By: Gus Navarro
This past week, Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, offered up some provocative statements regarding issues of race, power, homosexuality and ownership in hip-hop during an interview with Vlad TV. His comments provide us with the chance to think critically about how hip-hop can and should be defined. There is much that goes into this definition and it is worth thinking long and hard about. As I began to reflect on this interview, it became clear to me that Lord Jamar’s comments are doing the social movement of hip-hop a disservice. Lord Jamar is simplifying hip-hop down to a black and white issue and I wholeheartedly disagree with this line of thought. Lord Jamar is taking away from understanding hip-hop as a worldview, how it has grown and what it can do for people. On top of that, he is slighting every hip-hop artist involved in creating what it is today. In light of these comments, we must break down what he is saying because of hip-hop’s significance around the world.
By: Gus Navarro
In January 2012, the technicians of the New York City based cable company, Cablevision, came together and voted to form a union as part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). At that time, Cablevision workers in Brooklyn voted 180 to 86 to join the CWA Local 1109 despite the company’s vigorous anti-union campaign, becoming the first of the company’s workers to organize in what is largely a union-free industry. However, in June 2012 there was another vote concerning the formation of a union. The result was another landslide, this time with 43 workers voting in favor of unionization and 121 workers voting against it. In the time between the January and June votes, Cablevision officials such as C.E.O. James Dolan came under fire for threatening employees that voted for unionization and for attempting to sway the election in favor of no unions. According to the Huffington Post, Cablevision officials took part in:
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.
By: Daniel Hodgman
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” –George Washington, September 19, 1796
With the recent verdict and acquittal of George Zimmerman regarding the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, we have once again been thrown into the twirling ring of “true America”. Although the concord of the United States has proven itself at times in this country’s young history, we live in an age where George Washington’s grave prediction of a “frightful despotism” is hard to shake off. It’s not just the Zimmerman trial that has caused an eruption and desecration of our country’s whole either. Rather, it’s been a multitude of tragedies and events for centuries. At this point, how can we have a country where the government doesn’t trust the people, the people don’t trust the government and the people don’t trust the people? Why do we have to live in a constant divide? Now, of course America is not alone in this regard, but if we want to solidify our world as a whole (because our government thinks we should police this planet), we can’t be living in a country with blatant injustice thrown before our feet. The result of this injustice is the separation of our country, whether it’s regarding race, politics, religion or gender, and the suffering from this divide is immense.
The story revolving around Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman has represented so much depending on how you see it—this goes without saying that most people see this story representing multiple facets of its overall blueprint. For most, it’s been an issue about race, civil rights and racial oppression. For others, this story represents everything from the country’s legal system, to gun control laws and mainstream media, and if anything is to come out of this case unhinged from the start it’s that we are still a grossly divided nation: those fighting for Trayvon Martin, his family and justice in America are opposed by those who firmly believe Zimmerman acted in self-defense and nuts like Ann Coulter; those fighting for stricter gun laws and background checks are opposed by those who stand by today’s gun regulations and most likely own many firearms (three out of the six jurors in the Zimmerman trial are gun owners); and those fighting for blue states are opposed by those fighting for red ones.
To put this into a perspective that makes more sense these days, Unreal News Online has reported that last Sunday (24 hours after the Zimmerman verdict) Facebook experienced more blocking and un-friending than any day in its history. Says Mark Zuckerberg:
“Everybody had something to say about (Saturday’s) verdict. Charges of racism were thrown around at everyone. Tempers flared and a lot of connections and ties were severed. It was even worse than the day the Casey Anthony verdict was announced. It really makes you wonder what would have happened if Facebook were around in 1995 when the O.J. Simpson trial reached its conclusion.”
Although this is a small sample of the big picture, it nonetheless shows how we are at the core. Our division amongst each other and our government not only hinders the country’s ability to progress as a whole, but it clinically showcases our flaws. Most of the time, we as people tend to bash on the things that we hate rather than promoting what we love. I think, to speak realistically, we’re all susceptible to this flaw and it truly affects our overall being.
And yet, through all of the division and separation, anger and sadness, our country continues to amaze me.
If there’s a positive I can take from recent travesties such as the Trayvon story, the Oscar Grant shooting (Fruitvale Station is now out in theaters), the Marissa Alexander conviction, the highly unreported slaying of Jordan Russell Davis and the thousands of other stories that go unreported, it’s that these events have spurred the congealing of people from all backgrounds and cultures unified for a common cause. Just when I think the division among the people of this country has come to an all time high, rallies and protests in response to these tragic events have calmed me down, subtly reminding me that the good always outnumbers the bad.
Regarding the George Zimmerman verdict, much like the protests that spurred an investigation in the first place, people from all over the country have come together to resist the forces that continue to separate the people.
On Sunday evening in New York City, thousands gathered as part of a nation-wide movement to fight against injustice in the legal system and racial oppression.
Like New York City, protests all around the country connected thousands.
The Trayvon Martin blackout protests and million hoodie marches have further shown me that our country is still a wondrous entity. For times I have forgotten just how immense and absorbing we all are. But to this I must ask why it takes a tragic or monumental event like this to bring us all together. A year from now, if things haven’t changed, will we continue to march upon the steps of Washington with words of protest? Or will we, like so many times before, step down until another saddening event throttles our emotions? Is this just human nature?
If we can take something like the Trayvon Martin story and demand change for our legal system and call for justice, we must learn how to do this without the wake of such an event. To continually fight means to never succumb and forever persist, and it’s with this where we must stand.
The common result among our country has been that one of the biggest injustices is that of the separation of our country, whether it’s among racial, religious, political, sexual or cultural grounds. From the Trayvon Martin story to the NYPD pat down service to the ridiculous bills being passed that are further trying to chip away at women’s rights, the core institution of the United States has divided us instead of celebrating the uniqueness everyone brings to this great country. We have, as citizens, joined together to fight these injustices and demand change, but we need to be more frequent. By doing this, our voice will constantly be heard, and we will never fall beneath the abyss. By doing this, we’re not only demanding change, but we’re shaping the future of our country and the way it’ll speak for generations.
At the time of Liquid Swords’ release, Wu-Tang Clan had already established itself as the group that reinvented hip-hop at its very core. From 36 Chambers to Tical, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Return to the 36 Chambers, the Wu had MCs hiding while their style continued to caress the genre like a game of chess. More importantly however, is that the Wu-Tang Clan’s versatility dominated every spectrum of the genre at the time. The group’s stories had such rhythm and flow it made the Amazon River look like a ditch, and RZA’s production varied from raw, stripped down beats (Tical, 36 Chambers) to sinuous symphonic works with a hip-hop base (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…). By the late summer of 1995, Wu-Tang Clan wasn’t only hip-hop’s best, they were becoming influential in every which way to artists around the country.
If anything, the November release of Liquid Swords only cemented this notion down further, but it also showed fans and critics that the Genius/GZA was the best pure lyricist in the group and one of the best in all of hip-hop. Masked with easy delivery and unyielding rhymes, GZA’s lines come off like free-flowing honey from a spoon, and his rich and expansive imagery paints a beautiful portrait of Wu street influence.
On “Investigative Reports,” GZA takes the second verse:
“Calling all cars, calling all cars Ghetto / Psychos, armed and dangerous, leaving mad scars on those / Who are found bound, gagged and shot when they blast the spot / Victims took off like astronauts.”
With all of the verses describing GZA’s home of Staten Island and the New York streets, the hooks on Liquid Swords are just as notable. “Gold” sees GZA taking the lead with one of the most memorable Wu choruses to date: “Fiends ain’t coming fast enough / There is no cut that’s pure enough / I can’t fold I need gold I re-up and reload / Product must be sold to you.”
The hidden gem behind Liquid Swords is that every Clan member makes an appearance and delivers, while at the same time shaping their own content and style to fit the quiet demeanor and presence of the record as a whole. This makes Liquid Swords feel consistent and eerily beautiful throughout as it rattles off track after track. Songs like “Cold World” and “Liquid Swords” hold the record together like glue and blockbuster tracks like “4th Chamber” and “Shadowboxin’” are spine tingling posse cuts that overwhelm the listener with positive sound.
RZA’s production on Liquid Swords is perfectly constructed for GZA’s calm delivery. The kung-fu samples are slimy and creepy as they muster up insane visuals; the songs are brilliantly layered and noticeably more concise than past Wu projects; and the sound of each track is fitted with unique doses of samples and sounds that compliment Liquid Swords as a whole. Like always, RZA is on top of his game.
Liquid Swords ranks with 36 Chambers and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… in terms of the best of Wu’s work, but to limit this record to just that stat is a disgrace. As a whole, Liquid Swords reinforces the fact that GZA’s meddling lyrics and unforced lines of genius are some of the best in the game. Liquid Swords also represents undisputed collaboration and cohesiveness, as RZA and the rest of the collective fit themselves to follow the record’s concept. This is undoubtedly one of the best Wu records ever, not only for its construction and content, but also for its influence on both the Wu-Tang Clan and hip-hop as a whole.
Released in 1995, Liquid Swords by GZA the Genius is arguably the best solo album from a Wu-Tang member (Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Ghostface Killah’s Ironman and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Brooklyn Zoo are right up there). The great thing about Wu-Tang is that their sound and approach to music will always be innovative and push the limits of how hip-hop is defined. The organization of the legendary ensemble, led by the RZA, has been emulated but will never be duplicated. With its sinister interludes featuring samples of classic Kung-Fu films, trademark RZA beats and the poetic prowess of GZA, Liquid Swords is a testament to the brilliance of the Wu-Tang Clan. The hidden greatness of this record is that each Wu-Tang member featured takes on an accompanying role, adding his unique vocal style all the while making space for GZA to shine.
For instance, the second track, “Duel Of The Iron Mic,” would be nothing without the memorable hook contributions from Ol’ Dirty Bastard and verses from Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck. That being said, GZA completely takes the song with his verse with lyrics such as, “I ain’t particular, I bang like vehicular homicides on July 4th in Bed-Stuy / Where money don’t grow on trees / And there’s thieving MC’s who cut-throats to rake leaves.” Another example of this is in “Living In The World Today” and “Shadowboxin’” that heavily feature Method Man on hook, background vocals and some of the verses. Over the finely tuned production, Method Man doesn’t take over any of the tracks, which he would be totally capable of doing. Instead, he provides the needed backdrop for each track, making the necessary space for GZA to fully display his abilities as an MC.
This is not to say that GZA is incapable of holding his own. Following my favorite interlude of any hip-hop song, complete with the spine-chilling sample from Shogun Assassin, GZA transports the audience to another level of consciousness with, “I’m on a mission that niggas say is impossible / But when I swing my swords they all choppable / I be the body dropper, the heartbeat stopper/ Child educator, plus head amputator/ Cause niggas styles are like old Mark 5 sneakers / Lyrics are weak like clock radio speakers.” There is no better example of GZA’s dominance then with “Cold World” where he describes the hardship of the projects, brilliantly using the cadence of Twas The Night Before Christmas; “It was the night before New Year’s, and all through the fucking projects / Not a handgun was silent, not even a tec.” There is no doubt that GZA is in fact a lyrical genius. However, the accompaniment from other Wu-Tang members present the necessary support for GZA’s lyricism to soar.
There is no doubt that GZA’s Liquid Swords is one of Wu-Tang’s best solo efforts from an MC. There is an abundance of great solo works form the likes of Method Man, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. However, what stands out on Liquid Swords is GZA’s lyrical talent, the production of RZA and the complementary sounds from the other Wu-Tang members that serve to round this album into a classic that will stand the test of time.
Pro Era’s “Like Water” and their Dedication to Capital STEEZ
Over a solemn Statik Selektah produced track that features ringing piano swells, New York hip-hop group Pro Era drops the video to “Like Water,” a moving ode to their fallen member Capital STEEZ and the everyday oppression that hides behind life’s never-ending facade. The first verse is actually Capital STEEZ himself and as his verse runs over the somber sounds of a bereaved cut, the video transitions between stunning shots of Brooklyn under the spell of kerosene contained sprawl. The third verse comes from CJ Fly and at this point the video focuses on a touching mural of STEEZ on a Brooklyn building wall. Between STEEZ and Fly’s verse, Joey Bada$$ delivers the usual–a commanding cadence mixed with intricate wordplay and detail.
“Like Water” is refreshing and heartfelt, and the video not only stands behind these feelings, it fully embraces them. You can check out the video below.
Geno Smith Signs With Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports
A couple of months ago, Bonus Cut co-creator Gus Navarro wrote a piece on Jay-Z and his impact on the community. In it Gus mentioned Jay-Z’s new Roc Nation Sports management agency, a sub-let from the entertainment company Roc Nation. This past week it’s been reported that football quarterback Geno Smith, recent West Virginia standout turned New York Jet, has signed with Roc Nation Sports, joining the likes of New York Yankee Robinson Canoe, New York Giant Victor Cruz and WNBA star Skylar Diggins.
Now of course this wouldn’t be worthy news if there wasn’t some controversy tied into it, and that’s exactly the baggage that comes with this small story.
According to NFLPA, it seems as if Jay-Z and his staff illegally recruited Smith and broke the “runner rule,” which states that only registered agents within the confines of the NFLPA can recruit players. Smith on the other hand says that Jay-Z didn’t recruit him and that he chose the agency for himself after deliberation with his family and friends.
No matter what way this seemingly unimportant story goes, this event does bring into question that of Jay-Z’s influence. Has it come to the point where he feels he can break small yet unequivocal rules and get away with it? Are these rules that he might have broken too hollow? Does anyone even care about the New York Jets anymore?
Onto the Next Step: Mid-Michigan Hip-Hop’s The Specktators and Their Last Show in the Mitten
On June 1st at the Loft in Lansing, The Specktators threw a goodbye party. Along with hip-hop electronic duo Green Skeem, The Specktators celebrated with fans, friends and family as they hosted their last show in Michigan before moving out to California to further pursue their career in hip-hop.
Earlier this year The Specktators signed with MTV/Sony ATV’s “Extreme Music” label.
Although Bonus Cut wasn’t able to attend the show due to prior events, we feel it’s our duty to honor local hip-hop and hip-hop that we grew up with. (Daniel: “I remember getting a Specktators mixtape from my friend in high school and was astonished that this was happening 5 miles down the road. They’ll always be one of those hip-hop names I’ll stand by.”)
The Specktators are made up of Moe-T and Packi and hail from Lansing, Michigan. Check out “REFS” below.
By: Daniel Hodgman
The relationship between hip-hop and comic books has always been an ever-present facet when talking about the driving forces behind hip-hop culture as a whole. It isn’t that this connection is a dominating topic like political consciousness in certain songs or the radical prowess of certain artists, but it’s prevalent everywhere in hip-hop. In fact, comic books are spread all throughout hip-hop that it can be considered a sub-culture stemming from the main branch. From Daniel Dumile’s MF DOOM moniker, which derives directly from the villain in Marvel’s Fantastic Four, to graffiti street artists covering walls with comic legends, hip-hop and comic books have formed a flirtatious relationship that continually binds two ever-growing cultures.
Beyond all the music and in-song references, hip-hop and comics actually tread the same water dynamically in other realms. The first thing that comes to mind is that both were cultural rejects in the early days. Comic book culture didn’t see its Golden Age until the late 1930s, despite its existence since the late 1800s. And when urban movements that were considered “hip-hop” in the 1970s formulated, they were strictly underground, not seeing mainstream success until the late 80s. To add, these two cultures both started out in New York City2.
Another connection that shouldn’t be discarded is that hip-hop and comic books both value the physical setting. Hip-hop as a movement and as a culture has always been rooted with location, hometowns and respects for the given city an artist has grown up in. No matter what city or country an MC or group is from, these artists take every opportunity to rep the area code they were brought up in. To an extent, it’s almost an unwritten rule, like giving credit where credit is due. Whether it’s Atmosphere’s “Say Shhh,” an ode to Minneapolis, or Redman’s Newark celebrating “Brick City Mashin,” artists from all over the hip-hop world keep the physical setting close to their heart.
The world of comics revolves around the same motif. No matter what the story, the characters or the content, setting in comic books plays as big of a role as the story; Superman is to Metropolis as Batman is to Gotham as Spider-Man is to New York City as Thor is to Asgard and so on. What’s even more interesting—despite some exceptions—is that most hip-hop and comic book settings are based in an urban setting. Maybe one of the instrumental factors leading to the hip-hop comic book connection is this very fact. Since these two cultures are so relatable with each other, it’s no wonder that comic books are so prominent in hip-hop.
It’s an odd relationship, but when citizens of Gotham point to the sky and say, “there goes Batman,” it’s to the same extent as the people of New York City pointing to their televisions and shouting, “there’s Run-D.M.C. getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” It’s a sense of pride the community has for these figures that really connects these two worlds. As much as a superhero or MC takes pride in their city, there is no doubt that the city takes just as much pride in that certain individual or group.
Spread Throughout the Field
Aside from the connections, comic books have consistently been a part of the hip-hop world physically. From De La Soul to Madvillain, artists from all over the culture continually rep comic books on selected cuts and separate projects.
One of the first examples of comic book culture making an appearance in hip-hop was with De La Soul’s 1991 epic De La Soul Is Dead. When the record was originally released, it was accompanied by De La Soul Is Dead #1, a comic that told the story of the trio and their music saving listeners from Vanilla Ice.
More recently, Felt3 released a comic with their second studio album A Tribute to Lisa Bonet. Jim Mahfood, a well-known comic book creator4 and fan of hip-hop, illustrated the book. The comic itself is a visual interpretation of the album, and Mahfood takes the lyrics from the album and inserts them into the books dialogue.
With all of this, hip-hop artists don’t just release comic books with records. Sentences: The Life of MF GRIMM, illustrated by Ronald Wimberly, is an interesting graphic novel that covers GRIMM’s life through ink and paneling. It’s a serious take on everything the MC went through, from being shot and becoming paralyzed, to his drug conviction and life sentence.
Cell Block Z (2009) is a comic book that was written by Ghostface Killah5 that dives into the world of Cole Dennis, a boxer that is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. From there, the story sees Cole try to figure out and solve the situation he is burdened with. Cell Block Z is actually the second Wu-related graphic novel; Method Man released a self-titled book in 2008.
A Timeless Venture
The relationship between hip-hop and comic books is a timeless venture between two cultures that are continually growing and evolving. As these two cultures continue to spread and spring branches into various vectors, its undeniable that the connection they share will never diminish. From the specific characteristic nature they both possess to the comic book references being made by hip-hop artists, the only foreseeable change is that more MCs and comic book creators will join forces.
If You Like Hip-Hop and Comics, You Might Like…
MF GRIMM- “Scars & Memories” video set to his graphic novel Sentences: The Life of MF GRIMM
Madvillain- “All Caps” music video
Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge’s “Twelve Reasons to Die”
2 Hip-hop itself is an enduring form of struggle that has been around for centuries, but the pillars and actual branches (spread of music, art and dance) only started to surface in the 1970s.
3 Felt is the duo and fusion of hip-hop legends Slug (Atmosphere) and MURS.
4 Mahfood has done work on Marvel’s Spectacular Spider-Man, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up and Kevin Smith’s Clerks comics.
5 Chris Walker, Shauna Garr and Marlon Chapman are also authors of Cell Block Z.