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Clyde Smith on Hip Hop Culture & Politics
now at: www.hiphoplogic.com

  Web netweed.com   
   Wednesday, March 31, 2004

FunHi, Vice, J-Kwon

If you haven't checked out FunHi yet, it's almost worth a quick look just to see the development of a self-described "friendly gangsta, playa pimp, banging hunie community" that is really none of those things, not that I'm complaining. According to this article in Wired, the members can give each other virtual gifts, sometimes expensive little icons with various levels of bling. In some cases, male members are spending relatively large amounts of money on this stuff to express their appreciation of certain female members such as Nikoma Lee.

I picked up a free copy of Vice magazine recently. It's a slick, visually enjoyable publication that tries to take a hip, multicultural look at the world with hip hop references and advertising as part of the mix. But when I started reading more closely, I discovered that much of the writing involved derogatory humor about various cultures and sexualities. They are abusive in an "equal opportunity" way, for what that's worth, and I'm not that worked up about their particular brand of humor though it did spoil my enjoyment of the publication.

However, I noticed a full backpage ad for American Apparel. AA is a progressive t-shirt manufacturing company based in LA and committed to offering an alternative to sweatshop labor. I understood why they wanted to be associated with a hip publication, but I wondered how they felt about the writing. I wrote an email to their press department (maybe the wrong place, I don't know) and they haven't responded. I just feel if you're going to be putting yourself forth as a corporate entity with progressive values, you've set yourself up for a higher standard of behavior and should be willing to address the issue of where you advertise. It's something to consider but I'm not planning any picket lines.

I don't know about you but I'm currently feeling J-Kwon's single Tipsy as one of the only things I'm truly happy to hear at the present time when it comes on the radio. While I would appreciate it if he had something more substantial to say, I really dig his voice and phrasing. And that's one of my major pleasures in mainstream hip hop, along with well made beats. I've given up expecting anything meaningful lyrically speaking but if you can say "1 to the 2" in an interesting way, I'm willing to listen.

Available from Amazon:
J-Kwon - Hood Hop.

   Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Hip Hop Album Review:
Planet Asia - The Grand Opening

Planet Asia's The Grand Opening is a strong step towards getting his career back in motion. After various problems with Interscope, Planet Asia went indie and then signed with Avatar Records, a label with a background in music publishing and marketing and a unique mixture of artists. But the best news to me is that he's working with Rasco again and they have a Cali Agents' album coming out soon.

I reviewed Rasco's Escape From Alcatraz and really enjoyed it. Personally I'm not as excited by The Grand Opening but I appreciate the underground/mainstream mix and it seems like a good time for what he's doing. There are a lot of interesting producers and guest artists on this album including Evidence, Supa Dave West, Ghostface Killa, Martin Luther, Goapelle, J. Wells, the list goes on and on. The massive number of people involved makes it uneven at times and it occasionally drags, a danger of too many collaborators. Nevertheless there's a lot to appreciate on here and I think many hip hop fans will be feeling it, if they get the chance to here it.

Some of the album has kind of a hard edge, even harsh at times, but there's a lot of humor as well. I really appreciated the soft touch of Right Or Wrong. It kind of stayed with me and added to the album's aural range. And I enoyed the joint with Rasco, The Greatest, produced by Architect. Rasco and Planet Asia are a great combination and their upcoming release, Head of the State, should be well worth checking out.

Other standout tracks were Real Niggaz with Ghostface Killa and As Long As I'm Alive. As Long As I'm Alive is particularly strong and shows that it's still possible to say something meaningful about remembering those we've lost without being corny or cliched.

Available from Amazon:
Planet Asia - The Grand Opening
Cali Agents - Head of the State.

   Monday, March 29, 2004

Princess Superstar

Even though I'm grinding away at my special projects, I want you to know that I never forget about you. So, as a small token of my appreciation, let me turn you on to Princess Superstar. She's a unique phenomenon and I hope to see her live someday. I would have last year but she cancelled her Austin gig. And if you already know of her, then you understand why I think she's very special.

   Sunday, March 28, 2004

Future Hip Hop News

I can't hold back any longer. I've got to let you know what I'm working on, the project that's keeping me from posting as much as I'd like right now. Plus, if I tell you, then maybe I'll actually get enough done to take it online.

I'm working on a world directory of hip hop websites. Yes, a project too big to ever complete, perhaps too big to even attempt, but I'm going to give it a shot. It's modeled after NC Hip Hop Online, my first website that kicked off what eventually became netweed, including this blog.

It will have fewer categories than NC Hip Hop Online, for example, no clubs or recording studios, in order to keep it from getting out of hand but also to really focus it on hip hop groups, mcs, djs, labels, graffiti writers, visual artists, publications, portals, journalists, bloggers, fan sites, discussion boards and record stores. But it will have the same open policy as NC Hip Hop Online. That means everyone's invited that can be identified as hip hop. So the kid out in the sticks with one audio file online and plans to "change the game" will be listed right next to Jay-Z. But the funk rock group that occasionally slips in a rap number will be left out in the cold.

This project won't be easy for a number of reasons. And when I first take it public, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, it will be kind of a disappointment to those expecting a finished product. But I think it will be of value to people in hip hop as well as to those who don't realize what a world wide phenomenon hip hop has become. So check back in a week or two if you don't visit the site regularly. I hope to be announcing the birth of a new project, World Hip Hop Online.

   Friday, March 26, 2004

Ozomatli, Austin Police, Dark Angel

Still on break but I had to share this solid piece about the Ozomatli bust since I and other bloggers have been posting about that issue. A related piece in the Austin Chronicle by the same author, Jordan Smith, looks at statistical reports on racial profiling by the Austin police.

I will definitely do a news roundup over the weekend and then try to get to various reviews that I'm falling behind on, but I just wanted to mention that I'm finally seeing the Dark Angel tv series. Although it's old news, I mention this because I just discovered that Chuck D and Gary G-Wiz wrote the main theme music. Hadn't heard of Gary G-Wiz before but I just think that Chuck D's the coolest.

   Wednesday, March 24, 2004


I really am taking a break but I wanted to post a couple of links about the Ozomatli situation. In an earlier post about a bunch of stuff I included this paragraph with links:

"The other big thing I picked up checking out hip hip blogs was the Austin Police Department assault on the procession into the streets at the end of the Ozomatli show at SXSW. The Austin PD periodically flairs up and fucks up a situation, protects a rapist cop, assaults demonstraters and generally flexes their muscles like they were big city cops. A couple of eyewitnesses with blogs, Abstract Dynamics and Zenarchery.com undermined what the cops have apparently stated, as usual."

Not surprisingly, Ozomatli has their own web page where you can find out more about this band with something like 10 members self described as a "polyglot Black-Chicano-Cuban-Japanese-Jewish-Filipino crew" with Afro-Latin influences. Whatever they are, people seem to really dig them, but I haven't checked them out yet. The website itself is a nice model for how a band can promote themselves while also promoting a progressive social agenda. And they don't waste your time with a flash intro that grows old almost as soon as you've seen it, like too many websites I have to navigate.

There are a bunch of posts on their discussion board about the Austin madness with the cops but it's in frames so I can't link directly to the discussion. The frames are the only disappointment on the site however.

Remember designers, flash intros and frames are bad. So don't use them. And police, please remember, music is good but violence is bad. So, support music and peace. More soon, dear readers, but I really am taking a break, I swear.

   Monday, March 22, 2004

The Pause That Refreshes

I'm going to be posting less often the next week or two. I was going to take a complete break while I worked on another online hip hop project but I find myself constantly drawn back to blogging so you can look forward to more news links before too long. I also will be reviewing Planet Asia's The Grand Opening and Chops' Virtuosity. I was lucky enough to meet Chops at SXSW and he's a really cool guy. Happily I like what I hear so far on the cd, so I'm looking forward to really paying attention to it.

Available from Amazon:
Planet Asia - The Grand Opening
Chops - Virtuosity.

   Sunday, March 21, 2004

SXSW - Murder Dog & Dizzee Rascal

I'm exhausted by a weekend of blogging and my big night out at SXSW. Speaking of blogging, according to a recent survey:

"36% of respondents have gotten in trouble because of things they have written on their blogs."

Although I can't imagine that happening (lol), you can check out the extensive report for yourself.

Yesterday I went to the Murder Dog showcase at SXSW. More specifically, at Aussie's, a bar and restaurant that caters to college students with a large sandy area for playing volleyball and an open air tent and stage. It ended up being a nice place to see a show with cool weather and a parking space that opened up across the street the first time I circled the block.

A number of Houston acts that I would normally associate with Murder Dog were present. Sylk Smoov, actually from St. Louis, Chamillionaire & The Color Changin Click, Swishahouse and Bun B & UGK Present MDDL FNGZ. I've been hearing some of these cats on the radio but I don't know how big they are. The crowd was pretty small, a few hundred max though it beefed up at the end of the evening when Dizzee Rascal performed.

The thing that trips me out about acts like this is that so many of them perform with backing tapes. That's a common practice but basically a lot of the time they're performing over their own recorded vocals which seemed kind of weak to me, especially in a club this size.

Bavu Blakes was great as usual. Kind of an old school hip hop entertainer who I've written about before. He pointed out that he used to have a click but it didn't work out (it was a joke) but he does travel light though this time he had a group of break dancers with him, plus a blind bassist/drummer named D-Madness and DJ Kurupt who's getting to be a big deal.

But the really big deal was Dizzee Rascal and suddenly there were a lot more people there that had come to see him. Since people mostly have badges or wristbands and can go from show to show, they'll target what they want to see and Dizzee was the kind of act that fits the SXSW crowd that's much more indie rock than crunk. I had to go early to make sure I got a ticket though I could have gotten in at any time, even right before Dizzee.

Dizzee Rascal was a trip, very strong and focused. I had mixed feelings about his album but liked him live much more. His vocals came in quick percussive bursts, very fast, very black England. I love that accent and got flashes of Mutabaruka and a woman who toured with KRS-One. The only time I enjoy really fast rapping is when it involves a black Caribbean or English accent. I was wondering if he ever changed his phrasing and then he did one number that extended the phrases a bit longer. But he could potentially get monotous once the novelty fades.

He also did some acapella numbers that were strong. Wish I knew what the hell he was saying. I guess that would be one benefit of getting the album. I understood part of the appeal when I heard the album. I think he could develop a large white audience in the U.S. and it makes sense that he's on Matador. In any case, I was really glad to be able to see him in a fairly small venue.

One thing that probably worked against him is being in a venue that was quite a ways away from the 6th St. area. Really, if you're a musician coming to SXSW and get booked elsewhere, unless you're a sure draw, I wouldn't take the booking. Although it's quite likely that once you've paid to be included, you're stuck with what you can negotiate. I've seen other hip hop showcases get totally fucked because they were at an isolated venue. It's just not worth it in that case. But for me it was good to see him and a lot of people did turn up for his act. I imagine that in San Francisco you'd have a mob cause places like that mob the cool acts. During SXSW there are so many acts that people want to see that even the really cool shows go underattended sometimes. In this case, N.E.R.D. was playing at another venue, so a lot of Dizzee's SXSW audience was probably there, getting their pop/rock grind on.

Extended Gender Discussion Alert
feel free to scroll on past

I think gender is an important topic to talk about and I've gotten wrapped up in a discussion among hip hop bloggers about that topic although I've kind of participated from afar. Fortunately most people don't respond to my rants so, even though a lot of people check out this blog, they rarely give me a hard time. Maybe I could use a little of that but I just want you to know that if you like insular discussions among people you don't know about topics that are ill defined, then the following few posts are just your thing.

If not, scroll on past it, peep the reviews, check out the news, notice that I do talk about issues as needed and then check back soon cause I just saw Dizzee Rascal and he was very good, Chops gave me a copy of Virtuosity to review when I talked to him at the show and I've also got a copy of Planet Asia's new album to review. Then I'm taking a break from blogging for a week or so while I focus on an even bigger online hip hop project than I've attempted to date. An announcement on that project will come soon.

More Gender Discussion

You know, I started to get sucked back in to this gender dialogue that continues at Diesel Nation. I'm such a fucking sucker. I mean, first I back off cause I don't want to hurt people's feelings, then I go through and respond to various lines in a blog discussion and decide not to post it. I mean, you've got men telling women what they should be doing, women wondering what the point of doing this is, other women saying bloggers should do something that they admit they aren't doing in their own blogs, people saying that Lil Kim's self-objectification is the biggest gender problem, men talking about how women should dress, men saying they don't talk about sexism because they don't think they're all that sexist. I mean the nonsense doesn't stop. At least it's mixed in with some reasonable comments and the participants are mostly well intentioned.

I just can't do this kind of thing anymore. It's like retreads of worn out gender commentary from the 80s. There's absolutely nothing new here and the missing bits are phenomenal like:
Aren't you really talking about sexism among black men?
I mean, men of all sorts of other colors including whites are sexist but aren't we mainly talking about art made by black men?
And if these black men are elevating stripper culture, don't you think strippers are digging that right now?
Do you have any stripper friends?
Do you always see women in the sex industry as objectifying themselves?
Do you know of any jobs with bosses that don't objectify workers?
Can someone be a performer without themselves being objectified?

There have been some right on comments and, if you care to read those, check out the stuff I've linked to. I mean, these are smart, articulate people concerned about their world. But if this is what the cream of the crop has to say about gender, then I'll catch 'em later on this topic. Plus, I don't want to be another man trying to dominate conversations about gender, there are plenty of those already.

And you know Oliver Wang would go on vacation right when he's needed.

   Saturday, March 20, 2004

No More Long Winded Discussions
(especially if I'm going to censor my rants)

Note after writing the comments below: For those who haven't read this blog before, this isn't usually what I do. Normally I respond to events in hip hop, news, releases of artistic products, etc. Getting into extended discussions about what hip hop bloggers are saying is just not how I want to spend my time. Reading what they're saying and occasionally linking to the comments is another thing. I enjoy doing that because these people are interesting. But I will start paying attention to what's discussed to see if I'm dropping the ball on issues I should be addressing.

Apparently lizelle's comments in so it just don't stop and Jay Smooth's post at hiphopmusic.com got a fairly decent discussion going on gender and sexism in hip hop.

Nevertheless I found myself frustrated by a lot of it and unwilling to engage in that forum. But, hey, that's why I have a blog. I'll engage and people can deal with it or not. I just ran into a lot of comments from intelligent people that just didn't hold up well. I think the idea of there actually being a "community" of any large group based on sex, gender, color, age, class (a topic I think is rarely discussed though Oliver Wang comes to mind) or musical affiliation is pretty bogus. There is no hip hop community. These are dispersed networks of humans that connect in various ways.

There is no unified group called feminists that can be expected to do anything in particular. People often share experiences of oppression and that can connect them but just as often it doesn't. Actually I wish people could start seeing more how their experiences of being fucked over and of fucking other people over connect them. Again Oliver Wang comes to mind for his discussion of the Oppression Olympics and the divisive use of one's particular oppression. You know, partly I haven't kept up with that many bloggers until quite recently so I don't have long term references, but for someone who's obsessed by American Idol, Oliver gets to the point when necessary.

It's hard for me to get into looking at the convergence of the sex industry and hip hop (not just porn but the whole stripper thing as a very basic part of certain hip hop scenes) and just debating whether or not it's "sexist" as if any behavior is either sexist or not. Because I've never met anyone in the sex industry that wasn't doing it for the money. I've known people who dug doing all sorts of trippy things and some of them liked to record it, especially prior to the Internet as a widespread phenomenon, but none of them turned it into a job other than to make money. So to see a whole aesthetic built around strippers is kind of a trip. Especially when no one talks about class other than to say they're sick of bling bling.

You know, I think I'll just start paying attention and see what there is to say about particular events in hip hop. Most recently, Oliver Wang again comes to mind in responding to the Janet Jackson breast event and pointing out the event as a performed sexual assault that went largely undiscussed. And Jay Smooth's no slouch either. Hmmm, I think people do discuss gender in the hip hop blogs I read and those who want more should write more.

No Blogger Beef Intended

Before things get out of hand I want to say that my comments below about so it just dont stop and the gender issue aren't meant to be an attack on the author. I think it's a beautifully written blog that addresses a wide range of interesting issues in a heartfelt manner. So I didn't mean to attack so much as address what the particular entry I wrote about evoked. I could probably simply remove the post or rewrite it but I don't want to do that. On the other hand, this is probably my second potentially controversial response to another blogger that I now have mixed feelings about.

The mixed feelings come partly from my earlier writings about blogger nonresponses to the Oukast Grammy show that resulted in my eventual reconsideration due to the reasonable response of the bloggers that were attacked, as I discussed regarding Oliver Wang and Jay Smooth. I guess I'm of the school of thought that we should be able to speak critically with comrades, get heated and then resolve things with a deeper connection. But I'm not sure blogs are the most conducive place for such dialogues to occur.

I'm not sure if this is a similar incident or if I'm being overly cautious. One of the reasons I got out of certain activist scenes was because I tended to join in the process of turning allies into enemies over sometimes insignificant ideological differences. So I want to make sure that I don't fall into that trap again.

Ranting used to be so much more fun when I didn't feel some sense of connection to the people I was ranting about. But I'd rather give up ranting than to lose this newfound sense of connection to people I only know through their blogs.

Hip Hop Bloggers

I'm not always sure who's a hip hop blogger and who's a blogger who writes about hip hop sometimes. For the most part it doesn't matter except that most of my online projects are directories, both the netweed Directory and NC Hip Hop Online. So I spend a lot of time categorizing things and making value judgements. Actually I took the value judgements out of NC Hip Hop Online and link to everybody that's hip hop related in North Carolina. But my other link choices are much more rigorous and, for me, that's how it's got to be right now.

But there are a lot of bloggers writing about hip hop and I'm gradually keeping up with more and more of them. Recently a number of them posted stuff that's particularly worth mentioning in terms of my own goals with Hip Hop Logic.

At Diesel Nation, Hashim has a short piece about a black bloggers get-together in New York. He links through to what seems pretty clearly a personal gallery of photos, so I'll let you go to his site to pursue the topic if you're interested. I bring it up because while looking at the photos, it really struck me how rarely you see media representations of black men who are relaxed, friendly and enjoying each other's company. I mean, they look happy and they're not comedians and aren't trying to entertain white people! That may sound like a joke but it's not although I'm probably overstating the case a little. There is one woman in some of the pictures (Lynne Johnson?) and you might say the same thing about representations of black people in general. I'm not sure how much of that is about representation of performers and how much is a race thing. It's just, when I saw those pictures of the bloggers, it hit me strongly for reasons that I still can't sort out. Maybe I'm just tired of all those hip hop artists glaring at me as if I've done something wrong, from Black Thought to Ice Cube.

Jay Smooth at hiphopmusic.com is one of the people I've been checking out for awhile and recently he posted a lot of interesting references. A bunch of the stuff below started out from mentions on his blog, but not everything, and, no, I'm not going to cite every ref from him cause I'm done with my homework for the day.

Jay points to an entry at so it just dont stop (can't find the writer's name) whose author writes, in part, about her belief that hip hop bloggers aren't addressing gender as stated:

"It's damn hard, so damn hard when men do not even take the initiative to engage in the dialogue. For example, on all these hip hop blogs I go to and read, where is the discourse on gender, patriarchy, sexism, etc? Step up dammit!"

It's a good question and I'll have to look at my own writing on that, although I do bring up issues of gender when I feel they're forefronted. However, I tend to notice issues regarding race and expressions of homophobia across all forms of hip hop, including work by women, as the essay Queering the Mic points out about mcs like Jean Grae. But the denigration of women is certainly a big part of hip hop. I probably think about it less because I don't watch tv, therefore no music videos, but that doesn't let me off the hook.

I can't speak about hip hop blogs in general because I've only recently started keeping up with a decent range, but I think O-Dub represents as needed and Lynne Johnson, who I haven't been keeping up with till recently, just posted a rich piece on gender and hip hop.

Actually I spent a great deal of time in academia writing about gender and sexuality and also spent a lot of time in left circles addressing gender issues. At a certain point I just got burned out on the essentialism of the women's movement, the antagonism among many women towards men who were trying to change, the general pettiness and hairsplitting on the left and in anarchist circles (obviously this isn't all gender related), the tendencies among some feminists to equate the good with women and the bad with men, the fact that a lot of men don't want to change and that a lot of straight women don't want them to change in a serious feminist manner - they just want to be treated a little better. I could go on but I should probably just point to my last really serious work about gender and sexual identity which is posted at netweed:
How I Became a Queer Heterosexual.

Nevertheless, yeah, let's talk about gender in hip hop but just so you know, as an anarchist I'm against matriarchies as well as patriarchies. I've been fucked over by a lot of women bosses and faculty and I'm not buying the line that they were just internalizing patriarchy.

Guess I'll have to look at why this topic pushed my buttons too.

The other big thing I picked up checking out hip hip blogs was the Austin Police Department assault on the procession into the streets at the end of the Ozomatli show at SXSW. The Austin PD periodically flairs up and fucks up a situation, protects a rapist cop, assaults demonstraters and generally flexes their muscles like they were big city cops. A couple of eyewitnesses with blogs, Abstract Dynamics and Zenarchery.com undermined what the cops have apparently stated, as usual.

I don't get very involved with SXSW cause it's mainly an indierock thing. I used to listen to rock but it's mostly incredibly boring these days. There's always one or two hip hop showcases each night but you often have to get there early to get in if you don't have a wristband for the festival. And, even though ticket prices are fairly high, the first year I went almost every night and paid less to get in that if I'd bought a wristband. They're really good if you want to wander from show to show or if you want to show up partway through a show.

But I should be checking out the regional showcases. It's surprisingly hard to catch underground Texas hip hop in Austin. I'm going to try to catch a Saturday showcase with mostly Texas artists plus Dizzee Rascal. So that could be very cool if I get in. I was thinking about catching the N.E.R.D. show but fortunately I listened to some bits and pieces of the album and realized they're a rock band. I mean, Pharrell has a great voice but I can't really give a fuck. If I go to the other show I'll do a little review but I can't make any promises.

   Friday, March 19, 2004

Hip Hop in the Newsweeklies

Here's another news roundup that I'm not sure what to call. It's focused on hip hop coverage in the free weekly newspapers that have become big business in the U.S. They're sometimes called alternative newspapers but that doesn't seem quite appropriate to me. Nevertheless they often run cool stuff, including a decent amount of hip hop news most weeks.

It can be interesting to track the progress of certain artists as they tour the country through these papers. I don't usually do that, preferring to focus on the early reports. But sometimes a hip hop album release will evoke simultaneous responses, like the reissue of Aceyalone's All Balls Don't Bounce that helped inspire this article on hip hop reissues as well as this review and that overview. Or Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine getting reviewed in SF and Broward - Palm Beach.

Sometimes the regional newsweeklies run a feature that takes a well worked topic and gives it a new angle, like this piece that starts off looking at Jay-Z remixes and then moves on to 424 Sound Monster Presents Blaziní Blip Blop and Blar & Blee. But other times they seem behind the curve with reviews of what already seems old, like Twista's Kamikaze or the coming of Dizzee Rascal. But what's old is a judgement call and I certainly review and discuss things that aren't up to the minute. On the other hand, these papers come out every week. They don't have the lagtime of magazines, plus they get pre-release review copies and they get paid to write. So it's weird when they cover a mainstream topic after it's been chewed over obsessively without adding anything really new to the topic.

Probably the coolest stuff is local, whether it's San Francisco crate diggers talking about the joys of collecting vinyl or the Miami debut of a DVD player from Pioneer that allows djs to mix visuals or beefs between Denver mcs or the story of an Arizona cop harrassing a mentally ill mc who put out a cd dissing local pigs. Actually that last story's not so cool but it's worth hearing about.

So I dig checking out these regional sources every week, even if I remain conflicted about what to call this particular hip hop news roundup.

Available from Amazon:
Aceyalone - All Balls Don't Bounce
Cee-Lo Green - Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine
Twista - Kamikaze
Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner.

   Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Multicultural Hip Hop News

I've been pondering what to call these news roundups. I've thought about Regional Hip Hop News and World Hip Hop News but often they're focused on the U.S. and, though the articles may be from different regions, sometimes they also focus on well-known artists from NY or California. But they also always represent the fact that people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds are getting into hip hop and it could be argued that the originators, as African-Americans, are part of an inherently multicultural group due to the African Diaspora. In any case, here's some news from the last week or so.

In New Zealand, government support for a hip hop fact finding mission has resulted in a minor culture war with a conservative political figure putting out a press release attacking the very notion of subsidizing the work of social entrepreneurs in hip hop.

Hip hop continues its transformation as its mixed and blended with such forms as klezmer and cumbia. And hip hop also continues to interact with jazz, as discussed in this review of El-P's recent release High Water.

Aya de Leon's new show, "Thieves in the Temple: The Reclaiming of Hip Hop," which takes a serious look at gender in hip hop, has been reviewed in both the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Though brief, this announcement regarding the Cuban Hip-Hop Film Festival in Miami shows another side of the multicultural growth of hip hop.

Hip hop dancers in Texas have managed to bring one aspect of hip hop culture into a classical music setting. In other Texas news, hip hop artists are a small but growing part of Austin's SXSW music festival, on which I hope to report more personally.

Hashim at Diesel Nation, who has recently revealed his "real" name, has a nice piece on Talib Kweli and why having your album leaked on the Internet can be a good thing, particularly when hardly anybody knows who you are.

And someone who claims to be Joey Pinkney posted this roundup regarding Aboriginal hip hop in Canada a while back at Intellectual Hip Hop Commentary.

   Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Review: Soy Clothing and Hip Hop Fashion Sites

I received my first t-shirt to review, which is pretty cool. It's from Soy Clothing in Seattle and it's the Mixmaster tee with a picture of Chairman Mao wearing headphones. The subtitle is Mixmaster but Mixmaster Mao comes to mind. It's interesting because Mao was a butcher and the Chinese government continues that tradition. But Mao is also iconic like Mickey Mouse, except that you can use his image on a t-shirt without getting sued.

Soy Clothing currently uses the phrase "Clothing For The Revolutionary Culture" and I like their choice of images. They're tongue-in-cheek and they mix revolutionary images with dj culture, including a page for Northwest hip hop djs and related artists. The t-shirt they sent me is well made and printed, comfortable to wear and it got some friendly smiles at the Blogger soiree held at the beginning of SXSW where I got another t-shirt so I can put off doing laundry for at least a couple more days. The only complaint I have is the small SOY logo on the sleeve. But I'm generally allergic to logos and it would probably be fine with most people.

By coincidence I ran into this chart of hip hop celebs' fashion lines with links to their websites. I'll have to say I was generally unimpressed by the clothes. Although I didn't look up sites that weren't linked in the chart, what I did see was mostly run of the mill clothing branded by hip hop stars. And maybe I'm not keeping up with what's cool, but these Wu Wear Shoes are like something you'd wear to summer camp back in the day. However, some of the Phat Farm and Baby Phat lines did somewhat more interesting things with popular trends.

Unfortunately some of these sites were pretty half-assed. One site didn't load at all. Fetish by Eve, which I hoped would be a lot sexier, didn't have products for many of the categories. I would have liked to look at the Sean John lines more closely but the fucking flash or whatever they were using just wouldn't stop. One flash intro is bad enough but multiple layers of flash intros is just jerking off and I can do that for myself.

   Monday, March 15, 2004

Hip Hop Album Review:
The Feenom Circle - The College Graduates

I recently received a sampler cd from The Feenom Circle with tracks off the EPs The Pawn Shop and Souled Separately plus new material, some of it destined for an LP called Middleground. I've done brief reviews of their work before, both The Pawn Shop and Souled Separately, and I like these guys. They're smart and thoughtful without being preachy and their beats have this quality that's hard to describe, atmospheric, often gentle but not weak. Listening to this sampler and trying to get a sense of how their work is developing, I found myself noticing how much of the sounds came from live instrumentation, either sampled or played live.

Actually I'm not sure if any of it is recorded live, though some of the drums sound like they are, and their releases don't include detailed credits. I checked their liner notes page, however it only described Souled Separately and the details were interesting but spotty. Now I'm not one of those people that elevates live instrumentation over sampling and related techniques. To me, it's what's done with the sounds that matters and this time around I really keyed into the beats and the skillful studio work. These are the kinds of beats that start to move away from the notion of a beat without losing the beat.

I should say that the cd is called The College Graduates and it kind of takes off on Kanye West's College Dropout with the art and organization. But, as far as I can tell, that's pretty much the only connection. Also, I just discovered that Rawj has a weblog called the Aye train and that they also have a Feenom blog called The Melatone. Rawj posts a combination of political and music commentary and links and The Melatone has occasional comments about what the band's up to (emphasis on occasional).

I wish these guys were touring, cause I'm very curious to see how this would work live and a lot louder. Maybe if I move back to the Bay Area like I been thinking, my wish will be granted.

Available from Amazon:
Souled Separately.

   Sunday, March 14, 2004

Police Surveillance

So I dropped the ball on yesterday's Hip Hop Cops entry. It's just that when certain names like P. Diddy and Ja Rule come up I just roll my eyes and move on. But the reality is, if cops are watching citizens because they don't understand them and they're lumping them together in one group as potentially dangerous, then those cops are violating civil liberties. For example, in one of the recent articles about cops in Miami, it seems quite clear that the cops are confused by the terrain of hip hop, they're assuming that it's based on a gang structure and, as the reporter described it, "felt overwhelmed by the unfamiliar rap scene overtaking their city."

Although the cops talk about providing protection for rap stars, historically speaking, police have not secretly followed people around to protect them in the absence of requests for aid. And, normally, rich people pay for private protection. Secretly protecting Richie Rich is for Superman, not for the representatives of a tax paying citizenry.

It's also important to recognize that the history of surveillance in this country has often been a bad one for civil rights, particularly the rights of activists. I've kept up more with FBI misdeeds in this area and the most famous, so far, is COINTELPRO, the FBI's program to spy on and attack activists in the 1960s. Although this program was discredited, such activities have continued and remain a threat to civil liberties.

There has also been an ongoing development of the police as a paramilitary force, one which seems to function as an extralegal force. This account of the misdeeds of paramilitary police groups in relationship to drug busts is one excellent example of that trend. It's also been quite visible in the policing of anti-globalization protestors since the WTO protests in Seattle and the general increase of police surveillance of peaceful protesters.

So, when the surveillance of rappers is viewed in this light, without clear evidence that surveillance is necessary, then it's a problem.

   Saturday, March 13, 2004

Hip Hop Against Racist War, Blue Scholars, Hip Hop Cops

Hip Hop Against Racist War is a network of activist hip hop heads organizing in North Carolina with a core presence in the Triangle - Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. For an idea of what they're organizing, check out local coverage of one of their events.

Blue Scholars are profiled in the Seattle weekly, The Stranger.

Well, it's been all over the news that there are hip hop cops, not just a movie, but special surveillance groups to watch rappers and their entourages. I know I should be more upset than I am. Government surveillance has a long history of targeting various groups that piss off the powers that be. And, if I took the time to really look at this situation, I would find plenty of misbehavior on the part of the police. But it's hard to get upset about surveillance of people who've made huge amounts of money off of gun talk, especially when they go on air and talk about past and future crimes. But the conscious rappers they're following, that pisses me off!

   Friday, March 12, 2004

Plagiarists, MCs and Deep Dick

I was sorry to hear about plagiarism in the hip hop press, but it's something that all of us that spend much time checking for news have noticed, I'm sure. In this case, it's an MTV writer bitten by eurweb and I think they should have sufficient legal muscle to handle the situation. But I've been surprised at the number of sites that basically rewrite reports from mainstream press sources without citing that source. In obvious, ongoing cases, I've excluded those sites from Hip Hop News, but it seems like a deepseated problem.

This week's SF Weekly has multiple hip hop articles including a profile of MC Lars Horris,
a preview piece about Twista,
and a review of The Famous Outlaw League of Proto-Negroes from the queer hip hop crew the Deep Dickollective.

Available from Amazon:
MC Lars Horris - Radio Pet Fencing
Twista - Kamikaze.

   Thursday, March 11, 2004

News at netweed

I've been working with Clay Richards on the Web Directory and News. Recent changes include additional sources for headlines at Hip Hop News and the addition of news headlines to Outkast. The home page has an announcement about other updated sections.

   Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Hip Hop News Roundup

Although not a hip hop group, this profile of indie rock band Freezepop's use of technology and alternative modes of publicity to build a following is worthwhile for any aspiring hip hop artist.

Jay Smooth dissects the NY Times article on porn and hip hop with links to the original article and related online material including the music biz blog, coolfer.

Democracy Now has a piece on the recently passed Nuyorican Poet Pedro Pietri that includes a link to a beautifully political poem called Puerto Rican Obituary. Although Jay linked to this, I originally found it through the Democracy Now headline feed at netweed's Alternative Headline News.

There's a lot of organizational growth related to hip hop and education these days, including a conference at the Univ. of Illinois and related work towards the creation of a Center for the Study of Hip-Hop Culture.

In Syracuse, NY the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network is holding a summit for high school students that is part of the school system's special events curriculum.

The site IndianaRap.com recently received local newspaper coverage as did the UniverSoul Circus in a Georgia paper.

Chops, former Mountain Brothers member, is profiled in this piece about Asian-American rappers that also mentions the coming of Jin, but fails to give props to DJ O-Dub.

I don't know much about hip hop from New Zealand but Samoan rapper Mareko is one of those artists making it happen down there. He says his best gig was in Dunedin which kind of bums me out because one of the best jobs I never got would have moved me to Dunedin.

I think there's been a lot of great hip hop dropped in the last year so this piece by Ben Wener shows he missed out. Nevertheless it's worth checking his hopeful take on Cee-Lo Green, Gift of Gab and Kanye West.

Available from Amazon:
Chops - Virtuosity
DJ O-Dub aka Oliver Wang - Classic Material - The Hip-Hop Album Guide
Cee-Lo Green - Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine
Gift of Gab - 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up
Kanye West - College Dropout.

   Monday, March 08, 2004

Hip Hop Album Review:
The Lounge Below - A Tribute to Outkast

The Lounge Below - A Tribute to Outkast isn't really a hip hop album but a strange conjunction of lounge music and Outkast songs. Described as a reinterpretation of "Outkast songs into the world of jazzy bachelor pad swing," The Lounge Below was put out by Vitamin Records, a label that specializes in such things. Other releases include such oddities as string quartet tributes to Korn, Sade and Clay Aiken.

I have to be honest and say I have serious difficulty relating to this album, but I imagine there's a real market for it, out there, somewhere. The musicians are quite skilled with Herbert "Ruffles" Lovecraft 3000, Chad Beechwood Sr., Neil Lore, Sanford Oxenbury and Joe Bedford. Hearing Outkast lyrics done with these treatments forefronts their humorous elements and the incongruity of a white man (it sounds like) singing about "ghetto music," asking listeners to "spread" and apologizing to his "baby's mama." Although it could be interpreted as making fun of the songs, the overall treatment seems to be done in a legitimate style which includes a tongue in cheek presentation.

I've been told that the lounge scene has gotten pretty big, at least in urban areas, and this album is making me realize that it must connect to the swing dance craze that must have also gotten people into swing music. But that's a guess. I just know a lot of trendy white people (and I mean that in a good way) that would probably enjoy hanging out at a lounge with this music in the background, both enjoying the music itself and finding it quite humorous. Like Beck fans.

That said, I don't think it offers much for the hip hop fan per se. But Outkast is a band that draws in a lot of people who aren't hip hop fans and I'm under the impression that Andre 3000 isn't feeling hip hop anymore. So perhaps Outkast fans would find this of interest. And I'd be very curious to hear what members of Outkast have to say about it.

Available from Amazon:
Tribute to Outkast - The Lounge Below.

   Saturday, March 06, 2004

Massive Amounts of Hip Hop News

Why does it not surprise me that P. Diddy is shortchanging the rehearsal process for Raisin in the Sun. Although he did surprise people with his ability to train for a marathon in an incredibly short period, good acting just isn't about how much pain you can sustain.

Intellectual Hip Hop Commentary is a new blog focused on hip hop news and opinion. But don't let the title intimidate you cause it's really pretty down to earth.

Speaking of blogs, The Blogship is an experiment in hip hop blog networking with independent bloggers posting links to their entries on one site. Initiated by Eric Nord of stinkzone, it's a beta thing.

Remix madness continues with the Jay-Z Construction Set, information available at jayzconstructionset.com and distribution via BitTorrent.

In related remix news, Dynamic Producer is currently listing a Black Album Remix Competition as part of this summer's Producer's Conference - Back 2 The Mic.

Doing crimes and getting busted is no way to hook up with Suge Knight.

Seattle's Vitamin D is staying busy with solo projects and beatmaking for Gift of Gab's 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up.

Sage Francis continues to tell Clear Channel to fuck off.

An upcoming Houston visit by Ludacris gives John Nova Lomax a chance to discuss the evil deeds of Bill O'Reilly.

Ronda Racha Penrice profiles I-20 and his new album Self Explanatory.

Hip Hop Album Reviews

Dan Strachota reviews 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up by Gift of Gab.

Kiran Aditham reviews El-P's High Water.

Rachel Swann reviews Fingerbangerz by the turntablist crew VI.R.US.

Available from Amazon:
I-20 - Self Explanatory
Gift of Gab - 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up
El-P - High Water.

   Friday, March 05, 2004

Hip Hop Movie Review: State Property

I have long avoided seeing State Property, the movie starring Beanie Sigel, because I knew I wouldn't like it. But I had a free video rental and nothing else I wanted to see and this sense that I should see it and write about it in this blog. Unfortunately I was right, I didn't like it very much and, for once, most of the critics agreed with me.

Overall I think it's a fairly weak movie. The opening empire building sections don't communicate much other than it's easy to shoot people who aren't paying attention. The rest of it is difficult to care about. It's well shot just poorly written. The repeated line by Sigel's character Beans, "get down or lay down," inserted into various sentences just doesn't resonate that strongly. Mostly because Beans comes across as a street thug with no redeeming qualities, kind of like Sigel comes across in Backstage, the tour documentary. I mean, some street thugs have real charisma but Sigel doesn't have much to offer.

Damon Dash actually does a fairly decent job with an odd character and the other actors don't have much to do. I guess it was too much to hope that a movie starring mostly rappers would be very well acted but the poor script didn't help. The thing is, a lot of rappers emulate gangsters, not because the gangsters were all that cool but because the actors who played them and the directors and writers who made them were often really talented (at least that's my theory).

How many times have you seen pictures of actual gangsters on the walls of rappers' homes on MTV's Cribs? None. But the posters from Casino and Scarface are all over the place. Actual gangsters tend to be racist thugs who would happily beat the shit out of all these rappers that take their names. It's kind of a trip because rappers build their heroes out of media portrayals and then bitch about how the media portrays them. Get a grip!

I've never really liked Beanie Sigel since seeing Backstage, where you get a glimpse of him before the stylists got a hold of him. There he's generally ill tempered and stupid. However, his one number included in the Backstage video keeps me from dismissing him. It's been awhile since I saw it but the rap either was primarily a list of different kinds of "niggas" or it ended with such a list. The song Die, in State Property, was also similar in its listmaking approach to lyric writing.

That technique is one that I'm more familiar with from beat and postbeat poetry, performance poetry and poetry slams. And it works really well for Sigel who probably picked it up on the streets or just developed his version of it himself. I really wish it didn't though. Then I could totally write him off and not mention him anymore. Not that I'm planning on mentioning him again any time soon.

While I was trying to figure out Sigel's aka to make sure he wrote Die on State Property, I checked his bio at Roc-A-Fella Records. Once again a half-assed experience at Def Jam's site. Their shit's out of date everytime I go. But it gave me the opportunity to discover that, not only is Murder Inc. still called that, but they've been running banner ads promoting the Murder Inc. Online Team. I thought they were changing the name.

Maybe it's just more out of date information. Or perhaps once people get money and power they're inherently untrustworthy, particularly if they were already untrustworthy. I'm just waiting for Russell Simmons to move to an encampment in the Hamptons and start a yoga cult. Maybe Gotti can put out a Murder Inc. Mantras meditation cd to "keep it real."

To close on a more positive note, I would recommend seeing Backstage. I haven't written about it cause I saw it before I started doing this weblog or during a break or something. I've been meaning to check it out again and I will. I'll get back to you, my readers, but the bottom line is that Backstage is worth your time, State Property is not.

Available from Amazon:
State Property
State Property Soundtrack
Backstage Soundtrack.

   Wednesday, March 03, 2004

A Note On Haiti

Although many hip hop bloggers have discussed the situation in Haiti recently, I haven't because I generally focus this blog on hip hop. Nevertheless, I am totally opposed to the overthrow of democratically elected governments by the U.S. If you're concerned, then you should know that netweed has multiple resources for keeping up with the situation including Alternative Headline News with multiple headline sources and links, World News with BBC Headlines and The Postmodern Anarchist with periodic news roundups. These are also good resources for keeping up with all the other fucked up shit that continues on a daily basis.

Hip Hop Movie Review:
The Freshest Kids - A History of the B-Boy

I'm watching The Freshest Kids in bits and pieces and taking periodic writing breaks. It's reminding me of so much of my own history in hip hop. Not that I ever breakdanced but a lot of my introduction to hip hop was seeing those breakdance movies that came out in the 80s like Beat Street and Breakin`, often at bargain matinees in North Carolina with my younger bro, ripped on chronic. My brother actually tried to start breakdancing but he didn't have a crew and just couldn't figure it out on his own. Even though people solo, you gotta have a crew.

Like a lot of these documentaries that trace the history of one aspect or another, The Freshest Kids starts in the Bronx and includes interviews with Afrika Bambaataa and KRS-One before focusing on Kool Herc and the early bboys. After a discussion of various people from the early days, the flick digs in with the development of the Rock Steady Crew and related organizations.

Actually I would have liked to have seen more about early people, especially the Nigga Twins. We saw them very briefly and they seemed like a trip but I think a big limitation is that there must not be much original footage from the pre-Rock Steady days. It's not like today where video cameras are everywhere, even in the hood.

The other thing is that the issue of how this stuff really started is difficult to pin down. The early breakdancers seem to narrow it down to a handful of people and places and to go further you'd probably have to go outside the scene or speculate. I just think it's a trip that so much of the style of breakdancing is very similiar to capoeira, the dancing martial art from Brazil. But here, as elsewhere, breakdancers maintain that they hadn't seen capoeira till later.

After the earliest days and the earliest film, Wild Style, the scene picks up on the West Coast as well, apparently inspired by the brief clips of breakdancing in Flashdance, which is kind of a trip. Flashdance also led to the massive craze that turned a lot of people on to breakdancing and this film covers that rise that included the movies that I saw in the mid 80s. Quickly the craze collapsed and many of the crews that predated the craze also collapsed.

There are so many interesting people in this film that I hate to focus on the Rock Steady Crew. But their history is a major theme in the film since they started in NYC, toured the world, broke up with some members getting wrapped up in gangbanging and then joined in the 90s return of the bboy. But their return has also been as elder statesmen who recognize that the younger generations that are building breakdancing and/or bboying have taken the game to a higher technical level. That's pretty cool because a lot of the time you get the old guys looking down on the new guys and it really does seem like bboying today has a historical perspective and shows respect to the history.

There's also respect given to the worldwide development of bboying. Instead of "they're stealing our culture," the attitude is "they're expanding our culture." That perspective was particularly strong with KRS-One and Afrika Bambaataa as well as the Rock Steady Crew and younger bboys.

One interesting moment near the end shows footage of a B-Boy Summit in Venice Beach around '99 or so. It's not clear what happened and it would be nice to know more, but the LAPD was shutting it down and clearing the area. The cool part was that the bboys would step back a bit and then start breaking in front of the cops. The uncool part was that their unarrest skills could have used some work. The one woman they show being arrested was so close to the crowd that I think they could have freed her pretty easily. But, folks ain't used to that shit if they haven't been streetfighting, and I'm talking anarchist streetfighting, not gangsta bullshit.

This "review" was as much a walk down memory lane as an actual discussion of the film. Let me just say it's well worth watching. And if you want to check into the worldwide development of breakdancing, explore these links at the Open Directory, where I edit as nchiphop. For more on capoeira, see this links page.

Odd bit:
It still trips me out to see contemporary Latino males with mullets, like some of the older guys in this film have. I mean, why is that hairstyle so popular with white trash men, lesbians and Latino men? Can you imagine if they all partied together? Note to self: work up a film treatment around this concept. Base it in North Carolina where such a gathering could actually happen, though I'm not sure how it would turn out.

Available from Amazon:
The Freshest Kids
Wild Style
Beat Street

   Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Hip Hop Bloggers and Their Friends

Although every day brings interesting news, like this piece on community opposition to the Army's use of hip hop to target youth of color, it was kind of a slow news day for me, at least in terms of hip hop. So I thought I'd talk about some of the blogs that the hip hop bloggers I keep up with talk about.

Mainly I mention entries at Jay Smooth's hiphopmusic.com and O-Dub aka Oliver Wang's Pop Life because of their political perspectives plus they keep up with aspects of hip hop that interest me. But they also write about other topics and mention bloggers that only sometimes write about hip hop. You can check out a lot of them through their links, but I also wanted to riff on some recent blogs they mention that caught my attention.

Both these guys periodically refer to tinyluckygenius aka the Unicorn's tear. While I don't share their seeming worship of Jessica Harper, I thought Jay Smooth's all-in-fun diss track I Know Why The Unicorn Cries was hilarious. Plus, it's built on a Vast Aire beat and Jay Smooth is no slouch on the mic.

O-Dub seems to refer to other interesting blogs the most. For instance he recently mentioned Sasha Frere-Jones' blog S/FJ when discussing his piece in the New Yorker on legendary producer Arthur Russell. I'd checked out this blog before and I have to say that what I really dig are his photos of graffiti, street art and architectural details. Apparently some people give him shit for this. But then, the world is full of the clueless and they want to take us with them, like in the Return of the Living Dead.

He also mentions Girls Are Weird, a blog written by a woman named Theresa. She writes about music, her dating history and all sorts of stuff. I only checked it out briefly but seeing her photo reminded me of A-G.Net by Ms. Rathromony. It's a pretty personal site but what I find interesting (ok, in addition to the photos of Angel Goddess and her attractive friends) is that she uses it as a lab for her design work, changing it periodically in fairly complex ways. I found the site because she designed a website for Supastition, a rapper from North Carolina who's a featured artist at NC Hip Hop Online.

   Monday, March 01, 2004

Hip Hop Album Review:
Foreign Legion's Playtight

Foreign Legion's Playtight came out on Look Records last year but I just recently received a copy. It's a fun album, really a party album. Off the wall concepts at times with funny lyrics. There's a certain amount of singing and there's a lot of funk folded in. I even got a Jamiroquai (are they still around?) vibe at one point.

But the rapping is solid. I like the voices and I imagine their live show is a lot of fun. Apparently their first album Kidnapper Van is pretty different. It's described as "backpacker friendly" with "goofy charm" while Playtight is considered more dance oriented in some of the reviews. I haven't heard Kidnapper Van but Playtight is definitely danceable.

I guess if you find "conscious" hip hop painful but you're sick of mainstream bling, you'll dig this. And you might well like it if you're into one of those categories and not the other, cause they say some meaningful things, drop funny battle lines and many songs have "a good beat, you can dance to it."

You can peep some more press coverage and listen to some sample tracks on the Look Records site. As usual, don't take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.

Available from Amazon:
Foreign Legion - Playtight
Foreign Legion - Kidnapper Van: Beats To Rock While Bike Stealin'.