Start Over…Again

As Outkast rapped, “Incarceration without rehabilitation really don’t mean shit.”

Less than two years ago, Torey Baker was an 18-year-old high-school dropout facing prison time for robbery. When a judge in the Bronx sentenced him instead to six months in an alternative program, plus probation, he considered himself lucky. But he didn’t know the half of it.

On his first day, the counselor who administered his drug test asked Mr. Baker if he had any interest in hip-hop. Because if he did, there was a recording studio right down the hall. (Miet)

Where a Career in Hip-Hop Starts With a Court Sentence –

UPDATE: And on the other side of the spectrum, Charles Blow writes of Louisiana’s local prisoners, most of them nonviolent,

These ex-convicts, with almost no rehabilitation and little prospect for supporting themselves, return to the already-struggling communities that were rendered that way in part because so many men are being extracted on such a massive scale. There the cycle of crime often begins again, with innocent people caught in the middle and impressionable young eyes looking on.

Plantations, Prisons and Profits –

Some Links For the Ladies

I’ma post these female-centric links so that I can close all these dingdang tabs clogging my browser. Because gender relations are part of the hiphopocracy, too.

Year of the Young Woman by Jessica Valenti–published last week in The Nation

The article carried forward by Melissa Harris Perry

Hillary Clinton eats hamburgers with Elizabeth Warren, important discussion ensues

Urban Cusp interviews Issa Rae, director/writer/star of Awkward Black Girl

Jewess Hilda Silverman fights for an ethical Israel

Reads to Read: D’Angelo, Kraftwerk, Ester Dean

Postscripts to/Suggested Reading to my post, Beyond the “Ghetto University” from March…

From GQ’s piece on D’Angelo, by Amy Wallace, which you and I both should read in its entirety:

Already Michael [that is, D’Angelo] was developing into the musical connoisseur that D’Angelo is today. His Uncle CC was a truck driver who moonlighted as a DJ, and he had a huge record collection. This was the beginning of what D now calls “going to school”—delving deep into jazz, soul, rock, and gospel history, from Mahalia Jackson to Band of Gypsys, from the Meters to Miles Davis to Donald Byrd, from Sam Cooke to Otis Redding, from Donny Hathaway to Curtis Mayfield to Sly Stone to Marvin Gaye. When Michael was 8, Gaye had just made a comeback with “Sexual Healing” and won two Grammys. “Everybody was talking about him,” D’Angelo recalls. “Everybody.”

Also, Sasha Friere-Jones on Kraftwerk at the MoMA opens the piece with coverage of Kraftwerk’s influence on early hip-hop and pop music.

The Bronx d.j. and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa was in the audience at the Ritz. He had found Kraftwerk’s 1977 album, “Trans-Europe Express,” in a record bin several years earlier. “I was just looking at these guys on the cover and saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, what the hell is this?’ ” he told me. “Wow! Something’s here that’s very funky, and I got to play it for my audience.” He added that Kraftwerk’s battery of gear at the Ritz made it look as if they were playing “washing machines.” (Because of the difficulty of re-creating their recordings with such complicated equipment, the band has visited the U.S. only seven times in its forty-two-year history. Now they use laptops.) The following year, Bambaataa, along with the musician John Robie and the producer Arthur Baker, combined the beat of “Numbers,” from “Computer World,” and the melody of the title track from “Trans-Europe Express” to create “Planet Rock,” an early hip-hop song that spawned a small clutch of genres, including electro, Miami bass, and Brazilian baile funk. “Computer World,” Kraftwerk’s masterpiece, sold less than a million copies, yet its influence has been surprisingly broad—even Coldplay, for its single “Talk,” from 2005, has used a melody from the album.

One song on “Computer World,” called “Home Computer,” has a distinctive, ascending arpeggio that feels a bit like bubbles rising quickly through mercury. That arpeggio shows up in LCD Soundsystem’s single “Disco Infiltrator,” from 2005. It’s also referenced in Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control,” from the same year. A few days ago, I was walking through SoHo and passed the Uniqlo store, with its painfully fluorescent lighting, which illuminates only slightly less fluorescent clothing. Nicki Minaj’s hit “Starships,” a savvy combination of dubstep and traditional house, was bleeding onto the street. When I listened closely, I realized that this version was actually a mashup with one of the many songs that has used “Home Computer” ’s arpeggio.

A sample of a sample of Kraftwerk? Sample train detected! Unfortunately, Frere-Jones kept repeating the piece’s banal subheading, “How did a pop band end up in a museum?” Um, how did a pop band not end up in a museum? Have you seen pop bands? Or museums?

In fact, Whosampled, above, doesn’t know who Nicki sampled. Could it be Norwegian beatmaking duo Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, aka Stargate, the subjects of  John Seabrook’s  article, along with “‘top line’ writer Esther Dean”. They write songs for the likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson.  Plus Ester Dean can do this:

Dean has a genius for infectious hooks. Somehow she is able to absorb the beat and the sound of a track, and to come out with its melodic essence. The words are more like vocalized beats than like lyrics, and they don’t communicate meaning so much as feeling and attitude—they nudge you closer to the ecstasy promised by the beat and the “rise,” or the “lift,” when the track builds to a climax. Among Dean’s best hooks are her three Rihanna smashes—“Rude Boy” (“Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”), “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na COME ON”), and “What’s My Name” (“Oh, na-na, what’s my name?”), all with backing tracks by Stargate—and her work on two Nicki Minaj smashes, “Super Bass” (“Boom, badoom, boom / boom, badoom, boom / bass / yeah, that’s that super bass”) and David Guetta’s “Turn Me On” (“Make me come alive, come on and turn me on”). […]

“I go into the booth and I scream and I sing and I yell, and sometimes it’s words but most time it’s not,” she told me. “And I just see when I get this little chill, here”—she touched her upper arm, just below the shoulder—“and then I’m, like, ‘Yeah, that’s the hook.’ ” If she doesn’t feel that chill after five minutes, she moves on to the next track, and tries again.

Sorry For Partying: A Serial Novel

Hey guys, remember back in England when Charles Dickens used to publish his novels chapter-by-chapter in a London newspaper? Well, he got paid for it, so that obviously isn’t happening.

But I am taking a page from the history of books and trying this serial novel thing for myself, online. Yes, that’s right–I’m publishing a new novel a page at a time here on WordPress. It’s called Sorry For Partying, and you can read it right here. It’s a novel I worked on all year. I finally completed a draft in April, and now I’m re-writing it, posting my progress online–so don’t worry, I’m not asking you to read a first draft. Anyway, I hope you’ll check it out, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

– Tessa

Congratulations, Monsieur Hollande: What Obama Could Never Do

On Sunday, fiscal conservatives the world over freaked out when France elected its Socialist candidate for president, Francois Hollande, and ousted the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. While I am interested in the shifts this upset will cause in world affairs, I am more interested in the following campaign advertisement for Hollande, discovered by Pitchfork and brought to my attention by a friend.

 If you were wondering what I thought “Obama could never do,” it’s release a campaign video like this one. I mean, Obama invited Jay-Z to his 50th birthday bash and Fox News headlined its coverage, “Obama’s Hip-Hop BBQ Didn’t Create Jobs.” But because Hollande, a white man, does not have to worry about his electorate remembering that he is a Black man, he can explicitly reach out to French voters of color by featuring them in a campaign ad backed by the Jay-Z and Kanye West track “Niggas in Paris.” Umcensored.

Slate calls the ad “unlikely”; Pitchfork calls it “confusing” and “strange.” Neither seem to analyze it beyond the pun “That shit Creil,” where Creil is the name if a city shown a few times in the ad that is pronounced like Kanye’s “cray.” But this ad is amazing to me for so many reasons that neither publication seems willing to explore.

Fox News’ Obama birthday banner image

First, the title of the song. Hollande’s commercial literally depicts “Niggas in Paris,” even as it totally recontextualizes the subjects of the song. In the original, Ye and Jay are high-rolling American Black men partying in an idealized Paris. Jay raps, “If you escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up, too.” But in Hollande’s ad, these niggas in Paris aren’t high-rollers and they’re in their own country. In fact, the video is explicitly concerned with portraying people of color as French citizens, with constructing the French voting citizenry as a racially and culturally diverse body. Much of the ad consists of a multiracial cohort of people holding out their voter cards and smiling wildly. One of the first shots is of a woman in hijab, a symbol of Muslim religious practice that has become controversial  in much of right-leaning Europe. (In fact, full face veils are actually illegal in France.) There are also a lot of shots of Hollande speaking enthusiastically to folks who do or don’t look like him. Indeed, Hollande’s advertisement suggests that the people it depicts are more than “niggas in Paris,” that is, outsiders to be labelled in a place that does not belong to them: instead, they are French citizens with the power to shape their country’s future through voting.

A comment on Slate claims this ad was created by supporters, not by Hollande’s campaign itself. I don’t know. I wish Melissa Harris-Perry was here to talk about the construction of citizenship. But it’s all good. This video still rocks my political socks. What do you guys think?