Wednesday, November 28, 2007

going back to madison for a couple shows

We'll also be in Chicago on the 6th. Check the MySpace for details on all three shows.

Also, check this out. Dane101 will be doing a lot of coverage of the 2008 National Poetry Slam in Madison.

It'll be nice to get back to Madison. Both of these shows are going to be big, and i'll be doing 95% new material, live stuff no one has ever heard before. The show on the 7th will be all spoken-word, and the show on the 8th will be all hip hop. I wish i could be in town for Rhymefest.

Anyways, I'm excited about eating chocolate shoppe ice cream, finishing up the amazing facilitation binder that i started when i was on the UW diversity education program staff, selling lots of books and seeing some old friends.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


***UPDATE*** This was the original post for this poem, which I've since revised and got better footage of. If you want to see it, go here.


This is my new music video.

(old video was here but I deleted it)

Well, not a music video; more of a spoken-word performance art film. Whatever. I thought it'd be fun to experiment a little with film; rather than just have all live footage or studio recordings, it's cool to try something new. Maybe the production values aren't all that, but I don't think that there's anything like this out there.

We only got to do three takes because the neighbors complained about the zombie pounding. Luckily, i think this third take turned out pretty damn good. Martial arts extraordinaire Will Cornell played the zombie horde; we thought about adding background zombie moans too, but that maybe would have been over-the-top. This is a nice understated zombie apocalypse love poem.

Hope you like it. More to come.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

things i learned watching football on thanksgiving

1. Brett Favre is apparently the Chuck Norris of football. He doesn't throw a football, he rotates the rest of the world TO the football.

2. Trucks = men. Your vehicle is an extension of your psyche. And the bigger the truck, the more masculine you are. Hauling airplanes and driving over rocks and brush = enormous penises everywhere. Manly. Also, men don't drink anything but beer, and if they do, they're probably not actually men.

3. Diamonds = love. Also, diamonds = Vanessa Carlton.

4. If you pay with cash instead of credit card, you're ruining everyone's day and disrupting the fragile rhythm of the universe. Also, everyone will hate you.

5. Family Guy isn't funny, and i'm starting to think that it never really was. It is, in fact, the direct OPPOSITE of funny. I am, however, excited about the new Futurama movie coming out soon.

6. The Postal Service (and their many imitators) make the perfect music to use in a variety of commercials-- it's all clean and futuristic and cute... as long as you mute the lyrics. When you get rid of that pesky depth and melancholy and beauty, you have the perfect "WE'RE INVENTING THE NEW WORLD" music. I bet they play that album on a continuous loop at the Apple headquarters.

7. Officially played out: any sign, banner or thought that uses the "something: $10, something else: $20, something else: priceless" formula. Also, same goes for "Got (fill in the blank)?"


9. Athletes, despite having the newest cutting edge excercise technology at their disposal, prefer to work out in abandoned warehouses and industrial wastelands. They're ALL Rocky.

10. How in the hell is there STILL a team in the NFL called "The Redskins?" This is one of those issues that i've written about and thousands of others have written about, so i won't go on about it here, but really, WTF?! On most issues, i can see both sides and at least understand others' arguments. But this is one of those issues where there's really only one right answer and everyone else is just stupid. I guess the NFL (and on another level, sports culture in general) is just THAT powerful these days.

11. For about six hours every Sunday (as well as Monday nights and Thanksgiving), Asian people don't exist.

12. The Packers are still fun to watch, and i don't know why. Maybe it's just the players they recruit, maybe it's nostalgia for 1996, who knows. I shouldn't care, but i find myself cheering when they do well and mildly disappointed when they don't. My superbowl pick: Packers vs. Patriots, just like '96. Brett Favre will quarterback sneak every play and score 100 touchdowns.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

eric mata addresses the idea of "people just being people"


Some interesting thoughts on how a lot of people want to reject identity labels and wonder "why can't we all just be people." Just because we reject labels doesn't mean that the reality that undergirds them is going to go away. I can stop consciously identifying as a man, but i'll still get all the privilege that goes with being a man.

Eric hits it on the head again.

Monday, November 19, 2007

in defense of artists you hate excercise in looking on the bright side of things. "You" may not personally hate the following popular artists, but a lot of people right now do, sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes for stupid ones.

1. Gym Class Heroes. Travis isn't an abysmally bad rapper; he's a thoroughly mediocre one. This band is what happens when you take any by-the-books indie rapper from any city in the country and make him famous. He reminds me of Mike Shinoda in that respect-- not WACK, just really boring and derivative. I'd always wondered what would happen if you took a band like Linkin Park or GCH and gave them a really talented, interesting rapper, like a Carnage or Rhymefest or Joell Ortiz or Qwel or whomever. Anyways, this is a post in DEFENSE of acts like this, so i'll just say this: Travis may not be a great technical emcee, but he can write songs. Well, he or whoever writes their songs can write songs. That whole album has a good vibe and is really listenable. May get some flack for this, but i want to see MORE pop sensibilities in underground hip hop. I LIKE singy hooks. Sue me, but i'd rather listen to this, on most days, than the latest Molemen compilation or NYC mixtape rapper messiah.

2. Fallout Boy. I like this band. I know they're the absolute devil incarnate to a lot of people out there, but i never understood the hate. They write solid songs with lyrics that, while not always "deep" or thought-provoking, are at least original compared to the boring garbage most indie-bands, r&b singers, pop artists and pretty much everyone write. The singer has a distinct, powerful voice, and the band as a whole seems like they're at least TRYING to make memorable music. Apparently the bass player is a jackass, but is that any real reason to hate their music? Prince is a jackass too, but you can bet i'm listening to "Nothing Compares 2U" as we speak.

3. Lupe Fiasco. So the guy never listened to Midnight Marauders and flubbed half a bar of a Tribe song on TV and then came out swinging rather than apologizing and his new album sounds like a mess and his two singles released so far have been unintelligible gibberish over wack beats... hey, at least "Kick, Push" was a great song. Just kidding. I still like Lupe. I admire his commitment to artistry-- the new album DOES sound like a mess, but it sounds like a mess he fully intended to make and will stand behind no matter what. And he's still one of the most talented emcees making noise today, when he wants to be. Remember "Steady Mobbin'?" That was a great song too. I just hope he writes some solid songs on this new album rather than rapping about nothing in a really fancy way. I don't know if he's trying to appeal to the indie kids with that "headless-eyeless-brainless-iris" nonsense or if he genuinely just enjoys being weird, but it gets old fast.

4. Slug. Some will say he's a one-trick pony. Some will say he used to be dope but fell off. Some will say his fans are annoying and are killing hip hop. Some will say he's just wack, period. But i like Slug. I think it's beautiful how he developed his own style and stuck to it through the years, even if its not always my cup of tea (i'm not a huge fan of Slug the Lyricist, moreso Slug the Performer). I think i like every new Atmosphere release a little more than the one that came before, and that's rare in music, especially hip hop. He's become an icon, and rather than destroying him or making him lazy, it's made him attempt to solidify his iconic style. I think that there's something to be said for NOT trying to be all things to all people, as so many emcees try to do. Slug has his niche and he's thriving in it. Also, in a critical landscape where we elevate TI and Lil' Wayne to legendary status because of their swagger, i think Slug should be in that conversation as well.

5. MIA. I've heard a lot of people in the past few months talking shit about MIA because "she can't rap." As if that were her appeal. That's like hating on Chuck D because he doesn't use enough multisyllable rhymes or hating on Lily Allen because she can't sing like Aretha. While i wouldn't really call myself a fan of MIA (i don't own any of her albums), i do like what i've heard, and can't help but think that this is what music will sound like with more regularity in the near future. Some of the credit has to go to the producers, but she's doing a lot of it herself too. And while she may not get the Rakim award this or any year, she knows what she's doing with her voice and lyrics, and it's effective.

Stay tuned for "Hating on Artists You Love," the much more interesting sequel to this post, coming soon...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera

I had no idea that there was a film version of this coming out. And apparently it's out right now. It's pretty much my favorite book ever (maybe tied with "Watchmen"), and the film has John Leguizamo, which is always good. Okay maybe not "always," but often.

I wonder how something like this will translate into film.

Heres the link

Monday, November 12, 2007


A couple more thoughts on the book:

Actually, no more thoughts. Just wanted to post that picture and remind people that i have PRODUCT. A couple new shows added; come get a book.

On a completely unrelated note, this:

"I can't live the button-down life like you. I want it all! The terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles! Sure, I might offend a few of the blue-noses with my cocky stride and musty odors-- oh, I'll never be the darling of the so-called 'City Fathers' who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about 'What's to be done with this Homer Simpson?'"

tokenizing hip hop in the media

My crack team of researchers has been working 'round the clock for the past five years on this project. We've burnt out a lotta grad students and ruined a few lives, but i think the results are worth it.

We've been studying how music lists (top singles of '07, best albums of 1992, most overrated artists of all time, hot new releases, whatever, any kind of list) so often tokenize hip hop, sometimes tokenizing black artists in general but definitely hip hop. From national magazines to college newspapers to blogs to alt-weeklies, the pattern is consistent on every level.

For any given list, you will have, on average:

~10 bands
~2 hip hop acts

We've been keeping track of every music list from every kind of publication (omitting, obviously, hip hop-oriented publications) and feeding numbers into the supercomputer for half-a-decade now, and the results don't lie. Even when the lists purport to be all-encompassing.

But the interesting side of this isn't the numbers, it's HOW the genre is tokenized and by WHOM. For example, our numbers show that for every "best new albums" or "best singles" list from the past year, here's how it broke down.

Small-time bloggers and smaller-town alt-weeklies tended to mention Brother Ali and Sage Francis, often relating how different these acts are from the "bling bling stuff on the radio." They used words like "conscious," "passionate," "political," and "actually talented."

Fashionable online sources and smaller-circulation print magazines, seeking to distance themselves from the perceived aesthetic elitism of the small-time bloggers, talked about Ghostface, Clipse and UGK. They allied themselves with a side of hip hop that is decidedly mainstream sonically and in terms of content, yet still not TOO widely known. They used words like "underappreciated," "real," "veteran," and "shabbletastic."

Major publications talked about Kanye and 50, because the Kanye/50 story this year was really EASY to write about. You don't have to understand the music to talk about Kanye and 50, good vs. evil, blah blah blah. They used words like "vitamin water" and "battle" and "controversial." Oh and Jay-Z too, because his album was tied to a movie.

So every sub-level of critic-dom has it's own "kind" of hip hop to tokenize. These hip hop acts are sprinkled in amidst a surging sea of Arcade Fire, Battles, White Stripes, TV on the Radio, Wilco, Radiohead, whatever. When the writing is in list format, the hip hop entries on the list are never #1, nor are they last; instead, they are tucked quietly in the second and fourth quarters of the list. I can send you a PDF of our equations if you want.


Okay okay okay.

Before i start getting nasty comments about how i just don't get it, i'll be serious. I understand WHY this happens. I'm not saying that some great injustice is taking place because hip hop doesn't get equal face-time with indie rock on critics' lists these days. Hell, look at country. Or metal. Or punk. Or hardcore. Or any number of marginalized genres. At least they throw a bone to hip hop, right?

I don't know... I used to get mad when a list would omit hip hop entirely, but i almost long for that time now. If a given writer likes indie-rock, shouldn't we should let him or her write about indie rock and not try to shoe-horn hip hop into their area of expertise? Too often, we get hip hop coverage from people who either don't understand the music or are flat-out using the music to gain some kind of indie-cred or not appear rockist or whatever. Yes, some of these writers are sincere and know what they're talking about-- i'm not saying that ALL rock-oriented writers are incapable of "understanding" hip hop. That's definitely not true. But there is some hackery going on.

And is it good or bad for the music? On one level, it's breaking artists to new audiences. Brother Ali wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for the support (both informed and uninformed) of rock-oriented blogs and publications. But is that worth the whole "he isn't like the MTV guys who just talk about guns and cars" talk that accompanies damn near every review and serves to negatively otherize (in a sense) hip hop as a whole? Is the ironic hipster-blog fetishization of coke-rap and southern aesthetics good for hip hop? Or does it just make the bloggers seem cool? Is the elevation of artists like Kanye and Eminem to "superstar-famous-but-not-just-for-music" status serving to build a stronger foundation for hip hop in American popular culture, or is it just by-the-books celebrity creation that ultimately cheapens the art? Would it be better for everyone if we segregated music criticism (hip hop journalism on this website, indie-rock coverage on that website, etc.)?

Are these questions rhetorical and possibly pretentious? Maybe. But i think they're worth thinking about, ESPECIALLY if you are a music writer struggling with this issue. I don't have any answers.

quick links

City Pages covered our "I Couldn't Live at Home Show" this past Saturday. Hat tip to Jeff Shaw.

The Story

The Gallery

It was a fun show, and everyone should go check out the gallery that's still up all month at the Central Library, highlighting art from kids who couldn't live at home in a number of contexts.

Some good MP3 downloads on that first link as well.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

hey you know what's awkward?

Going to Office Depot and asking the nice lady behind the desk to make a ridiculous amount of copies of a book entitled "SHOTGUN SAMURAI VAMPIRE HIP HOP."

But hey, my book is done now.

I think it turned out pretty good. Conceptually, it's more of a mixtape than an album, if that makes sense-- a collection of a bunch of my writing (song lyrics, poetry and essays) that's built up over the past few years. It's not exactly "Cane," but it's cool.

Song lyrics make up the bulk of it, mostly from the new album, but a couple old songs and a couple songs that don't even exist as pieces of music yet. I ended up putting them in block/slash format rather than bar by bar in order to save space (and money, honestly). It would have been cool to have line breaks, but it still works out.

The poems and monologues are different-- some of them are included in paragraph format (which is how i write them), while others are broken up into proper stanzas. Some are really new and have never been heard/read before.

On top of that stuff, i threw in a bunch of essays, writings on hip hop aesthetics, spoken-word culture, art and activism, and more. The book ended up at about 100 pages.

Also also, there are a bunch of pictures of me in the book, which, upon further thought, is perhaps kind of weird. Haha. But hey, i wanted to put images in the book so it wasn't just all text but didn't have time to actually get visual art or anything else. Pictures of me will have to do. And they ARE nice pictures.

Ended up going crazy at office max and springing an extra hundred bucks or whatever for spiral binding rather than staples (the one i'm holding in the above picture is a draft). So you people better BUY THE DAMN BOOK. I need the money.

And it's good.

I'll be selling them at shows for next few months at least, probably longer. The 12/7 show in Madison will be an official "book release party," and i'm working on setting something up here in Minneapolis too.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Pursuit of "THE REAL"

(the following isn't fastidiously researched, just some anecdotal observations)

Right before the turn of the century, something interesting happened in the hip hop world. Hip Hop was well into the period where it was realizing its potential as a money-making force and certain entities within the culture were rising to superstar status (i'm thinking of the period well after Hammer and Vanilla Ice, even after the deaths of 2pac and Biggie, late nineties or thereabouts... the "shiny suit/hype williams/no limit hypercapitalism age).

At the same time (or a year or so later), you had the rise of what we today call "the underground," coalescing around Rawkus, Def Jux, Rhymesayers, Anticon, Quannum, Skribble Jam, a whole bunch of labels and artists and events. These were often independents, either consciously rebelling against the Puffy juggernaut or lumped in unwittingly. Though independent labels were (and are) making hip hop of all styles, the group of artists who came to represent "underground hip hop" were largely revivalists of some stripe, heavily influenced by early nineties east coast styles, the Native Tongues movement and Public Enemy.

As time passed, the split between "mainstream" and "underground," a split which wasn't always there, by the way, became more pronounced. While there were real aesthetic differences, it's more interesting to look at demographics. I think sometimes we focus way too much on the artists, who all have different motivations and opinions on this whole phenomenon, instead of the fans and the media, who really, i think, drove the split. Some artists were explicit about being indie/underground (BlackStar, Company Flow, Anticon), but many were just caught up in the shifting tides.

Many hip hop fans, especially white hip hop fans (the racial dynamics here just can't be ignored) latched onto this new movement, making stars out of artists like Jurassic Five, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, Company Flow, the Roots, the Quannum Camp, Common and others, artists they felt were representing "THE REAL."

Some of these fans-- not ALL of them, as some may have you believe-- became the infamous boogeymen called "BACKPACKERS." Though that term has been around for a while and has meant different things, today it most often negatively or condescendingly refers to a person with these characteristics:

1. straight white middle class male dressed in a black hoodie.
2. believes that all "mainstream" hip hop is horrible and should be avoided.
3. thinks that you're wrong about hip hop, whatever it is you believe.
5. is a revisionist, wanting to take hip hop back to some golden age of consciousness that never really existed.

These types did (and do) exist, and that's unfortunate. Their overbearing presence, undergirded by the natural, periodic shifting of popular culture, led to the BACKPACKER BACKLASH. During the '00s, music journalists, some fans and others decided that "underground" hip hop had worn out its welcome and that the backpackers were dangerous elitists who needed to be stopped. Coupled with the rising Irony-is-King/hipster movement, this spawned a whole community of people who, while sharing many features of the backpacker (white, male, closed-minded, etc.), instead championed acts like Dipset, Clipse, Young Jeezy, TI, Lil' Wayne and other decidedly mainstream acts.

I think that another aspect of this movement is the whitening of underground hip hop. As audiences at indie hip hop shows became more and more white, the "cool kids" (who were most often white themselves) didn't want to see themselves as part of the co-option of the culture, so they rejected artists with largely white audiences in order to feel or appear to be "down" with what they now perceived to be "THE REAL."

The crazy thing is, as each new movement came into being, the old ones didn't die. Today we have overbearing backpackers AND ironic hipster coke-rap fiends AND genuine fans of mainstream rap AND people who like everything. We're at an interesting cultural point, with all these forces vying for supremacy. Add to this gumbo various race, age and class differences, and every argument about "who are the top five emcees out today" becomes a potential fistfight.

It's interesting to see how identity gets mixed up in music, particularly in hip hop, where the lines between culture and music are fuzzy. It just seems to me that a whole lot of fans, music writers and even artists hardly pay any attention to the music itself anymore, instead obsessing over how liking or writing about a certain artist will make them look to their peers. Big time hip hop bloggers and music journalists don't want to talk about indie acts anymore, because indie hip hop has become synonymous with "nerd-rap" or played out revivalism or elistist backpackery.

On the flipside of that, a lot of indie hip hop IS nerd-rap, played out revivalism or elitist backpackery, so can we blame these writers and fans?

Well, i think we can, to an extent.

Because the obvious point in all of this is that some mainstream rap is garbage and some underground rap is garbage. Some mainstream rap is good and some underground rap is good. "THE REAL" exists all around, from El-P to Ghostface to Ludacris to Lupe. Anyone on either side of the debate who dismisses the other side out-of-hand is really closing his or her mind to some great music.

And that's such an obvious, easy-to-agree-with point that i didn't even want to write it, but time and time again i see people completely ignoring it. I still run into backpackers who have never heard UGK or Lil' Wayne and never want to, and i still run into hipsters who think Lil' Wayne is the Greatest Of All Time and that Sage Francis sucks because his beats don't bang in the ride.

Sure, some of this boils down to taste and personal preference. Some fans just prefer the aesthetics of Timbaland over Ant, or vice versa. That's fine. But it rarely ends there-- these debates are never about personal preference, they're about "YOU'RE AN IDIOT BECAUSE YOU LIKE 2PAC" or "ATMOSPHERE SUCKS BECAUSE THEY AIN'T HOT IN THE STREETS" or whatever. I mean, I don't particularly like the Beatles, but you're not going to catch me saying that they're wack and that their fans are mindless sheep.

I guess the theme in damn near all the articles i've been writing lately is that hip hop is a lot bigger than most people want to admit. It contains within it a vast multitude of styles and movements and currents and identities and avenues through which to interface with it. We're all "experts" on some little aspect of the whole, but few people recognize that whole. And when another "expert" confronts us with his or her knowledge of some other side of the big picture, they come off as completely insane.

"THE REAL" will always be defined differently by different communities under the hip hop umbrella. And i'm not arguing for a cultural relativist stance on what makes a rapper a wack rapper (some things, i still believe, are somewhat objective), i just think we need to examine our own motivations and opinions before criticizing others.

I'll continue this later, maybe by reviving Colin and Jamie from the Hip Hop Panel thing i wrote. They could have a debate-- that'd be fun.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

new Saul Williams


Trent Reznor produced most of it, and sonically, it's pretty much what you'd expect a Saul/NIN collaboration to sound like. It's great. Adventurous, thought-provoking and actually enjoyable to listen to.

I think Saul, even "singing Saul," deserves all the hype he gets. Usually, if you're the #1 figure in your field, i'm going to find a way to hate on you. But Saul Williams is consistently beautiful. Humbling, really. I like his self-titled album the best so far, but i've only listened to this one once through.

He covers "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and it works. All the tracks work, really. Trent and Saul are a natural pair i think. I won't do a full review until i've listened through a few more times, but the album lives up to expectations.