Monday, May 31, 2010

Hip-Hop losing its meaning in America, but still relevant globally



Since its inception in the late 1970s, hip-hop has gone through many of the same cultural changes as rock 'n' roll. Both started as dance/party music (think Sugarhill Gang for hip-hop and Chubby Checker for rock) then went into their rebellious phases (Public Enemy, followed by much of the conscious rap scene of the early 90s/Bob Dylan and a lot of the folk/hippie rock of the late 60s).  Following their rebellious phases, both were homogenized by the mainstream and migrated into popular and commercial culture. As they moved to the center and towards popular acceptance, the messages in both rock and hip-hop changed drastically. For rock, this started with the 80s hair metal scene and it's wildly excessive party scene. For hip-hop, it began with with the business-like sophistication of Jay-Z and optimistic feel-good raps of Kayne West and Lupe Fiasco.

Over at NPR.org, "the Pop Off team — Jay Smooth of illdoctrine.dom and pop music writer Maura Johnston of theawl.com" go in depth on the metamorphosis of hip-hop from media of the rebellion to theme song to Sex in the City 2. In introducing the broadcast, an NPR writer also brings up a god-awful, terrible, horrific, forehead-slapping commercial hip-hop based Toyota commercial (from a parody perspective though it is a lot like the vids I have seen from the Flight of the Concords guys).

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, where the music and the message are still relevant, people are using break dancing in an attempt to motivate, unify, and encourage the youth of Uganda. Break dance sessions are bringing together kids whose lives have been absolutely destroyed by a continent at war. Using a music that by its roots was born in chants and hollers of the African tribes, break dancing and "b-boying" is giving Ugandan kids an outlet and promoting peace and cooperation through music.



BOUNCING CATS film trailer from nabil elderkin on Vimeo

Maybe there will be a day when hip-hop in Uganda will be used to pitch mini-vans and sell movies about Manhattan socialites. Maybe that is the natural progression of popular music. At least I'll have the blues and death metal.

(By the way, while researching this post, I found Roger Ebert's review of Sex in the City 2. Besides ripping off an absolutely classic introduction, he says there is more cleavage in the movie than at a pro wrestler's wedding. I don't get it.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Philosophical Thoughts of a Sober Mind



Here is something that popped into my head the other day.

Starting with the premise that when you work for "The Man" you are nothing but a number, if all numbers can be added or subtracted through mathematics, if the process of mathematics is the process of truth, and if the truth will always set you free, does that mean working for "The Man" equals Freedom?

If we know this truth to be false, can we trust any truth to be true? What about those truths we know to be true? Were they put there by "The Man", like peaches in a can? What about mathematics itself? Sure, math homework has and will always be an implement of "The Man" to break the will of children. But as you get older, you realize mathematics has some practical uses. Like the ability to Divide and Conquer. Or compute interest and see much money I had before the evil days of the volatile market.

Mathematics can also show us more about "The Man". Of course, "The Man" has six letters, but that's not important. Where it becomes weird is when you add up all the letters of The Man.

20+8+5+13+1+14=61

6+1=7

Seven is a very powerful number.
  • Seven days of the week

  • Seven minute abs

  • Seven colors of the rainbow

  • Seven Roman Emperors

  • Seven deadly sins

  • Seven days of creation

  • and the seventh glyph of the Mayan calendar ends December 21, 2012
End the world right before Christmas?

Yup, that's something The Man would do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Keeping in touch in the modern age



One of things I've noticed lately is how difficult it is to stay in touch. Well, not really staying in touch, but staying on top of which tools to use to stay in touch. As communication methods increase, different people migrate to different avenues and in order to talk to them, I usually have to use whatever tool they prefer.

With each new tool, website, or social network staying in touch gets more complicated.

For example, I have family members I can only reach via phone, friends I only talk to via email, Twitter friends, Facebook friends, organizations I follow only on MySpace, a boss who only reads my office reports if they are printed out, and folks I text on a regular basis.

As to be expected, the use of communication tools often varies on generation. Younger friends, family members, peers, other people in my age bracket or younger tend to be more online. I don't expect my grandfolks to be on Twitter any time soon.

Then there is the frequency of how often people check their communication platform. Although almost everyone has email, that's doesn't mean they check it. Same with voice mail.

Of course I make things exponentially more difficult by having multiple accounts on many of these platforms. I have four personal email addresses (I've only dropped two since I started emailing in 1996), four work email address on various servers and networks, two Twitter accounts, two MySpace accounts, and one Facebook account. And my phone, which has a Facebook and a Twitter app.

All I am missing is the firepit to send smoke signals.

Communication tools have also vastly changed the dating game. I remember back when an hour long conversation meant girl and I may have a few things in common. In the last two years, I haven't dated a woman who didn't rely heavily on text messaging.  I think the days of the hour-long phone call are long gone. I was getting good at that.

Calling now seems awkward. Like I have to really know someone first or they have to be expecting my call. Or maybe I have to text to let them know I am going to call.

Apparently, I am supposed to text a woman a lot sooner than I was supposed to call. There used to be a 24-hour rule on calling. Not that I was that great at following that, but do I text first now? What is the "correct" time I should wait before texting?

The last thing I want is to be this guy:



One of these days, I going to go Thoreau and be reachable only through mailed postage. Either that, or I am going to end up like the bad guy in Wes Craven's Shocker and live in the grid.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Coup in Tallahassee, FL, April 9, 2002



(I wrote this back in 2002 and submitted it for a writing class. Republishing it here for posterity.)

After the September 11th tragedy, anything depicting the recently destroyed World Trade Centers quickly came to hold deep sentimental meaning.  They became instant symbols of liberty and freedom for all Americans.  So it is easy to imagine the public shock upon the discovery of a CD that was to have been released in late September 2001 with an image of the Trade Centers exploding ¾ ways up.  Even more eerie and outrageous was that the CD’s cover design predated September 11th.

The band responsible for the CD and its cover was called The Coup and its members, “Boots” Riley and Pam the Funkstress became infamous celebrities.  “Boots” appeared on television shows such as Politically Incorrect and Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes.  It was with this backdrop that I went to Tallahassee’s dance club, the Moon, to see the Coup live on Tuesday, April 9th, 2002.

Doors opened to the Moon at 7:30pm and the opening act, “The Human Beatbox” Kenny Muhammed, was supposed to be on stage at 8:30.  Because the show was sponsored by Florida State University, admission was free.  I arrived about 8, expecting at least a small crowd.  To my surprise, I was one of the first eight people in the club.

8:30 came and went and still there were fewer than 30 people in the club.  I think the lack of attendance made the club’s manager a little nervous, the powers that be pushed Kenny Muhammed’s performance back an hour.

Although at first I was bothered by the delay, I used the time to my advantage.  I started a conversation with a very attractive brunette dressed in nothing but a skimpy rubber mini skirt.  She was from Philadelphia and part of a traveling Sobe energy drink marketing squad.  Her and her team had a booth in the rear of the club and gave out trinkets, sample CDs, and taste tests of Sobe.

I also talked to someone of a little more importance during my wait.  I ran into The Coup’s lead singer, “Boots” Riley, by the t-shirt stand.  “Boots” was a short guy, about 5’6 or so, with a big Afro.  He was dressed in an athletic jump suit, and looked like he was ready to play basketball.  He seemed to be in his mid-20s as well, not much older than me.

While talking to “Boots,” I mentioned that I had seen the Fox News broadcast he appeared on and I thought it was unfair how the hosts had treated him (throughout the broadcast they interrupted him and spoke over him, not allowing him to get in a word).  He agreed, telling me he didn’t expect that behavior from the show.  Then I told him I was at the show to hear his message, to get his side of the issues.  Something Fox News never allowed me to do.  So much for Fair and Balanced.

After I drank a couple more Heinekens and flirted some more with the Sobe girl, Kenny Muhammed finally came on.  “The Human Beatbox” was pretty good, making an array of boom-bap-boom-ta-boom-bap beats without a DJ.  His show got old though, after about 20 minutes I was boom-bapped out.

There was, as expected, a brief intermission before The Coup took the stage.  During this time, the Moon played a skateboarding, extreme sport video on movie screens that came down from the roof below the stage.  This video was complete with heavy metal music, and was totally out of place during a hip-hop show.

The Coup, a hip-hop band as well, finally took the stage.  Tonight they were led by “Boots” and featured a live back up band.  Unfortunately, Pam the Funkstress wasn’t “in the house.”  “Boots” had another rapper on the stage with him but never took the time to identify him.

The main theme of The Coup in both their logo and their lyrics is that they are socialists.  They are very much against “The Man,” who they define as all rich white males.  This includes both the government and high-ranking businessmen, the latter of which are targeted in the song “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO.”

Overall, the Coup put on a very enjoyable show.  They reminded me of old Parliament-Funkadelic George Clinton funk updated with socio-political rap lyrics.  They put to shame any of the materialistic, girls, cars, and jewelry songs dominating mainstream radio and MTV.  Quite possibly the best part of the show wasn’t The Coup, however.  It was watching a group of white drunken fraternity brothers with absolutely no rhythm attempt to dance to The Coup’s pro-black, damn-the-rich-white-man songs.

After The Coup’s show was over, I again had a chance to talk to “Boots” Riley.  I told him I enjoyed the show, although I didn’t agree with his entire message.  I also told him I had bought the group’s CD, which of course now features an album cover unrelated to the World Trade Centers.  “Boots” thanked me, shook my hand, and went on his way, probably seeing humor in the fact that his socialist, pro-black message was purchased by a college-educated white kid who has lived in the suburbs his whole life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Seeing Where Amazing Happens Live for the First Time



As I finish watching Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, I wanted to write a quick bit about something I did for the first time this past weekend.

After over 20 years of living in Central Florida, I finally went to my first Magic game.

I don't know why I never went before. Growing up, the Magic were an hour west of my parents' house. I use to watch them all the time, back when they had Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott, etc. But for whatever reason, I never went to a game. I guess when I was in high school, an hour seemed pretty far away.

Although I never made a game, I did go to the Orlando Arena, the home of the Magic, twice.

My first trip to the O-Rena was for the 1994 NBA Draft party. I have no idea how they got them, but somehow the people I babysat for (yes, someone trusted me with their kids) acquired a handful of tickets to the team-sponsored draft party. I don't remember much about the event, but I do remember a few sports radio guys hosting contests and there being an overall sense of optimism. After all, the Magic were supposed to draft Michigan forward Chris Webber, who was to be the Robin to Shaquille O'Neal's Batman. Together they were supposed to dominate the paint for the Magic as no duo had done before. Everyone knew Webber was a future all-star, and they were elated when he was drafted by the Magic with the first overall pick. That sense of optimism suddenly walked out the door however, when the Magic traded the rights to Webber to the Golden State Warriors for Penny Hardaway and a handful of draft picks. Like hundreds of other people, we left the arena and headed home. Thought not before first swinging by a Steak and Shake.

The second time I went to the O-Rena was for a 3-on-3 Hoop-It-Up tournament in 1995. As any one who as ever seen me play basketball can attest, I have no business in a basketball tournament. But a few friends of mine needed an extra body, and for whatever reason, they thought of me. Needless to say, we didn't do so hot, although to this day I swear the guys we played in the one game we played were far too good to be in the benchwarmer-level league we signed up for.

Fifteen years later, otherwise known as "last week", with the Magic set to close the O-Rena forever and move to new home a few blocks away, I read Fox Sports Florida correspondent Whit Watson's tribute to the O-Rena. After reading Whit's lament and his story about how he met his now-wife, I dropped him an email and expressed my regret that I never made the trip to the arena for a game.

No less than 24 hours later, while at a Rays game, a friend of mine made me an offer I couldn't refuse: a ticket to Game 1 of the playoff series against the Boston Celtics. I was finally going to my first Magic game.

Although I've been to dozens of college basketball games, seeing an NBA game live is far more "amazing", to quote their commercials. There is more hoopla, more smoke, louder noisemakers, and more intensity. Add that the game was the first of Round 3 of the NBA Playoffs, and there is no doubt I walked into one of the most intense sporting environments in Central Florida. An environment I couldn't help but be quickly immersed in. I rattled my noisemaker, hooped and hollered for the Magic, and had a great time.

While there I also got a chance to say hello to Whit Watson. Whereas I've seen Whit a few times at Tropicana Field, that's my neck of the woods. This time, I was in his house.

Having now been to an NBA game, I have to say that there is a huge difference between seeing a game live versus watching it on television. First of all, on television a fan's view is at the mercy of the cameraman. You can only see what the camera sees. If the camera wants to focus on a fan picking his nose instead of the team with the ball running down the floor, then that's what the viewer sees. NBA legend Charles Barkley once said that the way he watches basketball is to watch the best player on the floor the whole game. That is nearly impossible on television. In person however, you can focus on the best player. You can watch them move without the ball, hustle down the court, cheer on the sidelines, and do all the things best players do.

Another advantage to seeing a game live is the ability to see the players as a unit. You can see the offenses set their positions, see the defenses work together to prevent the offense from scoring, see the point guard push the ball up the court and exactly where his teammates are. Seeing basketball live gave me a whole new perspective on the game, from the strategy to the sheer speed and size of the players (I never realized how big Celtic "Big Baby Davis" actually is.). There is a lot that gets lost from the court to the camera to my television screen.

I took way too long to see my first Magic game. For someone who has driven seven hours from Tallahassee to Miami to see a Marlins game, or who has driven three hours to see a concert on numerous occasions, the hour and a half from Tampa to Orlando should have never been an obstacle. Although the next time I go to a game might not have the the intensity of the playoffs, now that I have taste of live NBA action, I will definitely be going to see where amazing happens more often.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Birds, Bats, Buses, Bee Girls, and Finally Finding a Home



Sometimes life as an afro-wearing writer can be difficult. Sometimes it seems like I have become more famous for my larger-than-life hair than for the million or so words I have written online. Sometimes I feel my writing achievements have been unrecognized and unappreciated. Forget that I once won an award for Writer of the Year at my college newspaper. Forget that I was writing long, long before I donned an afro for the first time. Forget the fact that I have been read by hopefully close to a million people (or my family a million times).

Sometimes I feel like the Bee Girl of the blogosphere.

You remember the Bee Girl, right? She was the cute, awkward girl in the bee costume who danced in Blind Melon’s 1993 classic “No Rain” video. Try as she did, no one took her dancing seriously. They only laughed at her appearance. They made her feel bad, like she had no one to identify with, and not a friend in the world.

Then, after wandering aimlessly for what seemed like eternity, she finally found a place where she was accepted. A place where everyone wore bee costumes and the Bee Girl could dance and be herself and everyone loved her.

Although I have always considered minor league parks from Memphis to Melbourne (ok, Viera) a second home, last Thursday in Clearwater I finally found acceptance. I found people who were like me. People who loved baseball, who laughed and cheered, smiled and rooted, drank beer, ate hot dogs, and sang “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” while wearing giant afro wigs. I was not alone anymore.

Together we laughed and cheered, smiled and rooted, drank beer, ate hot dogs, and of course sang “Take Me Out to The Ballgame”. All while watching baseball.

Then, after the game, we danced the night away to the sounds of local funk band Disco Inferno.

It was 70's Night and it was perfect.

It was my Bee Girl moment.

Oh yeah, the Clearwater Threshers beat the Jupiter Hammerheads 9 to 1.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Review: Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance -and Why They Fall



When talking about politics, most people tend to be somewhat myopic, reacting only to what happened during the last day, week, month, and maybe even year. Every once in a while people may even compare four year blocks and presidential administrations. But rarely, if ever, do people compare issues of the day across generations or even centuries. And even if these comparisons are made, they tend to be geographically contained (for example, comparing the lives of people in a city over time).

Author and Yale Law Professor Amy Chua goes beyond all of these usual comparisons in her book "Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance - and Why They Fall". Chua sets her sights on all human civilization and compares and contrasts what she calls "hyperpowers" - "those few societies that amassed such extraordinary military and economic might that they essentially dominated the world".

According to Chua, there have been seven such hyperpowers:
  • the Persian Empire of the 6th Century BC to the 3rd Century BC

  • the Roman Empire of the 1st and 2nd Century

  • the Tang Dynasty of the 7th to 9th Century

  • the Mongols of the 12th Century

  • the Dutch of the 17th Century

  • the British Empire of the 18th and 19th Century

  • Present-day United States
Chua states that not only were these nations stronger militarily or economically than other nations of their time, but they also took steps to ensure and expand their dominance. Chua's most prevalent argument is that relative tolerance played a big part in the elevation of these nations, and that when that tolerance ended, the demise of the hyperpower was quick to follow.

As a fan of geopolitics, political science, international affairs, and human culture, I really liked this book. It was easy to read and definitely informative. Chua does a great job getting into some of the details on how hyperpowers welcomed foreign peoples into their arms and used their manpower, brainpower, or economic clout (sometimes all three) to the betterment of the nation. For example, did you know the US government sent job recruiters to Europe during the 18th Century to find able bodied workers willing to move across the ocean and join the American labor force?

Despite my recommendation however, there are a few things I want to point out about the book:

It almost seems like Chua cherry-picked her results. It's easy to set a standard such as "tolerance" and wiggle and fit a few worthy candidates into the qualification. Were the Romans really "tolerant" because they wanted to be, or because it was the easiest way to control land? There is no doubt much of the tolerance Chua discusses is driven by military or economic needs. If you have a fixed labor pool, where else would you get bodies to fight or create things than from other countries?

I also think Day of Empire could have been written as a book on the growing importance of global tolerance and the need for multi-cultural acceptance. Instead of chronologically, the book could have been organized topically and in grades of interaction and tolerance.

Overall, like I said, I liked Day of Empire. And with recent immigration happenings and current events in Arizona and throughout Europe, having a historical outlook on the issues is always a good thing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shaw Brothers Collection II DVD Box Set Review



A few months ago I decided to up my kung-fu collection with a Shaw Brothers box set. Kung-fu fans know the Shaw Brothers from such movies as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and other assorted classics. I personally found them through listening to interviews with the RZA, founder of the Wu-Tang Clan. He was a big fan and of course kung-fu has a huge influence on the Wu-Tang Clan's music and presentation.

Anyway, the Shaw Brothers Collection II definitely isn't the highlight of my kung-fu collection. But the movies are ok overall, with some better than others.

Here is my breakdown of each in the random order in which I watched them:

Brave Archer and His Mate

I'm still not sure who the Brave Archer is, but according to the case, this was the fourth part of the Brave Archer Series. If it was me, I would package this with the other three parts, but no one put me in charge.

As for the movie itself, it is chock full of great kung-fu scenes and sword fighting. It has some comedy, some intellectual thinkers, many masters and wizened philosophes, and an appearance by the legendary toad style. Unfortunately, based only on this part of the Brave Archer series, the movie is basically two movies in one.

In the first part, the main character and his wife battle a maniac master cooped up in a temple. When one of their students, a wise-cracking wisenhiemer discovers the master's lair and falls under his influence, the main character has to face this insane character and rescue his impressionistic apprentice.

After facing the insane master, the main character, along with the sarcastic student and another student, comes to the aid of another temple under attack by two fighters well versed in the sword fighting style.

You can check it out here and follow the link through all the chapters.

Grade: 82/100

Holy Flame of the Martial World

Most of the kung-fu flicks I own are grounded in reality. Although there are some unfeasible jumps and overly-graphic kill scenes, they are by and large realistic. Holy Flame of the Martial World, on the other hand, takes place in a fantasy world that barely has its roots in reality. No other movie I own has demons, monsters, and ghosts mixed in with its kung-fu.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is, as Kung-Fu Cinema says, "a live-action cartoon", full of beast-men, finger lasers, and super cheesy special effects. It is over the top and fun.

Grade: 84/100

Brothers Five

In this more traditional kung-fu film, five brothers (imagine that!) attempt to defeat the boss of an evil temple. Unfortunately, however, none of them know each other, as they were separated at birth. They are reunited by a roaming female kung-fu master who also has a problem with the evil boss. After the brothers are reunited, the female master teaches them a new style that combines their powers and helps them become more than the sum of their parts.

See Kung-Fu Cinema's review here.

Grade: 80/100

Journey of the Doomed

I'm glad I watched Journey of the Doomed last. It was definitely the worst movie of the set. I'm sure had I watched it first my entire opinion of the set might have been ruined. Although there is one redeeming quality, Journey of the Doomed is without a doubt a bad movie. First of all, there is little to no kung-fu. There is only one fighting scene of any value. Second, Journey of the Doomed contains something no other kung-fu movie I own does: soft-core porn. For some reason, the people who made this movie decided to insert several sappy soft-core sex scenes. It's like watching Kung-Fu Theater if it were on Skinamax. Then there is the related rampant nudity. In one scene, for example, two female warriors decide to execute an entire whore house. Of course, everyone there has to be topless. For effect, of course.

I mentioned that Journey of the Doomed did have one redeeming quality (no, not the gratuitous amount of boobies - although those are cool). The resulting plight of the main characters, two lovers with nothing to lose, I thought was original. It bucks the traditional storyline of good versus evil in exchange for a Romeo and Juliet kung-fu collision.

Check out Kung-Fu Cinema's review here.

Grade: 70/100

Overall, the Shaw Brothers Collection II is not a bad box set for fans of kung-fu. If you aren't a fan of the genre, or even if you are just a casual fan, I would recommend skipping this set and sticking with some of the classics.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Debating Jesus and the New Disciples



Maybe it is all the earthquakes, floods, and other disasters hitting us this year, but for some reason I was thinking about Jesus the other day.

Well, not really the Bible Jesus, but the Second Coming, Seven Signs, Apocalypse, and all that. Real wrath of God-type stuff.

What if Jesus were to come back and just show up today?

First, if His arrival was universally accepted as the Second Coming of the Son of God it would be a miracle in and of itself. We have too many cynical, opinionated, so-called experts, analysts, and other media prognosticators out there whose only job in life is to disagree and sell that opinion to the masses. Disagreement sells and debating the Second Coming would definitely move products and sell ads.

"Tonight on FOX, O'Reilly talks about the Second Coming of Jesus with a bishop of the New York Diocese and Bishop Magic Don Juan! It's can't miss viewing!"

But even if all billion Christians agree on the New Jesus, there are still 5-6 billion other people on Earth. Let's say Jesus comes with the Mahdi, and many of the 1.2 billion Muslims support the effort, that's still barely a third of the world's population and less than the populations of China and India combined.

Good luck breaking into that market.

Of course, if Jesus arrived in a third-world country, people of the first-world might dismiss Him as at best a heretic and at worst a kook. There is no way He could sway the global opinion of the first world within the first few years of preaching and proselytizing. There is too much competing for the attention of the people in Western culture for them to recognize a new Savior.

"Hey, there is a guy in Nigeria who has supposedly fed 3,000 people with just a basket of fish."

"Oh really? Did you see American Idol last night?"

"Yeah."

(Kinda like Gil Scott Heron's Small Talk at 125th and Lennox.)

Needless to say, Jesus would need to make a splash. Although I don't think that's His style. I don't think He is the kind of guy who would try to jump to the front and toot His own horn.

But what about His disciples? Would there be disciples for the Second Coming?

With all we know about everyone these days, how would Jesus select new disciples? I don't think He would go the game show route. I doubt there would be an American Idol-style selection show to pick the people to hang with the Son of God.

Maybe He would peruse Facebook for people who meet His criteria.

Here is another question: Would His new disciples be a collection of all the world's people? I can imagine someone complaining that Jesus's new disciples don't represent them.  Imagine the editorials if Jesus's new posse didn't contain someone from a major ethnic group. Would that infer they aren't going to be saved or that they don't have the favor of God?

As the old disciples were basically Jesus's public relations team, I wonder what the roles of the New Disciples would be. Would they be Jesus's hype people, like religious versions of Flavor Flav? Would they create a Facebook page? Would Twitter be the platform of the new Hadith? You gotta wonder if Jesus would select New Disciples not only based on their ethnicity, but also on what public relations, advertising, writing, and marketing skills they bring to the table.

If that's the case, yo Yahweh, I can blog.

(Image from the movie Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter.)