Posts tagged: Hip Hop

Crazier Than a Bag of &#^@ Angel Dust

By , January 16, 2009

Tonight I went to the movies, and saw an entertaining and powerful, film. It tells the story of a man who started with nothing, but went on to became a huge figure in his community, and then the world. He achieved great fame seemingly overnight, and did his part to change the world, before he was tragically gunned down. It reminded me of another such film I saw last month– Milk. I suppose tonight’s film could perhaps be called Chocolate Milk, but instead it is called Notorious, and tells the story of Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G., the greatest rapper of all-time. I saw it in South Central Los Angeles, hardly a place you’d expect to extol the praises of an East Coast hip hop legend, but it played to a packed house.

Peace out, Biggie. The world still misses you.


Music Saves

By , June 28, 2005

I’ve been through many times when I thought I might lose it
The only thing to save me has always been music

– Mike D

At one point in time it would have been difficult to imagine a Beastie Boy lyric being used as the epigram for any bit of serious prose, but there you have it. Today I turn to Michael Diamond for inspiration. The above couplet resonated with me when I first heard it, and it has never rang true so clearly as of late. A while back, a groom’s request of Fifty Cent prompted me to write in semi-jest about the power of music, but in all seriousness– music has always been integral to my life (which I’m sure it is to many people’s lives), and a never-ending source of solace when circumstance deals an unexpected or difficult blow.

I think it was also Mike D. who rapped:

Life ain’t nothing but a good groove
A good mix tape can put you in the right mood

Of course, mix tapes gave way to the mix CD, which has in turn been replaced by the iTunes playlist. I’ve concocted a fair number of playlists since the advent of the mp3, and lately I’ve put together a new one. At the risk of appearing old-fashioned, I will confess that mp3 playlists always feel more than a little bit sterile to me. I’m not a hardcore vinyl purist, but I still prefer whenever possible to listen to an actual record. I often consider selling my vinyl collection– after all, most of it is languishing in storage– but I reconsider whenever I play one. A song feels so much more alive on vinyl, whether it be from the physical act of dropping the needle into the groove, or the faint crackle of dust in the background… Tangent aside, I’m here to talk playlists. The title of this one says it all– Melancholy. And before anyone chimes in with a comment advising me to avoid playing sad songs when I’m sad, let me offer this bit of, well, for a lack of a better word, wisdom.

There seems to be two general ways that one can deal with great sorrow– either hide from it, i.e. bottle it up, push it deep down inside of yourself, and try to forget about it, or embrace it and let it take you places within your psyche that you would otherwise never dare go. I am a big proponent of the latter method. It has always been the saddest times in my life that have taught me who I really am, and allowed me opportunities to improve myself. Often it seems that only by listening to my darkest emotions and visiting the farthest reaches of my soul can I get to the bottom of what ails me. Sure, my method is not a happy one. You’ll visit dark places, and you’ll suffer, but when you emerge from mourning, you are a better person for the experience. Conversely, I think the people who ignore or bury the sad feelings find those feelings cropping up to haunt them later in life, usually in altered, unrecognizable forms which take years of therapy to identify and conquer.

What does this all mean? It means that lately I’ve been listening to a lot of sad songs. This trend has not been the result of a conscious effort; I haven’t trawled my iTunes folders on a quest for unhappiness. It was more of an organic process, but the resultant playlist, which I’ll share below, definitely has a consistent vibe to it, hence the aforementioned name I assigned to it. For me, music and poetry have long been my main access points to my inner self. I frequently find myself aware of an attitude or emotion I didn’t realize I had, or at least had been unable to crystallize into coherent thought, after hearing a similar sentiment expressed in a song.


Love Songs

By , June 13, 2005

You know how when you break up or fall in love, or you just miss someone, every song you hear suddenly makes so much more sense to you? As an example, on Saturday night I was DJ’ing a wedding and the groom requested a special song. I played it, and as I listened, the lyrics overwhelmed me:

I don’t know what ya’ heard about me
But a bitch can’t get a dollar outta’ me
No Cadillac, no perms, you can’t see
That I’m a motherfuckin’ P-I-M-P

It really sank in. To think I’ve been wasting my time in a relationship for all these years when I *could* have been honing my skills as a pimp.

And when the song continued:

I don’t know what you’ve heard about me
But a bitch can’t get a crumb up outta’ me
I drive a Cadillac, wear a perm ‘cuz I’m a G
And I’m a motherfuckin’ C-R-I-P

it made me harken back to my single days– you know, back in the last century. Yah, it’s been that long. But with my new Snoopy Dogg muse by my side, I’m sure I’m on the road to happiness all over again. Plus, I already own loads of blue clothes, so I’ll fit right in with my new Crip friends. Or do they wear red? I’d better find out before the first gangsta party! How terribly embarrassing it would be to show up wearing the wrong colors– I’d surely be soundly chastised for such a fashion faux pas.

Love songs…they suddenly become so coherent when you miss someone.


Ruining It for Everybody

By , July 8, 2004

MP3 Blogs are all the rage these days. I suppose in a way, with my occasional song blogs, Divisione di Gioia is something of an MP3 Blog, but the people quoted and mentioned in the linked article have taken it to an entirely different level.

I actually know one of their sources, though it has been a few years since we’ve crossed paths. Oliver Wang, a.k.a. O-Dub, used to hang out with me and my crew when we did our radio show back in college, and he’d show up at many of the parties I’d DJ. I mostly remember him as the kid trying to learn about hip hop, who was constantly asking “what song is that? what song is that?” and then jotting down the information we’d give him. It seems to have really paid off– he now markets himself as quite the expert on hip hop and old soul music. And before you read this as some sort of condemnation, or damnation via faint praise, I give him props for making a name for himself, and even more props for being honest– I see in his blog that he credits his mentors and admits to being a late-comer to the hip hop bandwagon. You’re welcome, Oliver.

After reading a bunch of the MP3 Blogs, I remember why I stopped collecting old soul and breakbeat records: it became this fetishist obsession that everyone and their brother was doing, seemingly more to be trendy than for any admiration of the music. When I started collecting records, virtually no one else was really into that style of music, but I loved the stuff; there is a rawness to those records that was nowhere to be found in the polished fare being transmitted over the airwaves at that time (or now). This meant that I could find great records at affordable prices all over the place. When hip hop went from being underground to mainstream music, a sudden interest picked up in the soul and funk records that spawned the genre. It was neat at first, as I suddenly had other people to talk with about the music, but once it reached a sort of critical mass there was this influx of the fetishists, and it all changed for the worse.

It became crappy for a few reasons, the first of which was strictly supply and demand. As people began wanting the same records, they became harder to find, and record sellers began upping their prices. Not only could I no longer find something awesome in the 99 cents super-saver bin, I pretty much couldn’t find it all. And if I did, the seller wanted $100 for the record.

Economics aside, by far the worst byproduct of all was that I had to associate myself with all those nouveau record-geeks. Imagine if something very personal and enjoyable to you suddenly became the trendiest fad among, say, the popped-collar polo shirt preppie and sorority girl set. Unless those are your people (and if so, my apologies for singling them out as especially moronic), you’d be embarrassed to associate yourself with them. And that’s how it became with the “crate digging rare groove beat junkies,” as they began to label themselves.

They all dressed the same, spoke the same, and had the same want lists. Once one of them would find some great new beat, they all had to have it. They produced massive lists of “All the Funky Songs, Ever” and distributed them. Maybe I am an elitist, but I believe in the whole pay-your-dues, old school mentality. I don’t want to know every great breakbeat record. That takes the fun out of discovering them. When I first found The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” or Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” it was a treat, because I had come across a great track that I knew nothing about. Certainly, other DJs, and some collectors, already must have had those records, but the fact that I’d found the record myself made it fun. Now it’s like collecting stamps. You have this master list of every soul record ever released, and you are supposed to search and search until you find a copy. Boring.

It grew so tiresome, in fact, that eventually I just quit collecting records. The Oliver Wangs of the world had officially sucked all the fun out of it. As he says, now “the whole point is to show off.” To me the point was to find music I liked. Again I should point out– Oliver, pretty okay guy. He is just today’s magufffin, to use what seems to be my new favorite word.

When you like something, sometimes it’s great to find other people who share similar interests. But when that interest becomes something thousands of people are turning to simply because it has become a cool thing to be into, it starts to suck, and when a faddish “scene” develops around it, it sucks even more. There may be a more graceful way to phrase that, but that is basically how I feel. It sucks that a fun hobby was ruined when it became mainstream. I hear people bitching about this all the time with regards to any of a number of once-personal/ now-mainstream interests, and I empathize completely. It does indeed suck.

Today’s Question: Doesn’t that totally suck?


Bombing the Van

By , April 6, 2004

For some time I have wanted to repaint my van. It’s super old– a 1981 model– and the paint job has deteriorated over time. True to my hip hop roots I have always wanted to cover it in graffiti, and last Saturday seemed the perfect opportunity. I was DJ’ing a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Berkeley’s famous People’s Park, which is coincidentally where I park my van. I knew I’d be outdoors all day, in full view of my ride, so I made some phone calls to some artists what that I know. While I spun tunes on one side of the court, three graffiti artists bombed the van on the other side of the court. It made for a nice addition to the games, and by the end of the day, I had the freshest van in town. Here are some pictures.

The first one is the “before” shot. Gotta’ have a “before” shot.


Here is one of the taggers taping off the lights. They were very good about keeping my lights, plates, and permits paint-free.


They are getting started at last.


People walking by stopped to stare.


Things are coming along nicely in this picture, and you can start to see the final design taking shape.


Here is the fellow on the other side doing his thing:

More Progress

Now it’s REALLY starting to come together.


Let’s check in and see what’s happening to the back of the van.


Almost done now.


And at last it IS done. Here is the right side:


And the left side:


And the back:


Def, right?


Basketball and Poetry

By , March 18, 2004

Don’t ask me how, but I correctly identified the winners of the first 14 games in the big basketball tournament. Naturally, Arizona and Dayton had to go and blow my perfect streak, but I’ll take 14 out of 16 anytime, especially when you consider how I chose my winners. Such a streak can’t last, and tomorrow I most certainly will be bludgeoned.

In news diametrically opposite basketball matches, I have been asked to give a lecture concerning rap music and its relationship with poetry at an upcoming poetry conference in Sonoma County. I’m the clear black sheep of the panel, which includes the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carolyn Kizer, but I’ll give it the old college try. At the very least, I’ll be the only one comparing and contrasting the rhymes of Percy Bysshe Shelley with those from Doug E. Fresh and his Get Fresh Crew. Word.


Grendel + Wyclef

By , October 18, 2003

Friday night, Fizzy and I went to a party with her college friend Karen. The party, celebrating Karen’s friend Garth’s birthday, was in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights district, and but a scant few blocks from the notoriously dangerous Bedford-Stuyvesant district. Fortunately, out there, a mere block or two can mean the difference between being in Brooklyn or Crooklyn, and we stayed safe. While at the party, I met the notorious Grendel:


We had a blast, Grendel and I. We took turns reciting Beowulf to one another in the original Middle English. As you may have noticed, Grendel is in fact a sock puppet. Here is another photograph of him, this time with his creator and puppeteer Seth in the frame:


That isn’t a terribly flattering shot of Seth, as he has been caught in mid-Grendel-growl. He’s far more dashing in person; Seth that is. Grendel is pretty much what you see. I only just met Seth (he’s Garth’s roommate), but he seems like an interesting fellow. At the very least he gets credit for properly pronouncing my tricky-to-say surname. It turns out he has heard of my older brother, a well-known poet, and that’s how he knew the name. That happens to me from time to time, and it is always a bit strange, but I roll with it.

Tonight (tho ’tis now Sunday morning, at least in New York) we met up with Karen again, as well as another of Sue’s college friends, Richard, and some other people (including a friend of Karen’s, who recognized me as DJ Greg! from the Berkeley party days) and attended a free concert at Columbia University. Columbia is celebrating its 250th anniversary; the school is older then the United States of America!

Speaking of Columbia, the other day, while sauntering up Broadway, near Tom’s Diner, whom do I run into but my friend Raj a.k.a. DJ Entropy. It seems that after finishing his EECS degree at Berkeley, he realized engineering wasn’t for him, and he is now at Columbia earning a Ph.D in Economics. How random to encounter him on a New York sidewalk! Not only that, but it turns out that he lives across the street from Richard (whom he does not know) who lives across the street from Karen, who doesn’t even go to Columbia. Out of all of Manhattan, three people I know randomly chose dwellings within two doors of each other… but I have seriously digressed. The free concert was really great. Wyclef Jean performed. Here he is now:

Wyclef Jean in Concert

He put on a fantastic show. If he is to be believed, he came straight from being treated at a hospital to Columbia to peform. Erykah Badu was scheduled to perform too, but could not make it due to an unspecified illness.” Wyclef called her out while freestyling, asking if he was in the hospital that day and was still able to make it, “what the fuck sickness does Erykah Badu have?” His set lasted more than two hours, and he kept forcing the promoters and security to let him continue, as he was only supposed to play about an hour. His show was as fun and eclectic, running the gamut from the expected rap, reggae, and R & B, to a cappella gospel, and even ’50s era boogie woogie rock & roll.

After the show, five of us went to the Meat Packing District to eat dinner. Isn’t that a great name for a part of town? We had great French food at Pastis, including a bowl of raw steak, and then waited in a far-too-long line at Magnolia’s Bakery for what are reported to be the best cupcakes in the world. Here is a crappy picture of the joint:

Magnolia Bakery

You can’t tell how long, or how slow-moving, the line is from that picture, but trust me it was both. The cupcakes? In all honesty, I found them no better or worse then any other cupcake I’ve ever eaten. To be fair, it is the frosting that is supposed to make them especially wonderful, and I’m not a fan of frosting, so don’t take my word as gospel. There was certainly a large crowd clamoring for them, especially considering it was nearly midnight, so clearly a great many people adore them.

We ate said cupcakes at a park across the street. New York is great for having tons of small parks with benches and tables. This one also had literally hundreds of small mice frolicking about. They were awfully cute, like Stuart Littles everywhere.

This final picture is of a really neat chair I saw while walking away from Magnolia’s. Isn’t great how the zebra’s tail and mane were lined up and incorporated in the chair? Boy do I want that. It would look perfect in my living room, which is already full of leopard and tiger print.

Magnolia Bakery


Salt N’ Pepa – Tramp

By , September 18, 2003

For a few years now I have been using mp3 files when DJ’ing, but as the process of converting a song from vinyl to mp3 is a somewhat slow and painstaking one, I’ve been running a hybrid vinyl/digital system. Gradually, however, I’m working through my vast record collection and digitizing the files, and the eventual goal of DJ’ing straight from a computer is slowly becoming a reality. Lately I’ve been working through stacks of old rap records from the ’80s, and this afternoon I came across this song:

Currently Playing: Salt N’ Pepa – Tramp

Salt N’ Pepa repurpose a sample from the soul classic of the same name into their song, and in doing so incorporate the down home, country roots of the term tramp with its present-day meaning. While to modern ears a tramp is a female who is promiscuous, either in act or dress, the older meaning of the word was more akin to a hobo. In Salt N’ Pepa’s world, a tramp is a shabby, wannabe player, not much different from what TLC dubbed a scrub a few years back.

Salt N' Pepa - Tramp

Today’s entry is therefore dedicated to all my female readers. Consider it a poeticized how-to for playa-hatin’ all those would-be mack daddies and self-styled pimps, set to a grinding 4/4 beat. After all, don’t think I haven’t I noticed that a preponderance of my readership, or at least those readers who comment on my posts, is female. I suppose this makes sense– boys and girls do like to interact with one another. Just don’t get your hopes up, ladies; this pea is spoken for.

Today’s Question: Do you run into a lot of tramps?


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