Monday, December 29, 2008

"YouTube dispute underscores music labels weak hand"

"The first thing kids do when they hear about a band now is go on YouTube to find out more, according to our focus groups," said an executive at one of the major music labels, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Not just kids, of course.

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pop Music: Licensing Everything

The notion of "selling out" seems to have completely gone by the wayside, as this article by Jon Pareles from today's New York Times shows. I really like Santogold and I thought she was kinda 'indy,' so I'm just astonished that 3/4 of her album has already been licensed.

Pareles lays out all the reasons why today's musicians are resorting to licensing, and it seems that we, the consumers, who are not buying albums and are doing lots of free downloading, are in part, or largely, to blame.

But is there no limit? Are their corporations that are just beyond the pale? What about Mary J. Blige shilling for CitiBank? Why would she want to align herself with a corporation so up to its neck in the subprime mortgage scandal, and the recipient of largest government bailout in history?

Read on:

Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan

Monday, December 01, 2008

More photos of the South Bronx, early '80s

The desolate landscape of hip-hop's ground zero. If you ever get discouraged, just look at these photos and imagine that one of the most vibrant cultural movements of the twentieth century was invented here. Check out the slideshow of Ray Mortenson's South Bronx photos, courtesy the New York Times. At left is one of them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sakamoto Kyu, "Sukiyaki"

This song was a number one hit on US Billboard charts in 1963, something no other Japanese musician has accomplished. The original title was "Ue o muite aruko" (Walking Along, Looking Up), and for some reason, it was sold under the name Kyu Sakamoto. As Ian Condry notes, "no food is mentioned in the Japanese original."

Here's a version with English translation.

East End X Yuri: J-Rap

According to Ian Condry, it was two 1995 hits by East End X Yuri that put rap on the map in Japan., and spawned the popular, "fun" brand of mainstream rap known as J-rap. The singles, "Maicca" and "Da.Yo.Ne" both sold about a million copies.

I think this is the song "Maicca":

Here's "Da.Yo.Ne":

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Race and the Safe Hollywood Bet"

Progress for African-Americans in Hollywood?

"With the stakes high, many studio executives worry that films that focus on African-American themes risk being too narrow in their appeal to justify the investment. Hollywood has nonetheless shown a willingness in recent years to bank more heavily on African-American actors and themes....

But Hollywood’s open-mindedness only goes so far. Studio executives remain hugely skeptical that moviegoers are impartial to race. “The bottom line is that the major studios want assurances that film projects have the potential to attract a significant white audience,” said Joe Pichirallo, a veteran producer whose latest film, “The Secret Life of Bees,” opened Friday."

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reeves: review

Check out this rap timeline, courtesy Jeff Chang and Mother Jones.

And go here for incisive critiques and updates on hip-hop activism, from Jeff Chang.

More music and video for Reeves, "Somebody Scream!"

DMX, "Get At Me Dog."

DMX, "Who We Be."

Eminem, "My Name Is."

Eminem, "White America"

Eminem, "Mosh."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More music/video for Reeves, "Somebody Scream!"

Notorious B.I.G., "Big Poppa."

Notorious B.I.G., "Hypnotize." Biggie goes Bond.

Jay-Z, "Hard Knock Life."

Jay-Z, "Big Pimpin'" (sample: Abdel-Halim Hafez).


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Music and vids for Chapter 8, Reeves, "Somebody Scream!"

(I guess we can credit Pac for popularizing this ugly style innovation?)

Tupac Shakur's "I Don't Give a Fuck," from 2pacalypse Now, 1991. Unlike much of his later work, the song is strongly anti-racist and critical of police violence.

I Just Dont Give A Fuck - 2 Pac

"Brenda's Got a Baby," from 2pacalypse Now, the poignant story of a 12-year girl who becomes pregnant, in which Tupac expresses tremendous sympathy for his subject.

Brendas Got a Baby - 2Pac

"Keep Ya Head Up," from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993), where Tupac expresses his support for stron sistas.

Keep Ya Head Up - 2 Pac

Video for "I Get Around," from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.. Fun and games, poolside.

"I Get Around"--the sound is better here than on the vid above.

I Get Around - 2Pac

"Holler If Ya Hear Me," from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.. Thug Life.

Holler If Ya Hear Me - 2Pac

"Dear Mama," from Me Against the World (1995). A heartfelt account of Pac's relationship with his mother.

Dear Mama - 2pac

"So Many Tears," from Me Against the World. Pondering mortality.

So Many Tears - 2Pac

"Skandalouz," from All Eyez on Me (1996). New levels of thug misogyny?

Skandalouz - 2 Pac/Nate Dogg

"California Love," from All Eyez on Me (1996). Hedonism, materialism, in Southern Cali. Gone are the urban blues and the resistance to police repression.


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Music for Chapter 7, Marcus Reeves' "Somebody Scream!"

"Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang," from Dr. Dre's The Chronic (1992), which introduces the world to Snoop Doggy Dogg. And g-funk.

"Let Me Ride," from The Chronic. Cali car culture, g-funk stylee. The video ends with footage of George Clinton's band Parliament, whose "Mothership Connection" and "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" are extensively sampled in the song.

"Gin and Juice," from Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle (1993), which gave a boost to Tanqueray and Seagram's sales.

"Who Am I? (What's My Name?)" from Doggystyle. You listen and you think, could g-funk ever have been possible if it weren't for George Clinton?

"For All My Niggaz & Bitches," from Doggystyle, "which turned venomous words for blacks and black women into badges of honor for all (including whites) to claim and wear proudly" (Reeves, 148).

Reeves doesn't mention it, but one of the best g-funk songs ever is Warren G's "Regulate" (1994).

And, "Cop Killer," from Ice-T's side project, thrash metal band Body Count (1992). This caused a major uproar, and prompted major labels to drop a number of hardcore acts. Eventually Ice-T agreed to take the song off the album Body Count. It's basically a punk "revenge fantasy." Listen to it here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Music and video for Chapter 5, Reeves, "Somebody Scream!"

The first local LA sensation, DJ Toddy Tee, with "Batterram."

Ice-T, with his first hit, "6 'N the Morning." (The video is nothing special, but at least you can listen to the song.)

The inspiration, the original rap gangsta, Schooly D, with "Signifying Rapper" (1988), off Smoke Some Kill.

NWA, "Straight Outta Compton" (title track from the 1989 album).

N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton by hushhush112

NWA, "Fuck the Police" (Straight Outta Compton).


NWA, "Gangsta Gangsta" (Straight Outta Compton).

The first defector from NWA, Ice Cube. "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)," from 1991's Amerikkka's Most Wanted. (Chuck D, and Hank and Keith Schocklee are co-writers with Cube, and Chuck makes a cameo.)

The Rodney King beating, March 3, 1991.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Music for Chapter 4 of Reeves, "Somebody Scream!"

The first single, "Public Enemy No. 1"

"Bring the Noise," from It Takes a Nation of Millions.

"Night of the Living Baseheads," the video, from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988).

"Don't Believe the Hype," from It Takes a Nation of Millions.

"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," the video, from It Takes a Nation of Millions.

"Fight the Power," from Fear of a Black Planet (1989).

"Fight the Power," the video, directed by Spike Lee.

Hank Schocklee of Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad comments on the current state of rap music

From an interview in Dazed Digital:

The pop culture business is monitored all the way round. Look at hip hop – it’s not saying anything any more. Hip hop used to be the voice of people. Who are the stars and what are they really talking about? I’m quite sure Lil Wayne is just as much of a rebel as he wants to be. He’s a rebel in every other aspect of his life – why is he not on record? Jay Z is a big icon, but at the same time, why are his records so safe? There are so many artists I could mention. In their real lives, there’ll be drugs involved, shootings and gun-running and all type of stuff, but the one thing they do manage is to make a safe record. Why don’t we hold up the artists that are talking about something real but got a clean background? If that doesn’t show the music industry is monitored, what does?

These days, Hank is way into dubstep, as you can hear from this mix put together by the Bomb Squad.

A tip of the tarbush to wayne&wax for turning me onto this.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Music and video for Chapter Three, Marcus Reeves' "Somebody Scream!"

"With the release of [Run D.M.C.'s] 'Sucker M.C.'s,' the earliest b-boy sound--the uncompromised funk and competitive nature of hip-hop music--finally arrived" (Reeves, 40).

Here, Run DMC perform "Sucker M.C.'s" on the shortlived TV show, "Graffiti Rock," from 1984. It's followed by some freestyling by Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee, and Special K.

Run DMC's "Rock Box," blending hardcore rap and heavy metal guitar. The first rap video ever played on MTV (1984).

Run DMC's "King of Rock," the title track from their platinum album (1985). "I'm the King of Rock, there is none higher/Sucker MCs should call me sire." African-Americans reclaim the mantle of rock'n'roll. View it here.

Hardcore competition to Run-D.M.C.: LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells," from his 1985 album, Radio.

And Eric B & Rakim's "Eric B is President," from the album, Paid in Full (1987).

From Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell (1986), which Rolling Stone called "the first true rap album"--"My Adidas," which marked the group as the first rap artists to get a sneaker endorsement deal.

And from the same album, Walk This Way," with Aerosmith.

Original Philly gangsta, Schooly D's "Smoke Some Kill" (1988). View lyrics here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Birthplace of the Hip-Hop Revolution: The South Bronx

Photographs (and descriptions) from Mel Rosenthal's In the South Bronx of America, courtesy Duke University Libraries. See the full exhibit here.

I was born and grew up in what is now called the South Bronx. After twenty years away, I returned in 1975, to a neighborhood in ruins. The sturdy well-constructed buildings that had once housed tens of thousands of people were gutted and burned out.

The last building left standing in the neighborhood was on the East 173rd through 174th Street block. A few days after this picture was made, the building was bulldozed and the people who lived there were sent to shelters and single room occupancy hotels.

And here are some vivid images of the South Bronx, from the opening to the 1981 film, Wolfen.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Product placement in pop music

From, this article by Eliot Van Buskirk: "Products Placed: How Companies Pay Artists to Include Brands in Lyrics."

Here's the punchline:

"things have gotten so weird in the music business that high-profile acts are inserting ads into their song lyrics. The next time you hear a brand mentioned in a song, it could be due to a paid product placement. And unlike magazines, songs are not required to point out which words are part of an advertisement."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the specials: rudeboy version 2--two-tone

more skins


Siouxsie Sioux: Fetish Wear, Swastika

One of the best examples of the kind of transgressive punk style, as described and analyzed in Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style--Siouxsie Sioux, of Siouxsie and the Banshees. As Hebdige observes, punks' use of the swastika was meant to shock the bourgeoisie, not out of any political affinity for Nazism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lord Buckley on Groucho Marx

Among other things, Buckley performs his "jive translation" of Shakespeare's rendering of Brutus' funeral oration for Julius Caeser.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Amy Winehouse and blackface

This is a particularly acute analysis of Amy Winehouse and her (mostly) occulted relation to the Black female vocal r&b/soul tradition, from Daphne Brooks, in The Nation.

"Black women are everywhere and nowhere in Winehouse's work."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"Uncommon Valor": More POW/MIA Disinformation

If you're looking for another film that propagates the POW/MIA mythology (effectively demolished in H. Bruce Franklin's Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, there is Uncommon Valor (1983), starring Gene Hackman. It airs pretty regularly on AMC.

I can only recommend it for historical/research purposes; not for any cinematic values.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Music and video to go with Chapters One and Two, Marcus Reeves' "Somebody Scream"

One of the deep sources of rap was Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay,) who "taunted opponents and incensed white America with his boastful rhymes" (Reeves, 8).

Another deep source: the Last Poets, "the New-York based poetry group who fused spoken word poetry and African rhythms with the message of black pride, nationhood, and activism" (Reeves, 9). "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution," from their first, self-titled album (1970). Lyrics are here.

One of the most famous original sources of the "break," or the instrumental break, that DJ Kool Herc used to construct his soundtracks, using two turntables, flipping back and forth, "extending a five-second breakdonw into a five'minute loop of fury" (Chang, 79). This is The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" (1973).

The first commercially successful rap recording, "Rapper's Delight," released in October 1979.

"Freedom," from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1980). The star is the DJ, Grandmaster Flash, the first time "non-hip-hoppers heard a hip-hop DJ ply his trade" (Reeves, 29).

But the real tour de force of Grandmaster Flash is this: "Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981).

Blondie's "Rapture," the first time rap was ever broadcast on MTV. With some lines that no one outside the exclusive downtown New York City scene could decode: "Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody's fly, D.J.'s spinning, I said, 'my, my,' Flas is fast, Flash is cool."

The video for Afrika Bambaata and the Soul Sonic Force's 1982 hit, "Planet Rock," complete with scenes of breakdancers, which ushered in rap's "electrofunk" era. "His crew dressed like a wild cross between a band of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and interstellar Afrofuturist prophets" (Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop, 170-71). The song samples Babe Ruth and Kraftwerk.

"Planet Rock," the longer, 12" version, in full effect.

The video for Afrika Bambaata and the Soul Sonic Force's 1983 release, "Renegades of Funk." Bam & co. align themselves with other renegades like Sitting Bull, Tom Pain, Martin Luther King, and Malxolm X.

This is the cover of the Renegades of Funk 12": Bam and the Soul Sonic Force as superheroes.

The video for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message" (1983). According to Jeff Chang, "The song was a home-studio concoction of Sugar Hill songwriter and house band percussionist Ed 'Duke Bootee' Fletcher, featuring a memorable synthesizer hook from Jiggs Chase...Bootee and sugar Hill mogul Sylvia Robinson could not interest Flash in recording it...But Robinson and Bootee recorded the track anyway, peeling off Furious Five rapper Melle Mel to add his last verse from a forgotten version of 'Superappin' [a song released by Grandmaster Flash in 1979, one month after "Rapper's Delight" appeared]...Flash saw where this was going, and he pushed th rest of the Five into the studio to try to rap Bootee's lines. It didn't work...The video appeared, with Flash and the crew lip-synching along to a rap only Mel had helped compose."

The record was the fifth rap single to hit gold.

At the end of the video is a streetside arrest skit that does feature the Furious Five.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Buying into Pabst Blue Ribbon

Farhad Manjoo penned a great review in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review of what appears to be a very important book: Rob Walker's Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are.

I was particularly intrigued by Manjoo's account of what Walker calls "murketing"-- the ad industry's "underground method of selling that depends on our complicit embrace of brands." By way of illustrating, Manjoo recounts Walker's story of Pabst Blue Ribbon, or "PBR," that is so beloved by today's punks. And I quote:

Consider Pabst Blue Ribbon. Beginning in the 1970s, the cheap beer that had long been synonymous with the blue-collar heartland began a steep decline, with sales by 2001 dipping to fewer than a million barrels a year, 90 percent below the beer’s peak. But in 2002, Pabst noticed a sudden sales spike, driven by an unlikely demographic: countercultural types — bike messengers, skaters and their tattooed kin — in hipster redoubts like Portland, Ore., had taken to swilling the stuff. When asked why, they would praise Pabst for its non-image, for the fact that it seemed to care little about selling.

Traditionally, a company that spots a sudden market opportunity responds by gearing ads toward the new customers. But Neal Stewart, Pabst’s marketing whiz, had studied “No Logo,” Naomi Klein’s anti-corporate manifesto, and he understood that overt commercial messages would turn off an audience suspicious of capitalism. Thus the company shunned celebrity endorsements — Kid Rock had been interested — and devoted its budget instead to murketing, sponsoring a series of unlikely gatherings across the country. Like “some kind of small-scale National Endowment for the Arts for young American outsider culture,” Pabst paid the bills at bike messenger contests, skateboarder movie screenings, and art and indie publishing get-togethers. At each of these events, it kept its logo obscure, its corporate goal to “always look and act the underdog,” to be seen as a beer of “social protest,” a “fellow dissenter” against mainstream mores.

Pabst’s campaign was designed to push beer without appearing to push it. To the extent that it conveyed any branding message at all, it was, Hey, we don’t care if you drink the stuff. To people sick of beer companies that did look as if they cared — don’t Super Bowl ads smack of desperation? — Pabst’s attitude seemed refreshing and inspired deep passion in its fans. Many customers did more than just buy the beer. Walker speaks to one who tattooed a foot-square Pabst logo on his back. Pabst’s low-fi marketing is “not insulting you,” the fellow tells Walker....

Walker doesn’t always pin down how much these marketing efforts contribute to the coffers of the companies that employ them. What he makes clear, however, is how thoroughly such campaigns invade the culture, especially youth culture. Members of a hyper-aware generation often hailed for their imperviousness to marketing are actually turning to brands to define themselves. Want to protest a “corporate” beer? Well, get a Pabst tattoo!

In reality, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s anticapitalist ethos is, as Walker puts it, “a sham.” The company long ago closed its Milwaukee brewery and now outsources its operations to Miller. Its entire corporate staff is devoted to marketing and sales, not brewing. “You really couldn’t do much worse in picking a symbol of resistance to phony branding,” Walker writes. But P.B.R.’s fans don’t care. In the new era of murketing, image is everything.

Pretty amazing, eh? Especially if, like me, you've been at punk events where everyone was consuming PBR like mad. Two things I find especially remarkable. First, that Pabst marketing studied Naomi Klein's No Logo to figure out how to sell PBR to the punks and the skaters. And second, that PBR has outsourced its operations to Miller. According to wikipedia, "In 2001, [Pabst] closed its last brewery in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The InBev purchase of Anheuser-Busch in July 2008 prompted Pabst to claim to be the largest American-owned brewer. In fact, it is a 'virtual brewer,' a marketing company whose 85 brands are brewed by either Miller or Lion."

"Sham" doesn't begin to describe it...despite what (Frank) Dennis Hopper says in Blue Velvet:

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nazi Rockers ... Fuck Off

From DC Larson, in Counterpunch.

Rock'n'roll was born from a multiplicity of racial and cultural idioms including r&b, hillbilly country, blues, bluegrass and gospel. Proudly embracing that taboo diversity, it thrust its middle finger into the aghast mug of stilted, button-down propriety. (I speak here of the raw, original item, and not subsequent, commercially-cultivated replicas.)

It acted as a socially-unifying component of the growing Civil Rights movement, and brought people together on the dance floor just as others would unite at polling places.

Not to paint too rosy a picture. It wasn't the entire solution but it did help spark the crucial process. And its service in helping to usher away racial segregation should not be forgotten.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Review of Somebody Scream!

“Soul Train” in 1976 (Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis)
Good review of Marcus Reeve's new book, Somebody Scream: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power. The book will be required reading in my Popular Culture class in the fall. I hope it works well!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

How Teens Learn to Buy Identity and Distinction (If They Read)

I thought this article, from Newsweek (March 17, 2008), was quite remarkable. Do we really want teenage girls to read? They could just watch t.v. to get this information.

Article to be read alongside Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste.

"Branding for Beginners," by Eve Conant

Chanel Vamp Lip Gloss, Jimmy Choo heels, Gauloises cigarettes, Absolut vodka: they're the kind of brand-name products you'd expect to find in a glossy magazine. But they're popping up with astounding frequency in novels aimed at teen girls, according to a new study by Naomi Johnson, a communications studies professor at Virginia's Longwood University. Johnson looked at six best-selling novels from the "Gossip Girl," "A-List" and "Clique" series, and found that brand names appeared an average of more than once per page: 1,553 references in all. Among them were 65 allusions to brand-name alcohols, cigarettes or prescription drugs. The brand names helped drive plotlines and define characters, says Johnson, who also noticed a degree of snobbery at work: almost all 22 references to Keds served to label the girl wearing them a loser. Other lessons: don't wear Target bikinis; do wear Chanel. (A spokesperson for Alloy Entertainment, a marketing-firm subsidiary that holds the copyright for each line of books, told NEWSWEEK that it does not accept payment for product placement in any of its titles.) "The Judy Blume books I read as a kid were about life lessons and defining yourself," says Johnson. "The life lesson here is that you can buy your identity."

Symptomatic quotes:

from Dial L for Loser: "Her purple eyelet Betsey Johnson halter dress...and BCBG wedges were way more eye-catching than Alicia's...sarong."

from Gossip Girl #8: Nothing Can Keep Us Together: "A few girls lounged in leather armchairs. Jenny recognized a red-and-white patterned Marc Jacobs top on one of them."

from The A-List: "Taste testing was done...between where Skye's sheer Galliano shirt ended and her low-slung D&G camouflage pants began."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The White Stripes: Thoughts on Immigration

From "Icky Thump":

Well, Americans:
What, nothin' better to do?
Why don't you kick yourself out?
You're an immigrant too.

Who's usin' who?
What should we do?
Well you can't be a pimp
And a prostitute too

Watch the video here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Globalization and pop music

From "As U.S. Pop Wanes Abroad, Talent Scout Looks Wide," Jeff Leeds, NY Times, December 5, 2007

Sales [of pop music] began shifting more than a decade ago. In 2000 roughly 68 percent of worldwide sales derived from so-called local repertory — artists working in their native country — up from 58 percent in 1991, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group in London. Though American stars like BeyoncĂ© and the Red Hot Chili Peppers still connect with fans in territories around the world, the ranks and global appeal of major United States acts appear to be waning, many music executives say. In Spain, for instance, only one American album — the soundtrack to “High School Musical 2” — is in the most recent Top 10 chart.