Monday, February 28, 2011

The Very Top

I'm going gearhead tonight.

There was a brief period back in the early part of the last decade when Top Gear aired in the U.S. on The Discovery Channel. I distinctly remember stopping by to watch James, Jeremy, and Richard during many of my numerous channel surfing escapades. I was curiously drawn to their unique brand of British buffoonery added to their magnanimous praise or unrelenting criticisms of some of the world's most expensive and revered automobiles. Even though I was no where near the gearhead then that I am now (I was a late-bloomer.) I still found the show thoroughly entertaining. So I was a bit disappointed when it quietly disappeared from Discovery's line-up.

Fast forward to somewhere around early 2008. By now, I had developed an interest in muscle cars, motorcycles, and anything to do with internal combustion. I was working at Friendly Honda-Yamaha, a motorcycle dealership in Baton Rouge, as a parts/accessories guy. So I was inundated with all sorts of fascinating vehicular shenanigans. Much of my web browsing had to do with finding information on maintaining or modifying my 2000 Suzuki SV650 or watching videos of people in cars or on motorcycles doing dope stuff. I eventually found my way to, and you know how these things go. You click on one link, then another, then another until making a remarkable discovery. For me, this discovery was full length episodes of Top Gear!

Between then and now, I believe I've seen about 80% of Top Gear episodes available on There are still a few seasons I've yet to get all the way through and some episodes are missing for one reason or the other. But if you are interested in having a good time watching middle-aged Brits goof off with $400,000 supercars or $2000 jalopies, go check 'em out. If you're reading this from anywhere but the United States, you probably already have.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

"I Got That Feelin'!"

Springtime is almost here. Tonight, I've spent at least three hours looking at ads, videos, and articles about motorcycling in anticipation of warmer weather. I cannot wait to get back on my bike.

If you've never ridden on motorcycle before, I wholeheartedly suggest trying it at least once in your life if the opportunity presents itself. Given the right conditions and precautions, motorcycling can be one of the most liberating experiences available to us lowly commoners. Most of us will never fly a airplane or sail across the ocean, but for a fraction of the cost just about anyone can pick up a decent motorcycle and riding gear and access the same sense of excitement and adventure.

Here's a bit of what I've been into tonight.

I've been checking out these Motorcycle videos for a couple of years now and I really enjoy them. Many of them are a little shorter than I'd like, probably because they're hoping to attract more traffic to their website. Nevertheless, they give simple and direct information, not wasting time with a bunch of quick shots of irrelevant footage and bad rock music. And although they are primarily a British publication, they keep us Americans in mind by testing many bikes that are available on both sides of the pond. Check 'em out.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Emcees of the Month: Pac Div

Here's Pav Div's video for "Mayor" off of their Church League Champions mixtape.

I'm down with these cats. They're skilled, they're clever, and they don't take themselves too seriously. They, along with other newer artists like Asher Roth, The Cool Kids, and Odd Future represent the newest generation of hip hop artists who continue a tradition of freedom and experimentation in emceeing that is not as readily found as it once was. They may not be on the radio or selling a million records, but they don't really need to. Pac Div's making their own way. And people are noticing.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Hip Hop is Fearless

Just when I thought I'd gotten a handle on the whole hip hop thing, here come these cats.

I remember when OutKast's Aquemini album came out back in 1998. I had been anxiously awaiting its release. When I bought it, I put it in the cd player of my car and began listening to it everyday on my way to school. I hated it for about two weeks.

But it wasn't Outkast's fault. It was mine.

You see, anytime an artist makes a significant and extensive leap forward in statement or aesthetic, the folks who consume their work have difficulty fully integrating the new information. We need time to catch up. These cats go into their studios, theatres, and writing rooms and devote hundreds of hours to advancing their work. The good ones are taking huge risks and making real progress, inevitably cruising right on by the artistic sensibility of their audience. So it can be a challenge for us observers and commentators to stay on the leading edge of the movement. It absolutely requires us to be completely open and witness the work with the mind of a beginner.

That's why I'm completely enraptured by this video. These cats scare me, in a good way; not because they have masks on or sound like death metal rap. But rather, they are hip hop artists that are taking an extraordinary risk in the type of music they chose to make. Their risk challenges me to envision an entirely new avenue down which hip hop may travel. I'm excited to see where their journey takes them. I'll be checkin' for 'em.

Because Aquemini is a classic.


Thursday, February 24, 2011



If I wasn't sleepy enough to go numb in my fingers, I'd be writing tonight. But it's a wrap for me, ladies and gents. I'll be back tomorrow night after a decent night's sleep.

Thanks for stickin' with me, everyone.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Last Poets: The First Hip Hop

If they aren't, I don't mind if they get the credit.

My parents own at least 400 records, and I think I've listened to every single one of them. Out of all those records, I'm pretty sure I listened to The Last Poets album more than any other.

I remember first discovering this historic piece of vinyl when I was about seven or eight years old. I would get home from school while my parents were still at work. The television would get pretty boring after a while, so I would sit Indian-style (Is that racist? Should that be "Native American-style"?) in front of the stereo, open the liner notes with the lyrics, and listen to these cats talk about damage caused by black stereotypes or the complexities of religion. It was also one of the first times I encounter the word "nigga" in all its sophisticated glory. Looking back on it now, it's odd how a such a young kid could be attracted to such complicated material. Even though I didn't have much of an idea why, at the time I felt it was important for me to hear.

It was.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The King's Speech

I don't have much tonight. So I'm just gonna pass it over to this guy. Every once in a while he says something interesting.

I had a full day of theatre and I'm beat. See ya'll tomorrow.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Story Time with DJ Premier

from Complex magazine:

Without a doubt, DJ Premier is top-five dead-or-alive, one of the greatest hip hop producers ever, and your favorite producer's producer won't tell you any different. The Houston, Texas native's sound, which consists of chopped samples looped over crisply punched drums, and accented with a signature scratch chorus, hasn't changed much, but still fits as the perfect hip hop soundtrack for New York's Timberland-boots-certified street aesthetic.

Even after 22 years in the game, reports about his production credits possibly surfacing on the upcoming albums of everyone from Drake to Immortal Technique keep fans on their toes. His continuous relevance asserts that East Coast boom-bap sound is still beloved by many, and upcoming projects like the collaboration album with Pete Rock will only maintain the flame. With that said, to the jizzing joy of those who masturbate to MPC noises, we recently went to the legendary HeadQCourterz (formerly known as D&D Studios) in Manhattan to hear the master craftsman share anecdoetes behind some of his all-time classics...

More here.

I didn't know it at the time, but DJ Premier affected my perspective of hip hop in a way that made me feel validated in listening to street stories. Between the ages of 12 and 14, I didn't want anything to do with hip hop music. I thought it was too vulgar, too arrogant, or too violent, and I couldn't identify with the words I heard. I was also quite resistant to what was considered "popular". In some ways, I suppose I still am. Nevertheless, most of my musical taste then involved jazz and r&b, not hip hop.

Then came the summer before my junior year in high school. My brother was visiting home during his time stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. And when he brought all his stuff in the house, I noticed this grey padded case he used for carrying his CD collection. I jumped on it, and I spent an entire night picking through his music in the hopes of something interesting. Two of the albums in that case claimed me, ATLiens by OutKast and The Score by The Fugees. I commandeered them for more scrutiny, and they were heavily rotated!

So here I am, I'm 16 years old and I'm thinking to myself, "Alright. I'm not really into hip hop, but I like this two albums. I'll just listen to them." And for a long while, that's what I did. Nothing else in hip hop mattered for me except The Fugees or OutKast. I listened to those two records over and over, and practically learned every single word on both. In fact, I'm pretty sure I could crank out 60-70% of either one on the spot. Those albums are ingrained in my body for the rest of time, I can assure you.

So this is where DJ Premier came in.

The year was 1997 and Jay-z's album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was released a few months into my OutKast/Fugees binge. EVERYBODY had it. The first single "Who You Wit" had already been spinning on the radio for some time by then and in September we got hit with the second one, "(Always Be My) Sunshine." So Jay was everywhere, all the time; I couldn't stand it. Like I mentioned earlier, I couldn't identify with much of what artists like Jay were saying. I was much more attracted to emcees who composed with a more cosmopolitan sense of the world; emcees like Dre or Lauryn.

But then I heard "...A Million and One Questions...""

I think I first heard this at my boy Omarr's crib. My first response was that I loved it. My second was how much I hated myself for loving it so much. Jay wasn't saying anything that was relevant to my life. He was promoting such misogyny and materialism. All I can remember thinking is how regressive his lyrics would be for black society and that he wasn't doing anyone any good. And I didn't care. It made a twisted sort of sense to me. There was something about the way this track moved that felt completely organic, completely embodied. I couldn't take my ears off of it.

It took many years for me to realize why I had this response. It had nothing to do with Jay's lyrics, but everything to do with DJ Premier's production. It felt as if he had awakened in me a musical experience that had been dormant for years; it had always been there, Premio just unveiled it for me to enjoy. I was instantly intoxicated, I just didn't know to what. At that time I had no interest to know who produced the song, so my addiction had no name.

For a long while after that, I had similar responses to other Premier-produced tracks like Mos Def's "Mathematics", Nas' "Nas Is Like", and D'angelo's "Devil's Pie." (Go youtubing!) I had no idea who it was making these beats, I just knew I loved these songs. So the first time I even saw his name was when I finally decided to check out the liner notes for Common's Like Water For Chocolate album to figure out why "The 6th Sense" had become my favorite song from my favorite emcee of all time. And there is was, "...produced by DJ Premier."

There he's been all along, making some of the best hip hop records of all time.


Sunday, February 20, 2011


Well, it ended today.

Theatre is somewhat unique in the world of art in that the lifetime of a piece is unavoidably finite. A show opens, it has a run, maybe it tours for while, then it inevitably closes. Sometimes the lifespan of a theatrical production is only one night. Others live for decades. But eventually, all theatrical productions die.

I think every actor, director, playwright, stage manager, etc. has her or his own way of finding closure at the end of a run. Some have superstitions or rituals that give them comfort. Others like to document their experiences of the run in a notebook or journal. Almost all enjoy closing-night parties to celebrate the production's conclusion.

Today, South Camden Theatre Company's production of Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets ceased to be. We had a sold-out audience today. The energy moved well, the commitment was high, and the audience seemed engaged. From my perspective, it was one of our better shows and I was incredibly proud of everyone's unwavering dedication to the work.

I'm looking forward to my next project and I'm ready to continue my progress. But I had a whole bunch of fun working on this show, and I hope I get the chance to play with Odets' words again. I am grateful to Joe Paprzycki for casting me and allowing me the freedom to do my work.

So, as Jay says, "On to the next one."


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Emcees of the Month: Pac Div

For me, live performance is the most impactful aspect of emceeing. Here's a clip of Pac Div's show at The Voodoo Lounge in San Jose earlier this month.

My training and experience is in professional acting with a concentration on voice teaching/coaching (speaking, not singing). As a voice teacher, my hope is to guide my students to an honest and natural experience of voicing the physical and emotional impulses that are inspired by their on-stage circumstances. There are many traditions of vocal training that attempt to accomplish this for their practitioners; I happen to practice in the Warren/Linklater tradition (try this). From these traditions have arisen numerous theories, ideas, and insights as to how best free a performers' voice.

However, most of the emcees I find impressive and engaging have had very little formal performance training, if any at all. So as I watch these emcees perform, I'm continually astounded by their ability to make real and truthful connections to the impulses that live inside of them. And sure, there are some technical items here and there that could benefit from training. (I'm looking at you, Mr. Greene! Hoarseness after a show is not healty! Holla at me!)
But all things being equal, the most skillful emcees are making brilliant vocal connections.

I'm writing a thesis right now that hopes to examine this in further detail. My hope is that it can evolve into a significant publication. It's gonna take some time, but I'll get there!

For me, this is a very clean, simple, and traditional example of emcee stagecraft; nothing fancy or clever, just one and one equaling two. I'm impressed by the sense of grounding each of them have when their turn to rhyme comes around. There are emcees who have a habit of flopping around the stage as they rhyme, failing to see anyone in the room, and making an honest connection with an audience incredibly difficult. These cats have that covered. They see their audience and are quite successful at communicating to them during their verses.

I will say, however, that I would like to see them explore their attention to the audience when they aren't rhyming. It's a tricky thing to do. I have experienced many moments on stage in which I'm not speaking for long periods of time. The challenge is how to stay engaged with the room while allowing other performers their space to play the scene. There are many avenues they can take, and I'm sure they are developing with each performance. (Get at me, fellas, if you get stuck! I'd be happy to help!)

But yea, I dig these cats. I hope they do a show in Philly soon, 'cause I'm in there.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Holodeck Beta

If this is true, then I'm saving now.

I think I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation around the fourth or fifth season, and like many ST:TNG fans I LOVED the holodeck concept. The idea of walking through a door and finding an entirely new world on the other side is irresistible. If we are in any way on the path to that reality, then let's pick up the pace. I'm ready to play some Parrises Squares!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The New American Civil War (Quick Thought)

More power to these folks.

Wisconsin Protests Are Setting Stage For A National Battle

The protests of public sector employees in Wisconsin Thursday are really a "national battle," according to Professor Raphael Sonenshein of California State University, Fullerton.

The battle over union rights for public sector employees in Wisconsin is relevant to people nationwide, and is being watched nationally as well. Moves like this are taking place beyond just Wisconsin.

The GOP gained a lot of ground nationally in the 2010 elections and many Republicans around the country have been pushing to limit the powers of labor unions.

"You have a number of new Republican governors coming in and they have a very strong agenda to weaken public sector union bargaining rights," said Professor Sonenshein.

More here.

It's the rich people vs. the working people. That's the new civil war in this country; more sharply than any of us have seen in our lifetime. The most recent battle of this war occurred on January 21, 2010 with the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The rich won that one.

Before that, it was the former C.E.O. of Diebold, Inc. Walden O'Dell sending out fundraising letters to Ohio Republicans stating his commitment to "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes..." to President Bush in the 2004 election.

If you recall, Ohio was the battleground state of that year; even more so than Florida. Many of the political bean counters during that election were especially concerned about the significant discrepancy between the exit polling in Ohio and the actual vote count.

All of Ohio's voting machines were manufactured by Diebold, Inc. The rich won that one.

But in Wisconsin, the workin' folks just might pull a "Tahrir Square" on these fools. As a fellow workin' folk, I'm certainly on their side.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Locked in Paradox

This is almost too easy.

University of Missouri student Benjamin Elliott, 18, was temporarily suspended from the school this week following his arrest on Saturday for allegedly spray-painting racist graffiti on a campus fixture reports the Maneater.

The offensive phrase was discovered early Saturday morning by a student who reported the find to officials, the Riverfront Times reports. According to the Kansas City Star, Elliott was arrested after campus security watched surveillance footage which implicated him in the incident. Campus police added that witnesses confirmed that it was Elliott in the video, but Elliott told police that he was drunk at the time and does not recall what happened.

More here.

This type of thing happens all the time, so when I first read this story I wasn't surprised. I mean, I went to graduate school at Louisiana State University where the white football fans fly purple and gold confederate flags on game day in support of an unpaid group of black college athletes. So hypocrisy and racism are old news to me. But then I had a look at the kid's mug shot...

Wait for it...

Seriously, homie? You're a racist white cat with DREADLOCKS?

Listen up, Benji. I'm sure you're a decent enough kid. You probably play World of Warcraft during your spare time. There's a girl at your school that you really want to know better. You skip class every once in a while and spend all day at the student center making inside jokes with your friends. And you probably locked your hair because you really identify with Bob Marley.

If Bob Marley were alive and saw you do what you did, he would most likely smack the sh*t out of you; not because of what you spray painted on a wall. He's seen that crap before. Rather, because you have chosen to make a definitive ideological statement about your distaste for people of color while adopting a headdress that is quite literally THE SYMBOL of everything for which he stood as a person of color.

Your ignorance nullified your perspective before your ideology was even heard. You are cartoonishly contradictory. Until you make some honest and difficult decisions about who you are and what your life means to this world, very few people you encounter will be able to take you seriously; on all sides of the topic.

The good news is you're 18. Consider this event your first quiz in "Life 101."

Learn something?


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Walta's Quickie Video Blog

Walta put this on my facebook page about a week ago and I'm just now getting to it. That gives you an idea of how much of a slacker I am.

Gil Scott Heron and Mos Def - "New York is Killing Me"

Everything about this makes me happy.

Until tomorrow!


Monday, February 14, 2011

Tiny Wonderful

Tonight I was all prepared to go on a tirade about a silly bumper sticker I saw today. You may have seen it. It reads:

If you're reading this, thank a teacher. If you're reading this in English, thank a soldier.

Hmmm... Shouldn't I be thanking a slave owner...? (That'll be another post!)

However, before I could step onto my soapbox I happened upon the facebook profile picture of one of my high school homies, Johnne Smith. This is it:

The picture is called "The Pale Blue Dot." It's a photograph taken of Earth by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a distance of 4 billion miles away, on the edge of the solar system. Earth is the TINY dot in the yellowish-orange streak of light in the top of the photo; a bit to the right of center. That's right. That's us. ALL of us.

The photo was taken by NASA at the request of astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author Carl Sagan. Subsequently, Sagan used the photo as his inspiration to write his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. I have yet to read it (It's on the list, right after Slaughterhouse-Five and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.) but from what I've been able to gather, the book contextualizes our place in the universe and offers insight into how to protect and preserve our home.

Here an excerpt:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

"...a regular modern-day Shakespeare."

Check it:

from Henry V, Act IV Prologue
written by William Shakespeare

Now entertain conjecture of a time (10 syllables)
When creeping murmur and the pouring dark (10 syllables)
Fills the wide vessel of the universe. (10 syllables)
From camp to camp through the foul womb of night (10 syllables)
The hum of either army stilly sounds, (10 syllables)
That the fixed sentinels almost receive (10 syllables)
The secret whispers of each others' watch: (10 syllables)
Fire answers Fire, and through their paly flames (10 syllables)
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face; (10 syllables)
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs (10 syllables)
Piercing the night's dull ear, and from the tents (10 syllables)
The armorers, accomplishing the knights, (10 syllables)
With busy hammers closing rivets up, (10 syllables)
Give dreadful note of preparation: (10 syllables: preparation has four)
The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll, (10 syllables)
And the third hour of drowsy morning name. (10 syllables: hour has one)
Proud of their numbers and secure in soul, (10 syllables)
The confident and over-lusty French (10 syllables)
Do the low-rated English play at dice; (10 syllables)

Follow me?
Good. Now check this:

from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Track 2: "Lost Ones"
written by Lauryn Hill

It's funny how money change a situation, (12 syllables)
Miscommunication leads to complication. (12 syllables)
My emancipation don't fit your equation. (12 syllables)
I was on the humble, you on every station. (12 syllables)
Some wan' play young Lauryn like she dumb, (9 syllables)
But remember not a game new under the sun; (12 syllables)
Everything you did has already been done (11 syllables)
I know all the tricks from Bricks to Kingston. (10 syllables)
My ting done made your kingdom wan' run. (9 syllables)
Now understand L Boogie not violent, (10 syllables)
But if a thing test me, run for me gun; (10 syllables)
Can't take a threat to me new born son. (9 syllables)
L's been this way since creation. (8 syllables)
A groupie call, you fall from temptation, (10 syllables)
Now you wanna ball over separation; (11 syllables)
Tarnish my image in your conversation, (11 syllables)
Who you gonna scrimmage like you the champion? (11 syllables)
You might win some but you just lost one. (9 syllables)

One reason Lauryn shifts the syllable count is because she moves in and out of two different dialects in this verse. (There are instances of Shakespeare doing something similar. This simply isn't one of them. Have a look at Leontes' rants from The Winter's Tale.) But more than that, she probably moved it around to entertain herself. Nevertheless, the structural foundations are exactly the same. I've always been fascinated with this particular verse for this very reason. And even though I've observed this in other hip hop tracks, Lauryn's writing on this particular cut highlights these structural similarities exceptionally well.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Emcees of the Month: Pac Div

This week, I'll let the members of Pac Div speak for themselves. Interestingly enough, one of the discussed topics is their tour with January's Emcee of the Month, Asher Roth. Don't you love it when everything comes together?

P.S. There's something I love about the "handheld video camera in the radio station" style. Maybe I'm just cheap.


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Future of Lazy

I wonder how long it's going to take before someone figures out how to put some chrome on this thing.

Only a species as lazy as we could invent such brilliance to accommodate our lethargy. The first image that came to mind when I saw this video was a particular scene in the movie Wall-e. We see how the human survivors on the Axiom star ship have evolved into boneless masses of gelatinous flesh, cruising around on floating easy chairs and luxuriating in their technology-driven indifference. In the 700 years the humans spent on board, they have abandoned any real human interaction for the sake of electronic stimulation.

Last year when I was training as a voice and speech teacher in York University, one of our main areas of conversation involved this very concept. Our technological ability is growing exponentially in these modern times, and our interaction relies on our technology more than it ever has. What we witnessed was that an alarming number of our incoming students lacked many of the foundational elements of human interaction, handicapping their awareness and involvement in the class. As the technology gets better, our growing dependency dulls our experience of the world.

Honda has to be careful when they whip out stuff like this. I worked for a Honda motorcycle dealership for two years, and they are a very good company. Their processes and procedures are well managed and executed. But, they are an arrogant company. To them, their way is the only way, and no one can persuade them otherwise. They probably view this thing as the savior of personal transportation; any side effects will be offset by the undeniable increase in productivity and efficiency. But, if they are going to experiment with technology like this, they must be responsible. After all, they wouldn't want their customers to get so fat with laziness they can't even fit on the thing.

Until tomorrow...


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nerd Moments

Oh yeah...

When it comes to movies, I'm easy. I have just as much fun watching slightly obscure, art house-type stuff like Paris, Je T'Aime or The Station Agent as I do with big time films like Transformers or Lord of the Rings. And yes, I do feel that some movies are better than others; I certainly have my favorites. But all things being equal, I can truly say that I've seen very few REALLY BAD movies. (Really. I'm watching Crocodile Dundee right now!)

And that's why I love these Marvel movies. With a few exceptions (Hulk, Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider) these things keep getting better and better. Marvel is employing very good writers and top-notch actors to tell fairly sophisticated stories that are, more often that not, well received by the public. To be honest, I can't think of very few big budget Hollywood-type films in the last decade that offer as much nuance and detail. Most are usually quite flat and predictable.

I suppose a lot of Marvel's success has to do with its source material. For over 70 years Marvel Comics has invited us into their vivid, luscious, and complex universe. During that time, we've met an abundance of unforgettable characters such as Rogue, The Hulk, Tony Stark (Iron Man), The Punisher, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. As we follow their super-human experiences, we realize how similar their stories are to our own; how super-human is really only a matter of degree. (Is that corny or what!?)

At any rate, I can't wait for this movie. I hope Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart make a cameo. That would be FRESH.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

America Loves Bullets

From The Baltimore Sun:

President Barack Obama is calling for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail, as he seeks to use infrastructure spending to jump-start job creation.

An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 mph, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn't say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it's likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.

More here.

There are 13 countries in the world that currently have a functional high speed rail system. Here, I'll list them.

South Korea
The Netherlands
United Kingdom

There's a problem with this list. THE UNITED STATES IS NOT ON IT!!!!!!!!!!

What the h*ll!?!?!?

I'm usually not an America basher. That's kinda played out now. But this is inexcusable.

Didn't this country land a couple dudes on the moon? Didn't we build and operate the Space Shuttle? (By the way, NASA operates on 1/2 of one penny of your tax dollar. And as Dr. deGrasse Tyson says, "How much would you pay for the universe?") Aren't we the ones that got that Golden Gate Bridge put up? Aren't we the country that built the interstate system? Yeah, we got the idea from Germany, but still! How about the Hoover Dam, or The Sears Tower, or the New York subway system? Didn't we build all that? Isn't all this stuff super-dope and/or incredibly useful?

When's the last time we built something like this? The most recent thing I can think of is the birth of the personal computer, and by the time they got into full swing all the major components were being made in Japan anyway. That was the early 1970s.

Now here we are, a bunch of limping, shiftless, whinny do-nothings reminiscing on our FORMER greatness. But the truth is that we haven't been on the forefront of design and engineering for 35 to 40 years now. The tallest building in the world is in Dubai, and we aren't on the list until number eight. The fastest train in the world is in China, so is the world's largest dam, so are four of the top five longest bridges. As the world continues to surpass us in all areas of scientific ambition, we recede into the caves like a flock of yuk-mouthed curmudgeons.

I don't care how much this American bullet train costs. Let's get it done, or the only bullets in our future will be the ones that blow holes through our feet.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

J Dilla: Still Shining

February 7th was the birthday of James Yancey, the hip hop producer known as J Dilla. He would have been 37 years old.

Someday this month I will take the time to sift through some of my more memorable moments involving some of Dilla's work. So consider this a teaser.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Walta's Quickie Video Blog

So it's 12:30. I just got home. I have to leave again in six hours. So there will be no long rants from me tonight.

In cases like these, I am thinking I will snatch videos that Walta's posted on her facebook page and throw them up for your amusement. She has a rich, albeit eccentric sense of humor. I love it.

This one's getting a lot of spins on youtube, your guide to how to dance at a rave.

Have fun!

I promise I will get back to normal length posts soon.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Questlove Celebrity Stories

I discovered this site about a year ago as I was strolling around some message board or other. Anytime I'm in need of instant grounding and amusement, this is one of the places I visit.

For quick reference, Questlove is the drummer and mouthpiece of the Philadelphia hip hop band The Roots. He's been affiliated with a boatload of top-tier hip hop artists (Jay-Z, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Slum Village, Dilated Peoples) over an stellar 20+ year career. For more info on the The Roots, there's no better place online than okayplayer. Go have a look.

Until tomorrow...


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Emcees of the Month: Pac Div

A few months ago my homie Marcel sends me a copy of a mixtape from these new southern California rap cats named Pac Div (short for Pacific Division). He says, "You need to check these cats. They for real." I'm like, "That's what's up. I'll get to it."

However, it's no secret to Marcel that I'm notorious for sleeping on new music. If I'm listening to music, I'm usually playing stuff from three or four years ago, if not longer. I think I might have played the Trinity album by Slum Village for an entire year and half. There's something comforting to me about listening to familiar lyrics and instrumentation. I like to rap along with the track, move to musical elements I can anticipate, and search for hidden nuances in established material.

I'm also pretty lazy about putting new stuff on my iPod.

So as I was trying to figure out which emcee(s) I'd like to highlight this month I thought back to that Pac Div mixtape sitting on my desktop. So I unzipped the file, threw it on my Pod, and had a listen on my way to work Tuesday.

Man, am I glad I did. 'Cause these cats are solid.

Pac Div is a hip hop group from Palmdale, California consisting of a pair of brothers, Like and Mibbs, along with their longtime friend BeYoung. Hip hop duos or trios are becoming a rarity in hip hop these days, so it's refreshing to see new groups emerging with a emphasis on collaborative longevity. Usually when I listen to emcees from the west coast, I'm hindered by the difficulty of adjusting to the west coast dialect, which isn't frequently heard in my music catalog. It's a challenge I need to address. I grew up listening to east coast and southern hip hop, so the west coast dialect almost sounds foreign, demanding me to give particular attention to the textual elements of the rhyme.

However, with Pac Div I found it much easier to listen to them without my habitual response to California rappers. Their dialects aren't any less pronounced than most of their west coast counterparts, but the arrangement of their instrumentals coupled with their exceptional lyrical ability allowed me to fall into the pocket of their music in very natural, organic way. I'm sure people in traffic were wondering what had me bobbing my head so hard!

Check out this freestyle session with Pac Div on The World Famous Wake-Up Show with Sway and King Tech. Yea, these cats are ill.


We're Open!

I'm just getting in from the after-opening bar celebration. I'm going to bed. Tonight was big fun.

But come see! More info here!

Tomorrow: new Emcee of the Month!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mos Def(initely)

When it's all said and done, Mos Def will be mentioned among figures such as Rakim, Q-Tip, KRS-One, and Kurtis Blow as one of the greatest hip hop artist in the history of the culture.

I can't tell you anything about Mos that you can't already find here. I've never met him so I don't know any inside "scoopage". Even if I did, I wouldn't put it on the internet!

However, what I can say is that I've been listening to this cat since I heard him on the Soundbombing II compilation album in 1999. He did two tracks on that album, "B-Boy Document 1999" with High and Mighty and Skillz, and "Next Universe" produced by Hi-Tek. I was particularly drawn to the former. I've always been a fan of posse cuts (hip hop tracks with more than two emcees). I imagine it's because I love debating about whose verse was the most inventive or impactful. Well on "B-Boy", Mos has the first verse after all the vamp-in material. He comes in:

It's on fire tonight
Everything on my side is lookin' alright
It's the high power original
B-boy traditional
Raw bass material
Crook-lyn indiviual
True brand imperial
You're hearin' on your stereo
Transcribe the live, the Mos Def initial
Sit back and listen
You ain't in no position
To deal with my conditional
Mentally and physical
Strength is indivisible
Crews be comin' pitiful
Speech be soundin' typical
Downfall eventual
Ock, I'm not FEELIN' YOU!!!

Mos writes verses that aren't simply a collage of punchlines for superficial effect. He builds them in layers, allowing each image to be propelled by the ones that came before, then landing with both feet on an unexpected epiphany of dopeness. And he does this with such ease and comfort that one could almost miss it. He's never overt, and he doesn't need to be.

Especially when he's doing stuff as fresh as this:


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

As Real As it Gets

It's as real as it gets in Egypt right now.

Heavy gunfire resounded around Cairo's Tahrir Square early Thursday as the battle between allies and foes of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak entered a second day.

At least three people were killed when supporters of the beleaguered leader opened fire, witnesses said, but reports varied and could not be confirmed.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement telling any Americans remaining in Egypt who wish to leave on a government flight to "report to airport immediately" and that "further delay is not advisable." It said government flights after Thursday "are unlikely."

More here:

I only have one thing to say about all this stuff going on in Egypt.

All you political extremists out there in America-land pay attention.

If you check the facts (have a look at this), this guy deserves to be compared to this guy much more than this guy does, or even this one. Which is why this is going on.

And that's what the real blood of tyrants looks like.

Is this what you want? Really?


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Makings of an Artist

I'm heading to bed in 20 minutes. So this will be quick.

On my way home, I'm listening to my local NPR station WHYY 91FM and on comes this show called Studio360. They were promoting a new book based on the show called Spark, which tells the stories of artists from various disciplines and what inspires their work and process. The conversation shifted to an interesting question; is there a formula to someone becoming an artist?

How does one know s/he wants to be an artist? Are there common events in the early stages of artists' lives that may be the catalyst to create? If so, what are they? Are they traumatic events? Are they uplifting ones? A little of both?

I'll give this some thought...