Archive of posts tagged with "r&b"

April 10th, 2013

Riffs on Riffs on Riffs

If you haven’t heard it yet, I finally cooked down a Zunguzung Mega Mix that features all 50+ instances that have come to my attention since I first started listening for that catchy likkle tune and, with the publication of this piece back in 2007, enlisting others to lend me their ears.

The impetus for finally bringing this together is that my friend and fellow music scribe, Garnette Cadogen, was visiting Yellowman last week and told him about my work. (Garnette reported, much to my delight, that King Yellow was “touched, truly touched” by my work on his legacy.) When he requested a full mix of the “Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme,” I could hardly refuse.

So here it is, for now anyway: 54 strikingly similiar contours! (See full track list below.)

w&w, Zunguzung Mega Mix (9 min, MP3)

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1982 — Yellowman, “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng”
1982 — Yellowman & Fathead, “Physical / Zunguzung (Live at Aces)”
1982 — Sister Nancy, “Coward of the Country”
1984 — Frankie Paul, “Alesha”
1984 — Toyan, “Hot Bubble Gum”
1985 — Little John, “Clarks Booty”
1985 — Super Cat, “Boops”
1986 — Cocoa Tea, “Come Again”
1986 — Cutty Ranks @ StereoMars PNP Rally
1986 — BDP, “The P Is Free”
1987 — BDP, “Remix For P Is Free”
1988 — BDP, “T Cha T Cha”
1988 — Queen Latifah, “Princess of the Posse”
1988 — Masters of Ceremony, “Keep on Moving”
1988 — Sublime, “Roots of Creation”
1989 — Nice & Smooth, “Nice & Smooth”
1989 — Nice & Smooth, “Dope on a Rope”
1991 — Leaders of the New School, “Case of the P.T.A.”
1992 — Lecturer, “Gal Yu Mean It”
1992 — Sublime, “Scarlet Begonias”
1992 — Leila K, “Open Sesame”
1993 — Us3, “I Got It Goin’ On”
1993 — K7, “Zunga Zeng”
1993 — KRS-One, “P Is Still Free”
1993 — Jamalski, “African Border”
1993 — Buju Banton, “Big It Up”
1994 — The Coup, “Pimps (Freestyling at the Fortune 500 Club)”
1994 — Ninjaman, “Funeral Again”
1994 — Bounty Killer, “Kill Or Be Killed”
1995 — Buju Banton, “Man a Look Yu”
1995 — Junior M.A.F.I.A. ft. Biggie Smalls, “Player’s Anthem”
1996 — 2pac, “Hit ‘Em Up”
1996 — Captain Barkey, “Go Go Wine”
1996 — Junior Dangerous ft. Lucas, “Comin’ Out To Play”
1997 — Cru, “Pronto”
1998 — Mr. Notty, “Sentencia de Muerte”
1998 — Black Star, “Definition”
1999 — Lil’ Cease ft. Jay-Z, “4 My Niggaz”
2000 — Dead Prez, “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop”
2000 — Daisy Dee, “Open Sesame”
2000 — Wyclef Jean ft. Xzibit and Yellowman, “Perfect Gentlemen Remix”
2001 — Ñejo, “El Problema Ser Bellaco”
2003 — Joe Budden, “Pump It Up”
2004 — Jin, “Learn Chinese”
2005 — Looptroop, “Chana Masala”
2006 — POD ft. Matisyahu, “Roots in Stereo”
2006 — JD (aka Dready), “UK Zunga Zeng”
2007 — White Rappers, “One Night Stand”
2007 — Gwen Stefani ft. Damian Marley, “Now That You Got It”
2009 — Wax Taylor ft. ASM, “Say Yes”
2010 — Vybz Kartel, “Whine (Wine)”
2011 — Tifa, “Matey Wine”
2011 — Yellowman, “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Horsepower Productions Remix / Dub)”
2013 — Benga & Kano, “Forefather”

Notably, with the exception of Nice & Smooth, K7, and Horsepower Productions, all of the echoes of Yellowman’s tune to date have been re-sung rather than sampled. Sometimes a one-off phrase, at other times it structures the chorus. The tune twists and turns in so many ways over the course of 30 years, I find it truly beguiling. I just want to sing it all the time. That’s a good riff for you.

[Update: Only took a day before another version popped up in the comments! Thanks to Noriko Manabe and Marvin Sterling for pointing out that Rankin Taxi's "You Can't See It, and You Can't Smell It Either" -- a 2011 post-Fukushima protest song -- also contains a zunguzung allusion. Guess I'll have to re-mix the mega mix, again, at some point. Nice to have an appearance from beyond the Americas & Europe.]

I can’t leave you with just that, however, as similar threads demand to be looped in.

While I was in Jamaica last month, an item ran in the Gleaner with the sensational title: “Is reggae being stolen? Foreign languages allow for copyright infringement.” The article gave voice to complaints that Spanish-language artists are cheating Jamaicans out of royalties by re-singing and re-titling reggae songs.

Hmmm. Sounds like a familiar story, don’t? You know, the sort of thing that goes like this:

At any rate, given my interest in the contentious and often ironic world of copyright claims in reggae/ton, I couldn’t help but notice the article and some of the complaints therein. Here is what producer Winston “Niney” Holness had to say:

When we make songs, Spanish people take it and sing it different, and we don’t speak Spanish, so we don’t realise. Because of that, the Spanish artistes don’t pay us royalties and it slips right under our nose. I think the Spanish owe reggae music millions of dollars right now.

Niney may be right. It’s true that this happens all the time. Indeed, the latest example I stumbled across is classic in its overt and simultaneously reverent and irreverent reanimation of a hit reggae song. Still, I wonder whether Ricky Blaze knows about this (or, for that matter, this) and what he’d think —

Niney offers additional barbs about white people owning ska & other perversions of property. He even raises the specter of the entire genre of reggaeton owing a grand debt to Shabba Ranks’s (and hence, Bobby Digital’s / Steely & Clevie’s) “Dem Bow” — though he reduces it to a general rhythmic pattern that is hardly copyrightable. And though I could discuss dembow for days, here I want to flag another specific allegation and its recursive riffs on riffs:

Songs like Murder She Wrote is in Spanish right now and I don’t even think Sly and Robbie know.

Niney’s reference to “Murder She Wrote” is interesting, especially as the first track mentioned in this light. Of course, he’s right, to some extent. But it’s not actually true that “Spanish people” are singing the song so much; more precisely, little loops and bits of the riddim from “Murder She Wrote” have, by this point, been as deeply embedded into the aesthetic code of reggaeton (especially Dominican dembow) as “Dem Bow” itself. (& I will add that I find Niney’s comments on “Dem Bow” quite timely given that I’ve got a piece in a forthcoming Wax Poetics detailing the surprisingly mixed-up and mysterious “origin” of reggaeton’s Dem Bow. Spoiler alert: reggaeton’s favorite loop was not recorded in Jamaica.)

As it happens, not only does “Murder She Wrote” live on in a thousand DJ Scuff mini-mega-mixes, it’s about to get as big a push into the US (& global) mainstream as it has received since the early 90s thanks to none other than French Montana (featuring, natch, Nicki Minaj), who additionally riffs on the vocal melody from Chaka Demus & Pliers’ warhorse:

As odd as I find the juxtaposition of two unrelated early 90s dancehall songs here, and as squirmy as such caricatured takes on dancehall make me, “Freaks” represents an exciting moment for the lil lilting riff that so defines “Murder She Wrote” (also known as the Bam Bam riddim) — a riff which, as I’ve explored in mini-mega-mix form, is itself quite caught up in international networks of creative riffing –

w&w, Bam Bam Big (7 min, MP3)

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I hope French’s folks licensed those samples, though, since his jam is not as likely to fly under the radar as its Puerto Rican cousins. That said, I’d love to see a case like this actually go to court somewhere. (Not really.) It’s more than clear that this stuff goes around and around and around, and hence making claims to ultimate origins (and exclusive exploitation rights) always seems a little suspect. But who knows what a judge or jury might decide.

Along those lines, the last riff on a riff (on a riff?) I want to share here is based around a story BigBlackBarry told me when I was in Kingston last month. Check this set of echoes:

As complicated as this may seem, just because Bo Diddley recorded it “first” (and who knows who he may have been riffing off) didn’t stop Willie Cobb from shaking down Dawn Penn when her rocksteady hit was rejuvenated with a mid90s twist and became a sudden crossover success.

So I’ll leave it here for now: big up the one King Yellowman for recognizing how influence and allusion work, for relentlessly riffing on the sounds around him, and for never suing the many, many souls who did him the same service and extended his echoing chant into a realm of truly remarkable reverberation.

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August 10th, 2010

Other Sides!

I was surprised and delighted to learn last week (h/t Rizzla) that everyone’s favorite pair of singing Boricuas from Queens, Nina Sky, have released a handful of new tracks, all for free DL (long as you give them your email address, which, in this case, seems a fair exchange). Apparently, the release comes in response to finally getting out of their contract with a label that was simply sitting on their work. Adoring fans should obv let Nicole and Natalie know how much we appreciate.

Readers of W&W may not know this, but we sure <3 us some Nina Sky over here. They jumped on the Coolie Dance riddim when it was still simmering and worked up a breakthrough hit, they led the flag-waving chorus on the first reggaeton song to crack English-language playlists, and they’re just so damn cute. (And I mean that in the most unpatronizing way possible, if that’s possible.)

The first three tracks of the EP are a really strong start. They manage to sound new and unlike much else right now, even while incorporating cherished breakbeats and hints of hip-house (funk dat!). But while they synthesize so many currents in pop, r&b, and club music — and the EP is even tagged, hilariously, with “happy hardcore” — what I really hear running through this, and through Nina Sky’s whole oeuvre, is the spirit of freestyle, which these girls are keeping alive and, oddly enough, autotuned! (I love the stuttered vocals on the title track, which really do seem like a nod to classic freestyle freakiness.) Above all, they sound like they’re having fun, all up in the mix and loving it.

For me, the EP sorta goes awry when it starts to sound like Madonna trying to sound like Kylie Minogue. These girls should stick to their “happy” “hardcore” New York dance steez, all sorts of syncopated synth-stabs and popping percussion — and forget about trancey arpeggio presets. Anyway, as a saving grace of sorts, the second half of the EP does feature this gem, a cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong” that is equal parts Ace of Bass and Lil Jon, none of which am I mad at.

<a href="http://ninasky.bandcamp.com/track/love-song">LOVE SONG by NinaSky</a>

In my best Sagat voice: Why is it that you haven’t downloaded this yet? Funk dat! Fix dat.

ps — after hitting the publish button, I ran across this new Q&A, which confirms what I was hearing –

The EP is definitely influenced by freestyle music. What are your favorite freestyle tracks?

Natalie: “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa. I love that song. It reminds me of being young and hanging out with my friends. We used to listen to mad freestyle music.

Nicole: I think mine would be “Let the Beat Hit ‘Em” by Lisa Lisa because it’s a freestyle song with more of a house feel. My mom used to play Lisa Lisa so much when we were growing up.

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April 9th, 2010

Hello Stranger, My Old Friend

A couple weeks ago, as I was driving cross-country with my brother, we tuned into a show somewhere in Tennessee which was devoted to playing 50s and (early) 60s jams from the current week, however many years ago they may have hit. This was quite a treat, especially in comparison to insane-but-boring talk radio and endless middle-of-the-road schlock, as it offered up a lot of great songs from beyond the typical “oldies” cannon. One of the songs caught my ear at a certain point with its seemingly unremarkable riff “shoo bop shoo bop, my baby” which, as I sang it over in my head, started to recall a classic reggae riff.

Because my iPhone was running low on batteries and I needed it for navigation, I couldn’t Shazam the track then and there, so instead I scrawled “shoo bop shoo bop, my baby” on a scrap of paper and filed it away for later. I was a little afraid that a Google query for “shoo bop shoo bop, my baby” might be a total mess, but as it happens, when I finally tried it yesterday, it turned up the song right away. It’s this –

Listening back to it, especially the section from 1:40 onwards, I was struck once again by how much it appears to mirror (and hence probably informed/inspired) the well-worn horn riff in Alton Ellis’s “Still in Love,” originally recorded in 1967 for Studio One — thus four years after Barbara Lewis’s R&B hit, with which Ellis and Coxsone Dodd and the Studio One band were likely familiar, being such R&B heads — a riff which has reared its head again and again on songs that take flight from Ellis’s rocksteady hit (including, most recently and notably, Sean Paul’s hit version from 2002′s Dutty Rock). Here’s the original Ellis / Studio One version; sound like a connection/derivation to you?

I was curious to know whether I was imagining this relationship myself, so I asked Twitter to lend me an ear. I can’t say that the response was overwhelming, but I was thrilled that DJ Dabbler decided to do some digital sleuthing with me. Among other things, we discovered that not only had Alton Ellis re-recorded the song in 1977, but that ’77 also happens (tellingly? which came first?) to be the same year that another American R&B singer, Hawaiian crooner Yvonne Elliman, scored her own hit with “Hello Stranger”! Check em out below (btw, I wish that someone would video the Elliman record playing like these others — such a nice witness to material culture/history):

Although, as with the 60s examples, this still only suggests without confirming — and we can’t ask Ellis anymore, unfortunately — that some amount of borrowing/inspiration is happening here, Dabbler turned up another version that certainly offers evidence of some players in the reggae scene explicitly connecting these dots. Check out this version of “Hello Stranger” by UK-lovers group Brown Sugar (which features a young Caron Wheeler, who would go on to perform with Soul II Soul):

It’s pretty obvious that Brown Sugar here employs the horn riff from “Still In Love” to animate (and make more meaningful) their cover of “Hello Stranger.” This is all par for the course for reggae’s riddim method, of course, but still, a really wonderful example of how a little riff can do so much. I wonder where Barbara Lewis & co. might have heard it themselves. Seems like the sort of thing that might have been bubbling through R&B and doo-wop for a while. If you have any other leads or connections to offer, no matter how seemingly far-flung, I’m all ears!

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December 3rd, 2009

Independent Riddim

Thanks again to Tom, our man in Panama, who recently pointed me to an additional, and interesting, instantiation of the Miss Independent riddim. As we heard previously, the Ne-Yo instrumental — most famously reappropriated in Vybz&Spice’s “Rampin Shop” — has become a veritable version in Panama, supporting no fewer than a dozen local voicings (and probably many more).

Tom shares with us the awesomely brash COMANDO TIBURON EL KID CON LA BANDA CENTENARIO DIANAS REMIX 2009 (and notes, helpfully, that “Diana’s is a musical style–Horns and rhythm section that gets used on occasion with the Panama Reggae Artists”). Chequéalo —

I did a little poking around and discovered that the meaning of las dianas goes a lot deeper than its occasional appearance in Panamanian reggae. This Miss Independent mash is therefore particularly interesting b/c of how strongly, supposedly, dianas represent Panamanian patriotism, see e.g. –

… Dianas con más de 100 años de rendirle tributo a la Patria. Se escuchan desde antes del nacimiento de la República (1891), cuando Panamá pertenecía a la Gran Colombia. Inclusive forman parte integral de las fiestas patrias.Parte del fervor de las fiestas patrias la implementan las famosas dianas, que tiene sus máximos exponentes con los miembros del Cuerpo de Bomberos de Panamá, aunque existen informes de que la Policía Nacional puede interpretarlas. … (link)

… Las dianas son una música originaria de Pamplona, España, donde se saluda al nuevo día con gaitas y tambores. Esta música llegó a Panamá en los inicios de la vida republicana con la variante de que sólo se tocaban con clarines y tambores. En 1950 el capitán Carlos Levi y luego el sargento AlfonsoDiez impulsan su popularidad, interpretándolas para saludar a la patria y a los mandatarios de la época. Tradición que ha perdurado hoy día. … (link)

Giving the Ne-Yo instrumental a dianas remix seems a pretty powerful gesture of nationalization. Try taking that away with a cease and desist order. Obviously, given my general sympathies toward samplers over samplees, I can’t help but grin (not least b/c I rly dig that beat) whenever I hear yet another version of what can only be described now as the Miss Independent riddim. Despite EMI’s best efforts, the cat is way out the bag. The track has, ironically and iconically, attained an inarguable degree of independence.

Further testament: that Sentimiento Reggaetonero CD I picked up in Mexico last week turns out to contain three tracks (out of 21 total) which feature a pista audibly indebted to “Miss Independent”: Arthur’s “Quedate Conmigo Esta Noche,” La Factoria & Original Dan’s “Olvidarte De Mi,” and Joseph’s “Dale Con Tu Amor.” At the same time — pace the riddim method — the riddim in these cases has been completely replayed and reconstructed, or relicked inna reggae parlance. I don’t actually think it even contains samples from the original, though it clearly closely mirrors — is ‘gestures to’ too subtle? — everything from the harmonic progression (bridge included), drum and synth rhythms, and timbres. The producer(s?) also add an unfortunate, if mercifully muted, marimba line —

Sin duda, the producer here — whoever it is (Pablito?) — has put their own stamp on this very popular, very public, and now very Panamanian instrumental. Interestingly, this latest remarkable versioning of Miss Independent also suggests a shift in significance for the riddim not simply within Panama, where it has moved squarely into the pop/balada sphere, but throughout the Latin American reggae/ton network, where Panamanian productions leave a long, large footprint. (Incidentally, Marisol LeBron has some fascinating things to say about the Puerto Rican reaction — macho, retro, and authenticist — to the significantly Panamanian-propelled romantiqueo turn for the genre.)

I’ll leave it here, for now, with a few choice bits about stealing and national pride from a recent interview with Panamanian reggae artist Eddie Lover:

Would you say Panamanian music is finally getting its due?

I wouldn’t say we’re “getting our due.” Although the roots of reggae lie in Panamá, los Boricuas took a huge step forward with the commercialization of reggaetón. We feel a certain amount of gratitude because they’ve opened doors and thanks to them, our music has been able to evolve.

Do you think artists from other countries steal their style from Panamá?

I think the influence of Panamá in what’s currently happening in reggaetón around the world is obvious. But I don’t want to take any credit away from anyone who decides to become a reggae or reggaetón artist.

The saga continues. Speaking of which, I’ll be talking about transnationalism, commerce, race, nation, narrative and reggaeton this very afternoon at Harvard; moreover, I’ll be joined by my co-editor, Deborah Pacini-Hernandez, who will be touching on similar issues with regard to cumbia. Deets here.

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June 29th, 2009

Pop Goes the World

There’s little I can add to all the tributes and reflections gumming up the web these days, but like so many others I feel compelled to say something. Inspired even. I found Andrew Sullivan’s and Jeff Chang’s posts pretty resonant, Jason King’s too, among others, and I’ve been particularly struck by all the MJ music I’ve been hearing in the street and on the radio — and especially all the callers explaining to DJs how his passing feels like losing a family member.

Of course (of course?!), my experience of sharing the loss and the joyous, deeply-embodied memories of his music has probably been most strongly textured by Twitter, where I hardly needed a hashtag to hear from dozens of friends and “friends” about the man we all knew and loved (despite his serious problems). Many have made mention of the Twitter effect on MJ’s death — not to mention MJ’s effect on Twitter. Sasha Frere-Jones noted the irony in turning the radio off and letting the TV sit dormant while he and James Murphy’s people received and tapped out tweets on their phones and laptops. Ethan Zuckerman, who wrote a script to track Twitter activity (post-Moldova and the like), announced on Thursday night that 15% of all tweets were about Michael Jackson, a remarkable statistic given that he’d never seen Iran or swine flu top 5% (others have placed MJ’s footprint at 30%, though Ethan offers some important qualifications here).

I admit that it was pretty surreal “watching” MJ die via Twitter. One tweet it was cardiac arrest maybe, a few more speculated wildly, the stuff of rumor: a coma? stopped breathing? There were a couple dreadful say-it-aint-so’s, and then, before long, the news was pouring in, confirmed, unbelievable but not surprising.

Weird as it was initially, though, it quickly turned cathartic — in a beautiful way — as disbelief morphed into something more like eulogy and second-line at the same time and the “digital bouquets” began piling up. What was especially mindboggling, as I settled into a several hour face-to-face listening session with some friends, was the knowledge, repeatedly suggested by my phone, that millions of us (a wild extrapolation, I know) were listening to Michael Jackson’s music at the same time. A realization that made me wonder aloud whether anything like it had ever happened before in the history of world culture.

I suspect not — for Michael Jackson is a sui generis pop star, unrivaled in popularity (never mind Lennon’s claim to be “bigger than Jesus,” MJ just might), who, beyond his remarkable talents as a singer, dancer, and songwriter, happened to come of age at just the right moment in global media, a moment that may not ever be reproduced. In a piece published last Friday, Jody Rosen hits the nail:

Weeping for Michael, we are also mourning the musical monoculture—the passing of a time when we could imagine that the whole country, the whole planet, was listening to the same song.

Though that era may be over and the mainstream dissolved “into a trillion scattered data-bites,” at least on Thursday night and Friday, and to some extent through the weekend and still today, that’s kinda what it feels like, as if we’re all listening to the same thing. Not one song, but one artist’s oeuvre is suffusing soundscapes the world over in a manner that can only be unprecedented and seems unlikely to happen again. (But go ahead, make me myopic.)

I guess my relationship to MJ and his music is not unlike others of my generation. I know many of his songs by heart. A Victory Tour ’84 poster hung on our bedroom wall. Had a birthday cake with his face emblazoned on it sometime in the mid-80s. Wore a pin with his Thrillery face on it back when I was 8 (a tweeted remembrance that found itself in SFJ’s NYer post).

Michael Jackson was incredibly awesome and deeply flawed, and so was his music. He produced a bewildering number of absolutely flawless songs, don’t get me wrong, but he’s also responsible for some of the schlockiest, heavy-handedest pop ever crafted (as well as plenty of unremarkable clunkers). He practically invented the modern r&b power ballad, complete with gospel/kids choir and gear changes run amok (not a good look, IMO), so much so that soca star Machel Montano, mourning his loss, erroneously included R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” (“I Can’t Believe It’s Not MJ?”) among Jackson’s anthems.

I’ve actually been a little surprised that I haven’t (yet) seen many Michael Jackson remixes and DJ sets making the rounds. Perhaps people have been too busy remembering in real time. So I was glad to see Hank Shocklee ask people to send some his way. I did a little digging and a little on-the-fly warping and I came up with a trio of tracks, one made by me, that offer some new angles on ol’ MJ, transposing him into house, jungle, and reggae –

     * Masters At Work’s remix of “Rock With You” (mp3 | YouTube)
     * DJ C’s remix of Shinehead’s cover of “Billie Jean” (mp3)
     * and my own mix’n'mash of MJ’s “Billie Jean” vox + Sly & Robbie’s “Billie Jean” riddim (mp3)

My own effort is a lot more slapdash than the sophisticated, detailed productions by MAW and DJ C. More mashup than meticulous. What I’ve done is added the acapella from “Billie Jean” to Sly and Robbie’s slinky reggae version of that song’s instrumental (actually, it’s just one of their versions — they also support the Shinehead cover that DJ C remixes, as it happens). I’ve applied a little delay and other bits of digital manipulation to MJ’s voice, hoping to estrange a little so well-worn a performance, and I’ve cut and pasted some chunks of the riddim around to maintain the right harmonic motion at points where they diverged.

While we’re on the subject of remixes and the like — or, of how Michael Jackson’s very public presence inspires waves of activity across public culture — it’s worth noting that there’s also already been a corrido composed in his honor:

MJ’s reign as global pop king is perhaps still ungraspable. Thomas Friedman-esque anecdotes only go so far. We need greater data, quantitative and qualitative, and more local histories of his presence and influence and resonance. Emma Baulch noted on the IASPM listserv that “In Indonesia, Bad and Dangerous were more successful than Thriller, in terms of official sales.” But she pointed out that this fails to account for pirated sales (and, I’d add, other forms of informal / non-commercial circulation).

Of course, there may be no better bizarro embodiment of MJ’s global reach than those memetastic Filipino inmates doing their pitchframe-perfect re-enactment of the “Thriller” video. Then again, we should bear in mind that the Philippines is perhaps something of a special case.

Given all this activity, not to mention the reports of off-the-charts sales in the wake of his death, I do wonder how we would begin to take measure of such a thing as Michael Jackson’s global popularity. How do we get a grasp on the actual immensity of the event? What do we know, for example, about MJ’s YouTube views? — & not only on the thousands of instantiations of his songs and videos that fans have uploaded but even on the handful of tracks that sampled his songs and also have become shrines of sorts?

Speaking of shrines, which indubitably contain a range of images of the man (as this post itself does), I have to note that when I think of MJ, I seem to picture him as the blur in between the black and the white, the lean mean singing-and-dancing machine and the media freakshow, the unbelievably awesome and the transmogrified tragic. Having first grown up with his music and later grappled with him as an embodiment of American racial imagination, I still have more questions than answers. And one of the most notorious questions is the one posed over 20 years ago by Greg Tate: What’s Wrong With Michael Jackson?

Upon reading Tate’s piece again, I wonder how much the man (in the mirror) was precisely that: a cipher upon which we read the twisted American story in growing contortion, progressive disfigurement, a grotesque from which we could not, cannot, turn our heads. A sad story, to be sure. But a narrative that, as Michael showed as well as anyone else, leaves plenty room for improvisation and for (occasional) transcendence.

This was my initial, and remains my lingering, impression on the death of Michael Jackson –

And I’ll leave it there for now. Thx for letting us rock with you for so long. So long…

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April 22nd, 2009

BabyTune

Why didn’t I think of this? A little realtime autotune would go a long way toward making Nico’s recent adventures in parent-manipulation (i.e., whining, screaming, crying) a LOT easier to listen to —

h/t @timeblind

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March 7th, 2009

Covers, Blurbs, y Otras Traducciones

Amazing how an Amazon link makes our book finally feel real. (Pre-orders in teh house!)

And though they don’t have any imgs yet, I’m happy to report that I do, and — having lobbied HARD for this particular photo by Miguel Luciano to grace our cover — I’m thrilled to share it with y’all:



On the other hand side, I may be as excited about the back cover as the front, since we were able to land such luminary thinkers and wordsmiths re: music and race and nation as Jeff Chang, Mark Anthony Neal, Juan Flores, and Residente (!).


Since I’m in a sharing mood, here’s a pdf of an article by Flores that makes a wonderful argument about diaspora “as source and challenge” what with its many “cultural remittances” “from below.” (Incidentally, Centro is offering many more pdfs at their site; see, e.g., the 2004 issue on “Rican Structing Roots / Routes,” from which this piece comes.)

Flores’s narrative centers on salsa and rap, but I’ve found the thesis utterly illuminating wrt reggaeton (as readers of my chapter in the book will see) –

>> Flores, Juan. “Creolité in the ‘Hood: Diaspora as Source and Challenge.” Centro Journal 16, no. 2 (2004): 282-93.

& while I’m at it, here are two excerpts featured on a relatively recent Tego mixtape (almost a year old now, actually). I offer these up as each wonderful examples of how reggaeton “works,” if you will, consistent with the rich remix/reference culture that it is.

The first is a reworking of Fabolous’s unavoidable track from last year (and/or 2007), “Make Me Better” (incidentally, is it just me or does that central string motif sound awfully close to a recurring bit from the Lost score?). We hear here, among other things, how reggaeton artists — just as their “underground” bredren did in the 1990s — continue to version contemporary US/urban pop, translating and transforming the sounds that surround us:

>> Tego Calderón (feat. De La Ghetto), “Tú Me Haces Sentir”*

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As you hear toward the end there, that track leads into a rowdy cumbia parody (sounding remarkably similar to a Manu Chao song in the chorus). I like how it shows reggaeton’s ability to incorporate / allude to other genres — and the “cultural work” inherent to such (re)figurations — not to mention how it shows off reggaeton’s (and Tego’s) sense of humor, with El Negro Calde putting on an extra coarse accent for “realism”:

>> Tego Calderón, “El Hijo’e Puta Sin Saludar”*

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* for some reason, the tracks above sound distorted when listened to through the player; click on the song titles to hear more clearly.

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February 20th, 2009

Buried Treasure, Excavated Sizzle

The haunting echoes of r&b and garage ephemera are hallmarks of Burial’s music. Myriad, minute vocal snippets, tossed-off castaways in a sea of murky radio remembrances, reanimated as deeply expressive fragments, pitched around, recontextualized rhythmically and harmonically and vibewise. This is a poignant poetics, sometimes jaw-droppingly so, as the producer projects an alarmingly “human” voice despite denaturing the originals so audibly. (Reminding me of my reactions to Mouse on Mars’ excursions in synth-bent emoting, evoking an obviously artificial but affective fragility — but that’s the topic for another post perhaps.)

Prolly the best example in Burial’s oeuvre is “Archangel” which, as noted here, sources its suggestive vox from a couple amazingly fleeting moments (ad libs even!) in a semi-successful but forgotten r&b jawn.

Beyond Burial’s own distinctive remixing of the recent past, the approach has become more broadly adopted across contemporary electronic/sample-based production, especially by dubstep producers wielding similarly semi-obscure (and sometimes truly obscure) reggae samples. Burial falls into this camp too, with recent dancehall recordings — like their r&b and garage counterparts — serving as suggestive sonic signposts of post-millennial/colonial London.

As /Rupture noted via this insightful bit of sample spotting @ the lockitdown blog, Burial sampled Sizzla’s “Just One of Those Days” (aka, “Dry Cry”), his BIG CHUNE from 2003, for 2006′s “Broken Home.”

Living in Kingston in 2003 I bore repeated witness to the power of Sizzla’s massive one-drop revival album, Da Real Ting, so Burial’s allusion jumped out at me way back when his first album dropped. One of the things I found so striking and beguiling about Burial’s use of a phrase from “Just One of Those Days” was the way he displaced its original emphases by shifting its place in the meter by but an eighth-note.

So, while the original sounds like

whose FAULT no ONE but mySELF

in the Burial track, it goes

WHOSE fault NO one BUT myself

This may seem like a subtle distinction, but that’s what makes it great. Indeed, that’s what makes it better, to my ears, than a rather similar attempt at transformation: e.g., what strike me as the baldly (and badly) manipulative efforts of Zomby for “The Lie,” which takes the following Sizzla lyric

I was born in a system that doesn’t give a fuck about you nor me, nor the life of our kids

and turns it into

I was born in a system that doesn’t give a fuck about you nor me, nor the lie

WHICH. MAKES. NO. SENSE. & totally undermines Sizzla’s critique.

Is this supposed to be a sly and suggestive gesture? If so, it comes up woefully short. I think it rubs me the wrong way, interestingly, a lot more than than, say, Kanye West’s equally brazen use of Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” to propel “Through the Wire” (which I find funny and surprisingly compelling) — and I think this difference emerges largely for ideological reasons, which are inextricable from aesthetics (or, in other words, my idiosyncratically but also historically / culturally / socially / politically situated reception of the poetics at work in these tracks), despite that some may want to make room for “strictly” musical considerations in these rarefied conversations.

Now, obviously I enjoy Zomby’s production in other instances, so I don’t think this is just some simple prejudice expressing itself. Rather, it’s an attempt to work out why I find essentially the same sample-based procedure to have very different effects/affects in two different instances: whereas Burial’s subtle, muddled invocation of Sizzla invites a range of responses, Zomby’s strikes me as simply distortionary, rubbing against accumulated affective resonance in an awkward, hamfisted way. When we’re talking about handling such materials as beloved, if dated, reggae and r&b — so treasured and variously remembered and embodied — I guess I prefer a more sensitive touch.

Or, in other words, the happy medium is the massage.

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February 12th, 2009

Meta Matters!

ok, second post in a row jacking a video from those canny video jackers @ immanentdiscursivity

i love this. don’t you?

not only is kid downright adorable, he’s using a youtube vid of a solo piano rendition of the akon song (now a duet!) to accompany himself. that’s some srsly born digital creativity right there. he even frames his own rendition with a live screenshot & offers some genuine thanks/attribution to the pianist.

any corporation that wants to mute this kind of activity should be ashamed of itself.

(have you been reading the youtomb blog? you should.)

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January 30th, 2009

Dem Nuh Ramp

What is it, copywrong week in Jamaica?

Tip o’ the proverbial hat to Ripley for pointing me to an article in the Jamaica Star which reports that EMI have served Vybz Kartel with a SERIOUS cease&desist on behalf of none other than (now former) w&w faves, Ne-Yo and Stargate (aka, Shaffer Smith, Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen) –

The current version of Vybz Kartel and Spice’s Rampin Shop has been ordered to be destroyed and pulled from all radio stations, television stations and the Internet by EMI Music Publishing. Plans are in motion for the song to be re-mixed and re-mastered so it can be played on air again.

When the STAR spoke to Vybz Kartel yesterday he explained that he had received an e-mail from EMI Music Publishing stating that Rampin Shop infringes on the copyright license of Miss Independent by Ne-Yo. Rampin Shop was released towards the end of 2008 and is currently on a remade version of the Miss Independent rhythm, the song while immensely popular in Jamaica has not been officially released to the International market. While Ne-Yo is officially signed to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), the copyright license for the composition of the Ne-Yo song is licensed by EMI Music Publishing for composers Shaffer Smith, Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen.

Kartel forwarded the e-mail from EMI to the STAR in which it stated, “‘Ramping Shop’ by Vybz Kartel and Spice infringes the copyright in ‘Miss Independent’ (Smith/Hermansen/Eriksen). Clearance of this use of ‘Miss Independent’ has not been sought or obtained and I am informed that clearance will not be forthcoming. Accordingly ‘Ramping Shop’ cannot be released or exploited in any way. Please confirm your acknowledgement and acceptance of this, and that you will arrange that (i) all recordings of the infringing track will be re-called and destroyed and that no further copies will be issued, and (ii) that the audio and/or video will be taken down immediately from all Internet sites.”

Note that the effervescent instrumental underlying “Miss Independent” is referred to here as “the Miss Independent rhythm” which nicely & subtly indicates how Jamaicans tend to think about accompanimental tracks: as always-already ready for a next “voicing.” Indeed, you can find a few other voicings (and even some mashups) floating around under the name Miss Independent riddim. Some, like Beniton’s version, show how spry artists engage with contemporary hits these days, dialoguing with the original while offering new, localized commentary. (You can call that illegal, but it’s not gonna stop.) Actually, I say “these days” because it’s increasingly common everywhere, but we should acknowledge that recording almost-immediate (cover) versions of r&b hits has been the thing to do in Kingston since, oh, the 1950s. (I realize that digital copying complicates things a little, but it needn’t. And, really, what’s the threat to Ne-Yo/Stargate? “Miss Independent” was a big hit; “Rampin Shop” threatens its future revenue stream NOT IN THE LEAST.)

Vybz’s too-hot-to-handle duet with Spice has been getting serious play in Jamaica and the dancehall diaspora — thus making it a target (unless, as some speculate, Kartel got fingered by a “rival camp”); whereas Beniton’s is not — I mean, is Beniton even reachable? JK HERE’S HIS PHONE# LOL). I’m sick enough of that beat at this point, having quite worn it out, that I’m happy for Kartel to re-release “Rampin” with a new backing, though I did like the striking juxtaposition of Stargate’s soft instrumental bedding and Vybz&Spice’s rough-and-tumble pillowtalk. Which raises the question: can Kartel’s version be heard as parody?

Here’s another irony (not that it’s not reconcilable with current copyright or certain notions of musical ownership), it turns out that, while denying the right to others to participate in contemporary remix culture, Stargate shamelessly reused their own music for “Miss Independent.”

Talk about an industry that’s out of touch. Can you believe that EMI would demand something as patently absurd and impossible as destroying all copies? “from all Internet sites”? Haha good luck with that! Next I’m expecting Cary Sherman to say the RIAA has to “do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering.”

Kartel’s song remains pretty darn easy to find on the net, and I suspect it’ll stay that way. (Praise Jah for decentralization & the promiscuity of digital files. Were only up to Google/YouTube, could we kiss the song goodbye?)

If you haven’t heard it yet, however, and don’t know what you’re getting into, be forewarned: in the time-honored tradition of Caribbean bawdy music, “Rampin Shop” is not for the feint of heart — SO ONLY LISTEN IF U LIKE UR SLACKNESS! (i.e., if you appreciate a good dirty joke. or a bad one. this has both!)

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January 21st, 2009

The Work of Oprah in the Age of Disturbingly Faithful Hypercompetent Reproductions

I agree with Sharon and Boima, searching for authenticity is a good way to miss the forest for the trees. In other words, authenticity is so vague. Or as I’ve put it elsewhere (see note #2), there’s no there there.

Back to forests and trees. In the revised version of that globalization theory classic, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Arjun Appadurai argues that many accounts of globalization are riddled by “a confusion between some ineffable McDonaldization of the world and the much subtler play of indigenous trajectories of desire and fear with global flows of people and things.”

Discussing said subtler play of trajectories, Appadurai contends that “Americanization” is a “pallid term” to describe, for example, the “disturbingly faithful” Filipino renditions of American pop song (see p. 49). For those who don’t want to read the excerpt, I’ll skip straight to the kicker:

American nostalgia feeds on Filipino desire represented as a hypercompetent reproduction.

Munch on that money mouthful for a minute. Or better yet, watch this (& see also) –


CHARICE on OPRAH Show [FULL] – Charice / Charice Pempengco

The cherry on top? Appadurai brings it all back home with a Jamesonian flourish –

I would like to suggest that the apparent increasing substitutability of whole periods and postures for one another, in the cultural styles of advanced capitalism, is tied to larger global forces, which have done much to show Americans that the past is usually another country. If your present is their future (as in much modernization theory and in many self-satisfied tourist fantasies), and their future is your past (as in the case of the Filipino virtuosos of American popular music), then your own past can be made to appear as simply a normalized modality of your present.

This unleashing of the imagination links the play of pastiche (in some settings) to the terror and coercion of states and their competitors.

If you dislike that elliptical leap, I suggest you read the whole thing. And if you’re upset that I left Ramiele Malubay out of the conversation, feel free to leave a comment!

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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