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Month: November 2005

is invisible to the eye

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“Jack is really a double-edged sword,” said radio consultant Fred Jacobs, who is credited with creating the classic-rock format more than 20 years ago. “It does break radio rules — rules which need to be broken — by putting songs together that you don’t normally hear, but I think [the lack of on-air personalities] is a problem. At the end of the day, once you’ve heard all 1,000 songs on a station a couple of times, the ability to connect with a local audience without having any local personality or feeling is in question. It’s the essence of radio and it’s what my iPod or MTV can’t really do: hold up a mirror to the local community.”

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“There’s been so much talk at CBC about youth listenership, about keeping up with technology and trends. Their ploy to attract a younger, more fashionable listener base is to tap into podcasting and on-demand radio (which is good), but honestly now, let me ask you … If someone tries to give you a piece of garbage — garbage that you’re not particularly interested in and have no use for [in the first place] — would you be more likely to accept it if they covered it in wrapping and offered to deliver?”

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“In the mp3 blog press frenzy a lot of writers compared the phenomenon to making a mixtape and that’s just not the case. As much as i love what technology has done for the dispersion of music (such as providing me with a venue to wax like this), it will never come close to the hand to hand distribution of a really good pause/mixtape. it pains me to think that the youth of this and future generations will never know what it felt like to have to tape new songs off the radio if the album hadn’t drop and you either couldn’t find or afford the cassingle. They’ll never fret over getting everything perfect on a mixtape for or about a girl you had a crush on, they won’t know third generation hiss or cross their fingers in hopes that the drop outs won’t be that bad after rerecording over a tape for the sixth time. They’ll never shove tissue in the top of a wack retail tape to record some good shit, or have a song cut off at the end of the side and have to rush to flip over the tape to get the rest of it. ipod playlists are heartless beasts in comparison.” -noz

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“Is cultural appropriation always a bad thing?”

“Appropriation goes both ways. People never talk about what black kids steal from white America. Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan-their products were never made with black people in mind.” – Bakari Kitwana

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Doomsday proclamations have never fallen out of fashion, and though crying woe is hardly my style, I can’t help but feel a little grave when I read the news. A friend on the phone the other day was breaking it down, like: “Dude, they found a torso here the other day, just three blocks from my place. And did you hear about what happened at Jane-Finch? Twelve highschool kids just got charged for assaulting and raping this one girl over the course of the year. Police asked her why she didn’t speak up, and she turns to them like, ‘Do you know where I live?’

It feels real trivial and even borderline insulting for me to switch up the topic to music, but part of me really does feel that at least some of the underlying problems and causes are connected. I got into an argument recently with someone claiming that all of this “urban violence” (and we all know what “urban” is code for) could be solved if the government invested more money into school arts curricula. “Put paint brushes and trumpets in their hands instead of guns,” was his argument, and I really couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Yes, of course the arts — audible, visible, bodible, like the Odds — should and must be made priorities, must be re-invested in as part of a stronger, more complete education. Even my dad agrees — my right-wing, grumpy, curmudgeony dad, telling me last week in his broken English that arts and culture are integral to a healthy upbringing and a healthy society. What led me to roll my eyes, though, was the argument that this culture-as-saviour role could possibly be taken on by the school system. As it stands, a typical Toronto public high school approach to music and art is still very much rooted in particular standards and (what I would call) racist/classist hierarchies. When’s the last time Bach saved any teenager’s ass in this town? Does the Group of Seven make you want to “drop the chrome”? Yeah, not so much. (Not to say that “the classics” aren’t worth studying, admiring, and enjoying, but are they really the only works worth focusing on?)

Massive reforms are necessary before our education system can even begin to reflect the needs of its students and communities, and a lot of very good people are working for that. In the meantime, though, school — where faculties don’t reflect the student population, where the curriculum strategically omits entire civilizations and periods of history, where a time warp Euro-Brit approach is the framework for pretty much everything, where for many years “zero tolerance” policies were used as an excuse to suspend students for wearing religious headgear — is still a very alienating place for a lot of Toronto teenagers. If change is going to come, it’s going to pop off on the ground level first. Six or seven hours a day, these students are trapped in their classes, but where do they go after 3 PM? My people, my guilt-ridden people, my thug-fearing people — let’s invest in communities, all of them, starting right now. Better yet, let’s invest in the tools that will allow these communities to invest in themselves. Twice-weekly trumpet practice or colour-wheel assignments may be great for expanding creativity and distracting an “at risk youth” (that buzz term is for you, Gavin) from the garbage they have to deal with in their lives, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is—a distraction. Hardly empowering. Real culture, and real respect for culture, would require legitimizing all the different modes of expression and creativity that speak more closely to these at-risk-ers, rather than imposing more alienating standards. Above that, though, I really feel very strongly that it’s got to be regarded as something far greater and far more important than a mere distraction. Everything is connected, and to me, this stuff is life.

(Side note one: Dan Charnas has written a wonderful series of essays (or, one essay in three parts) on the subject of disconnection in the West. How we’re a society of fuzzy-headed people, caught up in the very machines we’ve created. Please read.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I feel like culture is more integral to having a happy, balanced, thriving, cohesive, strong society than almost anyone gives it credit for. It’s what defines a people, it’s our newspapers and our history books, our “chicken soup” readers and divine lessons. If people didn’t think about it so much as being so separate from themselves, then maybe so much of it wouldn’t come across so forced.

Are there not communities like this in existence, right now even? Where music and art and poetry and dance and celebration and fighting and fucking and expression and beauty and all of these things are a part of every day life? Are as much a part of the routine as buying groceries and balancing your finances and building and tearing down empires?

This is how I look at music in my life, and definitely informs how I’ve come to look at rap. I’ve been having some good discussions these days on the topic of hip hop journalism (much as I fret and deny that I’m a hip hop journalist, I have to admit that a lot of my work can’t help but fall under this broad banner), and peace to Jay, Rodrigo, Dave and others for indulging me. We’ve been exploring a lot of important elements—appropriation of voice, issues of entitlement, “credentials”, whether journalists have a responsibility to their readers or to the culture or both. Whether lazy journalism and irresponsible media practices have ruined (parts of) hip hop.

I’m definitely of the Freirian school of thought, where journalism can (and ideally, should) be a form of popular education, can be a liberatory practice. I do believe that lazy journalism has damaged elements of this culture, and that the line of thinking that places hip hop in the entertainment (distraction) category as opposed to the culture (real.life.shit) category is what’s provided a legitimized framework for so much bad journalism to flourish. And so, you get the clichés, you get the shallow misrepresentations, you get the prejudices, you get the unbalanced and fatalistic pronunciations. Allathat.

This sort of thing concerns me, but especially when I look at the context of Canada. There really is no “community” to speak of here. Everything is so divisive, toes stepping on toes, nobody wanting to take the other (wo)man seriously, but then bellyaching when they can’t match the popularity of financial gains of those giants to the south. It can be described as a form of violence — this cultural and economic poverty in Canadian hip hop, this social exclusion, the unwillingness or inability for the mainstream to accept Canadian hip hop as important and integral and a brilliant, budding thing. And, shit, how can I NOT blame the media for this? For not stepping up and having a spine, for not taking this more seriously, for not demanding that their hip hop writers take more responsibility for how and what they write?

Listen close and remember this:

If you’re going to write about Canadian hip hop, you’ve got to know about hip hop, for starters, and then you’ve got to know about Canadian hip hop. Not Toronto hip hop. Not Much Music or Much Vibe or Flow or UMAC or CUMA or Socan or FACTOR or any of that incestuous garbage. You’ve got to know about Canada, its geography, its history, the major social and cultural issues in each region, how these regions and factors relate to one another, the musical and artistic community and climate in each scene, how the scenes evolved, their challenges, etc. And then there are the artists — what they sound like, whether there’s a regional sound, where that regional sound came from, it if is successful in that region (fanbase), if it translates well to other ears outside of that region, which outside sounds fall favourably on the ears of the locals, infrastructure, models, financial successes and shortcomings, inadequacies and sorespots… and then, of course, there is the issue of America and the rest of the world. See? Lots to cover, mang. Far more than just Kardi, the Circle, Rascalz and the Swollen Members. And don’t even talk to me about Buck 65, because that man hasn’t been doing hip hop for at least two albums now, leave it alone, this is old news, move on. But really, who, in Canada, actually takes the time to know this country’s hip hop? I’m as out of touch as the next cat, so I really couldn’t tell you.

(Side note two: I have a 17 item list of things that really, really piss me off about hip hop journalism in this country, and I’d post it right now, but I’m sure it would get me in trouble. I’ll save that for another day soon, when I’m feeling braver… If you like, email me, and you can be my sounding board first, cool?)

What I’m getting at with all of this is that this community, like other misunderstood, misrepresented, and disrespected communities in this country, needs some help. Help can’t come from the outside, but attitudes have got to change all around. Taking the role of culture more seriously. Broadening the definitions of what is considered culture in this country, of how it is perceived — as a living thing, or as a static commodity. Legitimizing and, in essence, humanizing elements and expressions that have been typically brushed off or simply exploited at the surface level. Lazy hip hop writing is insulting. iPod-ifying the radio and firing intelligent, knowledgeable and passionate hosts and show producers to replace them with celebrity talking heads is, in my books, criminal. There’s so much garbage on the airwaves, in print, and on the net right now, and the volume is only increasing. It is alienating. Don’t ever blame violence on the victims of a violent system — take a look at your own damn self and pay attention.

Two thousand words plus, how you like me now?

something i’ve been meaning to tell you

I had a series of entries (present tense, in fact — I still have them tucked away) that I meant to post several weeks ago, but a series of unfortunate events made for very poor timing, and I decided to put everything on pause for a while. Sort of like that day, in the summer of ’99, when I decided to wear my Dead Kennedy’s t-shirt to the beach and, one by one, watched strangers’ faces twist with horror as I walked by. I hadn’t read the news yet, see.

Some housekeeping:

1. The comments section actually works now. So, now you can speak your mind, rather than bottling it all up. Throw some marbles, you’ll feel better.

2. If you went to Oakwood in the mid 90s, chances are you crossed paths with Devyani Saltzman at one point or another. I always assumed that she would go on to do amazing things, and looks like my gut feeling was bang-on. Leafing through the Toronto Star this morning, I came across a half-page article about her new book. Wow! Devy, if you happen to google yourself and stumble across this entry, please get at me. We’ve got a million things to talk about.

3. “A Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is not about making the hemisphere safe for capitalists. It is about providing opportunities for our workers, and better goods and services for our consumers, from the bottom rung of the income ladder to the top. Freer and fairer trade will lift more human beings out of poverty than all of the assistance programs in the world combined.” If that’s not a capitalist statement, I don’t know what is.

4. These race riots recall those race riots, as well as this discussion of race riots in general.

5. Marc André Debruyne is my favourite video director of the week. Check the one he did for Arabesque right here. The girls are kind of pffft but the esthetics are wicked.

Go forth and do rap things.