Monday, September 30, 2002
R.I.P PATSY MINK 1927-2002
"America is not a country which needs to punish its dissenters to preserve its honor. America is not a country which needs to demand conformity of all its people, for its strength lies in all our diversities converging in one common belief, that of the importance of freedom as the essence of our country."
-Patsy Takemoto Mink, 1967, arguing against legislation to punish flag-burners.
posted by Zentronix @ 9:52 PM
Friday, September 27, 2002
Here's an article that hits close to home--No-fly blacklist snares political activists--because some of the folks that have been targeted here are close friends. The blacklist, which allows airlines to stop you from flying, is apparently netting many anti-racist and peace activists. More info soon...
posted by Zentronix @ 1:04 PM
Today's links. First up, an interview with Naomi Klein on Alternet in which she talks about the (don't call it the) anti-globalization movement, which has taken over Washington DC for the weekend. She is off to Argentina to shoot a film there documenting that country's crisis earlier this year and how the crushing forces of neo-liberalism have led to a strengthening of the left and a reinvigoration of democracy.
By the way, you can get updates on the demos and the arrests at DC Indymedia. From another coast, it strikes me that the anti-globalization (don't call it that) activists in DC may have gone backwards in terms of diversity, and that they may have done much better in getting their message out about the war. The jury is still out, just an hour or two after the mass arrests, but I don't know that the demonstrations this weekend will find widespread sympathy amongst the anti-war and anti-racist activists, some of whom are mobilizing for next month. I have a strong sense there were huge missed opportunities here. Prove me wrong.
Two other great articles: Mother Jones' list of the top 10 student activist campuses last year, a report which nicely balances Playboy's top 10 party campuses last year (Chico has slipped to #2, but I'm sure they drink harder). The highlight of the article is the Native American group at Northern Colorado which started up an intramural team called the Fightin Whites. Buy a t-shirt here and offend some WASPs!
posted by Zentronix @ 10:11 AM
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
A late mention that fits into the book/reissue/hip-hop nostalgia thang: my good friend, cheerful archivist and librarian, and sometime mentor Bill Adler has reissued his Run DMC biography, Tougher Than Leather: The Rise of Run-DMC. Now this is a beautiful thing. The original came out in 1987,as Bill explains, as part of a failed corporate synergy plan--a movie, album, and book all of the same name out at the same time! Of course, hip-hop back then had no multinational juice, and mostly ran like authentic dancehall shows still do--that is, real real real late.
The album probably dropped first (and didn't get anywhere near the props that Raising Hell did), and the movie (which didn't get anywhere near the props that Krush Groove did, and you know what, Krush Groove never got no props) much later. The book came out in pulp paperback sometime in between--the size of those old Michael Moorcock novels--and although it looked like a cheap cash-in, it remains one of the unsung classics of early hip-hop books.
It opens with the aftermath of the infamous Long Beach riots--the first sign to middle America that not only was rap big, it might be dangerous--and goes back and forth into the whole story of the group and the transitional scene out of the old school. If you're new to this, then, it fills in where Yes Yes Y'all leaves off, right at the point where rap blows up. I like it better than Run's and D's autobiographies, mainly because Bill gives incredible you-were-there descriptions of the Disco Fever, Hollis parties, and, of course, the riots and their aftermath. It's been out of print since the early 90s. I know I spent many desperate years trying to find a copy of this book, and when I finally did, it was more than worth the wait.
PS...If you didn't know, and you may not just 'cause my man is too humble to tell you, Bill was Russell Simmons' first publicist (besides Rush himself), worked with Def Jam (including Public Enemy, the Beasties, Slick Rick, LL) through the late 80s, has repped a number of great minds (the Last Poets, Franti, Paris, Paul Mooney) and has been one of the most important voices in shaping media perceptions of hip-hop culture. He's a legend, man. Just wait 'til you read some of the interview stuff he gave me for my book. He's also one of the key persons behind the Free Slick Rick campaign (see below).
By the way, can someone tell me how the amphitheater weekend went down--Wildstyle reunion on Friday and Kool Herc/Coxsone Dodd/Jammys on Saturday? Hit me at: email@example.com.
posted by Zentronix @ 8:50 PM
Thursday, September 12, 2002
IN THIS ISSUE of the highly (and soon to be even more) irregular
"CAN'T STOP" NEWSLETTER:
-> WRITING THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF NYC GRAF
-> HIP-HOP FALL BOOKS
-> HIP-HOP ACTIVISM EVENTS
-> HEAVY ROTATES
-> MISC. OTHER SH*T
BLAZING BACK: THE RETURN OF NEW YORK CITY GRAFFITI
This is a slightly extended remix of an article that appears this week in the Village Voice (including more citations than an alt-weekly would ever allow, but not nearly as much as your average Ethnic Studies grad-student's paper). Check out the clean edit (with a cool jpeg and the inevitable e-commerce links) at The Village Voice.
Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City
By Joe Austin
Columbia University Press, 400 pp., $49.50 (cloth), $24.50 (paper)
Aerosol Kingdom: Subway Painters of New York City
By Ivor L. Miller
University of Mississippi Press, 288 pp., $60 (cloth), $30 (paper)
By James and Karla Murray
Gingko Press, 180 pp., $39.95
On a quiet morning two months ago, Mayor Bloomberg took his paint-roller and press corps to Williamsburg, a burgeoning node on the graffiti-writers map that is now a target for intensified policing, punishment, and cleanup. "Even with limited resources, we are not going to walk away from the needs of this city," he said. "Graffiti poses a direct threat to the quality of life of all New Yorkers. It’s not just an eyesore. It is an invitation to criminals and a message to citizens that we don't care."
Graffiti has been the scourge and scapegoat of every New York mayor since John Lindsay. Indeed, Bloomberg's photo-op represents something of a mayoral rite of passage. But now, with remarkable timing, comes graf’s passionate defense. Three new books, Joe Austin's *Taking The Train*, Ivor Miller's *Aerosol Kingdom*, and James and Karla Murray's *Broken Windows*, let the writers talk back to the haters, while offering a nuanced reassessment of New York City's graffiti scene.
The contemporary movement, spawned in the subways and streets of Philadelphia and New York in the late 60s, has had a symbiotic relationship with academics, journalists, and photodocumentarians. Graf’s insularity attracts anthropological curiosity, its rebel codes ferment sociological inquiry, and its eye-burning virtuosity and butterfly ephemerality demand documentation and cataloguing.
Books on graffiti have always played a major role in the movement. Norman Mailer, Jon Naar and Mervyn Kurlansky's *Faith of Graffiti* (1974) celebrated great Broadway stylists and time-forgotten toys alike, carrying the graf gospel into the boroughs like a virus. Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper's *Subway Art* (1984) captured the peak years of train graffiti and catalyzed the post-buff global explosion. Chalfant and Jim Prigoff later captured that development in the equally influential *Spraycan Art* (1987).Early academic works on graffiti by Craig Castleman (*Getting Up* ) and Jack Stewart (*Subway Graffiti: An Aesthetic Study of Graffiti on the Subway System of New York City, 1970-1978* [dissertation, 1989]), and Steven Hager’s journalistic landmark *Hip-Hop* (1984) have also had a profound effect on the emerging generation of hip-hop intellectuals (who claim graf’s tradition as their own).
While the quality of academic books on rap music has mostly fallen off in recent years, the quality of graffiti books remains high. Unlike academics who study rap, a serious graf scholar can't simply flip on BET for raw material. Ivor L. Miller's *Aerosol Kingdom* is the product of a 15-year journey through the New York scene, capturing his sense of awe and admiration for the risk, skill, and ambition of the graf writers on every lavishly illustrated page.In "Night Train: The Power That Man Made", Miller meditates on Ogun and Rakim, gandy dancing (by 19th century black rail workers) and white flight. Here, the book appears like a freshly painted 5 roaring out of the tunnel onto a Bronx el, a *Flash of the Spirit* for the hip-hop gen.
Soon after embarking on the study, Miller tossed out his theories and decided his job was to act as interpreter and disseminator. The result is an unprecedented record of graf's subway years, told in definitive interviews with artists like BLADE, James TOP, DURO, DOZE and IZ the WIZ--writers whose names have become myth but whose stories have not. The reclusive Lee Quinones seems to drop poetry every time he speaks: "Subways are corporate America’s way of getting its people to workAnd the trains were clones themselves, they were all supposed to be silver and blue, a form of imperialism and control. And we took that and completely changed it."
This drive to beautify is a logic, like the trains, that runs in circles. It's a desire to "create art for art's sake", as the husband-and-wife photographers James and Karla Murray put it. What *Aerosol Kingdom* does for the subway era, *Broken Windows* does for the new school, allowing the post-subway kings and queens of New York—COPE 2, CES, VASE, KING BEE, DIVA and MICKEY --to talk about intent, technique, risk and reward. Some, like LADY PINK, SEEN and WEST ONE (FC)provide continuity between the eras. All share a do-or-die spirit that can't be stopped.
*Broken Windows* documents the Giuliani-era explosion of "productions"--the usually legalmulti-writer pieces that began appearing on store-gates, buildings, walls, and train tunnels--and "bombs"--the illegal,controversial signatures that seemed to swarm the city. Like *Subway Art*, *Broken Windows* becomes a -salute to the graf-writers’ visual genius.
With the constraints of time, color, surface and size loosened, post-subway aerosol art has explored bold new conceptions of space. Robert Farris Thompson argues that subway wildstyle's "gorgeous lariats of color and line" have influenced not only Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, but also Frank Stella. Even Zaha Hadid's architecture now seems unimaginable without the late-era subway graf. Some of the wall productions in *Broken Windows* make you wonder what buildings might look like in 30 years.
After the MTA declared victory in its war against train graffiti in 1989, the center of the movement seemed to disperse to far-flung locales like Los Angeles and Sydney. But when Giuliani renewed the war on graffiti as the centerpiece of his "quality of life" campaign, graf-writers mobilized to create bigger, more stunning pieces and wage relentless bombing campaigns. The Giuliani crackdown--a crucial first step toward the Starbucks-ing of the urban core and the violent displacement of the poor, youths, and people of color--influenced a new generation of mayors across the country, and gave back to the New York graf scene its frontline urgency.
The Murray book gets its title from the "broken windows" theory that provided the psuedo-intellectual backbone for Giuliani time. As Joe Austin's *Taking The Train* makes clear, the ideological war between quality-of-lifers and aerosol advocates has been as viscerally gripping as the graffiti itself. In the spring of 1973, journalist Richard Goldstein famously called graffiti "the first genuine teenage street culture since the fifties." But by 1979, the backlash began to cohere through an astonishingly disingenuous Public Interest article by sociologist Nathan Glazer. He outlined an idea that Harvard criminologist James Q. Wilson would later develop into the "broken windows" theory: If one broken window was allowed to go unfixed, a neighborhood's fall would soon follow. To these neocons, graffiti represented the signal moment of a neighborhood's plunge into Fort Apache.
Glazer barely even had an argument; mostly he just had the same kind of *funny vibe* that Bernhard Goetz would later have. "(W)hile I do not find myself consciously making the connection between the graffiti-makers and the criminals who occasionally rob, rape, assault, and murder passengers," Glazer admitted, "the sense that all are a part of one world of uncontrollable predators seems inescapable." Today, despite scanty empirical evidence, the three-decade old soundbite from City Hall that graffiti is a gateway to violent crime has necrotized into unimpeachable truth.
Austin notes that by 1973 John Lindsay allocated the first $10 million for anti-graffiti efforts. Through the city's bankruptcy and continued train accidents, politicians still somehow found $20 million to establish the "buff." The chemical washing of graffitied trains not only left cars a dull color, it was harmful: hundreds of workers became sick and one man died of exposure. And in 1983, Michael Stewart was killed by transit cops for writing on a a 14th Street station wall, yet another fatal example of the effects of bad theory.
Shortly after the MTA's victory over subway graffiti, Lee Quinones warned, "If you buff history, you get violence." In New York, graffiti arrests have climbed nearly 200 percent since Giuliani revived the Anti-Graffiti Task Force in 1995. A quarter-million graf hits are still cleaned off subway cars a year, while 5 million square feet of graf is buffed off highways and bridges. Is this state violence or is it something else?
Some have argued that encouraging legal paintings and productions would be a socially just alternative to a scorched-earth policy of policing and punishment. That approach only encourages more intense vandalism and violence, they say, because crews turn away from focusing on creative competition towards attacking each other and the cops. As EWOK tells the Murrays, "When you push something down, it's going to pop up somewhere else. It's just natural progression."
But everyone seems to agree that graffiti's perpetual removal catalyzes innovation and ingenuity. Its countless deaths generate countless rebirths. Austin points out that when the MTA repainted its entire fleet in 1973, it ushered in a golden age of style. In graf's status-hierarchy, piecers who don't bomb barely rate. ESPO (whose 1999 book *The Art of Getting Over* ranks alongside PHASE II’s *Style: Writing From the Underground* and ZEPHYR and Michael White’s tribute to DONDI as the best of the graf-writer’s books) sums up the ethic nicely: "Illegal work has to say FUCK YOU, it can't say 'hello' or 'how ya doing'?" In other words, what makes graffiti an artform is its ability to dangle itself over the abyss--and occasionally fall in. Graffiti needs to be championed, but it doesn't need to be saved.
"I think the greatness behind it is the fact that it doesn't last," EZO tells the Murrays. "You bomb and then it's like, these are *my* walls, *my* throwups, *my* paintings and you can't fuck with it...but deep inside myself, I know that nothing fuckin' lasts. It just can't. It's not meant to."
HIP-HOP BOOK ALERT!
[When's the last time you saw *that* headline in a hip-hop magazine?]
Pardon me while I jock these fools. It's just that this fall there will be so many hot new books on hip-hop history that I have to mention them. (Plus, so many innocent trees have been killed in the name of hip-hop "scholarship" that it's only right to big-up the real, you know what I'm saying?)
This fall, Jim Fricke and Charlie "Wildstyle" Ahearn drop *Yes Yes Yall* which is a monumentally entertaining and completely essential oral history of the old school. (Not Public Enemy, ya shorty, but the real old school--Bronx style, as they say.) Cop it or steal it, just get it.
While we're talking monumental, Steven Hager's classic *Hip Hop*, the book that really launched hip-hop journalism, is also slated to be re-released soon. The eBay and alibris poachers who have been ripping you off for $600 US had better get it while they can.
Ernie Paniccioli is one of the few hip-hop photographers who have been there since the beginning and his book, *Who Shot Ya* (edited by Kevin Powell), should make your eyes burn and your heart race. It'll be out in late October. He'll have an extensive photo exhibit opening at the New York City Urban Experience Gallery also at about the same time. His websites are here and here.
And I should mention that *Ego Trip's Big Book of Race* is coming out this fall, too. It's already being compared to Karl Marx's *Das Kapital*. Even Chris Rock says he's going to read it. I've seen copies of it in their secret underground laboratory and I can safely say that right-wing talk shows and Ethnic Studies graduate programs may never be the same again. Or maybe they will.
HIP-HOP ACTIVIST EVENTS
+++ ORGANIZING FOR BLACK EMPOWERMENT +++
Where: Washington DC
When: Saturday, September 14, 2002
Who: 50 young Black activists, intellectuals, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, political operatives, entrepreneurs, and other young Black voices
What: An historic all-day, invite-only assembly of post-Civil Rights era/hip-hop generation Black activists, political figures/policymakers, intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs, and spiritual/religious figures
Info: (404) 752-9044
+++ ACTIVE ARTS YOUTH CONFERENCE +++
Where: Boston/Somerville, Northeastern Student Center and around town
When: Friday, September 20 to Sunday, September 22
Who: Dead Prez, Medusa, Minister Ben Chavis Muhammad, La Bruja, Suheir Hammad, Davey D, and many more...
What: Inspiring, educating and mobilizing the hip-hop generation
By: AFSC's Critical Breakdown, Northeastern's BSA, Redeye Magazine, and many others...
Info: 617-661-6130 or here.
+++ HIP-HOP SPEAKS: YOUTH TOWNHALL MEETING ON EDUCATION +++
Where: Harlem, Riverside Church
When: Monday, September 23, 2002, 6pm
Who: New York City youth, Toni Blackman, Russell Simmons
What: Hear New York City youth speak out on public school education, and other issues of concern to them. Freestyle competition to follow the townhall.
By: Hiphop Speaks, Russell Simmons, the Hiphop Summit Action Network, The Riverside Church
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-399-0695.
+++ HIP-HOP POLITICAL NEWSLETTER +++
And last but not least, you really should know about Davey D's new HHPN [Hip Hop Political Newsletter], a parallel to his popular FNV e-newsletter which just debuted last week. With its digest, review-style format and its grassroots approach, it's a dope new way of staying up-to-date on the politics of hip-hop. To subscribe, just send a blank message to FNV_Newsletteremail@example.com or try here.
steinski :: nothing to fear/solid steel radio mix
red hot + riot!
damon albarn, afel bocoum, toumani diabate + friends :: mali music
the tribute concert to chuck brown :: put your hands up!
public enemy :: revolverlution
mr. lif :: i phantom
singing melody :: expressions
greensleeves greatest dancehall anthems 1979-1982
select cuts from blood and fire, vol. 3
manu chao:: radio bemba sound system
meshell ndegeocello:: cookie: the anthropological mixtape
PLUG 1: I gotta finish up my book, man, so you won't be seeing a newsletter for a minute. Write on.
PLUG 2: But I'll still post to my blog.
Gary Webb was the journalist who broke the story in the late 1990s that the CIA was involved in arranging for crack cocaine to be sold into U.S. inner-cities for profits to finance the Contra counterrevolution in Nicaragua. For this, he was hounded out of his newspaper and blacklisted. Editorialists across the country took the unusual step of denouncing Webb and his journalism, despite the fact that his story was never disproven.
(His book, *Dark Alliance*, collects and expands on the articles and is a classic. In *White Out*, Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair cover how Webb was systematically hounded in the story's aftermath.)
Webb's original story came with a website (no pun intended) and he's been able to revive it. Check it out here.
If you want to be added to the e-mail list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "gotta be down" in the subject header.
RESPECT. PEACE. JUSTICE.
© 2002 Jeff Chang
posted by Zentronix @ 11:12 AM
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
As LA gets ready to select its new police chief, there's a fascinating look at LAPD in this week's special issue of the LA Weekly. Check it out here, LA Weekly: Supplement: Rethinking the LAPD: Introduction.
posted by Zentronix @ 10:19 AM
Friday, September 06, 2002
BIGGIE KILLED TUPAC?
The Los Angeles Times ran a piece today saying Biggie Smalls ordered the killing of Tupac and supplied his personal Glock for the murder. Apparently, after Randall Sullivan's hatchet-job book, LAbyrinth and Nick Broomfield's documentary "Biggie and Tupac"--which both argued but failed to prove Suge killed Tupac--LA Times investigative reporter Chuck Philips of the LA Times. (Check the article here.) He argues that Biggie authorized the Southside Crips (Orlando Anderson's set) to kill Tupac, and that they may have done so with Biggie's own Glock. Pretty inflammatory stuff, indeed.
On my initial read, Philips' timeline is viable, but extremely difficult to imagine. At 8:30 pm, Tupac and Suge were at the MGM Grand Hotel to check out Tyson fight. Between 8:45 and 9pm the fight was over and the entourage headed into the casino shortly thereafter where they spotted Crip Orlando Anderson and beat him down. The Death Row crew headed to the Luxor while Anderson staggered back to Treasure Island Hotel.
In Philips' timeline, the Crips immediately held a meeting to decide to off Tupac, then sent a contact to see Biggie. Philips reports that Biggie was staying at the MGM Grand incognito, in the penthouse. A Crip emissary was dispatched to see Biggie to see if Biggie would pay for the hit. According to Philips, Biggie not only agreed to pay $1 million for the hit, he offered his own Glock to do so. Separately, Anderson and his crew of Crips planned the assassination. They allegedly decided to hit Tupac and Suge on the way back from the afterparty at Suge's Club 662. Anderson and crew left the Treasure Island hotel sometime before 11pm (hitting mad traffic on the Strip). Sometime after 11pm, they were surprised to spotted the Death Row entourage, pulled up alongside Suge's car and killed Tupac.
In under 2 hours, then, Philips has the Southside Crips deciding on the hit, planning the hit, soliciting Biggie in person for a million-dollar bounty, receiving the murder weapon, then actually doing it. In and of itself, this timeline is hard to believe.
But today, Biggie's family and friends said Biggie was at home in Teaneck, NJ, thousands of miles away and called the report irresponsible. Russell Simmons will be responding with his own press statement shortly. Libel lawsuits will surely follow.
The report leaves a lot of questions open: what was Biggie's motive? Where was he really? But they raise lots of questions about Philips' own sourcing. The article cites police and Crips, but quotes none, not even anonymously. Were the sources paid? What are the sources' motives?
Philips defends himself and his article on MTV.com,
here. He says he never bought into the Biggie stories until he began to investigate, and hints that Biggie may not have meant it when he told the Crips to kill Tupac, just was playing a game with them. To believe this, one would have to accept that Biggie was incredibly naive of the Crips he was allegedly working with. That's pretty hard to do.
Another explanation is that Philips was desperate to rescue his reputation after Randall Sullivan personally ripped him in LAbyrinth, that this story is less about truth than about ego. Sullivan's argument, of course, is that Suge and corrupt black cops conspired to kill both Tupac and Biggie. (Sullivan spends a lot of time bemoaning affirmative action and black police chiefs in LAPD, a fact which might give you an idea of how his reactionary politics distort the story he is trying to report.) In a Biggie-as-don scenario, then, Philips gets a made-to-use narrative to shut Sullivan up and put himself back atop the investigative reporting heap. Is it any mistake that both stories--which interchange Suge and Biggie as Black Caesars--both rely on ridiculously overblown stereotypes and belief-defying B-movie plotting?
Part 2 of Philips' article runs tomorrow morning, and will reportedly be about why the police investigation faltered. Stay tuned.
posted by Zentronix @ 2:19 PM
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