Sunday, February 27, 2005
Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop: Part 1
I keep starting to write about this book and it keeps turning into an essay, even though I've only read the first third or so. Jeff's done an excellent job with Can't Stop Won't Stop
which, as the subtitle clarifies, is "A History of the Hip-Hop Generation" and includes an introduction by DJ Kool Herc. Now I'm going to take the liberty of calling Jeff by his first name, even though I've only exchanged a couple of emails and talked to him for about 60 seconds at his book signing. Oddly enough, I think of him as a friend but, back in the 80s, I would have called him a comrade. Unfortunately, it's hard to use that term these days without adding a cynical edge, especially after one has seen what "comrades" are capable of doing to fellow activists.
Jeff first clarifies that "generations are fictions" (p. 1) and I agree, though we both also agree that they are "necessary fictions because they allow claims to be staked around ideas." And, as possibly the oldest living hip hop blogger, I understand his description of the labeling of younger generations by older generations as a "story written in the words of shock and outrage that accompany two revelations: "Whoa, I'm getting old," and "Damn, who are these kids?" But hip hop's bringing me back to life after having a lot of it beaten out of me in academia, so I'm willing to work on my side of that divide.
Jeff explains (p. 2) that Bakari Kitwana, who is most recognized for his book The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture
, defines this generation as those "African Americans born between 1965 and 1984," more or less in between the assassination of Malcolm X and the deification of Ronald Reagan. I haven't read Kitwana's book though I'm looking forward to doing so. If he really does discuss a generational divide between the days of Civil Rights and Black Power and the hip hop generation, I want to know more, because I think there was also a huge split between Civil Rights and Black Power. In my view, the Civil Rights movement went from revolutionary reforms to simple reformism while the Black Power movement got beaten down and abandoned with devastating results.
So I think the split between Civil Rights and Black Power gets left out of the current narrative, though it's important to remember that Martin Luther King was moving towards socialism and Malcolm X was moving away from separatism when they were killed. They would have been a powerhouse combination on a global level like we've never seen. Their loss and the successful fightback against revolution by government forces worldwide created the context for multiple generations whose dreams are still deferred, though they have a mad variety of places to shop if they can acquire the cash.
Jeff has a broader definition of the hip hop generation that fits his objectives a bit more closely, since he's working towards a more inclusive movement in progress. Though Jeff makes it clear that he views Kitwana's definition as a useful tool, he uses the phrase to define the hip hop generation as beginning "after DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa" and including "anyone who is down." Furthermore, it will only end "when the next generation tells us it's over."
For the most part, as long as people define their terms, I'm fine with their use of them, even if I don't agree with the details. That said, as a 45 year old white male anarchist, I tend to prefer more open definitions, even though I don't consider myself part of a hip hop generation. I was in college in North Carolina from '77 to '82 and, somewhere in there, I remember rap music hit the mass media, mostly because I remember talking to somebody about The Message
around '81 or '82. And then, really, it was all those cheesy movies like Breakin'
that turned me on to hip hop culture and the 4 or more elements. 5 then, cause beatboxing was a big part of some of those early flicks.
But it was graffiti that we were finding out about first because white people were photographing it and writing about it, especially in The Village Voice, which was an important international paper at that time. It wasn't really until sometime after that it became an important local paper. Among other bits that I'd never heard, Jeff says that a lot of the early graffiti artists didn't identify with hip hop because they were not part of it. And that makes a lot of sense, because aerosol art both preceded hip hop and continues outside of it as the Wooster Collective
website demonstrates quite beautifully.
So far, in the first 112 pages of this 465 page book that I just can't hold back from writing about, Jeff does an admirable job of situating the emergence of hip hop in a social context in which even gangs can have a radical perspective because of their formation in a ruined environment created by social processes masquerading as progress. In particular, he focuses on the process known as "urban renewal", though he really only discusses it in terms of New York's boroughs. But I remember black activists in the 80s referring to it as "nigger removal" when discussing the same events in Durham, NC which were happening all over the country as highway projects with federal funding tore through poor neighborhoods, usually populated by people of color. I'm not sure how simultaneous that was or whether New York was a test case, but in Durham it destroyed a community on hard times that had been an important East Coast center for jazz and black culture in earlier years.
But there's only so much you can say, even in such a big book. Actually my biggest concern was the devotion of a chapter to explaining the conditions in which reggae emerged in Jamaica. While it's a fascinating story and a beautifully woven tale of the connections between daily life, art and politics, ultimately the only direct connection Jeff makes is with the influence of Kool Herc who seemed to take the yard parties and dj techniques without the politics, at least as Jeff presents him. The brutal destruction of the Black Panthers is barely mentioned in the beginning, though I see they're referenced later, and the Black Spades are name checked quite a bit but life inside their world isn't looked at as closely as the Savage Skulls and the Ghetto Brothers. I'd rather see that space go to digging deeper in those areas.
Nevertheless, Jeff does a great job in relatively limited space of looking at the complexities of gang culture and illustrating what happens when organized thuggery takes on political dimension. It's especially important to note that the attempts at making peace between gangs were based on accepting that revenge would never make up for the loss of loved ones and, also, that government operatives were intent on undermining such truces from their inception. I don't know how the book ends, but I believe that's an important key to understanding both the possibilities and the limits of contemporary gang culture and hip hop.
Jeff also does a great job of painting a portrait of the mysteries surrounding Afrika Bambaataa and it's inspiring me to want to know more about the guy. I was most fascinated by the fact that, even as a gang member, he was always committed to crossing turf lines in order to party. Although some leftists and liberals will dismiss such activity as irrelevant, Bambaataa's early days clearly demonstrated the political possibilities of partying.
Jeff's one of the few people I've encountered who can discuss the nuances and complexities of people's daily lives in a social setting in an understandable manner without having to eliminate the contradictions. At a time when a variety of political forces are emerging from hip hop after what seemed to be a retreat from the political, dealing with the contradictions inherent in rap music is a necessity.
The first third of Can't Stop Won't Stop
is great and, though I know I'll have other issues cause I always have issues, I would highly recommend you trying to get ahold of this book. It's only out in hardback which makes it less accessible to some of us. I was lucky enough to get a review copy,thanks to Stephen Lee at St. Martin's, or I'd be waiting awhile. Right now you can get it for a big discount via the Amazon link below. But whether or not you can get it now, consider calling your local library and recommending it and then calling nearby libraries and recommending it again. I think a lot of libraries will want this book but funds are limited and public libraries are going through a harsh downsizing period right now, just like a lot of services for citizens that rich people generally don't need or care to use. I'll save the call to revolution for when I've finished the book, but getting it into a library is a tiny step that's well worth your time.Available from Amazon:
Jeff Chang - Can't Stop Won't Stop
Bakari Kitwana - The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Looking for Hip Hop Albums?
If you're looking for Hip Hop Albums
, you're almost there. And if you're wondering when I'm going to start posting something that moves beyond recent history, check back soon. I'm not promising much, but I am promising something new.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Couldn't make it out of town, unfortunately. Maybe then I could ignore the fact that known con artists who post fraudulent documents on the Internet and throw around the terms "nigger" and "fag" to an adoring Dumbfuck Army can act hysterical and still get a sympathetically gullible audience. That boy's dick must taste nice cause a lot of dumbasses are still sucking it.
Sorry about my rude language, guess I should say I'm joking cause then it would be all good, right? You know something? People get both the bloggers and the government that they deserve.
Get a grip, yo.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
I'm Out of Town For a Few
But I'll be back soon with some stories to tell. Or not.
I'll still post at ProHipHop
, cause I'm serious like that.
If you're looking for blogger beef,
all I can do is repeat myself
And if you're still paying too much for ringtones, let me remind you to take the free trial of Xingtone ringtone making software
, cause technology is our friend!
Fat Joe Album Update
You folks probably already knew this but Fat Joe's next album has been delayed and renamed. The album formerly known as Things Of That Nature
will be released April 26 as All Or Nothing
. According to a month old article
the date was pushed back, for at least the second time, "due to some wheeling and dealing" (whatever the fuck that means) and the name was changed because Fat Joe "felt his career and the climate of rap were taking such a serious turn" (whatever the fuck that means).
Let me know if you see any actual explanations anywhere cause I'm curious about what's going on plus I think the old title was better. "All Or Nothing" is kind of an obvious bush league title and there are probably already hundreds of cds or songs with that title. Though "Things Of That Nature" isn't the most original, for some reason it seems like a good fit for a Fat Joe album and it's certainly not played out. Plus, it's not all or nothing for Fat Joe by any means.Available from Amazon:
Fat Joe - All Or Nothing
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Hip Hop Albums Updated
I've added a handful of February and March releases to Hip Hop Albums
. Plus, there's a new April 26 release date for Fat Joe's Things Of That Nature
Back in Action
It's been good to get back to this blog. I neglected it for awhile and then, when I started doing ProHipHop
, I really let all my other projects go. But I'm figuring out that I can do a lighter version of ProHipHop and people still seem to dig it, which is good because I can't put in any more 40+ hour work weeks on a project where the payoff is long term rather than near term. Especially since it's already led to one print writing gig and it looks like others will follow. So ProHipHop won't be the powerhouse I would prefer, but it will stay solid while I do more in other areas.
One thing I'm getting back to is reviewing hip hop albums and dvds here at Hip Hop Logic, especially the stuff I received in the last year that I pretty much boxed up for awhile. I've also recently gotten copies of a number of books about hip hop and will be reviewing those soon, including RZA's Wu-Tang Manual
and Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop
. I know I've said I would start reviewing again before but, you know what? This time I really mean it.
Even better, I'm finding more writers interested in contributing to Hip Hop Logic, including one with a fairly radical perspective, often more hardcore than me, so that should be interesting. In fact, I hope it can be a step in making what has always been a blog with a lot of political content, into something more useful for hip hop activists and their allies.
It's been great to get so many new readers lately and I hope you folks will come back and check things out over the next few weeks. And, if you want to start writing for Hip Hop Logic, please contact me right away:
hiphoplogic(at)netweed(dot)comXingtone AdvertorialFree Trial of Xingtone's Ringtone Making Software
Once you start making them yourself, you'll never go back to being gouged again.
Friday, February 18, 2005
From The Art of War
Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable;
when using our forces, we must seem inactive;
when we are near,
we must make the enemy believe we are far away;
when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
1.19 - Sun Tzu
Thursday, February 17, 2005
On Speaking of the Dead to Me
No, it's about me speaking of those who are "dead to me." It's always a mistake. But I've done it for the last two posts, no doubt puzzling those who don't know what's up. This is my third and final post on this topic.
Recently I brought up someone who has literally been dead to me for quite awhile and I'm afraid I've caught the boy's twisted attention. But if people love you for calling strangers a faggot, hey, no need to be a one hit wonder. You can just keep doing the same thing over and over again. So this must be my 15 minutes of fame in someone's little fantasy world.
And I was holding out for Oprah!
A long time ago, a young man set out to build a name for himself with a fabricated bio and a series of emails asking hip hop bloggers to exchange links. I was one of those who agreed to exchange links based on his then lame but not too annoying posts and then stopped reading the blog because it didn't have much to say. One day, a blogger whom I admire pointed out that the blog in question was using an awful lot of homophobic language and offering only weak ass excuses for doing so and I agreed, making an announcement that I was delinking and following through. When the boy became upset at being delinked and silly talk ensued, I moved on, never to visit or comment upon the site again.
Recently I became involved with various online discussions that brought me back into dialogue with hip hop bloggers, including some discussion in the comments section
of Pop Life regarding Ward Churchill. My return to such dialogues was inspired, in part, by recent victories in the Hot 97/tsunami song incident
which brought a lot of people into action.
Since I was still puzzled by the positive response to the boy blogger from certain individuals involved with the Hot 97 struggle or who critiqued others on topics such as sexism followed by progressive calls to action, I raised the question at Hip Hop Bloggers
and inadvertently summoned a mighty troll into obsessive/compulsive text-based action in his warped corner of the blogosphere.
Although I believe my messages at Hip Hop Bloggers set the boy off, he decided to read various off the wall comments I made, often referring to periods of my life predating my appearance online, as being directed at him. You know, like people who recognize secret messages to themselves in the lyrics of popular songs. Except I'm not popular and I've discovered from talking to a couple of folks that people take what he posts at face value, even the nonsense in the silly autobiography he's got up.
If people are that gullible, then I think I should make a few things clear. I'm writing this decoded message to say that I have not conducted any secret delinking campaigns. Everything I've done has been public and he's been able to link to it all, although he passed on discussing the Hip Hop Bloggers posts, I noticed. Perhaps most importantly, I'm not making any threats of physical action against anyone, not even against the most loathsome of racist, sexist, homophobic toads.
I do talk occasional trash and make oblique references to literary works, obscure poems and lines from the characters in my head. It's ok. In addition to my online activities and research training, I'm a credentialed literary and performing artist! So I can say nutty things cause it's hip hop and it's a blog and I'm an artist.
But, you know, I don't just call people names to get my comments crew worked up. I say bad things about people but I don't conduct death watches. I may be an asshole, but at least my intentions are good and I don't require phony beefs to prop myself up.
And now I enter my years of silence on this topic, like the guy in that NYPD Blue episode who, after chopping off his professor's head stated, "He had a big heart. I know. I reached down his throat to feel it."
And then he stopped talking about it.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
I'm So Deep In Your Head
I should be wearing a condom.
Monday, February 14, 2005
Public Service Announcement
Although I would prefer to ignore trifling distractions, I need to report that a disturbed young man is making a variety of hysterical accusations regarding messages he believes I am sending him in my blog posts.
Believe me, as ridiculous as this sounds, it's possible that this individual really does believe that he is receiving coded messages. Since we all recognize how dangerous such an individual can be if his wounds are not salved, we should send out only good thoughts during this season of love to such a lonely young fella. And, please, don't egg him on in the comments section, you're only prolonging his deranged torment.
Still down for peace and love.
Editor & Contributor
Hip Hop Logic
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All In The Game
I recently saw the second season of The Wire
on DVD. It's a great series and I've taken a line from Episode 13
for the title of the new column I'm writing called All In The Game
. It's cited as a "Traditional West Baltimore" saying but it's also said by a controversial character in the series named Omar, a murderous openly queer thug who robs street dealers for a living. Although I'm nothing like Omar, his character is certainly one of my favorites in the series. Really, he and Serge get all the best lines.All In The Game
, my new column for Pound
will be a bimonthly look at the big themes of hip hop business, taking a broader view than I'm able to at ProHipHop
. The first edition will focus on Marc Ecko's recent presentation
at DICE 2005, an important game development conference. Ecko successfully presented himself as an outsider and an upstart looking to bring new life into the business. Yet, the question remains, with hip hop becoming the mainstream, how much longer can hip hop entrepreneurs claim outsider status?
If that sort of thing interests you, please check out ProHipHop
where I post hip hop business news from across industry sectors every weekday.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Hip Hop Albums Updated
New February and a few March releases added to Hip Hop Albums
Sunday, February 06, 2005
'Nuf Respect to Mr. Smooth
I let the fact that the press didn't pick up on Jay Smooth's
catalytic role in the Hot 97 disaster throw me off the track. but I've since discovered from my "sources" that he was the man who got it going. I knew he contributed a lot but I hadn't realized that the press was sleeping till he got into the game.
Having said that, I don't mean to undermine his role by pointing out that this effort was partly successful because it picked up on the energy around the tsunami disaster. A lot of people were feeling the disaster on an emotional level, so that helped inspire a generally strong response that could be tapped for collective action. It's kind of the reverse of the quieting of dissent by people's emotional response to 9/11.
It's important to recognize such elements, especially if one wishes to effect change by consciously seizing on happenstance for one's agenda. However, the problem is that for most people, the fact that some folks got fired will pretty much exhaust their attention span. It will be interesting to see if there is future action based around whatever network emerged around this issue. However, my best guess, unfortunately, is that the Hot 97 story has peaked. But we'll see. It's been kind of interesting to watch from afar but I was only partially engaged. Honestly, I consider it a local New York kind of struggle. I've never listened to Hot 97 myself and prefer to focus on concerns to which I'm directly connected, no matter how insignificant to others. Nevertheless. it was a fight well fought.
Hip Hop Blogging Still Dead, TV on DVD Still Rocks
I went back and looked at Eric's statement
after writing the hip hop blogging is dead entry and realized that he isn't going to quit so much as he's going to stop keeping a blog that responds to "time-sensitive" events. And that makes a lot of sense, though he refers to one of the biggest assholes we've dealt with in the scene as the only one who isn't "cheerleading." What can I say? People just love to suck that bitch's dick. I mean, talk about orally enabling stupidity. And you wonder why you didn't inspire social change.
On a brighter note, I can't thank Oliver Wang
enough for mentioning his love of The Wire
way back when. I would have eventually discovered it but he sure sharpened my learning curve on that one. I'm now enjoying the second season on dvd and it's quite excellent. Although that whole surveillance theme was so well played the first time around that it's going to be hard to beat. And I read in the papers a while back that Stringer Bell gets killed in the 2nd or 3rd season which kind of pisses me off. He really is one of the best characters on there.
has also finally been released on dvd and I can't wait to watch that show, especially the early episodes. I've literally been waiting years for this. Lance Henriksen plays Frank Black in the most depressing manner possible and the range of greys, blacks and earth tones in the show's palette create an atmosphere that probably doomed it to ultimate failure. Unfortunately, my general impression was that the show went downhill as Chris Carter gradually dragged it into X-Files absurdity.
You know, I love television, especially on dvd. Maybe I'll just start writing about that but keep calling myself a hip hop blogger. See, I can learn from others.
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Thank God Hip Hop Blogging is Finally Dead
I'm not sure if I'm all that enthused about reading hip hop bloggers again. I stopped for awhile and it was nice. If I hadn't chosen to return, I would have forgotten about them, except for one thing. I've met some of the coolest people in the world (online, they could be assholes offline) and it's led me to start ProHipHop
and an understanding that hip hop media is incredibly weak and full of opportunities. And I'm not really talking about blogs. I mean the whole hip hop news industry is half-assed. If I had a serious backer I could easily assemble a small team that would eat everybody's lunch, at least of those who are doing something other than straight up entertainment. I'm not very competitive in the entertainment field.
What brought this on? A lot of the elders seem to be burning out or hitting a wall. Eric's
upset that his blog didn't have the impact he wanted. Eric's a great guy with a powerful community spirit, but I stopped checking his blog because he didn't update it regularly during the periods I was trying to follow it. I don't really expect anybody to read this blog either, because I'm not consistent with it. But I understand his disappointment in the fact that putting forth a clear (in his or my mind) argument doesn't lead to some kind of social movement. But that's because we both have crazy illusions about our impact. I think Jay Smooth
is the only hip hop blogger who's actually situated to affect the offline world. All the rest of us are impassioned diarists.
Also, I get the feeling Eric may be going through a period of leftist burnout. It happens to all of us, brother. Take a break. Smoke something sweet. Enjoy the comments of your many admirers
. You'll be back in no time. And, if you're not, you'll be doing some other cool and valuable things.
is upset with the demands of visibility. I understand where he's coming from because I'm gradually starting to encounter the same problems he is, although on a much, much, much smaller scale. But I've never considered him a hip hop blogger. He sometimes writes about hip hop but I mostly remember going to his site and seeing these great pictures. I enjoy his offline hip hop writing but that doesn't make him a hip hop blogger. The rest of it sounds kind of like those famous people whose daily bread comes from being famous but they bitch about being famous. I have a bunch of problems, but that really ain't one. Actually, I'm not even sure how I'm going to pay next month's rent. And that scares me very deeply because it's less than 3 1/2 weeks away. So it's hard for me to relate to the problems of the famous and well paid. Especially when part of me is still down for class war.
Who remains a center of calm and focus? That Oliver Wang
guy. I'd describe him as zen-like except that his ancestry is Chinese so it's more of a Taoist vibe and it's highly unlikely that any of my readers understand those terms anyway, since most Americans don't seem to get that shit. Plus, he's probably a Unitarian or something.
Actually, I'm a Taoist, but a really shitty one. Traditionally Taoists try not to spend as much time as I do imagining just how they'd like to kill various people, even though they aren't worth the effort. You know, one of the reasons I don't own a gun is because I would be in prison or dead now. And I stopped carrying a knife after I left a club, circled the block, parked and went back in to cut somebody's face up (I wish I was kidding, it's kind of embarassing).
But, if I need a gun, the shop's less than two blocks away and I hear AK's are legal again. And, my understanding is that, if I go back to North Carolina, I can buy anything I want that Ft. Bragg has to offer. If I ever decide to give up my current freedoms and enter the dark spaces all those rappers like to "document", I'll be taking a joy ride to Missouri.
Really, though, the difficulty with guns is that if you have anger management problems, as do I, it's way too easy to fuck up. But enough self confession that probably reads like grandstanding. I was talking to a man from Chile the other day about the fact that most of the old men he knows were tortured at some point during Pinochet's regime before escaping. His father and mother barely escaped because a cop warned them that they were on a list to be picked up. Hearing that doesn't make me feel better about my situation, but it reminds me that the bigger picture is pretty fucking harsh.
PS - If you read this weak ass blog, you know that there are other bloggers I respect and name check. This post just focuses on who came to mind around this particular theme. Nuf respect, to all y'all.
PPS - I predict that some hip hop blogger will soon be doing it professionally, which means that hip hop blogging really is dead. Thank fucking god. And thank god for fucking!
Hip Hop Albums Updated
Yes, Hip Hop Albums
has been updated with even more new releases.