Monthly Archives: August 2013

An Open Letter Regarding the Death of Israel Hernandez


Israel Hernandez was an 18-year-old artist who wanted to “change the world somehow through art.” On Tuesday, August 6th, he was electroshocked by a taser after running from the cops for painting graffiti on an abandoned McDonalds. Half-a-dozen officers chased him down until he was tased in the chest. Later that morning he was pronounced dead.

Dear Readers,

I’m sick of it. Yet another rant about Florida; another rant about law enforcement; another rant about police brutality; another rant on how many claim all graffiti is “vandalism”; and another rant on some of the people we put in power.

Again, I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the despairing nature of this whole story: a story that revolves around the sole fact that Hernandez was an 18-year-old boy who weighed in at 150 pounds standing 5’6’’, and yet between six officers they decided it would be ideal to use a taser to the chest to stop him. Furthermore, let us point to this: six officers decided to chase this kid down for a petty crime (HE SPRAY PAINTED AN “R” ON AN ABANDONED BUILDING) for blocks, until it came to the point where they used excessive force. After, the officers decided to “high-five” as he lay motionless on the ground.

I’m sick of the way the officers decided to carry this out. It would be one thing if Hernandez was running away for murder, burglary, rape or any of the other major felonies, but again, and this is important, the kid was painting an “R” on an abandoned McDonalds. The officers could have let it go, they could have given him a warning or they could have used lesser tactics to take down the kid when he was cornered. But no, they chased him down as if he just murdered Mayor Regalado. I’m just glad they didn’t use bullets.

I’m sick about the fact that this isn’t the first overreaction the Miami Police Department has taken part in, let alone authorities around the country. In 2011, a man was struck dead with 16 bullets for driving erratically after Miami Police shot over 100 bullets at his car. There were multiple injured bystanders.

I’m sick of the people who don’t get it. They continually question why this is such a big deal because Hernandez was a “criminal.” Listen folks, excessive force can’t be excused by blaming the victim. You need to look past that and analyze how the actions were committed.

I’m sick of the people who claim graffiti is merely vandalism. You know what? Fuck that. In terms of hip-hop, graffiti is a way of expression. Graffiti in a nutshell is a visual stimulant of hip-hop, just like breaking is an expression in the physical form. From Darryl McCray and his Cornbread tagging in Philadelphia to TAKI 183 in the streets of New York City, graffiti and tagging have supplied hip-hop with a visual form of expression and thought that goes beyond the meaning of a 16 bar lick. There are galleries around the world devoted to graffiti, and even the ancient Greeks and Romans established themselves in the art. So please, don’t tell me graffiti is merely vandalism if it’s used in a positive way through hip-hop.

With this story, I’m not only sick, but I’m saddened. However, we must take a positive view and spin it in a way where our society can benefit from such a tragedy.

If anything, the first thing we should be focusing on is more police training and education, especially regarding circumstances like this. What constitutes an officer to use force? Should you commit six officers to chase down a graffiti artist for tagging a building? Why is tasing someone in the chest NOT OKAY? With this we must also recognize the difference between good police work and bad police work. In most cases, good police work DOES NOT require force. Take Robert Saylor’s story, a truly sad example where the cops knew the situation and still decided to use force, which resulted in a death. Sometimes it’s always easier on both sides if you lower the stakes. For this to happen though, we need to express this concern regarding enforcement officials. We cannot simply wait for it to happen, as if one day the idea will spring into a commissioner’s head. If we do not voice our say as a community and people of this country, we will get nowhere, and events like Israel Hernandez and Robert Saylor will continue.

Furthermore, hip-hop heads and figures in the culture need to use this story as a continuing example of the forces that still oppress the people in this country. If graffiti artists are getting tasered and killed for exploring the realms of art and expressing themselves, then our freedom is being tested. Why stand and let these events unfold before our very eyes?

I have hope, and I will always have hope, and we cannot let our voices falter.

Remember this if anything:

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” –Christopher Hitchens

Thanks for letting me rant.

-Daniel Hodgman

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Album of the Week: “The Mouse and the Mask” by Danger Doom


Danger Doom
The Mouse and the Mask
Lex Records, 2005

Daniel’s Thought

I’d like to think that MF Doom’s most brilliant and mind-inducing material is the stuff that gets screwy and unorthodox, yet pertains to certain manic genius thinking. See, if MF Doom is going to be remembered for one thing, it’ll be his ability to mix and mash compounding rhymes while infusing a tour-de-force look into hip-hop history. Madvillain gem “Strange Ways” is a perfect example, and because it’s shrouded in Doom’s familiar slant rhyme style, noticing the fleshy contradictions of the drug trade and war themes is difficult. This has always been Daniel Dumile’s style—no matter what alter-ego he takes up—and for that, it’s entertaining to listen to his outrageous approach to humor while at the same time defacing the real man behind the mask.

This is precisely why The Mouse and the Mask stands as one of Doom’s best pieces. Despite Danger Doom being a collaborative effort with Danger Mouse, most of The Mouse and the Mask prevails because of Doom’s ability to re-hash his signature style while bringing in new and exciting sounds. The front-end of the record see’s Doom taking shots at his former friend MF Grimm (“El Chupa Nibre”), teasing possible DOOMSTARKS sound (“The Mask”) and picks on the rap game while alluding to the procedure of Wudu (“Benzie Box”). The inspiration behind Doom’s material on this record is light and comedic, but beyond the humor stands an MC still developing an already alluring sound.

Now this goes without saying that Danger Mouse carries his weight behind the production. “Old School”, which features Talib Kweli, takes the roaring trumpets from Keith Mansfield’s “Funky Fanfare” and rolls it into a breakbeat backdrop. And “Crosshairs” is a head-nodding burst of chiseling violins and plunking bass stabs. These songs are just a few examples of Danger Mouse’s range, and as precise and straightforward as they seem to be, there’s still something mysterious lurking behind each cut.

Thrown on The Mouse and the Mask to fill the spaces around Danger Mouse and MF Doom are select MCs and the many voices of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. “Benzie Box” features Cee-Lo Green, who renders a perfectly placed chorus between Doom’s bars; “Old School” has Talib Kweli doing his usual; and “The Mask” pits Ghostface Killah with Doom to create the ever intimidating DOOMSTARKS. Elsewhere, “Sofa King” plays off of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force “we Todd ed” joke, “No Name” showcases Sealab 2021’s wonderful cast, “Space Ho’s” bows down to talk show host Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman takes over “Basket Case.” If anything, the Adult Swim cameo samples are just as worthy, if not better than the actual MC guest verses, because come on, who doesn’t enjoy Carl Brutananadilewski talking about “badass” music like REO Speedwagon.

The Mouse and the Mask is a conceptual album with many themes. The obvious being Doom’s intricate style, Danger Mouse’s texture-like production and the Adult Swim overlay. However, underneath the obvious stands a record that hip-hop needs to cherish; it holds humor and importance together at the cusp of greatness, and without records like these we would be without the swank and sting of hip-hop’s diversity.

Gus’ Thought

In the case of music, few things top collaboration. Working together creates a higher level of musicianship as each artist brings what they know to the table, combining interests, techniques and knowledge. This generates creativity and new ways of thinking for each musician and can lead to something truly innovative. Under the moniker Danger Doom, Danger Mouse and MF Doom completed just this type of collaborative effort. The Mouse and the Mask was released in 2005 using MF Doom’s rhymes and unique flow over Danger Mouse’s distinct style of production. The Mouse and the Mask delivers with inventive samples and hilarious interludes from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Doom’s run-on delivery and guest appearances from the likes of Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo and Ghostface Killah. Despite the entertaining feeling of being in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (A.T.H.F.), Danger Doom provides meticulous commentary on the state of rap music and is an example of the brilliance that can occur when artists join forces.

The audience is getting the best of multiple worlds with The Mouse and the Mask. First there is Danger Mouse’s production that doesn’t necessarily sound like standard hip-hop beats with phat kick drums and crispy snares. All of the songs have an irresistible groove that make your head nod. However, tracks such as “Sofa King,” “No Names” and “Crosshairs” are individual compositions whose instrumentals could stand on their own. Danger Mouse uses string instruments, horns, xylophones and grainy percussion sounds to create beats that are reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…

While the beats don’t need a rapper, Doom’s lyricism and incomparable flow enhance the beats laid down by Danger Mouse. There aren’t a lot of hooks on this album and if you’re not careful, you might miss what the masked man is saying. Over the funky “Bada Bing,” complete with horn lines and a throw back feel, Doom spits,  “Wait ‘til you crack and see what ‘weed’ do, you dweeb you / No pun intended, takes one to know one, will know-it’s unscented.” The way that Doom raps is causal in that it sounds as if he is just having a conversation or speaking aloud. His lines come and go so fast that if you’re not listening intently, it’s very possible that you’ll miss something. Another example of this is in “El Chupa Nibre” where Doom explains, “The super flow with more jokes than Bazooka Joe / A mix between Superfly Snuka and a superhoe / Chew a MC like El Chupa Nibre / Digest a group and sell the poop on eBay.” Later, in the same verse he says, “Rappers such, when they spit I doubt em / The crap they sing about you’ll wanna slap the [fuckin’ shit] out em.” The nonchalant way in which these lines are delivered speaks to MF Doom’s pure talent as an MC. He has the type of flow that demands your attention even though Danger Mouse’s beats are equally tantalizing.

When creative minds come together to create art, the outcome is something that will change the landscape of their particular art form. With Danger Mouse’s stellar production, MF Doom’s exceptional skills as a lyricist and the comedic relief provided by the cast of characters from Adult Swim, this is absolutely the case as The Mouse and the Mask mixes intellect, humor and creativity to push hip-hop forward and leave you wanting more. I. Am. Sofa. King.


“Sofa King”

“Benzie Box (feat. Cee-Lo Green)”


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The Immediate Reaction: When Hip-Hop Speaks


By: Daniel Hodgman

Hip-hop has always been a way of expression. It’s always been an outlet, and it’s always been a conglomerate of messages through many art forms. The forces behind hip-hop have demonstrated, time after time, that one of the most effective ways of pushing for civil justice and equality is through art. But what about now, during a day and age where you can inform people what you’re thinking with the click of a button? Does the sudden rise in technological advancement hinder hip-hop’s ability to clearly portray its message? Or is this new-age technology just another outlet for hip-hop?

If you’re looking at the basis of it all, the advancement in technology has now made it possible for hip-hop to react and respond without delay. No longer needing to wait for a song, album or mural to see what hip-hop thinks, these days we can find out within seconds of the actual event unfolding. With big events like the Trayvon Martin story and George Zimmerman acquittal, hip-hop had an immediate reaction. And although this is a new system as far as hip-hop’s communication to the world, it in no way hinders the fact that hip-hop’s roots of song and dance are still as strong as it’s ever been. In retrospect, hip-hop has just added another canvas to its art studio.

One of the biggest examples of the exploding social media trend has been the recent event surrounding Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Elsewhere, hip-hop artist Yasiin Bey explored the force-feeding in Guantanamo through a video that went viral earlier this year. And Questlove of The Roots wrote an open letter entitled Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit, a reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal.

These recent examples of MCs speaking out are not only a direct result of the advancement in technology, but also a result of hip-hop acceptance through the years. Since hip-hop started, it has steadily grown both geographically and influentially, propelling hip-hop into significant limelight.

So what does this all mean? Why is it important that figures in hip-hop are now taking to social media to bring attention to events and causes? For one, it exemplifies hip-hop at its core, but at an even bigger level. The messages, the passion, the story, the meaning, the sincerity, the intent, are all there, and can be spread to hundreds of thousands within hours. Secondly, social media and the advancement of technology have given hip-hop another voice and another weapon; fighting for a cause or spreading awareness isn’t just limited to a song or speech anymore, and with access to the Internet anyone can get what they have to say out there. In all, technology has helped spread awareness to causes at an extreme level; consequently, this has put hip-hop on a pedestal it has never seen before. With this, hip-hop’s acceptance as a culture and movement has also grown monumentally since its birth, thus giving artists more opportunities to speak and to share vital information within communities around the world.

“May God be with the family of Trayvon Martin” –Wyclef Jean

“A tear has not (fallen) from my eyes in so long I thought it was something wrong with me until now…. I’m shocked, not even Manslaughter…” –DJ KaySlay

“George Zimmerman admittedly killed Trayvon Martin, but has been found not guilty of murder. I told you all a week ago that Zimmerman would be the new OJ. And now he is. As much as people told me this case wasn’t about race, I see the opinions being sent to me sharply divided along racial lines. Very sad. I for one always thought that pushing race too far in this case might have a negative effect. The prosectors fumbled ust like with OJ.” –Immortal Technique

“The Trayvon Martin verdict doesn’t surprise me. Sanford, FL never wanted Zimmerman arrested. Now he’s free to kill another child.” –Ice Cube

“This is not “only” about race. This is about laws that allow racist acts to go unpunished. We must change laws that promote injustice.” –Russell Simmons

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The Mixes: The Dice Raw Mixtape


By: Daniel Hodgman and Gus Navarro

The Mixes is a Bonus Cut series that focuses on themed mixtapes. The purpose of this series is to share music in hip-hop, but also to share the ability to express feelings through mixtapes. The premise takes after Rob Sheffield’s book Love is a Mix Tape, but unlike his book, these mixes will vary in theme. Although I will have notes explaining why I included each song, the overall interpretation of the songs and the mixtape as a whole is on you. Music is fickle because it triggers different emotions, and one of the greatest feelings is determining your thoughts for specific music on your own. Although Bonus Cut provides The Starting Five, a weekly list of songs the creators are currently digging, The Mixes is an individual entity because of its focus on certain themes.

Past mixtapes: The “Keeping a Current With What’s Current” Mixtape
Past mixtapes: The “Dreamin’ in Color” Mixtape

The “Dice Raw” Mixtape

Philadelphia MC, Dice Raw, has been in the game for quite some time. He may not be as well known as some other MCs out there but he always steps correct and comes to the table with bars. On August 19th he will release a solo album entitled Jimmy’s Back. This was inspired by Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which challenges the staggering statistics regarding the “War On Drugs,” the school to prison pipeline and the mass incarceration of African-American males. This is an important issue that is being addressed in academic scholarship as well as hip-hop. The goal of this mixtape is to feature some of Dice Raw’s best moments and highlight his growth as an MC unafraid to drop line after line, to a fearless artist that uses his music to provide critical social commentary.

Gus’ Picks

“The Lesson Pt. 1” –Do you Want More?!!!??!

“I guess you’re believin’ that I’m insane / When I’m taggin’ my name upon the train / I got so much pride, I got so much soul / With lyrics I make niggas stop, drop and roll.”

From way back, Dice is in rare form as he slays this track from start to finish.

“Clones” –Illadelph Halflife

“I train wack MCs, in camps like ex-marines / Why the fuck you think you went home and had bad dreams of horrifying things that your ass never seen before? / You traveled to the realm of Dice Raw / Where the clones get they domes blown with chrome microphones.”

Dude is not messing around with the metaphors on this one.

“How I Got Over” –How I Got Over

“Out on the streets, where I grew up / First thing they teach us is not to give a fuck / That type of thinking can’t get you nowhere / Someone has to care.”

On this one Dice somberly provides the lyrics for the hook, effortlessly complimenting the laid back groove laid down by The Roots.

“Tip The Scale” –Undun

“Gettin’ money’s a style that never plays out / Til’ you end up boxing your stash, money’s paid out / The scales of justice ain’t equally weighed out / Only two ways out, digging tunnels or digging graves out.”

Dice Raw’s development as an artist is on full display as he sings the hook and an insightful verse in which he discusses the challenge of avoiding incarnation.

Daniel’s Picks

“Ain’t Sayin Nothin’ New” –Things Fall Apart

“With CD’s, cassettes, no C.O.D.’s or checks / Straight from the old school, aiyyo Raw’s in full effect.”

Dice Raw’s delivery in “Ain’t Sayin Nothin’ New” is scratchy and scattered, but he keeps supplying kick-punching one-hitters that all the mind is focusing on is his ability to lyrically attack.

“5 Stages of Death” –Reclaiming the Dead

“16 to your back, you ain’t going to make it.”

Most of Dice Raw’s debut record is poor, and that’s not even a big knock against him, it’s just that he’s always been a wonderful piece to The Roots’ records (Dice Raw is to The Roots as Cappadonna is to The Wu). However, “5 Stages of Death” is a very interesting take on songwriting, and it’s here where we see Raw’s imaginative mind.

“I Will Not Apologize” –Rising Down

“Don’t blame the nigga, blame America, it’s all business / Acting like a monkey is the only way to sell tickets.”

Dice Raw throws color-blind racism right at your face without dumbing it down.

“One Time” –Undun

“Cause we all going down just like the subprime / Or a cheap ass half gallon of Ballantine.”

One of the smartest lines I’ve ever listened to. Either we’re going down like the mortgage crisis or a cheap half gallon of alcohol.

Make sure to stay tuned for August 19th and the release of Jimmy’s Back. In the meantime, watch this short documentary from Dice Raw that illustrates the challenges faced by convicted felons and the redemptive power of music.

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Album of the Week: “Gas Mask” by The Left

the left gas mask

The Left (Apollo Brown, Journalist 103, DJ Soko)
Gas Mask
MelloMusicGroup, 2010

Daniel’s Thought

The Left consists of Apollo Brown, Journalist 103 and DJ Soko. I feel compelled to lay this out on the forefront right away, because if these three names aren’t showcased, then Gas Mask and its ability to showcase collaboration will go right over your head. See, without each fundamental piece, Gas Mask fails immensely. On the beats, Apollo Brown throws down robust production that melds haunting samples with industrial backbeats. Journalist 103 compliments the beats by running parallel beside them, and DJ Soko throws in cuts that enhance the track and engage the listener. Beyond this, Gas Mask is a record that throws hip-hop survival in your face. With an ever-changing Detroit, The Left prove that they’re the “status of legends” by sticking with the environment and preaching their experiences at every turn.

“Chokehold” is an immediate example of this. It cruises sonically, with swelling horns and stretched vocal samples, and on top of this, Journalist 103 and Paradime lyrically shape the track to their liking. There’s a definitive difference between their styles, but both of them manage to stay on top of Apollo’s production with ease. The breakdown in “Chokehold” is the most impressive feature however, where the horns march accordingly until the breakbeat kicks in and the MCs grasp the mic. “Only a few can ride beside me,” Journalist 103 slings. “I rep the home of big Proof and Dilla that’s where you’ll find me.”

Apollo Brown’s distinct sampling techniques and percussion production may seem tedious at times, but that’s part of what makes Gas Mask such a cohesive record. “Caged Birds” clatters with open hi-hat smacks; “Battle Axe” expands organ synths and compounds them with drilling bass throbs that intimidate; and “Real Detroit” shows off Brown’s ability to create symphonic masterpieces.

The guests on Gas Mask are more than just respectable MCs made to fill a record; they’re imperative to its success. From Guilty Simpson to Frank West, the “extras” on this record enhance its sound and improve it beyond normal means. On “Statistics,” a song that poignantly thrashes the “stat game” of America, guest MC Invincible lays down one of the most impressive verses on the whole record. “So free your mind up, this is a reminder / The United States incarcerates more than they do in China / We only 5 percent of all the world’s pop but / It’s 25 percent of all the world’s locked up / So I wonder how to break the cycle will it ever stop? / If we see people as numbers than we make them check a box.

If Gas Mask is the best hip-hop record Detroit’s made in the last five years, then I really wouldn’t mind. At times, this record seems stressed, but when looking at the bigger picture, that’s exactly what The Left had intended. Gas Mask is the fight, the struggle, the liveliness and the celebration of Detroit, and very rarely does ANY record accomplish such a feat regarding its given city.

Gus’ Thought

Released by Mello Music Group in 2010, Gas Mask, by The Left is made up of Apollo Brown, Journalist 103 and DJ Soko. This record begins with the classic hip-hop intro track. There is the sound of static and it sounds as if a radio dial is being shifted from station to station. From there we are thrown right into the fire on the first full-length cut, “Gas Mask,” where Journalist 103 describes the state of mainstream hip-hop. Over a flawlessly crafted Apollo Brown track complete with horns and trademark kick drum and snare, Journalist 103 is off:

I had a vision when I started spittin’ / To be a part of the hip-hop conglomerate amongst the illest / But right now it’s a real sickness, an epidemic of gimmicks is being spread through your sound system / Not everybody gotta dance, sing along with it / Just lean, snap and pop back and you’ll get it.

As the album progresses, the realness of The Left continues to take shape. By the start of the third full-length song, “Binoculars,” Gas Mask emerges as an example of how the collaboration of artists can be used to create engaging content without sacrificing the message they wish to convey. In this case, The Left uses music to describe the city of Detroit, the status quo of popular music, profiling based on race and gender and how they process that experience.

From a production standpoint, Journalist 103 and a myriad of guest appearances from the likes of Guilty Simpson, Invincible, Marvwon and Hasaan Mackey flawlessly compliment the gritty, soulful style of Apollo Brown’s beats. For instance, without the forceful, slightly irregular hi-hats, steady kick drum and splattering snare hits, the song “Statistics” would not be as impactful. With the beat, Journalist 103 and Invincible are able to go to work and tell the story of a man and a woman fighting to survive while facing the disastrous effects of stereotypes based on race, gender and socio-economic status. As it is stated at the end of 103’s verse, “Either the grave or the cell’s what I’m headed for / Cause based off of the statistics I’m prepared for it.” With Invincible’s verse, she tells the story of a woman reaching out for help”

Every life has got about as much a chance of surviving the circumstances as guessin’ Joker’s coin flip / Made an appointment and she met up with the welfare / Office tried to get a bit of medaciad and healthcare / But they had jumpin through the hula hoops / To get some help is hard as tryin’ to pull a tooth / Her heart, it wasn’t bullet proof.

These lyrics would be powerful regardless of the beat. However, their meaning is amplified by Apollo Brown’s ability to craft strong beats that accentuate the story the MC is trying to tell.

This is true of the entire album, making it an engaging and educational listen. The best part of this record is that it never gets boring. For me there is always something new that I didn’t catch the first time around. Besides that, the subject matter within the album is important to think about and attempt to change in our everyday lives. If you’re looking to hear some fire, think about something from a different perspective and suffer from whiplash from nodding to the beat that Gas Mask is for you.


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