Posts Tagged ‘hip-hop’
“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true…”*
It is not just an artist’s work, but their personalities — inadvertent, performative, implied, affected, whatever — by which an overall narrative, or “personal brand,” of the artist is measured, which invariably informs how the art is perceived. Do likeable people make likeable art, and vice versa? Is it better to be an arrogant genius than a modest one? At what point is arrogance reasonable? One hates to reduce art-making to the two binaries presented, but this seems to be the case: What you think of yourself, and what others think of you… this is all grossly subjective and was distractedly assembled while this contributor was at work, in a cast (broken hand, bike accident), with low blood sugar due to manorexic tendencies (no breakfast, salad for lunch), and I know there’s not enough women and minorities represented, and that this is all rather mainstream, so if you point that out, I’ll know that you didn’t finish reading this ¶. Cheers, to the people who touch us.
* John Steinbeck
As we take our geniuses as we find them, we might send a birthday reminder that “just because one’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t after you” to Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928. The author of 44 novels and over 120 short stories, PKD, as his now-legion fans know him, won every major award available to the science fiction writer during his lifetime, but barely scratched together a living. It was only after his death in 1982 that his work was picked up by Hollywood; ten popular films based on his works have been produced (so far), including Blade Runner, Total Recall (twice), A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. In 2007, he became the first sc-fi writer to be included in the Library of America series.
PKD’s influence on literary and cinematic science fiction, and on popular culture in general, has been monumental. But he has admirers within the ranks of philosophy as well, among them, Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Laurence Rickels, and Slavoj Žižek. Writing of Dick’s evocation of postmodernity, Baudrillard observed…
It is hyperreal. It is a universe of simulation, which is something altogether different. And this is so not because Dick speaks specifically of simulacra. SF has always done so, but it has always played upon the double, on artificial replication or imaginary duplication, whereas here the double has disappeared. There is no more double; one is always already in the other world, an other world which is not another, without mirrors or projection or utopias as means for reflection. The simulation is impassable, unsurpassable, checkmated, without exteriority. We can no longer move “through the mirror” to the other side, as we could during the golden age of transcendence.
As our friends at Rap Genius observe,
Rap’s history has been traced many ways — through books, documentaries, official compilations, DJ mixes, university archives, even parties. But until now you haven’t been able to look at the development of the genre through its building blocks: the actual words used by emcees.
Like Google’s Ngram viewer (only with a more pronounced beat), RG’s Rap Stats lets users plot the frequency of words appearing in rap songs from 1988 through the present day; one can, as they suggest “figure out the migratory patterns of drug dealers, when hip-hop became big business, and whether money really is over bitches”… and a host of other fascinating things. For example,
The word first pops up in 1993-4. This makes sense, as DJ Jubilee’s “Do The Jubilee All,” generally acknowledged as the first recorded rap use of the term, was released in ’93. Jubilee was a bounce artist, and one of the many great things about early bounce music was that it functioned as a conversation between the artists. It wasn’t too long before Jubilee’s call to “Twerk, baby” was answered by Cheeky Blakk’s 1995 classic “Twerk Something!”, and a slew of other N.O. artists followed her lead.
The word lived quietly as a regional trend, losing steam in the late 90s, until pop culture finally discovered the dance, and, as we all know now, launched “twerk” into a Miley-fueled rocket ship ride, with no end in sight.
(Of course, Will Smith fans might have said the same thing about “jiggy” in 1998, and we can see how that turned out…)
One can develop one’s own rap on rap at Rap Stats.
As we bust a rhyme, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington recorded his first big hit, “Mood Indigo.” Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.” With lyrics added by Mitchell Parish in 1931 (but credited to Ellington’s manager Irving Mills), “Mood Indigo” became a vocal as well as an instrumental standard, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone among many, many others.
Nathan Rabin (source)
There’s a wonderful line in the musical Passing Strange where narrator Stew wistfully remarks, “It’s weird when you wake up one morning and realize that your entire adult life was based on the decision of a stoned teenager.” In sharp contrast my entire adult life as a music critic was based on a casual decision made as a 21-year-old.
Sometime in spring 1998, my editor, Stephen Thompson, held up a copy of the Bulworth soundtrack and said, “Hey, Nathan, you like hip-hop. Do you want to review this for us?” I was at the time deep into my third sophomore or second junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was eager to make a name for myself at The A.V. Club. I gleefully acquiesced. The paper needed a hip-hop writer. I needed to be needed. I had found a niche.
It was a natural fit. Hip-hop was the music that spoke most directly to me. It was the music I’d run home to listen to on Yo! MTV Raps and The Box after a long day of playing hooky. It was the music we gravitated toward in the group home where I grew up, the culture that spoke angrily and provocatively toward our collective anxieties, fantasies, and desires. It was the soundtrack of my tortured adolescence and marginally less tortured adulthood.
Volunteering to review the Bulworth soundtrack helped determine my musical diet for the next 11 years. Since that fateful day, I’ve listened overwhelmingly to hip-hop for personal as well as professional reasons. Huge rock acts have almost completely passed me by. I’ve never really listened to a White Stripes album. The last Radiohead album I was into was The Bends.
Throughout the years, I’ve fantasized about correcting my wildly unbalanced musical education by spending a year immersing myself in a foreign genre. (Yes, that is what critics fantasize about. That and elaborate new ways to file their CD and DVD collections.) I daydreamed about correcting the lopsided nature of my musical education by pulling a massive 180 in my listening habits. Instead of listening overwhelmingly to only one genre of music, I’d do something completely different and listen overwhelmingly to a different genre.
While listening to Billy Joe Shaver’s “Been To Georgia On A Fast Train” earlier this year, I had an epiphany. I decided that now was as good a time as any to put my plan into action. As the great Jewish philosopher Hillel famously asked, “If not now, when? If I am not for myself then who will be? And if I am only for myself than what am I?” I’m fairly certain Rabbi Hillel was talking specifically about ambitious yearlong online country-oriented projects on pop-culture websites. That is impressive, considering Hillel died several thousand years ago. In accordance with his final wishes, Hillel’s corpse was slathered with horseradish, wine, nutmeg, apples, and nuts, then buried between giant pieces of matzo.
This year, I decided to stop dreaming about pursuing a super-intense yearlong crash course in country, and start doing it. Inspired by Noel Murray’s Popless series [which your correspondent also heartily recommends], I will, over the next year, immerse myself in the sum of country music, the good, the bad, and the creamy middle, and write a series of long, rambling, freeform essays about my musical odyssey deep into the heart of a vital, oft-maligned sector of American music.
And so, with results both enormously entertaining and eminently enlightening, he has. From Loretta Lynn and Garth Brooks to Merle Haggard and k.d. laing, he listens– really listens.
Readers might dip into his essay on the extraordinary Lyle Lovett, “illustrated” with videos of the examples Rabin discusses…
Or, for a more esoteric– indeed, even exotic– treat, readers might consider “The Louvin Brothers’ tragic songs of Satan’s realness” (again, punctuated with audio tracks of the tunes discussed).
The rewards (and pleasures) of accompanying Rabin on his journey are plenty… but the real pay-off is the example it sets– an object lesson in discovering the riches that lie beyond the horizon lines of our habits:
…I am striking a forceful blow against the tyranny of essays written by people who “know what they’re talking about” and “aren’t completely ignorant.” I will be writing not as an expert, but as a passionate amateur. Isn’t that what all critics are? We just participate in the culturally mandated charade of being experts because it flatters our fragile egos. Ultimately, William Goldman’s famous aphorism about Hollywood—”Nobody knows anything”—holds true for the rest of entertainment as well. As the co-screenwriter of Dreamcatcher, Goldman knows an awful lot about not knowing anything.
I am going into this project full of idealism and hope. I’ve devoted much of my life and career to writing about subjects dismissed, demonized, and/or reviled by big segments of the population: cinematic flops, direct-to-DVD movies, silly little show-biz books, gangsta rap, pop-rap, and now country music. I am fueled by curiosity and an utterly uncharacteristic sense of optimism…
“Curiosity and an utterly uncharacteristic sense of optimism”– an altogether appropriate recipe for our times.
As we agree with Charlie Parker, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 the “the British Invasion” began in earnest, as the Beatles landed (at Idlewild Airport in New York) for their first American tour.
The British retake America (source)…
…while airport police struggle to manage the crowd (source)
From the good folks at Staple Crops:
Hip-Hop Word Count™
The Hip-Hop Word Count is a searchable ethnographic database built from the lyrics of over 40,000 Hip-Hop songs from 1979 to present day.
The Hip-Hop Word Count describes the technical details of most of your favorite hip-hop songs. This data can then be used to not only figure out interesting stats about the songs themselves, but also describe the culture behind the music.
How can analyzing lyrics teach us about our culture?
The Hip-Hop Word Count locks in a time and geographic location for every metaphor, simile, cultural reference, phrase, rhyme style, meme and socio-political idea used in the corpus of Hip-Hop.
The Hip-Hop Word Count then converts this data into explorable visualisations which help us to comprehend this vast set of cultural data.
This data can be used to chart the migration of ideas and builds a geography of language.
The readability scores are on a scale from 0 (illiterate) to 20 (post-graduate degree).
So, how do different artist’s fare? For reference, Staple Crops ran energy policy speeches by both Obama and McCain from the 2008 campaign; each scored a 12– “Educational Level: High School Graduate, Reading Level: Time Magazine.”
By comparison, Fifty Cent’s “I Get Money” scored a 7– “Educational Level: Junior High School, Reading Level: True Confessions.”
At the other extreme, Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents 2″ and Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” both scored 16– “Educational Level: University Degree, Reading Level: Atlantic Monthly.”
Grade other artists, pick up a set of the trading cards (exampled above), or buy chocolates (!) featuring reliefs of one’s favorite rappers at Staple Crops.
No child left behind, Sucka!
As we dust off those closeted turntables, we might wish a lyrical Happy Birthday to the painter, poet, playwright, essayist, and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott; he was born on this date in 1930 on the island of Santa Lucia in the West Indies.