Strange Famous Records

First Pitch

A-hem.

Can you imagine living in a world where no one liked hip hop music? I don’t mean a world where everyone hated hip hop. I mean a world where it barely existed – where there was no interest because nobody knew about it. Like, imagine being really into Indonesian music from the ’60′s… You’ve discovered this music that has blown your mind and you want to share your excitement about it but no one cares because they can’t understand it and they’re more interested in something else…

I know it’s hard to imagine, but that’s how it was for me growing up. Honestly, there was nobody living in my town or who went to my school who knew about the music or was interested at all – not even curious. This was in the early to mid ’80′s. I was listening to Run DMC and The Fat Boys and UTFO and Whodini and LL and Kurtis Blow and Doug E. Fresh. It was so exciting! I would play the stuff for my friends and they would feign interest for a few minutes. They’d say, “cool!”, but they were just being nice because they were my friends. Most of them were more into Iron Maiden at the time.

It wasn’t until I got to high school that I met a few other people who were into hip hop. And then, it was literally 3 or 4 guys. Thane Upshaw was really into Too Short and Ice-T. We both really liked that MC E-Z song “Get Retarded” and The Skinny Boys. I remember once he gave me a tape with “What’s My Name” by Steady B. on one side and “In Full Effect” by Mantronix on the other. These were the days when it wasn’t uncommon to find King-T, Shy-D, Just-Ice and Newcleus all on one mixtape. In those days, I don’t remember having debates with my friends about who was the best rapper (or DJ!). We talked about our favorites. During the bridge wars, I really liked Criminal Minded and Down By Law.

All through my youth I was more than just a hip hop fan. I was a defender. A crusader. A champion. I fought for it. I had big hopes for it. I believed in it so strongly and it was frustrating to me that it was a gutter music. In those days, people were still saying it was just a fad. No one took it seriously. I just wanted respect for this music that I thought was so interesting and even important. Right around the end of high school – desperate for a sense of community and solidarity – I became a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation.

In ’88, people in society at large started to talk about hip hop. Mostly because groups like Public Enemy and NWA were impossible to ignore. I was somewhat excited that there was some interest being taken in the culture, but I was also a bit concerned that the interest was for the wrong reasons. People weren’t talking about how great and exciting the production of Dr. Dre or the Bomb Squad was, they were talking about how scary and dangerous the message was (especially the mainstream press).

Then, in ’90 or so, there were the first few hip hop pop hits from acts like Hammer and Vanilla Ice and The Fresh Prince. Again, part of me was happy that the music was finding a wider audience, but the other part of me was not so psyched because I knew that these songs weren’t the best representation of what the genre was all about (that didn’t mean I wanted to assassinate M.C. Hammer).

Soon hip hop had it’s first platinum records and Grammy’s and stuff. But I was a disciple of Chuck D. in those days and subscribed to a strict “who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy” credo. A watered down version of hip hop was blowing up and so my excitement only went so far. Besides, these victories were about music business politics and commerce, not art or meaningful culture.

Somewhere along the line in the 90′s is when I got my first glimpse of what I saw as a major victory and a great success for the culture I had devoted my life to: hip hop had become global. I was beginning to find really interesting underground hip hop scenes all over the world! Hip hop from Japan! Hip hop from the Netherlands! Hip Hop from Brazil! Hip Hop from Zimbabwe! It was becoming so diverse and so interesting and so rich! I imagined Afrika Bambaataa and the other founding fathers to be so proud! It wasn’t a money thing. It wasn’t a fame thing. It was all about changing the culture of the planet! What could be a greater accomplishment than that?!

Naturally, I didn’t love all the music I heard. I couldn’t relate to all of it. But that wasn’t the point. Even if I couldn’t relate to Chinese hip hop, there was a scene in Beijing that kids were excited about! And it was amazing to me to imagine kids on the other side of the world coming together, rocking mics and turntables, and getting involved with all aspects of the culture.

It was always so exciting to me to watch the old DMC DJ battles and to see really dope DJ’s from Egypt and Denmark and Korea because it was still pretty fresh in my memory that few people outside New York cared at all – only 6 or 7 years before.

But now… Now there is a poison. We have lost perspective altogether. The internet has made it easy to lose sight. The internet has made it easy for a kid born in 1990 to become an “expert”. Experience and perspective doesn’t count for much anymore. We attack each other with vicious and brutal hatred when our opinions and tastes differ. Rather than supporting and defending the culture as a whole, we choose a handful of artists, or a scene, and seek to destroy everything outside it. In recent years I’ve seen things get very threatening, at times flat-out racist, and even violent.

How did this happen? What is it about hip hop that opinions are no longer welcome? Why are we not allowed to choose our own favorites? Why do we feel so goddamned threatened by people who look a little different, who have had experiences different from our own, or who have ideas different from ours, using hip hop as a way to express themselves? I just don’t get it. What’s wrong with just saying, “it’s not my cup of tea”? Why is it that if I named a specific rapper by name and said “I don’t like him” or said I preferred another rapper more, I’d get attacked by a thousand commenters? Why is my personal taste such a threat to anyone else?

I hate to say it, but there’s a word – a very ugly word – for this kind of thing: fascism. Here’s the definition –

“A governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.”

In our opinions, we become that dictator and “hip hop nationalists”. We’ve all seen how racist things can get in comments and various on-line discussions. Ideas, opposition and criticism is suppressed.

I don’t love every hip hop record that’s ever been made and I don’t know anyone who does. But I love the diversity that exists. I marvel at it. It’s the same with any other kind of art. Two of my favorite painters are Basquiat and Manet – they couldn’t be more different from each other. Films – I love Buster Keaton and Jodorowsky. That’s ok, right? I can’t decide what I like more – Indian or Italian food. Thank goodness, I don’t have to choose.

Does a kid from Japan, who looks different, who’s had very different experiences have the right to make a hip hop record? Honestly. Come on. Do I have to answer that question?

I know I’m not the best rapper in the world. I’m not famous and I don’t want to be. I’m far from rich. I work a regular job for Christ’s sake! But I keep getting forced into a competition I’m not willing to participate in. I just want to do my thing in peace for my own satisfaction and that of the handful of people who are interested. If that’s not ok, then why don’t you kill me?

Buck

May 08

Thoughts on HBO’s “Brave New Voices”

For a couple of years after I left the national slam scene, I stayed involved with the Brave New Voices festival. And for a year or two, that festival seemed on track to become everything I’d always imagined the “adult” slam could be.

The first year I went as one of Providences coaches, and ended up totally dumbstruck by how great it all was. Huge cyphers outside every event (which I always see as a sign that the crowds are leaving charged up,) all night gatherings of kids in the rooms of the youth hostel… kids and adults taking turns reading stuff for each other out of notebookes until the sun came up…

I sat in the front row on finals night and heard some of the best work I’ve ever come across. Made eye contact a few times with saul williams, who was hosting, and shared multiple looks of “jesus christ. Are you hearing this?’

The competition that night ended with a team being in a position to win, and choosing instead to spontaneously invite every single youth poet in attendence onstage to chant ‘its not all about the competition’ and shut down the fucking show. Far and away the most incredible poetry show I’ve ever witnessed.

In the years since, I’ve watched the Brave New Voices festival be taken over by one of the organizations within it, Youthspeaks.

Youthspeaks’ annual budget is well over a million dollars at this point, and they’ve used the money and staff avaliable to them to completely take over BNV. The guy who runs Youthspeaks, James Kass, is literally Crackah Smiley. He sounds like Whitey McCEO talking to youth mentors and coaches about budgets in the backroom, then gets onstage in front of the youth on some “Yo yo yo you ready for some bomb ass poets or what yawl?”

Evil cocksucker. The result has been the introduction of big money into something that was meant to be about community and creating space for kids. Now it seems to have become another self contained creativity vacuum, where lame poets can get their ego stroked and play rockstar for an audience of equally deluded peers. Just like the “adult” slam.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Crackah Jimmy sold the whole show to Russel Simmons, who hasn’t let the fact that he barey understands what performance poetry is stop him from degrading it while banking off it for almost a decade.

The tragedy is that it becomes increasingly unlikely anyones going to have the kinds of exeriences that used to be found at those shows.

Jared and I have debated this within the past week actually, but I’m still pretty firm in my assertion that the good poets have all moved on from poetry slam, and any new good ones will do the same shortly. From where I’m standing, any poet that hangs around that scene is either delusional or addicted to having their ass patted. You win again, champ! 10!

So, felt the need to air that out. I have some friends in the community still, who I enjoy getting to see and talk to, but for the most part I’ll continue quietly hoping for the collapse of Poetry Slam International, Youthspeaks, and the sham national competitions they run.

May 05

RAP CHOP!!!

if you forgot how to laugh you should watch this. forget about it.

Apr 28

SFR video interview from SXSW and pretty pictures

Here’s part 1 of an interview we did at this year’s SXSW, features me, B. Dolan, Prolyphic, Scroobius Pip, Jared Paul and Sleep.

As promised, here are some  pretty pictures:

Substance Event at 1st Ave. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Substance Event at 1st Ave. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Substance Event at 1st Ave. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Substance Event at 1st Ave. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Eyes like dead lights. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Eyes like dead lights. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Stange Fam gets personal. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Stange Fam gets personal. Photo by Jonathan Hoffner

Want vs. Do Not Want

Want vs. Do Not Want

Apr 20

Banks For Nothing

An email I sent to Bank of America

“Banks For Nothing”

I have been a loyal customer to Bank of America, which was Providence, RI based Fleet Bank before it was bought out in 2004, for almost 20 years. I am 27. Over the past 5 months I have had continuous problems with Bank of America. Problems caused by Bank of America employees, not by myself. In 2007, someone without my permission made a purchase with my credit card. Luckily, an employee of Bank of America saw the mysterious purchase and notified me. Thank you Bank of America. After canceling the purchase, the paranoid conspiracy theorist that I am, I wanted my Checking and Savings account numbers changed and I wanted to be issued a new credit card for my own protection. I want to know that no one else would have access to my money. Because I need my money, just like everyone in the US needs their money. Money has by default become our major natural resource for survival. At the time it seemed like the changing of account numbers went smoothly and uninterrupted. But, what ended up happening is when I asked an associate of BOA to change my Checking account number, instead of giving me the type of account I asked for, which is the one I had previously, the associate gave me a “My Access” account. But what they didn’t tell me is that my “My Access” account requires a minimum balance of $750 in the account at all times. And if I don’t keep that minimum balance I will get what is called a “Monthly Maintenance Fee”. Now, I didn’t know I had this minimum requirement because not all “My Access” accounts have it and I was not notified. If I was, I would have said “No I do not want a minimum balance, I want the same account I have had for 18 years. Also the “Monthly Maintenance Fee” only appears on the On-line banking statement. it does not appear on the paper/traditional mail statement, which is the one I check. So, for a year and a half I have been getting $18 a week taken from my Checking account. $18 a week starts to add up. So, when I explain this to the BOA associate over the phone he says “that there’s nothing he can do to change the account or help me”. Thanks for nothing. But it doesn’t end there.
When I asked Bank of America to issue me a new credit card they did, but they didn’t issue me a new credit card. I’ll explain.
BOA sent me a new card with a new number, but the number that was on the card did not match the number that was assigned to the card. So, when I swiped the card, the number that appeared on bills, statements, etc. did not match the number on the card itself. So, when I explain all of this I also came to find out that my credit card account that got “hacked” into and that I wanted closed forever, was never closed. After weeks of complaining and calling the issue was finally resolved. But you know what it still doesn’t end there.
In fall 2008, a simple transfer of money from my CD into my checking account turns into a nightmare. I wanted money from my CD to be transferred into my checking so I could pay off my credit card bill. I figured while I’m at BOA, why not pay the bill here? So, I go through the process of talking with the associate, showing ID and signing papers. I follow the associate to the teller and we go ahead and finalize the transfer from my CD to Checking account to Credit Card Account. I leave happy. A week later I check my account on-line and noticed that the money had transferred from my CD to my Checking, but did not transfer from my Checking to Credit Card account so my bill was never paid and now I have all kinds of fees and fleas. So, now I have to call customer service and fight with associates and then finally win my argument with the “person-in-charge” to get all of the fees and fleas waived, because it was Bank of America’s fault not mine. It was Bank of America’s fault not mine. Your fault and this is where it ends. It ends with me pulling my Green Natural Resource, money, out of all of my Bank of America accounts and closing them to put my money into another bank’s hands, a local bank’s hands. Banks for nothing. Thank you also for raising credit interest on loyal customers who pay their bills on time and who also helped bail your ass out from bankruptcy. FYI, you might find it tough to get new business when you double-dip from and treat good customers who have been loyal to you like they are expendable. Its actually the other way around. You’re expendable. Without our money, you don’t exist. You exist because people put their invisible money into your invisible bank hands. But I know the people at the top of BOA will be ok, they’ll find a job as an executive, CEO, etc. somewhere else. Its the worker bees, people like me, whose job security will be in jeopardy when Bank of America eventually gets bought out. And why would Bank of America the enitity care about that?

I hope 2007 “Banker of the Year” Kenneth D. Lewis (even though BOA’s profit was down 29% in 2007) and all of the other executives over at Bank of America enjoy the money they’ve stolen from the American people and I hope they live happily ever after forever and ever just like in Walt Disney’s propaganda movies.

Disgusted and taking my money and running,
Alfred
Rhode Island

Apr 16

Movie Time with Benjamin II

Well, some folks have approached and messaged me saying they watched and enjoyed the movies I posted up last time, so that’s reason enough for a sequel I think …

If you still haven’t seen the first batch, stop being a tool. See those movies. See these movies too. I’m only recommending the best of the best here, and all of these are worth your time.

1.) Apocalypse Now

Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now

I know, I know. Obvious suggestion. You’ve already seen Apocalypse Now. You’re so beyond this suggestion. Well, be quiet. I have a game plan here. I need to make sure you’ve seen Apocalypse Now. If you have, maybe watch it again or just skip to suggestion #2. If you haven’t, then I’m just going to say a list of names and then you’re going to go out and rent this movie tonight. Ready? Francis Ford Coppola. Marlon Brando. Martin Sheen. Dennis Hopper. Laurence Fishburn. Robert Duvall. You should have the movie in your hands by now. Watch that shet.

NOW, here comes the napalm:

2.) Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Francis Ford Coppola, The Failure

“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.” -Coppola

One of my favorite movies ever, for a lot of reasons. Using behind the scenes footage, and narrated by Eleanor Coppola, this movie chronicles the making of Apocalypse Now, and “illustrates how production problems including bad weather, actors’ health and other issues delayed the film, increasing costs and nearly destroying the life and career of Francis Ford Coppola.”  Marlon Brando shows up on the set 50 pounds overweight with none of his lines memorized.  Coppola can’t finish writing the script cause it doesn’t really express his ideas.   Dennis Hopper drops acid and improvises all his lines.  Martin Sheen has a nervous breakdown and heart attack in the middle of filming.  Shots are interrupted so that “Coppola’s helicopters” can go fight a civil war in the hills.

I mean… fucking hell.  This movie is one of the all time great studies of obsession, ego, and life’s mimicry of art on an epic scale.  So good.  See this movie.

Honorable Mention: ‘Tropic Thunder’ riffs on ‘Hearts of Darkness’ in a way that I found cool and entertaining, and I really dug the way ‘Tropic Thunder’ was continually pulling the rug out from under the viewer … but I’m bein stingy with these here recommendations.

3.)  Sweet and Lowdown

Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown

Sean Penn does it again boyee.  Sage actually recommended this movie to me, and lent me this VHS a year or two ago.  It’s easy to see why certain parts of this movie appealed to Francis, and you might find some recognizable themes from papa’s music in the character of the fictional jazz guitarist Emmet Ray.  Written and directed stunningly by Woody Allen, who I don’t always dig.  This one is sad and beautiful in all the right places.  I highly recommend it.

4.) The Taking of the Pelham One Two Three (1974)one two three

If you want a doo-doo rhyme then come see me!

Recently, I was in Reno, killing time before picking Francis up at the airport.  I decide to waste a couple hours seeing “Sunshine Cleaners” at a Reno movie theatre.  As it turns out, I should’ve just scored some ketamine and chased it with a bottle of Nyquil.  On the way into the theatre to see this 2 hour suicide ad, I started noticing that all the theater personnel were wearing shirts that say “The Taking of the Pelham 123.”

And I says to myself… “huh?  Are they celebrating an anniversary or something?  Are they showing it here on the big screen?”

NOPE.

Turns out fucking JOHN TRAVOLTA stars in a remake of this fucking classic that’s about to be re-released.  Hell. No.

See the original.  It’s got a 70s funk soundtrack that will kick your ass.  It’s where Quentin Tarantino stole his criminals with color names idea from (Mr. Blue, Mr. White, etc.)  See the original or the Scientologists have already won.

5.)  Jesus Camp

Jesus

After seeing this movie, I sat down at my kitchen table and wrote “Joan of Arcadia” in one shot.  Recorded the song, as it appears on the album, within the hour.  I was effected by this flick.

The movie is a documentary about the “Kids On Fire School of Ministry” (heh.)  Which is run by Pastor Becky Fischer, who the entire first half of “Joan” describes.  “A smothering mother’s body, body like a black hole…”

Becky wants kids to be on fire for Christ like suicide bombers are on fire for Allah.  I’m not paraphrasing.  She states that directly in the course of this film.  It’s a well made, balanced documentary free of lame editorializing (ahem, Michael Moore.)  Lots of folks will have seen this one already, but for those who haven’t I recommend it strongly.

That’s all for now, suckas.

I’m trapped in fucking Humboldt County.

A cop just pulled me over and then told me all about his Grateful Dead cover band when I told him I was a traveling musician.

Get me outta hea before I turn into a hackey sack.

Love,

b

Apr 10

Record Store Day on April 18th

Apparently April 18th is “Record Store Day”
One of my favorite record stores, Twist & Shout in Denver, made me aware of this. They sent out a questionnaire and I feel like filling it out. So hurr it is.

1) Where did you buy your first record? What was it?

“The first album I bought with my own money was Run DMC’s ‘Raising Hell’ which remains to be one of my favorite hip-hop albums. I purchased it at a tape store in the Lincoln Mall. I can’t remember the name of it, but it isn’t a store that lasted very long. I remember they had a jukebox type thing that had a limited list of songs you could purchase and it would dispense a cassette tape with your mix. That was the original itunes. When I got home from the mall, I discovered my mom had gone and bought me Raising Hell already.  I was excited to have two copies of it.”

2 )What record have you wanted more than any other in your collecting career? Did you ever get it?

“Masta Ace had a song called ‘H-A-R-D-C-O-R-E’ as the b-side to a white-label 12″ back in the early 90′s. My friend Mig had it but I’ve never been able to get a copy of my own.”


3) What is it about records, or record stores that are different from downloading?

“Walking through aisles of artwork, flipping through classics and non-classics…letting your imagination and instinct run wild. Downloading can’t hold a candle to that experience.”


4) Any of the products for Record Store Day that you are particularly excited about?  Why?

“Not really, no. I’m not prepared. The ones I’m excited about come out in June. Until then, I can’t pretend I know of anything coming out before then. Don’t even let me know. Quiet now.”

Sleep Hesitation Wounds June 30th on SFR

Sleep "Hesitation Wounds" June 30th on SFR

Apr 10

Blackpower.com Joins the Fight Against Justin!

Hell yessssss. It’s on baby! My poem has single-handedly turned the tide of public opinion! I’m bringin deadly back (go head b. dolan)

From Blackpower.com:

How Can Justin Timberlake Still Objectify Black Women And Get Away With It?

Someone please explain why Justin Timberlake continually gets a pass to fetishize and exploit the image of Black women. Right now. Because after watching him aggressively pulling on a chain wrapped around Ciara’s neck only to later use her bending body as a leaning post in her new video for “Love Sex Magic,”it’s getting ludicrously difficult to understand.

It been years since “Nipplegate” after which he distanced himself from Janet Jackson, cowardly allowing her to endure the overly harsh criticism alone. The outcry against his actions from those of us in the indignant minority was quickly overshadowed by an increase in album sales, multiple music awards and an increase in his Pop stardom miming Black music and culture. Instead of subjecting his next project with trepidation–let alone dismissal–nearly every “urban” club, radio station and music channel on the planet had the masses bumping to a song with a hook that’s about shackles, whipping and slavery.

From behind a wry smile and with his hair faded he actually tarnished a reigning, Black Pop star’s image arguably beyond repair by exposing her breast on national television and then built his street cred further by bringing sexy back, Middle Passage style. He’s transitioned from the post-racialist’s pop culture dream of somewhat harmlessly lusting after beautiful Black love interest in the video for “Like I Love You” into something more sinister. He uses the scapegoat of S&M edginess in which he is the aggressor, the dominant force, to subordinate his object of desire when she is Black.

He distanced himself from those undertones in using shackles (why not a different two syllable kinky word like handcuffs, Justin? Or latex, like the piece you tore off of Miss Jackson?) and whipping in the song by making himself the slave, and in the video by making lusty faces with a White woman. But all of the soft edginess and ambgious sexism and racism has become the central M.O. for him in the video for “Love Sex Magic.”

It’s not even his song but in the video he’s in the opening scene, pulling on a chained Ciara. Whenever the two are interacting she is doing all kinds of sexy acrobatics for him–crawling over him, stick out her ass for him to lean on, bumping him with her breasts–but he can barely be bothered to look her in the face half of the time…and he’s on screen a lot. She looks desparate, and he looks like a pimp. As the video progresses and their roles become more evident it gets more disgusting.

Yes, Ciara is grown and autonomous. So is Janet. But that just makes his ability to exploit their collaborations to the point that they are subjegated to his dominance, wittingly or not, more protestable. Additionally, it seems that at this point active defense, tacit approval, or even celebration of this behavior/persona is beyond ignorant and only subjegates women further. The “that’s capitalism” and “it’s just entertainment!” defenses also fall short because both are integral aspects of our shared culture and have impact beyond the superficialities of the music industry hustle and streaming videos online. Dig deeper than that.

So the question stands: Why does he still get a pass?

Here’s the video in question:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx7cF8T4F44[/youtube]

Apr 03

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