Did I say something about “counter” canons? I think I like “loose” canons better. But the gist remains: that is, if we listen to some genre of choice through the ears of another, it can tell us a great deal about both genres (which is to say, about the producers and devotees of both).
— or to put it another way, that canon, if we are to use the concept productively at all, should be viewed as a deeply perspectival thing, rather than pretending to enshrine the universal, the quintessential, the best (as if such value judgments could ever become “objective” “facts”). This is obvious if we think of the typical musical canon, at least as reproduced by most music departments: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and anything in between, but not much beyond. I don’t want to rehash the Bloomian debates about the values of great works (by dead white men, natch) vs. the so-called “political correctness” of incorporating a wider range of works by a more diverse bunch of authors, composers, producers, performers. Nope. I’m not interested in recuperating or reaffirming the idea of a canon at all. I am interested, though, in reformulating it in a rather specific way.
With regard to hip-hop, I’m a lot less interested in the idea of a hip-hop canon, per se, than in understanding what we might think of as hip-hop’s canons — i.e., what is “jazz” for hip-hop heads? what is “reggae”? which works typify or symbolize these genres for hip-hoppers, and how do such “canons” depart from jazz or reggae devotees’ ideas about the great works of their respective genres? what are the implications of such differences, or what can they tell us about how these genres circulate and resonate outside of purist circles? what does “hip-hop’s jazz” tell us about hip-hop? about jazz?
These kinds of questions engage my imagination a lot more than trying to establish any sort of hip-hop canon, a project that has reared its head again of late, e.g. —
As the WNYC program notes, the reason for this most recent rearing of (talking) heads — insightful as the MAN is — is the publication of Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique, a much expanded version of his self-published book Rakim Told Me (as plugged by me way back when). Brian has been interviewing hip-hop artists and producers for years and years, and his books offer wonderful insights into some of the genre’s most well-worn and well-loved albums. But Brian’s work does not explicitly propose a hip-hop canon (or implicitly, in my opinion), even if that’s what newscasters and podcasters keep asking him about. I suppose that sort of idea gives (bougie) listeners, watchers, and readers something to relate to. (Get it? It’s like classical music! Only noisier!)
I don’t see any reason to equate Brian’s selection of albums with a hip-hop canon, classic and central and important and influential as any and all of those albums may be. Not do I see any reason to establish or argue about a hip-hop canon at all, unless we really want to see hip-hop go the Lincoln Center route. (We at w&w most certainly do not — Harvards and Stanfords and Smithsonians of the world be damned.)
[Incidentally, or not so incidentally, I'm happy to announce that Brian will be playing some records at Beat Research tomorrow night. Details here.]
So let’s return to the idea of “loose” canons and what they might tell us about the edges and contexts of hip-hop (which is, I contend, a lot more than a hip-hop canon will tell us about the music and its social and cultural embeddedness).
Last time I was discussing hip-hop’s reggae (or, in other words, the reggae that shows up in hip-hop DJs’ crates and is sampled for hip-hop beats), which tends to differ in some interesting, significant ways from what, say, reggae enthusiasts (whether moldy fig rootsters or their bashment brethren) might hold in their hearts and crates. But another illuminating example — and one that perhaps more provocatively illustrates the concept — is what we might call hip-hop’s jazz.
The thing about hip-hop’s jazz is that, for the most part, it hardly squares with jazz’s jazz (that is, the idea of the jazz canon from the perspective of a jazz musician or a jazz “buff” — from the original moldy figs to the hardboppers). I may be underestimating the number of poptimists among jazz aficionados, but I suspect — and this is only from an anecdotal/personal perspective — that most concepts of the jazz canon tend to leave out some of hip-hop jazz’s most central players: Bob James, Grover Washington, Donald Byrd, David Axelrod, Roy Ayres, George Benson, &cetera.
While hip-hop producers have sampled jazz pretty widely, it’s striking — but not terribly surprising, given hip-hop aesthetics and the age of most producers — that the preponderance of jazz-derived samples come from late 70s, quasi-quiet storm, proto-smooth jazz-funk. One of the best examples of this, of course, is Bob James’s “Nautilus” —
[click here for the full version, which, unfortunately, imeem now makes you login to hear]
Now, “Nautilus” would hardly make a “best composition” list in Down Beat, but one listen and any hip-hop head worth their salt is instantly transported to track after classic track that chopped, looped, and otherwise employed the James track to great effect. And those loops, those little moments, jump out of the track like brilliant little ideas rather than tossed off licks or arrangements. We thus listen to jazz (or “not-jazz” depending whom you ask) differently because of hip-hop.
& although certain producers (e.g., Premier) have shown an acquaintance with and love for the jazz tradition that extends beyond the 70s and well into the established jazz canon, it is telling that 70s schmaltzfunk more often makes the cut and hence represents “jazz” for a lot of hip-hop producers and listeners alike. Should this affect how jazz devotees conceive of the great works of jazz? I wonder. Should it affect how we think about hip-hop’s relationship to other (African-)American repertories and the implications of those relationships? Perhaps.
At any rate, these are questions that are a lot more interesting to me than whether Black Moon or 2 Live Crew deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as PE or Rakim. Check the technique indeed. Then ask yourself: What does it say about hip-hop, about jazz, about me?
Which made me think: the MIA is a timely meme, an interesting meme, a catchy meme. May a thousand more poco / pomo riot grrl DIY media-savvy MCs bloom. (E.g.)
a little closer to home (but still on the internet), I recently stumbled upon this funky, dancehall-inflected, chintz-synth-trumpet wielding “dhol beat” over at the webpage for one of my favorite local Indian restaurants. (Haven’t made a proper announcement yet, but I moved back to Cambridge not long ago, which I’m v happy about.) Inman Square’s Punjabi Dhaba is the bomb, if you didn’t know. Good, cheap eats & bhangra videos on repeat. & what a treat it was to find this fine splash music. I’ve already played it out twice. Nice!
If you roll like a philanthropist (i.e., $50-and-up for tix), come schmooze with me and the people behind Global Schoolhouse on Thursday, September 27, at 120 Walker Street in Chinatown, NYC. I’ll be playing lots of whirled music in support of this global education initiative. More details available here.
Tim has been an integral part of the Providence music scene for years, he is an artist in residence at AS220, and is part of the new REVOLVE night at Cuban Revolution. He performs under his own name, as “tfo,” and also as his new solo project “Bloodless Coup” that specializes in a mixture of electronic, bhangra and arabic sounds. He is also famous for collaborating with numerous electronic and non-electronic musicians.
In the eclectic beat tradition of Cozy Music Flack’s “Strictly Scientifical” combines bouncey dubstep influenced beats with all types of sounds from Klezmer horns to Napalese Strings to his own punk rock guitar riffs. By this time the album should be available on iTunes and Emusic so tell all you friends to check it out.
Sept 17 :: Brian Kane
As one of the original members of EBN from back in their RISD days, Brian Kane has been experimenting with the relationship between audio and the moving image for years and as a software engineer has embraced the digital revolution for its many artistic possibilities.
Tonight he will be presenting some new works in which image and sound are integral to each other as well as providing a visual backdrop to the DJ sets. Click HERE to see pictures from his show last August at the giant UK multimedia festival Big Chill in which he and Garner Post were the “Concert Grand Masters.”
Sept 24 :: DJ Philomena
The gal who, according to legend, gave Diplo his first taste of “baile funk” will be bringing some special sonic treats to the Beat Research labs. Keep your ears peeled for eclectic, electric bangers.
Some readers might remember that I participated in a panel about ego trip’s White Rapper Show earlier this year at the annual meeting of IASPM-US. I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts / comments from that session here for a while, but haven’t had a moment to collect (or transcribe) them. Well, I just spent a couple hours this afternoon doing just that. If all goes well, the whole conversation will eventually be published in a print journal (quaint, I know), but since most readers here will never see that, I’m putting it up here too. I’m curious, as always, to hear what other people think, so, you know, holla back.
I mean, I’m saying, your man John Brown did (after a bit of self-googling) —
28 April 2007
White Rapper Panel
Wayne Marshall’s comments:
As, at various points in my life, a quote-unquote “white rapper,” I’ve paid a lot of attention to the strategies of white rappers. So one of the most striking things to me about this show was, as some have already touched on, the remarkable range of strategies employed. The contestants have been described here as stereotypes, and that’s true. It seems like they were chosen less because of their skills or their acquaintance with hip-hop culture or their ideas about race than because they could fit this set of types. Learning that G-Child modeled herself on Vanilla Ice — to find yourself in an era where you have people who grew up with Vanilla Ice as their model — says some interesting things about where hip-hop is at today, and perhaps also speaks to the point where we’re at such that Justin Timberlake could be the “King of R&B.”
I was pretty struck by the tension that that also spoke to, the underlying tension in the show. You’ve got MC Serch who, certainly when I was coming up, represented something of a beacon for the white rappers out there. He came out in the late 80s, post-Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys had already established that white guys could rap, so to speak, and that there were ways of entering into that space, but they did so in a very idiosyncratic and iconoclastic way and a way that drew on their rock side and the general mixed-up-ness of New York culture. 3rd Bass were a significant group because they came out doing more of what seemed like a hardcore, grounded thing; it seemed like more of a community thing, they played at black clubs in New York, they rolled with a multiracial crew, they were very — actually, Serch especially — less so than his partner, Prime Minister Pete Nice, who now apparently has a nice career in Cooperstown selling baseball memorabilia — MC Serch put forward the image of the self-knowing, half-guilty white rapper, a self-effacing position: Look, I understand that I’m implicated in a lot of this white power / white privilege crap and I’m gonna do my best to chant it down in this tongue that I’ve learned. And so he would come out with lyrics like: “Black cat is bad luck, bad guys wear black, / Musta been a white guy who started all that.” So you hear something like that and, you know, me and my friends growing up, we’d all cringe a little bit, like, yeah, musta been a white guy. But you also find a way of negotiating a position there, and that seemed significant.
And something important changed for white rappers not just with Vanilla Ice and the kind of commercialization of hip-hop where it all seems like a big play and performance, but also with the rise of such groups as House of Pain who adopted a very different position, a kind of self-essentializing, strategic essentializing, ethnification of whiteness — in their case, Irishness. It later morphed into what we see in the show when Detroit is portrayed as the â€œMecca of White Hip-hop,â€ which is not what I would, I mean, it’s a weird way of describing it, but certainly it says that today for a lot of kids Detroit is the Mecca of White Hip-hop. It’s where Eminem, Kid Rock, and Insane Clown Posse, who the producers oddly decided also to canonize in this way, are from. And so now we’ve got this white trash essentialism, this class-based position. Fat Joe speaks to this when he appears in a later episode and advises, “Let em know that you’re white but not rich.” And I don’t think that’s necessarily true (i.e., that they’re not rich). But it’s interesting that we get to this point in the white cultural politics of hip-hop that there are these ways of staking out a position that also seem to reify race and seem to make whiteness into something that people claim in a way that is often a little too proud and very different from what Serch used to do with his more self-effacing tack.
And I think part of the tension is that Serch and the Ego Trip guys themselves are upholding this idea of hip-hop that is very much an “old school” / “true school” idea of hip-hop that was really forged in the 80s and came to a certain apogee in the late 80s / early 90s when you had strong Afrocentric politics but you also had a playfulness about it, and it seemed like hip-hop was well aligned with a kind of progressive racial politics. Today it’s not so easy to make that pronouncement about hip-hop. Hip-hop has embraced the hyper-capitalist, pragmatic, hustler stance: I’m just gonna do my thing, I’m gonna get mine, I’m gonna get my hustle on. And that has opened up space for the John Browns of the world who similarly want to position themselves as savvy / idiot-savant hustlers who are just sort of, you know, playing the game.
[Kyra Gaunt asks me to explain who John Brown is.]
Right, so, John Brown, “King of the Burbs,” “Hallelujah Holla Back.” Those are his big phrases. He represents himself as coming from Santa Cruz, but he lives in Williamsburg. [Someone interjects: He says "Brooklyn."] Does he say “Brooklyn”? And there’s this great moment later in the show when he’s visited by a friend of his, and his friend is so Williamsburg in a very different way and John Brown’s kind of embarrassed by it. It’s totally undercutting his act.
[Someone asks that I elaborate on the distinction between Williamsburg and Brooklyn more broadly.]
So, Williamsburg is identified these days as a hipster enclave, and it’s been gentrified in lots of ways, and it’s a place where lots of different kinds of whiteness are performed and enacted and a lot of them have to do with signifying on blackness in some pretty weird ways.
[Someone mentions the "Kill Whitey" parties that garnered national media attention a couple years ago.]
The “Kill Whitey” parties, on the one hand they seem to signify a kind of self-awareness, and on the other hand it’s a weird kind of celebration.
[Further comments among the audience about the blackness and Caribbeanness of other parts of Brooklyn and the segregation across the borough.]
So you end up in this funny situation so that in Williamsburg you can go to clubs that are populated by “hip,” white twenty-somethings who don the various trappings of pop culture blackness and listen to popular music by African-Americans, and I’ve heard stories from DJs who are playing at one of these clubs and they put on some reggaeton and the club owner says, “Please take that off, or we’re gonna have all kinds of other people coming in here.” So there’s some really insidious stuff happening there. And that’s partly what John Brown is representing, and yet he’s also very much representing the Harlem, Dipset, mixtape, savvy self-presentation sort-of-thing. They’ve opened up this space for him to get in, and he’s got these slogans like “King of the Burbs” and “Hallelujah Holla Back” and “Ghetto Revival,” which ends up getting him in some very hot water, which I want to get back to in a second. But, I think this gets at this tension in the show where, in some ways, there’s a disconnect between the producers’ values and, basically, market values with regard to hip-hop, and it raises the question: Has hip-hop become so cynical in its own rush to capitalize that it no longer is grounded in a politics of confronting social inequality and racism?
And so, when we see black women stripping to these guys’ “club bangers,” that just puts it in your face in a way that’s really uncomfortable. And one of the better uncomfortable moments in the series is when Brand Nubian is invited to talk to these guys and offer them advice about recording, to “give them jewels,” as Lord Jamar says. So Sadat X starts giving them pretty good advice about mic position and placement and that sort of thing, and Lord Jamar is just looking at them and you can see that he’s pissed off. It comes out later that they had set him up and told him about the whole “Ghetto Revival” thing. So he asks the contestants, “Who’s this with the ‘Ghetto Revival’ thing? What’s that about?” And John Brown says, “It’s a revival.” “Of what,” says Jamar. “Of the Ghetto.” [Laughter] And Jamar says, “The ghetto is poverty and pain, mostly for black people.” He just puts it right to him like that, and John Brown just says “Hallelujah Holla Back.” And he’s just a cipher. He just repeats these phrases, and that’s his strategy. He plays this kind of idiot savant. And the argument that I want to get to in a minute is, well, I’ll get to it in a minute.
But one interesting thing that gets us toward it, is that when Serch is introducing Brand Nubian, he says, “This is where the culture is.” Right? And, I mean, who are we kidding? Half of the contestants didn’t even know who Brand Nubian was. Sure, for people like Serch and Ego Trip and those of us in this room who came up on hip-hop in a certain moment of time, that is what it was about, where it was at. It was about a certain militant racial politics. And we can see what Serch means by that. But he’s totally kidding himself if he’s saying that at this point. So again that gets down to this central tension in the show where they’re trying to wrest control of the meaning of hip-hop and therefore its critique of race. But it has gotten out of control.
To come to a little conclusion here, this tension can best be encapsulated in the idea of the “game.” We hear all the time from rappers that they”re playing this “game.” Don’t hate the player, hate the game. And that gets put to the test here. In the final episode, when John Brown is about to go against Shamrock — who is a genuine-seeming guy from the Atlanta area, grew up in a multiracial environment, and just seems very sincere about being a rapper in a traditional mode, if in a down-South party style, which has its own weird politics — John Brown tells the camera, “I think I’m the best look for the game.” That’s his statement, and I think it speaks volumes about that tension there. And yet, at a certain point, Chairman Mao, one of the Ego Trip guys, says, “It’s all a ruse. There is no correct answer. It’s playing with stereotypes.” Which also seems to suggest this kind of play, this kind of game. And yet what does MC Serch keep repeating throughout the show? “THIS IS NOT A GAME!” Every time he comes into the house, he says it: “This is not a game, people!” And yet, what is it? It’s a game show! They’re competing in challenges! Every episode, they’re playing a game. It’s a game show.
In the end, Elliot [Wilson] from Ego Trip says, “The good guy wins.” And so they did pick the guy they wanted to win. They picked Shamrock. They picked the genuine guy who seems to maybe have some tenuous connection to this ideal of hip-hop that they’re holding up. But if they were more cynical and if they wanted to talk about where hip-hop really is right now, they would have picked John Brown.
wow i wish i could type that fast lol this guy pwns and its not speeded only a retard would say that
bengreen2007 (1 month ago)
HAX!!!… lol j/k, thats some uber pwnage =D
MariusLuko (1 month ago)
wow, skill, but i noticed one thing. at time 4:20 – 4:21 when the orange “L” shaped figure comes down, how does he loop it into its place, there is no way that the shape would even fit! But the rest is insane skillz!
cloud4056 (1 month ago)
one word, JAPANESE.
MoldyPotato1 (1 month ago)
jajaisjagut (1 month ago)
mrclean010101 (1 month ago)
djek222 (1 month ago)
ownage ik woord ook japernerxD
martin243473 (1 month ago)
ha ah only part i liked Lets play some tetris mother fucker
Owndurm0m (4 weeks ago)
marius its called a t-spin and yes you can if you slide it down and turn it adn it fits it will go into place ^_^ im as gd as this , many hours on tetris ds XD
Thanks to Gabriel from Heatwave (and happy earthday, y’all!) for bringing my attn to yet another iteration of the Zunguzung meme. This time around, Damian Marley and Gwen Stefani add their names to the long list of meme carriers. I’m not really feeling the track (which maybe goes without saying), but I like the way Yung Gong flips the script —
Nuff homemade videos for the tune on YouTube (which maybe also goes without saying these days?), including this surreal bit of Sims machinima —
Mashit Records relaunches this month as a netlabel, complete with a blog, and DJ C has been tearing it up over there. He promises podcasts, mashups (of the week), remixes, and all sorts of goodies as they go, including no doubt plenty more Mashit Seratonin.
My favorite post so far is Jake’s coverage of yet another newish local electronic muzik-und-tanz genre, this one — jumpstyle, they call it — emanates not from urban America but from Belgium. It’s kinda like Chicago juke in its combination of technofied beats and fancy footwork, only much much Europeaner–
As Jake points out, YouTube is, unsurprisingly, chock full of this stuff (in addition to sites like belgian-jumpstyle.com). & as with homemade juke vids, most of the clips appear to be filmed in empty rooms and parking lots —
Here’s a tutorial for those of you rearing to get your jumpen on —
Lone Wolf hosts a monthly night of streetcorner dance music from the
world’s basements, living rooms, lawns, and MySpace pages. Dirty
south dance crazes, screwed slow jams, juke remixes, and dancehall
versions. Up-and-comers and out-of-towners guest each week.