Archive of posts tagged with "media"

January 6th, 2008

What Chew Know About Down in the Hole?

I’m not really a TV watcher. Really. I mean, sure, I’ve watched something like 2000 videos on YouTube over the last couple years (and I don’t think that even counts videos embedded in blogs, etc.). But I probably watch OldTube only a couple hours a week at best — like if, say, a big Bawstin game is on (and even then I’m usually tagging along with Becca’s great enthusiasm for sports, which well outstrips mine).

That said, I’ve spent 50 hours of the last couple months catching up with The Wire. After having read enough raves from enough trusted filters (while vigilantly avoiding any spoilers), I finally decided that I needed to be on board for the fifth and final season (which premiered tonight, non-demand). I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the show’s boosters. It’s an utterly engrossing series and, almost improbably, lives up to all the hype.

Earlier today Julianne Shepherd said about The Wire, “This is the most important work of visual literature of my lifetime! How can you not react to that total awesomeness?!” I concurrr. And I like the idea of the series as a work of “visual literature.” It has repeatedly been characterized as Dickensian, and I think that’s apt — not just for the way that David Simon, et al., offer such a detailed, vivid, and only kinda cartoonish portrait of the bleak houses of Bmore, but, obviously, because it’s also a serial, which makes it especially fun to watch all at once. (Waiting a week per episode is going to be tough after Netflicking the first four seasons.)

Since I’ve called it “only kinda cartoonish” I should probably reaffirm that the most striking aspect of the series is, as has been remarked again and again, its verisimilitude. The cops talk like cops, the corner boys like corner boys, the dockworkers like dockworkers, etc. It’s all very convincing and richly textured, drawing one in and suspending one’s proverbial disbelief (what’s to disbelieve when it seems so ‘real’?).

The Wire has faced some criticism, however, precisely because the response to the show, broadly speaking and from various quarters, has so affirmed its trueness to life. A recent piece in The Atlantic, for instance, finds the show too bleak, more bleak than life really is (for the author and his consultants anyway), and hence finds the show’s pessimism to undermine its verisimilitude: “This bleakness is Simon’s stamp on the show,” argues Mark Bowden, “and it suggests that his political passions ultimately trump his commitment to accuracy or evenhandedness.” Along these lines, and in that article, sociologist Elijah Anderson notes that “decent people” are underrepresented in the show, which, he contends, instead portrays underclass black life in Bmore as all too defined by the code of the streets. (Others have noted that the women in the show lack the fullness and range of the male characters, which is a valid criticism too.) W/r/t bleakness, however, I’m inclined to agree with my friend Marco: it doesn’t seem exaggerated. To put it another way: shit is real. (Or sure seems so.) And I mean shit literally too.

W/r/t to verisimilitude, though, for me — and maybe you saw this coming — what most frequently trips me up (or really, tripped me up, since it has largely been corrected since the early seasons) is the use of music in the show.

Notably, The Wire pretty much exclusively employs music in what film scholars/scorers would call a diagetic manner: that is, any sound you hear, the characters hear too. It’s “source music,” emitting from a particular source in the world that you’re watching. Tracks blast from cars and boomboxes and club systems; they don’t creep up on you like sneaky violins and woodwinds to manipulate your emotional response to what is happening. They serve as set pieces. As such, the music offers another level of detail to the show’s attempts at verisimilitude. Or at least that’s what I expected to hear. So I was surprised, during Season 1, to hear Mos Def and Common and other (let’s face it, bourgie) hip-hop songs playing in the Bmore ‘jects. Don’t get me wrong. I like those guys, but they’re not exactly offering thug motivation, knamean. (& I know I’m not the first to note this disconnect, but having avoided detalled commentary on the series in order to avoid spoilers, I didn’t read through long threads on the placement of music in the series prior to formulating this critique.)

To their credit, the producers of the show came around and remedied such diagetic distractions. In later seasons one hears music better matched to the settings: e.g., Fiddy and Jay-Z, a little Sean Paul for good measure (even some Vybz Kartel). Up to the time music, gangsta music, popular music. The soundtrack suddenly started to rise to the level of thoughtful detail of the rest of the show. Omar’s Latino pardner bumped reggaeton in his ride. Jimmy McNulty, the Pogues. And finally, sometime in season 3, Baltimore club music made a few key appearances: a house party here, a club scene there, a couple kids bumping along to the distinctive beat in their ride. In Season 4, Bmore club (as esoteric knowledge) even serves as a cunning tool for marking ignant interlopers from NYC. Season 4 also saw the introduction of homegrown hip-hop, a scene apparently spurred by the series, which has put (C)harm City on the map in recent years in a manner rivaled only by, well, Baltimore’s club music itself.

And though the producers have gone so far as to compile an album featuring tracks by DJ Technics, Mullyman, Diablo, and other locals, they’ve decided for the 5th season — against my highest hopes — to use a version of the Tom Waits penned theme song, “Down in the Hole,” as sung by Steve Earle (who plays a recurring character on the show) rather than, as I had fantasized, commissioning a Bmore remix of the Waits original (which remains my favorite version).

And so, to fulfill my own fantasies, I put together this quick’n’dirty number —
wayne&wax w/ Tom Waits, “What Chew Know About Down in the Hole”

That’s it for now. Just wanted to let y’all know: I’m watching with ya. There won’t be any plot talk here (I still hate spoilers), but I’m always happy to talk themes. Plus, you can find all the Wire talk you want at places like Heaven and Here, where David Simon himself occasionally leaves a comment. Maybe me too.

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January 5th, 2008

Globalistas e Baptistas

Not long ago, w/r/t global gobbledecrunk, I referred to an interview I gave recently to a Brazilian journalist. The journo in question is Camilo Rocha, who doubles as a DJ (& has a fab disco mix over @ Spannered). The piece was just published in Folha de Sao Paolo, apparently Brazil’s biggest newspaper.

I don’t really read Portuguese all that well (& my Portunhol only goes so far), so I asked Google to help me. I’ve pasted their quirky translation below (I like that Maga Bo becomes “Magician Bo”), but I encourage any of you lusophones to read the original. Following DJ /rupture (who notes, as do I, that all this activity is pretty “peripheral” in its own way), I’m also going to append my full interview text, since the article ended up far shorter than I expected and seemed to stray from some of the more sensitive / critical issues (blame the editors?) and since I did take the time to compose some lengthy answers (though, now that I see /rupture’s text, I think I prefer his more laconic approach).

Ciao for now —

Collaboration for the Folha de S. Paulo

Most DJs usually direct their ears for a few posamezne music of the First World, like New York, London, Berlin and Paris. In this decade, however, emerged a new category, that of the DJs “globalistas” which travel much further in their garimpagens music.

Names such as Diplo, DJ Dolores, Magician Bo, DJ / rupture, Ghislain Poirier and Wayne & Wax build sets incredibly varied, which may have American hip hop, techno or electronica German French, but also from Trinidad soca, Moroccan rap, funk carioca, kuduro, Angola, Jamaican dancehall, grime Cohabs of London or the Colombian cumbia.

The exposure of these rhythms “peripheral” already influences artists in various spheres such as band Bloc Party and the DJs / producers Simian Mobile Disco and Samim (which was one of the hits of the year with “Heater”, which joined with cumbia techno). Following is the phenomenon of Anglo-Sinhala MIA, the first popstar out of this trend and which launched this year praised the album “Kala.”

It would be all that a new roupagem for worn term “world music”? When talking with the Folha by phone, the DJ and producer Canadian Ghislain Poirier, which has just launched the album “No Under Ground” by the seal Ninja Tune (of dual English Coldcut), denies: “World music is more exotic, the sounds that played are more urban. They come from a common scenario: people without much money, making music in home studios or a laptop. is something more urgent. ”

Thanks to greater access to the Internet and technology, throughout the world there is an unprecedented proliferation of the sounds of the peripheries of the countries, most of them with strong and created electronic databases on laptops or PCs surrados, often with software pirates, and released via blogs, sites and sets the DJs “globalistas.”

The DJ and MC American Wayne & Wax, which is also etnomusicólogo, baptized the movement of “global ghettotech.”

“Inventei that phrase to describe an aesthetic emerging between some DJs and bloggers, where they mix genres” global “as hip hop, techno and reggae, among others, with styles’ local ‘,” explained Wayne to Leaf. “But I am against the approach superficial and modista. I like to know the social and cultural contexts that shaped the sounds,” explains.


One of the “globalistas” is the pioneering DJ / rupture in Boston, USA, who first drew attention with a mixtape (set mixado) called “Gold Teeth Thief.” The September gave all that talk that figured among the ten best releases of 2002 of the prestigious British music magazine “The Wire”.

Through your blog and radio program “Mudd Up!” Rupture insane conveys a blend of rhythms from various parties. One of his special interests is the music maghrebi, from North Africa. “I [also] discovering the world of cumbia – there are many fascinating scenes of the past and present,” to the DJ.

The seal of Rupture, Soot, should launch within months of the album debut of another important behalf of the scene “globalista” Magician Bo, an American from Seattle who lives in Rio since 1999. Magician Bo has worked with Brazilian as BNegão, MC Catra, Marcelo Yuka, Marcelinho the Moon and Digitaldubs.

In the next year, he must start to give classes on digital production at the headquarters of AfroReggae in Parada de Lucas, in the River Currently, is in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, recording with local musicians and searching Ethiopian music.

“Churiadau electronic is the field where everybody can understand. The computer, which has been called the first” universal instrument folk ‘, is increasingly accessible. The volume of music that can be embedded in this’ global ghettotech’ is increasing in world. Death of record growth in traditional distribution of music on the Internet are helping this popularization, “says Bo Magician.

Already the DJ Dolores, best known Brazilian representative of this trend, says that “the computers are the drums today, a primal that each can use in your way.” In 2004, Dolores won the prize for best DJ in the category “Global Club” of Radio One, BBC English. Dolores has just returned from several concerts in the US and Mexico in the coming year to launch the album “A Real.”

Diplo is the best known name of this crop of DJs / producers. The American, 29 years was one of the main advisers of funk carioca abroad. Ex-boyfriend of MIA (whose first album he co-produced), Diplo played recently in Tim Festival.

He believes it is important to repay the local cultures. Through the project Heaps Decent, he’s been doing with young aboriginal music of a center of detention of children in Australia. Tapas must leave soon, in partnership with the Australian stamp Modular.

“Since these subcultures, in a way, help me to earn a living, I did something to help their development,” he explains. “In the coming months, I hope to do the same in the Cantagalo slum in Rio, with the help of AfroReggae and [anthropologist] Hermano Vianna.”

Interview w/ Camilo Rocha (11/20/07) ::

How did u get into music? Whats your background?

I’ve been an avid listener since I was a teenager, but I’ve only been a musician since I was 18 or so, when some friends gave me a guitar for my birthday. I played in some bands during college (blues, funk, rock), mostly playing bass, and I was also the lead MC for a live hip-hop group. I’ve been rapping since I was about 13. After college, I started producing music on computers — making beats, mostly sample-based hip-hop — and the laptop has been my primary instrument ever since. My self-taught beat-making pretty much coincided with my study of ethnomusicology (I’ve got a Ph.D. and wrote my dissertation on the historical relationship between reggae and hip-hop; I lived in Kingston, Jamaica for six months in 2003 conducting field research.)

You and DJ Rupture are from the Boston area, do you know each other for a long time?

We both attended the same college and had a lot of mutual friends, and I saw him spin at a few events back in the late 90s, but it’s only relatively recently — the last few years — that we’ve been in close conversation, largely thanks to the blogosphere.

You are a music ethnomusicologist. How did you get into that area? Where did you study? Are you doing any academic work at the moment?

I was inspired to become an ethnomusicologist when I discovered the field my senior year in college (I was an English major). I took a class on music and race in the US with Ron Radano and ended up studying with him in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a real epiphany to discover that I could keep music central in my life and approach it from an intellectual / scholarly angle. Currently, I’m teaching at Brandeis University in Boston, offering courses on hip-hop, music and globalization, and “digital pop.”

Explain “global ghettotech” to those who don’t know what it is about

“Global ghettotech” is a phrase I came up with to describe what seems like an emerging aesthetic among certain DJs and bloggers. I’ve also called it “nu whirled music” to describe its (antagonistic but derivative) relationship to “world music” as well as the importance of fusion (mixing “global” genres such as hip-hop, techno, reggae, etc., often with “local” styles) in the concept. For me, global ghettotech describes the recent interest in such genres as funk carioca, kuduro, reggaeton, juke, grime, kwaito, etc. — genres identified with the ghettos of the former colonies as well as with the ghettos of today’s post-colonial metropoles. I want to stress that I use the term somewhat critically — I don’t mean simply to celebrate this kind of engagement. One thing I find really problematic about it, for example, is the flavor-of-the-month approach to engaging with “other” musics: e.g., “kuduro is the new baile funk!” When it becomes a surfacy, fashionable pursuit, it gets more problematic, for me, than when it is about finding new sounds in different places and really getting to know them and the social and cultural contexts that shape them — and in the process, learning about one’s own place (and, usually, privilege) in the global order.

How do you see the popularization of “global ghettotech”? Why has there been so much exposure and interest for these types of sounds?

I think a lot of it has to do with the advent of technologies that make it possible for people to produce music all over the world (e.g., FruityLoops) and to circulate music rather widely ( e.g., the internet, blogs, mp3s, p2p). In terms of interest, I think some of it has to do with a certain familiarity (i.e., hearing hip-hop and techno with new accents) and some of it has to do with seeking out the exotic (as with “old” world music).

I can see a lot of people here in Brazil viewing all this as a new kind of exploitation: guys from the first world shopping around ghettos of the globe in search of the new rhythms to feed their DJ sets, getting credit and fame while the original artists are not mentioned or soon forgotten. Is that fair or not to say?

I think that’s definitely a fair statement in some cases, but it’s important to look at the individual and how he or she engages with the people in the places from which those sounds come. Collaborating with people in Rio or Kingston is a lot different from downloading them. In that respect, there are plenty of elite or middle-class Brazilians who could be just as guilty of this sort of exploitation.

Does “global ghettotech” sometimes run the risk of being just a trendier guise for the rich world’s old taste for “exotic” (cultural tourism thrills as opposed to understanding and identification with the scenes it is exploring)?

Yes, definitely. And not just sometimes — a LOT of the time.

How is the acceptance in America for this kind of musical approach?

I’d say it’s still fairly marginal. It’s not as if this kind of music — even as projected by MIA or Diplo or Ghislain or /Rupture — is mainstream by any stretch. You don’t really see it on MTV or hear it on the radio. It’s mainly an internet phenomenon and confined to a few clubs nights / parties in big cities like New York, Montreal, Boston, etc. For the weekly that I do in Boston with DJ Flack, “Beat Research,” we play all kinds of genres, often touching on many that might fall under the “global ghettotech” umbrella, and we’ve got an open-minded audience that likes that sort of thing, but it’s still a pretty small scene.

Do you do a lot of travelling for music research? Tell us a couple of interesting stories about your travels.

When I’m lucky enough to find funding, I love to travel to new places and check out their soundscapes and pay attention to what is local and what is global and how people negotiate the two. I’ve spent a good amount of time in Jamaica, both doing research and collaborating with artists there (and I’ve written a lot about it on my blogs). Recently, I had the good fortune to spend several days in Rio, which I had been wanting to do for many years. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to go into many stories, but I often find that music is a great way to connect with people, especially when we share a love for, say, hip-hop or reggae and thus share a musical language, even if we don’t always share a spoken language.

A lot of ghetto music bypasses copyright as it is commonly made on pirated software and samples freely. Meanwhile, illegal downloading is threatening the music industry as we know it. Do you think we are going in an inevitable direction, where music will become free? Will that be a good thing and why? Should music have a price? Do you manage to make any money selling music?

These are very big questions, and it’s hard to say. It does seem like we’re moving in that direction, but there are many ways to commercialize music — selling recordings is a relatively recent way for musicians (or more commonly, record labels and publishers) to get paid. I think that performance will remain an important way for musicians to earn a living. I’m not sure whether music should have a price. I generally don’t believe in monetizing or propertizing things, music included, but I think I’m in the minority on that one. I’m glad, at any rate, that musicians continue to do what they do without much regard for outmoded copyright structures. Some — perhaps most! — of my favorite music is “illegal” music. Personally, I don’t make very much money selling music, which is perhaps part of the reason why I’m not very invested in music having a price. Most of the money I earn through music is from playing gigs, usually DJing, though I can’t say that I make a lot — hence the academic day job.

Do you sometimes feel there should be more political lyrics in global ghetto music (I’m thinking of Rio funk, reggaeton, kuduro and kwaito which are largely sexual and/or party-oriented)? Or maybe feel that these musics could have more of a commitment to change or denounce their situation (if you think they do promote some kind of social change, please explain why)?

Sometimes I might feel that way, but then again, I think that music about sex or pleasure or partying is already political in a certain sense. It depends very much on the social or cultural context, of course. It’s no surprise that the themes that dominate a lot of ghetto music have to do more with everyday concerns, or with transcending the stress of everyday life, or with pissing off the middle-class, the government, the power structure. As for promoting change, sometimes one sees that sort of thing, especially in the Rasta-inspired visions of a lot of reggae, but in general, people living in ghettos worldwide haven’t seen much change, don’t see much hope for change, and probably won’t change the focus of their lyrics until there is some real change in the social conditions in which they live. I guess it’s something of a chicken and egg question, but it’s not for me to tell people what to rap about. Of course, as a DJ it can often be uncomfortable to play songs that are overtly misogynist or which objectify women as sex objects (and little else). Perhaps that’s another significant appeal of “global” / foreign ghettotech: it’s easier to listen to booty music when you don’t understand all the words.

What new stuff (styles/artists/producers) have you discovered recently that has really impressed you?

I’ve been really impressed with a lot of the young juke producers coming out of Chicago: DJ Nate and DJ Clent especially. All the dance crazes on YouTube have also been very exciting. And the rise of interest in cumbia, reggaeton, and other music en español seems promising too. Part of me really wants to see the US come to terms with its postcolonial, imperial self, and I feel that music can help to express a kind of cultural politics of conviviality that feels more and more needed in our polyglot cities. In general, I just love hearing people making music without much regard for the rules. I love DIY, p2p music and the internet has been making more and more of that available — and, even better, has been making it possible to connect directly to these producers rather than having to deal with all sorts of middlemen.

You said you just came back from Rio. Were you on holiday? Any interesting musical experiences?

I was there for a small meeting of musicians convened by the Future of Music Coalition to discuss, um, the future of music (e.g., media consolidation, internet opportunities, copyright issues, etc.). It was an honor and a pleasure to be there, among such company. So, not exactly a holiday, but very fun “business” for sure. I’ve been listening to music from Rio for many years — and not just funk, but samba, bossa nova, tropicalia, etc. — and so it was great to finally get a chance to see and hear the city. It felt like a really vibrant place, really “on.” I was amazed by the number of people partying in Lapa until the wee hours. I also had a wonderful time hanging out in the favela of Vidigal for most of an afternoon and evening. It felt like a warm, welcoming place, and it was great to hear some funk in its social context.

What are your plans for 2008?

Keep on teaching and writing and DJing, and hopefully getting back into more producing. I aways let my interests lead me where they may, though, so we’ll see…

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November 6th, 2007

Just Call Me Mr. Meme Maker

when i say that ghislain poirier is one of my favorite global ghettotechies®, i think i mean that unsardonically, but i’m not sure where that leaves us

ghislain’s music, however, usually leaves me grinning

if not spinning

keep it blazin, g —

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September 30th, 2007

Talkin’ All That Canon: On Hip-hop’s Jazz

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. —

(See also, 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?

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September 23rd, 2007

Hallelujah Holla Black

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
Northeastern University
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 “Mecca of White Hip-hop,” 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.

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June 29th, 2007

Order of Importance

a car bomb maybe almost exploded in London today ;

how many do you think actually exploded in Iraq this week?

guess what’s on the news?

the horror.

::::::: :::: :::: :::::: :::: :::: ::::::: :::: :::: :::::: :::: :::: :::::: :::: ::::

and, right … cats.

which will win @ the water cooler?

tune in nextime…

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May 1st, 2007

Stop Taping Everything?


March 30th, 2007

Prez 2.0: The Cher Presidency

It seems a sign of a seismic shift in presidential-electoral politics, and perhaps a turn for the worse, that all of 08’s frontrunners are firstnamers.

Barack? Hillary? Rudy? Mitt?

Who’s the next Americal Idol?

I mean, at least we all thought of Reagan, explicitly, as an actor.

Get yer 3D glasses, folks, this is gonna get weird.

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March 24th, 2007

Attack of the Gray Lady 13:
Government to Take a Hard Look at Horror (As If)

Today the NYT reports that the Federal Trade Commission is not happy about the recent spate of horror films, some of which use torture as a central feature. Elsewhere, Slavoj Zizek argues that

most of us can imagine a singular situation in which we might resort to torture — to save a loved one from immediate, unspeakable harm perhaps. I can. In such a case, however, it is crucial that I do not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle. In the unavoidable brutal urgency of the moment, I should simply do it. But it cannot become an acceptable standard; I must retain the proper sense of the horror of what I did. And when torture becomes just another in the list of counterterrorism techniques, all sense of horror is lost. [oomph mine]

the end of which resonates rather strongly, I think, with Paul Gilroy’s diagnosis of England’s postcolonial melancholia. Referring to the “pioneering social psychology” of German psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, Gilroy applies to “the British people” what we might also apply to the American —

[the Mitscherlichs] warn that melancholic reactions are prompted by “the loss of a fantasy of omnipotence” and suggest that the racial and national fantasies that imperial and colonial power required were, like those of the Aryan master race, predominantly narcissistic. From this perspective, before the British people can adjust to the horrors of their own modern history and start to build a new national identity from the debris of their broken narcissism, they will have to learn to appreciate the brutalities of colonial rule enacted in their name and to their benefit, to understand the damage it did to their political culture at home and abroad, and to consider the extent of their country’s complex investments in the ethnic absolutism that has sustained it. (99) [oomph mine]

& perhaps the Australian as well, etc.

today’s torture pr0n

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February 13th, 2007

Brave You World

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to sound like Time fckn Magazine or appear too technoptimistic. Indeed, allow me to repeat here — for those who aren’t comment readers — /jace‘s well-put and well-taken anxieties w/r/t web2point0h:

i think most of web2.0 activities is lil autonomous nodes — blogs, youtube uploaders & viewers, myspace clients — people engaged in similar activities in similar spaces but not necessarily collaborating in the general sense of the term, more like people dancing in the same room. much of this is fantastic, of course! here i am, commenting on your blog; yet where i get wary is that much of this latter engagement creates enormous amount of self-mapping (flickr/delicious, etc,) and meta-data, and only big corps like Google or Murdoch have access or ability to scan this, with the possib that their use of the data we generate from blogging & tagging & uploading & linking could be employed to further bend & shape internet-citizen desires, in a weird and contemporary mingling of rhizomatic info drawn up and re-used for top-down (& viral) marketing, advertising, channeling of consumer desire, etc.

i think im saying web2.0 culture is great, but the monetization/meta-data analysis of that culture could easily be applied to uses out of step with web2.0’s XML-y emphasis on collabo, trading, datamashup, sharing, etc.

Couldn’t agree more. Which makes me wary, too. I guess I’m optimistic on the main, however, b/c despite these corporate appropriations (and, nd, shapings) of my/yr/our metamappings, I’m enjoying (immensely) even the limited degree to which we non-corporate entities get to enjoy (and re-shape) feed’n’tagland — and its fruits.

Rather than disengagement, however — not that that’s what Jace is calling for, obv (just look&listen) — these intertwined possibilities and pitfalls (& motivations and desires) seem to call for a massive practice of collabo-curatorial hacktivism (for these fruits are fleeting), fostering DIY/p2p remix/mash culture thru the civilly disobedient sharing and tweaking and linking of things. &thus making eloquent arguments, in discourse and design, against the very status quo that the corporate mining of our metamaps would seem to support. (of course, increased attn to bridging the digital divide, which is to say, the basic distribution of wealth[=wiredness] across the world would help a lot too)

w/r/t more musical matters, this post over @ hometaping is a good reminder of the woefully ephemeral nature of netmedia — notwithstanding (esp when it comes to audio, video, and other cumbersome forms). It’s an inherent impermanence which I’ve been feeling all too acutely of late. (Indeed, I was rather relieved — perverse as it may seem — to find, as I had hoped and expected, that El Perreo Chacalonero Para Niños had reappeared recently on the ol’ Tubosphere. [backstory])

& Here’s another example: I initially put Word the Cat’s Bollywood Omnibus on my World Music syllabus as a nice primer on the classic conventions and remarkable range of Indian film/song. But by the time last week came around, most of the videos embedded in the post had disappeared, rendering the page — with its informed commentary — if not useless, then rather frustrating (such unfulfilled anticipation!). Of course, those videos are probably back up already, which is good, but you never know when the Viacom of India (or Viacom in India) is going to order all curry recipes taken down. (Yes, I jest — but similarly overreaching edicts could no doubt send a chill across the world of “amateur” archivists.) And, moreover, it’s a shame that that fine post has become such a shell of itself, rather than the valuable resource it once was (as I can only imagine most of my own YouTubey posts — like this one! — will become). One can only imagine the possibilities for collective annotation/critique of media of all sorts (from blogs to wikis) if embedded audio and video could be more stably incorporated.

From the perspective of someone teaching a class on world music, something like YouTube, with its myriad examples that are either too recent, too obscure, or too unlicense-able to accompany most texts on the subject at hand (whatever it may be, increasingly), offers a treasure trove of clips (and other forms of discourse) for quick classroom showings. (And dismal, and scatalogical, as the comments can get, they are often also rather useful — at least from a pedagogical perspective — insofar as they quite readily offer up a wide range of stereotypes and other distinctive discursive markers and public debates circulating alongside the music and animating/demonstrating/performing its reception.) Considering how many of us watch YouTube (students included), it’s not a bad idea, either, to encourage each other to read more critically in our travels there, taking apart the frames around the frames to better see the picture.

Krishna knows what a better couple of classes we had last week w/ the ability to conjure up such classic clips as “Yeh Dosti Ham Nahi,” from Sholay, the ComedyOfErrors CurryWestern BuddyFlick par excellence, which, moreover — the song, that is — mashes Bwood strings with Bwhite strings, adds vintage synths and honky-tonk harmonica and does the oddest lil shuffle thru the country:

Or the psychedelic-rockin’, hippie-krishna sendup, “Dum Maro Dum” (translation), as featured in R.D.Burman‘s Hare Krishna Hare Rama and sung by the great playback diva devi, who also happens to be the sister of Lata Mangeshkar (in case you didn’t know), Asha Bosle (between the two of em, they’ve recorded 40,000+ songs [!!]):

which makes a fine juxtaposition, I should note, to the reception and representation of Ravi Shankar at the Monterey Pop festival —

Which reminds me,

wayne&wax (ft. Ravi Shankar and Anti-Gravity), “The Tabla Are the Drums”

I mean, sure, I could no doubt find these films up @ Devon’s Desi corridor, and perhaps I will soon, but there’s something invaluable all the same about having a giant, unruly public repository of individual clips available at a mouseclick, &complete with more commentary than one might care to read. [I mean, I’m sayin, shouldn’t our libraries be archiving this stuff?]

But never mind commercial releases such as those ^^, which could likely (if not so easily) be located in “physical” form (but not necessarily non-piratical) in nuff cities worldwide. How bout vintage (or up-to-the-time) Indonesian dangdut vids? E.g., the following, as shot on super8 (nice touch!) — featuring plenty pictures of everyday (and extraordinary) Jakarta, w/ some oldschool boombox stylee, a lil Latin sabor, and an early90s-obligatory electro-rap to top it off —

or, whynot? — undie Indonesian (Undonesian?) hip-hop:

or p’raps a totally badass Balinese gamelan orch in the heat of competition:

& don’t get me started on Wayang Kulit clips, such as this comical-topical interlude performed by the late Bu Hami, a masterful dhalang who distinguished herself in a field dominated by men:

I’m quite grateful to have access to these. They’re wonderful teaching tools and wonderful things in themselves. Providing examples beyond the std textbook variety, they allow instructors of whirl music® to represent any given “music culture” (the textbook term, tho I dislike the implied borders) with greater range, &as a lively, living, contested thing, &in deeper context — especially as constituted by self-archived/annotated, or even as, if you will, ethnographically-embedded entries. In this sense, never mind the old bottles, YouTube (et al.) = the people’s rough guides, folkways, and sublime frequencies.

So here’s hoping the inherent promiscuity of the digital copy means that such things as the videos above, which could as easily have perished on media several feet underwater, will always be accessible, especially to future generations of Indonesian (and, sure, Indonesianist) interpreters, remixers, & ethnomusibloggers. We certainly can’t count on Google or Murdoch to handle the responsibility.

To wit/bit: Kevin Driscoll made a convincing argument recently (and pointed to some useful tools) w/r/t our stake in making sure all this amazing stuff remains around and available: “As the crackdown on YouTube begins to accelerate,” he warned,

we need to start thinking about creating distributed archives and mirrors. We jeopardize the tremendous library of video being amassed by relying on a single commercial provider. Let’s not repeat the mistakes we made with Napster.

But beyond simply archiving these things ourselves, especially if we want to share with the world as we go, what we need to do to protect ourselves against corporate interests is to make our “uses” of such things incontestably “fair,” i.e., to creatively (and aggressively, decidedly, compellingly) remix, reframe, comment on, and parody other people’s “property” such that we ourselves challenge and change the status quo (at least w/r/t ownership of media/data/info, which is a damn good start).

You down with OPP?

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January 5th, 2007


  • Much as I like to bellyache bout the NYT, you gotta love it when they let pomo philosophers pen op-eds about politricks. And even if (sadly — for all of us, not just him) Zizek’s mostly remixing his ol’ desert of the real spiel, I was totally tickled to see him — in so many words — call Bush an “Iranian Agent.” Now, how about making dude a film critic too?
  • Extreme Archeology! (thx 2 billtron — another ethnomusiblogger)Just wait until us ethnoids get in the game. I can see it now: Why Suyá Skydive
  • &speaking of ethnomusibloggers, our ranks seem to be swelling. And I think that’s just swell. See, e.g.,

    (surely there are others I’m missing or forgetting: if so, lemme know)

  • Though he may not be an ethnomusicologist by training, you might mistake Pete Murder Tone for one given his musico-cultural expertise and knack for the ethnographic. The musical blogosphere should be v happy to have him back in it. (Having corresponded with Pete for, shit, several years now — he originally found me via the ol’ Jamaica blogI’m v happy to finally put face to name.) Given that Pete hipped me to dubstep back when it still seemed confined to Croydon — even while living in fckn Australia — I can only imagine what he’s gonna get himself into now that he’s left his academic gig downunder for the undergroun of London.
  • & though it really deserves a post all its own, I can’t resist putting this in this mix:

    Law and the Constitution in the Superhuman Age — a new course at Marvard University

    A lil explanation:
  • If you didn’t catch it, the “course” above is a project from the Nessons’ CyberOne. Which reminds me, Charlie‘s teaching a three week evidence course this month. And with Becca as virtual bailiff, they’ll be holding a moot court in SecondLife, concerning a real case involving a property dispute in SL. (For the legally curious, they’ll be trying the case twice: w/r/t the EULA and w/r/t common law.) If you’re a SecondLifer, I hear they’re looking for a few good angry men (or women, or penguins, or robots, or whatever, I s’pose).

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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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