Monthly Archives: August 2013

THE STARTING FIVE: 8/28/13

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Every week, Daniel and Gus pick five songs to share called The Starting Five. This week, they’re personally sharing these tracks as a feature.

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Artist and Educator Dylan Miner (Part Two)

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By: Gus Navarro

You can view Part One here

Earlier this summer, we sat down with artist, activist and educator Dylan AT Miner (Métis) to discuss how he incorporates elements of hip-hop into his artwork and teaching. Miner is a descendent of the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, prairies, and subarctic. He has collaborated with indigenous youth and artists to create spaces of reflection and resistance all around the world. He currently holds the position of assistant professor in the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Excerpts from this interview with Dylan Miner were taken on May 17th, 2013…

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Remembering Capital STEEZ and the Finer Things

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By: Daniel Hodgman

Jamal Dewar, known by his stage name Capital STEEZ, was one of the founding members and architectural mastermind behind Brooklyn’s Pro Era. He rapped with focus and precision, often times making intricate allusions to his life while at the same time throwing around rhymes about the soul, inner-perception and the new “underground mainstream.” STEEZ was a genius; he was an established MC who poured the pulsating realities of his world into songs that could persuade even the tightest of critics to engage in a Pro Era yap fest. Ultimately, what STEEZ reflected in his music was that of an enigma-wrapped soul either lost in the mysterious cavities of life or a soul that simply punctured the surface of life’s very realm. On December 23, 2012, Jamal tweeted “The end.” The next day he took his own life. He was only 19.

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A Bonus Cut Review: “Doris” by Earl Sweatshirt

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By: Victor Anderson

“The miss-adventures of a shit-talker” and “troubled soul” describes Doris perfectly as a narrative record. The second track, “Burgundy” states, “Niggas wanna hear you rap/ Don’t nobody care how you feel,” and that is exactly what was expected of Earl’s debut record by most of the EARL lovers. The demand was for the obscene, derogatory and outlandish lyricism that made him a crowd favorite. But what we got was a real and honest depiction of Thebe’s diary and day-to-day.

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Album of the Week: “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” by OutKast

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OutKast
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
LaFace, 1994

Daniel’s Thought

Southern hip-hop very rarely gets its due, and that may be in part because it’s still relatively young compared to other hip-hop regions. The Geto Boys broke the South in the late 80s and early 90s, and 2 Live Crew and UGK helped push the scene even further. However, Southern hip-hop was still a Wild West-like barren land just waiting to be explored. By 1994, the South was making its move, and it was in Atlanta where everything was taking shape.

In comes OutKast, the infamous duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, and out comes their 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, an album ripe with lyrical recognition, groovy bass waves of seduction, turntable scratches and 808 rhythm clapping. A lot of what makes OutKast’s debut accessible is its mechanical sound that mixes East Coast boom-bat alteration and West Coast funk melodies, and on top of this you have two deeply contrasting lyricists with ‘Dre and Big Boi. By mixing unique rhyme sequences and tongue-twirling lyricism, OutKast brought in a true regional representation in record form. Take for instance “Ain’t No Thang”, a verbal onslaught filled with Southern slang like “ya’ll” and “you’se”. It’s here where OutKast shines on their debut, successfully showcasing Southern flare and pride for their city.

More importantly however is some of the subject matter. “Git Up, Git Out” preaches that teenagers should follow their dreams and put the drugs away. Featuring fellow Atlanta natives Goodie Mob, “Git Up, Git Out” is a simplistic yet essential song to the album’s overall message (“I thinkin of better shit to do with my time/ Never smelled aroma of diploma, but I write the deep ass rhymes“). On “Crumblin’ Erb”, OutKast explores black-on-black violence and how that has a negative effect on the African-American and black community as a whole (“Niggas killin’ niggas they don’t understand (that’s the master plan)/ I’m just crumblin’ erb, I’m just crumblin’ erb“). Comparatively, “Funky Ride” reassures us the need to keep calm and take everything in (“Ahh, relax your body next to me/ As I sing this OutKast melody/ On this funky ride/ So just relax baby“).

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is essential for its variety. It helped break the Southern hip-hop scene and Atlanta as a true representative for hip-hop, and it pushed for reform regarding social constraints on the black community and violence as a whole. Moreover, it encourages and pushes, and this is all while the Southern plunking of diverse hip-hop sound crashes all over. It may not be OutKast’s best record or most recognized, but when it’s all said and done, it’ll be their most important.

Gus’ Thought

Music is an art form that is ever changing and evolving over time due to things such as creativity, past compositions and advances in technology. These help to push musical genres forward and constantly offer new ideas for aspiring artists looking for their sound. Every now and again, when a group truly discovers their sound, an album is released that changes the landscape of music. From 1994, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik by OutKast is just that type of record. Released near the end of what is debatably the Golden Age of hip-hop, OutKast’s debut album introduced the world to southern hip-hop with its illustration of life for African-American youth facing the social, economic and racial inequities of post-Civil Rights Era Atlanta, its use of funk and live instrumentation and the rapping styles of Big Boi and Andre 3000.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, rappers from the East and West Coast were the top dogs, each with their own unique style. The South was somewhat of an untapped resource of talent and experience that had the potential for great hip-hop. This is evident on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, as the record presents a different sound with its muggy, slow-cooked grooves on songs such as “Crumblin’ Erb, “Ain’t No Thang,” “Claimin’ True” and “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.” Add the flow and ingenious lyricism of Big Boi and Andre 3000 and you have an album twists and turns, creating the desire to dance, nod your head and reflect deeply on your circumstances.

These sensations come out because Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is about the group’s lives in Atlanta, what they experienced on a daily basis and what they know. There is a lot of pride with regard to the city of Atlanta, the place they call home. They tell stories about drugs, prostitution, gun culture and male braggadocio. There is no attempt to glorify this. Instead, they offer up tracks such “Git Up, Git Out” which are about seizing the day. Additionally, there is an acute awareness to the generational pain of slavery and the repressive nature of the Jim Crow Era. For instance, on the interlude, “Welcome To Atlanta”, we hear a pilot explaining to the passengers, “To the far left, you can see the Georgia Dome, which by the way still flies a Confederate battle flag.” Ultimately with this album, OutKast doesn’t allow the pride of place to get in the way of reflecting on where they came from. Let’s not forget, they do this over tantalizingly smooth beats, piano riffs and the twang of the guitar.

With their debut album, OutKast offered up something different for the hip-hop community to take in. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik has the funkiness and flavor of the South mixed in with the insightful lyricism of Big Boi and Andre 3000. This record put southern hip-hop on the map and paved the way for many aspiring hip-hop heads born below the Mason-Dixon line. If you’re looking for an old classic that you haven’t heard for a long time or for something you’ve never heard, put this on.

Must-Listens

“Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”

“Git Up, Git Out”

“Ain’t No Thang”

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Artist and Educator Dylan Miner

By: Gus Navarro

Part 1

Earlier this summer, we sat down with artist, activist and educator Dylan AT Miner (Métis) to discuss how he incorporates elements of hip-hop into his artwork and teaching. Miner is a descendent of the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, prairies and subarctic. He has collaborated with indigenous youth and artists to create spaces of reflection and resistance all around the world. He currently holds the position of assistant professor in the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Excerpts from this interview with Dylan Miner were taken on May 17th, 2013…

Bonus Cut (BC):  When you hear the words hip-hop, what does it mean to you?

Dylan Miner (DM):  For me, hip-hop is an ontology; it’s a way of being in the world. I think a lot of times we think of hip-hop as a form of music or even a lifestyle. I think its both of these things but as someone who grew up involved in hip-hop and punk rock, I also see these as parallel movements of underground, alternative, anti-capitalist movements that have grown up in resistance. For me, hip-hop embodies a way of being in the world that goes against the dominant mode. We know that it comes out of the Bronx, out of New York City with Black and Latino communities in resistance to white colonial rule. If you look at it now, hip-hop is what youth movements are using throughout the world. You go meet with kids in Australia, I’ve worked with aboriginal kids in Australia and they’re listening to hip-hop. Young MCs are producing excellent music.  Everywhere you go kids are making hip-hop as a way of expressing themselves and resisting. So I see the five hip-hop elements as a way of being in the world that connects people.

BC:  Growing up as a kid you were involved in the hip-hop and punk rock scene, what does that mean exactly? How were you involved?

DM:  I tried my hand at being an MC and a DJ and wasn’t good at that. I tried breaking and wasn’t good at that either. I also wrote graffiti for a while with a couple of different tags, names and monikers but wasn’t good at that either. I’ve been involved in it in a variety of ways. In punk rock I made “zines” which are alternative magazines and published those and communicated with other people that way. I grew up in a small rural town in Michigan, out in the woods. Punk rock and hip-hop were a way that I was able to connect with people my age and people form other places and I thought that was important. I was involved on a variety of levels in my younger days but I was never anybody that was of importance. So now one of the things I do with my artwork is I work with youth and have a bunch of different projects that use hip-hop as the starting off point and as a way for us to speak of our shared experiences.

BC:  What is an example of how you use hip-hop in your art and with youth?

DM:  One of the more well-known projects I have is called Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag which means “Native Kids Ride Bikes.” Basically it’s a low-rider bike project that works with urban-indigenous kids throughout North America and takes hip-hop as a shared relationship and goes from there. We build low-rider bikes that allow us to talk about the origins of low-rider cars and bicycles. If you know the history, there are some conflicting histories, but many people say that the origins of the low-rider can be traced to Española, New Mexico. However, other folks say East Los Angeles, California. The low-rider is central to west coast hip-hop if not the east coast. It’s also an automobile and it’s a thing that runs on fossil fuels which is a way of transportation that is built off of the burning of deceased and fossilized animals that is creating a huge systematic climate change. So we have a conversation of hip-hop, a conversation of transportation, think about sustainable transportation and traditional forms of movement. We look at the low-rider bike as something that’s tied to ways that Native people moved in this continent before the automobile. For my community, we had something call the “Red River Cart” which is a two-wheeled cart.  In this part of the continent, people traveled by jimaan, which is a canoe. So this project uses hip-hop and then looks at the low-rider.  We then bring in fluent speaking elders in the traditional languages who impart their knowledge with the youth. We bring in “young professionals,” often times DJ’s and hip-hop artists and MCs. Through that multi-leveled, multi-aged, multi-generational collaboration we put together these low-rider bikes that are based in traditional knowledge, traditional ways of being in the world, as well as ones that are very much about contemporary indigenous lives. For many of these kids it means growing up in hip-hop and being involved in the hip-hop world.

BC:   As you said, hip-hop is being used as a jumping off point to promote collaboration and resistance. What are some of the other projects that use hip-hop?

DM:  That’s obviously the most central one. But as I’ve traveled and met people, I’ve done a little bit of collaborative work with Sacramento Knoxx who’s an Ojibwa-Chicano MC from Detroit. I recently did a project working with Latino and Native youth on both sides of the U.S. and Canada border. I worked with one group in Detroit and one group in Windsor, just across the Detroit River. We put together these mobile screen-printing carts, from bicycles created to function as work tricycles in Mexico, which we retrofit to be mobile screen-printing units. Those are now being used by a group of primarily Latino and Native MCs, graffiti artists and DJ’s in southwest Detroit called The Raiz Up. Southwest is primarily a Latino neighborhood in Detroit that in some ways is gentrifying, that has a large art world. The Raiz Up is an activist based collective of folks involved in hip-hop. Now they’re using this vehicle in community events at Clark Park and in other places in the neighborhood. I don’t see myself as an MC, DJ or graffiti artist anymore but I use the modes, the different elements as a way to influence what I’m doing now. I’ve collaborated with people all around the world. There is this great Sami artist in Northern Norway, in the Arctic Circle, in this community called Trømso. The Sami are the people once known as the Lapplanders, the indigenous reindeer herding peoples through Scandinavia and Northern Russia. This dude, Joar Nango, is putting together an archive of indigenous hip-hop. He’s archiving songs, meeting with artists and putting together a mix-tape. You’ll see these amazing events or moments emerging all over the world.  I don’t know if you or your readership is familiar with A Tribe Called Red, a three person DJ collective out of Canada that is blowing up right now. When I had a show up in Ottawa, Bear Witness, one of the three DJ’s played the reception. My bikes are also traveling as a part of this wonderful show called Beat Nation which is a traveling exhibition of all indigenous artists, primarily from the U.S. and Canada who have made art that was inspired by hip-hop. It’s not just me, but with urban-Native communities and Tribal communities throughout this continent there’s a relationship with hip-hop that I think is really important.

BC:  We’ve talked about hip-hop as a way of being and as a form of resistance against capitalist societies. However, there is this large presence of capitalism within the pop-culture realm of hip-hop. Why is that?

DM:  I think there’s always going to be those elements. It’s the same thing with any movement, any social movement and I think hip-hop is and has always been a social movement. Hip-hop is important because it’s not simply one aspect; it has five elements to it. It has the visual arts, it has the music, the performative, the lyrical or written word and then of course the fifth element. Depending on who you talk to, the fifth element is what I always talk about as knowledge. Other people talk about it as entrepreneurship or as community development. All of these things together make it an important social movement. Within social movements there’s always moments of cooptation, moments of disagreement, there’s always moments and space for differing voices and different perspectives. When you hear what’s on the radio and see the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine is that hip-hop? It’s an element of it, but it’s not central to it. What did KRS-ONE say about the difference between being a rapper and an MC?  The same happened to punk rock when it became mainstream. Especially with early groups like the Sex Pistols as they came of age and even in the 90’s with things like the popularization of Green Day. Now they have a Broadway show. Is a Broadway show punk rock? Not really but that doesn’t diminish what the roots are because the roots are important. For me, that’s what’s crucial about hip-hop. At the roots, these five elements when you think about them, when you understand them and they become a part of how you live your life, that really is in resistance to the dominant way of being in the world.

BC:  You’ve mentioned punk rock and groups such as the Sex Pistols and how they started out as group that embodied resistance. In a sense, hip-hop and punk rock are similar in that they are about defiance and struggle. Is there a way to group them together?

DM:  For me it’s all about youth sub-cultures. If we look globally and historically, young people have always been one of the most oppressed peoples in the world, especially in the modern nation-state. If you’re not eighteen, you really don’t have any rights. You can’t vote, you don’t have a say in governance, you’re forced to go to school whether or not you want to and in some ways these are meant to protect and create a specific form of society. At the same time, they’re very repressive. I think for me, hip-hop grows out of youth resistance and punk rock grows out of youth resistance. Initially, hip-hop was a black and brown collaborative effort in New York. Punk rock, depending on if you’re looking at it in the States or England, was mostly a white working-class movement. You could even say the same thing about elements of heavy metal. All of these genres are about youth creating a space for themselves in a world where they haven’t been allowed a say. For me, that’s the core that brings them together.

Stay tuned next week for part two of this interview! 

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A Bonus Cut Book Review: Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove

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Review by: Pete Andrew

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman
Grand Central Publishing, 2013

The Roots saved me.

Years ago, when I was but an impressionable young man, my first tastes of hip-hop led me down the path of artists like Lil’ Jon and his merry band of Eastside Boyz, Da Backwudz (remember this song?), Trillville (a squeaking bed? How subtle.), and the like. In one’s formative years, one’s musical milieu is of the utmost importance, and at first I had only hip-hop’s dredges pumping on my portable CD player. But then an angel appeared in my life, taking the musical form of “Seed 2.0.” That classic Roots song served as the catalyst in my effort to get my hands on everything The Roots ever made or would make in the future. Through The Roots came a love for artists like Kanye West, who in turn led me to Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, Dilla, Slum Village and basically every other worthwhile hip-hop act I’ve ever enjoyed. When it comes to me personally – and I’m sure it’s the same or similar for many others – The Roots couldn’t have thought up a better name.

Needless to say, I’m a fan, and I approached the book as such. Hell, I even named my intermittently-updated blog after one of my favorite Roots joints.[1]  (This is my one plug, promise.)

When it came to my attention that the drummer of the Roots, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, had co-written a memoir of sorts, I had to buy a copy immediately. Hell, even if Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove[2] ended up as the worst book in recent memory, I can’t think of many people whose coffers I’d rather fill (assuming his coffers can only handle $20, that is).

Fortunately, Mo’ Meta Blues did not end up as the worst book I’ve ever read. Quite the contrary in fact; ?uestlove’s debut effort, co-written by Ben Greenman, serves as a comprehensive look at hip-hop from its origin to the present, as well as an in depth look at how The Roots – hip hop’s resident “gay cousin at a Bible Belt family reunion”—managed to remain relevant in the music industry for two decades when rappers typically come and go quicker than a premature ejaculator who hears his girlfriend’s father thundering up the stairs, wondering why a grown man is in his 16-year-old daughter’s room. Or, you know, something along those lines.

If you think about it, ?uesto grew up at the perfect time to write this book. He recalls exactly where and when he heard hip-hop for the first time:

“I was there when they premiered The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” on WDAS 105.3 on your FM dial. I was at home with my sister, and the two of us stared at the radio the whole time it was happening; it was our equivalent of the old radio drama War of the Worlds.”

Fitting that an individual whose group will one day be immortalized in hip-hop would have such a reaction to the experience, and Thompson recounts where he was and how he felt at some of hip-hop’s most crucial, trans-formative moments. Furthermore, as The Roots established themselves in the realm of hip-hop, ?uestlove and Co. had the opportunity to both meet and associate with countless musical artists, including some of the greats: Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Prince, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder. As an insider, he has gathered stories that only someone in such a position could. Jamming in the studio with Pharrell, being “friend zoned” by Alicia Keys – and hey, if you read this book for one storyline, ?uest’s multiple Prince encounters are must-reads. All I’ll say here is that, when reading ?uestlove talk about the one time he went roller skating with the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (aka “Prince”), it’s not hard to imagine him putting his feet on Charlie Murphy’s couch. Or slapping Charlie Murphy. Or really doing any of the things he’s alleged to have done to Charlie Murphy. Or doing cocaine.  You get the point.

Ahmir Thompson is a nerd, and he approaches Mo’ Meta Blues only as a music nerd would. “Nerd” is too weak, too dismissive, actually. Thompson has Rainman-level skills when it comes to his passion. His ability to retain as many artists, songs, albums and real-life situations with so many of the specifics—not to mention the many drum beats he’s got stored up in his iconic afro—is remarkable, and such a display enriches his story telling throughout the book. ?uestlove’s words evoke his readily apparent passion for all things music—for hip-hop, of course, but also for the music he experienced growing up in a strong Christian household in 1970’s and as a member of his family’s traveling band. And he’s dedicated his life to music and, more specifically, hip-hop. As ?uestlove goes through meeting Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter (MC of The Roots), in the principal’s office (another great scene of MMB), the forming of the band, touring, album drops, critical and commercial successes and disappointments (“selling-CDs-from-a-duffel-bag broke”), and working with Jimmy Fallon, the reader is struck with a strong sense of Thompson’s love for true hip-hop and a desire to keep it in its purest form. Arguably my favorite quotation from MMB speaks to that notion, and though it doesn’t actually come from ?uestlove himself (guest “speakers,” such as Roots manager Rich Nichols in this particular case, drop by the book from time to time to lend their thoughts and opinions to the project, which helps to give MMB a unique feel), I’m sure he wouldn’t argue:

“I figure it this way: when Sam Cooke sang ‘a change is gonna come,’ I didn’t foresee that change being one that would allow for niggas to be rapping about ‘busting bitches out wit dey super sperm.’”

When writing reviews, I try to find at least one negative. I won’t nitpick to an absurd degree, but there’s almost always something in art that’s imperfect. And because I’m the authority on these matters—I do have a Bachelor’s degree in English, after all—I strive to find it and point it out for the world to see, because apparently I’m incredibly insecure about myself in every conceivable way and to do so makes me feel better about myself. Anyway, the one place where the author loses me from time to time is in his “Quest Loves Records” segments, in which he outlines his favorite records from years past, predominantly from his childhood. While it’s certainly interesting to get a glimpse into Thompson’s past music life, I found the many lists of many artists (some of whom I’m entirely unfamiliar with) both a bit daunting and distracting. If I one day go back and acquaint myself to these albums, I’ll be happy he included them, but this first time around I just wished that he’d stick to the storytelling.

Still, if that’s my main criticism, chances are the book is pretty damn good.

I imagine the main question any reader wants a reviewer to answer also stands as the most obvious question:  Should I read it? Well reader, yes, yes you should. One should not take for granted the chance to read the words of a musical genius and one of the most widely celebrated individuals in the industry today as he speaks on all of the aforementioned topics, as well as race, ingenious ways to hide things from your parents, hip-hop names (including how he decided on “?uestlove”), DJing, the Roots’ beef with Notorious B.I.G. (who knew?), the creative subtleties of celebrity “walk-in” music on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, etc. All-in-all, this borders on a must-read for hip-hop fans.  If you’re a Roots fan, it’s an absolute must-read. Of course it is. You already knew that.

Without The Roots, who knows where I’d be in regards to my musical taste. Fellow Roots revelers, where would you be? Rocking snapbacks, popping molly and listening to Drake? Or perhaps Chief Keef, or whoever the hell current serves as leader of misogynistic, ignorant, misguided, drugged out, rudimentary bullshit rap.

So I say it again: The Roots saved us. ?uestlove, always stuck in the back and yet fully front and center, saved us, and Mo’ Meta Blues tells us how it all came to be.


[1] Not to mention five bowls back in high school.

[2] Shout out to John Irving.

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