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



so, our cheapo hotel ain't got wireless, but halcyon, a chill coffeeshop downtown, does. it's also got some damn good coffee, and don't get me started on the banana-bread.

but for real texas cuisine, you can't beat BBQ. last night we mowed at the county line, which serves up some incredible beef ribs. if that makes you jealous, don't fret: apparently, they do airmail.

gotta say that, overall, i'm not blown away by this city, though as far as texas goes, it's quite the island. the famed 6th street is more bourbon street than i was hoping, and the hip-hop scene here seems invisible/inaudible, especially compared to other texas cities. though i have to say, the "urban contemporary" radio here beats the hell out of boston's. they actually mix here, for one thing, and i've heard some juggling on the coolie dance that could have been out of one of my own sets, complete with the kelis "milkshake" remix. yesterday morning i heard ele's "city lock" acapella over the beat to 50's jus a little bit. not bad. and all that 808 shit runnin' the airwaves just sounds kinda natural on a texas highway with the windows down.

did a little boutique shopping in soco yesterday. the highlight was finding a t-shirt by local designer will heron. it depicts a stick-figure dude "talking" to a stick-figure robot. he's speaking in binary code, though: "11001101011001010011010110101!!" and the caption below says, *learn a foreign language*--too perfect, considering what becca's been up to with machine translation and computational linguistics. we're hoping to find a similar one for her. check out will's site, though, as he's got lots of tasty designs, including some one-ee's for the lil ones. (that's his pig pic above.)

more soon. tomorrow we're off to a friend's family's ranch about an hour from here, and then it's up to chicago and madison for another wedding and some long overdue catching up with friends. lovin' a little holiday right now.


gimme a break

off to the longhorn state tomorrow morning. (nothing like the twentysomething summer wedding circuit.)

spending several days in austin, then off to chicago/madison.

back in a week. along with the blog. (unless our cheapo hotel has wi-fi.)


if you're not away from cambridge this week, you MUST go see jackbackrack's interactive video thing at the MIT museum. so fun. so cool. i want one.

seriously, check it out. you'll see what i mean.


these are the breaks

jesse kris has put together an amazing interactive map of sample usage based on data from the-breaks.com. a vivid illustration of the complex web of interconnections sample-based hip-hop has created, the map offers great promise for the further understanding of the way music is made in the digital age as well as additional fodder for the sample-sniffin', back-catalog-buyin', money-grubbin' lawyers and "entrepreneurs" out there.

it is my hope that such demonstrations of the rich world of creativity engendered by hip-hop's adaptation of technology and (independently arrived at) musique-concrete techniques will serve to enlighten rather than indict. for this reason, i pointed students in my hip-hop/reggae class to such sites as the-breaks and reggae-riddims, despite my misgivings about facilitating the spread of this information. (in fact, i was rather alarmed when a student of mine told me after class one day that his friend's father, a member of the average white band, was shocked to find out that his band's music had been sampled many more times than he thought. fortunately, he was, according to my student, more pleasantly surprised than pissed-off.)

back when i was writing my master's thesis about DJ premier and the way his sample-based beats--especially once he gets into the chop-and-stab phase--challenged copyright law as they upheld traditional tenets of hip-hop, i resisted naming the samples that he used even as i demonstrated the way that he flipped them. my professors were a little dismayed by this departure from the full-disclosure of orthodox scholarship, but i just couldn't be one of the guys primo chants down in the rant before "above the clouds" on moment of truth. joe schloss's book does a great job laying out hip-hop's community-regulated ethics of sampling--a community that i have considered myself a member of since i was rocking run DMC tapes, singing along with krs's sing-song melodies on criminal minded, and hiding in the corner of my bedroom surreptitiously listening to eazy-e (pops would not have been pleased--shit, he threatened to break my mary j. blige CD when he heard puba shoot the motherfuckin' deputy). i sympathized and identified with premier's b-boy stance and the plight of sample-based artists, so the last thing i wanted to do was be part of the problem.

at any rate, the information is out there at this point, so there's little that my "covering up" can do. since the emergence of such sites as the-breaks, i've decided that raising awareness by sheer glut of evidence--this is how we do--may be the best way to change the system. as i wrote in my last post, deep misunderstandings of the way music is made today (and for the last several decades) continue to dictate the way that ownership is determined and wealth is distributed. so my hope is that the kind of work that pacey is now pursuing can have a positive and productive effect on the status quo as it relates to ideas of musical ownership and originality.

pace has been on his back lately--get well soon, bredda--so he's had lots of time to get some thoughts out there, and i've really been digging his blogs and his library of vinyl entries. this is exciting work--and not just for record-nerds and ethnomusicologists. pace is working towards the creation of musical and social maps that make explicit the connections we all hear in hip-hop and its precocious children. he's also working towards an actual physical archive/library of vinyl to preserve the experience for future listeners. most promising, i think, pace envisions an audio-wiki of sorts that allows people to upload ol' public-domain records, add their two-cents (the all-important personal, social, and cultural contexts), and work towards an open, evolving, collectively-edited multimedia document that will no doubt be an engrossing, enriching experience for listeners and scholars alike. "mp3 blog" doesn't say the half.

[and i like that pacey has taken me up on my verstehen comment from a few posts back, which i simply thought was a clever, german way of saying, "knomesayin?" but now that he links to the sociological meaning of the term, i'm afraid i may have to retract, especially considering joe's recent post--manifesto maybe--about participant-observation. joe throws himself into his work admirably, sometimes finishing with an ill freeze. we should all be so willing to look goofy and look into our own assumptions.]

feels to me like hip-hop scholarship is finna explode. in terms of recent releases, joe's book, jeff's book, adisa's book, and brian's book are digging deeper than folks have dug before, and there's nuff stuff on the horizon. shit, rza just came out with a memoir. the more open--and militant--we can be about doing the knowledge, sharing the data, and arguing for the significance of all these forward movements, the more we can leverage hip-hop's transformational socio-sonic force for the good of the community. you down?


mad scientist, for good reason

(fortuitous ellipsis meets wishful thinking uptown)

as many of you may have read last week, greensleeves--one of the more "major" (got distro?) record labels issuing reggae music today--recently won a lawsuit pitting them against one of "their" artists, the inimitable dub-producer known as scientist. as you can see here, greensleeves has at least six titles from scientist in their catalog (and that's just counting the ones with his name on the front).

as usual, the lawsuit is a little confusing, so let me sum up what i've been able to gather from various articles (if anyone finds the legal decision online, holler): after greensleeves records licensed a number of tracks from the album scientist rids the world of the evil curse of the vampires to rockstar games/take 2 interactive for use in grand theft auto III, scientist initiated a suit claiming copyright infringement, arguing that he owned the recording and composition copyrights for the tracks in question. the manhattan district court that heard the case, and the jury that decided it, ruled that greensleeves is the rightful owner and that scientist has no such claim on the rights.

greensleeves' managing director, chris sedgwick, put it all in perspective when he said, "Basically, Scientist was claiming to own copyrights in songs and recordings as a result of being the mixing engineer. Although we always felt these claims were ridiculous, we had to defend ourselves all the way to trial and are delighted to have got the right result."

i'm less than delighted about the result--as is scientist, i'm sure. moreover, i would argue that sedgwick's opinion, and that of the court, is the "ridiculous" one. (big surprise, eh?)

ripley has discussed the ways that this case brings up recurring debates and conspicuous lacunae regarding ownership/authorship in music--and reggae music in particular. i would like to dig into these questions a little further in an attempt to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the status quo that has been upheld in this case.

let's begin with the question of ownership. this is a tricky question of course, and generally i don't really believe in ownership anyway, but if we're going to have to work with some concept of ownership in the courts and markets and such, then we need a better definition than "the guy who most recently paid for it." in this case, greensleeves has been declared the owner because they bought the rights from the previous owner, henry "junjo" lawes. now before i go and slander junjo, let me express my deep appreciation for all the music that he "produced." some of my favorite reggae tunes of all time are, no doubt, deeply indebted to his significant contributions--i.e., paying for the studio time, paying the musicians (including vocalists and engineers), and, presumably, having some say about the stylistic shape his "productions" would take (e.g., offering general encouragement and feedback in the manner of today's "executive producers"). but when it comes down to it, i really don't see why junjo has more of a claim on these recordings than scientist or tubby or the roots radics or whoever the vocalist may have been (in cases where there are vocals). in fact, it seems to me that junjo has much less of a claim when we weigh the different contributions to the production of the work. pay shmay.

one thing to acknowledge here is that the jamaican system of copyright and ownership is, like that in the US and many other places, deeply and historically flawed since it has been the "producers," including the bigmen dem, who have consistently swindled the performers out of their rights to the fruits of their labor. still, what i admire about the jamaican music industry is that it has proceeded generally with a rather enlightened, and loose, conception of ownership, at least as it relates to common musical materials. it has also, for a long time now, acknowledged the role of the engineer, the studio producer, the man behind the boards, as crucial to the creative product, even if only in name, and not in deed.

ownership as defined in this case--i.e., the guy who paid for it most recently (irrespective of any contestation of the original terms of ownership)--seems to have little to do with authorship, though these terms seem rather inextricable, especially considering the way that the courts attempt to define such things. authorship as a pre-requisite to ownership is clearly in play here when the managing director at greensleeves insists that giving a "mixing engineer" such rights over a recording is "ridiculous." is it really any more ridiculous to grant ownership/authorship to the guy who recorded, mixed, and manipulated the music in question than to the guy who paid for the session way back when, or to the guys who paid that guy? what is not ridiculous in this case?

despite being in the reggae business, these greensleeves guys demonstrate a deep ignorance about the way the music works. it is practically a cliche these days to acknowledge the central contributions of dub producers to the music that ends up on record, regardless of whose name is on the label. (just glance at any overview of electronic music to see the nod towards scratch, tubby, scientist, et al. for bringing studio technology to center stage in music production.) the greensleeves guys' testimony, and the ruling of the court, truly misunderstands the way that music has been made for the last several decades, especially, but not exclusively, in jamaica.

so in some sense, i am seeking to make an argument for the broader recognition of engineers and hands-on producers as central authors in the music-making process (if we really need to demarcate such roles). the role of technology in the recording/production process has increasingly blurred the line between engineer and musician. just watch the indispensible film tom dowd and the language of music to see and hear firsthand how profoundly important technology and the creativity of producers/engineers are to any modern musical production. for a secondhand perspective, note the kudos heaped upon tom dowd by almost every musician he worked with. in many cases, they note that their music would simply not be the same were it not for dowd's work. (and such acknowledgment is doubly impressive coming from such egos as eric clapton.) that dowd lives and dies in rather humble circumstances, despite having produced dozens of platinum singles and albums, is at once a testament to his character and an indictment of the glaring injustices of the current system.

in another sense, i'm simply sick of the degree to which these cases, and the copyright status quo, demonstrate very little acquaintance with the way that music is made today. i've spoken before about the ways that common practice challenge the rules on the books, and i've expressed hope that younger clerks, lawyers, and judges will start to bring a new common sense to these debates. but i've yet to see that happen. recently, it's been case after case upholding the same old story. i'm arguing for scientist's rights here only because he was trying to work within the system, and to the extent that we can't escape the system, we may as well attempt to challenge and change it. but really, we need a whole new system. this current shitstem has had nuff time to cheat people. time fi bun it dung.

i've got a few nagging questions about this case that i can't address here, but i thought i'd throw them out anyway:

1) why did king jammy's testify against scientist? (is it because he was lucky enough, being a producer/engineer himself, to get his name on the copyrights for the recordings that greensleeves distributes?)

2) why did the grand theft auto people want some classic, early 80s dub to accompany their carjack fantasy? does it accompany a dreadlocked carjacker or something? wouldn't something from, say, incubus be more appropriate?

3) why didn't they call the case, in the spirit of some seminal scientist works, "scientist vs. the vampires of greensleeves"? (maybe that'll be his next release. i'd buy it, as long as it ain't on greensleeves.)

finally, props to scientist. may you get your due someday.


diplo on blast: bozo or zozo? (no joke, though)

(a true-to-scale model of diplo and the little haitian dude he samples)

diplo's got a new site, ahem, "bitch." (no sexist)

he's also, apparently, turned his attention to haitian sounds. (no xeno)

listening to "haiti on blast" (this whole post-ironic appropriation of "blast" is getting a little tired, e?), all kinds of questions went through my mind: did diplo sample some haitian kid leaving him a message? is the voice chipmunked or is it actually some youngin' representing rio-funk style? should we call this grime or dancehall or funk or what? (seems to draw from all, with the exception, perhaps, of the obvious: konpa or some other haitian style that would overlay quite easily with all these carib and carib-descended rhythms.)

the most persistent question, though, was: does diplo know what dude's saying? granted, i know very little kreyol, but having grown up in cambridge in the 80s and 90s, i had a good number of haitian peers. as usual, one of the first things i learned from my foreign-born friends was how to curse. they taught me all the good ones: fuck yer mom (git mau mau), bitch (bouzin), pussy (coco), dick (zozo), and of course, faggot (masisi). for a longer list, you can go here, but these are the ones that i learned and they served me well.

as you listen to "haiti on blast" you can't miss the repetitions of masisi. in the current climate, i can't help hearing the word as the equivalent of battyman/chichi-man, which are words that i tend to avoid using myself and words that i tend to avoid playing in a club or putting dope beats under. sure, i'll look past the occasional slur if the joint is brand-new and really-hot or classic-and-catchy, especially if everyone else listening either understands the contextual frame (e.g., jamaicans and reggae enthusiasts) or has no fucking idea what dude's saying (e.g., most americans). but in general i try to avoid reaffirming hateful sentiments--or giving them a forward, so to speak, never mind putting them on blast.

now, as we all know, diplo means well. and i have been consistently impressed by his sincerity and his commitment to putting under-the-radar sounds in the spotlight and embracing an ecumenical approach to musical style. even so, i think that he and all of us who are so enthralled by the so-called shanty-house of the world have to take care when it comes to our arbitration of such sounds. i know some DJs who love all the funk that's been reaching us from rio's favelas of late, but they're a little unsure about what exactly they're endorsing. generally, though again lacking the language skills, i think that funk carioca tends to be pretty inoffensive so long as you're not prudish. sure, there's a lot of focus on sex and gangs and such, but the sex-talk appears to offer a better balance between sexes than, say, crunk, which seems to get closer and closer to barking orders at strippers. those of us who aren't into the whole pimps-up-ho's-down/ass-up-face-down vibe would prefer a little less degradation in our music. of course, hollertronix has embraced titty-bar music from the get-go, so maybe i'm just spinning my wheels.

still, the track has left me wondering: is diplo just clowning (no bozo), knowingly working with these sources and their sentiments and appreciating the jarring juxtapositions (yet easy mix) for a cosmo-hipster audience? or is he being a dick (no zozo), willfully ignorant of the way that his powerful arbitration of the world's ghetto-musics can serve to reinforce old hierarchies both here and there? (don't mean to be harsh here, but i think it's a question we all need to ask ourselves.)

at any rate, i'd love to see more haitian music in the mix, and i'm glad that diplo has gone there despite the possible problems with this first try. haitians remain one of the more stigmatized groups of immigrants in this country, and there's nothing like music to put people on the map, to rally community, and to change people's ideas about themselves and others. that's precisely why we've got to be careful as we push ahead with this brave new world music.


remember when it was only the biggest number you knew?

if you've watched this, or not, check out abe's freestyle about google. he raises some interesting points.

i'm still puzzling the whole thing over after tobias clued me in on the conversation about ubiquitous/pervasive computing.

i guess i'm still a naive, for-the-people optimist when i think that a world where we are all producers/creators is potentially a very rich world. apparently, there are things to think about regarding such a scenario, though most of them seem to revolve around the dangers of co-optation (usually by corporations, as predicted in the video).

via email, tobias disagrees: "Interesting for me isn't really the corporate angle, but the pervasive thought-pattern (I hesitate to call 'ideology') that everyone-making-their-own-media = good. This is already everywhere." [see this post for elaboration.]

that thought-pattern sounds a bit like mine. so i'm gonna keep thinking about it.


joe twist in this

the hip-hop-centric ethnomusicological blogosphere just got a lot more twisted:
enter joe, soul imperialist.

'bout to have this game on schloss. verstehen?



deepdickollective are hardcore, representing queer hip-hop to the fullest. because, as they argue, "any black cultural Renaissance needs fags."

but don't get it twisted: they ain't no homo thugs. that shit's hegemonic, yo.

i revisited the DD/C's site last week after reading a paper on homosexuality and hip-hop. which reminded me that i've been meaning to blog about them for a minute. when i first checked their site a few months ago, i was suprised to learn that one of their members, phil goff (aka lightskindid), was an acquaintance of mine back in college. phil revels in his apparent contradictions, reconciling them easily or perhaps simply enjoying the confusion they can produce as they challenge commonsensical notions about the neat, little boxes we all fit into. his bio puts it this way:
Phrases that follow the utterance "I am . . . " include, but are not limited to, Black, white, gay, straight, a poor born Southerners' child, bourgie and Northeastern to a fault, passionately opposed to religious dogma, a devout Christian, an American Dream believer, a socialist (democratic), and decidedly clear on exactly who he is.

when it comes down to it, i can't really say shit about phil's contradictions. i met phil in college when i joined the kuumba singers during my senior year, which made me, at least on the surface (if you want to draw such boxes), a white atheist in a black gospel choir. of course, i preferred nineteenth-century spirituals (jah bless mr. winfrey) to kirk franklin arrangements, but i was happy to find a place where i could sing powerful songs with good folks.

seems like the DD/C and related groups are looking to do a similar something. fine by me.


concrete google

(likkle but tallawah)

as scary as google may be, i have to admit that i find a lot of their services pretty useful, or at least interesting. this weekend i became the umpteenth-thousandth person to be beguiled by the prospect of clicking through all the places i've lived, toggling back and forth between satellite and street-map views.

i do wish that there were street maps for more than the US and england. (amazing how easily we take for granted that we can see the world in such detail from a hunk of metal orbiting the earth.) but the satellite pictures are pretty illuminating on their own.

you can see, for instance, why bob marley called kingston a concrete jungle. it's a big grey blotch on an otherwise green island.

(^portmore city!^)

but who says kingston's not beautiful? not i-and-i.


can we get off this thing?

watch a fascinating, provocative, and ominous future history of the media.

then gmail all your friends, link it on yer blogspot, and add a tivo to your googlezon wishlist.


the papers, the papers

spent most of the weekend grading papers for the brown class.

yeah, grading papers is a chore. but it could be worse: at least i get to read essays with such tantalizing titles as:

"Is Gwen Strapped for Cash, or Just a Music Klepto?"

"Gimme Dat Jimmy Hat: A Look at Attitudes Towards Condom Use in Hip-hop Music"

"Will Hyphy Last?"

"The Last Taboo: Homosexuality and Hip-hop"

"Toronto's Unique Social Landscape and Hip-hop"

"Ghetto Feminism"

"Reggaeton Is Here To Stay"

"Hip-hop and the Global Consumerist Empire"

and my favorite,
"The Best Rappers Are From Brooklyn, Period"

in some cases, the titles were more inspired than the papers, though quite a bit can be blamed on microsoft word's thesaurus-function and the ivy-league proclivity for $5 words. (did i say proclivity? i meant, penchant.)


loosely grouped

apparently, by his own admission, greg tate is an old muhfluckuh.

seemingly taking tate up on his recent critiques, hadji williams knocks the hustle (and beats me to a title i've been tossing around).

an engaging excerpt of an essay on v.s. naipaul by terry eagleton leaves me wanting more. when are publications like harper's going to realize the benefits of sharing the wealth and make all their articles available online? i can't really complain, though, considering how much joy and information the index and weekly review give me.

ishmael reed makes all kinds of articles available online in his konch magazine. lots of great stuff here. the current issue features a reflection on hotel rwanda, which i just watched this last week and which totally knocked me down for a good day or so. (a shamefully short window of consciousness.) everyone should see it, though i'm not sure that would help avert future tragedies. if the 20th century was the century of genocide, i don't know what we're in for now. guns don't kill people, people kill people, but weapons and racism make it a whole lot easier.

can't we all just chill? perhaps learn something from walter benjamin on hashish?


man a manifest

charlie knows the ledge where creativity pushes past profit.

he urges us to keep it clear.

well connected, chuck.


dude, there's my car

not that it's been the most rousing spring or anything.

but i can't front on purple tulips.

and let's keep things in perspective.

got that?


part and parcel, bytes and biters

it's been over a month since the conference (i.e., eons in blogtime), but, having lost my initial post to an IE meltdown, i've only recently felt up to the task of re-reflecting on all the signal and noise i heard last month.

in seeking to advance the conversation about copyright and creativity, the berkman center's second signal or noise conference proposed a refreshing focus on the creative side, with plenty of artists on-hand amidst the lawyers. the prevailing feeling, if i may so assert, was that the current IP status quo operates with very little understanding of how "art" is made these days (or ever, really). (and, yes, i put "art" in quotes because i'm uncomfortable with the word, which usually serves to value certain kinds of expressions over others. i much prefer thinking in terms of "cultural practice," these days, though i'm sure a better paradigm will reveal itself before long.)

at any rate, what is at stake here is the freedom of all kinds of creators--self-appointed artists and other "producers" of various media--to do what they do. the copyright crusaders will argue that one needs a system of incentives in order for creation (or the sharing of creations) to happen at all. that system of incentives, as currently defined, deals with one's ownership of the expression of an idea. (and not, mind you, the idea itself--as a number of conference-goers noted, one does not "lose" an idea by sharing it with others.)

fundamental to the conference's implicit challenge to the copyright status quo is an acknowledgment that no invention, no creation ever really comes from nowhere. (unless you believe in "intelligent design" or some such nonsense. really, what is wrong with kansas?) thus, one term that was thrown around at the conference was "sequential innovation"--a term that, seemingly, seeks to validate a certain, common type of innovation that builds on previous innovations. while such a term might serve to correct the common sense of certain IP indoctrinees, i think it creates a more serious problem by implying that there is any such thing as "non-sequential innovation," thus ultimately reinforcing a status quo that believes in and values a totally imaginary kind of creativity.

fortunately, most of the artists, musicians, critics, and academics--and even some of the lawyers--seemed to affirm that, in their own experience (or that of their clients or "subjects"), the creative process takes place not in a vaccuum but in a cultural context--a context created by previous creators and their inspiring works. we heard example after example of this sort of thing, from mike doughty reflecting on his songwriting process to michael bell-smith demonstrating, quite audibly, the ways that music-making software turn even the most recognizable sounds into raw materials. we also heard stories about the absurdity of the copyright regime and the ways that "ownership" operates on artists--my favorite was the one where george clinton gets sued for sampling himself. (bridgeport music, the "publishing company" that "owns" most of clinton's back catalog--not to mention many other funk classics that they knew they could clean-up on in the sampling age--has instigated over 800 suits against artists/labels they allege are using "illegal samples" from "their" catalog. [sorry again about the quotes, but i really can't validate this bullshit.])

the best examples from the conference, in my opinion, took the form of clearly derivative works that, nonetheless, demonstrated themselves to be clearly "original" creations, and thus argued for their own existence in a most convincing, compelling, and artistic manner. my favorites of these are:

1) the grey video - a mashup video to accompany one of dangermouse's grey album tracks; very skillfully done and very entertaining. the world would be worse-off without this in it. no doubt. the amount of joy that i and my friends and my students have derived from it is enough.

2) red vs. blue - an example of the emerging (or is it exploding?) medium known as machinima, red vs. blue imagines the existential dialogue between characters of a popular video game. and it's hilarious. i was heartened to learn that a number of video game producers are now enabling this sort of thing by making their code more easily "hackable," in a sense, and even including modules for creating one's own facial expressions for characters.

of course, we were also pointed to new works making these same arguments in a more rhetorical manner: films such as copyright criminals, books such as kembrew mcleod's freedom of expression, and, of course, the ever-illuminating words and works of siva vaidhyanathan.

my own talk at the conference was intended to demonstrate that reggae and hip-hop provide ample examples of the same phenomenon: building on, riffing on, signifyin(g) on, versioning, sampling, and otherwise alluding/referring to other people's musical ideas in the creation of new music. rather than simply seeking to show that this kind of practice is something one "happens" to find in hip-hop and reggae, i argued that such practices are, in fact, part and parcel of hip-hop and reggae expression (not to mention just about any other style of music). really, there is no hip-hop or reggae without, not just the music of the past but, an active dialogue with the music of the past. to make my points, i used my favorite ol' riddim, the mad mad, to illustrate the various ways that reggae and hip-hop artists have made use of music of the past. of course, this takes various forms, from homage to ironic quotation to afro-caribbean cultural politics to the invocation of tradition or the simple use of a shared musical-vocabulary. one would be hard-pressed to tell the roots radics that they couldn't re-lick an old studio one favorite (which is like telling charlie parker not to play over the rhythm changes), or to tell krs-one that he can't quote yellowman in order to represent the boogie-down to the fullest, or to tell tupac that he can't attempt to skewer biggie smalls by quoting biggie's quotation of krs/yellowman, or to tell tego calderon that he can't mobilize an afro-puerto-rican identity or praise ganja or ask "what good's bling-bling if it ain't got that swing?" by sampling the mad mad, replaying bdp's beat, and invoking an old duke ellington tune. that's just how music is made. plain and simple. can't stop won't stop.

but don't take my word for it, take my word for it. that is, feel free to give a listen. my talk has now been uploaded, so any of y'all that would like to hear it, complete with sound clips (and a few too many um's, perhaps), can do so here: real audio stream / mp3 download.


not to be missed

dan charnas on the music industry. it's a three part series (1 2 3), and a must-read, especially for those who still think greg tate is an old man.

it's not about hip-hop's commercialization, per se; it's about the way hip-hop's rise to the mainstream has--not coincidentally--coincided with its change of position vis-a-vis the status quo: from disenchantment to reinforcement. ugh. i mean, thugh.

ben walker on the island. a parodic parable, to be sure. strange stuff, but only fictionalized. not really fiction. a must-listen, especially towards the end when he tries to buy an island of his own.

charlie on time travel, though travelling through MIT security seems perhaps as difficult.

kid k, jace, jake, and ripley all chime in re: toneburst.


implosion nearly really imminent?

the following points of light come from an ol' "radical" catholic-socialist friend of mine, a guy who has often reminded me of the good things the church has done and can do. like many, he is incensed by the choice for new pope.

he makes the following recommendations to save the church from imminent implosion. it's crazy that such sentiments mark him as a "radical." they seem like rather reasonable recommendations to me. i say: let the elitists have their "church"; may the rest of the flock reclaim the term "catholic" for the truly universal-minded. me, i've gone from "recovering catholic" to "atheistic" to "not religious." but i still care.

A response to those Roman Catholic clerics who accuse us ordinary folks of secularism, consumerism and "the sins of the flesh":

1. Many of us are fighting for an optional married priesthood. If you will not fight along with us none the less we expect you to keep your trousers zipped at all times. God is watching and so are we.

2. If the only woman you ever knew before ordination was mom, better ask those angry women in the pews about patriarchy and their exclusion from full church participation. Before they walk out.

3. We demand for all diocesen clergy a vow of poverty, like St. Benedict's so as to control any itch for state-of-the-art rectories, BMWs and summer dachas. The enormous surplus created could be given to AIDS victims in all those countries where missionaries condemn safe sex.

4. Instruct the bishop of Rome to donate to the poor, his sheep, all gold, silver and precious jewels - as seen on TV - from church property. Such opulence, when the wretched of the world can find neither work nor bread, seems idolatrous. As they say in his Vaterland (fatherland) "gib mit warmen Haenden" (give with warm hands).

5. Finally, our bedrooms are off limits for clerical investigation or admonition. Don't go there. You are welcome in the parlour of course, where we value a dialog on justice, love, peace and the beatitudes. If you promise not to throw any anathemas at us, we'll return the favor.

Peace, brothers.


usurp sizzurp

(the prick of the printer)

during lunch at my parents-in-law's house last saturday, i recommended walter benjamin's the task of the translator to my mother-in-law, who had just finished doing her own translation of a baudelaire poem from les fleurs du mal. when i recommended the essay, it was simply because i remembered that it considered and expounded on the challenges and philosophical implications of translation in a profound way. we were then all rather surprised when, upon googling it, we discovered that benjamin's piece was written as a preface to a collection of baudelaire translations. (i swear i had no such recollection.) uncanny.

what was even more uncanny, however, was that when the mail arrived, it included a small package addressed to fern and sent by the mix unit which, when opened, revealed big boi's hot new mixtape, got that purp. that's right: my mother-in-law ordered got that purp straight from the mix unit and beat me to the punch by a long-shot. (it's all thanks to mr.f/j's piece in the new yorker, of course. thanks for bringing royal crunk to lunch with the in-laws, sasha.) i've been listening to it and, aside from the incessant crack slanging and casual misogyny, it's definitely got a vibe. almost sounds purple--something about those southern synth tones (even and especially the drums), the parliamentary voice processing, and that luscious bounce. there's even a little kanyefied bobby "blue" bland to pull those nostalgia-strings. [k-punk really kicks ass sometimes.] wonder what cam'ron thinks about big boi getting in on the purple scene, though? madder than queen elizabeth getting usurped by some sizzurp?

speaking of mixtapes, jess harvell has a new piece in pitchfork on the wonderful world of online mixes. the medium seems to be exploding of late, and jess points to a whole lotta downloads for people with big hard-drives.

the first mix the article points to is kid kameleon's excellent 2 part shockout mix. and the attention comes just in time for listeners to catch his new mashit mix. while you're over at kid k's spot, don't miss his take on drum'n'bass'n'race. this issue--the whitening of d'n'b--remains an uncomfortable and unexplored one, but it's a story that needs to be told.

in terms of other mixes to check, i definitely recommend anything at mashit and hyperdub.

elsewhere on the web, check out the new issue of earplug, the online mag for the "international electronic music community." in addition to news and reviews and such, there's a feature on that ubercoolische site wherein richie hawtin, ricardo villalobos, and magda shack up in berlin. lots of navel-gazing, postmodernist drivel, and !minimal! hijinks. quite a funny parody. and it's nice that meister plastik seems to appreciate the joke. in related news, minimal-techno-label of minimal-techno-labels, kompakt, has just opened an mp3 store for all us digital DJs and all you ipod-ers.

an odd item of news: apparently, there's been a computer virus circulating in romania that seeks to wipe-out all digital gypsy music. can we chill on the techno-racism and instead target, say, MOR ballads?

in local affairs: checked out some great works this past weekend during the annual somerville open studios walking tour. once again, i was entranced by the metalwork of sculptor gideon weisz. gideon does amazing things with science and sculpture. he's the guy who made our mobius strip wedding rings. (we were pronounced, rather than man and wife, "untwistably twisted.") one day i hope to have a big one of his things for my yard. (need a yard first, though.) loved his new linkubes, which are as fun to play with as to marvel at.

i was also amazed again this year by the paintings of jason chase, where photorealism meets surrealism, making you realize how surreal, say, strip-malls and gummi-bears really are. of course, i love the hyperreal, explicitly political stuff. but i also love the "simple" depiction of life caught in freeze frame.

also, caught a great set by gloobic the other night at beat research. jeff and eric improvised an entire set of laptop music--fringe-style--from scratch, using nothing but live and reason, a couple ozones, and some microphones. truly organic stuff, and not without plenty of bump. looking forward to hearing this act refine, er, its act. plenty of practice sessions, plus the enormous gig, available for listening at their site.

sometimes cambridge can be a pretty hot spot for good music, especially along mass ave in central square. dizzee's show last week was a blast, especially when he spit over some hip-hop beats. the soundsystem at the middle east was pretty spot-on, and it was great to hear diz's voice cut through the heavy squelches loud and clear. no one stateside can quite rap like that, don't? this friday makes for quite the crowded field: you can catch none other than mr.catchdubs at the enormous room; dj c with dj bc over at mash ave; or the 2nd annual "anniversary dance" being thrown by bostonreggae.com over at the western front.

tonight brynmore and burning babylon are bringing some heavyweight dub heat to central square's premier hipster-meets-b-school lounge. while they spin dub side of the moon and various dubby tangents, the gloobic guys, in their sosolimited guise, will cut'n'paste dorothy'n'co. in realtime, looking to milk those serendipitous moments of synchronicity.


welcome to jamrock, indeed

i got the following email, which i will quote here in its entirety, from a jamaican student in my class at brown. she overheard another student express an interest in writing a final paper about damian marley, and she clearly became incensed by what she perceived as a misperception of what he represents in jamaica.

mind you that these are rather strong opinions and not necessarily wholly representative of any social group inna JA--when recently in kingston I observed a group of young men, of various social backgrounds, really enjoying "welcome to jamrock"--but still these sentiments are significant, i think. they do lay out a certain structure of interpretation of marley and his family in jamaica, one very informed by racial politics and enduring class differences and contradictions.

note, for example, the "ghetto youths" billboard in the background of the video: does this sort of thing serve to mobilize young blacks in jamaica for some sort of productive politics, or does it serve to appropriate/exploit a romanticized image of ghetto sufferahs in order to sell records and wrist-bands to consumers overseas? one beer, one people. you see me?

of course, being only 20-years-old or so, my student's perceptions are strongly informed by a generational perspective. to call bob marley a consummate "brown boy" is to miss that marley himself rose from poverty--from where he learned his critique of the shitstem--to engender a certain kind of "brown boy" subject. (of course, she doesn't miss this, but her analysis gets a little confused at times. even so, i think it's a valuable polemic.)

without further ado, here is my student's rant [with the majority of typos corrected, by her request], which i found rather provocative, as i hope, will you, as i hope, will my other student who is still considering a paper on junior gong--who, significantly, was the first reggae singer to make a strong impression on her (go figure):

It's amazing that Damian Marley has come to signify dancehall/reggae. Even more so because looking at him one sees the image of every brown boy who went to Hillel (he went to Hillel) or George's, if they had Bob Nesta for their father and a slew of brothers producing them. Even the person of no relation, Alex Marley, has claimed Bob as his ancestral roots and now has dreaded his hair, eats ital and cusses bout Burger King and screams jah rastafari whenever a rasta man walks by his window. Almost every brown boy wants to be a rasta. The rasta colour wristbands, the weed, the Bob Marley playing, the claim that ol-pirates-came-to-rob-I-and-took-my-homework...some even venture into the ghettos to prove they're the big man, like they're on the same level of the people or understand the level. No one screams about babylon more than a brown boy, not even Capleton. It's a part of their sentence structure. Everything from that babylon teacha deh and the babylon school, the system, mi parents, the prime minister, Omar Davis, the police (Reneto Adams) and now the ever popular University of the West Indies all fall under babylon. They've novelised the inquities of the system in such a way, they scream police brutality as soon as it comes on the news and how dem can't tek dis place ya, then they go to a party, listen some Bob and everything is now all right. Amazing. These are the people Damian went to school with. These are some of the people chilling with him on tour, that he hangs out with.

I dare you to take a survey [in Jamaica] and ask any brown boy if his father was Bob Marley if he would "carry on his father's work" and the answer would be yes. They would go bun a babylon. So when Damian Marley came out with albums, it wasn't much of a surprise that he was doing it, it was one because he actually decided to take time out of his busy schedule of pushing the Marley name at anything mawga with some legs, to do an album. We can just say every Marley kid has entered music, it's their job.

This culture--if it can be called that--is so pronounced that after watching a documentary on Bob Marley, the females of the class [in Jamaica] all came up with the conclusion: Bob was a brown boy. The way he spoke, the frass weeded look on his face, the constant righteous terminology, the anger towards the government, all typical of a brown boy. But what I believe is, they have all fashioned themselves to fit his mold. Sometimes you wonder what they're so upset about. "The system" their parents are a part of? The car they stole out and crashed and got punished for? The party/session they went to, and the brave occasional venture to passa passa?

They embrace dancehall and reggae, putting Beres Hammond and Bounty on the same dub plate and a joke between my female class was that where we gonna find a man if all the men them a start sounds. That's basically the new occupation of a brown boy whose parents wouldn't disown him for not getting an education and going to medicine/law school.

So it's hard for me to think that Damian doesn't fit the mold. Forming himself into every sterotype just put forth about a brown boy.

This is not to say that his music doesn't have purpose and that people won't be playing it. Even that the Jamaican people are going to reject it. Look at "Welcome to JamRock." He has accomplish what brown boys want to do for a living. He just has more help, being backed by his brothers, Bob's money, Cindy (smart woman) and a whole slew of supportive brown boys. And only time will tell if he's genuine, maybe he really does want to represent the poor and this isn't a "cool" thing to do for him. Maybe it was and he realised that it shouldn't be.

My brother was a brown boy. Went to Wolmer. Played Bob at the top of his stereo so you could hear it down the road. Friends ranged from other brown boys to boys in the ghetto. He constantly complained about babylon. And if you ask his son who daddy wants you to meet but you can't, he's 5 and he'll tell you Bob Marley. And no one can tell me if he was the child of Bob that he wouldn't be making music like Damian.

But everything righteous doesn't come from righteousness, some of it comes from fad. The very fact Kymani had a number 1 song in hawaii for 6 months straight is just wow. So Damian Marley affecting anyone that greatly is not surprising, it's just amazing. And if anyone just loves him to death, they should find themselves a brown boy. Because you'll hear a lot of what he says coming out of their months except the really deep spiritual thing stuff which they haven't uncovered yet.

I'm not saying that Damian isn't an artist or that he should discredited. But to understand him you have to understand the brown boy mentality which is prevalent in middle class to rich Jamaican boys.

Most disturbing thing heard when I said, "Damian Marley doesn't respect woman," is to hear "Bob was a womanizer." The only answer that came to my head was Bob was woman beater, so I guess it's okay for Damian to be one too. (not making allegations, just stating a followup argument). Disturbing.