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Auto-Tuned out, random thoughts on hip-hop

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So, apparently T-Pain can actually sing and is not hiding behind that abortive invention known as Auto-Tune:

Unfortunately, artists who use Auto-Tune have been stinking up their already mediocre songs since Cher first used it on “Believe” back in 1998, and hip-hop/R&B, with a few exceptions, is still producing music and videos like this that cater to every known stereotype and cliché about black culture in America:

Seriously, I can’t think of a time between 1995 and 2010 where this video and this song, with their well-worn, low-hanging-fruit-type themes — money, alcohol, partying in the club, etc. — wouldn’t be out of place. I don’t want to cast too wide a net here, but it’s almost as if the hip-hop genre — and I recognize there are important exceptions like Jay Z, Kanye West, Mos Def, etc. — hasn’t moved on or found anything else interesting to contemplate in 20 years. If that is true to some degree with hip-hop, it’s definitely true of R&B.

Questlove, in his essay series, “When the People Cheer: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America,” was on point in his critique of hip-hop, noting in particular that when the genre became mainstream, or “ubiquitous” as he dubbed it, the genre seemed to lose part of its identity and reverted back to the same themes in which, “The winners, the top dogs, make art mostly about their own victories and the victory of their genre:”

Twenty years ago, when my father first heard about my hip-hop career, he was skeptical. He didn’t know where it was all headed. In his mind, a drummer had a real job, like working as music director for Anita Baker. But if I’m going to marvel at the way that hip-hop overcame his skepticism and became synonymous with our broader black American culture, I’m going to have to be clear with myself that marvel is probably the wrong word. Black culture, which has a long tradition of struggling against (and at the same time, working in close collaboration with) the dominant white culture, has rounded the corner of the 21st century with what looks in one sense like an unequivocal victory. Young America now embraces hip-hop as the signal pop-music genre of its time. So why does that victory feel strange: not exactly hollow, but a little haunted?

I have wondered about this for years, and worried about it for just as many years. It’s kept me up at night or kept me distracted during the day. And after looking far and wide, I keep coming back to the same answer, which is this: The reason is simple. The reason is plain. Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant. Not to mention the obvious backlash conspiracy paranoia: Once all of black music is associated with hip-hop, then Those Who Wish to Squelch need only squelch one genre to effectively silence an entire cultural movement.

And that’s what it’s become: an entire cultural movement, packed into one hyphenated adjective. These days, nearly anything fashioned or put forth by black people gets referred to as “hip-hop,” even when the description is a poor or pointless fit. “Hip-hop fashion” makes a little sense, but even that is confusing: Does it refer to fashions popularized by hip-hop musicians, like my Lego heart pin, or to fashions that participate in the same vague cool that defines hip-hop music? Others make a whole lot of nonsense: “Hip-hop food”? “Hip-hop politics”? “Hip-hop intellectual”? And there’s even “hip-hop architecture.” What the hell is that? A house you build with a Hammer?

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Written by Jeremy

November 6th, 2014 at 7:56 pm

AT&T foretells technological future

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AT&T can hardly take credit for all of these innovations, but this ad campaign from 1993-94 was amazingly prescient:

Here is a detailed look at some other early Internet ad campaigns. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first banner ad online.

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Written by Jeremy

October 27th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

President tunes out cable news

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For all its tireless bluster, FOX News is, for all intent and purposes, wasting its time and energy trying to chastise the president or somehow influence policy. Why? Because President Barack Obama isn’t watching cable news, and that includes CNN and MSNBC. Any president worth his wait in salt wouldn’t be influenced by the media anyway, but for all of Obama’s inadequacies at this point, namely his hawkish drone program and his thus far failed promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, we can at least take heart in the fact that we have a president who still consumes publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post in written form, whether in newsprint or digital, which, I might add, is more preferable by several large degrees from a vice presidential nominee in 2008 — who would have been one heart beat away from assuming the highest office in the land — not being able to name a single publication that she reads on a daily basis.

Here is former press secretary Jay Carney talking about Obama’s media proclivities:

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Written by Jeremy

October 27th, 2014 at 5:17 pm

CNN-bola

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Anderson Cooper had the gall today to say CNN isn’t trying to stir up fear with its almost continuous coverage of this Ebola stupidity, but instead, the station is “spreading information.”

Thousands dead in West Africa. Meh. Who cares? A handful of Americans threatened: Time to put the entire CNN machine on the case!

Bullshit.

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Written by Jeremy

October 17th, 2014 at 12:09 am

Missing in action

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Where the hell is the Iraqi army we spent eight years and $25 billion training?

As World Watches Kobani Siege, ISIS Eyes Baghdad

Credit: Daily Mail; Location: The militants are understood to have had their advance halted by airstrikes yesterday at Ameriyat Al-Falluja yesterday - a small city about 18 miles south of Fallujah and 40 miles west of Baghdad. But the clashes did not force the bulk of the fighters - with many of them now having made their way to the Baghdad suburbs.

Credit: Daily Mail; Location: The militants are understood to have had their advance halted by airstrikes yesterday at Ameriyat Al-Falluja yesterday – a small city about 18 miles south of Fallujah and 40 miles west of Baghdad. But the clashes did not force the bulk of the fighters – with many of them now having made their way to the Baghdad suburbs.

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Written by Jeremy

October 16th, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Affleck, Harris and the ‘liberal’ response to Islam

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I’m late to the ball game in commenting on this, but I wanted to offer a few words on the spat that took place last Friday between Ben Affleck, Bill Maher and Sam Harris on HBO’s “Real Time” on the liberal response to radical Islam.

Here’s the relevant clip if you haven’t seen it:

First, I must say that like Harris, I was little surprised, first, by Affleck’s attack on Harris right out of the gate, and second, on Affleck’s seemingly combative attitude when he and Harris had just met on the stage. Affleck, other than what some clueless publicist told him five minutes before he went on the show, knew little to anything about Harris’ body of work, and this was confirmed by Harris after the show when he actually had a backstage conversation with Affleck.

Maher and Harris seemed to be agreement that liberals should stand up for liberal principles like marriage equality, rights for women, free speech and freedom of religion (For the record, unlike Maher, I’m not terribly comfortable with the word “liberal” in identifying with a set of values I think should be self-evidently supported by anyone with a brain and a conscience; I prefer progressive.), but when Harris suggested that liberals have really dropped the ball on criticizing the Muslim world for by and large eschewing these principles, Affleck went off, calling Harris — and by extension, Maher — “gross” and “racist.”

I’ve always thought of Affleck as a sharp and thoughtful guy, but based on this he seems to me to represent the kind of weak-kneed, truly bleeding heart liberal of GOP folk lore who has little understanding of the real world and just wants everyone to play nice and not criticize anything or anyone lest we be called racists or bigots.

Outside of whatever cocooned world Affleck chooses to exist, religion in general is a danger to free and civil society, and Islam, in some of its darkest versions and even in some of its more moderate iterations, threatens to set humanity back to the dark ages. People like Affleck would like to believe that the large majority of Muslims in places like the Middle East and North Africa just want to live and let live and open up the gates to modernity, that Muslims by and large don’t want to encroach on civil society or stand in the way of freedom of religion, marriage equality and the proliferation of women’s rights. That naive and idealist view of the world simply doesn’t hold muster.

Harris only got to briefly mention the main poll that supports his claim, so I’ll do that here.

This report from Pew provides a detailed look at how Muslims in different parts of the world view Sharia law. Nicholas Kristof on the show attempted to cite Indonesia as one nation in the Muslim world that contained more moderate believers that did not agree with the more radical parts of Sharia law, which commands violence against disobedient women and punishment or death for people who leave Islam.

However, the Pew poll indicated that 72 percent of Muslims in Indonesia said they favored making Sharia law the law of the land. The numbers are even higher in places across the Muslim world including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria and others. Indeed, one has to leave what we consider to be the entire Muslim world of the Middle East, Africa, South and Southeast Asia altogether to find a nation in which less than 50 percent don’t want to live under the heel of Sharia law. Between 64-84 percent of Muslims in these four regions support Sharia law.

What about a woman’s right to divorce? Forty-four percent of Muslims in Southeast Asia recognize that right, while only 33 percent favor women’s right to divorce in the Middle East and North Africa. What about justice in this moderate Muslim world? In the Middle East and North Africa, 78 percent favor religious judges overseeing cases of family law, 57 percent support corporal punishment for criminals and 57 percent are OK with executing people for leaving the faith. If you are taking notes on just how moderate this world of 1.5 to 1.6 billion people really is, more than half of the nice folks in these two regions would vote to put someone to death simply for changing their minds. More astonishingly, all three of these figures are higher among Muslims in South Asia. Remember, the regions I just listed contain the lion’s share of Muslims in the entire world, at about 341 million in the Middle East and North Africa and 1 billion in South and Southeast Asia.

Harris’s contention, and I tend to agree with him, was that Affleck has some friends who are Muslims, and they support a peaceful and non-invasive approach to religion, so Affleck reckons that most Muslims everywhere must surely be in favor of modernity, free speech, equal rights and fair systems of justice. And for anyone to say otherwise is clearly an Islamophobic bigot. As Harris said more than once on the show, to criticize the religion, which is clearly anti-humanistic in nearly every category that matters, is not to criticize the individuals who practice it as people. But the larger point is that the Muslim world does not seem to contain enough reform-minded individuals, like Maajid Nawaz, who want to reform Islam and bring it into modernity.

Here’s Harris on Nawaz:

Nawaz admits that the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community is an enormous problem. Unlike Aslan, he insists that his fellow Muslims must find some way to reinterpret and reform the faith. He believes that Islam has the intellectual resources to do this. I certainly hope he’s right. One thing is clear, however: Muslims must be obliged to do the work of reinterpretation—and for this we need honest conversation.

And here is Nawaz on Affleck:


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Written by Jeremy

October 10th, 2014 at 10:37 pm

‘Pacific Rim’ film review

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This is going to be short — really short — lest I waste anymore time analyzing a movie that’s already taken two hours of my life. I knew that “Pacific Rim” was going to, at best, include 1 1/2 hours of over-the-top CGI action porn, with shallow actors and a contrived, nonsensical plot. I knew that going in. But we got was actually more than two hours of action, most of it either under water or in the ocean, a boilerplate hey-look-it’s-another-white-guy-hero surrounded by a cast of forgettable token characters — the kooky scientist, his even kookier partner and, of course, black male and Asian female supporting roles.

The film lacked any discernible heart, depth and scant reason to care whether or not the robots succeeded in saving whatever generic Pacific city they were trying to save. My interest in the film, with still about an hour to go, tanked when the main analog robot, named Gipsy Danger (Wait, how or why would a robot from the year 2020 still be analog?) and the alien were fighting each other and destroying the city in their wake, crashing through buildings and chasing each other through the streets, presumably causing a shocking loss of life all the while. A few minutes later after the alien was defeated, we see the Jaeger team back at the base cheering in celebration after the victory, with no consideration of the gigantic number of people who were just crushed under the hero robot’s heel, impaled as the combatants tromped through the city or who simply fell from skyscrapers to their grisly deaths. Are we to believe that all 2 million people managed to find one of the Kaiju refuge stations in a matter of minutes? Hardly.

In any case, the action and effects were spectacular, but I judge all movies on the same criteria — acting, depth, emotion, character development, etc. — no matter the genre, and no amount of “CGI motherfucker, CGI!” can save a movie with a bland plot and lifeless characters.

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Written by Jeremy

September 28th, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Yorke releases album on BitTorrent

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I’ve only heard the first track so far, but Thom Yorke continues to push the envelope, not only within the rock music genre, but in the music distribution market. Torrents as a means to share content has been a thing for years and years, but so far as I know, York’s new album and the aptly named, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” is the first album by a major artist to be released on Bittorrent as a method of distribution.

Here is Yorke’s justification for releasing the album on BitTorrent:

It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around. If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work. Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves. Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers. If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done.

In other words, it could provide a cheaper means for the consumer to get new music and for artists, it could serve as a workaround and alternative to distributing through a record company, which has its obvious drawbacks and limitations.

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Written by Jeremy

September 26th, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Ray Rice case and Roger Goodell’s failure

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In this now notorious press conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went on and on about the NFL’s lack of clear and consistent policies related to discipline and personal conduct that apparently haven’t been updated since 2007.

Seems like Goodell has had been plenty of time since then to revisit and modify any policies he deemed insufficient. Why were such important policies not being reviewed every year? The NFL certainly takes pains to review every nuance about the rules on the football field each season. Not even taking into account the Ray Rice debacle, seems like this oversight alone would be grounds for termination. Further, how does a league with an entire legal department at its disposal not know that you don’t conduct interviews with the victim and abuser in the same room?

There’s just so many elements in this case that don’t add up, and I think that, in part, fueled Bill Simmons’ also notorious tirade against Goodell. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that either Goodell, NFL executives, the Ravens or all three, have not been completely forthcoming with what they knew and when they knew it. Simmons, with perhaps a little too much impropriety in calling out the corporate suits at ESPN, just had the balls to say what everyone was already thinking.

And frankly, with the exception of Simmons — and it will be interesting to see what he has to say, if anything, once he returns from suspension — I can’t say that I trust the credibility of other ESPN employees commenting on the NFL because of the sports channel’s cozy partnership with the league on “Monday Night Football.”

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Written by Jeremy

September 26th, 2014 at 4:16 pm

A first read of Stephen King

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I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) – Dwight Allen

***

As I am 240 pages into my first – and probably last – Stephen King novel, “Needful Things,” I find myself agreeing with every sentiment in this column about what separates fiction from literature, and why King simply doesn’t measure up, and as far as I’m concerned, he can’t hold Thomas Pynchon’s literary jockstrap.

I’m actually not looking forward to reading more in this book because A) it is needlessly long and B) it is endlessly dull and formulaic. A small town in Maine. A creepy new business owner comes to town. Stupified locals buy his trinkets that just so happen to fulfill their most base desires. Creepy guy gets creepier. And I can only assume, the shit gets weirder, and I don’t care. I’m sure some zany stuff is afoot, but King hasn’t made me invested in the characters, so I also don’t care what happens to them. I could put the novel down right now and happily move on with no desire to know what happens next. That’s a bad sign for an author of King’s calibre.

As such I really don’t get King’s mass appeal. Is everyone’s lives so boring and depressing that they can be fulfilled by even the most basic escapist fiction? I mean, this novel, so far, has no heart, it doesn’t examine any higher truths about humanity or the human condition, it is written in language most middle schoolers could follow and the plot itself plods along at an uninteresting snail’s pace. If the majority of people read novels simply for a compelling plot, boy are they missing out on the truly enriching and soul-fulfilling experience of actual literature, which this is not.

As Dwight Allen put it:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

A “sentence by sentence … revelation about life” is what I require from literature, and this is not literature.

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Written by Jeremy

August 31st, 2014 at 12:51 am

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