Thursday, September 22, 2005

And what...

- Menace II Sobriety: Here’s my amateur Photoshopped Menace II Sobriety flier. I think it’s pretty hot, but the colors look a little janky. I hope this shit turns out OK in real life because the shit’s already sent to the printer.

- Books: I put down Stephen Talty’s Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White; A Social History yesterday when I picked up Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House. Mulatto America has been boring me a bit and so I was up in a bookstore just browsing on my lunch break, picked up Bringing Down the House and couldn’t help but buy it. It’s subtitled “The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” and it’s basically just the story of these 6 kids who perfected and updated an old technique called “counting cards” to win obscene amounts of money in Black Jack games. The beauty of it is that (a) it’s a true story and (b) they didn’t “cheat” in any sense of the word: their entire method was based on simple mathematics and probability. Calling it “simple” is a bit misleading though because even though the strategy is “simple,” there’s only a handful of people in the world with the mental capacity to “count the cards” accurately. The basic idea behind their “counting cards” scheme—at least as I understand it—was based on team play where one person would sit at a Black Jack table in a casino and play every round fairly steadily, counting the cards until the deck was at a favorable point (i.e. they’d count the number of high and low cards that came up until there was a strong probability that most of the cards remaining in the deck were high cards). Once the deck got to a point where there was a good chance that all that was left in the deck was high cards, the guy counting would secretly motion over for one of the other players to sit down at the table and bet away. I just picked up the stupid book yesterday and I’m halfway through the damn thing. It’s written quite well, but the nature of the story itself is what makes it so interesting. Cop it. It’s good. Bill Simmons is quoted on the back of it saying “This book made me want to gamble” or something. That’s silly though. Not everyone is smart enough to count cards like these kids. These are M.I.T. geniuses, not some slouches who got B+s in college calculus like you and me.

- Shoe Whore: The fuck is wrong with me? I’m spending money I don’t have on shoes, shoes, and shoes these days. I scooped up these silly New Balance jawns in the big city the other day, and a week ago my brother (thanks!) copped me these Air Talarias. But gosh darn it, nothing makes me feel like a new man like a new pair of shoes… except for maybe new records. Jorge Ben is killin’ me right now.

- DJ Shadow Book: I like DJ Shadow as much as the next guy, but what the fuck? People are writing books about him? In the now immortal words of one Ricky Watters: “For what? For who?” “Endtroducing” is certainly a great “instrumental hip-hop” album, but how relevant is “instrumental hip-hop” that we need a fucking book about it? “Endtroducing” will probably go down in history as the greatest instrumental hip-hop album ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s all that important in the grand scheme of the hip-hop narrative. Truth be told, DJ Shadow hasn’t made any real lasting or important contribution to this thing we know as hip-hop. He did help usher in a whole slew of beat digging fanatics (for better or for worse), but I can’t think of any really significant impact DJ Shadow has had on the culture as a whole. He made a cute little niche market project that filled a void, he’s proven himself to be a more than solid DJ, and he’s certainly made some pretty cool beats, but at the end of the day, I don’t think DJ Shadow should be given much more than a footnote in the history of hip-hop music(s). My initial thought is something folks have been saying about Shadow for years—he’s so popular because he’s white and I don’t think it’s really all that unfair to suggest that. But, perhaps it’s slightly more nuanced than that. As my dude faux_rillz has said about other hip-hop artsits in a different context, DJ Shadow makes “rap music for people who don’t like rap music.” Perhaps that too over-simplifies the situation, but I think it’s an interesting thing to think about. But, I will sum up by saying I can think of ten black producers who have had much more of a significant impact than DJ Shadow in the last decade alone. Furthermore, I can think of two white producers (Rick Ruben and Paul C) who deserve to have books written about them way before Mr. Davis (no disrespect). Whatever. Maybe I’m just hating. Rumor has it that he’s producing for this fella soon. What ever happened to the Banner/diplo collab?

- Bill Maher is a DAWB (Down Ass White Boy): I’m still shocked by the fact that Bill Maher was (is?) dating “super head” (God what a hilariously pejorative nickname), but now he’s chilling with Kid? No, not Jason Kidd… Kid from Kid ‘N Play.

- Earl: I saw that show “Earl” or “My Name is Earl” or “Hi I’m Earl” or whatever the fuck the other night. I thought it was pretty funny, but that’s just because I have an asexual crush on Jason Lee. Dude is the truth. For those not “in the know,” this bearded beauty first made a name for himself on a skateboard… specifically doing extremely stylish 360 flips. Dude even had a pro-model shoe on Airwalk. Anyway, I’ve mostly been a fan of dude because I was a skate nerd and it was cool watching this skateboarder become famous and play really dope roles in movies I genuinely liked (specifically Mall Rats and Chasing Amy). I can’t believe they have Video Days listed at Hah.

- Go Phils!: Bam!



At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Paren said...

It's been long enough... get some more fiction in your life, dude. Natasha and Other Stories - David Bezmozgis. Short fiction is still a viable format. hollaatchaliteratefriends.

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Shadow, yeah you're just hating. His contribution hasn't changed the very face of hip hop but i think it ushered in a whole new wave of hip hop production which was more detailed, had more movement and really developed over 3 to 4 minutes rather than the 3 minute loop.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Re: Shadow, yeah you're just hating. His contribution hasn't changed the very face of hip hop but i think it ushered in a whole new wave of hip hop production which was more detailed, had more movement and really developed over 3 to 4 minutes rather than the 3 minute loop.

I think this is a profound overstatement. You’d really have a hard time convincing me that hip-hop production isn’t still primarily preoccupied with repetition and simplicity. Perhaps Shadow did usher in a “new wave of hip hop production,” but it was only a momentary, niche market wave—a wave that I’d call more of an “eddy” than an actual wave. After all, who are these producers that are concerned with “more developed” production that isn’t just a “3 minute loop”? RJD2, Controller 7, Diplo’s “Florida” album, and the rest of the Bully guys? The most popular and most highly-respected producers (from Timbaland to Lil’ Jon to Just Blaze to the Neptunes and even Madlib) are all still largely focused on simplicity and percussion. And, honestly, you can’t get much more “disconnected from hip-hop” than the Downtempo records scene. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that most of Shadow’s contributions have been pretty significantly “outside of hip-hop.” After all, dude’s usually called up to do remix work for folks like the Verve or Radiohead before he is called up by 40-water or Jay-Z. I don’t think it’s imprecise to say that Shadow also popularized sampling for a lot of non-hip-hop folks (i.e. it wasn’t uncommon to find a lot of indy rockers that were more likely to incorporate samples into their music). And, perhaps this is just anecdotal evidence, but I find it striking that I know plenty of folks that really don’t like rap that really like “Endtroducing” and then many many folks that love rap and can’t stand “Endtroducing.” The point is: I really don’t think Shadow has made as much of an imprint on the landscape of hip-hop production that things like this book will have you believer. Sure, there were a few kids here and there that emulated him (I was even one of them), but he hasn’t made any significant impact on the landscape of hip-hop music itself that I can see.

And perhaps I'm just approaching him the wrong way. Maybe I should just appreciate him outside of the context of hip-hop. It's probably not inaccurate to say that Shadow helped usher in a new wave of producers that were interested in pieces that were "more detailed, had more movement and really developed over 3 to 4 minutes rather than the 3 minute loop." But, these producers weren't hip-hop producers.

I'm probably just hating.


At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

shadow is to hip hop what prog is to rock....

At 6:25 AM, Blogger emynd said...

shadow is to hip hop what prog is to rock....

Yeah, except the racial history of this country (and the cultural imperialism of black music[s])makes it a whole lot more complicated than that.

Your point is well-taken though.

I suppose my beef with the situation is that Shadow's aesthetic is viewed by a lot of people as "better" than the minimal, repitition of most rap music production. The problem to me is that this is a loaded value judgment, and a potentially cultural imperialist one.

All too often, I hear folks saying stuff like "This is what hip-hop production should/could be!" as if what it is right now isn't good in and of itself. Without fail, it is white folks who don't listen to "rap music" (outside of a bunch of white "underground" artists) who say this shit. It's silly and ignorant as far as I'm concerned and reminds me of the racist "rap is just jungle music!" bullshit. Which isn't to say that anybody that likes DJ Shadow beats more than say Lil' Jon's is racist or anything. But, I think there's a lot more at play than a lot of folks are willing to consider.



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