Monday, February 28, 2005

state of the 'Nation'

treat it like a seminar
teach the bourgeois
and rock the boulevard

The NYU seminar on the significance of the Public Enemy album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” this past weekend was one of those great ideas that actually fulfilled it’s promise. It rekindled the feelings of that ecstatic moment in time that the album ‘created’ (not, necessarily, ‘captured’). I was only able to attend a few of the events (Friday’s screening and ‘Critics Panel’ and Saturday’s ‘Producer Panel’). Other blogs will likely have more complete accounting of the events judging from early posts on the subject so I will focus on a few comments that hit me center-mass.
Alan Light summed up the reason ‘Nation’ is often considered the best hip-hop album of all time if not one of the best albums PERIOD. He noted how rare it is to have an album capture/create the confluence of three cultural elements which I will paraphrase/title as: (1) A contemporary political statement, (2) Avant-garde aesthetics and (3) Cross demographic popularity.
(1) A contemporary political statement
Greg Tate’s description of the New York political climate at the time brought back memories of Black activists (from Sharpton to Maddox, Farrakhan to Souljah) as well as the extreme volatility as far as race relations were concerned. Armond White clarified that the record was less of a ‘document’ of those politically charged times and more of a ‘romantic’ vision of disparate voices. It made me realize that PE created a work of art implying a context or ‘convergence of ideas’ that never happened. Or at least were never resolved. White described the album’s power as a ‘moment of promise’ that included the potential for social activism generated by art. Robert Christgau boldly said the album failed on that promise. He was later refuted by audience members who said ‘Nation’ changed their political outlook and engagement. One person stated that the failure rests, if anywhere, on ‘us’ not on the point of inspiration created by PE. Christgau and Light conceded that although ‘Nation’ may have failed to create “5000 Political Leaders,” as Chuck proposed, it seems to have generated 5000 activists… at least! Tate quickly quipped that ‘Leaders’ often become more problematic anyway.

(2) Avant-garde aesthetic
Tate contextualized the cutting-edge ‘music’ that PE was bringing forth by describing a party that was brought to a stand still when ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ was first being played. Basically, even the funkiest residents of late-80’s hip-hop needed to adjust to the ‘dance-ability’ of Chuck’s voice/rap rather than dancing to the ‘beat’! White described the new formula as rhythm and blues plus noise and he emphasized the distinction of the elements of ‘rhythm’ and ‘blues’ rather than accepting it as a genre description. The noise, he recognized, had been utilized in other musical genres most notably in the realm of Punk and, Tate added, some Jazz. Clearly the mechanization of this ‘noise’ (via sampling however ‘crude’ or ‘off’ it might have been) was what set it apart from previous ‘instrumental noise’ excursions. (The concept of controlled chaos will receive more attention in my summary of the ‘Producers Panel’). And, it cannot be emphasized enough, PE combined their ‘noise’ elements with the full intention of creating ‘popular music’.

(3) Cross demographic popularity.
Alan Light says everyone was listening to ‘Nation’ at the time and he is almost correct. Jon Caramanica asked if the album was ‘inevitable’ which I felt was a question addressing it’s aesthetics as well as pop-culture impact. Christgau said it was not inevitable. He said albums by Eric B & Rakim or X-Clan could be described as inevitable meaning they were clearly developmental progress of the hip-hop vocabulary (be it in form or content) but they could clearly be tied to what had gone before. ‘Nation’ they all seemed to agree, was quite ‘alien’ in it’s aesthetics and the way it presented concepts in voice, sample and sound. But what is mind blowing is that the goal of PE was to reach the masses via it’s radical shift. Although Rick Rubin kept pressuring Chuck for recordings, the Bomb Squad strategized maximum effectiveness for every aspect of the album. Design, photography, marketing and image were as important as noise, resonance, and political statements (Which will receive more attention in my summary of the ‘Producers Panel’). It is no mistake that PE crossed demographics of street culture, college radicals, punk rockers and music critics. That was the intent! It’s amazing, however, that it worked. Vivien Goldman described the release of ‘Nation’ as an album meeting it’s moment and possibly defining the ‘maturation of a genre.’ It wasn’t inevitable… but timing CAN be everything!
A couple of personal notes…
In the Bay Area before ‘Nation’ when PE was an opening act on the Def Jam arena concerts it was amazing to see the 99% Black audience’s lack of interest in PE as they eagerly waited for LL and Whodini to take the stage. College radio was starting the PE push so inevitably the white critics were on the bandwagon before most black communities.

PE was absolutely a final piece of the puzzle to my move to New York. Although my brain had already been altered by the ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ b-side it was phenomenal to hear mixes of it on the Red Alert and Chuck Chillout KISS FM weekend shows. The song would be extended for unbelievably long periods for a mainstream radio station. And the streets of Bed-Stuy loved every squealing second of it. Oddly, the NYU critics panel suggested that ‘Bring the Noise’ was the mind-altering sound/moment. I will concede that ‘Noise’ was the ‘al dente’ serving of the raw ideas from ‘Rebel’ but Greg Tate was the only critic who recognized it (at least the night of the panel). I think it’s important that history shows the PE paradigm shift beginning on that street level DJ driven b-side… rather than on the ‘soundtrack for troubled rich white kids’ called ‘Less Than Zero.’

(Producers Panel comments coming soon).

Friday, February 25, 2005

these are the JB's

who doesn't?

Cosmo Baker has stepped up his On The Go posts with the run of Julian Bevan’s comics about life as a DJ. You’ll recognize his line-work from the work he did for the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors last year. But JB’s resume is insanely diverse… I’ll only mention two of my favorites…In his punk rock days his band opened for this Big Black dude and in his hip-hop DJ days one of his guestlists consisted ONLY of the name of this big black dude. He always hooked me up on the downtown party scene with a pitch on my answering machine that usually went something like “I’m Djing at _____ tonight. Bisexual model chicks.(Click!)”

Julian and I met at the PI in Do Or Die. And he loves to tell the story again and again of how it all got started way back when…
Our friendship consisted of the occasional “Wassup?” at various hip-hop parties in the campus vicinity but changed one day when we crossed paths outside of our dorm (a Bed Stuy apartment building that sat in the middle of Myrtle and Willoughby late-80s crack sales). Bursting with rare enthusiasm like only a fresh-off-the-plane-from-Cali BK dweller could be, I exclaimed at the Natti ‘expat’ “Yo I just heard the ‘Scenario Remix’! Totally different lyrics! Totally different!”
Julian, equally enthused, said something to the effect of “Word?...NO way man!"
We were boys ever since... even though he still makes fun of me for wearing my Public Enemy T-shirt every other day he saw me at Pratt.
In honor of Bevan’s dead-on DJ depictions I’ll play the request of the nerdy dude in the first frame of his “I Heart White People” page.

Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School, Hood - Scenario Remix
De La Soul - Mack Daddy on the Left

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

beans, bun, beverage

Play like Roy Rogers and...
The Sinsurr and Government appreciation of the B-and-B sizzurp serving (not to be confused with TAFKATAFKAP) definitely has me as a co-D on the codeine concoction (the joint not the drink). But if you do partake of the Lone Star Purple I suggest this lean-back throwback tho’ed track that has been keeping me nourished with the sloooooowwwed-down sustenance as of late. That Broken Language boy confirmed it was sizzerved Before the Kappa 2K1 but that’s about all I know. Dem Texas boys’ (Paul, Cham, Boss…) serriously Screwed verses surely get blurry. In this case ign’ance is bliss. Lean into the lazy cuts that crack the track and let that ominous echoing beat nourish the nod.

Beanie Sigel & Bun B - Purple Rain
Before the Kappa 2K1 Freestyle (Screwed)

Monday, February 21, 2005

dead presidents day

Today I’ll let y’all find out whose world this is and after listening to the hot line(s) hit the hot song. With the RBG squad counterpunching at SOBs again I had to post up for their ridiculously underrated affiliate Tahir of Hedrush. I had heard his consistent productions before I saw him hold it down a few years ago at SOBs. (This was the show where headwraps turned their backpacks when Sean Paul (not dude) and Killer (not dude) were just tearing things down with that A-town stomp.) The Revolutionary But Gangsta concept can often be heavy handed but Tahir’s drawling articulation and beats that bump like ‘ingrown hairs’ always sound punchy, direct and never preachy. I bought ’Recoil’ directly from dude just so I could give him a pound of respect. Only conspiracy theories could explain why he hasn’t had bigger success.
So as we kick back on this patriotic Presidents Day I’ll let Tahir’s well-known ‘Holiday’ assessment warm you up for his 9/11-patrotism-is–a-joke flag-burner ‘Terrorist’.
Put your right hand over your heart… were you hit?

Tahir - Holiday
Tahir - Terrorist

Monday, February 14, 2005

with the ‘stache gone, I’m mad strong

In Philly there are a lot of white dudes that looked like dude…

(Pennsylvania Amish)

... and black dudes that looked like dude…

(Philadelphia Freeway)

Can I get a witness? Coincidence?!?
I’m no expert but it seems that shaving the beard makes either girlie-men or swinging singles.
I know what you’re thinking “‘Staches… Where they at? Where they at?” Well, if the Amish were soldiers they’d rock ‘em but they’re like ‘Peace!’ so they knock ‘em.
Sadly, the Imam might knock ‘em for knockin ‘em.
But a word to the wise intelligent, don't step to Ed Gingerich.
Asalaam alaikum.

babies babble on, they lookin for excuses

this is who

LC – Yo, B, you heard that new ‘Who?’ shit?
BA – ‘Who?’ MJ?
LC – Oh, you’re buggin’ off that fake Michael Jackson on TV like ‘What!?!’, right?
BA- What?
LC – MJ, B.
BA – Oh, that Madonna suing Mary J. Blige shit?
LC – What? YOU said ‘Who? MJ’, B!. You meant JM, right? The new Jae Millz…‘Who?’ the single... Yo, that joint is like ‘WHAAT!’
BA – ‘Whut? Thee Album’? or ‘What?’ the Tribe joint?
LC – No! Listen! ‘Who?’! Jae!
BA – Look I said ‘Who? MJ’ like ‘Who? Mike Jones’
LC – Who Mike Jones?
BA – Right!
LC – What?
BA – What ‘What?’?
Simultaneously – JEAN GRAE!?!

(You don’t know? I don't know...)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

m.i.a. take it to the house

this way we take it to the house
take it to the house
take it to the house

(pic jacked from Brooklyn Vegan and there’s more…)

How many hipsters does it take to turn a bailecrunkdancehallhop set into a dance party? More than the Knitting Factory could hold.
That was a dis.
But it ain’t the truth… No, the problem with the M.I.A. show at the Knitting Factory was that there were TOO MANY folk in that benzel. In most cases it would have been a tight little reggae-grind anyway but that Diplo ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’/ ‘Love Cats’ blend left me wanting to throw some ‘bows like Molly Ringwald in the BKfst club. But the four ladies onstage obliged with little ‘white-girl’ kicks that I couldn’t peg as irony or some Acton action. But they had the crowd at ’ello. The Dip set lost momentum when he switched over to the Jay-Z / Mike Jones ‘Advantage’ track (tennis shoe squeaks without the walking bassline couldn’t hold the weak-ass Knitting Factory sound system). But when he dropped (what I assume was) the Ce’cile joint called ‘Na-na-na-na,’ a truly amazing blend of dancehall vocals and machine-gun bass rolls, my amps were back up. Big up. And I’m sure this is the only review of the M.I.A. show that will mention that the DJs played four Peedi Crakk songs.
The show was enjoyed by... most but two criticisms of M.I.A.’s show sort of baffled me. One criticism was of her stage presence and an offhand crit of her dance moves. We’re catching her before the rote sets, ‘any town’ banter and 1-2-step choreography, which I’ll gladly catch at a Ciara show. As for the dancing itself… It WAS pretty minimal given the context of wall-to-wall dance beats but her ‘one-for-the-head’ hand movements had a barely-there cool that reminded me of Sade’s little Salsa steps and Mase’s sleepy Prep revival (probably losing hipster readers…. NOW!). The lackadaisical moves, home-made beats, unpolished vocals and throw-away costume changes go together like metallic lightning bolts and ‘Lo-life t-shirts. It will take hard work to maintain the amateurish perfection.

The other criticism was along the same lines. The show reminded Ben Mellman (aka DJ Sparks) of a high-school talent show… and I took that as a GOOD thing. (Yo, that new girl from India or Sri Lanka or some shit seems pretty cool. I heard she hooked up with that white-boy with the turntables and shit and they’re gonna do something for talent night… and that fro-hawk girl and ‘em are gonna dance or some shit.). Musicality be damned! Soul, selection and styleeee can get me through the night. I couldn’t help but flash on Kelefah Sanneh’s piece a year or so ago about the charms of ‘bad’ singing (Kanye on ‘Slow Jamz,’ Pharell on anything) in an ‘American Idol’ ‘good’-singing context. Nobody beats the Biz. (K was in the Factory so I actually got to drop some props on him).

My criticism of the show wasn’t of any of the elements of the show it was how those elements were put together. Haven’t folk studied the way Common encourages DJ Dummy to bring in other instrumentals/beats to break up straight album cuts? Isn’t ?estlove’s orchestration of the Illadelphonics showing the translation of the DJ through a band? Haven’t hip-hop shows like the Fugee’s cut-and-switch mega-medley shown how effective the mixtape strategy applies to a live show? Diplo definitely understands the concepts especially when he used some of the Piracy Funds Terrorism tracks instead of the Arular album beats. (Was I the only person in the house who could have chanted over M.I.A.’s last song: ‘It’s bigger than hip-hop-hip-hop…’? I thought the crowd would have had a little Revolutionary But Gangsta attitude at the ready) But the DJ took an L when he killed a PFT track before M.I.A. could vibe properly off of it. The Eurythmics ‘Rain’ synth line had Maya this close to running down Lennox. But we’ll never know where she would have taken it…or maybe the next show…

There’s an organic quality to the M.I.A. blend. Political slogans. Schoolyard chants. Beat street sexiness. Cosmopolitan. Naive. By not being reverential to any particular style she pays homage to the ‘joint producing genre’ essence. Smack it up, flip it, rub it down. Her blend makes contrived cultural crossovers look like one joke mash-ups.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

this was a remix… part 2: the good, the bad and the ugly

asking the hard hitting questions...

Post-9/11 security has nothing on hip-hop clubs back in the day.
A typical security check starts off this old On The Go Magazine piece I called ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.’ It’s about underdogs and how those that are ‘IN’ will try to keep the new jacks ‘OUT’ especially if it means a shift in power. The piece mixes three sections.
One section of the piece is DJ Jazzy Jeff describing his 1986 New Music Seminar DJ Battle experience as the ‘underdog’ or the ‘Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble’-guy. (Check for the cameos by Will Smith and DJ Cheese.)
One section is Lord Finesse (at the 1994 Zulu Anniversary) discussing the risks of battling a newcomer. Beware, he suggests because “you got these ill advanced motherfuckers” that can get a “whole career behind that shit.”
And the third section is a description of DJ Swamp making an impact at the 1996 DMC East Coast Finals. This was before Beck made him a rock star and when he showed and proved that he was an ‘ill advanced motherfucker.’
As different as these three hip-hoppers are, they all have that combination of strategy, skills and swagger that anyone stepping into a ‘battle’ should study.
And always heed the words on the teeth of this issues cover model.

good bad ugly 1

good bad ugly 2

good bad ugly 3

(part 1 here)