There were moments where hip hop got quite dangerous for me.
Here's Pastor Troy with "No Mo Play in GA."
I'm a big fan of hip hop with meaning and thought. But there are times I needed hip hop to be primal, rude, and downright belligerent.
My most fond memory of this track is during the first two years I attended college. I was enrolled at East Carolina University at the time, a major North Carolina university in my hometown of Greenville. One of the hubs of campus life was Mendenhall Student Center, the location of our bowling alley/pool hall, the campus radio station, and a movie theater. It was actually a really nice place to be.
Every so often one of the African American fraternities or sororities on campus would throw parties in the Mendenhall basement, which was a large empty room with practically no chairs and no windows. These parties were legendary. Just about every black kid on campus would show up to these parties. The music started at 10 p.m. and wouldn't stop until two in the morning and most of us would dance non-stop until the lights came on. I've never sweated out more t-shirts in my life!
This cut by Pastor Troy was a particularly popular track played at these parties, and many in the room were quite excitable when this joint was played (including me). If the d.j. wanted the crowd bouncing around like a bunch of maniacs, this song was the quickest way to make that happen. There was one specific evening during which this song was played and I decided I was going to party toe-to-toe with the ECU football players that were in attendance. Keep in mind, while I'm not a short guy (6' 1") I am quite a thin one (150 lbs). And these football players are between 6' 4" and 6' 10" weighing anywhere between 260 and 350 lbs each.
As things are happening, I remember being surrounded by these enormous athletes and partying pretty hard. Suddenly, as I jumped around in this wall of bodies, I felt myself bounce off of one of them during a moment of ascent. As I reached an apex I bounced off another, then I ricocheted off of a third one on my way back to earth. Needless to say, after pinballing around a group of 20-year-old giants, I felt it was time for a bit of rest. I made my way to the perimeter of the room, away from the exuberant masses, and found a seat in an adjacent section of the Mendenhall basement. For that night at least, I was ready to leave a little early.
This could possibly be the most important set of clinical trials in the last 50 years.
Here's an accompanying article from The Vancouver Sun:
Canadian researchers working on a vaccine to prevent HIV announced Tuesday they have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials on humans in January.
A team led by Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, a virologist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., plans to start Phase 1 of clinical trials on 40 HIV-positive patients to test the safety of the vaccine.
"FDA approval for human clinical trials is an extremely significant milestone for our vaccine, which has the potential to save the lives of millions of people around the world by preventing HIV infection," Kang said in a news release.
It could be about five years before the vaccine goes on the market, Kang told Postmedia News.
The SAV001 vaccine, administered as an injection, has already gone through preliminary toxicology tests on animals. It didn't show any adverse effects or safety concerns and can be produced in large quantities, Kang said.
I have two initial responses to this news. The first is obvious; I truly hope this trial sees nothing but success. The untold number lives that could be saved with this vaccine is a wondrous prospect. I wish Dr. Kang and his team the best of luck with their work. I'm unconditionally on their side.
The other is fear. A few years ago, I was in a fantastic new play called Cocktail. It followed the story of Thai pharmaceutical specialist Dr. Krisana Kraisintu and her attempts to develop an inexpensive AIDS treatment for the people of Thailand. One section of the play specifically commented on the extreme pressure Dr. Kraisintu received from American pharmaceutical companies that saw her efforts as a threat to their financial health.
And that's exactly what I see happening with Dr. Kang.
Consider this. Bristol-Myers Squibb has been one of the leading developers of HIV/AIDS treatment medications. In 2009, BMS made a net income of $10.6 billion. One of their several AIDS medications, Reyataz, cost $890 per month. For that kind of money, I could rent a fairly decent one-bedroom apartment not too far from Center City Philadelphia.
I hope Dr. Kang takes the appropriate measures to protect himself and his work. These big pharmaceutical aren't going to let take this threat to their income lying down.
I've searched and searched for decent video interview of Rocky, but I couldn't find anything to my liking. Fortunately, a fellow blogger (Hanalei Somar from the little I know) has been able to track Rocky down during a recent visit to NYC.
Here's an excerpt from their conversation. It's a really good read.
During her recent visit to NYC, I was able to catch up with the extraordinary hustler/emcee, Rocky Rivera, for a quick talk about trick habits, community support, and her new life as the Gangster of Love. This is a full transcript of the interview intended for the upcoming ACV Cinevue blog article “Quality In the Age of Viral Video: Time with Rocky Rivera.”
h!: What are you up to in NYC? Any special projects going on right now?
Rocky Rivera: I have a mixtape coming out, June 7th. We haven’t even announced it yet. It’s called the Popkiller Mixtape; it’s basically a collection of beats furnished by the artists or producers themselves. The concept behind Popkiller is really a critique of the mainstream, but at the same time, it’s a way for me to utilize the same tools to get my message across. Whether it’s guerrilla advertising; basically trying to get my main message across using the same methods that a pop artist would use while simultaneously trying to keep the underground true. So, that’s really what Popkiller is about. It’s about utilizing those same methods to getting a really substantial message across, something that should actually be shared with the masses.
h!: What is “La Madrina” a part of?
Rocky Rivera: It’s the first leak off the Popkiller Mixtape. It was a free download, and we’ll be doing more in the following months. But “La Madrina” is from Popkiller. I’m doing one last video for the Rocky Rivera LP, “Girl Like Me,” which is coming out in a couple weeks. We’re really transitioning into the next project. The video will be coming out in May, which is the final single from my Rocky Rivera LP.
h!: Aside from Jessica Hagedorn, there are other nods to sheroes that come across in your music. Dolores Huerta in “Heart” and even some Angela Davis peppered through some of your work. Is it important for you as a woman artist to pay homage to these revolutionaries?
Rocky Rivera: “Heart” was such an exceptional beat for me, because as a female artist, I always have to keep my own personal life at a distance. There’s this whole double standard of being a woman in a male dominated industry. I know the challenges of that. For me to be able to channel that kind of inspiration from these different women on such an emotional beat was such a way for me to get in touch with my emotions and my own history, without really revealing too much of myself and my private life. It was a way for me to put myself in their shoes, and really think about their struggles. The things that made it possible for me to do what I have to do today.
Whether it’s Dolores Huerta, whether it’s Angela Davis, whether it’s Gabriela Silang, or whether it’s cocaine QueenPin, Griselda Blanco. These are women’s stories that need to be told. These are important stories. I feel like I’m a storyteller. As a journalist, I’m a storyteller. I am the vessel in which their stories come back to life. I would take that role, but at the same time, it’s not the only thing that I do.
I saw this guy's first Mario video that circulated the internet quite some time ago. I'm glad to see he's still putting in the time.
I remember when my parents bought a Nintendo for me. It was wonderful. The console came with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combination cartridge and that super-dope pistol. I used to shoot at the Duck Hunt dog whenever it made fun of me for missing the ducks. That mutt pissed me off!
The last Nintendo game I remember playing with considerable frequency was Super Mario Bros. 3, where Nintendo first introduced the concept of Mario and Luigi having more capabilities than just running and jumping. After a year of messing around with that game I finally sold my Nintendo to make way for a spanking new Sega Genesis, which I still have.
In recent years, because many of us that are part of the Nintendo generation are coming of age, I've noticed numerous expressions of gaming nostalgia such as this. From what I can tell, it seems as if we are the first generation to truly express such sentimentality and remembrance for the culture of gaming. Certainly, there are people who spent time with the Atari systems that preceded Nintendo's dominance. However, I would argue those folks saw video games as more of a recreational novelty rather than the electronic social movement it has become. There would be no World of Warcraft if not for The Legend of Zelda. Halo exists due to the path forged by Contra. Nintendo was act one of the gaming revolution.
The greatest thing I've discovered on the internet this week most certainly has to be this.
This is the full, uninterrupted of the 1983 film War Games. And the only way i knew it was there was by stumbling across this article. It lists 74 films that have been uploaded, in their glorious entirety, to youtube.
'Dismal' prospects: 1 in 2 Americans are now poor or low income
Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.
The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.
"Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too 'rich' to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.
"The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."
It's been a while since I've made any mention of political or social issues here, but I simply could not let this one slip under the radar.
In what world is it acceptable for nearly half of everyone in this county lives at or near the poverty line? Where's our heart, our compassion? What happened to, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."? What happened to our sense of innovation and revitalization? Is this who we've become? REALLY? How much deeper into the abyss of economic drudgery will the childish and selfish tendencies of the Baby Boomers take us (They're the ones in charge right now, ya know.)?
I truly hope this all comes to a head soon. I can guarantee this, it's going to be quite dangerous when it does. In fact, it already is.
(Forgive me. Apparently, my video embedding is on the fritz right now.)
Tonight, I made it my mission to find out. His name is Charlie Pellett and he is a news anchor for Bloomberg Radio. Here's a really good article highlighting his work during MTA's change over from spoken to recorded transit announcements. And if you'd like to see what the guy looks like, have a look here.
As I've mentioned many times before, the first hip hop that really inspired me arose from the efforts of northeastern and southeastern rap artists. So whenever I heard hip hop from the west coast, it always struck me oddly. I just couldn't wrap my ears around the sound of west coast dialects, and I feel I missed out on a lot of good music due to that barrier.
What makes this track so fun for me is that, for the first time I can remember, I am attracted to the west coast speech sounds in a completely new way. It doesn't feel nearly as foreign as it did 12 or 13 years ago. And I don't know whether it's Rocky Rivera's doing or simply the development of my sense of hip hop performance, but it sure is nice discovering the ability to enjoy west coast hip hop.
This is one of the most amazing and heartwarming videos I've seen in quite a while.
You know, I've heard my share of complaints from older folks about their inability to understand hip hop lyrics. Many say the words are too indistinguishable or that they move too fast for them to decipher what's been said. For me, this video beautifully illustrates a core aspect of rap performance that is much more important than lyrical comprehension. Rap lyrics are the textual conduit for the rapper's percussive and melodic aesthetic. In fact, I would argue that what an emcee says in a verse is rarely as important as how s/he musically shapes the verse into something pleasing and exciting for the listener.
"It's not enough to know which notes to play, you have to understand why they need to be played." George Carlin commenting on the blues
This brilliant kid has already made this discovery (as kids will do if we simply leave them to their explorations). As soon as he reaches the age of adding lyrical content to his already sophisticated sense of musical awareness (and if he keeps rapping), he's going to be an absolutely magnificent emcee.
Tonight after our show, I got into a wonderful conversation with my castmate Dave about certain influential comedians throughout history. All of the greats came up; Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, Buster Keaton. You know, the usual suspects. Then I mentioned to Dave my attraction to Rowan Atkinson, particularly my interest in his work in Mr. Bean. Have a look.
I remember being an eight or nine-year-old kid and watching Mr. Bean episodes on HBO with my parents. All of us would almost literally be on the floor laughing at this stuff. Rowan is an absolute master of an absurd and ridiculous brand of honesty and impoliteness. Dave said that Atkinson may be the best clown he's ever seen, primarily because he also works in the grotesque, which is an aesthetic that usually repels the audience. The ability to develop a character that is both repulsive and attractive is no small feat.
There are complete episodes of Mr. Bean on youtube (They wouldn't let me embed them!). I wholeheartedly encourage you to give them a look. Bring oxygen.
This is "Liberation" from OutKast's five-mic album Aquemini.
Since I have to be up at 7 a.m. tomorrow (again) I'll keep this short and sweet. I remember when I bought this album back in 1998. I had played OutKast's previous effort ATLiens like I was in search of the cure for cancer in Big Boi's lyrics, so I was primed for a new release from the dirty south duo. I eagerly slid this CD into the deck in my car and reveled in 'Kast's refreshing reinvention.
Everything was going just fine until I got to "Liberation". I was haunted by what I was hearing. Never had I witnessed a hip hop group take such risks on a record. It was impactful and mesmerizing in a whole new way.
And by the time they got to the end of Cee-lo's section, I was almost in tears. I love this song.
This isn't anything too reflective or insightful. It's just a really entertaining clip from Howard Stern's show in which William Shatner works over a voice-over director that may have been a bit in over his head.
There was a time in this country (as complicated as it is) when the greatest minds on earth traveled to America and became pioneers at the forefront of scientific discovery and the limits of engineering. So when I see videos like this and then read articles warning us of the brain drain of America, I become quite agitated.
Since then, I've learned that Rocky is a Filipino Bay-area emcee who is also a mom. Her career as an emcee is relatively new, although she's been writing for a long while. She's been a hip hop journalist for Mass Appeal, The Source and XXL.
And she's super-fresh.
I've been listening to Rocky Rivera's Pop Killer MXTP for the last week or so and I have to say, I haven't heard too many emcees with the type of exquisite aggression Rocky puts on wax. She rhymes with an elegant relentlessness that is difficult to shape. I'm also incredibly impressed with her ability to construct a rich image life in her writing, a skill that's been developed by all of the best emcees in hip hop history.
I'll be listening to more Rocky in the next few weeks, because I'll most certainly be buying her album in the next couple of days. She doesn't have too many interviews or freestyles on youtube, so I'll be researching that a little more to see if I can find something along those lines. For now, I'll leave you with my favorite track from the Pop Killer MXTP called "Daydream" featuring Nitty Scott.
A few days ago NASA launched its most complex and ambitious Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity. Here is wonderful, albeit nerdy, animation of how the mission might go.
For more information regarding Curiosity's design and mission, see here.
You know, I dig this. I'm all about sending rovers and probes to other bodies in the solar system. However, the last generation of space exploration included the mission to put a man on the moon. If we aren't working towards that same goal in respects to Mars, then what is NASA for? Like Dr. Tyson says, "We don't name schools after robots."
Personally, I hope Curiosity saves Spirit. That would be cool.
I'm pretty sure Dr. Tyson has been the most frequent reoccurring guest on Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report on Comedy Central. However, Stephen never has a chance to interview folks out of character, which is what makes this clip so fantastic. And as you will see, Colbert is just as brilliantly funny here as he is on his show. This is a wonderful interview.
I've been debating with myself tonight. Should I look for Murs' most recent offerings or post one of his tracks that initially caught my attention? After skimming through a few clips (all of them impressive I might add), I felt it best to post this:
I first encountered this track while doing college radio at Louisiana State University in 2005. The format of the station was primarily indie rock with a little underground hip hop thrown in for spice. During one of my normal regular-rotation shifts, this song popped up in the mix. Now, most of the hip hop the station kept in the library was familiar to me. But I had never heard Murs' stuff before and I was immediately impressed. It had been a while since I heard an emcee as direct and unapologetic as Murs is here. And in relation to many of the cultural difficulties still facing the south, this song seemed especially appropriate.
So, I get home tonight from our first preview of This Is the Week That Is (Come see it! It's great!) and begin the usual youtube surf session. As you may or may not know, if you cruise youtube long enough they will start suggesting videos for you to view. For tonight, I was given this:
So, you mean to tell me I can watch a show about science hosted by Jeremy Clarkson? Yes, please.
There was a time before I bought the Soundbombing II compilation during which I only listened to two albums; The Score by The Fugees and ATLiens by Outkast. Once I realized hip hop could sound like this, I was hungry for more.
I may be a car-loving, motorcycle-riding, gearhead, but I'm pretty sure anyone who appreciates remarkable engineering and craftsmanship will enjoy this video.
This guy has built what he claims is the world smallest V12 engine.
For the uninitiated, here's some info on the V12 engine configuration. It's basically just like the engine in your car, just with more room to let gasoline explode.
For me, the most impressive thing about this clip is watching him craft the engine pieces out of the raw metals he acquired. I've seen more than a few videos of folks cutting crankshafts in lathes, but to see one that fits in the palm of my hand is absolutely fascinating.
With the immeasurable availability of free downloadable music, hip hop artists must spend more time and effort developing who they are as live performers. It's simply the only way can still make a living as musicians. Even the most lucrative artists aren't selling much more than three or four million records per release.
Therefore, artists like Murs who are more than competent live performers stand more of a chance at success.
Lemme go check Murs' tour dates. I wonder if he's going to be in Philly any time soon...
Here's a really good clip of Murs performing at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas back in 2008.
Considering I just got home from two days of twelve-hour rehearsals, I'm going to hold of making any observations about this until tomorrow. However, I will say that judging from this video, I'm willing to bet Murs is quite the performer.
I honestly can't think of a bigger hip hop dance record than this.
I won't wax and wain about this song tonight. I have a 12-hour rehearsal in the morning and I need to get to bed. However, I will say that I do a pretty good Humpty impression if I do say so myself! So if you ever run into me at a bar or other appropriate social environment, and the moment is just right, I'll let you be the judge.
Today was a busy one. I changed a tire, recorded a video for a friend's voice/speech lecture, performed in a show, and wore a Superman costume. If you would indulge me, I'm going to allow myself a night to turn off my brain.
However, what I will say is that this song was the last thing I was singing to myself on my way home. Things are feeling good.
Current TV may have been the best move for Keith. These are as good as they've always been.
I think my main man Special K has said about everything I would have wanted to say tonight. Excuse me while I try to get seven hours of sleep. I have to beat on a rusted Xterra wheel with a hammer tomorrow morning.
Recently, I saw a play at one of the larger theaters in town that solidified a belief I've had for quite some time now.
Let me start by saying I thought the play was very well done. It was a solid piece of engaging and important theatrical art. The actors were all incredibly available, their navigation of the stage was alive and purposeful, and the production values were first rate. I was impressed.
But not as much as I could have been.
Even though everything was seemingly in place for this production to be successful (And considering I bought the last ticket that night, success wasn't a problem.) the one crucial piece missing, at least for me, was a concrete sense of communal precision in the work I witnessed.
Let me explain.
As I watched the show, it became clear to me that I was observing a wonderful group of inspired and talented actors who were hindered by constraints of the modern approach to producing a piece of theatre. On average, the typical play is rehearsed for about four to five weeks. The actors meet on the first day; perhaps they know each other from other shows or they could be meeting for the first time. The play is read at a table, there is discussion of what it means and what's being said, then everyone goes home to begin memorizing lines and doing their individual work. From then on, the destination is opening night. The attention is given primarily to staging the show and incorporating the technical aspects of the production. And yes, there is time for continued discussion and debate, but that type of exploration can never outweigh the primary objective of opening the play.
However, there was a time in the theatre where instead of rehearsing for only four or five weeks, a company of artists would spend four to five months working on a play. Actors were given the time and space to truly explore the more nuanced and complex aspects of the script. More time was available to develop a common vocal and physical vocabulary that more appropriately served the ensemble and the production. The cast had the opportunity to know and understand each other's personal aesthetics with more depth and intimacy. All things considered, this type of rehearsal timeline always produces more consistent, inspired, and precise work. In fact, a friend of mine in New York just began a rehearsal process that is scheduled to take an entire year! Think about how good you could be at something if you gave yourself an entire year to practice it. Imagine how brilliant you would be.
This is a major issue in our current theatre culture. Too often are good performers from differing artistic points-of-view and training backgrounds thrown together and expected to "make the magic happen". Sometimes it comes together beautifully, other times it falls flat. And there are many gradations in between.
I say let's take the guess work out of it. Let's make well defined, precise, and penetrating pieces of theatre all the time. And for god's sake, let's give ourselves the time we need to do it.
They couldn't find a tripod some decent lighting for this?
There are two more parts (here and here). Please have a look.
Obviously, I didn't choose to post this video because of the production value. Nevertheless, of all the interview clips of Murs I found this one is by far the most insightful. It's always fascinating to hear these artists give these kinds of accounts describing their thoughts and beliefs on their music and the surrounding society. So many times these interviews are unable to illuminate all but the most pedestrian elements of an emcee's inspiration. This is quite refreshing.
I'll have a few more thoughts on this interview tomorrow.
I've been gone for a couple of days. Most of my energy recently has been dedicated to rehearsals for a show. Things are moving along incredibly well, but there has been little time for thought and reflection on ideas and topics currently occupying my interest.
So, allow me to humbly offer a bit of my science hero Neil deGrasse Tyson.
All this info on this particular lecture can be found here on the youtube page for this video.
I'll be back tomorrow with the Emcee of the Month.
Heavy D, the smooth-talking and cheerful rapper who billed himself as “the overweight lover M.C.,” died in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He was 44.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed the death Tuesday evening, saying that Heavy D had collapsed at his home and was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he died shortly after noon. The cause of death was not known as of Tuesday night, but the Beverly Hills police said that there was no evidence of foul play and that the death appeared to be “medically related.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Heavy D was one of hip-hop’s most popular and charismatic figures, a girthy slickster who was an eager seducer and was unafraid of the dance floor. He was the frontman of Heavy D & the Boyz, which became the first act signed to Uptown Records, the label that was integral in building the bridge between hip-hop and R&B.
There are going to be many articles written by many people much more insightful that me, so I'll keep my commentary short. I'll simply say that Heavy D was a hip hop hero. He's one of the primary artists that helped develop hip hop from its raw beginnings into a resonant and sophisticated musical art form. He's one of those folks we never imagine losing, which is what makes his loss all the more difficult.
He will be dearly missed.
And since everyone else is going to post "Now That We Found Love", and since it's my favorite, enjoy Heavy D's "Big Daddy". Any hip hop slow jam mix should have this on it.
If I'm honest, the only reason I'm posting this is because I have the pleasure of seeing Uncle Shotsie everyday, and it's fun to post youtube videos of people I know. Having said that, this is my first look at Uncle Shotsie in all his brilliance. Dig those lapels, why don'tcha!?
Working on this show feels like I've stolen someone's fantastic life. I'm having a good time.
Joe Frazier, a tough, underrated heavyweight boxer from Philadelphia and one of the sport's fiercest competitors who spent a lifetime playing second fiddle to his nemesis, Muhammad Ali, died Monday night from liver cancer. Frazier was 67.
Frazier's death was announced in a statement by his family, who asked to be able to grieve privately.
Frazier was diagnosed with cancer in late September, said his personal and business manager, Leslie Wolff. He had made several personal appearances since then.
Murs may be one of the best rappers you've never heard of. In fact, I would go so far as to say he may actually belong in the No Wack Verses Club. Honestly, I've never known Murs to write anything other than outstanding stuff.
Here's a freestyle like you've never seen (for all of my folk guitar-loving friends).
I'm going to be honest here. It took me a while to pick up on what these cats were saying. I mean, there's quite a bit in this song that makes very little cognitive sense. But then I heard Mr. Funke spit:
They don't understand how I feel about the funk/
I walk with the funk/
I talk with the funk/
I eat with the funk/
I sleep with the funk/
I live off the funk/
I'd die for the funk.
Somehow, that allowed everything to come together. It's funny how things happen that way.
I've said quite a bit about this month's emcee, so with this post I'll try to keep it simple.
I can only think of two or three emcees ever that so thoroughly and consistently attack the art of rapping with the energy, hunger, and ambition of Black Thought. And absolutely none of them are 40. This guy is an utter phenom. There's no other way to put it.
Back in the early Aughts, my nightly web surfing guided me toward this wonderfully cool video.
The Ho Brothers have quite possibly made one of the best fan film inspired by a big budget movie, right up there with Batman vs Predator vs Alien. Tonight I find myself fondly revisiting this clip, remembering the awe I felt knowing we were entering an age where us everyday folks would be capable of creating fun and imaginative works of mass-consumed art with very little money. For me, this video was the beginning of the viral web culture.
DJ Premier was given Classical and began his immersion into the genre with Bruce Adolphe, a former classical music professor at Juilliard. They met at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music not far from DJ Premier’s home in NY. After learning about classical music theory, the inspirations of some of the genre’s most profound composers and how traditional pieces are structured, DJ Premier went out and bought tons of classical symphonies on vinyl to mash up his own creation. We then took that mash-up and orchestrated it for sheet music.
In the first step of the actual recording process, DJ Premier partnered with Stephen Webber, a professor and conductor at the Berklee College of Music. Stephen taught Premier how to conduct and helped him in studio with the 58-piece Berklee Symphony Orchestra you hear on the track. Of all the takes, the one you hear is the “wild” version (which means they recorded it without the metronome in their headphones) DJ Premier conducted himself. Then DJ Premier brought that instrumental track back home to NY and Nas laid down his rhyme on top of it.
It's absolutely true that DJ Premier is one of the most well recognized and established creators of hip hop music. However, it's also true that after a long and successful career, many artists sometimes lose a sense of exploration and discovery of the new. That's what makes this track so fantastic. During the process, Premo allows himself to be a student of Classical music theory and approaches the piece like a journey into uncharted territory. Though he is certainly armed with the knowledge and experience of his well documented music history, he must still navigate this track with a beginner's mind. That's the only way for something like this to work.
Quite dope, indeed.
Here's the link to the documentary website. I hope I'll have an opportunity to check it out soon.
I never knew how absolutely amazing this cat was until last night.
I went to see my friend James in a play happening about town, and as I was giving him a ride home he says to me, "I gotta play something for ya'." So we turned off the 808s and Heartbreaks (I can't get away from it.) and he cued up the Sammy Davis, Jr.
I had no idea!
I've listened to some Sinatra every now and then and, honestly, I've never really been impressed. The musicians accompanying him were always stellar, but I always thought his stuff was a bit bland and lacked purpose. He always struck me as whimsical. Therefore, I mistakenly assumed everyone else in the Rat Pack pretty much played the same shtick. But Sammy has a sophistication and resonance I never imagined. There are few instances in which I've watched someone move through a performance with such an easy precision.
Tonight, I'm pretty sure I'll be spending some time checking out more Sammy material. This stuff is magnificent.
Seeking to shore up support among cash-strapped college graduates and students struggling with rising tuition costs, President Barack Obama is outlining a plan to allow millions of student loan recipients to lower their payments and consolidate their loans. Outside of mortgages, student loans are the No. 1 source of household debt. Young voters were an important bloc in Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign, and student loan debt is a common concern among Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Mr. Obama's announcement, to take place Wednesday in Denver, comes the same day a new report is being released by the College Board. It shows average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose $631 this fall, or 8.3 percent, compared with a year ago. Nationally, the cost of a full credit load has passed $8,000, an all-time high.
This is the best thing I think I've seen in a week.
I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to grow up with cable television at home, and I spent many, many hours watching Nickelodeon in my youth. I was especially taken by shows like Hey Dude, Clarissa Explains it All, and You Can't Do That on Television. I have to say, everything about the Nickelodeon tv show Yo Gabba Gabba reminds me of the fun and imaginative days of the station's early years. I'm incredibly happy kids today are able to have fun watching something thoughtful and creative on television.
I thought I'd post an interview tonight. I haven't done one of these for some time.
Black Thought is one of hip hop's more private artists, which is what makes this interview so wonderful. Here he discusses what keeps him inspired to write and perform, possible writing projects other than rap lyrics (c'mon Thought!), and the synergy between he and Questlove. It's a wonderful seven minutes allowing a glimpse behind the curtain of one of hip hop's greatest emcees and showmen. Check it out.
Out of the cauldron of mid-nineties hip hop arose this dark, brooding, and timeless track by Method Man and Mary J. Blige. This song was released in 1995 during the height of Wu-Tang's influence on hip hop and in the middle of Mary's more tumultuous times as a recording artist. From this combination, however, was born one of the most memorable cuts of that era of rap.
So, I've been preoccupied with laughter recently. I'm gearing up for a show with 1812 Productions, a theatre company here in Philadelphia that does nothing but comedic work. It's a frighteningly exciting prospect, especially because this show will be conceived and constructed by the company of actors who will also be performing.
I've never done this type of work before, and I'm incredibly eager to get started. Of course, I've watched stuff like The Daily Show or The Chapelle Show and laughed until I was blue in the face (which is especially difficult for me). And as I take it in, I'm constantly reminding myself of the levels of brilliance, awareness, and humility is takes to convert dense and weighty sociopolitical concepts into workable, repeatable humor. Jon Stewart describes it as "articulating an intangible". To witness someone grapple with these essential ideas of the human condition, observe the irony or absurdity in these ideas, and connect those aspects to almost non sequitur but oddly congruent bit of digestible and unexpected storytelling is a truly awe-inspiring experience.
Awe-inspiring, and infectious. In fact, try watching this without laughing. It ain't easy.
While I was in graduate school, I got really into the blues; specifically the works of Robert Johnson, Son House, and John Lee Hooker. There was something primal and tangible about their music. My response to their recordings was much more about the feeling I experienced than my intellectual understanding of the words they sang. That's the attraction of blues, isn't it? It's the musical exploration of both immense joy and undeniable pain in a very foundational and visceral way.
For me, Black Thought's sense of hip hop performance does much of the same.
You see, I feel Thought is an emcee who has an acute understanding of the primal impulses that make hip hop what it is. At its core, hip hop music is a celebration of a society's ability to retain its confidence and sense of self worth in spite of the seemingly insurmountable conditions it faces. It is the flower growing from the concrete; the unmistakable feeling of painful, aggressive jubilation that can only live down in the bowels of a culture successfully resisting the oppression of the ruling class.
Black Thought deliberately, and quite artfully, accesses these sensations in his lyrics and performances with a clarity and abandon few emcees can duplicate. Every time he performs, it's as if he was at a block party or playground cipher; he moves his listeners with a provocative optimism that is so incredibly of-the-people. Truthfully, I know of no other rapper (including most of my favorites) who consistently evokes such a fundamental sense of what it means to be an emcee.
Okay, so I've been thinking about this speech sounds post for a while now (see here for the preview). I've had quite a few discussions with friends and colleagues about this stuff, and I feel the best way to communicate my thoughts on the whole thing is to share some words and ideas from respected theatre artists and practitioners with whom I have similar aesthetic or pedagogical interests. I could rant and rave for pages with how I feel about the this stuff, but I don't think I've quite reached the diplomatic proficiency to be of use to the conversation. Because honestly, the conventional thoughts on speech sounds in the theatre make me quite angry.
The first thought is from a gentleman named Phil Thompson, who currently serves as the head of acting at the University of California in Irvine (check the stats). He and another gentleman called Eric Armstrong, who is on the theatre faculty at York University in Toronto, Ontario, (once again, the stats) jointly record a podcast called Glossonomia which covers the history, evolution, and usages of speech sounds in the English language. On August 14th while attending the annual conference of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association in Chicago, IL they recorded a live question-and-answer episode. (Check it out here!)
So, I've been thinking about that topic a lot lately because I'm endeavoring to write an accent book, and I feel that non-Americans need good information about how to do an American accent so they can come over and steal our jobs...So I think that it's a very important topic. It is a topic that's very loaded. I've been, as I've been writing about it, always referring to it as SCGA: "So-Called General American". So that we never forget what the problems are with the idea. That said, it's a very important idea, and I think maybe we've made mention of it in a couple of episodes...
I really, really, really don't want to present to a group of American acting students a model of American speech that is canonical. I'm perfectly happy to teach and Australian student a canonical American accent because it's much easier to understand that as something 'other' that's [an exploration] you're trying so you can get your pilot and move on. Then you can detail from there...If I say to, let's say, an African-American student from Detroit, "I'm going to teach you General American," what I'm really saying is, "Your American isn't general enough or isn't American enough." So I'm really cautious about that. But as long as I explain about that every time then yes, it's something worth teaching.
There is no standard. There's no uniformity. Standard means "the same". But standard is also what you carry into battle. So there are plenty of people holding up "the standard" of accent purity, but I don't think any of them can agree on what those sounds ought to be.
There's no morality in speech [sounds]. Sounds are not 'good', they are good for us...The problem to me is that people get incredibly confused because the teacher is confused about what their agenda is. They think they are simply trying to teach the student what the sounds are, but they're trying to teach propriety, phonology, and phonetics simultaneously and that's just a train wreck.
The other thought is an excerpt from the book The Empty Space by Peter Brook, a book I've been trying to read for about five years now. In it, Mr. Brook attempts to examine the challenges of creating appropriate and engaging theatrical work for a given audience, culture, or current social condition. In it, he writes of four "kinds" of theatre; Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate. As of now, I've only gotten through the Deadly chapter. Nevertheless, he writes a striking passage in this first section that I had to present to this discussion.
During a talk to a group at a university I once tried to illustrate how an audience affects actors by the quality of its attention. I asked for a volunteer. A man came forward, and I gave him a sheet of paper on which was typed a speech from Peter Weiss's play about Auschwitz, The Investigation. The section was a description of bodies inside a gas chamber. As the volunteer took the paper and read it over to himself the audience tittered in the way an audience always does when it sees one of its kind on the way to making a fool of himself.
But the volunteer was too struck and too appalled by what he was reading to react with the sheepish grins that are also customary. Something of his seriousness and concentration reached the audience and it fell silent. Then at my request he began to read out loud. The very first words were loaded with their own ghastly sense and the reader's response to them.
Immediately the audience understood. It became on with him, with the speech - the lecture room and the volunteer who had come on to the platform vanished from sight - the naked evidence from Auschwitz was so powerful that it took over completely. Not only did the reader continue to speak in a shocked attentive silence, but his reading, technically speaking, was perfect - it had neither grace nor lack of grace, skill nor lack of skill - it was perfect because the had no attention to spare for self-consciousness, for wondering whether he was using the right intonation. He knew the audience wanted to hear, and he wanted to let them hear: the images found their own level and guided his voice unconsciously to the appropriate volume and pitch.
For me right now, these two ideas cover much of the feelings I have about how an actor's voice and speech are perceived. I would be very grateful to hear or read your responses to any of this.
Tonight I'm hanging back. I had a great day meeting with the cast of a play in which I'll be performing around the holidays. So, I think I'll allow myself some time to slow down and sit with the resonance of the day.
So while I goof off, I offer to you another Neil deGrasse Tyson video that I've recently discovered. He's in exceptionally fine form with this one.
Complex Magazine has compiled the 50 best hip hop radio freestyles.
While some might argue that radio is now a dying medium, it's undeniable that the AM/FM dial was the first outlet to bring hip-hop to the masses. Starting in the early 1980s, pioneering DJs like Mr. Magic, Red Alert, the Awesome Two, and Lady B gave a voiceless community the chance to be heard, and inspired future generations to pursue rapping as their full-time occupation.
Since that time, many legendary hip-hop radio shows have sprung up around the world, and during those late-night or early-morning time slots a new art form was born: the radio freestyle.
Many of hip-hop's greatest beefs were spawned live and direct over the airwaves. In the pre-MP3 era, cassette copies of these one-of-a-kind performances passed hand to hand, cementing reputations, and becoming the stuff of legend. Nowadays it's all done digitally, but the objective remains the same-total domination, no mistakes allowed.
I'm usually not a fan of these lists ranking artists or performances, but this one seems uniquely appropriate. During the years when I began to discover my place within hip hop culture, the music was moving through an period of creative and cultural uncertainty. We were a few years removed from the golden era, caught in the spectacle of East Coast vs. West Coast, and witnessing a surge of material emerging from southern artists like OutKast and Goodie Mob. As I explored hip hop more and more, these freestyle sessions served to maintain hip hop's artistic underpinnings; freestyles are the roots that fend off the erosion of rap music's relevance.
There are plenty of stand out performances on this list. However, for me the most impressive clip is #47, Q-Tip and Black Thought's "Dilla Dedication" freestyles. Perhaps it due to this month's featured emcee, but I was especially taken by this performance. Additionally, Black Thought freestyles are less frequent than you may think, so it's great to hear him rhyme in this forum. And on that day, Tariq went absolutely berserk!
Yes, that is Black Thought rhyming at 15 years old.
What's fascinating about this track is that the foundations of Thought's vocal and poetic sensibilities are so clearly evident. Here we witness the beginnings of how he perceived writing hip hop verse, creating rhyme patterns, used vocal inflection and variety, and developed his aesthetic.
To be honest, I've always been a pc guy. I tend to enjoy their complexity and hands-on sensibility. To be even more honest, I've consistently been frustrated with the exclusivity of Apple products. They've become more of a trend than a tool these days, which would be okay if they weren't substantially overpriced. (Apple, you want to really impress me? Make an elegant iPhone for $50 retail.)
However, Steve Jobs' influence on the way we communicate to each other is immeasurable and simply can't be overstated. I remember buying my first iPod in 2006, a purchase that completely revolutionized the way I keep and listen to my music. The ability to have virtually my entire music catalog (along with pictures, videos, documents, and whatever else I can get on that thing) with me at all times is quite powerful. For all intents and purposes, I have a computer in my pocket.
Seriously. Think about that; a computer in my pocket.
In my lifetime, Apple took us from this:
to what basically amounts to this:
(For the uninitiated, that is a prop from Star Trek: The Next Generation called a tricorder.)
Steve brought the future to us, and for that I am truly thankful to have lived during his time.
If the parameters of illest emcee alive involved pure skill, engagement, diversity, and consistency, it would be very difficult to argue against this guy being at or near the top of the list.
Many of hip hop most well-known and well respected artists have consistently mentioned Black Thought when discussing their favorite emcees. He's worked and performed alongside a staggering list of high profile individuals (Big Pun, Common, Eminem, Big Daddy Kane just to name a few). Not to mention, he's been the lead vocalist for arguably one of the hardest working, most well traveled, and most prolific bands in the history of music, The Roots.
But all of that kind of info could be regurgitated until the cows come home. Instead, I would like to tell a quick story that I feel sums up my respect and admiration for Thought's work and commitment to this art.
My friend Mark and I were in our fifth semester of graduate school at Louisiana State University. I go by his crib one day and he excitedly mentions The Roots would be playing a few weeks later at the House of Blues in New Orleans. There was no way we were missing the show. So we bought our tickets...
We arrive in New Orleans incredibly early to a.) find a decent parking place b.) see some of the French Quarter and get a bite to eat and c.) make sure we were at the front of the line to get in the show. The plan was to be as close to the stage as possible so as not to miss a single second of the action. After parking, eating, and a bit of sightseeing, we made our way to the venue and sure enough we were in the first 20 people waiting to go inside. Our design was taking shape.
So there we are, one row of people from the edge of the stage within spitting distance of the performers. The first opening act was The Soul Rebels, and of course they lit the place up. Their set, however, was really no longer than 30 or 40 minutes, which didn't really do justice to their musical excellence. As I've mentioned before, they were robbed. Oh well...
Next up was this fly emcee chick named Jean Grae, who tends to figuratively devour microphones for fun. Needless to say, she was super-fresh and probably had every dude in the room falling in love with her, including me.
Then came The Roots, the main event. They started their set from the small balcony at the back of the venue. They had recruited a tuba player to join the band, (probably the same cat that's with them now on Jimmy Fallon's show) and as the sound of the tuba permeated the space they marched across the balcony, down the stairs, through the audience and onto the stage. People were going absolutely crazy. Once the band had taken their place, the music began, and Black Thought held hip hop court for what seemed a solid two hours of non-stop funkiness. Meanwhile, Mark and I are dancing and shouting Thoughts rhymes to each other like we had just won the SuperBowl. I honestly don't remember a point in which we stopped moving until The Roots left the stage, with a sonorous tuba leading the way.
But here's the good part.
When the show was over and everyone was leaving, Thought came back out on stage to shake hand with people. I said to Mark, "Hey man, let's go see if we can holla at Thought." So we go back down towards the stage and patiently wait to show Tariq some love. We get to the lip of the stage and as I extend my hand to Thought, he looks down at the two of us and a huge smile comes across his face. "I saw you man! I saw you!" he says to us, and gives us the super-extra-humble-excited handshake.
We were floored! He saw us!? Did the two tall skinny actor dudes with too much hair dancing like maniacs actually contribute to Thought's experience of emceeing in New Orleans!? That's the dopest thing ever!
It was at that moment when my admiration for Black Thought's skill and energy rose to gargantuan proportions. I would tend to think Mark's did as well. Tariq is truly about this hip hop thing. He recognizes he is of the community, not simply making music for it.
Oh, and TODAY IS HIS BIRTHDAY! (At least, that's what wikipedia says.) GO WISH HIM A HAPPY ONE OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!
A few days ago my good friend Mark published a thought on his facebook wall expressing his disillusion with the progressive protests that have been ongoing on Wall St. It prompted quite a few spirited and thoughtful responses. I threw something in there as well. Many had challenged Mark, claiming that the protests serve to at least bring media attention the group's efforts. But after a few ideas back and forth, Mark posted his final reply to the discussion.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm outside flying a high fist when they roll by my building chanting. They have all my support when they're DOING something.
They're not interrupting my commute in the least bit and maybe that's the problem. Walking by and seeing something so lifeless is depressing. Nathan, you would be in the fierce minority down there, with your ability to articulate such a vision. There is a soul-sucking lack of passion and connection. I want to walk by and feel compelled--I want to feel the urge to stop and stay and not go to work that day.
That Chomsky quote ("The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.") smacks of obligation and inspires nothing. Media attention is indeed the least we can hope to come of it and it's the most we will get when the focus is so much on the people claiming to shed light on the calamity and not on the calamity itself. The intention is misguided and therefore misdirecting the attention. “There are people who wouldn't normally spend time in the Financial District spending a lot of time in privately-owned Zuccotti park,” says the news. “Who cares?” says everybody. I appreciate the symbolism but to call it direct action is quite a stretch. Horizontal, process-based and leaderless is how virtually every project I’m involved in operates but it only works when it is actively in service of something. I don’t see that service.
Call me a corporatist (again) but where's the takeaway? There is someone in Omaha who sees it on the news and would love nothing more than to be there, but has to stay home and work the job they probably feel lucky to have. What can they do? I’ve walked by it or through it a dozen times and never once been engaged or really even looked at in the eye. Just being there isn’t enough. Really. I want a little more “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” and a little less hacky-sack.
I’m certainly knocking it a little too hard. I’m on the same team and I care. But it’s not a heroic feat and I think maybe it’s doing more harm than good. Also, routinely invoking the Arab spring is a corporate-minded kind of co-opting of the cheapest and most self-aggrandizing kind. That was probably the thing that pissed me off in the first place.
From what I can tell, Mark's disappointment with these protests is that they do nothing to give Wall St. anything to fear. The people in those buildings absolutely know that a bunch of Kumbaya-singing progressive pacifists have no means by which to inspire real change in either the financial or legislative arenas. No one's afraid of hippies anymore, and I would argue no one really was. Real social change requires something a lot more aggressive and dangerous; it always has. Progressive thought without active, vocal, and immediate engagement breeds a message that is misshapen and non-committal.
And that ain't doin' no good.
I may be wrong and if I am, Mark will certainly correct me. If so, this will be updated accordingly.
I had voted in two previous presidential elections before the 2008 campaign, the Bush v. Gore of 2000 and Bush v. Kerry in 2004. In either election, I can't remember the fervor of America's youth growing as evident and palpable as this. It was quite surreal, actually.
During the 2008 election I was living in Baton Rouge, LA, smack in the middle of the conservative south. I distinctly remember one of my very good friends with whom I worked strongly considering a vote for Obama solely based on his promise of universal health care. She had traditionally been a conservative. However, because our place of employment didn't offer a health care option at that time, she felt a "Medicare-for-all" plan was her best shot at getting affordable coverage for her and her daughter.
I don't know what's going to happen this time around. I think more than anything else, the current political climate has succeeded in pushing the public further into disillusion and dissatisfaction with the government's machinery. I do believe the youth will be much more difficult to energize. The Republicans have never really been able to do it. The Democrats have before, but much of the strategy from the political right in the last two years has substantially limited the Dems ability to rally the 18-30 troops. And honestly, I don't know if the liberals have displayed the spine to deserve those votes (except for that one time when Obama shot bin Laden in the face with a bazooka).
I guess they'll be no more dope political music videos with Kanye in them. That's a real shame.
I think my surprise of this video lasted about six seconds after it was over. Truthfully, this is by no means a secret to anyone paying close attention to the global political landscape. The only way to reach the summit of an economic mountain is by climbing over the dirty, misshapen crags at the base. It's called capitalism for a reason.
Who knows? This guy may turn out to be just another crackpot with a theory. But in all honesty, I just think he's being as direct and plain about things as he wants. With the amount of wealth he controls, he doesn't have much to fear.