Category Archives: Music

Time's 50 Worst Inventions

Time Magazine just released a list of what they’ve deemed The 50 Worst Inventions.  Most notable on the list are recent inventions such as the Segway Scooter and the Facebook Application Farmville.  I’m no fan of either of them but I am a fan of Hip Hop so let’s take a look at it’s influence on the list.

First up, Venetian-Blind Sunglasses.  These hideous things were left back in the 80’s until but Kanye decided to go back and pick them up.  They took a couple unneeded swipes at him in the process but he did bring them back into style.  

Next up on the list, Fake Ponytails. Sorry ladies but I put this, weave and wigs in the same category.  I know someone won’t like that but fake hair should be left for play time, stage or theater.  IF you want long hair, grow it.  While we’re on the subject, Hair in a Can and Bumpit also made the list.

The last on this list is Auto-Tune.  I’m not sure if abuse of an invention should make it appear on the list but i am sick of hearing the damn thing.  See here for a list of offenders.  There are too many to list.

Certainly the sound had it’s place with Zapp and Roger’s use of the talkbox.

Guru's mic is silenced

GangStarr Today we lost great pioneering artist in Hip Hop, Guru.  In a final note to his fans, Guru wrote:

  "I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world. I have had a long battle with cancer and have succumbed to the disease. I have suffered with this illness for over a year. I have exhausted all medical options. I have a non-profit organization called Each One Counts dedicated to carrying on my charitable work on behalf of abused and disadvantaged children from around the world and also to educate and research a cure for this terrible disease that took my life. I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting."

His music speaks for itself…

Back from a breather

I took a little break but now I’m back.  I lot of things have happened in Hip Hop so I’ll quickly play catch-up.

T-Pain caught some controversy over his show Freaknik on Cartoon Network.  I haven’t seen it nor do I want to but I’m sure it has an audience somewhere.

The anniversary of our greatest story teller, Notorious BIG came. We still miss you big guy.

 

Lil’ Wayne went in with a new album and T.I. came out with a new track.

And Don’t Die Hip Hop got an upgrade.  We’re still working out the kinks but we’re still here, just like Hip Hop.  New features coming soon.

Innovator or Swagger Jacker

 Facebook is now built on HipHop, but not the way you may think.  HipHop is a customized version of the PHP programming language of which it is built on.  Facebook hired a team of engineers to optimize the language to deliver better performance for itself and a better experience for its users.  A win-win in both case; Facebook can deliver its webpage more efficiently and support more users and their users can continue to use the site hopefully without issues.

As a programmer myself, I can appreciate the need for greater performance and scalability (ability to grow) of an application.  Nothing turns people away faster than a slow web site (knock on wood) and the feat itself isn’t something to be taken lightly or even something that is common place.

Of course the Hip Hop side of me recognizes what just happened with Facebook’s HipHop.  This is a blatant attempt to capitalize on a name and cause brand confusion to help boost exposure. While we appreciate the honor and are flattered by your choice of names, we don’t need your confusion added to our culture.  Especially in these times of coping others work and using it as your own.

 

The Old School rap about Rap

The New Year is here.  It will be the time for many beginnings and endings.  Hip Hop, in its constant state of flux, will yet again evolve this year as it has in previous years. Many artists will flourish and others will fail.

There’s no avoiding the fact that Hip Hop is getting older. Once something is created, it has no choice but to get older until it no longer ceases to be. 

In Hip Hop, old things become Old School; people, ways of thinking, ways of doing, movies, dance and music.  Just about everything.  So when exactly does it become old? These days it seems almost instant.

Radio Stations often label music as "old school" before they play it. Recently, I heard the Old School label before a song by Tupac. Of course to me, Tupac, isn’t an Old School artist.  Old School to me, ends (or begins depending on how you look at it) in 1992.  Just about the time there was a major change in Hip Hop.

Another time, it was for a song that was released in the previous year.  How does a song that is a year old become Old School?  One major factor is the lack of structure within Hip Hop.  Swing, Ragtime, Jazz and Blues all have structure in the way they are defined by time period and sound even though they are all derived from the same type of music. 

Hip Hop currently has a weak structure.  In its struggle to remain hip, new labels are added as people try to define themselves.  The results are things like Crunk, Rap Metal and Trip Hop.  Other art forms have periods to define their history by either artist (Van Gogh’s Blue Period), major change (Harlem Renaissances) or time period (Romanticism).

One day Hip Hop will join the ranks of these other art forms and self-organize.  When it happens, I hope that the Hip Hop community embraces these labels with maturity because immaturity is what binds us to the Old School label.  We fear our past because we have been taught that old things are relics and un-cool.  Music has always followed the trend of young vs. old.  For it to last, we must go the way of Jazz and Classical and embrace the past performers and learn from what they teach us. History always teaches us to learn from the past, not to reject it.

 

Philly vs. New York

In the World Series, the Yankees beat the Phillies.  In the NFL, The Eagles beat the Giants. And as of this writing, their respective NBA and NHL teams haven’t played yet but I’m sure it will be split somehow at the end of the seasons.

One place it won’t be split is in Hip Hop.  New York is after all, the birthplace of Hip Hop.  Home to many Record Labels, Recording Studios, celebrities and many other things that draw people to the city.

And what do we have here in Philly; cheese steaks, pretzels, the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin.  Not much to bring people in. But we’re not comparing tourism here, this is about music.

Rather than list who is from where, I’ll highlight a few Philly artist since that list is shorter.  Philly, let’s get our act together. We won’t ever be the leaders of the industry (prove me wrong) but we can represent a lot better than we are now.

Reggae Season

Before we get into it let me say that I’m still here.  This site is not dead and I’m not stopping until the mission is done.  Starting a web site is tough.  There are lots of things to do that users don’t typically get to see, many things to plan and write.  I want to say thank you to the people who are here.  As of writing we’re at 100 followers on Twitter and a number of you have been contacting me and wanting more.  More is coming and more is in the works.  This will be a hard journey but it will be worth it with all of you along the way.

 

Reggae Season

It’s what I like to call Reggae Season here in the Philadelphia area.  It runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  During this time Reggae enters the normal airplay rotation on the radio.  I’m not sure if there is an association between warm weather and the success of the music but we get to hear an additional music genre for a short time.  Reggae is good music and should be enjoyed throughout the year I believe.  The only music that is timely throughout the year are songs tied to holidays and Fresh Prince ? Summer Time.

Reggae is becoming more accepted since it is fused with Hip Hop and the sub-genre emerged called Dancehall.  Artists such as Sean Paul, Beenie Man and Elephant Man have had successes via Hip Hop beats and collaborations with artists.  This is nothing new to a lot of people.

Here is a preview of what you will be hearing this season. 

 

 

And of course Summer Time?

Is Hip Hop appropriate for advertising?

I’m not sure if it’s maturity or others influence on myself but there’s something seriously wrong with this:

There’s even a longer version:

And of course the original:

On the surface we have a Burger King ad campaign for a SpongeBob Squarepants toy series using a parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back.  But for some reason I can’t help but notice the exploitation of the girls dancing around in the background with what appears to be phonebooks in their pants, as lyrically described in the song.  Granted SpongeBob’s last name is Squarepants and not Squareback or Squarebutt, the song is a close in its attempt at a parody. 

Is this an attempt to sell sex to children? I don’t think so. Though this was/is a popular song (more on that in a later post), this isn’t a a song in heavy rotation today.  It’s mainly played in clubs, bars, sports areas and on Top 40 stations, usually away from SpongeBob’s target audience.  The commercial targets more the adult than the child with with a nostalgic song that most parents with children of this age would recognize. I’m sure they all gave the usual silent disapproving head shake when they saw it as I did and I don’t have children.

Is this in poor taste?  Certainly so!  I don’t think anyone would agree with the idea that children 2-11 need sexual images to be enticed to want toys.  The toy itself is enough.  SpongeBob alone is one of the most popular images for children today.  A silent commercial with just the Burger King logo and flashes of the toys would be enough for kids to want them. I’ve heard some people argue that children seem far worse images on TV but that’s no excuse for continuation of that issue.

In recent years, Hip Hop songs have started to appear along side products more often.  A few years back, Ludacris had a failed campaign with Pepsi when Bill O’Reilly mentioned that Ludacris was a bad influence on impressionable children and citing as an example his lyrical boast that he has ”hoes in different area codes.” 

Boost Mobile used commercials featuring names like Jermaine Dupree, Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Kanye West, The Game and Fat JoeNaz and AZ did a Sprite commercial. 

50 cent has appeared in many commercials for his Vitamin Water and and one for Reebok along side Jay-Z

Speaking of Hova, he and Pharrell both appeared in commercials for HP laptops. 

And on rare occasions, a beef arises in the case if Apple vs. Lugz.

The list goes on and on so it looks like Hip Hop is ready for advertising despite some stumbling along the way.  When done tastefully, any commercial can be paired with any genre of music.  It’s not the artists reputation that is issue but the advertisers themselves that are responsible for the commercials just as much it is the artists and record companies who are responsible for the musical content.  As Sir Mix-a-Lot humbly puts it, "Booty is booty", it just how you present it.

Transitions: The Lost Art Form

Fader

It’s probably not something you think about or notice often until it happens but I’ll set the scene;  You’re listening to one of your favorite songs.  It has an up beat tempo with hard bass lines, Notorious B.I.G. – Mo Money Mo Problems for instance.  The song ends and the next song starts to play?and it’s Mariah Carey ? Butterfly. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mariah but a better song choice after Mo Money Mo Problems would be Breakdown.  The tempo and bass lines are similar and the content keeps that same edge.

The digital age has brought about the death of smooth song transitions.  Random playlists on our MP3 players & computers, satellite radio, music stations on TV and internet streaming sites all contribute to the problem.  They use computer algorithms to play songs based on popularity, what hasn’t played in the last 20 minutes or just some preprogrammed order.  No computer program can analyze what sounds pleasant to the human ear or determine what song will sound best when played after the another.  This isn’t as complex as wine pairing but you wouldn’t ruin a good steak by pairing it with a Pinot Grigio!

Thankfully we have people that are paid to do this. They are the ones that should know how to perform this simple technique with skill and precision.  It is their job is after all to play music. They call themselves DJ’s and they work at radio stations, parties and clubs. In the radio setting, they have the highest possible audience but very little control.  At parties they have smallest audience and no control at all. And at the club, they usually have a nice size audience, depending on the club, and the most control. 

Control is the key to performing a good transition. Control allows you to freely choose the songs within your catalog that best compliment each others melodies. Of course you also need knowledge about how these songs sound and may sound together. 

Radio DJ’s try to get around this by altering the tempo of the song and speeding up or down the song to match the next or previous song.  This typically goes unnoticed by most listeners and accomplishes the goal but forces songs to go together that normally wouldn’t sound well together.  The unexpected result is a warped version of the song that is 2 or 3 beats off from the original.  If you play an instrument or can read music then you understand the issue here.

DJ’s at parties don’t usually use transitions due to the nature of the business.  The organizer typically requests certain songs to be played or not played and breaks between songs are sometimes filled with comments from the DJ or others within the party.  Heavily scripted and little room for randomness.

Now there’s the Club DJ. Their play lists are typically a hybrid of the Radio and Party DJ; a list of popular songs often with transitions using tempo control.  There is one catch of course; have you ever noticed that they always play some song that clears the floor?  Club owners don’t really want you to dance, they want you to spend money on drinks.  And since you can’t drink as much while dancing, they purposely get DJ’s to play bad songs to send you to the bar.  Profit from the cover charge is nothing compared to the profit of an over charged drink!

The shrinking (after a recent growth spurt) population of the Mix-Tape DJ understand the art of transitions.  For them, clever use of the cross fader, scratching and sometimes vocals mask the change in tempo and base lines in songs.  Thiers are often carefully thought out playlist to enhance and compliment the theme of the album.  Radio DJ’s also use this approach but only during party mixes that occur during rush hour runs, lunch hour or prime-time Friday/Saturday nights but it only lasts about 20 minutes and you don’t get the full song.

So it might seem like you’re screwed doesn’t it?  DJ’s just don’t put value in transitions like they used to.  DJ’s may not put too much value in it but if you attend concerts you will notice that the artists do.  Set lists are chosen very carefully to allow for wardrobe changes, set changes and you guessed it, song transitions. 

Now if only the DJ’s could pay attention to the artists close enough to learn something other than the latest body-part-dance-song to play we might have some better sounding radio.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Judge not, lest ye be judged!

 

I’m sure you’ve seen or heard about it by now but if not?

True this isn’t Hip Hop but it does illustrate a valid point about appearances and talent today. First some names; Ruben Studdard, Meatloaf, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Wynonna Judd, Jennifer Hudson, Martha Wash, Luciano Pavarotti and Jill Schott. What do they all have in common?  They don’t all look like today’s low-rise or skinny jeans wearing, choreographed dancing, bubble gum artist that seems to come out of the music industry dispenser.

No, she’s a normal person.  Average by some standards, below by others but that’s not the point.  If you watch the media coverage of Susan they all point out the same thing which should be the real story, the audience members’ first reactions.  Everyone is told at some point in their lives that first impressions are important and appearance is everything but what exactly does that mean?  When do first impressions start and stop?  What are the rules for judging someone for the first time?  And are our impressions defined by others or do we make them up?

In this case, when Susan walked on stage everyone clearly had their minds made up about her.  And when she opened her mouth to speak, some people already solidified their thoughts.  And then she began to sing and shocked the hell out of everyone in the audience both in-studio and home.  And I say, Good for her!  It’s rare that people come across events such as this in their lives but did get the important lesson?

That lesson is that in terms of talent, looks don’t mean a think.  Going back to the list of people from before, every one of them has/had a weight problem either before or during their careers.  I’m sure there was some teasing from their peers and strangers but that didn’t stop them from showing their talents.  Even on this show, Susan shined bright.  Now of course the judges knew she could sing before she came on stage and played into her appearance for the audience entertainment but they both (Susan and the judges) knew she would be continuing on.

Looking at music today I have to wonder if we are doomed to 90 lb teenage girls that dance provocatively in videos and guys that must have at least a 6 pack but neither of them with any real talent. Sex sales, we know but only for so long.  It doesn’t keep you coming back for more.  Music today has lost its spark, its passion.  Now it’s short term results but no matter how much you want it to, sex doesn’t last very long in the grand scheme of things.

I Quit!

I Quit! Well not me, I just started after all.  But it seems this is the thing to do these days in the music industry.  I just heard that Bow Wow has joined the ranks of 50 Cent, no wait he didn’t honor that agreement.  OK, OK Jay-Z then, oh wait he came out like Jordan wearing the 4-5. There’s Saigon, I’m sure he quit?no he’s still rapping too.  Ice Cube, Will Smith, Ice-T, LL Cool J, Eve?  True no one in this last list actually said they were quitting but they did stop making music for a long period of time.

Dammit!  There has to be some rapper out there that actually quit rapping. There are, too many to name in fact.  Long ago they used to just stop, disappear into the studio to serve another function like producing, host radio, host on TV, go into the careers they’ve always wanted to or just disappear completely.  I do applaud this new movement though.  Quitting your job actually takes responsibility.  It is a good example for young people these days.

Everyone knows (or will if you’re too young to work) someone who claims to have quit their job by not showing up to work.  News Flash! That’s called getting fired for not showing up.  Quitting your job involves telling someone that you are no longer going to perform your duties. Preferably someone above you that has the authority to take the appropriate action to fill the void you are leaving and alert the others that should know of your decision.

It’s interesting how more and more rappers are announcing their exodus from the game while in reality, it is only to shed light on their new projects.  Projects that they have been neglecting because of that annoying thing called a career they have.  No one is really retiring here.  Typically when people retire, they stop working completely. The average person doesn’t retire from construction only to change careers and start working in a bank. We need to call it what it is, a career change. 

Let retirement be the prestigious thing that we look forward to when we get older rather than the cool thing to do for publicity. I want to keep the dreams of a gold watch, a ceremony to honor my achievements, my jersey being raised into the rafters and my number being retired.  Stop cheapening my future thoughts as you are my music today.

I wish artists would spend as much time announcing their careers as much as they do their exit.  If they did, Hip Hop wouldn’t be in such bad shape.  I think there should be a Hip Hop draft and only the top say 40 new artist get signed a year and the bad performers from years past get dropped.  Then and only then can you return wearing the 4-5 after you’ve been resigned!