Saturday, April 30, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Joell Ortiz

Man, I need some hard-hittin' hip hop like this today. This is "Battle Cry" by Joell Ortiz.

There are some days in the lives of hip hoppers when we need to hear the livest, rawest, grimmiest, gulliest, most aggressive tracks we can find. For me, today was one of those days. I was actually worried about doing my post tonight because I didn't know if I'd be filled with too much of the energy from my day to really be constructive. But this record is like therapy for me.

I absolutely love these long form rap tracks. Canibus has a great one called "100 Bars", The Roots did the incredible track titled "The Web", and Busta Rhymes has a fantastic one named "Rhymes Galore." Sometimes I don't want to hear any hooks or r&b cameos or clever sample tricks; simply 'one-plus-one is two' type cuts. One rhyme plus one beat equals two to four minutes of pure head-nodding and teeth gritting, and many times that's all I need.

Joell is a masterful rap lyricist and I am grateful to have found this video tonight. It allowed me to rediscover a clear sense of thought that was clouded by the events of my day. I'm a bit disheartened that this is our last day with him. This has been a fantastic month of music for me.

Joell Ortiz is dope.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Birther Control

President Obama released the long form version of his birth certificate this week. Here's his comment about it on Oprah's show yesterday.

Fortunately, I have the luxury of not having to waste my time discussing this issue with anyone who takes the "birther" thing seriously; a luxury the President doesn't share.


"I don't put anything pass the stupidity of this country." Bill Maher


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Home Again

Well, I'm home.

This is my parents house in Havelock, North Carolina. This is where I am. I'm going to bed now. I'm happy to be home.

More tomorrow. Thanks for sticking around.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Rhymes of Our Lives

So I think I've just learned who was my brother's favorite emcee.

This is "I Got It Made" by Special Ed.

Today my brother, niece, nephew and I all drove to the mountains of Virginia to pick up my brother's new motorcycle trailer. On the way back we tuned into the old school hip hop station on XM Radio. As we nodded our heads to classic cuts by Rakim, KRS-One, and Lords Of the Underground, my brother suggested I explore a bit of Special Ed on my blog since that was one of his favorite rappers from that time. As soon as he mentioned it, I distinctly remember listening to his Special Ed cassette tape (1989's Youngest in Charge) on the old boombox he had in his room with the Washington Redskins sticker on the side. (I wasn't supposed to be in there!) I was always drawn to "I Got It Made" and "Think About It", probably because they were the two singles that were made into videos.

Yea, Special Ed is the man. I hope my brother enjoys this video, because it's superdope.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big Bird

Today I drove from Philadelphia, PA to my brother's home in Richmond, VA and the trip was fairly uneventful. Traffic was sticky in spots, my cat puked and pooed all over her carrying case (in fact, she puked before the truck even started moving), and I didn't have any air conditioning. But really, this is all nit-picky stuff. My cat and I made it safely to Richmond and I'm very happy to be hanging with my brother, my niece, and my nephew.

However, the most impressive event today happened just as I was passing by Andrews Air Force Base, just east of Washington D.C. I'm cruising along on I-95 when the shadow of an enormous plane swooped across the interstate. I mean, it had to be as wide as the entire highway (I think it was six lanes by now). It crossed the southbound lanes first, then the northbound ones heading east towards Andrews. I looked out of my window to see what kind of plane it was and saw this:

I was dumbfounded. I just figured it was going to be some standard issue military cargo plane, not Air Force One! I immediately called my dad and told him what happened (since I knew he'd be especially interested in my aeronautic experience). I mean, did the President just fly over me!?

It turns out that at the same time I saw Air Force One, President Obama was in the Oval Office meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, so he couldn't have been on that plane. Therefore I didn't actually see Air Force One, since the plane only carries that designation when the President is aboard. Nevertheless, it was a bit awe-inspiring to be buzzed by the President's plane. It made my day.


Monday, April 25, 2011

West Bound and Down

Tomorrow I embark on an almost two-month journey to Vancouver and Canada's National Voice Intensive. First, my cat Mo and I will be driving from Philadelphia to Richmond, VA to visit my brother and his family for a couple of days. I'm look forward to seeing my niece and nephew, Cassidy and Tavon. They're always a bunch of fun, and since I'm a professional at playing pretend I usually fit right in.

After that all of us will be heading down to our home on the coast of North Carolina to visit my parents for about a week. The hope is that my brother and I can take our motorcycles down with us and so that he, my dad, and I can all ride together for the first time. That would be mighty nice!

Then on May 4th I will fly out to Seattle then take a bus across the border to Vancouver, where I'll be living and working until June 11th. I'm back in Philly on the 12th, then attending the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia auditions on the 13th. Whew!

In a way, I sort of turn off the rest of the world when I'm preparing to travel. There are a lot of things I have to think about and remember in order to feel comfortable and prepared. Just today I've had to do laundry, call the airline to inquire about baggage, pick up the trailer to tow my bike, audition for a wonderful acting opportunity at the National Constitution Center, and obviously pack my stuff. Tomorrow, there's even more to do, including the trip itself.

So allow me to apologize in advance for any lackluster discussion or observation in the next couple of days. Things will pick up, I promise. Vancouver always brings a lot of stuff out of me. You'll see.

Until then, I give you the song I sing to myself every time I travel more than 200 miles in a car. It never fails getting stuck in my head for at least 20 miles.

One of these days, I'll do a real Bandit run to somewhere; hopefully with less involvement from law enforcement. That would be bad.

I've give a travel update tomorrow. Let's hope all goes well!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bright Lights, Big City

I'm taking the night off tonight.

I spent a wonderful weekend with my friends Mariana and Mark up in Brooklyn. Mariana had a '90s themed house party on Saturday night which I was thrilled to attend. I even had the chance to assist her in setting up the place and picking some of the music. In between time, I hung out with my homie Mark as we strolled around Williamsburg and Bushwick. I got in tonight, met up with my friend Clarissa to work on an audition piece, and came home to settle down.

So yea, I'm taking the night off.

But here's a superfresh picture of Mariana and I from the photo booth she set up in her apartment. We had some big fun!

I love New York.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Joell Ortiz

So I'm here at Mariana's crib in Brooklyn and the party's been over for about an hour now. And as I'm doing a quick glance through the youtubes(!) for Joell Ortiz material, I came upon this.

Man, this cat is the realest.

The somber and unapologetic reality of this track is one of the most unique and invaluable aspects of hip hop music. This music has always been about voicing the stories of the less fortunate and down-trodden; perhaps more so than any other musical form in history. Joell's commitment to exposing the immediacy of addiction is both refreshing and disturbing, especially considering the relative complacency of more popular hip hop artists when tackling these matters. His choice to use the instrumental from Kanye West's "Devil in a New Dress" is especially fitting for the subject as it undulates underneath the verse with soaring melancholy.

Joell can't be judged by his freestyles. He's actually way doper than that. This track is a real gem.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Phonte, 9th Wonder, and The "L" Word

9th Wonder and Phonte are two-thirds of one of the most celebrated hip hop groups of the past decade, Little Brother. Here's a brilliant video of the two answering questions about love.

Where's Big Pooh!?

For a quick reference, Phonte and 9th Wonder haven't had the best of relationships lately. 9th left the group back in 2007 due to creative differences, a break that was publicized as mutual amicable for everyone involved. However, in the spring of 2010 Phonte and 9th had a very public dispute on Twitter regarding the release of a 9th Wonder produced track on Little Brother's album Leftback. For the sake of community, I'll leave it up to you to search all the particulars of the argument.

Fortunately, 9th and Phonte were able to reconcile their differences at the beginning of 2011, and seem to have renewed their friendship. They have yet to commit to any musical collaborations (although they haven't ruled them out), but rather are focused on rebuilding their personal relationship as friends and colleagues. Honestly, I feel that's much more important; good for them.

That's doesn't mean I don't want to hear another LB album! These cats are some of my favorites!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Light Reading

I finally got around to cleaning my room today and filing the horde of papers strewn about my living space. But what's more exciting (for me) was that I've officially compiled all of the books I'll be taking with me to Vancouver in May to Canada's National Voice Intensive. I'm very much looking forward to this experience, and having the stack sitting here on my desk makes me feel like things are beginning to happen. These books will serve as valuable references for the work that will go on during our five weeks there. Here's a list with brief descriptions of each book.

These are the four plays with which we'll be working. All are by the homie William Shakespeare.
The Merchant of Venice
Twelfth Night
Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra

These plays, along with various Shakespeare sonnets chose by the participants, will be our primary source material for all of the text based explorations.

Freeing The Natural Voice (revised and expanded) by Kristin Linklater - Since the primary work of the Voice Intensive is based in the tradition of Linklater, this book is a wonderful reference for examining the vocabulary, progression, and function of voice practice.

The Eloquent Shakespeare by Gary Logan - This is one of the most valuable publications available for any actor who wants to work with Shakespeare. Many of Shakespeare's words have foreign or double pronunciations, and this book is magnificent in decoding them. (Plus, Gary's my homeboy!)

Shakespeare's First Texts by Neil Freeman - It's a wonderful guide to the structure of Shakespeare's verse. This book is quite helpful in making sense of how Shakespeare used phrasing, punctuation, and persuasion.

Shakespeare's Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary by Alexander Schmidt - This two volume set defines every word in every single one of Shakespeare's plays, poems, and sonnets in the given contexts of each work. If you're an actor who works with Shakespeare and you don't have these, you're kidding yourself.

Speech Sounds (2nd Edition) by Patricia Ashby - Last year during my training as a voice teacher, we had rigorous sessions of learning the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA. This book is a clear and simple resource that allows easy access to IPA without making it feel cumbersome or intruding on the spontaneity of the voice work.

The Viewpoints Book by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau - This is coming with me to help me shake things up a bit; not too much, and not in a rebellious way, but simply to keep folks on their toes.

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare - While the Voice Intensive participants are working on their monologues and scenes, I'll be working on this. I've been cast as Polixenes in a production of this play at the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, and I'll be primed to begin after time at the Intensive.

Tomorrow I'll be heading to Brooklyn, the home of our current Emcee of the Month, Joell Ortiz. My friend Mariana's party is Saturday night and I'm not missing it for the world. If I bump into Joell, maybe I'll tell him what I'm doing over here to see what he thinks. Who knows, I may just get an interview or something!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Suck it, Prius! (A Quick Thought)

As a car and motorcycle guy, I really do hope this car represents the future of consumer vehicles.

This is the Honda FCX Clarity. (See here for more.) It's powered by an electric motor that gets its juice from an on-board hydrogen fuel cell instead of batteries or a tiny gasoline engine. The fuel cell makes its electricity by combining compressed hydrogen with oxygen, meaning the only thing that comes out of the "exhaust" is vaporized water.

The thing that makes this car better than the Toyota Prius, however, is that to refill it with hydrogen takes about the same time as it does to fill the tank on an average internal combustion automobile. Therefore, this thing is way more practical than the standard electric car that runs on batteries. And since the Toyota Prius is a hybrid (which means it has a gas engine as well as an electric motor), it has a much greater carbon footprint than the Clarity.

James May of Top Gear fame believes this is the most important car produced in decades, (LOOK!) and I agree with him. Cars like this will be the saviors of our motoring future.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Robin Williams is Faster Than You

I've loved Robin Williams ever since I used to watch reruns of Mork and Mindy on Nick at Nite, or Hook on TBS, or even Moscow on the Hudson when it would air on HBO. I know of no one who works with his level of bravery, imagination, or sense of abandon. I've met people who have actually told me that Robin makes them nervous, and I can't blame them. For folks who have no context of performance, it must be terrifying to witness a person who is willing to put themselves and their ego on the line the way Robin does everyday.

I've spent the entire night re-watching Mr. Williams' appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio. Here's the first video.

There are thirteen more, which gives you an idea of how much material Robin runs through in this interview. If you have the time and patience, I implore you to watch the whole thing. He is truly a joy.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Who You Callin' Hip Hop?

Last night as I was looking through tracks for Mariana's album, I came upon this KRS-One interview from outside the VH1 Hip Hop Honors. Check out what he says about Kanye's Graduation album from around 1:36 to 2:15.

You know, this is such a fine line. On the one hand, Kris has been rhyming since before I was born. His world view is acutely viewed through the lens of hip hop culture, perhaps with more purity and vigilance than anyone else. In many ways, he has acquired the privilege to profess the values, beliefs, and thoughts of the entire community.

But in many ways, he hasn't.

Even with as influential KRS has been in solidifying hip hop's foundations, he cannot determine the definition of hip hop for an entire community. No one can. That responsibility is solely the duty of the collective and not a select few individuals, no matter their importance. So when Kris says, "We don't wear white shades around here," my first response is, "Who's included in 'we'?"

In 1998 Lauryn Hill won five Grammy Awards for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, including the top prize of Album of the Year. In her acceptance speech, Lauryn said, "This is crazy, because this is hip hop music." (I found it here!!!) And even though more than half her album was sung, she is absolutely right. That's the lens through which she views her world.

Six years later in the same category there were two hip hop albums nominated, Missy Elliot's Under Construction and OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below. OutKast won the Grammy that year, with Dre's half of the project consisting of 95% singing, narration, and other types of musical explorations. In over two hours of music he only kicked two actual hip hop verses. But if I go to the record store to buy Speakerboxx/The Love Below, it's in the hip hop section. And that's right, because that's the lens through which they view their world.

So back to Kanye. If there could be any question of Kanye not having done a hip hop album it would most likely involve 808s and Heartbreaks, which was released in 2008. Kanye's almost exclusive use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine and Auto-Tune voice processing evolved into a minimalist and introspective journey of love, loneliness, and heartache. The sound was very electronica-inspired, Kanye sung on every track, and there was only one actual rap verse on the entire album (see "Amazing" feat Young Jeezy). Yet, even though this album is probably considered more of a crossover effort by most critics, at its core the heart of hip hop music still pulses. It won't be found in the "Pop" section of the Virgin Megastore. Kanye is hip hop through and through, and ultimately that's the lens through which he views his world. I think My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has served to solidify this.

So, I humbly disagree with KRS-One. His opinion of what's hip hop is not a deciding factor. It's only his opinion, albeit an experienced and educated one. Nevertheless, the forces of hip hop are much, much greater than that.

"Hip hop started out in the heart." Lauryn Hill

"I met a critic. I made her shit her drawers/
She said she thought hip hop was only guns and alcohol/
I said, 'Oh, hell naw! But yet it's that too.'" Dre

"What the hell do I know/
I'm just a Chi-town nigga wit' a Nas flow." Kanye West

I think if KRS would have used "I" instead of "we", I wouldn't have had anything to write about tonight. Thanks Kris!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Playlist

So I've spent the last two and a half hours working on a playlist of nineties hip hop tracks for my homegirl Mariana's party in Brooklyn next week. (By the way, it's 4:50am.) There's so much! I've had an interesting experience working on this. I'm remembering how old I was when each of these songs came out, in which neighborhood I lived, who my close friends were, where I was when I heard the song, and many other memories and feelings inspired by this music.

I've also been watching Coming to America all night. "I am a loyal citizen of Zamunda!"

If you want to hear the list, be at the party.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Joell Ortiz

I watched quite a few Joell interviews, and I was trying to find something that was as recent as possible. But the thing about Joell is that he's very good at "shifting his code" to appeal to the given interview environment, much better than his outward show may appear. That's a good thing. It means he's aware of his audience and has learned how to make himself and his work available to them. However, due to interviewers hastily making their way to requests for Joell to rhyme, I feel we miss a lot of who Mr. Ortiz actually is.

So it took me a while to find a clip of him speaking that felt like I was seeing and hearing the purest story about who he is and what have been the important events and influences during his career.

I finally found an interview from a documentary television series called Mr. Dante Luna. Now, maybe I haven't searched enough, but I haven't found much information about this series; when it was made, its length, or its intention. Nevertheless, this interview with Joell is wonderful. There's no interviewer, no gang of dudes wallflowering the recording, and no pressure for a freestyle. Joell simply tells us about his life and career in very honest, simple terms. From what I can tell, he's quite an individual. Have a look.


Friday, April 15, 2011

She's Goin' In

I love this type of stuff. This is a cover of "Look At Me" by Chris Brown feat. Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne by Karmin.

I'm absolutely not a Chris Brown fan. I think his talent is mediocre and only supported by massive amounts of technology and handlers of his image. Lil Wayne, however, pleasantly surprises me from time to time and Busta is, for all intents and purposes, a legend. So two-thirds of "Look At Me" is quite entertaining.

This cover isn't better than the original track. That I won't concede.

But I will say it makes Chris' section of the song easier to enjoy, and homegirl's accuracy with Busta's verse is quite impressive.

I decree this video dope.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Rhymes of Our Lives

"Scenario" by A Tribe Called Quest is arguably the greatest posse cut in hip hop history.

There are so many cameos in the video, so many quotable lines, and so much imagination in the track's composition, I can't fathom anyone who knows anything about hip hop to solidly argue against it. There's not a hip hop head I know that doesn't have fun when this track comes on. This song is simply marvelous.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sharpton Vs. West: The Knock Down

For context of this post, see this.

Al Sharpton is right. It's not Barack Obama's job to write every bill and take up every local cause in the country. The job of the President is to shape and guide an all-encompassing American agenda that allows for the nuances of our society to shake themselves out.

Cornel West is right. President Obama is the singular most influential and representative figure of everything that is the United States of America. It's his job to be attentive and sensitive to the needs of all of us, and support us in our battles and struggles as we navigate this delicate society.

But this isn't about that. No, this post is about the silly, abrasive, hilarious, wonderful collision between two of black America's largest egos, Professor Cornel West and Reverend Al Sharpton.

My first response to this video was, "Who at MSNBC thought is was a good idea to put West and Sharpton in the same room on television? Haven't they been paying attention?"

For the sake of full disclosure, I'm not really a fan of either of the cats. Not because I don't think they take appropriate positions on the given topics; most often they do and I agree with much of what they say. But rather they communicate a sense of cultural privilege; an arrogance that their points of view should never be shunned because of their status in the black community. They both seem to attempt serving as the mouthpiece of a community without maintain a sense of participation in it.

Consider Al Sharpton for a moment. I remember when he ran for president back in 2004. During the Democratic primaries, there were a few debates that featured all of the Democratic nominees for that year, all 10 of them. (That's right. Ten. Look here.) Sharpton would show up to the debates and blow more wind than a nor'easter. And yes, he would make great points, shake up the debate a little, and even brought some occasional comedy to the conversation. But most of the time he read as the loud, bossy, bombastic black dude more interested with his own voice than adding to the conversation.

Then there's Professor West. You know, very rarely does he fail at coming off as completely pompous and hyper-rhetorical. Yes, he is a very intelligent cat. That's not the problem. But he imparts his intelligence and insight with such inaccessible vocabulary that his arguments read as cryptic and difficult to follow. I do give him credit for the ability to be a translator for the black community to people who may not fully understand our collective impulses (see West and Mos Def of Real Time with Bill Maher). More often than not, however, I think his comments and lectures do more to gratify the black elite in the belief of their own exceptionalism than make significant strides in a societal understanding of the African American experience.

Actually, I'm glad MSNBC got these two together.

"A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men." Roald Dahl


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sharpton vs. West: The Set-up

I haven't had a chance to look at this enough to figure out what I think. But I knew I wanted to put it up and have you all take a look.

I will say this. I stumbled across this video doing other stuff. I intentionally stayed away from MSNBC's "A Stronger America: The Black Agenda" stuff. It felt patronizing, and if MSNBC is the "progessive" news network I would have expected better than that.

I have some thoughts on this tomorrow night.


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Ol' Switcharoo

So I just finished fully converting my 2000 SV650S controls from clip-on handlebars to standard upright ones. It took me pretty much all day yesterday and I decided to do a 200 mile shakedown ride today to give it a try.

I am totally and completely in love.

The bike feels so much more usable and rider friendly. I found myself grinning involuntarily more than I think I ever have on any motorcycle. And yes, there are a couple things I miss from from having clip-ons, but for the riding I want to do the bike is much more suited.

Here are the pros and cons:


No More Back Pain: It wasn't extreme with the clip-ons, but it was just enough to worry me and make me uncomfortable for the rest of the day, especially after long trips.

Eagle Eyes: Something about sitting more upright allowed me to see the road better. The change isn't much, either. But moving my position really helped my awareness.

Hooliganism up 40%: The front end is much livelier than I had imagined. I've never had the bike lift the front wheel in 2nd. Scaring grandmas and making little kids smile is more irresistible. And no, I'm not doing wheelies for miles and draining the front cylinder. But little, quick ones are fun!

Slalom King: The increased leverage of the handlebars gives me more confidence around town. I feel more agile and nimble, which coupled with better visibility, is quite nice.


Set Sail: It's a bit more difficult to get under the wind on the super slab. My upper body felt more like a sail than it did with the clip-ons. Not bad, tho. I'll figure it out.

Where's the Tire!?: I have lost a bit of feel with the front. The added body weight on the clip-ons did give me a better sense of what the tire is doing. So I'll really need to get used to trusting this lighter front end.

Love Lockdown: My ignition lock doesn't work anymore. Bummer. I really liked using it. It's okay, tho. I do have an alarm, so at least that's something.

Man in the Mirror: I couldn't remount my Napoleon mirrors. But it's all good. I think I've outgrown them anyway. It's time to move on!

Here's a full list of everything I purchased for the change over:

N model throttle cable (used)
N model brake lines (used)
N model choke cable (new)
N model clutch cable (used)
N model upper triple (used)
N model bar risers (used)
security torx set (new)
Superbike(?) bars from my friend Matt (used)
universal brake reservoir mount from Woodcraft (new)

The total for all of this, including some this-and-thats I had to pick up cost around $170.

There were a few surprises.

I couldn't figure out how (or was too scared) to remove the carbs to undo the throttle cable, so I just figured out a way to do it with them in. It was kind of a pain, but worked out fine.

I drilled a hole in the bar for the throttle-side control cluster in order to fit that little pin that keeps the controls still. It worked okay, but I still got some movement.


I had to come up with a way to keep the control clusters from swiveling around on the bar. I ended up buying some stair tread tape and sticking it on the bar then sandwiching it with the clusters. It worked like a charm.

Here are a few pictures from today's ride. I really need to find a riding partner so I can start taking actual shots instead of my bike sitting still beside some trees and street signs. But it'll do.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

I'm Getting Lost

I spent the entire day working on my bike. As you may or may not know, I have a 2000 Suzuki SV650S. You can check it out here. The modification I made was removing the lower-slung S model clip-on handlebars and replacing them with a more upright handlebar set-up.

What I noticed before I stored my bike for the winter was that my lower back was taking quite a beating during my longer rides. The slight lean forward to reach the bars would cause significant strain after a while. And since I tend to spend a lot on my bike when I decide to ride it, it was a point of concern.

By adding bars that will allow me to ride in a more upright position, I'm hoping to alleviate the excess tension in my back and shoulders. Therefore, I'll be able to ride for much longer and have a much nicer time.

Also, I do a lot of commuting around town on my bike. The bars I've fitted will give me much more agility and maneuverability in service of negotiating the concrete jungle.

So tomorrow, I'm getting lost. The hope is that I do about 200 miles or so and really get a sense of how my bike works now. Plus, I really want to get lost. I'll take my camera and try to get some nice shots for tomorrow night. Until then...


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Joell Ortiz

This cat's freestyles are so dope I had to post another one. This one went down with Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97.

You gotta love Flex's growl ad-libs.

Honestly, I haven't heard anybody this aggressive on the microphone since Canibus. And quite frankly, Joell seems to be much more stable than 'Bis ever was, especially before he went to the Army. Furthermore, 'Bis never really had a sense of humor, so he would never come up with something as silly and fun-loving as "YAOWA!"

I think the most telling aspect of this clip, however, is Joell's message at the end.

"From here on out, let's start rhyming again New York...Rhyme...Ya'll need to rhyme from here on out."

I hope those emcees in question heard this. This is what rhyming sounds like.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Quick Study

In preparation of working at the Voice Intensive this summer, I've been reading the plays chosen to provide material for the program's text-based explorations. Each year, four Shakespeare plays are used as the source of all the scenes and monologues examined by the participants. This year the four plays are:

Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra
Twelfth Night
The Merchant of Venice

Tonight I would like to take the opportunity to advocate a Shakespeare resource that I have found exceedingly valuable in getting through these plays, The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare.

The Arkangel is a collection of unabridged, fully dramatized recordings of all 38 plays in the Shakespeare canon. There are close to 400 actors in the series, most of whom are current or former members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Reading an entire play by Shakespeare has always been difficult for me. It's incredibly easy to be swept away by the poetry and imagery, eventually losing any sense of what's actually happening. In addition, keeping up with the meanings and contexts of some of the more antiquated words and phrases can be quite a task that almost always requires two or three readings of a passage or scene.

However, since I've been listening to the Arkangel recordings and following along with my text, I haven't had nearly as much difficulty as I would with the script alone. The story has actual movement and texture due to the opportunity of listening while reading. I can more easily differentiate the characters; their voices don't get lost in my own. And the language isn't as laborious now that actors are there to give it context. I'm finally able to experience the plays as an audience member rather than a scholar; it's much more satisfying.

I've already gotten through Merchant and am now making my way in Antony. And I've been able to read them in record time. If you have the means and the need I wholeheartedly suggest picking up this series. It's fantastic.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Glenn Beck Moves On

So, Glenn Beck won't be on Fox anymore. I only have one thing to say to that.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The First Hip Hop?

A few nights ago I stumbled upon this.

These cats were named The Jubalaires. They were a gospel group active during the '40s and '50s. You can look up some their information here.

Who knows the first instance of someone performing in a way we recognize as rapping. It was probably way before we had the ability to record it. However, I'm still fascinated by the similarity between what these cats were doing and the way hip hop is performed today. Concepts of syncopation, meter, addition and subtraction of syllables are all very much on display in this video. In fact, other than the subject matter, this sense of hip hop performance communicates an almost identical feel to early hip hop artists like Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Kurtis Blow.

All we need now is Kanye to sample it. I mean, he did do "Jesus Walks."


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Resonances of Malcolm

I've had a couple of instances in the last few days that have reminded me how much the ideas and words of Malcolm X have shaped my view of the world.

The first was the news surrounding the untimely death of Columbia University professor Manning Marable. (See here for an excerpt.) Dr. Marable succumbed to complication of pneumonia on April 1st, two days before the publishing of his biography of Malcolm called Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. I actually have a friend that has been taking Dr. Marable's class this semester. From the stories I've heard from her, he was quite an individual and extremely dedicated to communicating his truth and experience of Malcolm's work.

The other was this eight minute recording of Malcolm being interrogated by agents of the FBI.

I think the most impressive thing about this recording is Malcolm's complete confidence of thought in defiance of the most intimidating and infamous branch of the United States Government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation scares everyone; I'm certain that's by design. Like Germany's Gestapo and Russia's KGB, the FBI carries a history and aura of unwarranted clandestineness and questionably legal and political morality. So for Malcolm X to sit in a room with two of their agents and respond as coolly and masterfully as he does in this recording is nothing short of brilliance.

I really wish I could have seen him in person. Perhaps I was born in the wrong era.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Holmes, smell ya' later!

Do you know the words to this?

I'm willing to bet you do.

In fact, I have a hypothesis about this. I wholeheartedly believe these are the most well-known rap lyrics in the history of hip hop. I've lived four states and two countries and spent significant time in many of the major cities in North America, and never have I come across someone who doesn't know at least half of this.

Now, before posting tonight, I had a wonderful debate with my homie Marcel (who also gave me some revisions for the No Wack Verses Club). He reckons that "Rapper's Delight" by Sugarhill Gang is more well known, especially the first chorus and verse of the song.

The conversation eventually shifted towards the significance of hip hop culture in the shaping of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's narrative. But I think the jury is still out on the original premise as to which song is more well known.

I'll say this. "Rapper's Delight" came out at a time when hip hop wasn't really heard outside of a 50 miles radius of New York. And yes, it was the first hip hop track to get substantial airplay, but its entrance into the collective consciousness didn't really happen until about 10 years ago. In fact, it took an old white lady covering "Rapper's Delight" in the 1998 film The Wedding Singer before mainstream America realized how much they'd been affected by this song's success.

Conversely, The Fresh Prince theme was a much more immediate influence on how American pop culture viewed hip hop. Many people who had very little exposure to hip hop culture were able to tune in to this show and witness a relatively accurate (though extremely non-threatening) sample of the hip hop perspective. That peek into something new and unknown is one of the foundational aspects that allowed the show to be so successful. People who had never known any rap songs at least knew the words to The Fresh Prince theme. That was their way in.

One day I'll figure out a way to test this scientifically. How would I do that?

P.S. I think Ms. Jackson by OutKast and Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot are up there, too. People in Louisiana flying confederate flags play those at tailgating parties. Crazy.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

No Wack Verses Club

About a year ago my friend Marcel and I got into a conversation about emcees we thought had never performed a wack verse (a poorly written rhyme for the uninitiated). It's a difficult concept to gauge. We all have our own sense of poetic excellence; not all emcees will appeal to all people. However, I think the most appropriate way to evaluate this topic is by comparing an emcee to the best examples of his or her work.

All rappers have one or two instances in their careers in which most of their fans agree to be defining moments. Many Kanye West fans feel his ability was most palpable on the Late Registration album. Nas fans will more often than not refer to his lyrical mastery peaking at Illmatic. You see the trend. To ascertain an emcee's consistency, I use their perceived artistic peak as a measuring stick for the rest of their catalogs.

Here I have an ever evolving list of emcees who I feel belong in the No Wack Verses Club. If you have any to add or take away, get at me and we'll discuss it.

But yea, I've never heard anyone listed below kick a wack verse. Ever.

Black Thought
Joell Ortiz
Jean Grae
Andre 3000
Big Boi
MF Doom
Phonte of Little Brother
Lauryn Hill
Royce da 5' 9"


notice: updated 4/4 due to spirited conversation with my homie Marcel

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Joell Ortiz

Way back in September of last year, Joell Ortiz was the seed from which the idea of this blog grew. I was on one of my usual youtube cruises when I came upon this:

Immediately I copied the link and stuck it in an email to my homie Marcel. My exact message to him was, "[Joell Ortiz is] my rap hero for the month of September." His reply was, "Yes, [Ortiz] is in the no-wack-verses club." (So far, the club consists of Joell and Black Thought. We'll get into that soon.)

Joell's combination of pure joy and unapologetic aggression is undeniably engaging. He rhymes like he's having the time of life. So now that Emcee of the Month is up and running it's only right I revisit Joell and his astonishing sense of hip hop. I can't wait to share some of the wonderfully provocative gems he's given to the culture.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Vancouver Trek

This week I found out I'll be heading back to Vancouver to serve as an associate instructor at Canada's National Voice Intensive, (check this) and I feel like I've won the lottery or something. As I've mentioned here before (here!), my experience at the Intensive has immensely influenced the way I approach my practice of theatre. As I told someone in conversation recently, I think CNVI is the closest thing to a pilgrimage I'll ever have in my life.

It's a pilgrimage of practicality, mind you. I think there is a stigma that exists in the world of theatrical education that views voice teachers as the pseudo-shamans of actor training. Supposedly, we are closer to spiritual healers than acting teachers, who pass off our work as a form of quasi-ethereal enlightenment or awakening rather than functional artistic awareness.

For the Intensive, nothing could be further from the truth. The work there is designed for professional actors or actors in training who desire a "re-inspiration" ("re" meaning "again", "inspire" meaning "breathe in") of their work. The practice gives the participants a way to reliably access the wealth of their actor energies with a repeatable, yet malleable, progression of voice and text explorations. And yes, it's true some of the work can have therapeutic resonances, but the foundational purpose is, and has always been actor training.

I just ordered a few books that I'll be needing for the Intensive and I'm making plans to let my cat live with my parents for the month. I don't know how my blog will function while I'm there; my access to internet will be limited. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

We'll have a new Emcee of the Month tomorrow! YEEEEEEEEAAA SON!!!