Jun 28, 2008
WALL-E, WALE, and a furious love of everything.
I realize that the Presidents constituency of my readership is running dry, so I'll start with a relation to the current presidential race.

Drew Magary recently posted an entry on sports blog Deadspin about the human need to experience history. Drew says, and I quote:

"The main reason that I’m voting for Obama is because he offers something that McCain does not: an opportunity for me to “be a part” of a historic moment. It’s an inescapable fact for both candidates that a black man winning the White House would be a far a greater milestone in American History than if another oldass white guy were to keep the streak alive... There’s something immensely appealing to me about the prospect of living through that sort of moment. I was born in 1976. I have lived through exactly one seminal moment in American history, and that was 9/11. I would very much like something to counterbalance it."

Now, the political scholar in me isn't really any more interested in trying to convince you that you should or should not vote a certain way, as I've adopted the "campaigns don't matter" viewpoint from my limited life experience - or at least, national campaigns don't. If you'll forgive my brief indulgence into the kind of cliche that's infected the rhetoric of Obama supporters everywhere, I'm excited to vote for Obama because of the new kind of politics he promises - but not only that, that he'll be the first president where race doesn't matter, who has experience in the Chicago slums, who doesn't have the Vietnam war as the formative moment of his adolescence. I think Drew is a little bit off - the expectation isn't just that he'll be remembered as the first black president, but it's also a new political era (I believe one of the Schlesingers recently suggested that 1932-1968 was the era of Roosevelt, and 1968-2008 is the era of Reagan, and we're about to enter a new one). I think Drew sold himself a little short - history isn't so one dimensional - who really cares that JFK was the first Catholic president? It'll be a historic presidency, but not for such bland reasons.

I'm not saying this as an endorsement, as I don't want to nitpick over policy. Rather, I'd like to use this as a parallel to my own view of pop culture. When my parents ask me for my opinion on a movie, they usually don't get too much - they say that I just "like everything." And I do, really. There are very few movies that I've seen and disliked. Whether that's because I pick good movies to see or because I'm not picky, or even because the quality of film has just been high over the last few years - I really don't know. But part of my affection for film is that I genuinely want to look back and say "this film that I saw, just because I wanted to see it, is something that's going to be appreciated for generations. This is art. This is a classic." Now, I've applied that to lesser films (I don't know anyone who likes Hollywood Homicide as much as I do) but I've got a conscious thing going on, where I like to see these films and think that this kind of media is going to influence who I am, the things I appreciate, when I'm old and dying.

I saw WALL-E last night. Pixar films, as I've said to friends, are quite possibly the closest thing to high art this decade has accomplished. I don't mean ahhhht art, where there's a conscious effort for every single symbol and idea in the movie to be so deep (did anyone see Me and You and Everyone We Know? that movie sucked) but that these are friggin' classics with the highest level of quality imaginable. It's iconic, rapturous entertainment, and as far as I'm concerned that's enough qualification for high art as I'll need. But I love this idea of popular media as art, that culture is something that's being so unassailably formed and re-formed, that this is a part of who we are as citizens of the world in this era.

Pitchfork, the oft-maligned music website, recently reviewed the new record by Girl Talk (which, if you didn't know, is a raving success on every level). The opening paragraph was particularly telling of the two contradictory approaches to pop culture that people take:

"As I was finishing an interview with Gregg Gillis in July 2006, he casually mentioned his desire to see M. Night Shyamalan's just-released fantasy movie Lady in the Water. Given the film's wretched reviews-- a pitiful 24% on Rotten Tomatoes-- and the train-wreck hype surrounding it, I thought he was kidding. He wasn't; Gillis liked some of Shyamalan's other flicks, so he wanted to check this one out. Simple. And it's this omnivorous, pleasure-seeking attitude toward pop culture that defines his work as Girl Talk. (Luckily, his taste in music is superior to his taste in film.)"

On the one side, you have Greg Gillis, who is "omnivorous" and "pleasure-seeking," free to appreciate all the glee in pop culture, that everything's got some value, that we're forming a culture here that should be celebrated. On the other hand, you've got Pitchfork, who sneers that he's got better taste in music than in film. I'm pretty sure they completely bulldozed their point in an effort to be a culture snob with that last parenthetical remark.

There are really two ways to approach culture - there's celebration, and there's refinement. This is rarely a conscious effort, I think, but just the way we are. I know a lot of people who come out of a film to take apart the different elements - what they did and didn't like. That's fine! For me, for the large majority of media, I'm happy to really lie back and say that this is something that's going to influence me as an individual, I've been told a story that I'm going to remember. It works for proficient music of any genre, and it works for any engaging video games with some real thought put into them.

This isn't to say I'm undiscerning, or that I've got some kind of enlightened taste, but rather that the range of what I like is grand and I like to bask in my enjoyment, to really spend some time appreciating it. What's this all got to do with either of the focuses of my blog? I started with Presidents, sure, but this is a flimsy premise, you say. Fuck you, I say, I'm getting to it.

The current CD in my car is Wale's 100 Miles and Running, his 2007 mixtape. On it, he repurposes Justice's D.A.N.C.E., Dirty Harry by Gorillaz, Rehab by Amy Winehouse, and Smile by Lily Allen. He repurposes each of these superbly, bringing them fantastic new context and at the same time paying tribute to the artists that are just on the cusp of whatever genres they inhabit (that Wale is signed to Mark Ronson's label certainly doesn't hurt. Spoiler alert: my favorite MCs are signed to Allido records). Unique, modern songs that established themselves immediately as classics to whatever their demographic might be just because of their sheer incomparability. And hip hop music, for what it's worth, has always been a cultural time-capsule - not just because of its tendency to reference, but also because of its attachment to trend. What genre is more regionally and chronologically dependent than hip hop?

My cultural awareness is admittedly just hitting its stride, and I can't speak to earlier hip hop as well as I can speak to the present day. But the tradition of collaboration, of repurposing, of improving has been such a positive one and makes hip hop the ideal art form for anyone who's an admirer of pop culture in general. The latest Wale mixtape is a tribute to Seinfeld - Seinfeld of all things. Rap, in general, is so well suited to the Wikipedia generation, ceaseless consumers of information and trivia that we are.

The last few decades have been notable as critics of American culture have criticized us for our materialism. But with the advent of the internet, especially, I think we're shifting toward informationalism. I spend a lot of my excess cash on books, movies, video games, and music. I love adding new things to my own repertoire. And I celebrate that. Rap has a unique opportunity to take part in that celebration, and I think that'll continue to be a key point of hip hop in the next few years. Mixtape culture, mashup culture, sampling, and even the hipster rap epidemic are going to help hip hop not be just any old genre, but another layer on the musical world that has an appreciation for just about everything. It's a good time to love hip hop.

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Jun 6, 2008
Hipster Hop
OK I had to pick up on this one. The Chicago Reader, which is the most terminally boring Chicago weekly paper for people who think they're smarter than you (sorry, StreetWise!) for some reason thinks that they should justify the "new media" by writing about what's happening on the blogs. Unfortunately, starting a flame war is usually the realm of xangas, not the fucking Chicago Reader. It should be obvious to all parties involved that because the original poster can't spell "Liberace" or "Douchebag" correctly, THERE AIN'T NO REASON YOU SHOULD EVEN BE GIVING A SHIT CHICAGO READER.

But fucking whatever. At least the Reader has Savage Love.

The flame war was about "Hipster Rap," which is a genre I have been referring to amongst friends as "Hipster Hop" because you know if you really think about it Hip Hop is a pretty stupid genre name anyhow and it's at least as clever as Hip Hopera, Beyonce. It points to the Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Kidz in the Hall, N.E.R.D., Lil Mama, and M.I.A. as prime examples of hipster hop, which the dude apparently categorizes as stylistically douchey hipsters.

Now, I'd describe myself as a fan of most of the aforementioned acts. I don't think M.I.A. counts, because she's from overseas and they're fucking classy or something, and Lil Mama falls more into the Avril Lavigney camp, a little too poppy to be necessarily hip. The rest are pretty good examples of the genre, and indeed, as the reader says, it lacks the "scary black people." No, this genre is full of black people who might be in your theater group, or your workplace. These black people are gentrified.

Nevermind that N.W.A. sold mostly to angry white teenagers in the suburbs.

I've always been disappointed at how many of my peers just dismiss hip hop in one fell swoop - a good friend dismissed R. Kelly - R. Friggin Kelly - as "talking fast." Another only listened to Kanye, because the rest of rap was just "misogyny," obviously taking the Hillary Clinton approach to rap. Look, I don't expect my dad to get it, but seriously, I've known some fairly hip individuals who don't know what they're missing.

Hipster hop tends to appeal to hipsters, as its name suggests. Or indie kids, or anyone who fancies themselves a music enthusiast. Your friend from high school who turned you onto some really good music before you realized she was a huge bitch? That's her. Just about anyone that goes to Columbia College? That's them too. They've got a cutting-edge taste in music that probably syncs fairly well with whatever Pitchfork thinks is hot. There's nothing wrong with that. But their interest in rap doesn't extend beyond these particularly hip acts.

Can it really just be that these acts are fashion-savvy, have a sense of style that is half the appeal? That it's more acceptable to love Kanye's teenager-like introspection, Lupe's affinity for skateboarding or Kid Sister's songs about painting her nails than Common's oldness, De La Soul's outcast sensibilities or ODB's eccentricities? Is that really so important? I mean, shit, De La sampled Schoolhouse Rock, that should at the very least buy them some hipster cred.

Maybe it's just that these are the new class, that all the old guys are, understandably, old. But show me a hipster without a 90s alt-rock band as their first true love, without Radiohead or Weezer at the top of their last.fm charts, and I'll show you a poseur. I'll admit - hip hop in general moves a lot faster, I think, and so it might seem a little more dated. It's a little more subject to trends, a little more of-the-moment. But a classic beat is a classic beat.

Digable Planets were the original "hipsters" of rap - back when it meant "jazz hipsters," like people who smoke cigarettes at jazz clubs. And now the term has taken on a whole different meaning, and Digable Planets are only good for a nostalgia act. Jazz Rap ended up being a flash in the pan - the era of Tribe and De La is long passed (though who the fuck is seeing them at Rock the Bells this summer? I am!). I won't say that it's because hip hop is a young man's game - it is, but if you can find an act that got subsequently higher scores for each album on Pitchfork, you're a ridiculous enthusiast.

Just like someone classy might altogether reject such testosterone-fueled cultural emptiness like the WWF, so is the 90s as an era in hip hop, known more for P. Diddy's extravagant videos and Tupac and Biggie getting shot. It's extravagance, sex, drugs, violence, all the bad things that appeal to the "lower classes," the dumb stuff. There's a lot of gold in there, though - Illmatic (fact: Nas wrote Illmatic when he was younger than I am. I'm past my prime!), Ready 2 Die, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. There's a lot of nihilism and a lot of it is kind of a bummer if you're used to The Pipettes.

A lot of it is that black people are scary. The 80s are a generation ago, and the 90s are more renowned for gangsta rap and Will Smith. Who really wants to venture that far? There was a festival down in Washington Park last year that featured Rhymefest as headliner. I was going to go, but I decided, in the end, that I didn't know the neighborhood and would be coming home probably around midnight, and was a bit too nervous to really hit the show. Sounds like I wasn't the only one - a friend told me the show was deserted.

Some of it's gotta be white guilt, though. Sure, a lot of hip hop is a bummer, but it's not that universal bummer, like this girl dumped me and my heart is broken. It's "Life's a bitch, and then you die, that's why we get high, cause you never know when you're gonna go." It's that existential nothingness.

In the end, I say that it's half the "world music" phenomenon, where it's so different and foreign that you never really like it but you pretend to like it so that you seem cultured. But the other half is that rap still has such a crass stigma that you'll impress no one by listening to it. That's where hipster hop has succeeded with white folks - it doesn't have that stigma, you can play it for someone and they'll instantly be able to latch on. "This song about cosmetics is so pleasant and non-offensive! I can listen to this!" It's new, it's quality, it's safe, what else could a white person ask for?

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May 22, 2008
PP51DUDU
Yeah so what if I ain't posted in a month and a half? I got problems.

It's a good thing it's time for a rap entry, because I've been thinking entirely too much about electoral politics recently. There's nothing to say in that field that hasn't already been said, and I've promised myself to never talk about it in this blog (at least not as a primary topic). I might have some things to say about historical campaigns, that might be interesting. But governance is so fucking boring in the twilight hours of the Bush presidency - I mean, do you remember a single thing Clinton did in 2000? 2000 was Bush's year, and 2008 is almost assuredly Obama's year.

Point is, I might have something interesting to say about that. For now: rap!

I saw the Glow in the Dark tour about a week or so ago, and I have to say, it was fuck*ng fantastic. I've seen Lupe Fiasco four times now and his shit is starting to get old, N.E.R.D. and Rihanna are a lot of fun, but Kanye fucking stole the show, doing a one-man high-tech stage show unlike anything I've ever seen. But I've slathered all over Kanye enough for one blog (hey, Stereogum is self-conscious, so I can be self-conscious too). Directly surrounding the show, I listened to a lot of College Dropout, and I paid some attention to "Last Call." I wanted to ask this of my approximately four readers: what's the best non-track a rapper has ever released?

The two iconic examples from the last few years are the previously mentioned "Last Call," a thirteen minute track where Kanye tells a very long story about how he got signed, and Lupe Fiasco's extremely self-indulgent "Outro," where he feels the need to thank every person he's ever worked with. Both tracks aren't completely interminable. As someone who likes Kanye as much as he likes Grover Cleveland, I don't mind his story. Lupe's has some nice vocal work. Going further, Man in the Mirror has some hilarious skits courtesy of Rhymefest. But let's move beyond the patron saints of Chicago Rap, eh?

OK, I'll admit it - I'm cooling off on Chamillionaire. The novelty of "Industry Groupie" wore off as soon as I realized that the first line in Kanye's "Homecoming" was a knockoff of "I Used To Love H.E.R." and the more politically involved I get the less impressed I am with the mainstream nihilism of his political trio. I think he's heading in the right direction, but needs some more maturing. That said, he's got some really hilarious skits on Ultimate Victory that aren't as pointless as Broke Phi Broke. I think a successful skit has to have something more than a good joke - it has to have good actors, where their appeal lasts long after the "aha!" where you get the joke, however stupid and small. Cham pulls it off.

Digging further into my library, I put The Roots' "Waok (Ay) Rollcall" into the same category as "Industry Groupie." A bunch of beating off into the microphone. Look, I love the idea of hip hop as culture as much as the next guy, and as I've repeatedly insisted, hip hop is a great sociological phenomenon - posses, influences, shout outs, guests, rivalries and community. There's no medium in the world that does anything like that. Rappers are better role models than the media gives them credit for - I'm always impressed at the importance rappers tend to put on friendship, introducing new rappers, collaborating, always trying something new. Rap's unique - I mean, where would we be without "One, two, three and to the four, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door?"

Point is, you can track any number of artist relationships, beefs, and egos, but another track rattling off your influences is useless and uninformative just because the sense of community is so self-evident. The Roots, you were inspired by A Tribe Called Quest? Every white person's rapper, with the exception of Lupe Fiasco, also was. Leave it be.

On a totally different tack, Ohmega Watts' "Shorty Shouts" is a great piece of production backing some, well, shouting from his nephews. It's endearing and pleasant to listen to, without trying to be "funny." It's probably the best example of a track being pious without being sanctimonious, reminding the listeners that you can be a rapper and a family man.

I think my favorite non-track of all time is "I Got to Tell You" by Dr. Octagon. If you're not familiar, wikipedia says the following:

"Dr. Octagon is an extraterrestrial, time-traveling surgeon / obstetric gynecologist who has sex with his patients and nurses."

See, awesome already. The track is a 40 second "ad" for his "services" that directly precedes the iconic "Earth People." It runs over a recording of Pachelbel's Canon in D where he explains that he's available for "intestine surgery, rectal rebuilding, relocated saliva glands and chimpanzee acne, and of course moosebumps." Moosebumps, of course, receives about 5000 hits on Google and its only definition on Urbandictionary is "Something you DO NOT want on your nuts. Mom, i can't was the dishes i have moosebumps."

The phone number he offers is fantastic, if only for the crass disregard of the audience's intelligence, the gloriously immature use of euphemism. It's the most glorious middle finger the rap game has ever produced, and the beat behind Pachelbel and the scratches as the song fade out make it interminably catchy. I was kind of hoping it was a full track.

It seems pointless to overanalyze such a short skit, but for my money, it's well worth the price of the entire album. It's such a perfect nugget of dismissive irreverence that sets the tone for the whole album - which is a tone that rappers could pick up. You ever notice that rappers are so fucking serious? They're either macho posturing, being socially conscious, partying hard, or, in the case of Kanye West, having a little mini therapy session. But rap is a genre where you can be funny without being a novelty artist. How come it's only the Beasties that even bother ch-checking out that scene? There are plenty of punchlines, but there's always a purpose behind it. No one does irreverence like doc oc.

Pick up Dr. Octagonecologyst, if you haven't already. I think I'm gonna have that skit on repeat a few more times. Next entry's probably on the MTV hottest MCs list. Maybe.

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Apr 19, 2008
Hair vs No Hair
So, name the top five most legendary Americans of the latter half of the 19th century. I'll give you a minute.

So who'd you come up with?

It's kind of slim pickings, actually. Lincoln, obviously. Then maybe Thomas Edison, who gets entirely too much credit (seriously, if this blog were entitled "Inventors and Soul" the first entry would undoubtedly be about how Nikola Tesla and Otis Redding are the least fortunate people in American history). Perhaps you'd throw in John Rockefeller and Mark Twain, depending on your leanings. One could make more in-depth arguments for other characters - Booker T? Louis Sullivan? Grover F. Cleveland? - based on whatever perspective you want to take on the era. The last one should be, for all intensive purposes, be Ulysses S. Grant.

The list would be longer if I asked you to do the same for the period between World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Almost every president, with the exception of Ford and Carter, could have a case made, for better or for worse. You could get into the technological moguls, the media icons, the scientists and the civic leaders and still end up with a list from which you'd like to cut no one. Unlike the corruption and general grime of the late 19th century, the Pax Americana produced more notables than any period since the founding fathers.

I suddenly would like to play a video game that pits Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Monroe, and Ben Franklin against FDR, JFK, LBJ, MLK, IKE and... Truman. There could be racing and perhaps baseball. I am convinced that these are the two toughest groups of motherfuckers in our national consciousness, even if the latter group had two sickly, sickly men (JFK would have snapped like a twig). It is obvious that I have been playing a lot of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Shit's ridiculous.

But whatever.

Point is, Eisenhower would be somewhere among that list. If you were to list the top military minds of our nation's history, the top three would include Grant, Eisenhower, and Washington. Washington is an interesting enough guy - probably one of the most low-key guys to ever occupy the White House, but I'd instead like to compare Ike and Grant. Eisenhower was a president, and Grant was a general. How did that happen?

I believe it was Richard Neustadt who once said that in the history books, one-term presidents get paragraphs, and two-term presidents get chapters. There are a few exceptions to the rule - for instance, one-termer James K. Polk is certainly more influential than most of the two-termers that followed him. Conversely, Grant is a two-term president who didn't make much of a splash in the history books - he's routinely cast aside amongst the Hardings, Pierces and Buchanans in the lowest tier of presidents.

Grant and Ike were relatively similar presidents - both were relatively nonaligned, politically, and both were military geniuses presiding during peacetime. Both had some significant domestic accomplishments, as well - Eisenhower presided over a long period of economic prosperity and, while largely putting his faith in the free market, put fiscal responsibility in front of tax cuts, refusing to lower taxes without a balanced budget. Likewise, Grant reduced the federal debt enormously and vastly improved the nation's credit. Eisenhower championed the Interstate Highway System, Grant oversaw the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Grant was a strong supporter of Civil Rights and attempted to annex the largely black Santo Domingo not only for militarily strategic reasons but also in an attempt to push Cuba to abandon slavery and to provide a place for former slaves to escape southern whites (thereby reminding southern whites how important former slaves are to the economy and de-racisting them). Likewise, Eisenhower used the National Guard to forcibly integrate an Arkansas school.

Eisenhower did have some seriously mixed legacies - the Interstate Highway System is generally hailed as a great civic infrastructure project, but one might wonder whether it'll be viewed as such as the climate change movement kicks up. The highways certainly made longer trips a lot more convenient, and that's doing CO2 emissions some favors. Eisenhower was a bit passive in his dealings with McCarthy, as well, and perhaps most damningly, allowed construction of nuclear weapons to skyrocket far beyond reasonable levels. While I understand the need for a sizable nuclear arsenal - MAD and all - it got a little crazy under Eisenhower. During his presidency, the number of nuclear weapons skyrocketed from under 1000 to over 20,000, a trend that continued until Lyndon Johnson was president and the number began to fall. If anyone can think of a scenario where we'd have any use for nuclear weapons after the first 500 were launched, you're a more brilliant political mind than I.

Grant, in his own right, had some other similarly poor showings - much like Harding, he was a trusting man whose faith in the inherent good nature of the human race was upset by his staff, as scandal after scandal interrupted his administration. Crédit Mobilier, the Whiskey Ring, the Sanborn Incident, Black Friday. Grant was largely uninvolved in all the scandals - he himself wrote to congress, "Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent."

Grant and Eisenhower were actually pretty similar in this respect too - where Grant's largest failure was that he couldn't make the political alliances necessary to combat the scandals and didn't take a stand against the bad elements in his administration, Eisenhower was also limited in his effectiveness because he didn't want to take any political positions that might make him unpopular and avoided making a public stand against McCarthy. Neither of these men were politicians.

So why was Eisenhower such a rollicking success and Grant such a dismal failure?

There are a couple things you can point to. For one, it's a consequence of the era in which they lived. The Interstate system was championed primarily as a system of national defense for quick movement of supplies and troops in the event of an emergency - an eventuality that thankfully never has tested the highways. And until very recently, the boon to interstate commerce has far outweighed any carbon emissions downsides. Similarly, there hasn't yet been a nuclear attack anywhere - so for now, Mutual Assured Destruction succeeded and nuclear proliferation is a reluctant success. Ike presided over an era where the United States was increasingly prosperous (average family income rose by 20% during his presidency), mostly at peace, and globally dominant. Politically, he aimed low and hit.

Most of Grant's accomplishments, on the other hand, are regarded as eventual failures. Reconstruction was perhaps too heady a task for an inexperienced politician - he had to help defeat the secessionist sentiment of the South and prevent the inevitable postwar resentment while simultaneously trying to minimize the KKK and ensure civil rights. While Eisenhower had a few recessions in his term, Grant had two full-fledged panics - the Fisk-Gould scandal and the Panic of 1873. In the former, Fisk and Gould recruited Grant's brother in law and they successfully conned the executive branch; in the latter, Grant simply neglected to react effectively.

In the end, Grant and Eisenhower had very similar governing styles - few risky political strategies and an aim of postwar normalization. Both were noble men to different ends - Grant was honest and trusting enough that he was taken advantage of, Eisenhower was humble enough about his accomplishments that he sometimes appeared to be a do-nothing president. But Grant inherited a divided and unstable nation in crisis, while Eisenhower inherited a postwar boom in the world's most powerful nation. This isn't to say that Grant was unjustly screwed - just that the crises and tough decisions that Grant faced were more suited for a professional politician who could build coalitions and make compromises, while the opportunities presented to Eisenhower were perfectly suited to a military man concerned with getting things done.

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Apr 1, 2008
The Video
I'd like to start with a proposition that you must accept in order to continue with this entry (I mean, you can continue if you don't accept it, but that makes it all relatively hypothetical).

Popular media, with a few exceptions, is becoming hilariously decentralized.

It's easier to see in some media more than others. The movie industry is built on familiar franchises and require massive budgets to make a profit - although the only two sure things in the movies are Will Smith and Pixar. The music industry profits greatly from the internet - the wealth is spread around to more bands, but there's a grand shortage of megastars who go platinum in one day. Television, for all its faults, is going through a golden age of drama and comedy is back on the rise - thanks in no small part to cable and DVD (Shit, in an era where fans can revive Jericho, Firefly, Futurama, Family Guy and maybe even Arrested Development fingers crossed, you know that a network of niches is doing its thing).

All three media, for better or for worse, have become relatively decentralized by technology, and the trickle-down effect will be hitting more and more facets of the industry soon enough (How many 90s alt-rock headliners do we have to keep our destination festivals afloat? We're going to run out someday).

The one medium that's dying a slow, tragic death from the leveling of the music industry, though, is the music video. Once, the medium flourished as MTV was the most effective tastemaker in the industry. Now, the network has been supplanted by the internet. Solid videos, while they might make a splash on Stereogum or the part of Pitchfork nobody looks at, are becoming rarer and rarer - probably just for financial reasons, as unless your video is truly viral (think OK Go or Snoop Dogg) it's unlikely to make much of a splash. Would you invest millions in that?

Another big cause for the death of the video is something people have been talking about for ages - that we don't listen to our music actively anymore. Music is cheap, so we hoard it and devalue it. And maybe we do value our favorite artists as much as ever - but putting Winamp on shuffle or sitting with our iPods on the train are a much more efficient way to experience music than sitting around watching videos - especially given that there's no good way to watch videos anymore. You can click around YouTube, but you'd think that someone would come up with a good way to create a last.fm-esque video network that just plays a constant stream consistent with your tastes (actually, wasn't last.fm supposed to do that? when CBS bought them?). The death of the video is as much a symptom of how we listen to our music as it is a result of the lower amount of money a label might be willing to throw around.

The video, as much as it is a medium I've always appreciated, is simply a by-product of the corporate excess that used to define mainstream music. Unless something really revolutionary happens with it in the next few years, it's likely headed toward history's dustbin.

The direction I was heading, though, was rap. As far as I'm concerned, the last great moment the medium will ever have is this one:



But what's most prescient about that video is that the only artist left who seems to dedicate as much effort to the videos as he does to the songs is Kanye West. I know, I've slathered all over Kanye a few times over, most likely because we are perfect for each other, but beyond that. He's worked with Spike Jonze, So Me, Hype Williams four times over, Michel Gondry, Bill Plympton - he's got all the really big ones covered. Sure, most of it is where he comes from, that he's got a more middle-class background - but look at what he has going for him. He's got cred among people who don't listen to hip hop, he's got an enormous budget for whatever he wants to do, and he's got impeccable taste. I can't come up with another rapper who's got all three of those - Snoop Dogg comes close, but Kanye remains the man.

If you don't want to bother going through his videos, easily locatable on YouTube, let's compare his influences to any other rapper.

Another RapperKanye West
The hoodJapan
Shooting peopleRiding a motorcycle over a canyon
Video girlsPin-up girls
ViolenceAnimation
LiquorPolaroid photographs
Being fantastically wealthyChild labor
Smoking a lot of weed and phoning in your entire performancePop-up video! (This one doesn't count as much because it's The Game and Kanye together)


My take? As the rap industry struggles out of adolescence, its expanding range of interests might catch up to its propensity for fantastic wealth. The last great video genre.

Now watch this retardedly good new Kanye video.


HOMECOMING from kwest on Vimeo.

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Mar 16, 2008
Reprinting Content, part 2.
So while I finish writing my incredibly long entry on Grant and Eisenhower, which I've actually written some of, I figured I'd throw over something else I wrote for the paper a few weeks ago. It's... sort of serious. I'm not sure whether or not I'm kidding. I'm almost certain I use the word "deconstructivism" incorrectly, but my intent was to make it sound like what I want it to say, rather than to have it be technically correct. I also throw Gestalt in there, with the right meaning but a hilariously wrong context, and top it off by missing Alan Sokal's point altogether. But I'm semi-serious about my intent.

Anyhow, the article is entitled "The new face of deconstructivism in music." I'll be back some time.

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Though he is only seventeen years old, I would like to submit Soulja Boy as the greatest musical deconstructivist of our generation.

You scoff.

Perhaps you’ve only heard “Crank That,” the song famous for introducing “Youuuuu!” into the popular lexicon, as well as a few crass terms for sex acts. You would be forgiven for dismissing this as the latest in a series of increasingly deteriorating appeals to the lowest common denominator. There is a dance to learn, there is an infectious beat, there are non-sequitur lyrics that want nothing more than to get you on the dance floor. Taken alone, Crank That is a tepid dance hit, wanting only to be discarded.

If you are a student of Gestalt, however, you will realize that this is not the entire picture.

No, to get the entire picture, one would have to view the video for his latest single, “Yahhh!” The video is a narrative – there is no dance. At the video’s introduction, Soulja Boy and his friend Arab are playing video games on a sunny morning. An unknown adult calls him up, asking him why he’s not at school. Soulja Boy replies: “YAHHH!”

Following this, Soulja Boy and Arab decide to go to school. They are accosted by a number of obnoxious people who want an autograph, including Dog the Bounty Hunter. Every time someone accosts him, he shouts at them, “YAHHH!” or on occasion, if he’s really angry, “Biggeteh-bah! Biggeteh-Bah!” He arrives at school and is accosted by a nerd who purports to be his biggest fan. Soulja boy screams at him pretty loudly and incoherently.

Following this, Soulja Boy does a rap about his report card.

Is this inanity, or the apex of musical deconstructivism? I would argue the latter. Soulja presents the most overused rap cliché – the angry song. You have heard it more times than 50 Cent got shot, from “Eff the Police” to “Party Up” to “What U Know.” What are these songs if not macho posturing? Is this nothing more than a more literate attempt to climb to the top of a cave and shout, to prove that you are the alpha dog, that you are not to be effed with? At the heart of it, isn’t all we’re trying to say “Yahhh!”

In two songs, Soulja Boy has taken the two strongest standbys of modern rap and broken them down to their essence. With the revelation of “Yahhh!” as nothing more than a commentary on the modern rap game, “Crank That” takes on new significance. Could the discord within “Crank That” be intentional?

It’s not hard to imagine he could just be commenting on the inanity of our topics of choice. Where once, sex was only discussed discreetly among friends, in modern times the most inane sex acts are in the common lexicon – even the ones that have no sexual attraction under the most obscure of fetishes. There’s something underwhelming about the standard practices, that to become a number one hit, all anyone has to do is talk about dancing and sex, put his song on myspace, and let it roll downhill. Perhaps Soulja realized this, realized that there’s a formula for success, and with an accurate enough satire, he too could make millions. And so, Soulja Boy has pockets full of cash because his song ringing from every cell phone – because he has broken down the other urban standard that has carried the career of everyone from R. Kelly to T-Pain to R. Kelly featuring T-Pain. Where these elder statesmen of the game have injected a little tenderness into their lyrics in an attempt to capture both sexes, engendering a larger market share (pun not intended), Soulja has torn back the curtains and exposed the primal desires: let’s have sex and dance.

There’s a sort of bizarre brilliance to his lyrics – it’s hard to imagine this man as some sort of mental slowpoke when you take into account his earnest working-man’s demeanor and his keen business sense that took him from myspace to MTV in a period of 6 months, Grammy nominated before he can buy a lotto ticket. Soulja wasn’t “discovered,” he made himself into a phenomenon. True, he might only be seventeen years old. But it’s hard to take all these factors into account and write him off as a fluke. My guess? We’ll be hearing a lot more from Soulja Boy in the future. He’ll be there, putting out material that reminds the rest of the rap game how stupid they sound. I’m reminded of Alan Sokal’s sabotage of postmodernist thought when I say the slyest satire can become indistinguishable from the real thing when imposed on a public that has gotten, frankly, a little lazy.
Feb 23, 2008
Opiate of the Masses.
Hey guys, I know I promised what I was gonna write about next. Truth be told, I think that might hold me back because both those entries will take some doing, and I just had a thought I think I have to share. So bear with me for a while, I'll talk about Ike and Grant and Wale eventually, but I had a bit of a philosophical thought on rap. So don't be too disappointed.

A good hip hop beat is the most democratic kind of music there is. A lot of us internet types, I think, tend to be very gung-ho about this democracy thing politically and a bit meritocratic musically. That hip hop songs are the ones that get stuck inside your head so often says something about their universal appeal. They're able to appeal to the lowest common denominator without being a total void. I find that hip hop tends to be a lot more accessible - a good, periodic beat or a clever play on words can latch to your brain faster than the most intricate of melodies. And that might be where a little of the pretentiousness comes from, that because hip hop, with its catchphrases, cross-referencing, signatures (by which I mean when a rapper says his own name, the most iconic of which starts with "One, two, three and to the four") appeals to our basest instincts - repetition and familiarity - it's somehow less worthy. But I think a rapper's job is to catch you and keep you, and that's where the biggest talents really show off. The best kind of hip hop song catches you, and might appeal to the casual listener who only needs one anchor point to latch onto, but offers something substantial to a more pretentious listener as well. Now, if only people weren't so up their asses with "Everything except rap and country!" and could realize that the catching is an important part.

Also, I think hip hop is more substantial because they're saying what they mean instead of what sounds good. This whole post might just be me romanticizing the genre, but my view of rap is that it's easy for anyone to access and feels so inclusive, and that my old stronghold of indie rock is getting more pretentious and elitist by the day. A lot of that indie rock culture is just a series of pats on the back, reminding us that we're so cultured to be able to dig this, that we're so much less bound by the conglomerations telling us what to listen to. We don't associate with the lesser folks, oh no. Not good enough.

Am I really the only one who is just constantly impressed at how good rappers are at writing? I can write obtuse lyrics for some song any day, but I'm not sure I could ever write a passable rap. Nothing's more intellectually stimulating to me, aurally, and yet I don't feel like it would go over any of my friends' heads. Perhaps under it, with their sneers, but never over it.

Rap!

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