Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Defense of Moombahton



The 00's were a really cool time to be a DJ.  The internet fucked up the genre-based marketing plans that the majors had spent decades constructing to maximize profits.  A crop of amazing DJs made anything-goes parties the norm.  DJs from disparate genres started collaborating more and more.   I spent 1999 through about 2003 basically only spinning hip-hop.  From 2003 onward I've been learning about everything I was missing.

And it was in that market that DJ Apt One and myself started Philadelphyinz, a poorly named DJ night where two dudes who conversed almost entirely in obscure post-Rawkus underground rap references and stupid inside jokes about Pops Staples could run through 100 styles of music in four hours and get some of our friends laid at a bar with the worst bathrooms in Philadelphia.  BPM was more important than genre, and discovering complimentary songs from different universes was really satisfying.  (Really though I'm stil going "Brighter Days" to "African Chant" to "Closet Freak" to this day.)

For the sake of the post, I should add I also discovered Dancehall (and Reggaeton, to a lesser extent).  This sounds ridiculous for someone with a hip-hop background, I know, but I grew up in Pittsburgh and learned my music shit in St. Louis, so there wasn't really much West Indian influence.  And I've always been into polyrhythms and the dembow drum pattern and tracks that fuck with your expectations of tempo.  As far back as I can remember I've been looking for more shit that sounds like the "Applause" riddim.  The first Buraka EP is like my platonic ideal of dance music.  And I got into Dutch house when DJ Morsy played me Chuckie "Let The Bass Kick" because he thought it was up my alley.  It was.

Moombahton wasn't a "revelation" for me.  It was shit I loved repurposed in a way that opened the door to a lot of cross-genre exploration in a way that playing two songs 25 BPM apart couldn't. "Moombahton" to "Roll It Gal" to "Pass That Dutch."  My first reaction was to shit out a moombahton remix of "Mega" in like ten minutes.  Then I did the "Block Rockin Beats" remix and the "BMF" remix.  Me and Apt One even made a moombahton track out of the intro to Soundbombing.

So when DJ/promoter/ethno-provocateur Venus X wondered, at an Italian music conference sponsored by Vodafone why people like me who play moombahton don't just play reggaeton (and then ask people why they don't like reggaeton), I'd ask her why she thinks I don't.  I'm not even the person she should be asking.  She should ask Munchi, or Dave Nada.  Latino producers like Monterrey's Javier Estrada, who churns out moombahton, 3ball and cumbia at an almost Lil B-esque pace, or Queens's Sazon Booya, or Austin's DJ Orion, or Phoenix's DJ Melo, or Jersey's DJ Reck, or Rampage and Nader in Chicago.  She should also ask Chingo Bling.  She could even ask her buddy Maluca.

And while Venus is wondering why moombahton instead of reggaeton, the better question for Texans might be "why don't you just play cumbia?"  And as more moombahton sheds the dembow beat, she might also want to ask "why don't you just play Justice?"  (I don't know what she should ask the incredible Canadian First Nation crew A Tribe Called Red.)  And while we're painting with extremely broad brushes, maybe she should ask XLR8R why they were all about moombahton when it started, but haven't written about the Latino-friendly genre for two years, while they keep pushing Euro-centric nudisco and whatever Juke legends or gay New Yorkers the British are into this month.

(I kid, but how different is Diplo's much-ballyhooed relationship with Baltimore from Planet Mu's with Chicago?  I'm not being a dick, I really want to know how these two compare.)

But look, I know XLR8R isn't racist.  They're a great site that puts up a lot of awesome music and they don't avoid moombahton for sociopolitical reasons; they avoid it because their reader base has a lot of overlap with the kind of people that get really mad when people say they like dubstep but have never heard of Scuba or Mala.  Moombahton is firmly entrenched with "electro-house" and "brostep" in the minds of those people, along with Skrillex, David Guetta and, oh boy, Paris Hilton.

The result, as I've found, is that people like to hear moombahton, they like to dance to it and they like hearing new, weird, latin-infused versions of songs they know.  But they hate "moombahton."  There's plenty of self-professed moombahton joints that fans of, like, Jim-E Stack and Kingdom would go for (this, and this for example, not to mention the last Nadastrom EP, which was way deeper than I ever get), but they would see "moombahton" in the title or the Soundcloud blurb and pass right over it.

And I can't blame them.  It was the Diplo and Skrillex cosign that put the genre into something resembling the mainstream, and Diplo's tendency to scour the internet for good edits made minor fame seem accessible.  Not to mention the fact that making moombahton is fundamentally easy for anyone with a basic understanding of Ableton.  And while that was great for a handful of talented people whose moombahton productions got them noticed, it also created a legion of suckers.  For every Jay Fay, there are a bazillion dudes with Soundcloud pages full of shit like "Doctor P v. LMFAO - Sweet Shop And I Know It (Moombah-Sexy Remixxxx)".

And, to Venus's credit, there are some weird exploitative overtones going on.  There is awkward shoehorning of female reggaeton vocal samples, further perpetuating Glory's tragic anonymity.  There are Europeans throwing parties called "Moombahton Fiesta" that have the subtlety of a Party City Cinco De Mayo sale.  And, also to Venus's credit, she's not entirely wrong about people's lack of history on the genre from which moombahton draws.  It's not as blatant as, say, this summer's forthcoming tidal wave of "trap" production with ironic Trapaholics drops from dudes that have probably never heard Lebron Flocka James.  But I can see how it looks like white people yet again stealing art from minorities for profit.

Still, there isn't a lot of stealing, and, as much as it matters, way less of the people involved are white.  (There also isn't much profit, really).  Moombahton is a community of music nerds with extremely diverse interests and backgrounds making everything they can find into universally danceable music.  It has a branding problem and a too-many-cooks problem.  But you probably don't hate it as much as you think you do.

A day later:
You can kind of tell the adderall stopped working at about the last paragraph and I just wanted to wrap the damn thing up because I had better things to do.  But I gotta add something.

The thing about moombahton's diversity, and what makes Venus's statement so weird, also makes moombahton a really shitty thing to rally around.  It's great for DJs who can use it to pull together sounds from disparate genres and segue into new places.  But being a "moombahton DJ" doesn't mean anything in and of itself.  It's hard to get mad at anyone who identifies moombahton with the hard shit that sounds like dubstep and electro-house because that's anchored in something people can identify.

Anyone that wants to wrest 108 bpm dance music away from the kingdom of Skrillex would be wise to pick one angle and stick to it.  And don't call it "moombah"-anything.

On that note, Trap Rave 2.0 drops 6/5.  Check out Rack Skinny for what I do and previews of the EP.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

erosion



I feel a great need to respond to Alexandra Molotkow's musings on music, obscurity and coolness in 2012, because this 27 year old neatly summed up everything that is wrong with music fandom today. I got a lot of this out on twitter last night but I think it bears repeating.

At one point Molotkow narrates her internal struggle at finding herself enjoying Azalea Banks's "212" even though she's the three millionth person to play it on YouTube. While she likes the song, the fact that she was late on it makes her enjoy it less. She goes on to lament that "there is no longer any honor in musical obscurity". Why was there ever?

Obscurity was never an end in and of itself.

It was the result of the music industry constructing ever-higher barriers to entry to minimize competition and thus maximize profits. Everyone on the outside had to work ten times as hard to get their piece of the pie and this made them bitter and angry. With good reason. As fans, it took a lot of blood, sweat, tears to keep up with indie music pre-internet. Whether you were going to hardcore shows or scouring Murder Dog every month, it took quite an effort to get into anything that wasn't on the radio. You earned your knowledge.

This was a time when "selling out" was a real thing. DIY soldiers that managed to build enough of a following to gain major label attention often faced Faustian bargains in which they were offered major label money in exchange for ditching all the things that made them unattractive to major labels in the first place. And, because the music industry is shady as fuck, those deals rarely worked out well for those who sold their souls.

So that was the value of obscurity. Being obscure meant you were too interesting for pop radio, too challenging for squares, too dangerous for corporate America. Indie music was a labor of love, and it was, for the most part, miserable. But the inaccessibility -- both as an artist and as a scenester -- had cachet, and that cachet was redeemable for sex and drugs. So at least there was that.

But, along came the internet. Suddenly, what took a lifetime of touring and hand-labeling seven-inches, or selling tapes out your trunk, or hustling mixtapes etc, could be accomplished relatively easily from the comfort of one's home. You still had to be hard worker and make good music to cut it as an indie artist, but the ceiling was infinitely higher on that strategy. Meanwhile, fans suddenly gained access to a plethora of music and information from a world of indie artists. Thus the last decade of music history has been the gradual dissolution of the connection between obscurity and quality, to speak incredibly broadly.

Unfortunately, people still haven't figured this out. And people are still judging music on who else knows about it, and evaluating their own self-worth on whether they were up on something first. That's dumb as hell. You should like what you like and support artists you like no matter when you discover them.

That being said...

I'm not gonna pretend like music fandom is ever going to be 100% about the music, nor should it be. Artists are movements, liking an artist is a social statement and a badge. The bigger the movement, the less personal the connection is to the artist, which makes liking them less exciting. (This principle isn't limited to music ... as an activist in St. Louis in 2004, I can say with pride that I was up on Barack Obama way before you were, and anyone that played high school ball in the Bay Area whenever could say the same thing about pre-Linsanity Jeremy Lin.)

Generalize that to the whole hipster/blogger "you probably haven't heard of it" complex, and you get the only smart thing I said while tweeting profusely while drunk and tired last night was the following:

"i mean "cool" is useful cuz it incentivizes ppl to question and challenge their tastes and step outside their comfort zone"

Weird, interesting people like weird interesting music! And a cosign from someone like David Byrne or Wes Anderson a good way to draw people to weird, interesting bands they might not find otherwise.

But don't get it twisted -- sometimes that's a marketing decision! And sometimes it's a marketing decision made by a major label who won't officially admit to signing an artist until they've spent a year bankrolling that artist's rise as an indie commodity. So someone like Molotkow, who really only likes music if she can say she got there first, is being straight up pimped.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

purity



(Note: I wrote this while wild drunk last night and I decided twitter was not enough to clown this beat boxer. What follows is a long, rambling, rap-reference-filled post that doesn't have a much of a point, but is a return to the halcyon days of JS2000 where we swore a lot and wrote like we talked. Enjoy. Throwback!)

I just left a club where one of the featured performers was a beatboxer from France. He was awful, not at beatboxing, but at entertaining. That's how most of the Elements of Hip-Hop (TM KRS-One's nose) are these days ... you can be really good at them and still be a total fucking clown. And lot of the people leading the way in the art form are, technically, terrible at said artform. Let's have a look.

RAPPING
If you still think rapping good is a prerequisite to making good rap music I hope you get stomped by a third-tier member of Brick Squad. I know Lil B wasn't for everyone but if you can't understand the appeal of Waka Flocka Flame you probably shouldn't ever talk to me about rap music. Or every time Mannie Fresh blesses the mic. You don't need to flip intrinsic linguistics and have ill rhyme schemes, you need to sound cool. If you sound cool, you can rap.

Case in point: Guru. Dude was not a nuanced lyricist. He sounded cool though! He even had a song about this fact! And I'm not one to speak ill of the dead but heads are still talkin bad about southern rappers they barely know, then talkin about Gangstarr as that real shit. Come on son.

Also freestyling is a party trick. Some dudes are really fucking good at it, but it doesn't make you a good rapper or good at writing songs. Pretty much every dude my age that owns a copy of Soundbombing II could do what that dumbfuck from Chiddy Bang did.

Battle rapping is still cool though! And a slightly better way to make a career because you can get dudes to bet on you and shit.

DJING
Turntablism is still awesome. It's self-absorbed and puritanical, but for the most part it's still fun to watch. Especially battles. DJ battles are still awesome. Scratching is still awesome! I kinda lost interest with the nine-click flares that you could only learn by spending a week in Q-Bert's bunny suit, but still, scratching is cool. Even when you hear scratching in a shitty pop song, it's the best part of the shitty pop song.

I have a lot of thoughts about DJing but let's just say it's the sad clown of the music industry: exploited by many, understood by few (word to J-Live!).

And turntablism and DJing don't really mix. It's 1000 times more important to play the right songs for the crowd in a way that they will enjoy that builds a vibe, than it is to do body tricks while dudes are trying to get laid. That's really your job as a DJ: get people laid. Turntablism is cool but it doesn't get people laid. (I mean, it gets battle DJs laid, but they're on so much acid it hardly matters).

And then there is celebrity DJing, which is the worst fucking thing ever invented. If you like a band or an artist, don't go see them DJ. They are getting money to play songs off iTunes while you sit there like a sucker drinking $10 drinks asking yourself when the band is going on. You are making them lazy! When someone realizes they're famous enough to get hella loot to play their favorite Interpol songs and ironic rap and make money, why the fuck would they keep making real music? JUST SAY NO TO CELEBRITY/BAND DJ SETS.

BREAKDANCING
For the most part breakdancing is cool because when it's done right it looks awesome and it's really fucking hard to do when you're a weakling like me. But you don't really see breakers in a hip-hop context much anymore, they're mostly coming out of their uprocks to dry hump Rihanna and then backflip off the stage. Breaking is like that friend from high school who you were pretty tight with but then they went to college and got really into some hobby you don't really fuck with. It's still cool when you see them, but you guys don't really have much to talk about now that he's way deep in the glass blowing game or whatever.

Breakdancers still fuck up a dance party though. I will straight up stop the music if someone starts breaking at my party. Nobody wants to see you do a headspin, they're trying to get drunk and feel a girl's butt. Take that shit to America's Got Talent.

GRAFFITI
Graf is still awesome and mysterious and dangerous. There's still grown-ass men out there climbing five story warehouses to write their names on them big as fuck. There's really not much to add there.

But the graffiti aesthetic is played out. Paint drips and shitty handstyle is the Will Smith of graffiti. It's some shit McDonalds uses to convince you they're hip. If you think that shit's cool you're a sucker. Besides, 99% of graff writers are or will be illustrators or graphic designers, where they would never in a thousand years use that shit. If you have that on your website or your ad campaign, the ex-writer you hired will be the first dude to call you out. You should listen to him. He's got a great aesthetic sense.

Graffiti is also the only element where I'm not the least bit jingoistic. I was in Norway and someone broke into the apartment I was staying at to try to tag the back wall of the building. In Norway!

(Actually I'm not jingoistic with DJ's either. Rappers that aren't from America get the side-eye though.)

BEAT BOXING
Beat boxing is dumb as hell. Rahzel and Scratch from The Roots and Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh and everyone who was beat-boxing before 1996 gets a pass. But you don't see those fools on stage like YALL WANNA HEAR A SONG YOU KNOW, EXCEPT IMA PLAY IT WITH MY MOUTH (AYO)?

Beatboxing is some Bonnaroo shit, where it's a dude playing guitar and a dude beat-boxing and the dude playing guitar might be freestyling or there's another dude freestyling. And they're gonna do that until Pretty Lights goes on. And if you try to talk to them about rap they'll probably say something about "the golden age" and Dilla and tell you how dope it was to see Souls of Mischief do all of "93 Til Infinity" at Rock the Bells. And you'll put up with it because they have good weed, but it's barely worth it.

(Really though: this French dude tonite did "Simon Says," which Rahzel bodied live when people still knew what Rahzel was doing, so seeing someone else do it was wack. And dude said "GET ZEE FOOK UP" and I laughed at him.)

BEEF
OK the lack of beef in the rap world right now is a serious problem. This Drake/Common shit was a fucking joke, that Lil Wayne/Jay-Z shit was boring. Lil Kim is too washed up to keep up with NIcki. Nobody gets pissed off when Tyler disses them because dude is like ten years old. Even Jeezy and Gucci patched things up in about two days, probably because Gucci couldn't reasonably say shit when Jizzle accused OJ the Juiceman of being mentally retarded. I mean, he might be.

The David Banner/Lil B beef is slow-burning and intriguing, but both those dudes are way too smart to do any goon shit. It's not beef, it's reasonable discourse. It will probably end with Lil B rapping on brand new David Banner beats before Banner even knows what happened, on some Chris-Traeger-taking-Ron-Swanson-out-to-lunch shit. All you'll see is Based God smilin real big in a grocery store parking lot in a new video with David Banner in the background like "wait what?"

I nominate Danny Brown. I want some old guard rappers with clout to come after dude for wearing tiny pants. Somebody relevant please diss this dude in a freestyle on Drama King's radio show.

BLOGGING
All the best rap writers graduated from blogging a few years ago and now make a modest living writing. This is true pretty much across the board, which is something to be happy about. I feel like magazines, newspapers and at-least-sort-of-funded web sites have gotten more pro-active about talent now, because there aren't a lot of really good writers doing for self in the rap world.

The remaining rap blogosphere is a curious mix of music posted without commentary and tumblrs. So Dirty Glove Bastard and 2 Dope Boys and Steady Leanin aren't "good at blogging" in the classical sense, but they do reliably post up music. And they've carved a niche for themselves in the distribution chain.

So I don't have a lot to complain about here, except that I often miss what my favorite writers say about an album or an artist because I'm too broke/apathetic to track it down. It was a lot easier when everyone was in my RSS feed, just sayin.

WEARING POLO
The rap world still pretty much has this on lock. Shouts to Thirstin Howl III's Polo'd-the-fuck-down Facebook feed.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

my first rub



Southpaw is closing and The Rub is moving (way) down the street to The Bell House.

I don't really remember my first Rub. I mean, I do, but it was literally the first party I went to in New York City. The weekend of August 7th-ish 2005, I packed up a rented Ford Bronco with a few pieces of furniture, my drumset and as many records as I could fit and moved my ass to Brooklyn. My ex-girlfriend split the drive with me and it was weird. We unloaded the car, I dropped her off at LaGuardia, took a nap on my air mattress and then went to The Rub. It was my birthday.

In 2003, I saw Diplo twice over Thanksgiving and realized I was entirely fucking up by steadfastly refusing to play anything but Real Hip-Hop. I got back to St. Louis and promptly put together a crate of 80s and 90s pop classics, stole all the DFA records nobody was playing from the radio station and bought some records from Turntable Lab. I got a lot better at DJing once I owned "The Percolator".

I was working in a genetics lab at Wash U, and that's a job that has a lot of downtime. I spent most of the day blogging about rap records and politics, posting on Soulstrut and I started following dudes like Wayne Marshall, Oliver Wang, Serg Dun, Catchdubs, Noz and, importantly, DJ Ayres, Cosmo Baker and DJ Eleven. The scene in New York (and Philly, and Bmore and DC, and at the Superfriends party in SF) was the coolest shit in the world to me. At the time, the highlights of my life included having 20 people trainspot "Galang" at a sorority formal that got shut down early because someone threw up in the chocolate fountain. It was weird.

So on August 7th-ish of 2005, I woke up from a long nap and called/Friendster-messaged/e-mailed everyone I knew in New York and said "hey we have to go to this cool party in Park Slope." And like 25 friends from various times in my life showed up at eleven and there was nobody there. And I was like "holy shit it's all a lie!" and was convinced I had fallen prey to internet hype. In reality, I had been living in St. Louis for six years and didn't understand that nobody goes out before midnight. I was dumb.

It packed out by like 12:30 and I got to hear "Still Tippin" and "Samir's Theme" on a proper system for the first time. I don't even know if the Never Scared crew existed yet, but I probably took a crowd-surfing Nike to the grill from one of like five dudes who I wouldn't get to know for another two years. But it was awesome. It was all the music I wanted to hear, it was all in one place, it was high energy, there were a lot of girls. I bagged a chick from Miami who spoke Portuguese when she was drunk. It was weird.

In the last seven years, I've seen Ayres, Cosmo and Eleven spin at dozens of venues playing music from across the spectrum. But those early(ish) days of The Rub solidified my musical aesthetic. I like rave shit fine, but nothing compares to a Benneton ad with a good ratio screaming "Tear The Fucking Club Up" in unison, especially if they were boogieing to Prince album cuts an hour ago. Hollertronix snapped me out of Real Hip-Hop myopathy, but The Rub laid the groundwork for what myself and Apt One have been doing for the last six years. More importantly, watching those dudes move the aesthetic forward past the mash-up era, past being one of the few parties (I would have gone to in 2005) that would play south rap, into an era where Cosmo is playing dubstep shirtless at 12:30.

I'm also lucky to have gotten to know the dudes personally and professionally over the years (Joe, sorry about the time I accidentally deleted your entire iTunes) ... but even without the doors knowing The Rub personally has opened for me, I can safely say there would be no Philadelphyinz, no Young Robots, and probably no Skinny Friedman to speak of without the inspiration I got from going to Southpaw the first Saturday of every month for the bulk of the 00's.

Here's to another ten years in a new venue.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

straight up

I've been spending so much time thinking/talking about #OWS that I need to do a quick brain-dump on my thoughts on the situation to stay productive. So here they are.

Before I say anything, let it be known that I fully support #occupywallstreet and if I wasn't one of the lucky few whose skill set, hustle (and privilege) allows me to make ends meet without a day job, I would be occupying wall street too. But I think I owe it more to those who can't to follow my dream and I don't think the movement really needs more lefty intellectuals. But what really pushed me to the point of having to write something is Tom Morello's inane statement that he "wouldn't be surprised to see Blackwater called in" in response to the protestors not wanting to leave.

I started following a lot of writers in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. I've been reading live-coverage and looking at graphic pictures of what an unchecked and brutal police force can do against a rebellious public. Pepper spray is nothing when hospitals are being bombed and doctors are being put on trial for sedition for trying to heal the injured. I also have vivid memories of the 2004 Presidential debates, where massive protests stayed peaceful until a bunch of anarchists charged a wall of riot police. They were arrested and failed to start a damn riot, for better or for worse.

I'm wary of "protest culture." People (ie my friends and twitter acquaintances) were salty about the lack of media coverage of #OWS when it started gaining momentum, but I think nobody paid attention because there are always protests going on in New York City. There are a lot of things to protest! But when you see a group of union workers milling around with signs on a street corner, or some white dudes with dreads holding signs on a daily basis, it blends into the background. New York is filled with unpleasant reminders of how hard life can be; if I'm not giving money to a homeless man with a festering wound on his bare foot, I'm probably not going to react much to well-reasoned reminders of the fucked up corporatized country/world we live in. Protests aren't news when a certain type of people are doing them.

(So that being said, I was thrilled when the Transit Workers Union supported #OWS, and then marched in support and have donated both manpower and money to the cause. In my time in the professional left, there was always a gap between well-meaning students and blue-collar workers; bridging that divide legitimizes a movement quite a bit.)

I'm also wary of protest culture's antagonistic relationship with the police. On one hand, it's entirely understandable and totally justified. There are a lot of asshole cops, and the NYPD (and most police departments) hate the protest culture right back, and nobody is surprised when some bastard pepper sprays some innocent people. But I'm a little more sympathetic to the guys who have to contain the marches, and less sympathetic to anyone who gets smacked while trying to breach a metal barrier. New York is a really great place to protest (less so than it used to be, I know), and despite all of Bloomberg's grumbling, the city has been has been accommodating to #OWS. Posting up in Zuccotti Park is legal, if not welcome, and it's pretty amazing that nobody's been forced out yet. Both Brookfield, which owns Zuccotti Park, and the NYPD have been refreshingly grown-up about the whole situation. While "we don't have the legal justification or jurisdiction to kick these dudes out" is cool, we all know that if the powers that be wanted them out, the NYPD would find a way.

This all is the bizarro flipside of Elizabeth Warren's amazing critique of the idea that taxes get in the way of corporate growth: taxes pay for the infrastructure which makes small business growth possible in the US, and New York City's liberal approach towards protest allowed for #OWS to get as big as it is. Shit was not as sweet in Boston. And while there's been significant union support in Boston, I'm not sure it's been as strong as it has in New York, and I don't get the sense the crowd has diversified much beyond your average protest crowd.

That being said, I understand it wouldn't be this way without the constant push-back of career activists, leftist politicians, lawyers, citizen journalists and rabble-rousers. New York is a liberal city because of the multitude of people who fight to keep it that way, often at their own peril, and I fully support that. But there is some truth in that "serve and protect" credo, and while #OWS's homegrown institutions are amazing, I wouldn't feel great about homegrown security.

So that brings us to the point we are at now, where Bloomberg wants to clean up Zuccotti Park -- literally. It's a shanty town, and it's apparently gross. The plan sounds both reasonable and necessary, and I rolled by eyes when I saw protesters were, of course, digging in their heels and setting up a plan to clean up the park themselves. But the word is NYPD/Brookfield has been looking the other way on a stated rule against lying down, sleeping, tarps, sleeping bags, and settling in for permanent residency of any kind, and they are going to end that courtesy after the clean-up. That would effectively end #OWS as an occupation. It's a serious impasse!

So it was in that context that Tom Morello said he wouldn't be surprised if Blackwater showed up. Note that I fucking hate Tom Morello because I saw his Nightwatchman shtick open for The Coup a few years ago, and it was the most inane, pandering, outdated protest-folk one could imagine. It was about as hard-hitting as a will.i.am conscious track. It bordered on self-parody.

And I don't think we'll be seeing Blackwater called in, not because Blackwater no longer exists (they changed their name to Xe), but because there are some truths to the future of #OWS, possibly ones that NYPD head Ray Kelly is smart enough to understand. There is a direct relationship between violence and attention -- bringing in a bunch of roided-up ex-Marines to mow everyone down would probably elicit some kind of violent uprising among anyone left, and more importantly, a guarantee Bloomberg wouldn't get elected next term. (Also: SO MUCH PAPERWORK. Remember when Prez accidentally shoots the wall in season 1 of The Wire and Carver is like "you fire your gun, you write"? Yeah, that.)

I don't know what happens next, and we might find out later today. But it raises some interesting questions about the long-term goals of #OWS. But on that note, I want to say a healthy "fuck you" to everyone questioning the long-term goals of #OWS, as grounds to dismiss the movement outright.

I saw the really amazing Iraq War play/documentary Black Watch earlier this year. It tells the story of what was once Scotland's military elite regimen, and how the war in Iraq whittled them down. It ends with the troops doing a big military exercise/dance routine, on some "this is all so fucking stupid and insulting and dangerous that we have run out of words to express ourselves, so we are showing it physically by dancing." It sound really dumb but it's incredibly powerful.

I see a parallel in #OWS. I don't know what #OWS is trying to accomplish, per se. The banks/Wall Street are part of the problem, but not the whole problem, and I would venture a lot of bankers and traders are on board with #OWS. Wall Street is stupid, banking is a big shell game, but they're also responsible for a lot of American prosperity (and global prosperity). We are where we are more as a result of the greed and arrogance of a small few, than because capitalism is evil in and of itself. This picture is dumb as hell, and this article makes the point pretty nicely that capitalism isn't monolithic.

But even without a stated goal, cohesive mission statement, or easily identified leadership, you don't have to know very much to understand that Americans are being screwed. Not "some Americans," not blue-collar workers, not immigrants, not Blacks, not Muslims; while there's a lot of fuckery going on in the United States, we are all united in how we are being fucked by the power structures in our country. The wealth gap is turning parts of America into the third world. Employment is increasingly scarce. Healthcare is unreasonably expensive (especially without a job). Our wealth is being funneled into the well-protected bank accounts of the elite, and into a pair of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan whose cost in lives and treasure (American and otherwise) is absolute unforgivable. What little money the people have left isn't enough to fuel the consumer demand that is supposed to drive our economy. The foreclosure epidemic is gutting previously pleasant neighborhoods, both urban and suburban (and exurban). Our refusal to support infrastructure and public educational institutions is a ticking time bomb. All that and I'm not even getting political yet!

The backlash against #OWS is a glorious cornucopia of straw men. It's easy to go down to Zuccotti Park and find a few freaks, then dismiss the entire movement accordingly. And it's easy to shoehorn the movement into whatever box one finds easy to write off. My personal favorite is the failed musician, who really just sounds hella mad that nobody liked his rock music. I said this on twitter that I would pay like $1000 to see Slim Thug yell at this dude about his lack of hustle. Oh and shout out to the dude who tried to poop on a police car.

(And I'm guilty of this shoehorning too, as you know if you read my amorphous critiques of "protest culture" above. Just sayin!)

But anyways, #OWS's lack of message or uniformity is its beauty. It doesn't have a point. It doesn't have a goal. It pure, manifested frustration and anger. Anyone with a basic understanding of how our country works knows things aren't working the way they're supposed to. Everyone else has, I guess, been brainwashed into thinking they are entirely to blame for their debt, unemployment or other problems.

And because I have faith in people, I have faith in #OWS's future and longevity. I understand the frustration with the lack of media coverage, but I also know that grown folks peacefully demonstrating (or even somewhat violently demonstrating) is not interesting to most people, even if they support the movement. And that's why the media pays more attention to the Tea Party's unintentional hilarity: not because of some vast conspiracy, but because a fat white dude yelling about liberty in a tri-cornered hat is a lot more entertaining than actual political discourse. Coverage does not equal popularity though! According to Time, #OWS is twice as popular as the Tea Party. (This is the same reason the media keeps acting like anyone who isn't Mitt Romney is actually going to win the Republican nomination).

Another thing to consider: the NYPD has a union, and the cops are blue collar workers fighting for funding just like everyone else. That goes for every city in America. We all love The Wire, so we should all have a little sympathy for cops, many (most?) of whom are just guys and gals who took a career which is kind of cool, pretty interesting, and also affords the stability of a government job. And no matter how diversified, globalized a bank is, or how much they pay lobbyists, you can't squeeze blood from a stone. We're on a downward spiral (no Reznor) that affects everyone with exposure to, well, society. So its no surprise to see some bankers embracing #OWS. Even if he's just pandering for the sake of good PR (or fear?), Pandit's words do mean something.

(Side note: is it just me or is Bank of America the biggest sucker on the planet right now? Every bank was "poised to" charge a service fee for using a debit card in response to new laws about maximum swipe fees and their transparency, but how dumb do you have to be to be the bank that goes first? Am I naive or are Chase and Wells Fargo just gonna sit back and enjoy all the new customers they pick up from BoA by not tacking on that service fee? Maybe I underestimate the fraternity and trust between bankers, but between this and that BoA somehow got talked into buying Countrywide, who held the lions share of the hopeless mortgages in America, BoA just looks dumb as hell. Anyways.)

So looking to the future. This isn't ending any time soon, as things aren't getting better for us any time soon. I'm looking forward to the political ramifications of #OWS and its sister movements across the country. Think about how much good will could come from candidates visiting the sites! Think about candidates pressing the flesh of such a diversified audience without having to raise the funds and media attention to get them there! Think about the opportunities to network and build relationships with community organizers, union leaders and ordinary frustrated people! If I'm running for office in 2012 -- ANY office, from city council to the senate -- and I'm a democrat, I'm pressing up a one-sheet, putting on a nice suit and heading down to the 99% movement in my local city. Because it's not a uniform, well-organized movement with a few leaders whose endorsement can look good on paper. It's a grab bag of frustrated, smart, reasonable informed people, many of whom probably gave up on politics (especially local politics!) years ago.

(Related: fuck anyone who "doesn't vote" because it "doesn't do anything." You've forfeited your right to complain.)

OK I've spent three hours writing this and I feel like my head is clear. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Forth



Just read this great op-ed on Rick Perry and capital punishment by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The New York Times. I read it because I follow TNC on Twitter and he linked it because he wrote it.

I don't read The Times that much as "The Times." I don't load it up the way I load up, like, Gawker or Slate or Altered Zones (LOL) when I want to know what's poppin in the world via the internet. When I read The Times, it's usually because somebody linked something on Twitter or Facebook (or sent me an article etc etc). So good on TNC for linking his op-ed. But, I only saw it because I'm up at the ungodly hour of 8:30 AM (DJ hours = 11-4, just sayin). Because he's only gonna tweet about it once.

When rappers, DJ's, bands, etc. put anything up for their fans to check out, they don't tweet about it once when it drops. They tweet about it for a week+ before it drops. They tweet the moment it drops, then they tweet regularly to remind you it's still there. And then they RT everyone who says anything nice about it. It's kind of annoying, but it's also a fact of modern promo: yelling loud wins and people will deal with it if they like you.

So why don't writers do the same thing?

If you write for The New York Times, it probably seems gauche to swing your dick around so much on the internet. But if you are writing for The New York Times you probably a pretty great writer with something well-considered and interesting to say. I know The Times has feeds for all its articles, chopped up into mini-feeds by topic, and TNC probably figures anyone who wants to read his column is going to see it in their faithful perusing of The Grey Lady. But I'm a young creative with unconventional hours, and I don't faithfully peruse The Grey Lady. So on an average day, I would have missed it (as would a lot of readers far-flung in different time zones).

I'm not saying TNC should be sending out hourly tweets like "NEW HOT SHIT DROPPIN TOMORROW!" but a couple reminders during the day wouldn't hurt and wouldn't annoy anyone too much.

(PS: There is a much longer piece here about why writing gets this kid gloves treatment... every writer I follow, from Farhad Manjoo's nerdy ass to J. Smooth (who, as a thought leader on hip-hop, is familiar with aggressive self-promo), is pretty demure about their own work, even while avidly tweeting the rest of the time.

PPS: There's also something here comparing publications to record labels, in that artists keep pushing their work even after they get signed.

PPPS: But really though, I just want to see Carl Zimmer start tweeting like Riff Raff.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

In defense of Kreayshawn



Man, nothing like a swagged-out, #based white girl who raps questionably about thug shit, hangs out with Odd Future and maybe says the n-word to get a lot of people upset, huh?

In case you missed it, Kreayshawn unleashed the video for her single "Gucci Gucci" a few weeks ago, and the tried and true path of viral video success followed. Homegirl is now puffin blunts with Snoop Dogg and signed to a $1 million deal with a major. Meanwhile, the haters are hating in full force for all the obvious reasons. And as with the internet's reaction to Odd Future before it, the number of opinions far outweighs the number of unique or thoughtful critiques. But it wasn't until the homie Dr. LawyerIndianChief put this article from The Root up yesterday and I felt a need to respond.

In that article, Timmhotep Aku makes the claim that Kreayshawn's novelty is what's getting her over. She is, after all, a white (!) girl (!!) rapping cutely about selling pills while dressed like Minnie Mouse. It's a recurring idea in critiques of her, and it's frequently linked with the fact that The Fader, champion of all things "hipster", was an early adopter of the "Gucci Gucci" video.

The prevailing understanding on Kreayshawn's success from these dudes seems to be:

1) Quirky white girl makes video for her rap song
2) Rap song has n-words, guns and drugs in it
3) Rap video has apparent cosign from weird rappers the kids seem to love so therefore...
4) ...The Fader likes it and...
5) ..."hipsters" like it so...
6) ...hip-hop is dead.

This sells Kreayshawn really short (and gives The Fader waaaaaaaay too much credit).

Say what you will about her music, K had been putting serious work into building a personal brand, along with the rest of White Girl Mob, long before "Gucci" dropped. She was acting weird, partying hard, making porntastic pixel art and shooting videos for Lil B for years. She did a (pretty bad) mixtape with DJ Woogie called "Kittys and Choppas" last year. She also did a really great screwed and chopped Spice Girls tape. She had like 10,000 followers on Twitter (40k+ now, I think?). None of these things are reasons for someone to like a rapper, but they are reasons to be interested in somebody's work.

So suffice to say, she's not an overnight success, propelled to fame by The Fader and its ilk. As a matter of fact, anyone saying she is is really out of touch with how the industry works these days. You can't really get up on Fader unless you have some pull. Major blog/magazine plugs don't come without management and connections. And for all the reasons listed above, I don't see her lasting three days in her new hometown of Los Angeles without some young, smart type-A dude signing on as her manager. "Gucci Gucci" went out on a handful of high profile sites and she was tweeting about it for a week. It was planned, and it was planned well, and whether or not you like her music, you should give her her props for a successful explosion into the national consciousness.

Also, for anyone lazily writing about "hipsters" in New York: they live in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick now (not Williamsburg), and they're way more into dubstep and future garage than rap.

Next up: not being able to rap isn't and long-since hasn't been a good reason to not like a rapper. I like a lot of rappers who can't really rap. Some of my favorite rappers are pretty useless on the mic but have a good ear for beats, write good hooks and make really fun music. Biz Markie, Group Home, Waka Flocka Flame, Shawty Lo, Soulja Boy, Missy Elliot etc etc etc. "Rubba Band Business 2" is the best album of 2011 so far and there's nothing resembling lyricism on it. So if rhyming ability is your rationale for hating Kreayshawn but you think Lil Wayne is right calling himself the best rapper alive, you have a lot of research to do.

Timmhotep Aku makes Kreayshawn sound like she is the harbinger of an era in which Hip-hop is being co-opted by hipsters, white people and white hipsters who are cashing in on things they say rappers doing on TV. Or something. I can safely say that's not the case. Hip-hop is being co-opted by a bunch of young, weird, creative kids, a lot of whom are from the incredibly multi-cultural megatropolis that is California. They like rap but they also like other music, and rapping well doesn't have to be a priority (although, in the case of Odd Future, it's really great to see some good rapping on the scene). It's ok.

I wonder how Timmhotep feels about Mac Miller, with his true school beats, dextrous lyrics and videos that cameo the Sons Of Bazerk record. If you want hip-hop as you know it, there you go.

We're veering dangerously into "THAT'S NOT HIP-HOP!" territory when we start disqualifying rappers for their lyrics. In 2000, the dividing line was between "real hip-hop" and "that commercial shit," with Rawkus Records on one side and, for some reason, Puffy and every single southern rapper on the other. These days it's "Action Bronson, Freddie Gibbs, Big Krit, Bun B and every underground rapper that paid Bun B to be on their album" up against "Lil B, Soulja Boy and rappers who wear tight pants and probably own a skateboard." And that's totally weird because "real hip-hop" somehow had room for Company Flow and Anticon. Dose One was at least as weird as Lil B. Probably a lot weirder.

(No shots, I'm really into every single rapper I've named by name in this article. I can't put into words how happy the video for Big KRIT's "Country Shit" remix makes me. Go watch that right now.)

I understand why people are uncomfortable with Kreayshawn and her crew's use of The N-word. I'm uncomfortable with it too! But you know what? I'm not black. I reserve the right to tell my friends to chill out when they use and I reserve the right to tell people I just met who use the term "nigger rich" in conversation with me like it's no big thing that they need to fall back. I don't think I have the right to judge someone I've never met, never spoken to and whose social life I know very little about for saying it.

I still think white people are taking a big risk by working it into their regular vocab. See: the kid on Long Island who beat a black dude down with a baseball bat while yelling "WHAT N****!!!", who got charged with a hate crime. I don't think that guy was getting his ass kicked for any kind of racial reason, but this is the world we leave in and that's the risk you take when you're a white kid using the N-word freely. But if your social life looks like a Benneton ad where everyone calls each other "my n****," I'm not the one to tell you that's not OK.

As for the deal she signed, $1 millon is chump change for a deal. They'll make that back with a few licensing placements. Just sayin.

Addendum:
Look, I'm not saying you have to like her. And I'm not making any excuses for her aesthetically: if you're not feelin it, you're not feelin it. But don't try to give your opinions extra weight by painting Kreayshawn's success as the downfall of humanity.