Wednesday, August 29, 2007

revisions revisions to make

So i wrote a 1500-odd word article entitled "Underground Hip Hop Strives for Mediocrity." I don't think i like it though, and probably won't publish or even post it. Why? Well, i think that after re-reading it over and over again my basic point came down to "stop being wack," which isn't much of a call-to-arms. Just some healthy, vaguely elitist venting maybe.

I'm just getting tired of the formulas. As a performer, i have to go to a lot of shows, watching the acts before me, watching the acts after me, watching the fans. And as much as we talk about how formulaic mainstream hip hop is (guns, cars and money), our musical culture isn't all that better. Different, of course, but not necessarily broader or more creative.

Indie rappers talk about the same shit over and over again too, often with LESS originality (in terms of beats, flows and songwriting) than their mainstream counterparts. Here's the recipe for an underground hip hop setlist/album:

1. dramatic instrumental intro
2. monumental head-nodder about rapping and how it's great
3. battley, often homophobic, punchline song
4. vaguely political track full of platitudes and cliches
5. flatly melodramatic, often sexist, emo love song
6. maybe a weed song, or more rapping about rapping
7. maybe a freestyle session (say the name of the city and watch the kids scream in delight)
8. twisting! dude! OMG!
9. one or two more generic songs about rapping or revolution or whatever

Now before you send me angry emails, let me say that a good emcee CAN make this formula or elements of this formula seem fresh again with the right songwriting skills (this is so huge and definitely lacking today), musical creativity (see Lyrics Born, P.O.S.), stage presence/charisma (see Sean Price) or pure lyrical monstrousness (see Brother Ali). That's a very small percentage of the emcee community, however. A whole lot of acts LEAN on this formula (or some small variation of it), neither making it seem fresh nor transcending it.

And i mean, we're all guilty to an extent. I know i am. I think this is why-- here's an excerpt from the aforementioned article i wrote:

...I think that in the pursuit of “realness” and authenticity we’ve killed a lot of creative impulses. For the backpacker/indie hip hop crowd, “hip hop” is defined too narrowly.

It’s not that the artists aren’t talented enough to do more. It’s that we, through the past ten years or so of railing against the artistic emptiness of mainstream hip hop, have cultivated a community whose artistic ideal is a kind of solid emulation of the shit we’re nostalgic about, whether that be early 90s east coast boom-bap or lucy ford-era Atmosphere.

It’s a shame too, because aesthetically, hip hop’s boundaries are nearly limitless. You can rap over damn near any kind of music in any time signature. You can talk about anything—love songs, political commentary, satire, storytelling, persona songs, etc. You can experiment with melody, incorporate any musical style into the mix, play with vocal styles and rhythms, abandon the 16/8 format and write dynamic pre-choruses, bridges and more. You can put together engaging shows with multimedia or theatrical elements. You can put together concept albums. You can push the boundaries of poetry, music and performance art in general. It just takes a little creativity and ingenuity.

Of course not everything that’s creative is necessarily good or easily digestible. I can see how Beans and Aesop Rock and Solillaquists of Sound don’t appeal to every hip hop fan out there. But we need them. We need them to push the envelope and blaze trails. And honestly, I think we need more of them—artists who take chances and try something new with the full knowledge that an often closed-minded underground hip hop audience might reject them. Harshly.

All hip hop has some value. I’m not saying that everyone has to be mind-blowingly original and amazing, especially not right away. I’m just saying that we, as an artistic community, can do better. Underground rap can be more than shit-talking and empty platitudes. It can be more than Atmosphere-clones and DJ Premier throwback instrumentals. It can appeal to a broader audience than 100 white boys who grew up on Rage and Mos Def...

But the big question is "why does any of this even matter?"

I think that the underground hip hop community is a beautiful thing, a whole genre that's easy to get into and creates all kinds of avenues for self-expression. But it's getting stale. I think that an artistic community that doesn't move forward dies. Media moves on to the next big thing, fans stop coming to shows because they've seen it all, the artists themselves scramble for the the last bit of attention by creating safe, digestible art with an immediate payoff.

I want to be part of a big, diverse, dynamic, expanding scene, a healthy scene. If that's going to happen in American indie-hip hop, we'll need to be more creative. And not just in our art, in our marketing, stage shows, everything.

I also realize that my perspective is skewed because i'm in the midwest. Other regions undoubtedly have different indie scenes. Sorry this post was so all over the place-- you should have seen the actual article. Wanted to post something so perfectionism will have to take a back seat.

In other news, my album is 90% finished and has a mid-october release date. Now after writing this, it'll HAVE to be creative. Or i'm a hypocrite. Which would be awful.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

a brief intermission

Waited two hours for a cab last night. That's the worst thing that's happened so far on my Minneapolis journey. Apartment doesn't seem to be haunted. Yet. There's a farmers' market on Thursdays. The people here are nice.

Big ups to Cougar for bringing me in to open for them last night at the Triple Rock. Those are really the kind of shows i want to be focusing on up here-- opening for different genres, playing spoken-word gigs on top of hip hop ones, having my feet in different communities. Got another show tonight at the Red Sea, and i have no idea what it's going to be like. Also playing a benefit for the bridge collapse next Sunday at Foundation.

But the big thing is getting this album finished up. I think i'm going to record one more song, and then go to get it mastered. My amazing cousin is doing the artwork for the full album and the two singles. It's going to be a triptych. Now that i don't have a day job, it'll be really nice to have something to sell. Then maybe i can put some EGG in my ramen.

Big things planned for the blog once i get settled in. Bigger, i mean, than me talking about my life. More articles, essays, one-act plays, pictures, youtubery, etc. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Blogging NPS: Part 6

Here's the link.

That's the last one. I hope you enjoyed them as much as i enjoyed eating giant texas food.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Blogging NPS: Part 5

Here's the link.

Peep the YouTube. Last entry, the one that makes all the others make sense, coming tomorrow.

Quick note: there was a mixup on that photo. It's Josh, but it's not in Austin and i didn't take it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Blogging NPS: Part 4

Here's the link.

This one includes some video footage of us half-assedly rehearsing a poem. It also contains lots of cursing. Enjoy!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Blogging NPS: Part 3

Here's the link.

Should be more interesting now that we're out of the running (32nd place out of 75 teams... top 25 made semifinals, so we were fairly close) and i can focus on exploring the slam scene and culture more.

I think my feet are allergic to my sandals.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blogging NPS: Part 2

Here's the link.

The link includes footage of us performing one or our pieces at an earlier show. We can't show footage directly from NPS because of the rules, but the youtube on the link will give you an idea of what it was like.

Part Three tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Blogging NPS: Part 1

Here's the link.

"NPS," for those of you who aren't totally awesome poet types with cool hats, stands for the "National Poetry Slam." I'll be updating daily.

Monday, August 06, 2007

National Poetry Slam 2007

(photo by Andy Manis for the State Journal)

I'll be covering the event for Isthmus' TheDailyPage all week, starting tonight or tomorrow most likely.

I'll link to them here as well.

We're leaving this evening, due to arrive in Austin around midnight. Another big thanks to everyone who came out for our exhibition Saturday night, despite the rain. That event, plus a grant from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, will cover our travel expenses, thank god. Still have to pay for the hotel and a hundred What-A-Burgers, but that shouldn't be too hard for a street-hardened, fiery-tongued master pickpocket like myself. Just kidding. I'm a rapper; i have loads of money.

So yeah-- check out those blurbs. Especially for people in Madison; as NPS 2008 is going to be there and this could give you a little taste of what to expect.

Also, check out the Wisconsin State Journal article on the Madison team.