Skip to content

between the (thin) lines

May 16, 2016

FullSizeRender (1)

Thin lines move through our days constantly: don’t bother looking for them, but understand they make the day. Nibs or dots, etching every moment, rich in blue-black chances. Daydreaming bothers me, but only because it’s so constant. Senses and scents tend to draw the lines in, usually in the morning. All swirl in the daylight, dust particles in the sunlight slicing through the curtains.

That’s all I’ve got. But don’t read into it too much: I just have writer’s block.

Advertisements

Cool like lemonade: MCA

May 16, 2012
tags:

 

I discovered the Beastie Boys in a way that characterizes their reach: a white kid in surburbia*, I experienced the culture and mayhem of NYC via the music of three punks who decided to make hip hop. Although I still hear their first record as (kind of) a prank on many levels (Licensed to Ill is mostly a rap record for the sake of making a rap record), their following work has brought me much joy, insight, and solace.

While Paul’s Boutique is my favorite record of theirs (and one of the most important moments in hip hop†), I thought of Hello Nasty when I heard of Adam Yauch’s death. Hello Nasty came out in 1998, the summer my best friend (and fellow b boy) committed suicide. I was 15 and I was devastated; it’s a moment that I would not come to terms with (at least better terms with) for years. In those early days, Hello Nasty was my go-to CD. My friend and I had both loved “Intergalactic” when it came out – and Hello Nasty is full of other great hip hop tracks. (In short, Hello Nasty is Paul’s Boutique 2000.) But the last half of the record was introspective and songs like “I Don’t Know” and “Instant Death” brought me peace when I was confused about life and what to do “when your man kills himself.” It’s hard to fully explain how much it – and the Boys – offered me help when I was scared to ask for it.

The tributes, the tweets, the shout outs – all have been touching and comforting in mourning a musician that impacted my life so deeply. And a lot of them have been dedicated to the entire group – which is fitting: I can’t think of a group more integrated than the Beastie Boys – most notably their “three man weave.”‡ Honestly, it’s just hard to imagine the group without all three of them.

Forming in their late teens, the Beastie Boys’ career has been non-stop and remarkable: the different albums and countless videos they’ve made; the charitable concerts (for which MCA was a key figure) and tours they’ve produced; and all that has happened since MCA’s diagnosis in 2009 – coming to terms with their frat fool past with “Right to Fight Revisited,” Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – all is a testament to their work ethic and incredible drive.

I’ve been digging through their career these past few weeks. Now, more than ever, is a good time for me to remember that life – love, family, work, death – is full of transitions.

 

___________________________________________________________

*if “surburbia” still means outside the urban landscape… and is extended to a small town in the middle of the desert.

†at an odd time: by 1989, hip hop was equally accepted and disregarded as a genre that depended on sampling. Paul’s Boutique, roughly 10 years after hip hop’s birth, promoted sampling as an innovation – something that was long overdue, and something that would be grossly abused in the decade to come.

‡shameless plug: see December’s 12th’s “Top 12 Hip Hop Collaborations” (#7)…. or just listen to them.

Top 12 Hip Hop Collaborations of All Time

December 12, 2011

12.          “Sterns to Western” – People Under the Stairs ft. Cap’n Kidd Lexus (2000)

          “Sterns to Western” swings, allowing the three MCs to build up a stream of consciousness: there’s Kidd Lexus’ champ intro (“It’s like fabulous, we all-out kings, blessed and talented/ So who’s here to handle this? I’m the prime candidate”), digressing with Double K self promoting that they’re “kinda clever, like old Jewish dudes,” and ending with Thes One pulling out all the Paul’s Boutique stops: comparing fake MCs to “Alf pogs,” his style to a BART turnstile, and referencing the war between Springfield and Shelbyville. Between it all is a chorus of an old man la la la-ing like their jazz grandfather enjoying the show.

 

11.          “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad” – Busta Rhymes ft. Jamal, Redman, Keith Murray, Rampage, and Lord Have Mercy (1996)

          Erik Sermon (not on this track) formed Def Squad after the split of EPMD; Busta Rhymes formed Flipmode Squad after the breakup of Leaders of the New School. Both collaborations debuted on Busta’s first solo album, The Coming. “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad,” an 8-minute track split in half, has some of the hardest gems out there: Redman’s psychotic but poetically sharp “Manslaughter in alphabetical order for four quarters/ Raw water turns sons to granddaughters,” and Keith Murray (“You stupid niggas always got something smart to say/ And probably can’t even spell TWA”) and Lord Have Mercy (“My maneuvers drop like lugers/ Illegal, maybe Lethal, like Gibson’s/ Spitting blessings with three Weapons”) both in classic form.

 

10.          “Black Trump” – Cocoa Brovaz ft. Raekwon (1998)

          Wu-Tang Clan’s chef cooks up his East Coast Mafioso style with label mates Cocoa Brovaz (aka Smif-N-Wessun) over an obvious West Coast beat, trading rhymes about street craps, gun clapping, and the kind of cats they roll with: “You see my set of twin-hit men from Bushwick?/ Two chicks with the twenty-two TECs, bitch?” By the end of the track, you know who’s holding weight and carrying heat: all three of them.

 

9.          “Cowboys” – Fugees ft. Pacewon, Rah Digga, Young Zee and John Forté (1996)

          Drawing more from Westerns than the actual West, Fugees and fellow New Jerseyans the Outsidaz treat everyone from the Sundance Kid to John Wayne as mythical figures, and remind NYC that the Wild Wild West is only one state away. Each of the first three verses is shared by two MCs – the desperados Wyclef and Pacewon (the latter pulling out his gun to “Plug Two like Trugoy”), followed by Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga liberating saloon girls, then Young Zee and the Gambler Pras – while the fourth verse is a Man with No Name coda by John Forté. A dynamic collaboration, Young Zee sums it up best: “When the Outs hook up with the Refugees/ It’d be more niggas than the NAACP.”

 

8.          “The Show”/“La Di Da Di” – Doug E. Fresh ft. Slick Rick (1985)

          A grandiose showcase of Doug E. Fresh’s beatboxing, “The Show” recounts the typical (and atypical) problems with organizing a rap concert – cats not showing up, hitting stage last minute, not being able to locate one’s shoe horn – and oh yeah, features the debut of hip hop’s first true storyteller, Slick Rick. The single for “The Show” is a metaphor for hip hop’s history: the MC (Slick Rick) originally introduced and celebrated the DJ (in this case, Fresh), until the MC stepped in front of the set and became the central figure (example: the B-side “La Di Da Di,” Slick Rick’s non-stop classic).

 

7.          “Get It Together” – Beastie Boys ft Q-Tip (1994)

          “Get It Together” is four MCs playing a game of 21 and shooting the shit: John Stark’s importance to their beloved Knicks; Q-Tip’s Queens-specific Timberland boots (that MCA points out in such a way that I swear it means Tip is wearing them on the court); Joanie Loves Chachi (with a rhymed-in comparison to Ad Rock and his then wife, Ione); and annoying game interruptions (“The phone is ringing/ Oh my god…”). The Beastie Boys mix Q-Tip into their three man weave so well, it’s a wonder that this collaboration didn’t happen years before (I mean, Tip’s references to zany shit like pineapple Now and Laters, John Holmes, and Ma Bell are noticeably missing from Paul’s Boutique).

 

6.          “Symphony” – Marley Marl ft. Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane (1988)

          Marley Marl, hip hop’s Art Blakey, introduces heavyweights Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane in pass-the-mic fashion. On “The Symphony,” the verbal beat down to beat, each MC is introduced by the last – i.e. names are given, and then taken. Masta Ace shifts rhythmically and lyrically so often, it’s hard to catch him (“Once you hear the capital A rap, it’ll stay/ With you for awhile, it won’t go away”). Craig G Rap takes the POV of the target MC, if only to emasculate him: “I apologize. Oh yeah, and uh/ Can I have your autograph for me and my grandma?” Then there’s Kool G Rap, toned down compared to his later work but he still raps “your metaphor sucks more than a whore.” And Big Daddy Kane grabs the mic last and makes a lasting impression: “And battling me is hazardous to health/ So put a quarter in your ass, cos you played yourself.” After 20 odd years, “The Symphony” remains the definitive example of MC bravado.

 

5.          Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)

          Mos Def and Talib Kweli collaborated when both MCs were fresh and at the top of their game – and hip hop was losing its identity in mainstream radio. “Brown Skin Lady” is lyrical admiration akin to Miles Davis covers. “Respiration” bridges the gap between old school hip hop and the then situation, using Style Wars as a backdrop for a culture struggling in a city, much like the people living and dying there. “Children’s Story” is a line-for-line rhyme-for-rhyme retelling of Slick Rick’s signature rap, turning Rick’s cautionary tale about crime into a tale about MCs and producers selling hip hop out. Also on “Children’s Story,” Mos was one of the first to clarify that the East Coast/West Coast beef was grossly manufactured by the media. But not to ignore the talents lost to that beef, Mos and Talib pay tribute to Tupac and Biggie: with the single “Definition,” Mos and Talib rightfully declared Black Star as the “best alliance in hip hop” in a new era that hoped to be defined by artistry and not militant competition. (And “Good Jesus!” the song is a damn rhyme-fest.) A wake-up call to hip hop’s caretakers, Black Star appeared only once (so far…) – but with warnings that still apply to today.

 

 

 4.          Gorillaz (2001 – present)

          Blur’s Damon Albarn took trip hop’s collaborative mentality and created Gorillaz, an open forum for some of hip hop’s best verses in the last 10 years. Whether digging up the underground’s finest (Del the Funky Homosapien, MF Doom, Roots Manuva) or the shy (reminding everyone how great De La Soul is with “Feel Good Inc.” and “Superfast Jellyfish”); or finding the right MC for the right track (Mos Def’s Convoy-spit on “Stylo;” the paranoid antics of Bashy and Kano on “White Flag;” Snoop Dogg’s high-from-Mr. Bubble verse that opens Plastic Beach); all of Gorillaz’s hip hop collaborations have been solid. And: Bootie Brown’s tale of a soldier returning from war (highlighting the general bullshit of war) on “Dirty Harry” might be hip hop’s greatest verse.

 

3.          “Act Too (Love of My Life)” – the Roots ft. Common (1999)

          An ode to hip hop that’s as sweet (and heartbreaking) as any pop ballad, “Act Too (Love of My Life)” touches on hip hop’s finer points and comments on its state in 1999. Black Thought raps his “I Only Have Eyes For You” verse, using his personal history (his childhood romance) with hip hop: “It was all for you, from the door for you/… From the start, Thought was down by law for you/ Used to hit up every corner store war for you.” And Common masterfully returns to his “I Used to Love H.E.R.” metaphor, blaming crossover gents Hype Williams (“Caught in the Hype Williams, and lost Her direction”) and Puff Daddy (“Her Daddy, he beat Her, eyes all Puff”) for using hip hop as a commodity (and abandoning her as such). In the end, hip hop was treated the same way jazz was: neglected by the originating culture/exploited by another, a central theme of Things Fall Apart. “Act Too (Love of My Life)” is the album’s thesis statement.

 

2.          “Big Brother Beat” – De La Soul ft. Mos Def (1996)

          Of all the tracks that have introduced new MCs to the world, none have matched “Big Brother Beat” and its introduction of Mos Def. Vets De La Soul took on the MC from the unsigned Medina Green, and passed the torch by making Mos an honorary member of Native Tongues. At 22, Mos had already developed his particular style: his grimy slur that gives his lyrics such fluidity; and his diachronic sense of rap, interpolating Rakim’s definition of “MC:”

“I don’t bug out or chill or be acting ill/ No tricks in 86, it’s time to build/ Eric B(e) easy on the cut, no mistakes allowed/ Cos to me, MC means “move the crowd”
to
“I don’t bug out, I chill – don’t be acting ill/ No tricks in 96, Native Tongue gon’ build/ But we be easy on the cut, no mistakes allowed/ Cos to me, MC means “making cream,”

a line about financial security (not to be confused with financial obsession). Mos Def’s career accelerated shortly after this collaboration and he remains hip hop’s resident lyricist and most vocal advocate.

 

1.          “Scenario” – A Tribe Called Quest ft. Charlie Brown, Dinco D, and Busta Rhymes (1992)

          A Tribe Called Quest brought on Leaders of the New School (fellows of Native Tongues) for a 4-minute anthem to settle the score for those who still viewed hip hop as a fad. “Scenario” couldn’t have come at a better time: it was a stake for creditability as it became a mild hit, proving hip hop as a legitimate art from, with a great back beat and catchy yet impossible to match lyrics.

          And Phife raps the importance of hip hop at the beginning (and starts what is one of his best constructed verses): “A-yo, Bo knows this and Bo knows that/ But Bo don’t know jack, cos Bo can’t rap.” Jester Charlie Brown keeps the posse going and sets up fellow Leader Dinco D, who chops up words with sushi chef esteem: “So yo, the D, what? The O/ Incorporated I-N-C into a flow.” Tribe’s head, Q-Tip, waxes on not being a criminal, having better hearing in his right ear, and the pride he has in colleagues (“I love my young nation”) – just cold lamping while his crew backs up every line.

          The only break comes with Tip introducing Busta Rhymes, who builds the tension back up before… “BOOM! from the cannon/ Not bragging/ Try to read my mind, just imagine/ Vo-cab-u-lary’s necessary/ When digging into my library.” In a rhythm – and volume… and voice – that’s distinctly his, Busta closes “Scenario” as the posse comes back with the chant. One of the most re-playable songs, the greatest hip hop collaboration doubles as hip hop’s greatest track.

          And that, my friends, is the scenario.

New poem: “This Wall”

November 27, 2011
tags:

I wrote this this morning. Any input or advice is appreciated.

This Wall

Facing the same direction
this wall

this wall
immune to use
this wall
waiting for the right words
to crumble to
the same words you used
to crumble to
in those sweet sweet days
when I could sing you
to sleep against the wall
when I could keep you
to your promises
when I could expect you
and when I could expect you
to think I wasn’t crazy
and when I could expect you
to think at all
to think beyond
the wall
even as I pushed you
against it
and you pulled me
into you
and beyond the wall that took
nothing we gave and gave
and gave
no one else a reason
other than love–

when you loved
someone as crazy as me
and I loved you

The Shit People Leave in Library Books #1: “Atomic, Biological and Chemical Warfare Pocket Reference” wallet card

November 20, 2011

I’ve been going through my stuff, and will be posting the things people leave in library books – the interesting and random things that people forget in books (or in boxes of donated books, in some cases).

Up first: “Atomic, Biological and Chemical Warfare Pocket Reference” wallet card.

 

From what I can tell, this was issued to Navy personnel in the 1950s. It’s strange now (I hope), but given the atmosphere then, this card could have come in handy… at least once.

 

Note the “NavPers 10699” and “GPO” – the latter meaning “Government Printing Office.”

 

Look at all those instructions! (I feel sorry for the guy who hadn’t read through this thing – up, down, left and right – until he heard an alarm. Scramble!)

 

The double-sided insert. Note: “1950” on the left card.  “During and After Burst” is particularly interesting – how to determine when (and how important it is) to get back to work, with the added “Remember – the large casualties in Japan [after we bombed them] resulted from failure to provide air raid warning and from lack of organization”.

Office chart and Progress! In Tutoring!

November 5, 2011

(Found a ghost in my room…)

Post-downtime office chart

“FML”  – deamau5 (cut at 2’46)* > “Fuckin’ in the Bushes” – Oasis >
“Halfway Home” > “Crying” > “Dancing Choose”† – TV on the Radio >
“Lotus Flower” > “Give Up the Ghost” > “Separator” > “Codex” – Radiohead >
“The Gentle Hum of Anxiety”‡ > “Intriguing Possibilities” – Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch

*and that’s about all I can take from deadmau5 (and I admit that’s partly because of titles like “FML” and “Moar Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff”)
†isn’t that the GREATEST TITLE??
‡Anyone else hear the similarities between “Codex” and “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(box head)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been working one-on-one with a student this semester and we’ve made a lot of progress. Only two weeks ago I was worried that I wasn’t helping him; that as much as I wanted to see him focus and prioritize, I wasn’t sure I was even reaching him. Now I see him putting energy in the right direction – what needs to be done first, working a little bit on this assignment here and this assignment there, and even addressing fears: as his class presentation approached, he asked if we could set up mock runs so he could do his PowerPoint presentation a few times before it was due. I told him I’d love to help him and I needed to ask the tutorial coordinator. Part of me expected a “Yes… but we’ll assign someone else…” Instead, my boss has been fully supportive and helped me set it up. She’s new this semester, and we did click immediately, but I’m not sure I could have predicted working for such a positive and supportive person. In the end, my tutee gave two mock presentations – well. Yeah, it was a good feeling – and just the satisfaction I needed from a job.

(Mary Magdalene is doing well.)

Kevin… a cat?

October 2, 2011

(I was breaking into someone’s house last night when I saw this particularly friendly cat. I looked at his name tag and saw… Kevin? Did they chose such a human/mundane name because he’s actually magical? In honor: )

Kevin’s office chart

1. “Under Your Spell” – Desire> “A Real Hero” – College (ft. Electric Youth)> “Tick of the Clock” – Chromatics

2. “Kick Your Teeth” – Cliff Martinez/”Feral” – Radiohead (mixed at will) > “Lotus Flower” – Radiohead

(trust me on this…> )

3. The Whole Love – Wilco