Monthly Archives: April 2013

Album of the Week: “No More Heroes” by Solillaquists of Sound


Daniel’s Thought:

“I wrestle with a number of routine judgments and trials,” Alexandrah sings on “The Curse.” “They’re counting down the days till I’ll be dead, or change my style. Assumptions made by stranger’s everyday, like they’ve read my files. Laymen relate with jokes they make. The catch to my laughter is I’m forcing a smile.”

This is Sollilaquists of Sound (SoS), the hip-hop quartet from Orlando, Florida, and sprawling over No More Heroes are themes of social exploration, political and governmental injustice and the media’s far-reaching hands. It’s an accomplishment to get these topics on point throughout the length of an album, but what really stands out is that No More Heroes writes itself as a detailed self-reflection by a group that is merely trying to understand the due process of life. “It’s the curse of pioneer, but I know I got a good thing going here.”

It’s quite easy for an artist to fall one of two ways when constructing conceptual pieces like this. On one end, you can easily trade meaning for melody and fall prisoner to being melodically obsessed. On the other end, you can sacrifice all aspects of melody in order to display a concise project. With these options, an album can be strong, but it’s far from complete. However, No More Heroes pushes both sides evenly, as it neither strays nor conforms on thematic atmosphere.

The obvious thing revolving around No More Heroes is that it’s an effective social outfit. On the electric bubbling opener “Marvel,” which cross-bends up-tempo breakbeats and flow that’s soaked in classic OutKast influence, SoS tackles being socially conscious. By the near end of the song however it starts to become apparent that this is also one of many points where the quartet questions ones self (“Take a little credit for your faults/Halt that personal closure towards your vault.”). Elsewhere, the album covers the media’s negative persona (“Popcorn”), exploitation (“Harriet Tubman, Pt. 2”) and an artistically drawn tribute to the late great J Dilla (“Death of the Muse”).

Although the subject matter gracing No More Heroes is nothing new, it’s presented in both a detailed and melodic stance, further proving that message without melody is meaningless. The variation provides a process for the listener that isn’t boring, and in the end it’s rewarding to find out that the album has many peaks. Spanning just over 60 minutes, No More Heroes lends us a hand in further understanding the world and what encompasses it; furthermore, it teaches us about ourselves and that there is no restriction to thought and what we can accomplish.

Gus’ Thought:

The 2008 album, No More Heroes, by the Sollilaquists of Sound is a first-rate listen from start to finish because of the musicianship, lyricism and message contained within it. The quartet made up of MCs Alexandrah, Swamburger, poet Tonya Combs and producer Divinci hailing from Orlando deliver an album combining spoken word, rapping, singing, live instrumentation and inventive beats. The first song “Marvel” begins with a womp-like bass line that quickly transitions into a deliberate drumbeat layered with synthesizer. From there, we move to “Harriet Tubman, pt. 2” where the group examines the consequences of exploitation in the United States due to the obsession with making a profit. As Swamburger states, “Now eeny-meeny-miny-mo/Aunt Jemima, Sambo/Uncle Ben and Mammy too/Which one are you black people? Forced to package soul in boxes.” No More Heroes is important because of how it confronts social issues with thoughtful lyricism and good music.

Within No More Heroes, there is a continuous shift between fast, medium and slow songs. This makes the album enjoyable to listen to because as Swamburger continually demonstrates his skill as an MC, Alexandrah will swoop in out of nowhere, counterbalancing Swamburger’s rhymes with her beautiful and melodic voice. For instance, “Popcorn” and “The Curse” are slower, more reflective songs that are made by Alexandrah’s voice. Following these is “Dolla Dolla,” a groovy, faster paced piece accompanied by a New Orleans style brass ensemble. At this point on the album, it seems that it couldn’t get any better. Then, “Death of the Muse” drops. This song features J Dilla’s mother Ma Dukes, J-Live and Chali 2na. Highlighting hip-hop royalty, “Death of the Muse” pays tribute to the legend that is J.

As a musical composition, No More Heroes is a tour de force. However, what makes this album even more remarkable is the political, social and economic messages embedded within each song. On “The Roots of Kinte,” Swamburger spits over sample hand drums. “Hello my name is whatever the game is/Whatever it’ll take to make you famous.” In “New Sheriff in Town,” Alexandrah describes: “Case of break, rape of address/Vacant cranium, man do the rest/Found best kept secret property of government suddenly/Now youth owes rent, tenant of stress.” Some music is pleasurable to listen to because of the musicality, but lacks any sort of consciousness or message. I am not saying that every song has to have some sort of political meaning. However, in the case of No More Heroes, the critically conscious messages embedded within the music makes the album an entertaining, and educational experience.

“The Curse”
“Death of the Muse”

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The Ideas of the Panthers Live on in Hip-Hop (Part One)

Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Note: this is the abridged version of a larger piece of work by the same name.

By: Kelvin Criss

“Black Power to black people, Brown Power to brown people, Yellow Power to yellow people, all Power to all People”- Huey P. Newton

Critical Literature Review

“How could Reagan live in a White House, which has a lot of rooms, and there be homelessness? And he’s talking about helping. I don’t believe that there is anyone that is going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them. It is by people not knowing where or how to get this help. Why can’t he take people off the street and put them in his White House? Then he’ll have people from the streets to help him with his ideas. Not helpless! Homeless! Not helpless! They haven’t been homeless forever. They’ve done things in society. The White House would be tainted because he doesn’t want to get dirty.” –Tupac Shakur, 1988 Interview

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created to not only protect the people from police brutality but to also work with the community to overcome social problems. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense organize community services such as the Free Breakfast for Children program, history classes open to the community and Free Health Clinics. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense’s greatest contribution was freeing the people. The Panthers freed the people from fearing the government, from being afraid to speak out against “their” government. Even though the Black Panther Party for Self Defense disbanded, it is clear that their ideas have not been left behind.

The Start of “Black Music” Affecting Politics

Africans have shaped much of today’s music. Rock n’ Roll originated from the music that African slaves made. It progressed to jazz music, which was highly influential to the victory of the allies during World War II. James L. Conyers Jr.’s Engines of the Black Power Movement: Essays on the Influence of Civil Rights Actions, Arts, and Islam contains a chapter entitled “Jazz Musicians in Europe 1919-1945,” which was written by Larry Ross. Ross explains that the German Luftwaffe (German Air Force) planes contained radios. Nazi fighter pilots would often listen to “African-American jazz musicians in their planes on the BBC radio station, and the anti-Nazi propaganda they heard undermined their resolve to fight against the allies.” The Nazi party banned all jazz records due to the musicians being black, however the German people used many techniques to smuggle the records in. Ross explains that, “during World War II to obtain African-American jazz recordings that had been banned by Goebbels, included putting Johann Sebastian Bach labels on Duke Ellington albums and selling them in local record shops.” This was certainly not the last time that “black music” would be used to undermine the “enemy.” However later in the century the enemy would shift from a foreign power to a domestic power.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s Impact on Tupac Shakur

Michael Eric Dyson’s Holler If You Hear Me discusses in great depth not only Tupac’s childhood but also his mother, Afeni Shakur, as both a “black revolutionary” and as an “addicted mother.” Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt said Tupac was, “born into the movement.” He explains the hardships of being deprived of a “stable home in his adolescence,” how it shaped his view of himself as a maturing teen and how his art “reflected the existential agonies he encountered as a result of her troubles.” Being a “second-generation Black Panther, Tupac was constantly approached at school by the FBI seeking the whereabouts of his stepfather Mutulu Shakur.” Afeni Shakur was not the only Black Panther that Tupac met; much of his family were Panthers as well. However, Afeni said that Tupac, “really didn’t have a lot of respect for [the other members of the Panthers]…Because he was a child who was there. He knew what they did and what they didn’t do. I never lied to my kids…for better or for worse.” Tupac resented that, “Many male Panthers chose, or were forced, to leave behind children and women. The government’s repressive techniques destroyed many activist black families.” Essentially, Tupac blamed the Black Panthers themselves for choosing to be activists, which led the FBI and other government agencies to destroy their family.

Dyson went so far to say that, “Tupac’s career was best imagined in strictly political terms: Rapping was race war by other means.” Dyson also goes on to say that, “but even as he [Tupac] exchanged revolutionary self-seriousness for the Thug Life, he never embraced the notion that the Panthers were emblematic of political self-destruction. To be sure, Tupac saw Thug Life extending Panther beliefs in self-defense and class rebellion.” After Tupac moved to California, he quickly got mixed in with gangs and began to, “live the life he rapped” about. Afeni believed that this was because, “in Tupac’s eyes, ‘not only was [the] revolution not paying the bills, but it was causing a great deal of disaster for me’” and this led to Tupac’s capitalistic philosophy. Eventually, “Tupac appeared to forgo the traditional meanings of revolution in favor of the thorny ambivalence of thug culture,” which is why you can see distinctions and similarities between Thug Life and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s ideology. “On the one hand, the thug embraced the same secular teleology that ran through revolutionary rhetoric: Flipping the economic order was the reason for social rebellion. Thugs are a product of unequal social relations” (p.64).

Dyson successfully and fully explains Tupac’s revolutionary roots. He shows the connection between his revolutionary family and his mother’s drug addiction. This addiction is the part of his life that leads him towards Thug Life.

Connections Between Tupac’s Lyrics and the Ideas of the Black Panther Party

Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Fred L. Johnson III, PhD wrote Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon, which shows how the ideas of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s ideas are reflected in Tupac’s music. It is deeper than just the lyrics of his song, but the whole Thug Life “movement.”

McQuillar and Johnson III talk about Tupac’s first solo album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., which Source magazine declared to be, “a combination of ‘60s black political thought and ‘90s urban reality.” When asked about the album, Tupac said, “I rap about fighting back.” The song “Holla If Ya Hear Me” excoriated sellouts and told Vice President Dan Quayle that Tupac wouldn’t be silenced, and urged black men to “pump your fists if you’re pissed.” The authors of the book discuss how “Keep Ya Head Up” is in support of welfare mothers that the media named “welfare queens.” Tupac “mostly communicated that women didn’t have to accept abuse or ill treatment just because they were poor.” His next albums would be just as meaningful as this one.

Chapter 25 of McQuillar and Johnson III’s book, entitled “A Shooting In Atlanta,” describes Tupac’s arrest for shooting two off-duty police officers. Tupac saw, “two white men harassing a black motorist at an intersection.” Tupac noted that, “the old southern rules were in full play.” Maurice Harding (Mutulu’s birth son from his original marriage) was in the car behind Tupac’s and said that Tupac asked the officers if there was a problem. In return, they advised him to get back into his vehicle, which he did. The officers then, “smashed the window with one of the guns they had” from the harassed motorist. It was then that Tupac got out of his car and, “dropped to one knee and he shot them both in their butts.” This is a prime example of Panther ideology, protecting the community, and patrolling the police.

Keep up with Bonus Cut and its continual look on the ideas of the Black Panthers in hip-hop every week in this four part installment.

Work Cited

Conyers, James L. Engines of the Black Power Movement: Essays on the Influence of Civil Rights Actions, Arts, and Islam. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2006. Print.

Dyson, Michael Eric. Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture. New York: Oxford University, 1996. Print.

Dyson, Michael Eric. Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. New York: Basic Civitas, 2001. Print.

McQuillar, Tayannah Lee, and Freddie Lee. Johnson. Tupac Shakur: the Life and times of an American Icon. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2010. Print.

Tupac Shakur. 2Pacalypse Now. Rec. June-September 1991. Atron Gregory, 1991. CD.

Tupac Shakur. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Rec. January-March 1993. Atron Gregory, 1993. CD.

Tupac Shakur. “Changes.” Rec. 1992. Changes. 1998. Song.

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Brace for Impact: Jay-Z and the potential for community engagement

Photo source:

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By: Gus Navarro

The first song on Jay-Z’s 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt is called “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” If you look at the rapper’s career, it is hard to do so. Born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in 1969, Jay-Z comes from humble beginnings and attended the same high school as Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes. He first got involved in hip-hop by appearing with Big Daddy Kane at concerts in a “hype-man” role. He also appeared on multiple posse cuts with New York rappers, most notably with Big L in the song, “Da Graveyard.” Fast forward twenty years and Jay-Z is winning Grammy’s, getting himself involved with the “NBA 2K” video game franchise, is the co-creator of Rocawear and the face of the Brooklyn Nets, is married to Beyonce and is a father. This past week, Jay-Z started his own sports agency called “Roc Nation Sports,” an extension of his entertainment company, “Roc Nation.” Yankee second basemen Robinson Cano, it was reported, has left his current agent Scott Boras, and has signed with Roc Nation Sports. This is a huge development for Jay-Z, Robinson Cano and the city of New York. In a certain sense, Jay-Z has probably secured Robinson Cano a spot on the Yankees for the rest of his career. This is ultimately a good thing for the Yankee franchise as far as having a face for the club after current greats Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter retire. Nevertheless, how much of an impact will this have on the people of New York?

Sports franchises, not just the Yankees, are important for a city. They generate revenue, create jobs and are instrumental in developing a city’s identity. But is Jay-Z really giving back to the city of New York? I mean, is he really investing in the community and figuring out their needs through dialogue and collaboration with community members? Is he helping to fund creative outlets for students such as after-school programs and writing centers? Or what about opening grocery stores, with fresh fruits and vegetables? It seems that Jay-Z is more concentrated on making his money and doing his thing, and this situation is a classic example of American capitalism. This is not a crime; it’s a “free” country and Jay-Z is totally allowed to do so. But while he does this, people in his community struggle to make ends meet, are marginalized and are involved with drugs and gangs.

It should be noted that Jay-Z has given large amounts of money to various charities throughout the years. For example, similar to many other celebrities he pledged one million dollars to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. After the 2005 storm, the city was in need of funds to assist in the rebuilding process. Hopefully, the money was put to good use, but New Orleans is just starting to make a comeback, eight years later. Ultimately, one million dollars is pocket change for Jay-Z. Cities such as New Orleans and New York need more than donations and volunteers. Instead, what is needed across the country is engagement and willingness to problem solve as a community. Fortunately, there are celebrities that practice this form of engagement.

Wendell Pierce–the New Orleans actor from David Simon’s The Wire and Treme–and a group of investors recently started and opened a grocery store franchise in New Orleans. The franchises, called “Sterling Farms,” services areas that desperately need fruits, vegetables and affordable alternatives to fast food. When there is a community without a food source, it is called a food desert. Food deserts are a serious issue and exist in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Atlanta (to name a few). These grocery stores are something that the community of New Orleans needed. Wendell Pierce has been there to fill the gap and provide a needed improvement to the community.

It’s not that anyone needs “help,” or charity. Instead, we need influential figures to invest in community. There is a lot of history and evidence that tell us corporations are not going to do so. This is where we have to come together with influential community members such as MC’s, artists, actors and educators to find a way to actually improve our communities. Wendell Pierce is doing this, and is attempting to provide a solution to a particular problem. I do not mean to suggest that Jay-Z or any other celebrity is responsible for single-handedly solving the world’s problems. However, considering the net-worth of the famous, it is not unreasonable to ask more of the entertainers, athletes and actors that we hold in such high regard. There are countless social, economic and political disparities that exist in our communities despite the social advances we’ve made in the past 40 years. There are, in spite of this, answers to community problems. There has to be dialogue and a willingness to solve these issues collectively. One person with money, power and privilege won’t be able to accomplish the social change we seek. There will however, be progress, by blending community, celebrity influence and collective action. As Jay-Z continues to profit from his involvement with sports franchises, video games and fashion it is imperative to ask, how will this ultimately impact the place he calls home?


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Tales of a Lone Wolf: A review of Tyler, The Creator’s “WOLF”


By: Victor Anderson

Once again we’re back in the mind of Tyler, The Creator and he is taking us on a journey through his schizoid-reality. We’re at Camp Flog Gnaw and we are introduced to Samuel, a troubled and defiant adolescent teen who is dating a girl named Salem. Wolf is new to camp and is instantly exiled from Samuel’s friend circle. As the album progresses Wolf develops a crush on Salem and they begin to spend time together, hence making Samuel jealous and becoming Wolf’s arch-rival.

Tyler channels himself through both of the alter-egos, so depending on the song you could be hearing from, Wolf or Samuel and Tyler sometimes manages to leak out. But the vocal interludes sprinkled throughout the album kind of help you pinpoint who’s who.

Tyler provides some interesting flow on this album and isn’t afraid to try different things when mixing up his production formula. Now and in the past, his lyrics have always seemed to be self-therapeutic–kind of like a diary or a journal and for some reason he’s choosing to expose himself to us—-the listener. So, you hear a lot about his excursions in Europe, his struggle with fame and that darn roach that launched him to the top—-a place he’s not sure he wants to be. But at the same time he can’t stop what he’s doing because now he’s the breadwinner for his family and friends and has a role to fill; the role of supporter. Ironically, over two years ago he was the dependent one. He also mentions the dichotomy of being damn-near straight edge and being surrounded by his friends who are anything but that. But that’s where his best pal, Slater comes in and they are granted with some bonding time.

Oh, but a Tyler, The Creator project can’t be complete without some references to his favorite things. He has to rep his set, GOLF WANG, Loiter Squad and of course, the box logo Supreme.

Other lyrical content is subject matter that dates all the way back to his first album, BASTARD. The song “ANSWER” deals with Tyler’s lack of a father and it’s filled with sincere angst but at the same time it’s a feeling of him still longing for his dad to be there.

Overall, the album is a wrapped up in warm colors and summer vibes. The production follows a general theme of graceful and elegant chord progressions but with a blend of blissful off minor sounds that are somehow aesthetically pleasing. With the help of people like Frank Ocean, Erykah Badu, Syd tha Kyd and others, there happens to be this ‘90s thread of R&B and neo-soul that is woven in and out of the album.

Tyler always managed to double up on the 10th track of all of his past projects but this time (with it being his third solo project) he decided to throw a third song on the end. The mellow production and the simple reverbed lyrics on, “PARTY ISN’T OVER” is easily infectious and it makes one want to ride tandem bicycles on the boardwalk at night with a breezy dame. “CAMPFIRE” has a similar vibe leaving you with the warm feeling only a log fire could bring and the craving of s’mores and a beautifully lit night sky. “BIMMER” could easily serve as the morning after when you and your main broad get into some beach shenanigans.

“IFHY” follows track 10 and is the heart of the record and really represents the sound of the album.

“I fucking hate you, but I love you.”

The instrumentation is haunting but gorgeous and represents the love that he feels. The lyrics are the epitome of genuine jealousy and hatred and are expressed through Tyler’s raspy, baritone voice. And just when the influence of this song starts to make sense, Pharrell appears and makes the song complete.

This song is the turning point of the album and you can say that it’s Samuel’s turn to shine. The production gets a little grittier and eerier. With the help of Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler delivers a verse referencing everything you would want him to draw attention to on a track called, “RUSTY.”

The album also wouldn’t be complete without a fun-hype track starring all of his non-rap friends. It was Tyler’s attempt at trap and you can just imagine them all hanging out at a skate park and rapping their verses for fun. Suddenly, WOLF transitions from reckless chaos to the calm and soothing jazz inspired track that is, “TREEHOME95.”

After a rambunctious, sporadic song called, “TAMALE,” Tyler decides to come to a conclusion with his final track, “Lone.”

The dreamy, elevator music that one would hear in a ‘70s Blaxploitation film really hits home when Tyler lets down all barriers and explains his current life in a reminiscent way. In the last verse he talks about his sick grandmother and delivers an enticing narrative.

After freshly listening to the album, the feeling you get when leaving a movie theater might come to mind. You have highlights that kind of blur together but overall you just have a weird feeling and you know you just experienced something but you can’t seem to put your finger on it. It’s like a rollercoaster ride, but of brain stimulation and emotion. Like a rollercoaster, you’ll want to experience this album over and over during the summer.

One last thing.

There is an interesting fact about the naming of the intro and outro tracks. Every intro track is named after the album and the last track on, “BASTARD” was titled, “INGLORIOUS.” So, if Tyler sees himself as an inglorious bastard, ultimately he must also see himself as a Lone Wolf…

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Album of the Week: “Endtroducing…..” by DJ Shadow


Daniel’s Thought:

I was a conception (like everything else in this world) that mixed ambient forces into a trip-hop vortex. I am in no way one single piece, but more so merged elements. Jazz, funk, soul, rock and hip-hop are my ideals, but I stand for so much more.

My father DJ Shadow is someone I admire, but more so someone I emulate each and every day. People say instrumental hip-hop wouldn’t be anything like it is now without him, and I’m proud; I love him. My mother is the Akai MPC60, and although she is 16 years younger than my father, their love omits pointless age gaps.

Two years in the womb was the vast expanse of time it took for me to be introduced to this world, and in 1996 I was born. In a year that birthed an Ironman, ATLiens, Octagonecologyst’s, Firing Squads, Illadelph Halflives and reasonable doubt that spanned realms ‘n realities, I might have been the supreme being that shocked the world. All eyez were on me, or at least that’s what I think.

I have a varied mind, and more so than others. When someone asked me what my soul looks like, I responded with a swift jab. “I plod and I pluck with samples of engaging sound from The Flying Island to The People’s People. My organ donor twirls and ties me up with synth samples of gold over a complicated rendition of the Amen Break. When I build steam with a grain of salt I loop piano melodies with choir vocals and slip in funk over a blitzkrieg of drums. My stem long stem is my ambient side, with percussion bells and soft nylon stringed finger-picking; it’s a rush. Pekka Pohjola is always with me at midnight in this perfect world and her piano chords may be my greatest attribute.”

For all that I am, I try to stay humble, for I am only one little voice in the mass movement of hip-hop, instrumentation and music. However, I’m a driving force that can’t be stopped. I single-handedly birthed the careers of disc jockeys and producers, pushed millions to start collecting unique records, inspired creative output, and I constantly remind folks all around the globe that sampling and production is an art form. My three younger brothers are all compared to me, and it’s unfair, but they will never be looked at the way people look at me.

Influence is and always will be an important feature, and I guess I’m lucky that is the case.

I am Endtroducing…..

Gus’ Thought:

DJ Shadow’s 1996 album Endtroducing….. is an entertaining listen all the way through because of the variety and difference of each piece. No cut sounds alike, but as you let the album run from start to finish, the next track is always the natural progression of the previous arrangement. For example, the fast and assorted break beats in “The Number Song” are perfectly counter-balanced by the slower, funkier riffs of “Changeling/Transmission.” These seemingly smooth transitions are not just found from track to track, but within each song. “Stem/Long Stem/’Transmission 2’” runs for exactly 9:23, twisting and turning from one melody to another, putting the listener into an instrumental trance. It reminds me of Miles Davis’ 1960 classic Sketches of Spain in that I get completely lost in the music and am unable to tell where one piece ends and another begins. Similar to Davis’ compositions, Endtroducing….. becomes even more fascinating after learning the manner in which it was made.

DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking work stands alone because of his use of vinyl record samples and an Akai MPC60 sampler. Besides a few contributions from rappers Gift of Gab and Lyrics Born, the entire album from start to finish is sampled. In a certain sense, this could be viewed as theft. DJ Shadow ripped off other musician’s recording and called it his own. However, I see this more as an incredibly innovative celebration of the vinyl record, and of music as a creative process. When Endtroducing….. arrived on the scene, there was nothing like it. Yes, RZA made the beats for Wu-Tang Clan using a similar process, and he also changed the game in the way he made beats. Still, Endtroducing….. is a full length instrumental album made without instruments. Unlike RZA, DJ Shadow didn’t compose this album for people to rap over. It is difficult to listen to this album without thinking of the influence it had on how producers use samples to make music today.

The technology of making beats has changed drastically since DJ Shadow released Endtroducing…... Now, anyone can make a beat with samples and a snare hit on two and four with Garage Band or Fruity Loops. Everyone thinks they can make a beat and there are a lot more resources at one’s disposal to do so. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I admit it can be awkward when everyone you know thinks they’re the next DJ Khaled. Then again, you have to start somewhere and this advance in technology has made it possible for the creation of entirely new musical genres, and production styles. Without DJ Shadow’s use of the Akai MPC60 and the composition of Endtroducing….., the music scene and the technology used to produce albums would be completely different.

“Building Steam With a Grain of Salt”
“Stem/Long Stem/’Transmission 2′”
“Mutual Slump”

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The Unforgettable Fab Five and Their Influence on Hip-Hop

By: Daniel Hodgman

Within five minutes of last Sunday’s NCAA tournament game between the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators, there was one thing that became increasingly apparent: the Wolverines were not going to lose. Charging out of the gates with a 13-0 run, Michigan looked like the championship squad everyone was drooling over before the start of the season, and on this Easter Sunday they were playing for a Duck and plum feast while Florida looked content with microwavable dinners and Lunchables. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Michigan came away with a 79-59 victory and their first trip to the Final Four in 20 years. It’s imperative to take note of this absence, because 20 years ago the Wolverines were led by the Fab Five, a group of young ball-players that not only changed the landscape of college basketball, but helped push hip-hop into the limelight of mainstream commercialism.

The Fab Five is the name given to Michigan basketball’s 1991 recruiting class, which is considered one of the greatest recruiting classes of all time. The group consisted of: Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, two players from Detroit with opposing backgrounds and schools; Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, two high school stars from Texas; and Juwan Howard, the city player from Chicago’s Vocational Career Academy who was perhaps the biggest factor in getting the Fab Five together in Ann Arbor. They led the Michigan Wolverines to both the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Men’s Division 1 National Championship as freshmen and sophomores and started 304 games together. From a recruiting standpoint, the class featured four McDonald’s All American’s (Ray Jackson being the exception), and Webber was #1, Howard was #3, Rose was #6, King was #9 and Jackson was #84 on the 1991 high school recruit top 100.

As talented as The Fab Five were, they never won a championship. As freshmen in 1992 they lost to Duke 71-51 and during their sophomore year in 1993 they lost to North Carolina (77-71) in a game that is most remembered by fans as Chris Webber’s late game “no timeouts left” meltdown. Despite this, the Fab Five will go down in basketball lore and is best remembered as a group of extremely talented basketball players that pioneered a new way to approach college basketball. More uniquely however, the Fab Five helped pave the road for hip-hop during a time where the genre and culture itself was at a distinct crossroads.

By 1992 hip-hop was both peaking and divulging from its core at the same time, which featured a continual swelling and mixing of influence and imagination. Before 36 Chambers, Midnight Marauders and 93 ‘Til Infinity, hip-hop was already forming its vast identity. As hip-hop and dance battling continued to reduce gang related violence and crime, the early 90s also saw a rise in crime-related rap albums that dominated commercial streams. With every feature such as Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s Mecca and the Soul Brother and Eric B. & Rakim’s Don’t Sweat the Technique, it was met with more aggressive works such as Da Lench Mob’s Guerillas in tha Mist and Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic. It wasn’t here where hip-hop first featured these unique clashes of subject matter, but it was a first in terms of extent and availability. For the first time hip-hop was molding itself into a culture with sub-genres that sprayed haphazardly in varying directions.

As N.W.A.’s 1988 classic Straight Outta Compton did before, these cuts in the early 90s broadened the hip-hop worldview; The Chronic helped drive G Funk and West Coast hip-hop into the mainframe, Das EFX’s Dead Serious monumentally sprawled new rhyme schemes into the genre with perplexing bars that captivated the culture, Point Blank’s Prone to Bad Dreams helped showcase the South’s contributions and Gang Starr’s Daily Operation continued to weave stories of urban reflection into music that paid respect to music before its time.

Released in 1992, The Pharcyde's "Bizarre Ride II" was an important west coast hip-hop album that further moved the genre along.

Released in 1992, The Pharcyde’s “Bizarre Ride II” was an important west coast hip-hop album that further moved the genre along.

With such a rise, hip-hop was still short of being fully recognized as a culture, and who would have thought a group of kids playing basketball would help quell that problem.

The most recognizable feature of the Fab Five is something that still exists today, and this is why they’re so important. From the baggy shorts that far exceed the knees to the eccentric basketball shoes and pre-game headphones, the Fab Five conspicuously brought to basketball a new edge never before seen that now dominates the sport. More important however is how this group single handedly created a moment in bringing hip-hop culture and urban youth style to the court. If influence counts for something, the Fab Five takes the whole pie.

In the early 90s college basketball featured a staggering amount of schools that had rosters mostly dominated by black players. However, the rebellious nature of hip-hop culture and urban style of play was nowhere to be seen in the sport; teams still ran structured plays, coaches emphasized singular offensive styles and defense was up-front and basic. The Fab Five slashed through this rhetoric, and with them they brought the hip-hop counter-argument to the sport.

These harbingers of change sought out new ways to play the game. Instead of running designed pick and rolls, they ran back cuts for alley-oops. Instead of just “winning,” their goal was to win with style. And instead of conforming to the norm, they unleashed upon the world their own voice. They sported black socks and baggy shorts. They listened to EPMD before games. They talked loud on the court and even louder towards their opponents; and they were all swagger before swagger even became a thing.

To look at things in perspective however, one must actually dig deep and the 1992 championship game between Michigan and Duke is one of the most precise examples. Here you had two completely different cultures clashing. With Duke you had the norm, or the old-style of basketball if you will, and with Michigan you had the rising counter-culture, the second language to worldview. In the ESPN 30 for 30 film The Fab Five, Jalen Rose puts it all on the table:

“For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms. … Certain schools recruit a typical kind of player whether the world admits it or not. And Duke is one of those schools. They recruit black players from polished families, accomplished families. And that’s fine. That’s okay. But when you’re an inner-city kid playing in a public school league, you know that certain schools aren’t going to recruit you. That’s one. And I’m okay with it. That’s how I felt as an 18-year-old kid.”

For Jalen Rose, Duke was the oppressive force that omitted people like him, and he was the one standing up having a say. He had a voice, and he had his view, and with The University of Michigan he was allowed to showcase this.

As the Fab Five name stormed across the country and around the world, hip-hop culture was met with spikes in commercial success. Jersey companies were selling Michigan apparel and socks, kids were trading in Nirvana shirts for EPMD records and urban youth culture was being imitated by suburban middle to upper class schools while basketball teams wanted to be “cool” and “the Fab Five.” It was a quick flow of change and difference to a culture so struck on normality, and that is perhaps why the Fab Five image is so influential.

However, with all of the successes in the rise of hip-hop culture and changes to the game of basketball, not everything was positive. As the Fab Five image and moniker grew to its utmost height, so did ignorant thinking. Because these kids were black and represented a rebellious side to the game, fans and critics alike started to put basketball and black together in non-positive ways. The truth is that color has no bearing on basketball, but after the rise of the Fab Five, black and basketball became synonymous to an extreme degree.

We see this unfortunate trait to this day, where players like Doug McDermott, Jimmer Fredette and Adam Morrison are good basketball players “for being white,” and teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Butler Bulldogs are chastised for “having too many white players.” In 2010 when Butler and Duke faced off in the championship game, six out of the ten starters on the floor were white, and this was noted among fans and even critics.

Like basketball, color has no bearing on hip-hop, which is usually considered “a black thing” to most people even to this day. The fact is that hip-hop is worldly, and there is no bearing. Where would Nas be without MC Serch, the white MC from New York who basically sought out Nas and was the executive producer behind Illmatic? How would hip-hop be without The Beastie Boys? Or Atmosphere? Or Eyedea? Or Eminem? What about hip-hop artists from around the world like Tommy Tee (Norway), Drunken Tiger (Korea), Bushido (Germany), and Pete Philly & Perquisite (Netherlands)? For one, hip-hop wouldn’t nearly be what it is now.

With all that has been said, it’s important to remember the Fab Five as an important movement in hip-hop and basketball. In a day when hip-hop was still looking for a major voice, these kids helped propel its popularity to the third degree. They were rebellious and different and had “a voice,” while at the same time appealing to the majority of basketball and hip-hop culture. Furthermore, they brought with them a new look and feel to culture. Despite some of the negative influences the Fab Five brought (I won’t even mention the Ed Martin scandal), they were for the most part a positive image for hip-hop and its growth. While bringing about these positive changes, they constantly remind us that there is no bearing to hip-hop, which might be the most important lesson to this story.

So when Michigan takes the floor this coming Saturday against Syracuse in the Final Four, I will be rooting for them. Not only because they’re representing the Big Ten, but because in a way, they’re a constant reminder of what once and the evolution of hip-hop. The University of Michigan will always be tied to the Fab Five, and the Fab Five to the University. Events and people like the Fab Five only come around once in a blue moon, and in a world where studying and recognizing our past for the betterment of ourselves is a priority, those five players from the 1991 recruiting class should never be forgotten.

Photo source:

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Hip-Hop and Its Influence: An Interview With David Kirkland (Part Two)

By: Gus Navarro

This is the second half of a two-part interview with Dr. David E. Kirkland about hip-hop and its educational impact. Dr. Kirkland is a professor at Michigan State University and one of the coordinators of ULITT and directors of CAITLAH. In this part of the interview, Dr. Kirkland comments on the transformative power of hip-hop education. For additional context, check out the first half part of this interview which can be found here.

Excerpts taken from an interview with Dr. David E. Kirkland on February 26 th, 2013…

GN: In what ways does hip-hop manifest itself in education and educational circles?

DK: Right, so let me just say there are two things in education. You can talk about hip-hop in education. Some of us have talked about hip-hop in education, ways to use hip-hop to teach other things. And so you can do that. We call it scaffolding or bridging. You can use Tupac in order to teach the classics if you will. You can use Tupac in order to teach literary devices and elements like chiasmus, consonants, and other types of rhetorical literary ideas or entities. You can use rap in order to create a mnemonic device to memorize mathematics, its been done. I call that hip-hop in education. But hip-hop education is the type of education or pedagogy that hip-hop is established in. Hip-hop teaches. It works in the tradition of the African Griot. It works in that oral tradition, it works in the oral tradition of the street press where individuals would come together and they would collect stories and they would collect histories. It works in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History in the sense that it has its own pedagogy, its own moment. So the cypher becomes this space where everyone is equal but at the same time in order to be elevated within that cypher, the cypher is trying you. Its like a cauldron, it invites you in, but it doesn’t let you remain the same, you have to put your energy out there; you have to be vulnerable. So, hip-hop education suggests a vulnerability, it has its own language, its language is rap. And rap isn’t just the science of rhyme; it’s the science of truth. So when we hear hip-hop artists talking about rap, the thing that makes rap significant isn’t just a rhyme, it’s that it gets close to truth. It’s saying things that people realize. This is hip-hop education. Hip-hop education is the element of pedagogy, the element of education that exists within the hip-hop idea. And it’s not necessarily the traditional education that we understand or know.

GN: So going off of that, can hip-hop education or hip-hop pedagogy exist in mainstream schools?

DK: I think hip-hop in education can exist in mainstream schools, but hip-hop education is a school in and of itself. I think schooling should and can be informed by hip-hop. We should do school more like we do hip-hop. We should have cyphers break out that invite people, we should break down the walls of schooling and construct education and the education imagination based on how people understand and live life today. And hip-hop gives us a glimpse into that. So if we think about education and how it’s constructed today we have to go back to history. We have to go back to post-industrial history where you had labor laws that prohibited youth from working. So we needed some repositories to place these kids so we constructed these entities and the architect of these entities were usually the architects of prisons and factories. We also had this really interesting agrarian culture; what to do in the winter? So we set up this thing where you go to school in the winter and in the summer you don’t. So the imagination around how we look at schooling today isn’t necessarily the most effective way to do school for now because it was based on a society and culture that is long past. So there is an argument to re-think education anyhow. But hip-hop gives us this third space, this site of really interesting creation, both pedagogical creation as well as performative creation coming together to inform the ways that people learn; the way that the mind is impressed upon. And I think that’s important.

GN: I think it is too and off of that, what do you do at Michigan State to carry these things out? Is it just in class or are there other programs that you’re involved in within MSU? And what is the approach to these programs?

DK: Well Michigan State University is a hegemonic space. It’s a fairly traditional space with really good people in it pushing against traditions. But there is one thing about dominant hegemony is that they have gravity to them. We can pull up, but we can only pull so long before the thing gets heavy and it falls back in its place. But I have done some things at Michigan State University within my classes because I think it’s important. This goes back to the question of why teach hip-hop? I don’t want to teach hip-hop because it engages youth, that’s important. I can give the youth candy, that will engage them too and it will hurt their teeth. I teach hip-hop because it’s smart to do so. We teach Shakespeare, we teach Dante, we teach all these other people I called “hip-hopgraphers.” We teach them because it’s smart to do so. If in the days of written technology we used print in order to transmit meaning and in the day of digital technology we use music, sound, and visual multi-modo moving imagery to do it. Why don’t we teach that? Why don’t we understand that as a new way of capturing our humanity? I teach it because it’s smart to teach hip-hop. I’m not going to wait until Tupac is dead a hundred years to say, “wow, lets reflect on this.” We need to reflect on it now. Because by reflecting on it, it gives us a way to understand ourselves in powerful and important ways and to re-shape the world that we live in, so that it can be more inviting and more beneficial to more people. So I say that to say, I teach it in my class because I have to, because its what makes us smart by studying and examining hip-hop today. I also created a set of interventions. One intervention is our Urban Literacies Institute for Transformative Teaching (ULITT). It is a hip-hop pedagogy retreat that I brought to Michigan State University. This year is our second year into that, and we’ve seen transformative results. I got an email today from a teacher that told me that one of her participants told her that the event changed her life. That she found healing as well as strategy through it and for me, that’s important. So I’m trying to open up spaces at Michigan State University. I don’t know how long those spaces will be open before the powers that be close them, but for as long as we can keep them open, we’re going keep them open.

GN: Thank you very much, I appreciate you sitting down with me and talking.

DK: Thank you.

It is important to reflect on the purpose of schooling and education. The public school system as we know it comes from the Technological Revolution of the early 19th century. Schools were modeled after factories that were essential to the United State’s economy. Kids get union breaks too, its just called recess. As students move through school they are indoctrinated into the “American Way” and are prepared to enter the work force by the end of their education. Having the skills to find a job is in no way a bad thing, but it may be time to approach this in a different way. With the continual push towards globalization our world cannot function without things such as computers, the Internet and smart phones. Nowadays there are so many ways in which we can express ourselves and connect with people. Using hip-hop as a worldview, as a way of reading the world and interacting with others allows teachers and students to collaborate and learn together. Hip-hop education gets away from the one-size fits all educational model of testing and standardization. Hip-hop education creates a space where students are encouraged to create and learn using multiple disciplines such as writing, music, film, photography, art and dance all while pushing students to develop the agency to navigate the complex society we live in. When we focus on testing, we are not supporting students to be curious and ask conceptual questions about their communities. If we want to use hip-hop education, we have to be willing to change how we do school and how we teach students. To build off Dr. Kirkland’s statement, he is not talking about using lyrics to teach the 50 states. That is hip-hop in education and super status quo. Instead, he is talking about using the worldview of hip-hop to teach students to be curious, critical, vulnerable and to use their experiential knowledge. As Dr. Kirkland explains, “In the days of written technology we used print in order to transmit meaning and in the day of digital technology we use music, sound, and visual multi-modo moving imagery to do it. Why don’t we teach that? Why don’t we understand that as a new way of capturing our humanity?” This is not a traditional model of education, but it is time that we at least consider what this could do for our students as they grow and learn about the world around them.

*You can check out Dr. Kirkland’s blog at or follow him on Twitter: @davidekirkland.

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Danny Brown Turns Shows Into Parties: A First Hand Experience


By: Justin Cook

Hip-hop is a breathing experience, a way to live, and a way let go. This became all the more evident watching Danny Brown perform at the Pyramid Scheme, accompanied with his crew Bruiser Brigade. The night started like any other: people were slowly piling into the bar, the DJ was setting the mood for the remainder of the night and the audience was sinking into the hypnotism of revolving vinyls and melodies, sipping beer after beer, smoking blunt after blunt. We were feeling the vibe, ready to get turnt up.

The show started with the arrival of Chip$, fresh out of the pen, backed by the magician of mood, Skywlkr; every second the crowd was sinking deeper into the groove of back-beats and sub-bass Skywlkr bombarded us with. In the haze of smoke and dance, the other Bruisers covertly made their way on stage—TRPLBLK, Dopehead, and ZelooperZ—each one building on the hype of the previous entrance, culminating into an organic chant of the performers and audience yelling in unison “PUSSY! PUSSY! PUSSY!” It was at this moment when it struck me: this is not a concert, this is a fucking party.

Danny Brown strolled on stage and exploded into his first song, “The Purist” which is produced by Jealousy. The crowd was out of this fucking world turnt up and it made me think: I’ve been to my fair share of hip-hop shows, but the energy this night was on some other shit. Track after track, from “Molly Ringwald” to “Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)” to “Witit,” everyone continued to get turnt up, despite being sweaty, fatigued and out of breath. The momentum kept building and had no intention of peaking or plateauing; it was just exponentially climbing to the cosmos. And Danny felt it, repeating between songs: “I am not a performer. You are not an audience. Let’s just get that shit straight. You see, we all family, just hanging out and having a great ass time, bumping some tunes we all enjoy.”

It truly was a party between an extended Michigan family. Danny passed a liter of Jameson around the crowd, calling it the turnt-up juice, making sure everyone was on the proper level. And of course, blunts were being passed between the stage and floor, making the entire venue one big smoke circle. Everyone pushed themselves past their own limits, and we all felt alive. Even at the end of the show, after Danny admitted to being tired, drunk and high, and only having enough energy for one more song, we made an agreement as a family, to stay turnt up for three more songs, which ended with “Kush Coma.” And after that promise was fulfilled, everyone rushed the stage, dancing, partying and loving life. There was no distinction between artist and audience, for this moment was just pure hip-hop.

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