stephin 'Southern Strategy' Merritt," presumably in reference to Richard Nixon's race-baiting attempt to crush the Democratic Party. These are heady words, part of a two-year online campaign of sorts by Frere-Jones (also a former Slate music critic) and the Chicago Reader music contributor Jessica Hopper to brand Merritt a racist. The charge: He doesn't like hip-hop, and on those occasions when he's publicly discussed his personal music tastes, he has criticized black artists.The Slate article concludes that the charges are, if you'll excuse the pun, without merit:
If black artists are underrepresented in my CD collection relative to the frequency with which black people are found in the general population, does that make me a racist? To even begin to believe that it does, you have to first maintain that racial preferences somehow logically relate to music preferences; that racists avoid music made by black people, and that people who aren't racist don't pay attention to the race of the artist when evaluating music. Both propositions are ludicrous. Anybody who has been to a frat party knows that people can simultaneously a) entertain racist attitudes and b) enjoy listening to hip-hop music created by black people. (In fact, Merritt's argument is that the latter tends to reinforce the former.)
The closest thing to a coherent argument that can be gleaned from what Frere-Jones and Hopper are saying is that a genuine respect for our common dignity and humanity requires that we enjoy listening to hip-hop, and that we bend our intuitive aesthetic judgments about music to a political will—like eating our vegetables and avoiding dessert. "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" may be catchy and delightfully mindless, but an understanding of its context requires you to reject its charms. And Beyoncé may be trite and boring, but your subtle racist ideology provokes that reaction, so you must find a way to appreciate her music.
And if you can't? Try harder, cracker.Of course, it depends whether on one's definition of "racist". If one defines racism as any deviation (outside a margin of sampling error) from the ratios in which racial/ethnic/cultural groups are represented in the cultural marketplace, then disproportionately liking "white" or "black" music would be racist; as would, for example, being more attracted to members of one ethnic group than another. However, such a definition of racism would damn almost the entire human race, and do little towards defining more meaningful definitions. And then there's the question (which Merritt himself raised) of whether some present hip-hop, which presents stereotypical images of black criminality for the consumption of predominantly suburban white teenagers, is problematic. Which suggests that this issue is not entirely cut and dried.
(Note the quotes around "black" and "white" music. The definition is a slippery one. Is expensively produced, extensively market-researched R&B, which would not exist in its present form without major-record-label investment and a huge market not limited to any one ethnic group, authentic "black" music? What if you replace R. Kelly with Justin Timberlake? Is Jennifer Lopez (who once considered herself entitled to use the N-word in lyrics) an honorary black person for the purposes of musical consumption? Is rock'n'roll (which is based on the blues) "white" music. And then there's Elvis Presley, Al Jolson and so on. In some ways, what gets classified as "black" music is that whose sound hasn't yet melted into the lexicon of the mainstream. The Spice Girls' first single, "Wannabe" (which, at the time, sounded closer to Salt'n'Pepa than the white manufactured all-girl pop groups from PWL and their ilk), could be said to sound more "black" than much of Prince's 1980s output (which, today, sounds more "1980s" than anything racially or ethnically specific.) And rock'n'roll, once seen as dangerously swarthy by pillars of (white) communities everywhere, is now the very definition of "whitebread", almost as much so as country music.
And in this discussion thread, Steve Albini weighs in on the issue:
Having had a distaste for hip hop since its earliest days, I have run afoul of this mentality for twenty-odd years. If you are involved in contemporary music, it is presumed that you appreciate hip-hop, or are at least deferential toward it as an arm of black culture.
I have equivalent genre distaste for almost all heavy metal (hip hop's culture-mirror equivalent), pastiche production pop music like Brintey Spears, Beyonce, Avril Lavigne et al, the REM-U2-Radiohead axis of millionaire dabbling, trash auteurs like Outkast, Beck and the Beastie Boys, teenager fake punk, and melismatic divas like Celine Dion. This is less in service of elitism than in making it possible for me to walk directly to the part of the record store where the good records are. I know what kinds of music speak to me the least, so I don't spend my energy combing through them looking for exceptions.
Picking on a tiny Southern queer for his music tastes and calling him a "cracker" is about as stupid as criticism can get.
A fairly comprehensive explanation of l33tspeak, its origins, variations (including B1FF/newbie/OMGWTFBBQ!!!1!-speak) and cultural connotations. Also, an article on the "-izzle" suffix in hip-hop slang, and Anglicisms in German.
(via bOING bOING)
The BBC looks inside the world of pirate radio stations:
"These stations don't just play music - they keep communities informed as to what's going on," says Lynx who now appears on Newstyle, a station with a community licence. "Pirate radio is not just about this protest, it gives platforms to local talent, helps create local events and communicates what is going on. They're not doing anything different to legal stations."
"We know that station owners charge DJs for slots on their stations and some are turning over more than £5,000 in untaxed income a week. Many raids on pirate stations have uncovered links to drugs," says a spokesman for Ofcom. "We've had pirate stations playing a particular song as code to local gangs, telling them drugs are available for collection."
But many pirate stations build an audience on strident views. One south London station is notorious for its presenters' uncharitable views of white people; rather ironically, its signal very often cuts across that fortress of Middle England, BBC Radio Four.
A video game simulating being a graffiti artist is in the works. Titled Getting Up, it was developed with the involvement of hip-hop streetwear mogul Mark Ecko and various veteran graffitiists and urban artists (including Shepard Fairey of Obey Giant fame). (I wonder whether Banksy approved of the rat-shaped stencil that's visible in the Flash site.) It's said to be an accurate simulation of the activity of tagging/doing pieces and avoiding the police, and has a story line about an evil, megalomanic mayor (which sounds like Turk 182 meets Rudy Giuliani). No word on when it's coming out or what platforms on.
Among the hipsters of Williamsburg, New York, the next step after freely using the N-word in the knowledge that one's postmodern ironic detachment automatically gives one the level of enlightenment to get out of any accusations of racism is having parties parodying the illest crunk thugged-out sex-nasty excesses of black culture in a safe (i.e., all-white, all-hipster) environment:
What that means, precisely, is debatable, but it has something to do with young white hipsters believing they can shed white privilege by parodying the black hip-hop life. In this way, they hope to escape their uptight conditioning and get in touch with the looser soul within them.
Of course, it's arguable whether it's not just privileged white kids poking fun at (a parody of) black culture for a laugh, reaffirming that they're above it because they can don it as a costume and then take it off, and then going back to their privileged white lives, smug in the awareness of their superiority; much like hipster appropriations of working-class culture (trucker caps and redneck paraphernalia), only with an added racial dimension. The counter-argument would be along the lines of the hipsters in question being sufficiently enlightened, by virtue of their postmodern upbringing, to be exempt from accusations of racism, which is a rather debatable proposition.
A few months ago, 29-year-old Sharda Sekaran was hitting dance spots with friends when she stumbled into a Kill Whitie party. "There was a bunch of white people acting like a raunchy hip-hop video," she said. "I don't get why that wouldn't be a characterization of black people for the entertainment of themselves."
Casady was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., but quickly notes her worldliness by listing the cities where she has lived along the trail to Brooklyn. A regular Kill Whitie partygoer, she tried the conventional (that is, non-hipster) hip-hop clubs but found the men "really hard-core." In this vastly whiter scene, Casady said that "it's a safe environment to be freaky."
His street fliers come emblazoned with the words "Kill Whitie" across a woman's backside. Another flier offers free admission to anyone with a bucket of fried chicken.It's not just New York's hipsters either; I seem to recall hearing that some of the Melbourne Shake Some Action coolsies were getting really into the booty-bass thing a year or so ago.
An interesting and comprehensive documentary about the Amen break (QuickTime video), giving examples of its history from The Winstons' B-side Amen Brother to its influence on hip-hop and jungle, its appropriation and fetishisation by pretentious people with PowerBooks, and its subsequent ubiquitification into the wallpaper of consumer culture, and the (increasingly paradoxical) issues of copyright.
(One of the claims made is that The Winstons do not defend their copyright of the Amen break, though that hasn't stopped sample-CD companies from releasing their own versions of it and claiming copyrights on them.)
(There's also one on the cultural history of the Roland TB-303, though I haven't seen that yet.)
According to a new report, the widespread adoption of (commercial) hip-hop culture and the chav lifestyle by Britain's youth is affecting their educational and career prospects:
"The lure of popular 'bling bling' and Nike identities impacted on young people's engagement with schooling. A widespread and heavy investment in branded identities ("we're Nike people") shaped pupils' aspirations and engagement with schooling," the report continued.
"Desire for fashionable clothes, trainers and accessories meant that many young people wanted to leave school and start earning money as soon as possible. Higher education did not fit with these desired identities and was seen as an unattractive option that would not allow a young people to (afford to) 'be myself'," it said.
(One may well ask, what else is new. School has never been considered "cool", and dropping out to become a bricklayer or filing clerk, live in a bedsit and spend all one's money on flash clothes and partying all weekend dates back to the end of post-WW2 rationing. (Granted, the Mods who pioneered that did it with a lot more style than the thug-wannabes in gold jewellery and Burberry shellsuits.) Which left the picked-on high-school dorks to actually achieve anything other than a dead-end job later in life.
"Lot of the girls were coming into conflict with schools for 'speaking their mind' - there's a notion of being a strong woman - like Beyonce. This was being interpreted by schools as aggressive."(Do they need Beyonce for that? I thought watching EastEnders would have been enough.)
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, of Thatcherite-populist musical fame, is planning to sell several of the theatres he owns in London's West End; now it emerges that one of the potential buyers is bling-bling superstar P. Diddy. That says it all, really. (xia xrrf)
No, it's not some Japanese sexual fetish, but rather the latest teenage fad from England, combining the two national preoccupations of physical violence and mobile phones. Happy Slapping involves gangs of young malchicks on buses and trains slapping strangers in the face and recording their reactions on their phones.
Public Enemy's Chuck D and Hank Shocklee on how copyright law changed hip-hop; or the impact that the increasingly greedy demands of owners of samples had on the evolution of hip-hop:
The first thing that was starting to happen by the late 1980s was that the people were doing buyouts. You could have a buyout--meaning you could purchase the rights to sample a sound--for around $1,500. Then it started creeping up to $3,000, $3,500, $5,000, $7,500. Then they threw in this thing called rollover rates. If your rollover rate is every 100,000 units, then for every 100,000 units you sell, you have to pay an additional $7,500. A record that sells two million copies would kick that cost up twenty times. Now you're looking at one song costing you more than half of what you would make on your album.
We were forced to start using different organic instruments, but you can't really get the right kind of compression that way. A guitar sampled off a record is going to hit differently than a guitar sampled in the studio. The guitar that's sampled off a record is going to have all the compression that they put on the recording, the equalization. It's going to hit the tape harder. It's going to slap at you. Something that's organic is almost going to have a powder effect. It hits more like a pillow than a piece of wood. So those things change your mood, the feeling you can get off of a record. If you notice that by the early 1990s, the sound has gotten a lot softer.
Stay Free!: So is that one reason why a lot of popular hip-hop songs today just use one hook, one primary sample, instead of a collage of different sounds?
Chuck D: Exactly. There's only one person to answer to. Dr. Dre changed things when he did The Chronic and took something like Leon Haywood's "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" and revamped it in his own way but basically kept the rhythm and instrumental hook intact. It's easier to sample a groove than it is to create a whole new collage. That entire collage element is out the window.
Teenagers in Britain are obsessively going to tanning salons in a quest to look like heroes/success symbols like "Posh and Becks".
Real Story features a 13-year-old girl from Liverpool, identified as a blackspot for tanorexics, who has been visiting tanning parlours up to five times a week for the past year. Hayley Barrow, whose grandmother has skin cancer, explained: "If I haven't been on one [a sunbed] for one day I feel white, I feel transparent."
(Interesting that she mentions feeling "white" as a negative consequence of not tanning enough; I wonder whether there is a racial-aspirational dimension to this; with black groups and artists dominating the charts in recent years and (if the BBC's quizzes are to be believed) British kids speaking fluent US Hip-Hop Ebonics amongst themselves, whether having heavily tanned skin makes today's kids feel more "ghetto" or at one with their adopted culture. Judging by young Hayley's photo (she looks more like a white actor from a less politically-correct decade in blackface than a suntanned celebrity), it doesn't seem too far-fetched.)
"They call it the Posh and Becks syndrome," said Andy Carr, organiser of the Elite Teens disco. They want the tans, they want the clothes, they want the money."
Morrissey, who has just released an album, has been somewhat outspoken lately; among other things, he asserts that Britney Spears is the devil, and owns up to not understanding hip-hop, and not listening to the radio anymore because it is too painful.
Hip-hop is going adult (not to be confused with adult-contemporary), with rappers releasing porn videos, usually starring themselves as masters of ceremonies rather than actors.
Meanwhile, a LA Times article excerpted here on FmH asserts that the reason why the superlatively bland "jazz" singer Norah Jones is so popular is as a reaction against the domination of the charts by hip-hop. (It appears that there's nothing more safe and comforting than the bourgeois, ossified, whitebread contemporary form of what was once regarded as a scary and dangerous (and very black) musical genre; remember the infamous scare quotes from 1930s marijuana prohibition hearings linking the evil weed with "Satanic" jazz music and interracial sex?)
Which all ties in with Ben Butler's assertion that classical traning and codification are killing rock, as they did jazz, using the example of George being the worst band in Australia as a Terrible Example.
Al-Qaeda (whatever that really is) now has a new weapon in its jihad against America: rap music; more precisely, a militant Islamic rap group from Britain calling themselves the Soul Salah Crew, and whose song "Dirty Kuffar", is a hit throughout the Islamosphere:
The song starts with images of US marines in Iraq cheering as one of them shoots a wounded Iraqi lying on the floor. At the end of the video, it features shots of the hijacked planes flying into the Twin Towers with sounds of the rappers laughing. There is then a list of 56 countries they claim have been the 'victims of American aggression' since 1945.
Excerpt from 'Dirty Kuffar':
Peace to Hamas and the Hizbollah
OBL [bin-Laden] pulled me like a shiny star
Like the way we destroyed them two towers ha-ha
The minister Tony Blair, there my dirty Kuffar
The one Mr Bush, there my dirty Kuffar...
Throw them on the fire
Mohammed al-Massari, the Islamic extremist leader and former Saudi dissident whose website is promoting the song, denies that it is an encitement to terrorist attacks against the West, claiming that the lyrics are only metaphorical. Meanwhile, the authorities are investigating the video.
A project tracking references to brands in songs in the Billboard Top 20 has found that, in 2003, there were 82 different brands mentioned in top-20 songs; most of them were brands for prestige products like luxury cars or boutique spirits, and all but one of the songs in question were hip-hop/R&B (the exception was Good Charlotte):
- Hip-hop is the perfect medium to register the relevance of contemporary brands. Hip-hop and rap have always been about the here-and-now, rather than rock or pop songs, which typically focus on eternal themes of love and loss.
Another explanation is that the vocabulary of mainstream hip-hop (or "rap" as some call it, with the word "hip-hop" being reserved for more credible music) has become restricted to assertions of status and power, which is why boutique brands are so important in the genre.
(Hip-hop has disappointed me; once upon a time, it was all rather clever and intelligent -- it started off as an African-American equivalent of punk, using improvised technology (such as turntables) in much the ways that chip musicians do now, with all the resourcefulness that such a new medium entails -- but now it has become rather stupid and atavistic, all about booty and bling-bling and how bad you are and what you'll do to whoever challenges you. Mind you, the definition of "hip-hop" appears to have been lost along the way as well; case in point: Universal's Def Jam division rereleasing a DVD of Al Pacino's Scarface rebranded as a "classic hip-hop movie". I didn't know that this movie contained any rapping, scratching, breakdancing or aerosol art (the "four elements" of hip-hop culture; note the absence of pimpin', bustin' caps or wearing bling-bling jewellery in that list).)
Looking for a present for that special B-Boy in your life? How about a talking Flavor Flav alarm clock, brought to you by hip-hop megabrand Ecko. (via Graham)
we like all you ladies Lookin Sexy with a pepci
So dont look like your pussys tight man you know me
we can do it all night tell the brake of Dawn
But dont get me rong in the morning you got
Leave cause my mother will Bitch at me
Oh, and also via NWD, the latest Trucker Fags in Denial cartoon is up.
Branding and merchandising tie-ins are the big thing in hip-hop these days, and any rapper worth his salt in the MTV world has to have a portfolio of lifestyle product brands to go with their actual CDs. A rapper named Nelly, recently launched plans to add a line of energy drinks to his empire, but has run into opposition from black organisations planning to organise boycotts of the product. The playa-haters in question are objecting to it being called Pimp Juice.
(And I see their point; the fact that a word for one who exploits the labour of prostitutes has come to signify success and status does seem somewhat sick. Much in the way that "thug" has become synonymous with self-worth as a man.)
I recently read a very interesting book (Where You're At, by Patrick Neate) about the spread of hip-hop culture from the inner cities of America to places like Japan, Brazil and South Africa, becoming a sort of lingua franca of globalised pop culture. Today I found an article which ties in to that, about multi-ethnic hip-hop in Israel, a scene which includes everybody from marginalised Arabs to Ethiopians and Moroccan Jewish rappers rhyming in French. I saw another piece some time ago about Palestinian youths on the West Bank taking to rap to voice their grievances; perhaps we really do live on a hip-hop planet.
Today I picked up Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet by Patrick Neate. It's pretty interesting, exploring how the phenomenon of hip-hop has spread across the world and how it has mutated and interacted in contact with other cultures (and with corporate money). A quote which struck me from page 11:
Maybe it's memories of Biggie and Pac because, in spite of myself, I find my thoughts wandering over news footage from Columbine High School after the infamous 'massacre' in 1999. On the slideshow of my mind's eye, my attention is grabbed not by the images of the two gunmen, nor by stereotypes of the 'trenchcoat mafia', but by the snapshots of their fellow students. Whatever alienation motivated the killers to attack the mainstream, there's one association I can't excape. The mainstream was wearing Hilfiger. And listening to hip hop, I'm sure. All this from Herc's first breakbeat.
I'm up to the third chapter so far, and it's a pretty interesting book.
John McWhorter (the Black American linguist who wrote The Power of Babel, a very enlightening natural history of language) writes that hip-hop holds blacks back; in particular, singling out the dominant theme of violence, misogyny and nihilism that passes for "keeping it real" in mainstream hip-hop. (via MeFi)
This evening, I saw Breath Control: the History of the Human Beatbox. This is a documentary about the art of beatboxing, i.e., using one's mouth to make sounds like those of a drum machine (or other instruments). Beatboxing was a key part of hip-hop culture in its early days on the streets of New York, when performers would add beats (to their or other rappers' vocals or between records played by a DJ), and was brought to the public's attention by old-skool artists such as the Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh; then it went out of fashion as everybody got samplers and stopped relying on beatboxing. Beatboxing is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, as a new generation of performers take it beyond the old paradigms of emulating a drum machine, simulating everything from turntables to video games to entire pieces of backing music (at one point in the documentary, one artist plays Salt & Pepa's Push It on a turntable, stops it, takes over the music with his mouth, and then seamlessly restarts it some 16 or so bars later).
It was a pretty interesting documentary: highlights included Congolese-born European artist Marie Dulne (of Zap Mama)'s explanation of the rhythmic characteristics of various languages, from French to African languages to American English, and a rather amusing scene with a music journalist/beatboxer type speaking in his room, with a wall full of vinyl records and an entire shelf of designer sneakers behind him, and of course lots of footage of performances, from street jams in the 1970s to the present day. And then there was the white guy who got into beatboxing from imitating the Smashing Pumpkins' drums, and not via the hip-hop scene; which is living proof that the technique transcends any one subculture. (In fact I'm surprised that it's considered so esoteric; you'd think that hashing out sounds vocally would be as common as singing in the shower.)
The image quality was iffy in places (some of the footage was obviously recorded on consumer-grade video equipment years ago, and looked quite blurry), but that was offset by some very impressive performances; at one stage, the audience broke out in applause for a second or so.
Four years ago, the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, founded as a Buddhist sanctuary and acting as the model for the fictional Shangri-La, became the last nation to introduce television, giving Rupert Murdoch's Star TV the rights to broadcast imported entertainment programming to its citizens. Consequently, the crime rate skyrocketed:
"Until recently, we shied away from killing insects, and yet now we Bhutanese are asked to watch people on TV blowing heads off with shotguns. Will we now be blowing each other's heads off?"
The marijuana that flourishes like a weed in every Bhutanese hedgerow was only ever used to feed pigs before the advent of TV, but police have arrested hundreds for smoking it in recent years. Six employees of the Bank of Bhutan have been sentenced for siphoning off 2.4m ngultrums (£40,000). Six weeks before we arrived, 18 people were jailed after a gang of drunken boys broke into houses to steal foreign currency and a 21-inch television set. During the holy Bishwa Karma Puja celebrations, a man was stabbed in the stomach in a fight over alcohol. A middle-class Thimphu boy is serving a sentence after putting on a bandanna and shooting up the ceiling of a local bar with his dad's new gun. Police can barely control the fights at the new hip-hop night on Saturdays.
Ill Mitch, allegedly a Russian rapper, must be the hip-hop equivalent of "my love for you is like a truck byer-zer-ker". (via bOING bOING)
The composer of a UK Garage song recently sued a rap group for damaging his reputation by using his record as a backing track to a song allegedly about drugs and violence. The case, however, was thrown out of the high court because the judge failed to understand the lyrics, and thus couldn't tell whether the song was derogatory or not:
The judge said the claim "led to the faintly surreal experience of three gentlemen in horsehair wigs [himself and the two barristers in the case] examining the meaning of such phrases as 'mish mish man' and 'shizzle my nizzle'." In any event, the words, although in a form of English, were "for practical purposes a foreign language" and he had no expert evidence as to what they meant.
And now, some answers to the timeless question of what does "fo' shizzle my nizzle" mean: (via MeFi)
Originated in medival England in the 17th century, this phrase has changed in meaning completely, from the orignal shorthand denotation of "Alas! An advasary has come upon us! To the catupults!" to the modern definition of "Please grease up my penis."
nah, ya'lls know dat dis chea' mean, "for sure my endearing African-American acquaintance".
Numerous commentators have pointed out that the phrase is considered offensive when used by white people. Though aren't most people who say "fo' shizzle my nizzle" white suburban kids in big yellow shorts?
Apparently Adrien Brody, star of The Pianist, is a hip-hop producer, under the name A Ranger. (via Reenhead)
Brody used the keyboard to study the Chopin pieces he mimed in the film - and to compose a lot of his own music. "Adrien was really affected by the movie, so [the music he made is] interesting, dark, gloomy stuff," says Armstrong, who compares Brody's "Pianist"-era tracks to the rich, syrupy trip-hop of Britain's Portishead and Tricky.
That would be interesting to hear. I wonder if it's any good or if it's something like a trip-hop TOFOG.
Authorities in California are testing a new high-tech solution for catching graffitiists: a network of sensors which detect the sound of aerosol cans and notify police, giving GPS coordinates. A worthy application of space-age technology to tackling contemporary urban blight, or a racist/classist attack on hip-hop culture/people's art, aimed at depriving urban minorities of non-corporate means of communications? Discuss. (via NWD)
Steven Spielberg, undisputed master of cloying, all-American sentimentalism, now plans to bring the major-label hip-hop aesthetic to filmmaking, with "film sampling". Spielberg's Dreamworks plan to create a film by taking bits of footage from older films and digitally inserting Mike Myers into it. Which sounds like it could be every bit as good as Puff Daddy's last few hits.
Read: Fuck Hip Hop, an article claiming that hip-hop as a form of cultural expression is dead, at the hands of the bejewelled, illiterate thugs who dominate the genre.
All one needs to do is watch cribs and notice none of these people showing off their heated indoor pools or the PlayStation Two consoles installed in all twelve of their luxury cars have a library in their home. Or display a bookshelf, for that matter. No rapper on cribs has ever been quoted saying: "Yeah, this is the room where I do all my reading, nahmean?"
Rappers reflect what has become a new image of success where money is its own validation and caring is soft unless you're dropping a single about your dead homie.
(via bOING bOING)
Word up, y'all! In an attempt to grab the lucrative black-identified-white-kids demographic, CNN plan to start using hip-hop phrases in headlines.
"In an effort to be sure we are as cutting-edge as possible with our on-screen persona, please refer to this slang dictionary when looking for just the right phrase," reads an internal Headline News memo obtained by the Daily News. "Please use this guide to help all you homeys and honeys add a new flava to your tickers and dekos."
Hmmm... middle-aged white people spouting hip-hop lingo on air; should make for some amusing sample material if nothing else. (via Plastic)
Here it comes: product placement in rap lyrics, with rap record labels and luxury product companies doing deals for mentions in lyrics, and rappers hawking their own lines of luxury products. Hands up who didn't see this coming from a long way off, with the conspicuous brand consumption obsession that is central to commercial hip-hop. (via Reenhead)
Now why didn't Gary Glitter think of that? On trial for sex with a minor, 'R&B' producer R Kelly has recorded a song making his case. The song, titled Heaven, I Need A Hug, will be released exclusively to a local radio station. With the salacious backstory and stomach-turning title/lyrics, it looks set to end up on numerous least essential recordings lists and post-ironic novelty mix CDs.
A look at Britain's mobile-phone mugging epidemic, by a 14-year-old girl who has had two phones stolen:
My friends and I are "trendies". We wear American-type skateboarders' clothes: hoodies and baggy trousers. The kids who jack mobile phones we call "rudes" - rude boys. They're working class, mainly black, although not always, and at the moment they wear these funny woolly hats with two bobbles, and big jackets with fur-lined hoods. (Obviously, only a minority of kids who dress like this go jacking phones.)
(So the victims dress in imitation of ghetto gangbangers from America and the perpetrators are actual local gangbangers? The authentic preys on the imitation...)
Here it comes: hip-hop goes patriotic; "Fight the Power" is out, and now the only colours are the stars and stripes (which dissident rappers The Coup, incidentally, call "violent gang colours", but they're not getting any MTV airplay, so they're irrelevant). Even former gangsta personnel are lining up behind Dubya's Crusade, with Dr. Dre (whose "F*** Tha Police" caused much uproar in the early 90s) toying with a track named "Kill Bin Laden", Death Row boss Suge Knight stating that there is no place for protest lyrics or disunity, and Canibus (whose name, apart from being a marijuana reference, is Latin for "His Doggness") releasing a song titled "Draft Me", about his desire to fight for America. Even radical Black Muslims such as Wu Tang Clans, formerly militant critics of the US establishment, have been getting on the bus. Meanwhile former rapper turned cable-TV salesman MC Hammer has used this as an opportunity to make a comeback with an album titled Active Duty, presenting himself as the patriotically-correct spokesman for hip-hop.
David "Davey D" Cook ... puts the blame on disproportionate reporting. "The whole point of propaganda is to eliminate voices of dissent," he says. "If you tell everybody that 90% of people are pro-war, then people who don't really feel that way think, 'Well, maybe it's better to keep my mouth shut.' There are opinions across the board, but it's really a question of who gets the most time on the microphone."
Curiously enough, the only major dissent, other from the usual suspects such as Chuck D, comes from a niche subgenre of hip-hop, known as "backpacker hip-hop", and marketed predominantly at white left-liberals.
This week's Onion has some good pieces, such as God Finally Gives Shout-Out Back To All His Niggaz, and Plan To Get Laid At DragonCon 2001 Fails,
"I imagined some girl and I talking about the new Lord Of The Rings movie," Melcher said. "Then I could say, 'Oh, I have the trailer on my laptop back in my hotel room if you want to see it."
Though a distinct minority, some females were present at DragonCon. "There was this one girl dressed up like Black Canary. She had the boots and the fishnet stockings and everything," Melcher said. "I couldn't really talk to her, though, because there was a pretty dense crowd of guys around her at all times."
not to mention this gem: Oh, Girls Are No Good At Genocide.
The Khmer Rouge picked Pol Pot because they knew he'd be good at murder and torture and all that other boy stuff. A girl probably would have planted flowers in the killing fields.
"Baile funk", the ultra-violent musical gang warfare scene from the slums of Brazil, is now headed for the US, with funk band Bonde do Tigrao embarking on their Stateside tour.
"I'm going to show you that I'm a tiger/I'm going to put on the pressure/And then hammer, hammer, hammer," Bonde do Tigrao chant on their most popular song, a mixture of rap and pop.
You know, that sounds, like a Prodigy lyric...
(I wonder whether Dr. Dre or someone from Interscope is taking notes; once the mook thing runs out of steam, Brazilian-style funk may be the Next Big Thing.) (via Robot Wisdom)
Melbourne's homie gangs have upped the ante; no longer satisfied with crashing teenage parties and robbing those in attendance, a gang of four enthusiastic gangsta rap fans allegedly bashed a 51-year-old man unconscious outside his home in McKinnon (which is somewhere in the general vicinity of the teenage gangland of the Frankston railway line).
Police are looking for four males in their late teens who were seen in the area wearing baggy clothing and baseball caps.