Funny as it may be, I’m pretty sure Run DMC’s “Roots, Rap, Reggae” (featuring Yellowman) is the first “reggae” song I ever knew. As an occasionally awkward and awfully chintzy attempt at reggae via New York, it’s an odd introduction in nuff ways. On the other hand, there are a couple moments in the song, especially during Yellowman’s verses, which make it a really excellent primer.
One such moment is King Yellow’s wonderfully concise (if slightly defensive) assertion that “reggae music is not so strange” (which served as an apt epigraph to my dissertation). But it’s a different line that I want to draw your attention to here.
At another point in the song, Yellowman offers the following definition:
Reggae music is rapping to the beat
Of course, that makes a lot of sense in a song with Run DMC, as if Yellowman wants to assure listeners that reggae really is not so strange — in fact, from a certain perspective, he suggests, it’s essentially the same thing as hip-hop. This is hardly pandering on his part, certainly by the mid-80s, when a great deal of reggae was just that: rapping over beats.
But we can extend his definition even further — back to the pre-reggae days of ska and rocksteady even, to the early days of soundsystems and mic-wielding deejays, when Yellowman’s “talkover” forbears were rather profoundly revising what it means to make music in the age of its technological reproducibility.
I’m hardly the first to propose that the conceptual and artistic innovations that emerge from Jamaican soundsystem practice, especially during the late 60s, deeply inform musical production and practice throughout the late 20th century and well into the 21st. Even so, I often find that this remains an underappreciated revolution. So it’s a lesson I’ve been trying to impart in my own classes, guest lectures, and other talks for some time.
Toward that end, I’m once again grateful to Roifield Brown for helping me to make these points — and make them more publicly — thanks to his solicitous interviewing and careful editing. Roifield’s latest episodes in his podcast series include some of my thoughts on these matters — pertaining both to the initial rise of deejays in Jamaica and to how Kool Herc transmitted & transmuted these practices to help bring hip-hop into being:
Of course, it’s hard to just talk about New York in this regard and leave out London. UK soundsystem formations — from faithful to faithfully mutated — are key to understanding the resonance and reverb of Jamaican soundsystem culture, and there are few who’ve done as stellar and vibrant a job of representing that side of the story as London’s Heatwave.
You could say that I’m grateful to them too — as a teacher, researcher, and as a listener. I’ve been using their classic mix An England Story in my classes for years now. There’s simply no better resource for audibly apprehending the links that run through reggae, rave, jungle, garage, grime, and so on. So I’m pleased to note that the Heatwave has produced a fine supplement for me, my students, and unenrolled enthusiasts too: the SHOWTIME! DVD.
The DVD is gathered around a historic stageshow that the Heatwave presented last summer, bringing together an epic posse of UK bashment luminaries. Interspersed between the lively show segments are illuminating interviews with some pioneers of the scene, many crucial in forging a distinctly Jamaican-British accent. (I myself might have like to see & hear a little more from the hip-hop and grime scenes, which are represented thickly on the mix, but I can appreciate and respect the focus on reggae here.) As for further explicating the significance of the DVD and what it means, I’m going to leave that to the ever-sharp Dan Hancox, who published a deeply contextualized review just this week.
I showed some scenes from the DVD a few weeks ago in the latest incarnation of my global hip-hop class, and I can’t resist sharing an excerpt here featuring none other than Wiley, probably the UK’s most relentless, restless exponent of JA-indebted production over the last decade —
“They must have installed it in me,” he says, referring to the ways that reggae (or, rapping to the beat) insinuated itself into him — and notably naming Yellowman as prime perpetrator (perpetuator?).
Installed! I really love that. What seems at first like a bit of mispeaking actually proves entirely eloquent. He’s talking about enculturation, yes, but the slip of install for instill also says something about reggae as conceptual framework, reggae as software, reggae as operating system, reggae as memory.
This Tuesday — TOMORROW! — we’re amped to play host to the Boston debut of Old Money Massive, a duo bleeding the edge of No/New/True Yorkness with their grimey, synth-riddled, patois-laced paeans to race, space, & place. What’s more, I’m told there might be another special guest in the house to drop some rhymes over beats so fresh & cool you’d think they were flash-frozen.
To whet apps (and wet apps — ie, if you’re listening on your phone), here’s Old Money’s latest latest (via):
Catch em on twitter / soundcloud / vimeo / etc. But if you’re in the area, catch em Tuesday at the Good Life. Help us give these guys a massive welcome from Boston, Mass.
This week at Beat Research — now every TUESDAY at Good Life in downtown Boston — we’re enthused to host none other than NYC-based Dutty bredrin (and local alumnus!), Atropolis. Hailing from / representing Queens, Atropolis co-hosts regular parties (and expeditions) as part of Cumba Mela while pumping out remixes that get to the essence of the “New York tropical” sound — to my ears and hips, a contemporary reckoning with the city’s always-already Afrodiasporic soundscape, and as such, a beacon for “tropical” scenes in other transcolonial cities around the world.
In our redoubtable opinion here at W&W, Atropolis released one of the best albums of the year with his eponymous effort on Dutty Artz this spring. His tracks have been seeping into my sets for a minute now, so I’m really looking forward to hearing a full set of Adam’s distinct approach to world party music. For a taste, check his mix for Cluster Mag from earlier in the year:
I’m thrilled to report that Venus’s partner-in-rave, $hayne (pic’d above), will be joining her on the trip. That means we’re gonna be treated to a tag-team/4-handed Ghe20 Goth1k performance the likes of which Greater Boston has not yet been party to. So get ready, and get to the club by 11, knamean.
(When I told Venus she wouldn’t be playing in the middle of the night, as she’s used to, she sounded happily surprised! Oh yeah, and just in case you’re on autopilot, this is happening at the Middlesex, not the Enormous Room [RIP].)
If you want a taste of what you might expect, look no further than the live mixtape (and, yes, it’s worth noting that it’s live — see next paragraph) they just cooked up for Opening Ceremony —
Ok, look a little further — you’ll hardly be disappointed — and do yourself a favor by starting with Venus’s appearance this past Monday on DJ /Rupture’s radio show, Mudd Up!. (Kudos to S√Īr Clayton, btw, on that Wire cover!) I was emailing with Jace today, as it happens, and he offered some off-the-cuff thoughts on Venus’s DJing that really encapsulate what’s so special, and daring, about her approach —
seeing Venus reminded me of how so many DJs just surf the wave of ‘new jams’ and dont really fuck with the form itself. Whereas its so fresh and refreshing to experience Venus going for it, really working the CD-js in a percussive way, pulling and pushing sound around to create a thing in and of itself
Now don’t get me wrong, as those in the know will know, this won’t be the first time Ghe20 G0th1k graces a Cambridge club. Indeed, it was at Rizzla & co’s Nu Life party where I first met Venus, having been tasked with sourcing a couple CDJs for the occasion. Of course, these days, Venus is tweet-lobbying Pioneer to donate 20 pairs for a next wave of rad gal DJs. But big-up Rizzla for balance-beaming across the bleeding edge, no small achievement in this little town that, better or worse, I’ll always call home.
As Hatsune Miku’s team thinks of ways to translate the incredible phenomenon she represents for US audiences/co-producers, I could hardly think of a better partner for the virtual idol. Venus seems to think folks here are ready for the kind of plastic pop culture we can mold and form into our own shapes, and, as it happens, so does Ian Condry, the cultural anthropologist in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program who is responsible for bringing Miku’s team to Cambridge next week (as part of the Cool Japan project). Ian, who wrote his first book about hip-hop in Japan, has recently completed a second book, this time about anime and collaborative creativity.
As he wrote in response to seeing a Hatsune Miku concert this past summer, Ian’s study of anime has led him “to see virtual characters as platforms of generative creativity in their own right.” Taking this a step further into the realm of invitational and reconfigurable culture, Hatsune Miku “demonstrates that there are likely to be many more kinds of platforms out there, waiting to created, built upon, shared, distributed, remixed and extended.”
Everyone was cheering, but at what? There was no one there, on stage, at the center of our attention, just a virtual avatar. And of what? Of whom? Of us.
Miku shows that pop culture, like politics, often appears premised on a leader on stage (or projected on a screen), but impact, and often creativity itself, whatever that means, emerges from broader, distributed collective actions. Miku hints at a world of untapped possibility, a model of crowd-sourced mobilization, and an instructive instance of a media platform that is part software technology (Vocaloid) part cultural idea (the character Miku).
Miku began as a voice on a music synthesizer software package called Vocaloid, created and sold by Yamaha starting in 2004. Vocaloid lets you make music by specifying instruments to play, like Garage Band, but with the added feature that you can write lyrics with melody as well. A separate company, Crypton Future Entertainment, released the Miku voice add-on in 2007, along with a cartoon image and biographical features (16 years old, height, weight, etc.).
Importantly, Crypton decided not to assert copyright control over the image, thus freeing up the character to have a life of her own, or rather, lives of our own. It‚Äôs as if we could all write songs for Lady Gaga, and she would perform them for us. Does it matter that Miku‚Äôs not real? How ‚Äúreal‚ÄĚ is Lady Gaga anyway?
Fans responded by posting hundreds of thousands of music videos online, with a variety of shared costumes and images (e.g., a green onion / leek). In the years since, Miku‚Äôs star rose thanks to the energy of the fans amplified through uploading and commenting on the Japanese video-sharing site Nico Nico D√īga. So-called ‚ÄúNicodo‚ÄĚ is like YouTube except user comments scroll by as you watch a video, thus adding an additional layer of participatory viewing.
Nowadays, top MikuP (‚Äúproducers‚ÄĚ) sell their work online, and karaoke spots in Japan let you download and sing along with favorite Miku songs. Crypton has a site online for facilitating collaboration and licensing through a system, Piapro, which they say mimics Creative Commons. Fan work sells through other channels as well. In November 2010, I was one of 7000 attendees at a sold-out fan convention in Ikebukuro, Tokyo shopping from 500 fan groups who gathered to sell Vocaloid-related music, posters, DVDs, illustration books, video games, jewelry and more (see http://ketto.com/tvm/).
Given such fan excitement, it is small wonder that big business wanted in on the act. From 2009, Sega created video games for Miku under the Project Diva title, both for handheld devices and for arcades. Toyota is now using Miku for a series of ads as well, and they even showed a commercial prior to Miku‚Äôs Los Angeles debut (drawing some boos, but probably more good will). Ultimately, however, Miku is animated by the energy of fans, and that‚Äôs why watching Miku‚Äôs steps into commercialization will be interesting.
Miku reinforces some of the lessons for civic media that we‚Äôve heard before: people need to feel a genuine openness to participate; sharing and dialogue are key to building a community; free culture is more generative than controlled-IP systems; cooptation and commercialization are always risks, especially as popularity increases.
But Miku offers a particular schema of distributed creativity, different than both Wikipedia and human celebrities. Miku lacks a back-story. She has no pre-defined personality. She doesn‚Äôt exist in a singular made-up fantasy world. This Wikicelebrity makes old-fashioned human celebs look like appliances, when the future is platforms.
Might this provide alternative ways of thinking about democracy and participation as well? If the social realities outside leaders themselves are what generate action and popularity, then questions of media should turn less on representational content, and more on the nature of platforms, how open they are, what forms of creativity they allow.
I’m getting a good feeling about this. Do help us make next Monday the first of many incredible meetings between Venus and Miku. Glowsticks optional.
Beat Research is sad to announce that after 7.5 years of hosting our experimental party music, the Enormous Room is closing its doors. DJ Flack and I were pretty surprised when the rumors started circulating last Tuesday that this past weekend would be the club’s last, but we felt like we went out with a bang with last week’s visit from Mungo’s Hi-Fi, even if we didn’t realize it was a farewell party at the time.
Grateful as we feel toward our longtime home, we’re not feeling much like mourning the past. Rather, we’re excited about the future of Beat Research, which is looking bright. Although we’re not ready quite yet to confirm the details on our new location, we’re psyched to report that we’ll be holding a special interim bash at the nearby Middlesex Lounge next Monday (10/17), in conjunction with friends from MIT/Japan and NYC!
Come join us at 10pm on 10/17 for a chance to dance with Japan’s leading virtual idol, Hatsune Miku, a software-based singer whose biggest fans are also her songwriters! Some of Miku’s creators, visiting from Japan, will be on hand to discuss the phenomenon and to demonstrate a prototype projection method for her live concerts. Here’s a taste of what that looks like (but be sure to browse YouTube or Niconico for hundreds of amazing “crowdsourced” videos)–
To make things even more insane, we’ve invited one of Miku’s fans from NYC, the indomitable Venus X, to come join us and play her signature mix of warped, underground sounds (which I’d love to see Miku dance along with). I’ve been wanting to invite Venus to be our guest for a while now, and when I saw her tweet about Miku, I couldn’t resist making this dream come true.
Ok, mis local locos, tonight’s the night! We’re kicking off the Together Festival 2011 with none other than Geko Jones, Dutty Artz bredrin and co-host of Que Bajo?!, NYC’s awesomest Afro-Latin dance party (& honestly, probably the best night I’ve ever had the pleasure to play at).
Do come out and welcome Geko to town & help us show him how Boston gets down —
Beat Research w/ special guest GEKO JONES
& hosts Wayne & Flack
Enormous Room (567 Mass Ave)
Central Square, Cambridge
To get ready, here’s a recent remix cooked up by S√Īr Jones that I turned up over here; as Juan Data describes it —
The track above is rather appropriate to share today, for as it happens, I’ve roped Geko into sticking around through tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon in order to join me at a lecture-discussion I’ll be hosting in conjunction with the Together Fest (which has organized a number of free daytime events in addition to all the stuff at night). In discussing remixes like this one, Geko will be helping me to tiptoe through the tricky turf of “electro indigeneity and powwow rhythms” — in other words, what are the implications (the pitfalls, the possibilities) of “Remixing the Traditional and the Indigenous” in our digital age?
Thanks to DJ Effresh for putting me on to yet another interesting instantiation of the “Lambada.” Here’s Vakero, one of the DR’s fiercest MCs, jumping on a dembow-influenced reworking of a truly perennial tune, as hashed out here, way back when —
Discussing this over at my/our Buzz, Birdseed pointed out that there’s a recent UK funky version of the tune as well:
Obviously, this sort of thing is very up my musicological alley. I love to tell a good audible story, where a particular set of materials is transformed over and over again, according to its new context(s).
And while I’m not really interested in abstracting any rules for what makes one tune more transposable than others — IMO, there’s far too much contingency involved to open into the realm of the generalizable — one consistent thread that emerges across such case studies is that, as with participatory culture more generally, they very often present, in the words of Henry Jenkins, “relatively low barriers” to entry and engagement.
This is certainly true for the “Lambada,” and nothing says it better than Vakero’s shameless chorus on the track above: “la la la la la la la la la la la la la laaaaaaaa.” I mean, c’mon, anyone can do that! That’s how I’ve been singing “Lambada” for years.
I’ve been a big fan of Wiz Khalifa’s relatively vapid but awfully catchy ode to his favorite colors ever since it first came out. (Indeed, I even cooked up a quick mashup to draw out the beat’s relation to the Triggerman.) I think it was Catchdubs who, in my feeds, first pointed out the obvious: You can change the chorus to be about anything! Any four-syllable phrase anyway.
And I can absolutely vouch for the plasticity of the tune. Indeed, since it entered regular radio rotation, my two toddlers have been singing it non-stop (they easily relate to songs about colors, of course), and we’ve all had fun for the last few months slotting all manner of four-syllable phrases into the hook. (Especially other color combinations, duh, in order to, say, suit the sippy-cup of the day: pink and purple, pink and purple, pink and purple, pink and purple.) [Update!Sharesister Lily notes that there actually exists a lilgirls’ version of the song called “Pink and Purple“! My daughters are delighted.]
So it doesn’t surprise me that there would be dozens and dozens of remixes (or whatever you insist on calling them) in which people substitute their own favorite four-syllable phrase. But few (that I’ve seen anyway), have come close to approaching the panache and piquancy of “Pan con Queso.” Washington Heights representando! Long live the Dominican YouTubosphere! Viva la “Lambada”!
Which makes this as good a time as any to announce that Lamin is coming to Beat Research this coming Monday, Nov 15, for what I believe is his Boston debut! Do come by and hear what he strings together for us. His mixes have not failed to twist and tweak expectations, at least for this listener. Deets —
567 Mass Ave
Also apropos: Lamin’s peoples, Dutty Artz, have finally released their New York Tropical compilation. DA is one of the few posses I’ll give a pass for using so hackneyed and vague a term as tropical — for years a bland music-industrial category (dare I say ghetto?) for certain Caribbean/Afrodiasporic genres — not least of which because their notion of what it evokes seems like such an idiosyncratic, inspired articulation of the city’s sounds and spaces, contours and forms, not to mention the shapes it might yet take on.
Finally, allow me to put in a plug for the Dutty Zine‘s open call for submissions. The theme for this one is “piracy” & the idea is as follows:
‚Ä¶there‚Äôs this thing called the Internet but here at Dutty Artz we are mostly focused on bodies. Preferably sweaty ones. What moves them, what brings them together or forces them apart, trying to create spaces where we can melt our boundaries or learn useful ways of navigating each other and The World Around Us, which is part Mr + Mrs Internet but part walls and metal and dirt and apartments and streets and jet fuel and mostly plastic products which is why we‚Äôre doing a ZINE. To spread this talk into a physical format, the kind of thing you can leave behind or fold up and take with you, because everything circulates differently offline ‚ÄĒ call it distributional aesthetics ‚ÄĒ and nowadays it‚Äôs not knowledge so much as vectors of connection, context, and collapse, plus or minus corporate sponsorship and/or access to potable water. Submit at email@example.com
Speaking of, I’ve got another plug for a publication looking for strengthy submissions. Stay tuned…
I’m really gonna give this subject a rest soon, but let me attempt a slightly more oblique approach.
One dimension of the underlying critique in Grant’s comments seeks to draw lines of value and authenticity between what he wants to position as a kind of first-order cultural production (doing/making stuff) and second-order skimming (talking about stuff that got done/made). In this way, like many others, he positions bloggers, journalists, academics, critics, et al., as essentially parasitical. Of course, this is an especially ironic assertion given the degree to which we’re enlisted into the PR machine. But it’s also a misleading distinction since all these activities are inevitably interwoven and circuitous — not to mention that so many of us are engaged in several overlapping domains of cultural production at once (working as DJs, producers, writers, teachers, etc.).
It’s a rather derisive, defensive sneer, rearing its head now and again (occasionally making my ears burn):
I find this snark pretty specious, especially since it posits a false dichotomy, or three. The main one for me is: who says you can’t grapple with race and ethics in musical terms? Why cede such matters to prose? (Moreover, why leave it to institutions of higher learning to ask hard questions?) This seeming disjuncture between musical communication, as such, and communication about music is precisely what has motivated my ongoing efforts in musically-expressed ideas about music.
So, enough (real)talk for a moment, let’s listen to something along these lines:
When Canyon brought this track to my attention last week, I was thrilled. It was as if my blog had developed AI and was secretly secreting tracks. How could it sit on SoundCloud for four months without finding its way to my ears? While I dug the production, I was especially tickled by the lyrics, which seemed to be quoting MIA’s imagistic gloss of Kala for the Guardian — ‘Shapes, colours, Africa, street, power, bitch, nu world, brave’ — which, as noted way back when, proved crucial in pulling me down the “brave” “nu world” rabbit-hole.
Some readers out there might be familiar with the Old Money crew, who Canyon tweetily described as “NY funky/subtle soca via West India & East Euro,” from their appearances in such trusted hot spots of the hype machine as The Fader or my inbox. Since I had their email address handy, I hit reply on their latest bit of e-promo and asked about this months-old song that I’d never heard, including whether they were actually alluding to MIA.
The following is from Scheme’s generous and articulate response — like the track itself, it speaks volumes about where we’re at in this brave nu world:
I think what motivated us to make that song isn’t too dissimilar from what may have motivated you to write your most recent series of posts. Identifying troubling aspects in the nuplanetarywotchumacallit and going from there..
There was basically a stretch of time leading up to that song where I feel like not a week would pass where I wouldn’t see a video of some sort with the elements mentioned in the track – found footage, shapes, colors, (((African kids!)!)!). Some of these videos/songs (and I’m referring to jawns from the west inspired by various global riddims) conveyed a faithful, genuine interest in the music, culture and people involved. Some of them, however, did not. How does one draw that distinction exactly? And, well, does it matter? As I think you well know, that’s where it gets murky. ‚Ä¶ And it felt like no one was talking about it. Or too shook to.
Then not long afterward, an artist by the name of Leif – I doubt he knows this, or us for that matter – but he also helped push things over the edge from theory to record. I don’t have the patience to go all the way back through his timeline – but he more or less expressed some discomfort along the same lines. Helped affirm in our heads at the time (by now I think this is spring summer maybe earlier – the thought process, not making the actual song) that it aint just us and we aint crazy.
That was the baseline…my boy Dre took it further, riffing off of the Sandra Bullock People mag cover, (“Wheeerrrrrre di baby dem deh, huh?!?? Me haffi get me one! two! tree! four! five! six! / Adopt a tribe, and try, fix!) – which in my most biased opinion is brilliant – cuz it’s still related. Ha!
Also – this song was partially composed/fully recorded in the comfort of an apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. Double Ha! For other reasons – that’s another conversation.
Back on track – I sent “AFRICAN KIDS!” to a few select blogs after we made it. No response. My boy felt like I should have sent it to everyone who usually fux with our music. I didn’t really feel like this was for them. Felt like they wouldn’t get “it.” But it turns out, no one “got it”, or liked it. Or maybe just offering it as a stream and not a download hampered it being picked up? Or…something else? Iono. But I thought it was interesting that less critical/confrontational/threatening material of ours got light and this didn’t.
‚Ä¶Oh and was that an M.I.A. quote? If so – unintentional. Sardonic tone wasn’t aimed her way. Actually a really big fan of hers.
Count me a really big fan of Old Money for this one. #confetti
ps — by request, Old Money have enabled the track for download now (as an aif to boot!), so go ahead and grab it & add a little bitters to your nuplanetary cocktail
Last week Dutty Artz released a lovely, largely unpredictable set of 4 tracks produced by longtime blog/label staple but debuting artist, Lamin Fofana. (You can hear & buy individual tracks at Amazon and elsewhere around the web.) I wasn’t sure what to expect, never having heard any of Lamin’s productions. Sure, I’d heard mixes and podcasts, and I knew a thing or two about what Lamin likes through his steady blogging. Oh, and that he’s been working hard behind the scenes at MuddUp radio for a couple years now. But the staggering variety of those efforts still really left me wondering.
Lamin’s obviously a great listener, and I hear What Elijah Said as audible, irrefutable evidence of that. He packs a lot into these four tracks: sudden turns, suprising textures, development, drama and arc. Resisting genre-tags-as-(forestalled)interpretation through their promiscuous relationship to stylistic orthodoxy, his productions are little worlds of music all their own.
Speaking of which, Lamin also cooked up an interesting and apt promotional mix for the EP. #Calypso doesn’t directly feature any elements from What Elijah Said, and yet on the other hand, that’s precisely what it seems to contain: another kind of crucial context, a kindred or parallel sonic universe, something into which one might pass from the EP, and back, via emergent audio wormholes of varying size and character. Slip through and loop around again, & you’ll never grow bored —
You could try to make a certain sense of Lamin’s music via his biography’s knotty routes (via DA) —
Lamin Fofana was born in the West African country of Guinea. When the political situation got bumpy, he moved to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where his routine involved listening to Goodie Mob and Organized Konfusion as well as attending Quranic schools/mosques. In 1997 Lamin‚Äôs family had to flee worsening conditions in Sierra Leone ‚Äď losing friends, belongings, documents, a home. They spent several days crossing roads and bridges destroyed by rebels to prevent people from escaping. At the end of the year, Fofana found a new home in Harlem, New York, where he lives today.
But I actually think it’s the EP (and mix) which helps one to read his bio, not the other way around.