Monthly Archives: August 2009

Art Cool

Yet another vinyl documentary

This one is sort of lazily made, but is still interesting for those of you who are still catching up with the trend that vinyl is making a serious comeback.

Vinyl Revival from Max Henstell on Vimeo.

Featured Music

Hip Hop is more powerful than you think

power

I admit that this is probably going to be one of those sanctimonious posts where I do my best to persuade you that hip hop has gotten a bad rap (no pun intended).   I just want to get it out there that hip hop is still the voice of millions of disaffected people, regardless of whatever ridiculous pair of shoes Kanye is promoting these days.

Ignore the fact that the most commercial successful hip hop artists are not always the best role models.  Forget the fact that the so-called gangsta rappers of today are pathetic doppelgangers of the socially concious rebels of years gone by (think of G-Unit v.s. NWA).  Hip hop is not just auto-tune and cookie-cutter sampling.

In much of the developing world, hip hop still maintains the powerful momentum that it once had in the US.  Artists are still using the music to communicate their message and try to advocate for something worthwhile.  I’m going to try and highlight a few of these examples for you.

Senegal

ABC News highlights a Senegalese group that does just this.  Moussa Lo, a.k.a. Waterflow claims that he uses hip hop to be a sort of journalist in a country with a less-than-independent media.  He maintains that he’s doing this to exploit the corruption that plagues his country.

Waterflow wants people to know about the myriad of problems facing Senegalese youth.  The lack of jobs and opportunity has hundreds fleeing to Europe on tiny and unsafe boats.  Many of these people never make it.  Quite astutely, he draws a comparison to Cubans fleeing to Florida.  It’s not a problem many would ever think about, but his enormous popularity guarantees that this message reaches a shocking number of the population.  People who may not have access or may not have the inclination to learn about social issues aborb it in a subtle way.

Guinea

BBC News, on the other hand, is promoting hip hop artists from Guinea who are using hip hop to confront much more visible problems and containing a youth focus.  In Guinea, the government violently suppressed protests in 2007.  This was the tipping point for many rappers of that generation, who began to buck the Guinean tradition of positive music.  Instead, they began lashing out at the government, accusing the leaders of corruption and poor governance

I understand that this may not be a new message.  In the US, Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network has been doing its part to advocate for better governance.  But in Guinea, this takes on a whole new meaning.  Hip hop is increasingly used to politicize the youth and inform them of major issues.  It’s not a simple matter of name-calling or suggesting the leader is an idiot (as many American rappers did during George W.’s term).  Instead it becomes a much more poignant message, reminding youth of their responsibilities as citizens.

“When injustice becomes law, to revolt becomes one’s duty,” says Guinean rapper Phaduba Keita.  When was the last time you heard that from a commercially successful rapper in the US?  You’re more likely to get Kanye pimping a Silk Collar Bomber Jacket that costs $2500.   I get there are underground rappers trying their best, but even Sage Francis has nothing on this guy.

Bolivia

Last, NPR is hyping indigenous Bolivian hip hop artists.  If you’re getting tired of me ranting about political stuff, here’s your chance.  I imagine at least some of you have been wanting to grab me by my non-silk collar and tell me that rap wasn’t always about protest.  It wasn’t always political.  Hip hop and rap grew out of dance music, grew out of parties in the bronx.  It was the music of Grandmaster Flash and was designed to make people dance.  I hear you, I truly do.  And I’m not saying that music like that doesn’t have it’s place.  Hip hop needs its club music, it needs the lighter stuff to complete the yin yang duality.   I respect what Jay Z does, and I’m not hating on him without reason.  There’s just more out there.

Some countries, like Bolivia and South Africa have a long and proud tradition of protest music.  The NPR piece here focuses on the rap coming from Abraham Bojorquez, an Aymara Indian.  His music is as historical as it is political.  It speaks about the racism indigenous Bolivians face, and tries to honor their cultures and traditions.

Here’s the NPR interview here.

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Thoughts

And there you have it.  I’ve said my piece.  4080 has long been trying to promote hip hop in unconvential spaces, and we have no intention of stopping.  I don’t mean to say that every album on your ipod needs to have that deeper meaning, or that you should be tossing away that copy of Big Willie Style you dance around to when no one is home.   Just remember, the next time someone comes at you with an argument about how hip hop is responsible for the degredation of society, that it is the reason why kids are failing school and shooting each other in the streets.  You can look them in the eye and admit that hip hop is changing the world.  Only you can use these examples and show them that maybe it’s changing it for the better.

Music

Another Youtube Collabo

inbflatThe Internet is a crazy place sometimes.  You can literally find anything you want.  This, project lets all you laptop DJs play around with mixing a variety of samples together.  Might be just the thing to whet your appetite and encourage you to get into making music for real.

In B flat has been making the usual internet rounds, and frankly we’re a little late in the game on getting to this one.  Gizmodo posted this back in May, and I’m sure others were there before them.

The basic premise is this.  Someone laid together a ton of youtube videos on one page, each containing a short instrumental riff.  You start/stop them as you want (you can play them all together, even) and somehow it just works.  You can see if their FAQ answers your questions.

If you dig it, try Audacity to record the mix you make.  Here’s some tips on how to make it work.

Music

Zee Avi

zee300NPR has finally run a piece on Zee Avi.  Zee’s a lady that we have been repping for a while now on our YouTube Channel.  Quite frankly, the channel’s not too much besides us favouriting videos that we dig and trying to promote artists that we really think should make it.

Listen to the NPR piece here:

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Zee was one of these, back when she was known as KokoKaina, and well before her signing to Brushfire Records.  Yes, I completely agree that it’s annoying when people try to pull the whole “I was into ___ before he/she/they were famous”, and that’s totally not what I’m trying to do.  I just want to say it’s about time.

NPR does a good job of describing her art, and the interview is definitely worth listening to.  You can stream some of her songs too, so head over there and check it out.  Guy Raz, the writer for NPR, describes her by saying

Avi also has a distinct musical trademark. Her music possesses a mischievous quality, both in her lyrics and in her style of performance.

I completely agree.  Her songs have this strong sense of innocence to them, but in a  way that doesn’t come across as naive.  There’s something about the way she sounds that almost sounds ancient, like music from decades ago.  And yet there are songs that come across hauntingly sad as well, which shows a remarkable range for an artist so young.

She’s been building up steam over the last little bit, and her brand new album is available on iTunes.  Please go buy it, you won’t regret it.  Here’s a taste of her older stuff:

Here’s Just you and Me, a song I dig a lot.

Here’s her cover of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile.

And for her new stuff:

Monte

Kantoi


The Story

Awareness

Goodbye, Casey Kasem.

caseykasem

Casey Kasem has finally hung up his mic for the last time.  His iconoic broadcasts (the inspiration for acts like Rick Dees in Canada) had kept the radio-listening public informed about the Top 40 songs of the age.  Granted, he did exposure whole generations of young kids to some awful music, but he was also around for great moments in music history.

His steady presence over the last 40 years was always reassuring, but given the fact that radio seems to be on a pretty serious decline, I think his passing really does mean the end of an era.  Ryan Seacrest, the host of American Idol, had been given the torch back in 2004.  I don’t  want to spend my time critiquing Seacrest or his ability to host this program, but I do want to say that I don’t think he’ll be able to fill these shoes.

In much the same way I don’t think modern news anchors are able to fill the suspenders of the past legendary individuals like Walter Kronkite, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, or Peter Mansbridge.  Once Larry King passes, I don’t think anyone will quite be able to replace him.

The problem is definitely generational and technology shifting.  The radio doesn’t have the same prominence (hell, even music videos don’t really have a place anymore besides on YouTube).  We’re simply looking at an alteration in preferences that will mean that once these giants leave, the last holdouts will likely move on.

Maybe I’m wrong, but either way, Mr. Kasem, you did a good thing and I think it’s a tribute to say that you won’t really ever be replaced.

Music

Hova or Hegemon?

This is one of my favourite MetaFilter posts in recent memory.

Marc Lynch’s article, posted here is a pretty fascinating analysis of hip hop feuds as an allegorical look at the principles behind international relations.

His basic premise (which he expounds on more here in his interview with NPR) is that Jay-Z is the closest thing in the rap world to a hegemon, and he chose to use The Game as his challenger.  The NPR story states that

“If you go back to, like, 19th century bounce-power politics, this is how rising powers would make it,” Lynch says, citing conflicts between Japan and Russian as well as among rising powers in Europe. “If they wanted to get somewhere, they had to take someone out.”

It’s a nifty theory and quite an interesting read.  And Lynch continues to track the feedback about his article here.

The changes in Jay-Z’s approach over the years suggest that he recognizes the realist and liberal logic… but is sorely tempted by the neo-conservative impulse. Back when he was younger, Jay-Z was a merciless, ruthless killer in the “beefs” which define hip hop politics.  He never would have gotten to the top without that.  But since then he’s changed his style and has instead largely chosen to stand above the fray.   As Jay-Z got older and more powerful, the marginal benefits of such battles declined and the costs increased even as the number of would-be rivals escalated.  Just as the U.S. attracts resentment and rhetorical anti-Americanism simply by virtue of being on top, so did Jay-Z attract a disproportionate number of attackers.   “I got beefs with like a hundred children” he bragged/complained on one track.

In some ways, beefing with an upstart (much like Ice Tea’s beef with Soulja Boy, frankly) just doesn’t seem worth it.  When you’re that powerful, sometimes it makes sense just to ignore it, because you just don’t want the little punk to get any free publicity.

Geek

Suge Knight Light

Thanks to Gizmodo for bringing this one up as it’s pretty funny.  To a person of my age, it’s remarkable to think back to the time when Suge was a feared man.  For a while, he was one of the toughest hip hop moguls around, and his stable of stars was second to none.

Suge owned and ran Death Row Records through its heyday, fighting the old East/West feud with legends like 2pac.  But the last few years have made him increasingly irrelevant and cheap comedic fodder.   Sort of why I find this pretty funny.