Saturday, January 31, 2004

Powerful journalism in a cover story in this week's LA Weekly on Kershaun Scott, the former Eight Tray Gangster Crip known as "Lil Monster", younger brother of prison memoirist Sanyika "Monster" Shakur. Scott fled LA to escape the life and settled in Kern County, the most aggressive prosecuting county in California. The story is about Scott's family trying to make good in a rigged system that will not give a quarter.


While we're on blue and red, I've been stewing a bit about this analysis in yesterday's NY Times about how Blue States (Democratic States) tend to redistribute wealth to Red States (Republican states).

It's a point Farai Chideya first brought to my attention two years ago:

Republicans claim to be anti-government and anti-tax, but they actually suck mad tax dollars from the states willing to pay--traditionally Democratic states.

See, you thought you were getting pimped? Now you know you are.

FYI the NY Times op-ed writer, Daniel Pink, a former Gore speechwriter, is pessimistic about the implications of the Blue/Red divide. Don't read all this stuff if you're in a Mary J. Blige-just-want-to-be-happy mood today. But do read sometime.

More reading on the meaning of Blue and Red states:

-A Boston Globe story on the history of the Blue/Red divide. (It's all McGovern's fault.)

-The original Pew Center report. Caution: the results will often blow away what you thought you knew.

-A more recent Zogby poll further illustrating how deeply divided the electorate is.

Don't never say I don't give you nothing!

posted by Zentronix @ 10:37 AM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, January 30, 2004

Just commemorating my Humpty Hump moment with Super DJ Mind Motion and the kids this morning. And Jocelyn Brown, too? Now I'm gonna do my dance. Happy Friday. One week to go on this edit...

Bonus beat for Yayarea hip-hop nostalgists: cover story by Todd Inoue the Chef on the DJ we love to love, the mighty mighty Kevvy Kev. Extra shots for the Friendly Traveler...

posted by Zentronix @ 10:03 AM   0 comments links to this post

The timing of this lawsuit alleging Def Jam inflated Soundscan numbers through indie promoters is suspect: a few days after Lyor is gone? Hmmm. I mean, who in the industry hasn't seen these schemes in action?

Here's how it works: Tiny indie stores that are Billboard reporters are weighted a little stronger than the big chains--this is a mathematical adjustment for statistical undercounting. So a label finds an indie promoter finds a tiny indie store Billboard reporter who ain't doing so hot, or is willing to work it, gives him several boxes of non-promo CDs as free goods off the books, usually a week early. Guy advertises that he's the only one in the hood with these highly anticipated CDs, and he's offering it for under $10. Multiply this by a thousands stores and bam, first week gold.

I imagine it's probably gotten worse in the past 3 years but clearly Def Jam is not the only one out there doing this.

posted by Zentronix @ 7:50 AM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, January 29, 2004

And the window slams shut, according to this article, "Party Leaders Express Relief at the Emergence of Kerry".

Let's look at what happened this week...

Dean fires Trippi, visionary leader of the Deaniacs and firm believer in courting the polar--not the swing--voters. Hires Gore advisor.

Kerry is Gore, but from the Northeast. Formidable candidate? Please. This guy is a wooden hairpiece whose stump speeches are apparently preceded by syrup-sipping. He's the DJ Screw of Democratic candidates--slow, low, stiff, and dead.

In two weeks, the Dems have managed to go from excitable, loose, and enjoyable to cold as a Nor'easter day.

Watch premature alienation follow the cold front.

In the meantime, this is how it should be done, don't yall think?

(Thanks to my cuz, Helleys, for the link, and for letting me know I had to fix it...)

posted by Zentronix @ 11:23 AM   0 comments links to this post


Q: Does everyone do the hula in Hawai'i?

A: Yes.

Q: Why does everyone give everyone leis in Hawai'i?

A: There are too many flowers on the island.

Q: Does everyone have a big family in Hawai'i?

A: Bigger.

Q: I see that people roll deep with their family and leis to auditions. Do they go like that everywhere?

A: Absolutely. To high school graduations, to church, to Costco. Yup. Everywhere.

Q: Is Crystal Akana from Kailua going to be the next American Idol?

A: If her family votes, sure.

Q: Are you really this corny?

A: Why, boddah you?

posted by Zentronix @ 8:08 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Douglas Wolk sums up another horrible year for the industry.

posted by Zentronix @ 6:10 PM   0 comments links to this post


Cause Howard Dean has certainly been doing a lot of wobbling lately. Now he heads into Edwards country. Wake me up when they're all done.

posted by Zentronix @ 3:43 PM   0 comments links to this post

Something to explore for a rainy day when I'm not sleeplessly editing a book: the links between Vorticism and post-millennial neo-graf (or whatever we need to call it) of folks like MISK. Back to the grind...

posted by Zentronix @ 10:47 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Even before NH, TomDispatch reported on a stunning Newsweek poll that offered hope to Dems. After NH, this could become a giddy "Yeeaarrgh"-like feeling. Side wisecrack: Too bad we won't get real Dean like that no more.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:32 PM   0 comments links to this post

Respect to mt. disappointment in Australia for the big-ups and a link to this article on "Street grime" (pun I'm certain was intended) in The Guardian UK, which I agree is pretty condescending and wack.

These are the kinds of writers that need a Byron Scott. (BTW where are you Chris Ryan?) Anyway--lots of folks whom we'd be happy to see get the work, no doubt.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:02 PM   0 comments links to this post

Headline says it all: 'City of God' Director: 'Is the Academy Mad?'

posted by Zentronix @ 7:49 PM   0 comments links to this post

Never cared about the Academy Awards, but I will be pulling for my 13-year-old Polynesian sista, Keisha Castle-Hughes (dead-ringer for my cousin Dory circa late 70s) from the beautiful movie 'Whale Rider' and for the bloody brilliant 'City of God'. NOW will someone in the publishing industry PLEASE get off their ass and get the long-promised, never-materialized English translation of Paulo Lins' book out?

posted by Zentronix @ 10:06 AM   0 comments links to this post

Good summary by Lola Ogunnaike on the bewilderingly huge developments so far this week in the music biz. Arista folds? Reid for Cohen? Big 4? Gotdamn.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:12 AM   0 comments links to this post

Fantastic piece by Emil Guillermo on how frustrating Iowa and New Hampshire really are for Democrats of color.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:09 AM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 26, 2004

Breaking news: Joseph Patel, rebel to Amerikkka, is now causing blog hysteria. And that's all!

posted by Zentronix @ 12:48 PM   0 comments links to this post

Sunday, January 25, 2004
The Traffic mini-series looks promising. Or maybe not.

posted by Zentronix @ 2:51 PM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, January 24, 2004

And thanks to Oliver (thanks to Jay Smooth): hey ya!

posted by Zentronix @ 5:46 PM   0 comments links to this post

More embarassing news about Keyshawn Johnson. Forgot to mention earlier that dude was booed out of the Oakland Arena two months back when he tried to get on court between Stanford and Cal basketball games. Heavy rotation on the block: Tom Petty.

posted by Zentronix @ 4:50 PM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, January 22, 2004
Oh hell no. I spoke too soon. Here's your real MP3 of the week, courtesy Notes from a Different Kitchen.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:58 PM   0 comments links to this post


Jay Smooth comes through with the MP3 of the week, just head here. There's also this one that sounds like it was made for vintage Playstation. Howie zowie!

posted by Zentronix @ 6:27 PM   0 comments links to this post


Keyshawn Johnson got jacked while waiting for a haircut right around the corner yesterday. What can I say? Fools in South Berkeley do NOT play!!!

posted by Zentronix @ 9:36 AM   0 comments links to this post


I think I wrote this earlier but Years of the Monkey are straight bananas. Revolution years. I mean check this out:

1968--French student uprising, Columbia University takeover, MLK assassinated, Chicago Democratic Convention, return of the gangs in the South Bronx
1980--Iran hostage crisis, Reagan Revolution
1992--LA Rebellion, "Cop Killer", Gang truce movement goes national, Clinton's "centrist" victory

Whoa. Enjoy, or better yet, per Tanya Stephens, handle the ride!

posted by Zentronix @ 8:01 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Not talking Gephart's stunning fall. Oh yeah, Jon Stewart's line of the night, on John Kerrey: "They don't call him Mr. Excitement for--well, they don't call him Mr. Excitement."

Anyway, the time-killing topic at hand is Ben Williams sez critics don't know where to place Dizzee in relation to American rap. Resisting the snarky urge to say it's because they don't know how to, while not resisting the urge to beat this topic into the ground (because for us bloggerati Dizzee is so, you know, '03), let me float a few comparisons...

*"I Luv U" updates Ice Cube's "You Can't Fade Me" topically (you remember the aggravating track in which narrator imagines "kicking the bitch in the tummy"--another irresponsible lad not dealing well with the consequences of casual sex) with the dialogical method of "It's A Man's World" (tho the woman goes uncredited here, wow). A double-whammy. (Actually a triple if you figure in the college-girl turnabout thing of "Look Who's Burning Now" from DC.)

*"Sitting Here" recalls Nas's "Life's A Bitch"--life as a mask or a front, the strange in-betweenness of trying to detach from the street while having to engage it to survive, the feeling of time slowing down and speeding up at the same time, everything bad happening in John Woo slo-mo at the same time youthful innocence is stolen prematurely. (Plus there's AZ's oh-shit-I-got-the-mic-first enthusiasm which brings us to the next thought...)

*Rascal's delivery recalls young LL Cool J (or if less generous, MC Shan)--excitable, high-pitched, aggressive. Downside of this analogy: Britrap still awaits its Rakim.

posted by Zentronix @ 1:30 PM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 19, 2004

If you're in the Bay, here's an event to get excited about...

What: The Hip Hop State of the Union
When: Tuesday, January 20th , 6:00-9:00 pm
Where: Progressive Nerve Center, 1751 Mission Street, San Francisco CA

The Dennis Kucinich for President campaign in San Francisco will host the Hip Hop State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 20th, to coincide with President Bush’s State of the Union address. Adisa Banjoko, AKA The Bishop of Hip Hop, host of One Mic hip-hop and politics talk show (910 AM KNEW), will MC the event, and DJ Rob Reyes of M1 Promotions will spin records throughout the evening.

The event will begin with a live talk back to President Bush’s State of the Union address, followed by a viewing of Dennis Kucinich’s “State of the Nation” speech, taped earlier in the day from the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

After the televised speeches there will be a panel of prominent activists and artists speaking on the Hip Hop State of the Union. Panelists include Billy Upski Wimsatt, author of Bomb the Suburbs and the forthcoming How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office; the Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, National Director of Community Outreach for the Kucinich for President 2004 Campaign and the author of Urbansouls; and Mr. Taylor of the Who Ridas. The speakers will address issues of importance to the hip hop community as we mobilize to pick a presidential candidate to represent our interests in DC.

Mike Stern AKA Think will be doing live graf canvases throughout the event. Other invited guests include Paris, Lyrics Born, and E40.

posted by Zentronix @ 6:00 PM   0 comments links to this post


Here's something on Dizzee Rascal in the Voice. Enjoy the text and hypertext.

OK, back to the manuscript. Got 25 pages cut. Only 175 to go!!!

Dizzee Rascal
Boy in Da Corner

Was only yesterday when London's Black dance music scene seemed to cast off history's weight and speed toward the millennium. To Black British music critic Kodwo Eshun, sociology, biography, and a fixation on "the real" had shackled Black music. While hip-hoppers strained to keep it real, Eshun wanted to take the brakes off the breaks. Black Atlantic Futurism had arrived, and promised great leaps forward into "possibility spaces." The tempos rocketed, the colors blurred, and the streets disappeared beneath the clouds.

Turns out the real future shock is Dizzee Rascal, the U.K.'s 19-year-old Mercury Prize winner. When the sun rises on Dizzee's "Brand New Day," he is kotched up in the flat, punching out riddims into cheap PC software, beats born of ringtones, video games, and staticky pirate-radio sounds. They quiver and throb, struggle for internal equilibrium, and often refuse to groove. His processor works differently--on "Jus a Rascal," for instance, he pulls together T.O.K.'s hysterical dancehall harmonies, a synthesized guitar line halfway between death metal and the English Beat, stuttering Southern hi-hats, and a kick drum retarded to a crawl. His is a William Gibson mirror-world, patterns de/recontextualized at the edge of recognition and seen in syrupy slo-mo. Dizzee's sound of Young Britain doesn't torque up and go, it just turns round and round.

When he opens his mouth, words pour out at a high pitch and pace, as if syllables are the only thing that can hold back a scream. Ms. Mills's only son tells what he calls "the same old story": fatherless child coming up in the East London council estates, aimless youth failed by the schools and the shitstem but saved by music, bedroom beat-head who went top of the pops by representing his streets but can't escape their judgment. Right outside his front door, mates have turned predators. The future, he admits, "ain't right." On "Sitting Here," what he sees burns his eyes. Police and thieves. Shottas and hotties. Childhood school chums who grow up to knife and shoot each other. There are no great leaps here. The daily is never routine. There are only moments for Dizzee to capture, encapsulate, and preserve, griot-like. East London calling, futurism is dead. Millennial velocity has crashed.

By now the scene has dumped both "speed" and "garage," dragged its asphalt-gummy bass down to half-speed, and embraced the term "grime." Where the futurists wanted a hermetic world of sound, grime's voices attract the masses with sociology, biography, and the real. So Solid Crew's members are hounded by coppers. Beefs multiply. Dizzee shows his stab wounds to interviewers, and British music writers and the global bloggerati hail him as the British 50 Cent or 2Pac. He represents the same old story told from Vallejo to Kansas City to Kingston to Cape Town, rap that talks locally and connects globally. Boy in Da Corner's one concession to the hip-hop motherland--the Billy Squier "Big Beat," back-to-the-Funhouse freestyle of "Fix Up Look Sharp"--is far too eager to please. Blame that one, and an assortment of other battle-rhyme clichés, on youth.

But when Dizzee thinks very deeply—worrying about growing up, about those around him who won't grow up, about dying before he grows up—he sounds like, what else can we call it, the real thing. He delivers threats with KRS-style meta-awareness. "Just remember this: I am you," he shouts on "Cut Em Off." "So if you think you're real, do what you gotta do." Like Tricky or Massive Attack, the boy is best at taking you inside, at internalizing rather than externalizing. He can be even more specific and desperate. His breakout "I Luv U" describes two teens in a high-stakes stalemate over an unwanted pregnancy. Locked in the estates' web of relations, they use sex as blackmail. By the end, the boy is reduced to fantasizing about a college girl, someone who has escaped but still gives ghetto head. Then the frenetic beat seems to take over and the boy freestyles his last lines as if once the music fades he too might disappear. Dizzee manages to make this all sound funny and horrifying at once.

It's a measure of just how much Brit-rap has matured that a year ago, Home Secretary David Blunkett and Culture Minister Kim Howells turned the bully pulpit on Black music, blaming rap for "glorifying gun culture and violence." Hysteria followed--same old story. Perhaps Dizzee's Mercury coronation late last year should be read as the redemption of Brit-rap and Black British music, and a sign of the permanent American-style culture war to come. In the U.K. press, Dizzee's line is quoted everywhere: "I'm a problem for Anthony Blair." If he remains this compelling, that's one boast he will undoubtedly be called upon to back up. His future--and that of Black British music--isn't the one Eshun envisioned at the millennium. But it's full of possibilities.

posted by Zentronix @ 3:33 PM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, January 16, 2004

Brilliant discussion between Davey D and Cedric Muhammad of Black here, regarding the stakes for 2004 for the hip-hop generation. Definitely check it out, debate, and circulate.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:19 AM   0 comments links to this post


And paper-thin, too. Here's insider coverage of the protest against Bush at MLK, Jr.'s memorial yesterday. King's message in 68--stop the war, give us jobs and justice--seems pretty on-point.

Chinese astrology trivia: '04, like '68 and '92 (the LA Rebellion), is a Year of the Monkey. Let's get ready to rumble...

posted by Zentronix @ 8:14 AM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Mosely-Braun's gone, endorsed Dean, with a bid for a cabinet position in hand, most likely. Next fallout comes after the Iowa primary on Tuesday.

Caught Dean's pitch to union members last night on C-SPAN. He was full of let's-organize-the-unorganized fire in his long, rambling speech. Will the machine follow the rhetoric?

LA Weekly's David Corn thinks Dean can't win.

Michael Moore is endorsing Wesley Clark. Just gets more interesting...


Just in time for 2004, here's your new community-friendly Clear Channel. Too bad there's no primary elections for these boards.

posted by Zentronix @ 8:04 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

From the They Know The Time file:

"Kucinich Campaign uses Hip Hop Organizing to Get the Vote Out in DC
For Immediate Release: Jan. 12, 2004

In the final days before the DC primary, Kucinich Campaign is using a Hip Hop street team combined with traditional local campaign volunteers, the campaign has distributed 35,000 pieces of literature, knocked on doors, made phone calls to registered voters, and raised visibility for the their candidate by posting signs and posters throughout the District. Working with Brent Joseph, a local dj and his organization, Groove Gumbo, the Kucinich Campaign's Hip Hop Street Team distributed literature at local Hip Hop clubs and poetry sets; talking up Kucinich to partygoers and poets and at various metro stops in targeted locations. Congressman Kucinich's number is the 5 on the ballot. Hence, the number was emphasis on the campaign materials. The residents of the District of Columbia will also be receiving a phone call today from actor/UN Peace Messenger, Danny Glover, asking them to vote for Dennis Kucinich in tomorrow's primary.

'In a primary where its not receiving a lot of national attention, we are trying to use innovative ways of getting out the votes not only to raise awareness for our candidate, but to also support a primary that is trying to bring awareness to the fact that residents of DC lack representation in Congress,' said Yu-Lan Tu, the DC/MD State Coordinator for the Dennis Kucinich for President Campaign.

On January 9th, 2003, Congressman Dennis Kucinich announced that he will be introducing legislation to obtain DC Statehood once Congress reconvenes for the 108th Session..."

Meanwhile, on the White House side of town, Bush advanced his Pigs In Space agenda today. Quick, somebody please cue Gil-Scott Heron!

This next item is not so funny. From AP...

U.S. Soldiers' Suicide Rate Is Up in Iraq

January 14, 2004 09:20 PM EST

WASHINGTON - U.S. soldiers in Iraq are killing themselves at a high rate despite the work of special teams sent to help troops deal with combat stress, the Pentagon's top doctor said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, about 2,500 soldiers who have returned from the war on terrorism are having to wait for medical care at bases in the United States, said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. The problem of troops on "medical extension" is likely to get worse as the Pentagon rotates hundreds of thousands of troops into and out of Iraq this spring, he said.

Both situations illustrate the stresses placed on the troops and the military's health system by the war in Iraq.

Suicide has become such a pressing issue that the Army sent an assessment team to Iraq late last year to see if anything more could be done to prevent troops from killing themselves. The Army also began offering more counseling to returning troops after several soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., killed their wives and themselves after returning home from the war.

Winkenwerder said the military has documented 21 suicides during 2003 among troops involved in the Iraq war. Eighteen of those were Army soldiers, he said.

That's a suicide rate for soldiers in Iraq of about 13.5 per 100,000, Winkenwerder said. In 2002, the Army reported an overall suicide rate of 10.9 per 100,000.

The overall suicide rate nationwide during 2001 was 10.7 per 100,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By contrast, two U.S. military personnel killed themselves during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, although that conflict only lasted about a month. The Army recorded 102 suicides during 1991 for a rate of 14.4 per 100,000. The Army's highest suicide rate in recent years came in 1993, when the rate was 15.7 per 100,000.

The Marine Corps has the military's highest suicide rate. Last year the Marines' rate was 12.6 per 100,000. During 1993, the Marines' rate was 20.9 per 100,000.

In 1993, there was U.S. military action in Somalia and Haiti...

posted by Zentronix @ 3:22 PM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Augustus Pablo-King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Deluxe Edition

Not as revelatory as the Catch A Fire Deluxe set a couple years back, but it's excellent to have a remastered version of the album. Better yet, four extra versions! These tracks are re-cuts to "Keep On Dubbing", "555 Dub St", "Satta" (uncredited on the original LP), and "Cassava Piece (Tubby Meets The Rockers)". The first three emphasize Pablo's slow-river meandering. Points out that the album was really about Tubby--Pablo's name on the thing notwithstanding. The "Silent Satta" version is not as sonically bombastic as the original "Satta"--which pioneered those EQ mashing tricks that are so common in house sets these days. Tubby liquefies the organ and guitar and Pablo plays on. The last, called "1-2-3 Version", is just phenomenal. If "Tubby Meets The Rockers" was thunder-hurricane dramatic, this version lingers on Carly Barrett's rain-on-a-zinc-roof hi-hat work and Robbie Shakespeare's brain-gripping bassline. Different kind of drama.

posted by Zentronix @ 9:37 AM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 12, 2004

Over the weekend (bad economic news always comes over the weekend), everyone found out what the Bushits already knew. All indicators point up for the Bushit constituencies, and down for 99% of the world. Productivity is up, but there is virtually no job growth--only 1000 net new jobs. That means the non-downsized folks are getting their asses worked or are being replaced by technology. (Clear Channel, anyone?) Lower unemployment but only because more frustrated people opted out.

The statistics can be confusing, as this NY Times article makes clear. Bottom line: as Dizzee Rascal might say, ain't no job thing here. Round round round we go.

What no one except Paul Krugman is willing to say is the truth: Reaganomics still doesn't work. Come on Dems, get with the program.

Here's Krugman in a little-read editorial from the holidays (all the important stuff comes out on the holidays):

"It was a merry Christmas for Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus, which reported big sales increases over last year's holiday season. It was considerably less cheery at Wal-Mart and other low-priced chains. We don't know the final sales figures yet, but it's clear that high-end stores did very well, while stores catering to middle- and low-income families achieved only modest gains.

Based on these reports, you may be tempted to speculate that the economic recovery is an exclusive party, and most people weren't invited. You'd be right.

Commerce Department figures reveal a startling disconnect between overall economic growth, which has been impressive since last spring, and the incomes of a great majority of Americans. In the third quarter of 2003, as everyone knows, real G.D.P. rose at an annual rate of 8.2 percent. But wage and salary income, adjusted for inflation, rose at an annual rate of only 0.8 percent. More recent data don't change the picture: in the six months that ended in November, income from wages rose only 0.65 percent after inflation.

Why aren't workers sharing in the so-called boom? Start with jobs.

Payroll employment began rising in August, but the pace of job growth remains modest, averaging less than 90,000 per month. That's well short of the 225,000 jobs added per month during the Clinton years; it's even below the roughly 150,000 jobs needed to keep up with a growing working-age population.

But if the number of jobs isn't rising much, aren't workers at least earning more? You may have thought so. After all, companies have been able to increase output without hiring more workers, thanks to the rapidly rising output per worker. (Yes, that's a tautology.) Historically, higher productivity has translated into rising wages. But not this time: thanks to a weak labor market, employers have felt no pressure to share productivity gains. Calculations by the Economic Policy Institute show real wages for most workers flat or falling even as the economy expands.

An aside: how weak is the labor market? The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but there's something funny about that number. An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed. Such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years.

So if jobs are scarce and wages are flat, who's benefiting from the economy's expansion? The direct gains are going largely to corporate profits, which rose at an annual rate of more than 40 percent in the third quarter. Indirectly, that means that gains are going to stockholders, who are the ultimate owners of corporate profits. (That is, if the gains don't go to self-dealing executives, but let's save that topic for another day.)"

posted by Zentronix @ 8:04 AM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, January 09, 2004

Just got off the phone with my editor. I gave her a 700-page manuscript in November. Comprehensive? Yes! Reader-friendly? No. I'm hacking out 2-300 pages by February 6. Woo hoo! Until then, posts will be less epic or likely to cause gastrointestinal problems. Email will be spotty. In the meantime, enjoy the links in the left-bar.

posted by Zentronix @ 3:27 PM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

OK, here's the gotdamn Da Capo rant in the SF Bay Guardian, vetted by editors and stuff, and placed under the obnoxious coverline "Jeff Chang challenges whitey's hold on the Best Music Writing". Makes it sound like a wrestling match. Angry Chinese Hawaiian Guy (ACHG), that's me.

This whole episode has taught me a couple of things. One, blogging as anger management is not always a good idea. Two, lots of people have some emotional investment in Da Capo's Best Music Writing series (Why? I'm still baffled). Three, the time would have been better spent criticizing Bush's foreign policy. This was the Democratic debate version of reality--all needless diversion.

I mean, it wasn't a total waste of time, but then again, it kinda was.

Enjoy or rant back. Then let's put this to bed.

Return of the white noise supremacists
Truth, lies, Da Capo's Best Music Writing series, and the white man's burden.
By Jeff Chang

IT BEGAN, as so many meltdowns do these days, with a stupid blog entry. Late one night not long ago, my head stuffed with ideas from stacks of pop music criticism books, arrogantly nursing a big slight on behalf of hip-hop as a whole, I lay on my bed seething about a piece in the anthology Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002. The thing that had set me off was a stupid sentence in a stupid article by a stupid old white guy. Nik Cohn was his name, the piece was called "Soljas," which was first published in Granta, and the sentence went, "Calliope niggas made the St. Thomas look like church."

Reading it was like being kicked between the eyes. In 12 years of writing about hip-hop, I had never used that word unless it was coming out of another person's mouth. There were political reasons. Would I let some old white guy hang with my family for a few days, then go off and write about "these chinks this" and "those flips that"? It was personal too. If I had tried to write like that in a hip-hop magazine, could I have gotten it past any of my editors? Would I even be able step out of the house if it got published? I'd never be able to write again. And for good reason. I don't live in some gated-community color-blind fiction.

Without even reading his bio, I knew Cohn would probably never have to go back to New Orleans's Calliope or St. Thomas projects. When I remembered who he was, I got cross-eyed with rage. During the late '60s, Cohn was a London scenester and a rock journalism pioneer. When that faded, he jumped the Atlantic and reinvented himself as a hard-boiled journalist. In 1976, Cohn sold a story to New York magazine about a disco stallion from an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, called "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night." It was a fake: he invented the central character, a suave neighborhood dance-floor king, from details remembered from his mod days.

But unlike black journalists Janet Cooke, Patricia Smith, and Jayson Blair, whose made-up stories unleashed widespread panic in American journalism and ruined their careers forever, Cohn was able to cash in. His fake story became Saturday Night Fever, and with the loot he clocked, he shipped off for Shelter Island. Two-plus decades later, he admitted in the London Guardian, "My story was a fraud." But as Saturday Night Fever moved to the revival circuit and then onto Broadway, Cohn was hailed as a cultural hero who had defined an era. History was kind to this liar.

Years later, in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002, Cohn was writing – inventing? – the tribal rites of Cash Money-loving ghetto youths in New Orleans. Perhaps he had been a brilliant music journalist three decades ago, even deservedly so, but this piece wasn't shit. Its presence in the book made it seem as if Harry Allen, Greg Tate, and hip-hop journalism had never happened. As if the truth about "these people" could only be told by an elderly Irishman. Exactly what qualified "Soljas" as one of the best music writings of 2002 anyway? The fact that it was first published in Granta, a British literary magazine? The fact that he was Nik Cohn? I ran downstairs for some blog therapy.

Cohn gone

Maybe Cohn had reported everything. What he wrote felt like the opposite of truth and more like the white man's burden. But really, Cohn wasn't the point – he was the tipping point. The whole damn Best Music Writing series was on my mind. I felt like Buggin' Out in Sal's Pizzeria. All the books had been edited by white males. Most of the selections were written by white males. Most of those white male editors and writers were closer to Cohn's age than to Eminem's.

"It's not hard to notice what's going on," I ranted. "If you read the Da Capo series to find out what the best music journalism is about and who the best music journalists are you would have to believe that rock is still dominant, that rap is still a marginal genre, and that women and folks of color just don't make the highest tier of music journalism. In other words, you'd be still sucking in the '70s. If Ward Connerly were a rock critic, his best-of anthologies might look like this."

OK, that last line was dumb. And yet the outrage was so clear, I felt even dumber for calling attention to it. It has been 14 years since the Source began publishing, and 10 since Vibe debuted. For the past decade, there has been no lack of writing about nonrock music by women and people of color and hip-hop-gen heads. Millions of words a year are written in English about hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, reggae, tropicalia, bossa nova, batucada, salsa, merengue, cumbia, Tejano, rock en español, mbalax, juju, Afrobeat, gnawa, qawwali, bhangra, broken beat, and it don't stop. How is it that less than a handful of pieces not about rock and not written by white males can find their way into the Da Capo Best Music Writing annual?

I went back to do the math – call it my own internalized racism – just to be sure. Knowing guest editor Jonathan Lethem was under 40, a white Brooklyn kid comfortable with polyculturalism and hip-hop, and loving his fiction, I figured his editing would be as good as it could get. His anthology featured 28 essays. Twenty-five were by males, 1 was by a woman (1 was a listserv transcript, another was from the Onion). Two were by writers of color. Sixteen were about rock. Eight were about hip-hop. That represented the most hip-hop coverage in any volume in the series, and hip-hop was still outnumbered two to one.

I went back to the first edition, released in 2000 and guest-edited by Peter Guralnick. Women wrote 7 of the 35 essays. Hip-hop was the subject of 4 pieces. The 2001 edition, guest-edited by Nick Hornby, was more topical – featuring good, timely pieces on Napster, payola, and taxes – but the numbers were about the same. Five of the 27 essays were by women, 4 about hip-hop.

As bad as these numbers were, the recently released 2003 anthology, edited by Simpsons creator, All Tomorrow's Parties curator, and ex-rock crit Matt Groening, was no improvement. Sixteen of the 20 essays were by males, 3 by women (1 was from the Onion). Half the essays were about rock. Only 2 were about hip-hop. None of the writers were of color. Final tally: in four years less than a handful of the series' writers were of color. More than 80 percent of the essays were by white males. Bottom line: I was right.

Maybe it had been late when I ranted and I had been getting delirious, but I began having serious flashbacks to that lost era between 1984 and 1996 – when the word diversity was still a hopeful rallying cry, not an admission of failure, and thousands of fist-pumping students like me were marching out of class to demand it in our student body, staff, and faculty and required reading lists. But no, I told myself the morning after, it would be too much to start tossing trash cans and calling the series "music writing apartheid," or something equally inelegant and silly (although just in case someone comes at me wrong, I reserve the right). The answer was a lot simpler.

Now, as then, a generation of old white males has become comfortable in its floating world – in this case, the one bounded by the Hudson and the East Rivers. And now, as then, a new generation of writers is creating a critical mass of writing that cries out to be read, enjoyed, and debated. Only problem is, they aren't doing it in the New Yorker (nine citations of the publication in the series in the past four years), the New York Times (nine citations also), or even the Village Voice (seven citations). In the case of the latter two publications, they just aren't being read. (And by the way, when did the New Yorker and the Times, outlets hardly bursting with alt cred, become the gold standard of music criticism anyway?) In any case, a new generation of writers goes unnoticed by white dudes lost in space (Manhattan) or time (ye olde rock paradigm).

Not to say there aren't pieces that are worth reading over and again. Lethem picked R.J. Smith's wonderful anticelebrity profile of racially ambiguous lounge lizard Korla Pandit. Groening selected Terry McDermott's fine history of N.W.A. and a Dave Tompkins-style sample-and-freestyle history of Detroit soul by a law professor (!) named Lawrence Joseph. My point is not to quibble about criteria and choices. Every year music crits erupt on listservs over what selections should have been included and what should not have. We'll do it all night and give up food, sleep, and sex. That's what we do best – fuss over shit that doesn't matter at all while the real problem has a big laugh at our expense.

The usual suspects

Da Capo's Best Music Writing series doesn't exactly represent apartheid, but it does represent a nasty kind of unilateralism – an old-ways devotion to narrow-mindedness articulated in elitist anti-intellectualisms uniquely available to those with Bush privilege and rock 'n' roll. "Let any revolution be incomplete while I'm in charge," Lethem is charitable enough to admit in his introductory notes. "Much of my favorite music writing last year was by the Usual Suspects, as was much of my favorite music." Groening is even less generous, calling this "a fairly dismal time in general for music, when so much dreck is so unbelievably popular, and so much writing seems just as artificially sweetened yet utterly deflavorized."

Now that may sound like a reasonable point of view if your worldview was shaped before the late '70s, you find a newsrack full of titles like XLR8R, Punk Planet, Wax Poetics, and URB daunting, and you believe music writing has been cleaved into two camps: the Blender-ized tits-and-amps mags and the New Yorker. But what kind of worldview is that anyway? With the exception of Lorraine Ali's piece on Palestinian rap, the Da Capo series has never left American shores for its sounds. At the same time some of the top music radio stations in Los Angeles and New York, the top two markets in the country, do not even broadcast in English. Unilateralism, indeed.

[ZENTRONIX NOTE HERE: I neglected to mention Jay Babcock's fantastic Fela piece from Mean Magazine, included in the first book.]

So even my flashbacks were warranted. Da Capo's Best Music Writing series demonstrates the old problem that activists of color, feminists, and gay and lesbian activists raged against during the 1980s. A very particular kind of worldview – in this case, one that favors white, male, English-only, New York-approved, rock-centric writers and writing – is passed off as the universal standard of excellence. Once again, this point seems so obvious that I'm embarrassed to write it.

Canons are never accidents. They get made. And it goes a little something like this: Da Capo Press hires a guest editor – usually a white male author with literary cred, music interests, and shelf appeal. It also hires a series editor – usually a white male professional with music interests, extensive editing experience, and a gardener's patience. The series editor puts the call out to select magazine editors and journalists – usually white males with New York industry cred and mad guest-list access. So constituted, this informal music-crit illuminati generates articles for consideration. The series editor narrows down the submissions to 100 essays and sends them to the guest editor. The guest editor then selects 20 to 30 essays and writes an introduction. See how easy it is to exclude all kinds of points of view that are not already extensions of your own?

Now I'm reasonably certain even the most conservative of pop music critics will vote for Howard Dean next year. And it's pretty hard to imagine any music crit defending the overwhelming white-maleness of the Da Capo series by saying it's better for the kids to read Greil Marcus than Greg Tate, in the same way that Charles Murray keeps beating us over the head with his Euro-American pride. Cultural relativism, after all, is one of music journalism's founding tenets. But it gets trumped every time by rockist ideology.

One cornerstone of rockism is the mostly unexamined celebration of cultural miscegenation and racial integration. Popular music is where everybody goes to dance or yearn or snarl or dream together, the myth says. It's a utopia beyond social milieu, above the merely political. Nothing wrong with that, all things being equal. But of course, duh, they're not. Check how the back cover blurb for the 2002 anthology reads: "Nik Cohn infiltrates the New Orleans rap scene." So we're back to the white man's burden: as arbiters of culture, it's up to the (older) white guys to validate/interpret/rescue the rest of us.

An instant retort to my argument is that all the selections come down to a matter of taste. That's a nice liberal update of that old saw "We don't dumb down for diversity." Because the selection process is all about social milieu – the who-you-know, who-you-hang-with, who-you-like, who-you-want-to-like-you. And the results are absolutely political.

I'm waiting for someone to write an alt history of music journalism that starts with Lester Bangs's famous essay "The White Noise Supremacists," in which he lurches up to the miscegenation myth, realizes the whole enterprise to which he's devoted his life might in fact be a racist charade, and beats a hasty retreat. This history would take the '70s not as a wide-eyed Almost Famous golden era of music criticism but as a period of decline. If white and black writers during the '60s fixated on Motown and Muhammad Ali as two very different but equally hopeful signs of racial crossover, the '70s ushered in a retreat into whiteness.

It seems ancient-pyramids-in-Egypt-type history now – or maybe not – but there's a reason George Clinton spent nearly two decades with meager (white) critical props, the Black Rock Coalition had music writers scurrrred, and Chuck D's line about Elvis spawned paroxysms of fury. There's a reason hip-hop journalism got started in the first place. By the dawn of hip-hop, it could be argued, rockism was actively fostering musical and cultural segregation. When the Source emerged at the end of the '80s, hip-hop journalism gave voice to those marginalized not only by the mainstream but also by rockism.

New rap poetics

Raquel Cepeda's overdue anthology, titled And It Don't Stop: The Best Hip Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, may provide a corrective when it comes out next year. The earliest pieces on hip-hop were written by impassioned black and white supporters in outlets at the fringes of music writing, like the East Village Eye and the City Sun, and in a small number of titles in the center, notably the Village Voice and Billboard. But when the time came for the new generation of writers to ride – the most diverse group of music writers ever – they chose not to fight their way into the rockstream, a strategy that would have promised endless war and a dubious payoff. Instead they opted out and embraced separate-but-equal.

To be fair, there is much that's trite and hollow and dishonest and blandly celebratory in what hip-hop journalism has become, although probably no more than in the rest of music journalism. But should the fact that hip-hop magazines now often outsell the Rolling Stones and Spins of the world be held against their better writers? As if popularity were evidence that commercialism has tainted truth in journalism? That's racism masquerading as aesthetics.

To accept Da Capo's current worldview is to accept a lie. When the editing process begins for the 2004 edition, we'll see if the editors can dismiss pieces like Rob Kenner's Vibe cover story on Sean Paul and the perils of third-world-to-first-world dancehall crossover, Corey Takahashi's Vibe piece on the Bollywood-to-hip-hop crossover, Elizabeth Mendez Berry's sympathetic and scathing farewell to Jay-Z in the Village Voice, or practically anything that's been in Wax Poetics. But if history is any guide, the odds are they will.

Cepeda's anthology has only one piece from the New York Times and one from the New Yorker. Only two pieces from Vibe and one from the Source have appeared in the Da Capo Best Music Writing series. The gulf is widening. Most hip-hop journalists would probably flip through Barney Hoskyns's anthology, The Sound and the Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism, snort at how wack the white dude's interview with Ice Cube is, and leave it on the shelf, unread and unbought. Most don't even vote in the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Poll, the annual critics' list that once represented something like a national consensus, began fragmenting in the mid '90s, and now seems to describe only the tastes of those who already do or would like to write for the Village Voice.

The irony the Da Capo editors face is that they need the new generation more than it needs them. An interesting theme of Lethem's and Groening's introductory notes is that, by becoming guest editors, they're faking it. "It's literally the best, and most human thing, we can do," Lethem writes. Reading it again now, I feel somewhat sympathetic. But long after my bedtime on that evil night, I had ended my rant like this: "If Lester Fucking Bangs was still alive, he'd probably be mentoring a young girl of color from New Orleans who grew up with Juvie, Jubilee, marches, merengue, magnums, samba, second line, the Sex Pistols, and the housing authority police. She wouldn't need to make anything up."

posted by Zentronix @ 8:24 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
This is why Ta-Nehisi Coates is the best hip-hop journalist working right now.

posted by Zentronix @ 12:38 PM   0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 05, 2004
P+J +++


Alicia Keys - Diary of Alicia Keys - J (10 points)
Cesaria Evoria - Voz D'Amor - Bluebird (10 points)
Chucho Valdes - New Conceptions - Blue Note (10 points)
Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner - XL (10 points)
Elephant Man - Good 2 Go - VP (10 points)
Erykah Badu - Worldwide Underground - Motown (10 points)
Jason Moran - The Bandwagon - Blue Note (10 points)
Lifesavas - Spirit In Stone - Quannum (10 points)
Lyrics Born - Later That Day - Quannum (10 points)
Outkast - Love Below/Speakerboxx - Arista (10 points)

Bonus Burns:
David Banner x3
Dead Prez - RBG:Revolutionary But Gangsta (squashed by the Man)
E-40-Breakin News
Missy Elliott-This Is Not A Test
Jay-Z-The Black Album
Immortal Technique-Revolutionary Vol. 2
Tom Harrell-Wise Children
Various Artists-Greensleeves Rhythm Album #40: Egyptian


Alicia Keys w/Rakim and Nas-"Streets of New York"
Antibalas-"Che Che Cole"
Beyonce-"Crazy In Love"
Beyonce vs. 50 Cent-"In Da Club"
E-40 feat. Turf Talk-"I Got Dat Work"
Elephant Man-"The Genie Dance"
Lil Jon-"Get Low" remixes
Panjabi MC-"Beware Of The Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)"
Vybz Kartel-"Sweet To The Belly"

Bonus Beats:
Beenie Man-"Row Like A Boat"
Bonecrusher-"Never Scared"
DJ Frane-"In The Garden"
Kanye West-"Through The Wire"
Lil Kim-"The Jump Off"
Lumidee-"Never Leave You (Uh Oh)"
Ludacris-"Stand Up"
Twista w/Kanye West-"Slow Jamz"

Acknowledgments:: Julianne Shepherd put the finger on it: all these choices are personal and political. SFJ and Keith Harris got me to finally confront how male-centered my lists have been. Mostly off any list, thankfully, Sterling Clover called me on the gap between what I say that I listen to and my actual listening habits.

posted by Zentronix @ 1:01 PM   0 comments links to this post


Just want to second Doug Wolk's paean to Antibalas' "Che Che Cole", which for me was easily among the best cultural, not just musical, moments of 2003.

For one it happened to touch on one of my private obsessions this past year, which has been trying to quickly learn as much about early 70s Latin music as possible, and my growing comfort level with the idea of polyculturalism. (On the latter, check this interview Vijay Prashad.)

The song:

Che Che Cole is a cover of the Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe salsa classic from 1971. The single features a Makossa version and an Afrobeat version. Both are pure fire.

The history (first, a shout out to Peter Shapiro for launching me on this journey):

Colon was an ex-Bronx gang member during the mid-60s and a contemporary of South Bronx movers like the Ghetto Brothers, Savage Skulls, and Savage Nomads, who began revolutionizing salsa in the late 60s. Young, street-smart, hardcore (his album covers tended to highlight gangsta themes), he was also polyculturalist to the core. The bilingual (in Spanish and a West African dialect I don't know). lyrics to "Che Che Cole" came from a Ghanaian children's rhyme he learned, and he set the song to a Puerto Rican bomba rhythm, before adding salsa sabor.

This was an era when salsa bands were going Afrodiasporic, experimenting with--as the title of Grupo Folklorico's classic album put it--"concepts in unity". The most obvious touchstone for Antibalas' experiment is Fania All-Stars' NYC performance with Manu Dibango of "Soul Makossa", but going strong at the same time were Cortijo and his Time Machine and Eddie Palmieri's Harlem River Drive, while on the west coast, groups like the Escovedo's Azteca and Cesar Ascarrunz' San Francisco band were rocking a new sound.

Unlike the bugalu moment of the mid-60s, when Latin bands mostly de-clave'd to move toward North American black funk and soul, the new hybrid sound of jazz, rock, soul, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Rican sounds leaned south to Latin America and east to Africa. The diversity of ideas--sonically, culturally, politically--that came out of that are just boggling to me. You could begin at the end of the 60s by drawing a line between, say, Ray Barretto's "Acid" and JB's "Sex Machine Live" album and then see the connections begin to multiply as the new decade begins. Palmieri to Mayfield to Bartz to the AEC to Wonder to Santana to Cortijo and the web just expands.

In this Bush unilateralist world, it seems as good a time as any to revive the open-hearted riddims and ideas of that period. In fact, if Antibalas has often been accused of being too retro-purist, this form of cultural globalization feels more in line with their one-world politics and better displays the range of the individual band member's talents and riddim-knowledges (from dub to vodun to santeria, and on and on). Kuti's Afrobeat did not evolve far (blame the cult of personality, perhaps), and while classicism has its place, it rarely intersects with right-now relevance. If this is Antibalas' new groove, it's a wide open and promising one, and, if things can be right in this world, might become the soundtrack of this coming summer's protest season.

OK, one more post this week--the Bay Guardian piece--is about all I can handle for now. Mad work to do this month. You're welcome to peep the holiday content explosion below and in the leftbar. Peace.

posted by Zentronix @ 1:03 AM   1 comments links to this post

Sunday, January 04, 2004
Check new "backstory" section on the left bar for my favorite shit from the last 5-6 years. I resisted this for years out of sheer embarrassment (again...island ways), but when the book edits are done, a brother needs work so what the hell. Fatter archives, going back to the early 90s and hopefully including classic (4 years now--sheeit!) 360hiphop politic ditto stuff (not only by me), when the site properly relaunches later this year.

posted by Zentronix @ 12:29 AM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Because the hate continues to pour into the inbox and the conspiracies are beginning to circulate, I wanted to let yall know just for the record, I AM NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE GOTDAMN DA CAPO SERIES!!!

For yall folks coming late to this, I ranted about the series about a month or so ago, causing a minor shitstorm in my inbox and a little fuss on ILM. I got assigned a piece to develop the rant into something passably coherent.

At SFJ's suggestion, I interviewed the series editor to find out the process of selection. At the end of our conversation, he asked me to give him a list of folks to include in his solicitation email, which I did. When he sent it out at the end of the year, I posted the solicit email address to this blog. Pro-democracy public service.

(The whole episode was reminiscent of school days. Take over the administration building on Monday at lunch. Get arrested by dinner. Get a call on Tuesday morning. Meet with the administration on Wednesday. Sell out within 48 hours.)

Now folks are filling my inbox like I've become a gatekeeper for the Da Capo series! Irony lives, in Berkeley, big time.

Serves me right I guess.

The Bay Guardian story is coming out on Tuesday. Hopefully that'll be the end of the story. Probably not.

posted by Zentronix @ 10:16 PM   0 comments links to this post


Cuz Michaelangelo Matos has made them fun again! Check the Seattle Weekly's 2003 in the Mix and his essay. Elsewhere, Jess Harvell's year-end is an endlessly interesting grok that had me sprinting for Amoeba and Limewire.

Voting for the Pazz and Jop closes Monday and I'm already scurrred. Since 1997 or 8 (or 9), my gripe has been that the P+J has lost all relevance. Despite record numbers of voters every year, chronic low turnout from the non-white under-35 crowd ensures the list represents nothing close to a real snapshot of critical interests. (And no, please don't ask me to do the dirty work, I already sent out the email address for the Da Capo Best Of.)

To me, the commentary reads less like the hot and often rudely funny culture-clashes of yesteryear than carefully constructed, artful and bloodless attacks on perceived straw targets (prediction: many words on Liz Phair and death-of-album) or canned one-liners (tho Jon Dolan has elevated that format to an artform). Aside from JD, why wait for that when you're already in the blogosphere? Anyway, more critics, less drama this year: will Outkast survive the backlash to lock top album honors? Will R. Kelly surprise all by taking the single title from Beyonce? And what kind of outcry might that unleash? Back to sleep, yall.

One thing most year-end lists--not to mention the Voice's pretty belated package--did make me feel was a major spasm of regret that I spent most of The Year Dancehall Broke on the sidelines. My sincere, heartfelt plea to editors and writers: more context, please? Your farin-ness is showing. (Here's the part where I wish I could refer folks to an anthology of Rob Kenner's collected writings.)

One thing you learn from growing up on an island: things and time will tell.


Your Dancehall Pedant

posted by Zentronix @ 9:16 AM   0 comments links to this post

Best whatthefuck moment of New Year's Eve: Bonecrusher doing the worm on BET!!!

posted by Zentronix @ 7:44 AM   0 comments links to this post


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