Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

My colleague James Fair and I did a short documentary piece on the veteran hip-hop artist Tame One for Wax Poetics TV. Tame talks about his experience as an independent artist and the politics of dealing with major labels back in the ’90s.

Click here to read the story that goes with it.

Advertisements

Vinyl Records

By Damian Ghigliotty

We used to call the best places and things gems because they were hard to find. Places and things you had to dig for.

Back in high school, my friends and I would spend a lot of our time (and lunch money) at the record store Fat Beats in the West Village. The biggest craze among us, as 16-year-old Brooklyn kids, was original, unfiltered underground hip-hop. It was the same music anyone can find on iTunes today, but back then — ’95-’99 for my graduating class — it was usually local, almost always on vinyl, and extremely sacred compared to what everyone else was listening to on the radio at that time. The only exceptions to that were Stretch & Bobbito, two well known voices on 89.9 FM (WKCR.) From 1 am to 5 am on Thursdays, they spun nothing but good hip-hop. And a lot of us stayed up to record it.

The albums and 12-inches that generated the biggest buzz across the five boroughs were quickest to disappear off the walls of Fat Beats, and one day my friend Frank and I became the envy of 20 other Brooklyn teenagers for having found two of the last original pressings of the debut Juggaknots LP (later re-released on CD as “Re:Release.”) I soon came to learn with a tinge of jealousy that Frank also owned an original pressing of the Company Flow “Funcrusher” EP, a fresh clear-green vinyl, and Frank later became a little jealous as well when he found out my sister’s friend had given me a copy of the original Slim Shady EP (though he won’t admit it now that Eminem’s beyond famous.) Funny enough, all three of those records had plain white sleeves, meaning no cover art and no pictures of what the artists looked like.

When the internet started to become a recognized place to find and buy independent music — I would argue around the beginning of 1997 — my friends and I discovered a website called Sandbox Automatic that gave us instant access to even harder to find records. It was a sudden maturity in our exposure to the whole subculture of hip-hop and we went to the site as much as we could to buy albums, EPs and singles that record shops like Fat Beats and Beat Street in Brooklyn didn’t carry. Less local, but just as precious and just as tangible when the packages finally came in the mail. Then suddenly, the next few years shot ahead something like this:

I quickly jumped into the first wave of the Napster phenomena in my first semester of college, went back to buying records when I came back to the city feeling guilty, had trouble getting those records onto my computer, awkwardly began buying CDs (blasphemy though it was), got tired of spending money on full-length CDs, quickly moved onto LimeWire, then SoulSeek, and occasionally iTunes, where my access to music — hip-hop, rock, soul and otherwise — thrives today.

Needless to say, most of the value we placed on underground hip-hop throughout high school has dissipated with the past. The physical records will always look and feel like gems in a way, especially caked in dust these days, but in 2008 that same music is ubiquitous and no longer hard to find. And that’s a disappointment at times. Not just due to personal nostalgia, but also due to a fear that when I have kids one day they won’t be able to cherish something the rest of the world hasn’t already seen or heard.

And here’s the much needed caveat I can’t seem to find a proper place for: I hold no resentment against the growth of the Internet and digital music (only a minor grudge), nor am I adverse to other forms of digital media, or digital networking sites like facebook, or blogging (though I hate the word.) But I do believe the ultimate downside to the digital era hasn’t been fully realized yet. Or I’m too reluctant to join an online chat group about it.

Since last year I’ve been a regular contributor to one of the world’s oldest hip-hop magazines, HHC, based out of London. As a personal formality of sorts, whenever I interview artists I ask them what they think of the Internet as a promotional tool. And almost every time I get the same response albeit in different form: “It’s great.”

“But don’t you feel like hip-hop is becoming oversaturated?” I ask.

“Nope, I stand out,” is the usual reply.

It’s arguable that iTunes and LimeWire have been good for most independent artists — since so few choose to stay underground. But something was lost in the transition to ubiquity and it wasn’t just the physical embodiment of music.

The Birth Of Apathy

Posted: April 16, 2007 in Education, History, Media, Music, Politics

apathy2web_copy8.jpg

(Written in August, 2005) By Damian Ghigliotty

(Photo by Michael Hicks)

Robert Dylan Smith, a twenty-eight-year-old internet marketer living in Sacramento, epitomizes a body of America that continually shrugs its shoulders. Back in 1978, Smith’s parents choose the name Robert Dylan to instill a sense of righteousness in their future son—Janice in the event of a daughter. But, unlike his mother and father, who doggedly protested the Vietnam War, Smith has no interest in political activism. He sees himself as a regular, middle-class worker who likes to party with his friends, listen to Creed, and watch reality television. His one dream for the future, aside from buying a summer house on a marijuana grove, is to play as a quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. At the same time, Smith casually admits that he lost his ability to throw after graduating high school, and only dreams about playing again because in his mind: most dreams are fantasies, unless you’re that guy that married Britney Spears. Fantasies aside, Smith happily sees himself in the near future living a peaceful, everyday life on the West Coast, and vows to move to Vancouver if the situation in Iraq ever calls for a return of the draft.

Having been raised in a liberal household, Robert Smith is fully aware of the problems occurring in and beyond America, but refuses to ever protest out of a fear of legal repercussions. On the other hand, he argues that America’s youth as a whole have become too discouraged from making any real efforts, since a few drops in the bucket won’t ever amount to anything. Ultimately though, Smith has no problem openly admitting that if he really cared like his parents, he would be doing something to make a change.

It’s far too easy to blame young Americans like Smith alone for our country’s overall lack of political interest, unlike forty years ago when everyone was prepared for the next big revolution. The main reason: We still put our undivided trust in what we see, hear and read in the media, just like a lot of our parents did back then. While our country’s general attitude towards war, race, homosexuality, religion and politics has shifted from decade to decade, the fact that most of us are conditioned to act and think a specific way remains constant. The biggest difference between the 1960’s and now is how we’ve become so comfortable ignoring issues that don’t affect us directly.

On a daily basis, we’re being pressed by our schools and home communities to think about the world’s problems only a trivial amount. By our parents and extended families even less. The largest bulk of our awareness lies in the hands of MTV, AOL, FOX and every other media conglomerate that appeals to teenagers and young adults. Just as in the late sixties America’s youth were inspired by artists like Bob Dylan, Janice Joplin and the causes that gave birth to their views, today’s younger generations are being influenced by Nelly, Paris Hilton and Nike. This in turn transforms the idea of social activism into arbitrary, half-hearted movements; trends at best.

Why has Tibet been such a hot subject for young American activists over the past ten years? Not because the plight of the Tibetans is anymore important to the world than that of the Rwandans or Australia’s Aborigines, but because The Beastie Boys and other pop artists tell us that we need to urgently support Tibet first and foremost. And we follow without a second thought. Perhaps if they told us McDonalds was soon to be put out of business by the world’s mass vegan populations, the rest of our energy would go to saving America’s top fast food industry. The sad thing about such a thought is that regardless of how intelligent our country’s youth might be; intelligence becomes worthless when people choose not to think beyond their immediate surroundings. Just as dolphins are arguably as smart as humans, without the ability to organize movements on land, there’s only so much they can do to save the world. Or themselves.

One of the biggest social problems in America right now is that egotism and apathy are the ideas being spoken, sung, filmed and rapped about, and we gladly eat it up, because that’s what we’ve been trained to do for so long. Coincidentally, since 9/11 never have we been closer to the Red Scare of the fifties in terms of America struggling against an “invisible enemy.” Nor have we been closer to the Vietnam War in terms of giving up so many lives and resources to ensure “the world’s freedom.” Yet, instead of being urged by the media to educate ourselves and take a stance, we’re being pushed to look the other way. Or blindly join in on the fight.

Perhaps if the day to day programs we absorb began to spoon feed us the truth on what’s happening in the world– from Iraq, to Haiti, to Sudan, to North Korea –the average American wouldn’t be so indifferent. The underlying problem is that the average American isn’t properly trained in how to wade through channels, websites and pages of nonsense to get to the truth. And from 1965 to 2005, the amount of drivel in the media has increased tenfold. That’s why we now have large franchises producing Che Guevara shirts in Thailand, and people who consider themselves socially informed proudly wearing them. It’s also the reason why successful media icons can make dozens of statements about the condition of race and class in America, when poor teenagers are spending more money on Sean John jeans than they are on their weekly diets.

At the same time, it’s not our uninformed youth’s faults for following suit in these cases. Who can blame the ignorant when nobody’s making an effort to teach them? It’s also not our nation’s celebrities’ faults for getting paid to look informed, whether or not they truly are. The largest degree of fault lies with the media bigwigs, who determine what we watch, read, listen to, and purchase, for keeping us as distracted as possible in order to preserve their own interests. The rest lies with educated quasi-adults like Robert Smith, who are aware of the problem and do have the power to make a change, but repeatedly tell themselves that the bucket will always be half empty, no matter how many drops we add to it. If that were the case, all progress in America, from the Civil Rights Movement to Nixon’s eventual withdrawal from Vietnam, would be nothing but pure, random, dumb luck. And that’s pretty close to saying the generations before us accomplished no more than we do. Apathy then becomes complacency.

Until our country’s newest thinkers look at the bigger picture, apart from what writers, producers and celebrities tell us to fight for, activism will remain a raw commodity. Unfortunately, most commodities in the West sell at their appropriated values and the value of loose change is continually dropping. As much as major corporations would like to convince us that everything’s alright; that women in Somalia are partying harder than Courtney Love; that Palestine versus Israel isn’t nearly as important as Pepsi versus Coke; it’s our choice to buy into it all or question why we’ve become so apathetic.

[Robert Dylan Smith is a fictitious character]