Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Kweli Hits #2 :: WTF?

Ya Heard?

Numbers coming in from last week's sales have Talib Kweli's Ear Drum hitting #2 on the album chart. Yall know I'm a big Kweli fan, so I'm very happy for the man.

In the past month Common, UGK and Kweli have all had their highest debuts ever. What does this all mean?

First off, some perspective. Kweli did 60,500 copies, one-sixth of what the #1 album, "High School Musical 2 did (in its second week), a shade over half of what Common did in his first week and over a third of what UGK did in their first week. Those remain sobering numbers for rap music execs.

But let's also be real: Kweli also had much less than one-sixth of the promotion that HSM2 did, and probably less than Common and UGK did as well. I don't have access to what Kweli's done in his first week for his previous releases, but I suspect that the numbers are about the same. In other words, give Kweli his props for building his audience and keeping it, regardless of distribution.

(This was a theme of an interview I did with him years back. He said then, and I'm sure he still feels now, that for artists it's no longer about the kind of backing you get from a label. It's about developing your base, one-to-one. He was saying this before Myspace, before Youtube.)

Industry insiders already are speculating that the chart success of Kweli, Common, and UGK this past month is all proof that hip-hop's audience is aging. I think part of this has to do with their unwillingness to trust hip-hop audiences' tastes, that people may be more down for "the underground" than some execs are willing to imagine.

It could also be argued that all of these artists are different, because they have enjoyed associations with bigger artists. For Common and Kweli, there's the Kanye effect, for UGK and Kweli, there's the Jay-Z effect.

But the age gap argument is probably truer than most of us have yet admitted. All of these artists are in their 30s and began building their audiences in the 90s. If you follow this reasoning, UGK did the best because they were able to bridge young and old audiences the best of the three.

Plies fans aside, then, aging hip-hop audiences might be the upside in this down market. Just like in the rock market in the 80s, thirtysomethings are speaking...loudly. While their younger brothers and sisters are downloading the industry to its grave, they are actually still buying albums. Not singles, albums.

The surprising bottom line might be this: older hip-hop audiences are not actually the tail, maybe they have become the foundation of the hip-hop market. If so, radio better recognize: the first 24-hour hip-hop classics format may not be far away.

Then again, we still have a couple weeks til Sept. 11th, a date hip-hop fans everywhere have begun talking about as if it's the final cataclysmic showdown between "conscious" and "corporate". Fact is I think those terms are as stupid as Polow Da Don's views on women of color. But I'll be like everyone else on that Super Tuesday.

Check back here then...

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posted by Zentronix @ 4:14 PM   9 comments links to this post

Sunday, August 26, 2007
How To Write A Newspaper Article
I do a lot of talks about hip-hop journalism.

One of the things I always say is that part of the fun of it in the old days was the fact that no one had any clue how to write an actual journalistically sound piece, so we got these ridiculously strange pieces all the time--interrupted by some ill lyric or nugget of wisdom from Malcolm X, making a left turn into some long-winded analysis of the artist's previous 15 b-sides, that kind of thing.

Since then, of course, the writing has gotten a lot more j-school approved professional, which is not a bad thing. But I still have love for the folks who write like they don't know what a lede is.

So for those of you who have as little clue as I did what the hell a "nut graph" is" here's a Hilarious piece from the Sunday Times that actually serves as a pretty functional, handy guide on how to write a newspaper article.

All you young bloggers, save this puppy for when you get that call.

And btw, in the meantime? Go read a book--many books--sometime. But that's another lesson for another day...

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posted by Zentronix @ 7:52 AM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, August 23, 2007
The Other Shoe Drops For DJ Drama reports that Universal's release of a legal mixtape by DJ Bear (who?) have only sold 5,800 units at cut-out prices since being released a month ago.

Drama responded, "How ironic. I guess they've realized just how important mixtapes are.""

The legal mixtape thing, of course, is hardly new. But there's good reporting in this piece...

+ A UME exec admits they don't have any, uh, clue...and

+ Retailers are like, whatever, next.

posted by Zentronix @ 12:41 PM   1 comments links to this post

UNICEF Germany :: Save Africa, Go Blackface


Save Africa hipsterism reached a new low this summer with this UNICEF campaign by ad company Jung von Matt/Alster presenting German children in blackface.

You can see them beginning here. More analysis here.

Even the taglines, meant to call attention to Africa's educaitonal crisis, sound nuts. Here's one: ""In Africa, kids don't come to school late, but not at all."

Lost in translation maybe? Nein!

After protests, there was this reply from a UNICEF official:

The idea behind is that children from Germany demonstrate their solidarity with children in Africa by showing up with a coloured make up. Their message is: "Children may look different but are equal - we all want to go to school." Absolutely no connotation of black children as "dirty children" was intended.

Before publishing the ad, we had carefully discussed possible misinterpretations and the agency had also tested public reaction in a survey in Germany, without receiving negative comments. Neither did we receive any negative reaction from the German public after publication.

The ad was published in a few high-quality print media like Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Spiegel, Die Zeit, Stern, free-of-charge. These media had never volunteered to publish the ad if they would have expected a negative connotation. Obviously, the perception of the ad varies by country...

We apologize if you feel irritated by the make up of the children. cultural understanding, oh UNICEF soldiers!

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posted by Zentronix @ 10:45 AM   4 comments links to this post

Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Still Not Cornier Than Wash Post Bloggers!
Fact checkers at the Washington Post let this one by Jose Antonio Vargas through:

Already, Obama has gotten shout-outs from some of hip hop's biggest names. In his summer hit "The People," Chicago's own Common name-drops Obama: "Barack stick, knight the people like Obama."

Yeah, "Barack stick, knight." I heard that...OK...

"Strike A Pose"? Now it's true that I came up in the 90s. But even these fools make me look like I'm (insert your current avatar of cool here, junior).

BTW just in case you were wondering? I'm not a hip-hop fundamentalist and I certainly never said it was dead! (See post labels...)

Now let me take my old man medicine before I pop a vein.

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posted by Zentronix @ 1:29 PM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, August 16, 2007
R.I.P. Max Roach

Max Roach, 1924-2007

Our prayers go out to the Roach family.

In the early 1980s, Max Roach did a series of shows downtown with Fab Five Freddy taking the mic, angering lots of jazz purists. In defense, he launched one of the most famous defenses of rap music and hip-hop in a famous interview with Fab. (If memory serves, this ran in SPIN Magazine.):

The thing that frightened people about hip-hop was that they heard rhythm--rhythm for rhythm's sake. Hip-hop lives in a world of sound--not the world of music--and that's why it's so revolutionary. What we as Black people have always done is show that the world of sound is bigger than white people think. There are many areas that fall outside the narrow Western definition of music and hip-hop is one of them.

UPDATE 8/17 ::

+ Ben Ratliff's discography

+ NYT Page, including music

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posted by Zentronix @ 11:52 AM   5 comments links to this post

Monday, August 13, 2007
B-Boying & Hip-Hop Theatre In The NY Times :: How History Gets Distorted
I'm way past the point of being excited by seeing hip-hop dance in a place like the Times, but this piece is notable.

It tries to account for the global sophistication of b-boy/b-girl competitions in talking about the rise of South Korean b-boys and their journey into evening-length works. It also touches on Benson Lee's fantastic new movie Planet B-Boy, which captures a year in the life of Thomas Hergenrother's essential Battle of The Year, an event that is beginning to look like the b-boy/b-girl World Cup. Trac 2 also gets a strong mention in the piece.

At the same time, it's waaaaaaay off the mark in terms of looking at how b-boy has moved to the theatre stage. "Battle of the Year is largely responsible for the trend toward longer, more artful works featuring characters and plot," the author, Julie Bloom, writes.


The transformation of hip-hop dance into narrative theatre is a history that has been recounted thoroughly by Jorge POPMASTER FABEL Pabon in Total Chaos, as well as in this long piece I did on Rennie Harris and his group Puremovement. (PDF download)

Bloom even contradicts the Times' own dance critics, who have been covering hip-hop dance theatre since the Rhythm Technicians took to the stage at PS 122 in 1991 with the acclaimed play "So What Happens Now?", years before BOTY's competition expanded beyond Europe. (That play could also be said to be the birth of hip-hop theatre itself.)

This is not at all a slight to BOTY's influence on global b-boying/b-girling, which has been HUGE. It's simply to say that Bloom overstates the case drastically, and there are effects.

This is not an incidental point. As many pioneer dancers remind me, part of the reason hip-hop dance remains the least understood of the original four elements is because few people really care to get their facts right. Many see this as a campaign to erase and deracinate hip-hop's origins. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't. But the effect can be the same.

So mad props, love, and respect to the German and South Korean massive for continuing to expand and change the game. But I'm sure even they would tell you that the history isn't always what it's made out to be by the mainstream media.

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posted by Zentronix @ 9:23 AM   10 comments links to this post

Monday, August 06, 2007
NY 77 :: Coolest Year In Hell
NY77: The Rap Battle! :: In which Caz and Wiz Take On Bambaataa...

The 1977 retrospectives continue. (Actually, "The Bronx Is Burning" has improved.) But this week on Saturday check VH1 for what might be the best doc yet: NY 77 :: Coolest Year In Hell. It features Kool Herc, Grandmaster Caz, the great DJ Disco Wiz, Lee Quinones, and many more, including many punkoids, and a cop or two. As this dude was saying to me over and over last week to the point where I wanted to slug him, "Good stuff! So enjoy!"

Warning: They filmed me for this one. But watch it anyway. I'm pretty sure they didn't use my mugly ugg in this.

Thanks to Wiz for the previews. BTW here's another:

+ Blackout 77!

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posted by Zentronix @ 4:54 PM   3 comments links to this post

Obama On Rap :: With Updates

Back from where I've been.

If you haven't already heard it on the radio or seen it on the TV show, it's the B to the O, and you'll start seeing the interview this week on newsstands.

As Ms. Smith says in her letter from the editor, "Music and all amusements are important to you and important to us, but it's time to turn down the speakers and pull out the ear buds - at least for right now. Music is great; it inspires us. Films can change minds. Fashion makes us feel more alive. But, really - check the clock. Do you want to feel alive? Or actually be alive?"

Next week, will also be featuring a transcript of the interview, and a podcast with your boy.

Here's another preview:

“Rap is reflective of the culture of the inner city, with its problems, but also its potential, its energy, its challenges to the status quo. And I absolutely agree my priority as a US senator is dealing with poverty and educational opportunity and adequate health care. If I’m ignoring those issues and spending all my time worrying about rap lyrics then I’m wasting my time.”

“On the other hand, I think that there’s no doubt that hip hop culture moves our young people powerfully. And some of it is not just a reflection of reality. It also creates reality. I think that if all our kids see is a glorification of materialism and bling and casual sex and kids are never seeing themselves reflected as hitting the books and being responsible and delaying gratification, then they are getting an unrealistic picture of what the world is like.”

UPDATE (8/8) :: Danyel Smith with Farai Chideya on the back-story to the special 14th anniversary Juice issue. I'm a little embarrassed about this one...!

UPDATE (8/9) :: Links to the complete Obama transcripts! Part 1 and Part 2. Vibe's Obama homepage is here.

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posted by Zentronix @ 7:10 AM   5 comments links to this post


Previous posts
Coming Soon!
Notes On The Eve Of Day One
Students Occupy The New School
Farai Chideya's News And Notes on NPR Has Been Can...
I Am Nixon
Shouldna Lef Ya...
2G2K Is Back! :: On Hillary, Again, And Foreign Po...
The Impact of The Hip-Hop Vote
UCLA Education In Action Keynote Speech
A Great Day In Baseball History

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