Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Friday Music: Original Beats

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    Which is odd, because as QuestLove of The Roots writes in How Hip-Hop failed Black America, a series of six essays for Vulture

    That is tasty – and I just loved this from the QuestLove answers Reader Quest-ions post…

    Quest-ion: So what?

    Answer: Lots of people gave this shrug. I don’t like the shrug. It’s an abdication of responsibility for making sure that art keeps doing the things that art should do. If you shrug, that keeps the wheels turning the way they’re turning. It lets corporations turn you into selfish consumers. It lets them fit you for a new pair of blinkers. And that means that predictability keeps getting prized over experimentation and product keeps getting prized over art.

    I was talking the other day to my manager and a writer friend of mine, and Big Ideas started getting thrown around, as sometimes happens, and a metaphor came up for this process: the redshift. None of us is an astronomer, but we read the papers, even the non-funny-papers. Here’s what happens: One of the ways that astronomers prove that the universe is expanding is looking at distant light. If it’s moving toward us, wavelengths get shorter and it shifts toward the blue end of the spectrum. If it’s moving away from us, wavelengths get longer and go toward the red end of the spectrum.

    In DJ/sonic terms, it’s similar to what happens with a siren: When it’s headed our way, the pitch is a little higher because sound waves are bunched up. As it moves away, they spread out and that pitch drops. Well, hip-hop culture has redshifted. The pitch has dropped. Innovation may exist, but it’s not the dominant characteristic anymore. It’s moving away.

    *sigh* If QuestLove’s music is as good as his prose, I might just have to expand my musical horizons.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder,

    His picking apart bling turns up in the third essay as well where he references our Lorde...

    "A song like Lorde’s “Royals” critiques one version of hip-hop’s values, Cristal and Maybachs and gold teeth, and while it’s reductive in some ways, it’s also instructive, because it shows how the signifiers of hip-hop culture (which has swallowed black culture in general) have lost much of their cool."

    He writes really well, but in my reading so far I've noticed a distinctly American bent on cultural influence - probably for obvious reasons, he’s writing about how ‘African-American culture has defaulted into hip-hop’. He talks about disco's influence with a nice analogy to corporate influence and big business, and seems to see hip hop self-destructing through its own gravity and lack of gravitas. But so far I’ve not noticed any reference to the Jamaican or English influence on music and popular culture – he notes that EDM is the most popular music in America at the moment (which surprised me) but doesn’t note where that sound arises from other than it being another vapid form of disco rebirth.

    Like anything else hip hop doesn’t exist it a void, it influences and is influenced upon. I think we’ll see another massive flourishing of unexpected music and culture with the greater availability of music production tools and the ability to self-publish.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 61 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Well, hip-hop culture has redshifted. The pitch has dropped. Innovation may exist, but it’s not the dominant characteristic anymore. It’s moving away.

    Nice. A beloved genre going the way of all things.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 61 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    But it occured to me the other day that in the case of hip hop, I’m generally some guy stranded in the 80s.

    You should check out Kendrick Lamar, specifically his most recent album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. He's the one who was nominated for all the Grammys but lost out to Macklemore. This is the first single, "Swimming Pools (Drank)", which is the dopest track about alcoholism.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    I checked out Kendrick Lamar as a result of Grant Smithies writing how his Good Kid restored his faith in hip-hop. Lamar is something special but I guess my problem is I never had any faith in hip-hop to lose. So much it is formulaic, predictable, interchangeable. It is the noise from passing low-rider cars or neighbour's summer bbqs; noise without complexity nor emotion nor subtlety. I guess my deaf-ear extends to local versions or re-versionings,

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2558 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Dastardly Bounder,

    But so far I’ve not noticed any reference to the Jamaican or English influence on music and popular culture – he notes that EDM is the most popular music in America at the moment (which surprised me) but doesn’t note where that sound arises from other than it being another vapid form of disco rebirth.

    Many Americans don't get the connection there. It's as if EDM is seen as something that came out of a void, rather than being the nth echo of a dance music revolution that came out of New York and Chicago and found its form(s) in Europe.

    Kool Herc was a Jamaican in New York and some of the basic techniques of dance music came from the Jamaican producers of the late 60s and early 70s. And of course Rihanna grew up listening to reggae ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Jamaican in New York

    Pretty sure it wasLloyd Bradley in a book called Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King who points out some of the most influetial sound systems that played early New York hip hop parties were inspired and run by Jamaican sound bwoys. Coke La Rock's early toasting style was straight out of the Jamiacan Dancehall - "Ya rock and ya don’t stop!" and "To the beat y’all" became hiphop staples.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 61 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Friday Show & Tell
    I heartily recommend a locally published
    speculative novel ’DownMind’ by V. O. Blum
    yet another fine Steam Press presentation.
    a smorgasbord of challenging ideas at myriad angles,
    yet relaxed with it…

    ’The Wind City’ was fun too…
    I’ll never see the Cuba Street Fountain the same way.

    [Edit: Support Kiwi publishers! ]

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Many Americans don't get the connection

    Or the understanding that their culture doesnt exist in a bubble. Hendrix playing in England, Led Zeppelin, Punk's UK roots, electronica's German roots (a gross over simplification)...

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 61 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Dastardly Bounder,

    Or the understanding that their culture doesnt exist in a bubble. Hendrix playing in England, Led Zeppelin, Punk’s UK roots, electronica’s German roots (a gross over simplification)…

    And the Rolling Stones and the Beatles trying to emulate the blues and R&B records that came across the Atlantic, then taking it back to America. Rocksteady/ska/reggae as the weird Jamaican take on American soul and R&B. Afrika Bambaataa and Arthur Baker copying Kraftwerk on 'Planet Rock'. It's one of the most interesting things in Western popular music.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And the Rolling Stones and the Beatles trying to emulate the blues and R&B records that came across the Atlantic, then taking it back to America.

    Lloyd Bradley’s Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital paints a similar and dazzlingly complicated picture of “black music” in London. Because, of course, there’s no such think as a homogeneous ‘black’ (or any other kind of) music. The margins become the mainstream, as a whole new bunch of upstarts start muttering “what the fuck is this sad old Dad music? Listen to THIS instead!” Fashions and tastes mutate in ways you never quite expect somewhere you’re not looking, and in some obscure (for now) corner some kid is dusting off Dad’s old MP3’s and falling in love…

    Isn’t life grand? :)

    ETA: Seriously, I warmly recommend Bradley's book -- not least because like the best cultural historians he's very self-aware (and self-critical) that everything you think you know is probably wrong, or at best only part of the story. So get your arse out there and do your homework instead of cutting and pasting what's been said a hundred times before.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I would also recommend getting your auntie to send you this year’s BBC three-parter Rule Britannia: Music Mischief And Morals In The 18th Century on VHS.

    It's an eye-opening insight into the way that, even then, changing musical fashions drove not only British culture but the British economy and even politics. It has the additional virtue of being fronted by the terribly smart and highly appealing Suzy Klein.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Too late for inclusion in today's blog post ...

    Doprah's five-track EP is out.

    And Simon Ogston's Skeptics doco Sheen of Gold is released today on DVD. I wrote some of the liner notes.

    I need to train those Flying Out people to tell me these things on Thursdays.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Dastardly Bounder,

    Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey by Bill Brewster is also a great investigation into DJ culture - without focusing solely on one culture or one genre of music. I found out in this book that the DJ's 'set' probably comes from Jamaica, taking your grammaphone set to the dance, where records would be played from Tannoy speakers purloined from ex-military ships public address systems. Brilliant. Come play your set.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2012 • 61 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Howe, in reply to Russell Brown,

    sorry Russell!

    Auckland • Since Dec 2009 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Jim Welch, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    If QuestLove’s music is as good as his prose, I might just have to expand my musical horizons.

    Dunno what your musical horizons currently encompass, but if they include any Elvis Costello, you should check out his latest 'What's Up Ghost' which is a collaboration with Questlove's band, The Roots. It's pretty awesome.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand, in reply to Jim Welch,

    Sure is!

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2558 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Show & Tell II
    This story about 'apple' was intriguing...

    An ancient apple tree firmly rooted in the corner of a Central Otago cemetery has horticulturists puzzled - and excited.
    (A) Horticulturist ... was at Graveyard Gully in Alexandra last week taking grafts of the apple tree to not only enable it to grow in perpetuity, but to identify the apple.
    "It is extremely unusual for a tree as old as this and growing in what I consider to be totally inhospitable conditions, to survive. It's terrible. Even rabbits bring a cut lunch when they come here.
    "It puzzles me ... It is my 51st year in horticulture and I have never seen anything like it before. It's had scientific neglect for the last 80 years and survived. It's amazing."
    ....
    "It seems resistant to a lot of disease which I think is quite fascinating. Maybe it's got a gene in it that's keeping it safe.

    The Apple 'Shrek' ?
    - No allergy in a country graveyard!

    Kinda reminds me of an old H. P. Lovecraft story, too.
    Perhaps ...taking loathsome nourishment from the charnelground below...

    Love that line:

    "It's had scientific neglect for the last 80 years and survived. It's amazing."

    It lived without human intervention, amaaazing....
    </Fe>

    :- )

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Johnston,

    Because it's pretty much the only music my sons listen to, I've learned to appreciate some current hip-hop like Drake, Kendrick and yes, Kanye, but it took me a long time to get past the language. Not the bling, but the constant sexual references. Mind you, I didn't have a clue what most of my teenage musical heroes were singing about.

    Being more from the new wave/post punk era I never really got into early hip-hop - got a lot of catching up to do one day.

    On a side-note, Bill Cosby's interactions with QuestLove and the rest of The Roots on the Jimmy Fallon show are pretty hilarious,worth checking out on the interwebs...

    Wellington • Since Sep 2013 • 25 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Dastardly Bounder,

    What big speakers you have, Gramophone!*

    ‘set’ probably comes from …

    Culminating in the oft misheard credo:
    Sets and drugs and rock n roll

    ;- )

    Who’s at the bottom of your swimming pool?

    Not just some girl from the ’hood
    but from Red Riding, man!
    Hmmm now I guess I need an Axemen clip!
    Anyone?
    Anyone?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie,

    Speaking of teevee on the interwebs... Philip Glass c/- Sesame Street. Really.

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And the Rolling Stones and the Beatles trying to emulate the blues and R&B records that came across the Atlantic, then taking it back to America.

    There's an interview with Lennon somewhere where he says, and I badly misquote I'm sure, but .. "We just wanted to be The Shirelles, Arthur Alexander and The Miracles but we got it wrong". And of course that wrong is what made it work.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Renee Jones,

    Totems was lots of multi-genre fun at bFM's Fancy New Band too! Can't remember the last time I danced to drum n' bass at the King's Arms?! (And Thin Lizzy!)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher, in reply to Peter Johnston,

    but it took me a long time to get past the language. Not the bling, but the constant sexual references.

    This is nothing new. When I was listening to hip hop when I was a teen in the '90s, it was full of sexual lyrics. Which of course is terribly thrilling when you're 16.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    When I was listening to hip hop when I was a teen in the ’90s, it was full of sexual lyrics.

    Bling and babes go back to the earliest of days, albeit here with some humour

    I know the fly young lady would like to ride
    In my mercedes, 'young ladies'
    In my mercedes, 'young ladies'
    If my Mercedes breakdown and dull my grill
    I will drive up in a new Seville
    If my Seville break down, I take it back
    I will dull my grill in a new Cadillac
    If my Cadillac break down, it's too much
    I will shock your mind in a new Star Stutz
    And if a Stutz break down, I make another choice
    I will dull my grill in a new Rolls Royce
    And if a Royce break down, I'll be out in the rain
    And then forget it, forget it, forget it, forget it, forget it
    Huh, take the train

    (Superappin' - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, 1979)

    GMF & TFF were bragging (and political) more than sexy but Flash was able to come up with this lyric (which I won't reprint) on his first solo album. Yeech.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

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