linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


the spheres align!

and the red sox win the fucking world series!

un-fucking-believable. i had to ask myself if it was real even after the team began piling on top of each other. part of me thought i would never see it happen. "they'll break your heart," i was told repeatedly as a kid, "every time."

well, not this time.

and what a sweet, sweet way to go. an 8-game blaze of glory. pulling the rug from under the yanks and sweeping the cards under it. somehow the strange symmetry makes the symbolism that much better, that much more redeeming.

the image of that ball trickling through billy buck's legs will never haunt me in the same way again. it's affective power now diminished by a truly triumphant achievement. i was ten years old when the sox broke my heart for the first time: a baseball fanatic, a card collector, an impressionable kid. that upset in '86 has been mine--and most of my peers'--lived experience of the curse. it didn't matter that the celtics won that year; it didn't matter that the patriots were spanked in the superbowl. that series was crushing.

now the curse is broken. there is a new series to remember, and a new team to celebrate. this win fundamentally transforms the red sox--and by extension, the city of boston. the curse has been our collective albatross, an ontological imperative to live in dread. even with two outs in the ninth, i was cautious, nervous. not a call made to friends and family. no premature celebrating, or even relaxing. now, things are different. apparently, sometimes we can win. for all the special status red sox fans have accrued over the years, i think i can speak for us all when i say i am happy to toss tradition aside and enjoy the feeling of sweet victory.

thanks to the 2004 sox for being a great club, for beating the odds, and most importantly, for not choking again, you bastards.

(go cubs!)


john peel (1939-2004)

today we mourn the loss of legendary radio maverick and champion of new music, john peel, who passed away yesterday while on holiday in peru. peel will be sorely missed by his many loyal listeners, not to mention the great number of artists who found fame through his enthusiasm for good music.

ironically, i mentioned peel in my last blog, as he had recently selected local label mashit to be label of the month this month. i'm honored that some of my music was heard by the man before he passed, and i'm grateful for the legacy he has left to all of us listeners who can only aspire to be as open-eared as john was. long live the peel sessions!


a mash dat

congratulations to boston's own mashit records on being named to john peel's label of the month club. mashit has been serving up hot ragga since june of 2003 witnessed the crushing breaks of conscience a hang dem. (which, when i played it for some bredren in kingston, got more pull-ups than i can recount. we drove all the way from stony hill to port royal without getting to the end of the track!)

mashit's critical success is especially exciting for me right now as their next release is a 12" pressing of boston jerk's a it dat (complete with instrumental and acapella versions) with two junglistic remixes courtesy of mashit's dj c. the first remix takes the vocals of the original, chops and plays with them a bit, and employs a vocal-line by dami d (which i didn't actually include in my own mix) to great effect.

of course, it also brings in some intense double-time breaks in fine ragga fashion. we might even call the breaks more-than-double-time, since the song's original tempo, which dj c preserves, is 102 bpm--making the breaks gallop at what feels like 204! taking this extreme tempo into account, dj c produced a second remix that slows the track down to around 90bpm, making it easier to work into the average jungle set. although trad jungle tends to hover around 80/160, in faster moments (and, i'm told, increasingly these days), sets can hover around 90/180, or faster.

when i played dj c's remix for dami and wasp--the two vocalist that appear, alongside me, on the track--a few months ago in kingston, they were floored. oddly enough, jungle doesn't very often travel back to yard. a couple of times i heard some drum'n'bass played on "alternative" radio stations in kingston (which are as likely to play contemp alt rock), but i've never heard those distinctive double-time breaks inna di dance. go figure.

at any rate, i plan to hit them off with some copies, so keep your ears peeled back a yard. the mix of reggae, hip-hop, and jungle in this tune seems likely to grab the attention of some listeners. it has already received some advance praise in distant corners as a result of a promotional mp3 version. an mp3blog/radio-show out of australia put the track on a compilation of favorite mp3s from the past year. in another cool development, a hip-hop producer out of portland, oregon emailed me a remix he had produced by downloading the acapella from the mashit site. i enjoyed hearing the track over a dre-ish hip-hop beat, which made for quite a contrast from the dancehall and jungle versions. here's hoping the record leads to more collabos, direct and indirect.

look for mashit005 - wayne&wax "a it dat" - soon, in record bins 'round the world.

and catch dj c conducting weekly beat research at the enormous room.



this article says it best.

and thanks to o-dub for this inspired combination of photo and caption. (which i can't resist reproducing here.)

jesus saves.

go sox!


jon stewart gives 'em hell

as reported in the new york times today, watch jon stewart give hell
to crossfire:

mpeg-4 or windows-media

not to be missed. (though, apparently, not many have missed it.)

where did those Al-Qaeda n*ggas get their funding?

a must-read interview from latinrapper.com. immortal technique drops knowledge.

somebody give this guy some airplay.

get a taste of the technique as he drops a 9/11 bomb. some serious fahrenheit!

better than jada's, "why did bush knock down the twin towers?"; better than elephant man rhyming "bin laden" with "cannot be forgotten"; this shit needs to be broadcast far and wide.


sheep beats and other treats

finally got a proper home for becca's sequencer for kids-of-all-ages: www.sheepbeats.com. sheep beats was one of becca's first flash projects, and i think it's quite good. just last friday, i used it to teach some fourth-graders at the lesley ellis school about digital music, and they completely loved it. i even overhead such seemingly cliche phrases as "this is so much fun!" no fooling. it was awesome. and it definitely prepared them for the abstractions of fruityloops, which we used after sheep beats to make this little ditty out of sounds we produced ourselves--a technique i discovered while subbing in the cambridge school system a couple years ago.

adults have been no less effusive in their own reactions to sheep beats. i sent a link to hua hsu, who promptly wrote this in his blog: "THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER. IF THIS WERE REAL LIFE AND NOT THE INTERNET, I WOULD BE YELLING THIS IN YOUR FACE."

after hua's ringing endorsement, sheep beats rippled across the hip-hop critic blogosphere. oliver wang, aka o-dub, saw an opportunity for all you latent pharells to "Bring out your inner Neptune." and sasha frere-jones wrote: "WAIT, IT WAS MORNING LAST TIME I LOOKED. WHERE HAS MY DAY GONE?...I am not writing another word until I get these goddamn sheep to play 'Fly Like An Eagle.'"

west-coast rocker and freestyler extraordinaire, bushwalla, added sheep beats to his 'friends' page, with the highfalutin claim that "Sheep beats are expanding the way we look at music today." indeed.

grandiose praise or not, i do think that sheep beats is a fun and edifying little thing to play around with. the name "sheep beats" is a pun on "jeep beats"--a phrase from early 90s hip-hop parlance that describes the music made for the boomin' systems that many urban dwellers outfitted their jeeps with back in the day. (my neighborhood had our own jeep-beats denizen, james, who never failed to broadcast the latest, greatest hip-hop basslines from his souped-up suzuki.) becca did all the design--drawing the sheep and instruments--and also the programming. i did a little consulting on the sequencer, but mostly i just provided the sounds, sampling my upright bass, recording a few keyboard chords, and picking some choice drum sounds. in terms of sound selection, i essentially tried to keep the choices as simple as possible so as to avoid dissonance and make it generally difficult for someone to "screw it up." (one of the things i learned in my experience teaching young people how make beats on computers is that one can get discouraged rather quickly if it is too easy to make it sound bad.) thus, just roots and fifths for the bass, and five simple triads within the major scale for keys.

the genesis of the sheep characters actually came from becca's first flash project. (sheep beats is her second.) the first was a little music video she made to illustrate a line from my song, a it dat. the line goes, "and if you try to count sheep, you're hypnotized by the deep butterflies that they bust, trust: a it dat." and that's exactly what she drew: sheep rotating in classic being-counted mode, doing the butterfly--a classic dancehall reggae dance. it's pretty cute. check it out.

of course, there are a number of other great flash music tools out there. some of my favorites were designed by boston's own, dj flack. his site features several modules to choose from and play with. the other night at the re:sound party (which was a rousing success), flack projected his flash music modules on the wall and played them in real time to the delight of the crowd. i highly recommend playing around with them. go here to do so.

flack also does some amazing things with video. he calls it "video music" (as opposed to a "music video") because the "music" is generated by the sound actually captured in the video. flack brings his cut-and-paste hip-hop aesthetic, and a whole lot of humor, to these pieces, which are among the most creative little videos i've ever had the pleasure of watching.

check out his latest, toy noise. and don't miss face lift.

flack's hip-hop flash tools find their dubby counterparts over at infinitewheel.com, where you can choose from a variety of dub-inspired interactive flash modules. definitely another place to happily waste a morning.

for a less interactive, but reggae related, and absolutely hilarious, flash experience, check out this twisted take on dancehall stylee. old folks have never looked so lascivious, or ludicrous.

the most impressive flash work i have seen to date can be found at tokyo plastic. check out "drum machine," which is simply incredible. i don't know enough about flash to understand 3D vector graphics, but these guys make great use of them.

of course, the ol' flash favorite is homestarrunner.com, where strongbad's emails still delight and a constantly growing archive provides hours of cheap entertainment.

finally, there's the weird, singing horses thing, which i've always assumed is european in origin. i first came across this years ago, and it never fails to amuse me. i suggest triggering them from left to right. if you get them to all sing on the same downbeat, it's some funky donkey doo-wop. if not, it's still pretty funny.

all these barnyard beats makes one wonder what they're putting in the feed...


how do you take it?


a few posts back i mentioned a blog called killbattyman, which seems to deconstruct its hateful message with its own ridiculousness. the site has called everyone from christopher reeves, to the g-unit rappers (and anyone who wears a tupac t-shirt), to bugs bunny and burger king, a "battyman"--the derogatory term for gays in jamaican vernac. such wild allegations raise suspicions about the intent of the site. is it genuine in its insane rants? or is it meant to parody the anti-gay sentiments espoused by some dancehall artists?

ryan moore, who makes some serious dub music as twilight circus dub sound system, wrote to me and suggested that the site could be a parody, which, judging by its rhetoric, might very well be the work of jamaican provocateur, peter dean rickards. to be honest, though, i've seen things said and endorsed on that site which seem downright anti-gay--and certainly not critical to the point of dovetailing with what might be the parodic intent of killbattyman.

i turned up this conversation at the jamaica star forum, which illustrates the divided opinions of jamaicans around this issue and around such rhetoric as killbattyman promotes. interestingly, one of the participants also raises the question of whether the site is itself a parody "created by a f@g to show how crude and ridiculous our cultural rantings are about the matter sometimes." she goes on to say: "I'm not a supporter, such lifestyles is sickening....and people on the outside looking in fail to realize that it's how the people of our culture knew how to express themselves best about the issue. 'Bun a b@ttyman' doesn't mean that one should go out with a container of gas and a lighter...it's simply a strong expression of how disgusted they are about the whole practice....Duh!!!!"

i appreciate the way she clarifies the distinction between metaphor and actual practice. several friends that i have spoken to in jamaica have expressed essentially the same opinion: that the bark is worse than the bite. according to this theory, many jamaicans, including the dancehall artists who purport to speak for the community, make a lot of public noise about homosexuality, but in their homes and their workplaces they tolerate their gay family members and co-workers. clearly, this is not always the case, as there is plenty of anti-gay violence and intimidation in jamaica. then again, you find this kind of thing everywhere--even in cambridge, massachusetts. (trust me. i went to public school here. i worked as a garbage man in the pahk depahtment. and i've witnessed plenty of homophobia at harvard as well.) at the same time, i've seen the way that jamaica's public discourse affects people's private thoughts, too. i remember having a conversation with a young jamaican man which, probably because we were standing on a balcony, turned to the topic of suicide. what he said to me then struck me as terribly strange and terribly sad. "i would never kill myself," he said, "unless i had sex with a woman and found out it was a man. then i would have no choice."

another friend of mine--a bredren from trinidad who is an ardent lover and great champion of both dancehall and soca--wrote me recently, concerned about the ramifications of the current controversy. he asked: "What do you make of the furor between the gay-rights groups and the dancehall fraternity? Methinks it was inevitable, bound to happen, if you will. It's just frustrating that the political pull of such organizations can threaten the dancehall industry just when it was establishing itself as a viable entity in the urban market. Don't get me wrong, I do not condone voilent lyrics, but the references are used SO often, they do not even register...they're even used in comical contexts in certain songs!"

he continued: "Seems to be a clash of two cultures that simply do not see eye to eye on certain issues. Is there a resolution? I don't know - it's interesting to see the stance of the different artistes (in particular the 'great 8' that have been blacklisted by Outrage!) in terms of who apologizes, who backs down, who doesn't, you know. Beenie was dropped from the MTV VMA's last month...his usual November show at the House of Blues in New Orleans was cancelled weeks ago...Capleton and Cocoa Tea were to perform at the HOB next Monday, and that was cancelled last week...my word, this is a mess. Some are saying it'll 'blow over', but I figure the ramifications are more profound than this..."

i share my friend's concerns about the viability of the burgeoning dancehall scene in the midst of this controversy. but i also think that reggae artists who are courting an international audience will have to consider the tastes of that audience, just as they consider the tastes of their local base. it seems that reggae artists, at least for the last couple of decades, have succeeded overseas precisely because of their stalwart commitment to local concerns. fans in the US, and germany, and italy, and japan, and elsewhere respond to this commitment, which rings with great authenticity. these fans only constitute a subculture, however, and if the "great 8" want to reach more mainstream audiences, they will have to contend with mainstream tastes. of course, judging by the ways kerry and bush are attempting to capitalize on the mainstream's division on this issue, it would seem that dancehall artists simply need to decide whether they want to succeed in red or blue states. a recent column in the gleaner also suggests that some serious calculation is required here.

at any rate, many have made their decision, and have pursued it for some time now. although artists such as sean paul have toned down their anti-battyman stance, others have ratcheted it up. the latest post at killbattyman contains a link to an mp3 in which bounty killer defends the practice of chanting down battybwoys. it's definitely worth a listen. for one, in a time when vybz kartel is apologizing on the bbc (and getting clowned at home for it) and beenie man is retracting apologies issued by his record label, it's significant that a big artist like bounty would come out quite explicitly and say that he will not apologize. his defense is not terribly original. it resonates to some extent with my trinidadian brethren's comment that there is a "clash of two cultures" at play here. bounty killer does refer quite explicitly to his "culture" towards the end of the song. the problem with this defense and this conception of culture--which happens to be the same conception of culture by which the neocons justify invading the middle east--is that it fails to recognize several fundamental points.

first, jamaican culture is by no means homogeneous. the division on message boards discussing this topic illustrates that, as do various conversations i've had with jamaicans about this topic over the years. second, no "culture" in the world today exists as a bounded, stable entity. considering the amount of international socio-cultural integration created and maintained by migration, diasporic networks, global mass media, etc., it is time to recognize that "culture"--it might be more useful at this point to speak of "cultural practices," lest we encourage the bounded stability implied by the term "culture"--is a dynamic, porous, messy, contested, shared thing. jamaican culture has been in constant flux at least since the spanish came and decimated the native population. add to that the coming of the english (who took the island as a consolation prize for cromwell), the importation of thousands of africans (and later, east indians and chinese) for slave- and indentured-labor, the pan-caribbean circulation of people from every island to every other island, the immigration of jews, syrians, irish, scots, germans and other people to jamaica in search of work and freedom from persecution, the tourists, government delegates, and visitors of various stripes from all over the world, the projection and circulation of the world's mass media, among other sources of input and influence, and you've got quite a mess. it's a rich, wonderful mess. and that is one thing that makes reggae music--and other jamaican expressions--so compelling. but it is anything but a single culture.



a bunch of copyright-related writings have come to my attention in recent days.

ethnomusicologist anthony mccann has been investigating the relationship between copyright and irish traditional music for some time now. he also keeps a blog, which features regular updates on notes of copyright-related interest.

in an interesting development for world copyright law, mccann recently reported (from the CNI-Copyright list) that "A battle has erupted within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) over the most fundamental questions of its mission. A number of developing countries, lead by Argentina and Brazil, have tabled a proposal for a 'development agenda,' which involves stopping work on new treaties that hike intellectual property protections, and redirecting the agency to a range of initiatives more responsive to development and concerns of WIPO critics." you can read the declaration and sign a petition to support the effort here.

in other news, here's an article by a law prof at wayne state, brought to my attention by a friend at nyu law school. it argues that copyright law is too restrictive on the distribution side of things. the basic argument, according to my friend's email, is that the "purpose of copyright is to encourage the 1. creation *and* 2. distribution of works. As the cost of distribution approaches zero, we should loosen copyright law, because overly stringent copyright protection actually begins to hinder distribution. In fact the benefits of copyright law in that it encourages creation may be outweighed by the restraints that copyright law puts on distribution."

to some extent, this argument seems to recommend a system not unlike derrick ashong's FAM license, which, in an attempt to respond to the current predicament for recording/performing artists, actually encourages people to copy and distribute musical works. taking on the distribution side seems to be a new angle on this one, though my interests remain on the creativity side of the debate. (incidentally, the downhill battle online protest remains an impressive, audible argument against current copyright enforcement, with almost 170 entries and counting!)

interestingly, jamaica--whose music industry, at least from a creativity standpoint, remains one of the best arguments for the lack of restrictive copyright laws (after all, what would the world of music be without the riddim and the version?)--has in recent months been trying to crack down on copyright infringement. not only is this a "sisyphean task," as pete maplestone suggests, but, i think, it is a grave misunderstanding of the way that music in jamaica has always worked. sure, many musicians have been ripped off by crooked producers and greedy label-men. but it's unclear that stricter IP laws would even ameliorate this situation. more seriously, an enforcement of international (which is to say, US) copyright law could produce a chilling effect on an industry that has always openly embraced a concept of a creative commons of musical materials. the classic reggae riddims--from the 'stalag,' to the 'mad mad,' to the 'answer'--that have provided the backing (in a bewildering array of novel arrangements) for hundreds and hundreds of songs should remain common materials for musicians everywhere. the creativity of this practice speaks for itself, more eloquently than any of these words. listen, for instance, to tree of satta, or check the migrations of the mad mad that i've been following for a while.

as always, creative commons and larry lessig's blog offer nuff insight on the subject.


sweets deets

this semester, for the second year in a row, i'm working as a teaching assistant for orlando patterson's course on caribbean societies at harvard. (last year i gave the reggae lecture.) the class is full of revelations--unbelievable statistics, wild anecdotes, and insightful perspectives on historical and contemporary problems--so this is the first of many things i will likely share from the class.

from jan rogozinski's a brief history of the caribbean:

"Sugar consumption in Great Britiain continuously increased for several centuries, in one of the most dramatic changes in eating habits known to human history. In 1700, on average, Britons used a mere four pounds of sugar each year to sweeten their drinks and food. By 1750, per capita consumption had doubled, and it doubled again by 1800, reaching 18 pounds a year. Consumption doubled yet again in the 1840s, after the British government removed import taxes on sugar. The British passion for sweets peaked in the early 1960s. During those years, each Briton, on average, devoured more than 110 pounds of sugar each year--amounting to almost a third of a pound every day of the year." (p. 110)

damn! i guess that partly explains the teeth thing, though i'm not sure why, given the british intake of sweets, it's we americans who are experiencing an obesity epidemic. then again, it appears to be something of a global problem.


no matter how you take it

the issue of homophobia in jamaica continues to be a hot topic. after kelefa sanneh's article raised broader awareness not only of the phenomenon of "bun battyman" tunes but of a successful campaign against the artists who promote such sentiments, the chatter-level has definitely increased.

lately, the subject has been taken up on the pages of jamaica's own dailies. jamaica's "top broadsheet," the gleaner, published this "article"--seems more like a letter or a polemic to me--last week. And it was followed by a letter to the editor which argued, apparently without considering the hilarity of its suggestive language, that "buggery is wrong no matter how you take it." indeed. (thanks, btw, to pete maplestone for combing the jamaican papers for such gems.)

i've given my two cents on this issue a number of times in previous posts, and my most succinct statement remains my song soggae. (read the lyrics here.)

i was glad to see the following questions pop up on sasha's blog the other day: "Why do people apologize for the homophobic clowns in dancehall? How do you put together a case that there is some legitimate need for this "burn chi-chi mon" bullshit?" i wrote to him and told him that i suspected too many people--e.g., music critics who have been silent on the issue--feel the pangs of post-colonial guilt when it comes to critiquing this phenomenon. no self-reflective metropolitan, especially if they're white, wants to tell anybody in the "former" colonies what they can and cannot do. from my perspective, though (and the post-colonial predicament, in particular the colonization in reverse that's been happening for decades, illustrates this as much as anything else), it's a shared world. and i'd like to live in a world where people can love and bugger other consenting adults without fear of being hacked to death.

according to an email i received from one of the fine folks over at jflag, an organization operated by some very brave jamaicans, they are currently "planning an exhibition (hopefully by year end) with the theme 'Human rights abuse against sexual minorities in Jamaica' and are asking for submissions of art, photography, music, poetry etc. which reflect this
theme." they've asked if soggae could be included, and i am happy to contribute to the cause, even if it means possibly losing some friends. (though i should note that none of my jamaican collaborators or friends have objected to the song, though a few have warned me about making it more public, at least in jamaica.) they also asked if i "know of anyone else who may be able to contribute to this exhibition." so, if you are down, let me know--or just write to jflag. i think it would be quite something if a bunch of artists put some effort into a little counter-agitprop.

i hope to see this topic taken on in this new blog about culture, society, and politics in jamaica. i'm not sure, as the blog claims, that newdrumblair truly constitutes "Jamaica's Only Cultural, Social and Political Blog." i'd like to think that some of my work qualifies in this regard. at any rate, i am glad to see this kind of insightful online commentary coming out of jamaica, and i encourage people to check it out, especially if you're tired of the well-worn politics of the gleaner and the observer.

i did notice, interestingly enough, that i am not the only one to contest newdrumblair's claim to propriety over jamaican culture, society, and politics. the first comment left on the blog is from a blogger who is concerned entirely with the culture and politics of killing battymen. fortuntely, the hate on that blog deconstructs itself with its own ridiculousness.