Monday, June 28, 2004


Absolute Powers

Everyone’s favorite sign-painter, Steve Powers, kicks it solo at Deitch Projects with ‘My List of Demands’. I haven’t seen a collection of his work since the Street Market show in the ‘Deitch garage.’ One of the many points of brilliance of that show was that it pumped up one of the simplest forms of authorship (the tag or signature) while fading out the individual artist. Sure, you could identify the individual tags and line work of Twist/Barry McGee, Reas/Todd James and Espo/Mr. Powers, but the free-flowing exchange of one-liners and inside jokes was the most artistically VISUAL representation of ‘three homies shooting the shit’ that I have ever seen. The written dialogue that the trio had carried on with others in the public realm as (graffiti) writers was translated into the space of a gallery. Now their materials were the partially realized chunks of the street itself… storefronts, signs, banners, wreckage.
In Espo’s current one man joint you’re still in the midst of his communication with his boys but it’s less of a dialogue and more of a monologue. He continues kicking the one-liners in a series of panels covered with potential hipster t-shirt icons and slogans. The words “WHAT UP MY NUTRIENT” surround a pizza slice cartoon. A calendar-icon with legs runs after a knot-of-cash-icon over the phrase “A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT.” These ‘logos’ are jumbled onto panels and fight for your attention. A few of the logos reappear as three-dimensional signage in the same room.
But in the larger gallery space Powers extends his speech into a short story. Using phrases that simultaneously recall ‘Dick and Jane books’ and a friend that’s slightly drunk, Espo recalls a story about schoolyard drama and revenge in a series of large ‘sign’ panels that step up and around the room. The strong graphic quality of the letters and illustrations continues Espo’s love of handcrafted signs. At first glance you can’t help but compare it to McGee’s combinations of figure and word but it really is closer to the storytelling work of Los Bros Hernandez, both in tone and line work (minus the word bubbles). But Powers manipulation of the ‘story boards’ takes effective advantage of the large room and signage legibility. He even manipulates the viewer’s body in a way that a graphic novel would never attempt to do but the best installation artists always consider. And of course he hits us with his zinger (as any great storyteller does) near the end of the tale. It’s a sign giving the results of a ‘sporting event’ that works on it’s own as a continuation of Powers’ graphic vocabulary but only gains meaning after the tale is told.
The most original piece is a stack of banners and awnings overwhelming the front façade of the gallery. The punchy phrasing and graphics are at their simplest but the wit ante is upped by the signs engagement with the neighborhood. Looking truly alien yet painfully familiar the awnings call out to the messy hodge-podge of Canal Street just down and around the SOHO corner… but feeling a world away.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

ya know the rules

Gotta get it off my chest, to put my mind at ease
Since when you heard a DJ make cuts like these?

These cats can provide tips for winning a battle but I can tell you one or two things you shouldn’t do up on stage… but first some history Readers Digest style…

Of the four elements the DJ always had the biggest financial burden. The MC and B-Boy just needed their skills and someone-else’s sound system to throw down. The Writers talents included boosting materials thus negating any needs for funds. The DJ started off with the parent’s record collection and the household belt-drive (and maybe a dash of boosting at the bins), but to progress as a DJ it quickly became apparent: cash ruled SOME things around you.

If you could rock the party or display some originality as a DJ, you could get on. The early sound system battles inherited by hip-hop culture relied heavily on the best speakers but even those set-ups would allow a skilled new DJ to make his or her name based exclusively on skills.
But the financial pressure was still there. You had to buy records and replace needles and maybe, just maybe, you could upgrade the gear.

Eventually, DJ battles replaced the sound system battles. These DJ battles provided a level playing field, as a proper sport must do. Tables and speakers were provided so all you had to tow was the talent and the tunes.

Then the Age of Turntablism came to be. The purity of the art was maintained even as beat juggling, body tricks and a cornucopia of scratch techniques spilled out over the tables two. One could digress and debate the points of body tricks and team battles… but even those additions to the DJ arsenal were not burdened by the skrilla albatross.

But then came battle records. A battle record was a new weapon. It gave an unfair advantage to those that could press up their own vinyl. It gave the upper hand to those ‘with means’ in a culture based on ‘those without’.

In a hip-hop battle it shouldn’t matter how many written, or unwritten, rules you break or how many expert judges say the other guy was better. If the crowd is with you…you take it. Period. But that same crowd should be annoyed by any talented competitor who would want to nullify one of the most basic DJ skills (taking one record off for the next) by pressing up the best sounds and breaks on ONE piece of vinyl. Anyone who has seen Kid Capri go through a crate knows the dizzying speed of platter switches can be a marvel to watch.

However, when these patchwork platters were mass marketed they took their place in the culture because of three things.
One: Who can get mad at the creation of a niche market? That’s very hip-hop.
Two: Battle wax is available to all DJs at a cost in the range of any other vinyl they might pick up so there’s no financial disparity.
Three: The crowds went for it. They always rewrite the unwritten rules.

I admire today’s vinyl junkies still digging for that rare find and I admire bragging rights earned via distribution of break compilations. They’re ok for a party or for cutting behind an MC.But if you’re entering a battle, for the love of the sport, don’t compile you’re well-earned archaeological finds onto acetate using this thing unless you make the wax available to everyone.

What always shines through with the hip-hop DJ is that it’s not WHAT you present but HOW you present it. You should always win with timing, dexterity and a keen reading of the crowd. You should not win based on the rarity of your tools.

OK Cipha, don't get gassed!
Speaking of timing and reading the crowd…(This is a bit of old news but I haven’t seen much about it…)The Ghost/Rakim show in NY provided a prime example of the difference between a skilled DJ reading the crowd and a skilled DJ resting on laurels. Cipha Sounds dropped the perfect records for the crowd at the show… classics for the heads and just obscure enough to throw off the newbies.
Kay Slay brought a rather rote set thinking predictable hits would get him through a restless crowd of hip-hoppers. When the audience voiced, and in some cases, threw their opinions towards the stage, Slay committed a grave mistake in performance… he turned on the audience. The Drama King knows that nothing is more boring than blaming the audience for not being into your set but somehow it slipped his mind. Nothing will get you hated on quicker than abandoning the show to tell the crowd that they are not recognizing ‘real’ hip-hop.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Tenacious D

I'm sure they'd think again
If they had a friend like Ben

Tayshaun got his swagger on in Kobe’s face. Big Ben kept tapping it in over Shaq. Rasheed opened the third with the bitch slap 3-pointer. All the starters hitting double figures! Not to take away from any of Billups shine but I would’ve gone with Ben for the MVP since his is the D-Team.

Strangest victory lap ever? When Rip aka RH-Doom aka Hamilton Lecter (thanks for that one, Lucy!) doffs his acrylic grill on the way to the victory bench. He holds it high above his dome as if it was a symbol of his 'rise-to-superstar' season and providing the Motownfolk one last glimpse of it's sweaty velcroed greatness.

Rock and Metal Distributors

Men grow cold as girls grow old
We all lose our charm in the end

I never liked the whole ‘hosted by’ mixtape pitch but this is ridiculous. Will Green Lantern’s cable guy kick off his next one?

Speaking of cable… An ill Gibsonian occurance… The streets has it’s own uses and that’s word …excerpts from the NYTimes article.

“…odd that Mozambican businesses are doing a brisk trade in three-legged aluminum pots, ferried by the truckload to buyers in nearby Swaziland and South Africa… Mozambique's only aluminum smelter sells its entire production abroad. … Mozambique is not importing any aluminum, either.
…thieves cut a brace of four power lines …and carted away more than 35 miles of aluminum cable before anyone noticed.
Throughout southern Africa, cable theft is ubiquitous, a sort of third-world analog to first-world thefts of car radios. In (one) district, where power lines stretch over 46,000 miles of poles, the direct losses to the utility this year amount to $250,000, a huge sum here. In South Africa, the power utility Eskom said that its losses through April exceeded $2.8 million, and that they more than tripled between 2001 and 2003."

"Finally, there is the human toll. Would-be cable thieves are regularly electrocuted in the act…. In 2002… 25 people died and 112 more were injured when a commuter train slammed into an idled supply train in the South African province of KwaZulu Natal… because someone had stolen six feet of copper cable worth about $2.25, disabling the signal system… In Pretoria, passengers enraged by train delays caused by cable theft set the city's train station on fire in 2001. Repairs cost roughly $2.3 million.
In Mozambique, long among the world's poorest nations, so much copper electrical cable has been stripped from poles that the state utility company has refitted 90 percent of its power grid with less efficient, but cheaper, aluminum cable… Most cable is stolen in snippets of a few tens or scores of yards, often by people desperate to feed themselves or their families… Experts say much of the stolen cable is fenced to scrap dealers with criminal ties, and that much of it ends up in South Africa, where it is either recycled or, often, loaded into shipping containers for export."

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ol’ Dirty/ Ol’ Blue Eyes

Two Words: New York, New York

True indeed... noz has the right to bug over McGirt as Sir Elton but the real piece of Roc that will knock a headache into that ear canal is Freeweezy as the Chairman of the Board... spread the news!

Monday, June 14, 2004

Stylemaster 1

Destroyin all lines of thought, the Daoist crew were bugged
I was a young kid, watchin these writers styles that bugged

My recent trip to China, the Mother(-in-law)Land inspired some research on the Tang stylemaster Zhang Xu…

The poet DuFu wrote about the decline of his era, the Tang dynasty (paying particular attention to the ‘suffering of the poor and the corruption of officials’), and described Zhang Xu as one of the ‘Eight Drunken Immortals’ in his joint of the same name.

Zhang Xu aka Zhang the Mad was one of a group of Daoist painters that would basically get drunk and get their calligraphy on. They would sometimes use their own hair or bodies instead of brushes.

In Zhang’s time the Tang court calligraphers were supposed keep up style and elegance standards as set by the Wang tradition but naturally the sanctioned styles stagnated, staled and started looking ‘so last dynasty’. During the mid- to late- Tang dynasty there must have been a sense that the death of the dynasty was near since there was a lot of buzz in the painting and poetry circles about creativity and individualism… basically, buzz on a break from the ‘state’ styles. The Daoist crew looked back to the Han Dynasty style of cursive rather than to the prevailing Wang tradition.

As mentioned, Mr. X-to-the-Z refused to write unless he was drunk and his cohorts developed their wild style, that they called ‘wild cursive’. It’s also called caoshu or grass writing and is characterized by a quick hand with connected strokes and joined characters. Zhang Xu emphasized the entire composition rather than individual characters and so he gave himself and his disciples the freedom to change the relative size of characters within the piece. He also picked up on Daoist automatic sand writing that is a form of writing done with a stick in sand while in a trance-like state.

Although his style is greatly admired by students of calligraphy many of his works are impossible to read completely due to the deformation of characters.

It is worth noting one of Zhang’s students Huaisu was a monk who eventually stepped up the game. He not only developed Zhang’s style and continued to write about getting drunk and eating fish and bamboo shoots… but he also incorporated comments about his own writing style within the free-flowing text. He became known as The Drunken Monk.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

a very PC song

One for Peedi Crakk

This may not be the joint that all my fellow Crakk-heads have been waiting for but it should damn well get you through the Puerto Rican Day parade.

The Doug/Rick lyrical rework is worth it for Nore's ‘what, what’ but why would Peedi say that his S.Carters always hurt his corns?

paid off of all of that

(Brrrrrrrrrrr) What happened to that boy

Tune in to ESPN at 6 tonight to hear the tone in Bird’s voice when he responds to the question "Does the N.B.A. lack enough white superstars in your opinion?" before judging the response…
On the rilly: Jim Gray always comes off as a dick interviewer. Ever since they broadcast him pushing someone angrily out of the shot right before switching to his phony post game smile the dude was suspect. I don’t follow baseball so the Pete Rose thing wasn’t on my radar.
For now I’m banking that Bird’s dry jab is at the viewing public ("And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited'') and at all those that dwell on his ‘whiteness’ in relation to his ‘game’. It will be interesting to see if Magic, Melo and Lebron take it as ‘trash talk’ from ‘the master of trash talk’ or if there’s a collective cringe.

And, hey... shouldn’t the question be ‘have enough’ not ‘lack enough’?

You know the white boy'll bite you

In other ‘great white hope’ news check out Judge Lynch’s defense of Mr. Shady and dismissing the Source.
"Like other white musicians who have been successful in musical genres or forms pioneered by Africans or African-Americans, from Benny Goodman to Elvis Presley to Paul Simon, Mathers has been accused of exploiting black culture; he in turn has asserted his respect for his black role models and peers, and has maintained that he comes by his hip-hop success honestly, as a young man from a poor urban background who has long been associated with African-American friends, neighbors and mentors."
Weird subject matter to be brought up in a copyright debate. But, really…Paul Simon?!?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004 for the hook...

"That's right, we got that GOOD, GOOD
From every street to every borough, and back to every HOOD, HOOD"

Cool Breeze
Good, Good
East Point's Greatest Hit