Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New music animosity is nothing new

I was recently tuned in to this interesting YouTube video made by Rolling Stone Italy bemoaning Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and promoting rock 'n' roll.

What the video falls to realize however, is that rock 'n' roll wasn't America's first "rebel" music. Not even close. That would be jazz. Check out these quotes from a 2000 PBS article on a then-upcoming Jazz broadcast.
When the new sound of jazz first spread across America in the early twentieth-century, it left delight and controversy in its wake. The more popular it became, the more the liberating and sensuous music was criticized by everyone and everything from carmaker Henry Ford to publications like the Ladies Home Journal and The New York Times. Yet jazz survived.
And ...
Jazz was different because it broke the rules -- musical and social. It featured improvisation over traditional structure, performer over composer, and black American experience over conventional white sensibilities.
Perhaps what we are seeing with EDM - especially if it grows into the mainstream - is the opposite of jazz. Not so much in race, as EDM is more white than black, or in structure - as EDM can be very much improv - but in the performer versus composer battle. EDM is more about the composition than the performance. Sure, some concerts have lights and smoke and other gimmicks, but the eyes are not on the performer as much as the environment. While Jazz turned the bandleader into the center of attention, who stared at Mozart while the orchestra was playing? Interestingly, I recently saw this Disney cartoon from 1935 depicting a contemporary for the time Jazz vs Classical battle. While the Simpsons recently re-made it, I wonder how it would go if remade by Rolling Stone Italy.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Method Man and Redman in Tampa, November 2013

I’ve been a Redman and Method Man fan for years. I remember seeing Redman’s “Time 4 Som Aksion” video on Yo! MTV Raps back when the show was relevant and thinking “what in the world did I just see?”. It had the hoodies, the alley shots, the posse posing, and the background of many ‘90s hip-hop videos, but there was something mentally unstable about it. A little bit later, I saw the Wu-Tang Clan on Yo! MTV Raps and the video debut of the song “Method Man”. Although I liked the rest of the Clan, I loved Method Man’s word play.

That was 1992 and 1993. In 1995, the two artists collaborated on the “How High” track for The Show soundtrack. I remember the first time I heard that song as well. That single began a sporadic yet profitable pairing that saw the two rappers do two collaborative albums, a movie, a short-lived sitcom, and even a deodorant commercial.

Yet despite their other ventures, they remained two of the best MCs in hip-hop.


Like most rap fans who grew up in the 1990s, I think the material of that era is overall better than material produced since. That is definitely true with Method Man and Redman’s output. While Method Man’s 2006 album had some great moments, Redman hasn’t put out a solid album since Doc’s Da Name 2000 in 2000. And while their first collaborative Blackout! was a classic, Blackout 2! was lacking as I mentioned in my review.

Despite my trepidation of their newer material, when I saw Redman and Method Man were coming to Tampa, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to finally see two of my favorite lyricists. While it wasn’t the first time I saw Method Man, having seen him with the Wu-Tang Clan in 2008 (review here), it would be my first time seeing Redman.

The concert was held at the outdoor patio of Ybor City’s Cuban Club. The concrete-walled area was big enough for probably 1,500 people maximum and on a perfect fall Florida night, it was a good place to see a show. When I entered, however, I realized that although the stage at the Cuban Club is high enough, it is quite small. The benefit of a small stage is at least there wouldn’t be 500 people crowded on stage as there are at some hip-hop shows I’ve been to.

(I’ll never understand that, by the way.)

While the stone stage sat in the middle of the large area, off to the far side of the entrance, against the back wall stood a small tent and two small speaker stacks spaced roughly ten feet apart. Between these two speaker stacks was a band playing at eye level to the small fraction of the audience that wandered past the main stage to the far side of the venue.

Despite their less than accommodating set-up, the bands that played were good. They had funk, they had groove, they had a little bit of hip-hop, and they had energy. They should have been on the stage.

On the stage instead was a DJ stand with a 95.7 The Beat banner. While this was obviously where Redman and Method Man were due to perform, I had no idea why 95.7 The Beat needed the room so long before the show.

Then I saw perhaps one the dumbest things I have seen in my years of going to concerts. One of the DJs started playing old school ‘90s hip-hop 100 feet away from the band while the band was playing. Let me repeat: WHILE THE BAND WAS PLAYING. The superior sound of the main stage completely drowned out the small speaker stacks of the band, leaving them only entertaining the small gaggle in front of them. For those audience members between the conflicting performers, it made for a very confusing show.

I am not sure who to blame. Was it the fault of the bands? Did they play too long? Was it the fault of the DJs? Did they start playing their playlists without consulting the bands? They had to have noticed there were bands playing. Both they, and a southern rap crunk group that took the stage to perform a few “get money” songs, completely disrespected the live music openers.

Maybe the conflicting cacophony was the fault of poor management who could have easily stopped the conflicting noise and not let it happen for over an hour.

Eventually, knowing they were out-equipped and outnumbered, the bands finally gave up. I felt bad for them. Even if the crowd wasn’t digging them, they were given the short end of the stick by DJs who should have known better. DJs who should have understood the opening bands role in the show and had more respect before they began spinning songs most of the audience had heard 20 years before.

With the bands finally gone, the DJs had the patio all to themselves. Although they took the stage in less than ideal circumstances, the DJs – led by DJ Sandman and the legendary Charlie Chase of the Cold Crush Brothers – did a great job. With the help of a surprise appearance by Mobb Deep sideman Big Noyd, they kept the crowd excited.

Unfortunately, the DJs and Big Noyd had to keep the crowd hyped for longer than expected. As is almost expected in hip-hop shows, the main act was not on time. Apparently, the flight carrying Redman and Method Man to Tampa was delayed. As much as I want to believe this, it boggles my mind why every hip-hop act is delayed in air travel. Either hip-hop performers have the worst luck or there is a national conspiracy devised by The Man to hinder the travel plans of everyone involved in the biggest minority-performed style of music in the United States. All I know is if I was about to board a plane and I saw a prominent MC or DJ boarding, I wouldn’t expect to be on time.

Finally, at near 11:30 at night, a half-hour before the show was scheduled to end, Method Man and Redman arrived. Shortly thereafter the crowd was assured the show would not end at midnight (as the Wu-Tang show I went to did), and that the crowd would get a full performance.

To the loud cheers of the hundreds of people who patiently waited (including Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price and former WWE wrestler Percy Jackson), Redman and Method Man took the stage. As Method Man said after their second song, the duo's focus was “good weed, good lyrics, and energy”. While I can’t attest for the marijuana part, although the smoke was in the air, they definitely had the latter two in abundance. Especially energy. The two 40-something rappers bounced and danced around the stage throughout the night, constantly moving. And only once did I question whether or not they were actually saying their own lyrics or if the words came from the tracks the DJ was playing.

(Note: I am not sure how long this is has been a thing, but no concert trend is worse than rappers playing hip-hop karaoke with their own recorded vocals. DJs should have instrumentals of tracks, never versions with words. Imagine if a rock band did that. It’s incredibly lazy and cheats the paying customers.)

As for what Redman and Method Man performed, they did several songs from their Blackout albums:

Y.O.U; Da Rockwilder (Blackout!); A-Yo, City Lights, I Know Sumptn (Blackout 2!)

One song from the “How High” Soundtrack: Pt. 2

Their verses from LL Cool J's 4, 3, 2, 1 and Wu-Tang Clan's Do Ya Really (Thang Thang)

A few solo songs from Method Man: Bring Tha Pain, Method Man, All I Need (Tical); Fall Out (4:21: The Day After)

A few solo songs from Redman: Time 4 Sum Aktion (Whut, Thee Album?), Tonight's Da Night, I'll Be Dat, Enjoy Ride

The shortened radio version of “How High” (notable due to the absence of the last two verses – Method Man’s verse about rap critics and Redman’s verse referencing Biggie Smalls)

They also did a short tribute to deceased Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, playing a few of his songs and rhyming along with them. (By the way, the only acceptable time DJs should play songs with lyrics.) And they teased the possible release of Blackout 3! and How High 2.

On stage for some of the show was Wu-Tang affiliate Streetlife, who performed a few of his verses on Method Man’s songs and did a song of his own and a person introduced as Redman’s cousin also dropped a verse while the headliners took a short break.

For their final performance, Redman and Method Man covered Sugar Hill’s legendary hip-hop classic “Rapper’s Delight”, which Redman once covered with Erick Sermon and Keith Murray on the Def Squad El Nino album.

While the songs were over, the show wasn’t. For the next 10 minutes or so, Redman and Method Man took turns stage diving, culminating with Redman climbing 10 feet or so up the highest speaker and leaping in the crowd. Oddly, I haven’t seen crowd surfing and stage diving in a long, long time. Good to see.

When it was all finished at nearly 1:30 in the morning, Redman looked at the crowd and announced that he wasn’t tired. In a moment of honesty, Method Man looked at his cohort and mouthed “I am”.

They weren’t 20-somethings on the top of the hip-hop world anymore, but for one night in Ybor City, Redman and Method Man showed they’ve never came down from their high.

Overall, despite the debacle with the opening acts, Redman and Method Man were definitely worth the price of admission and the lengthy delay.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekly Book Update #9

I have been working on my first book over the past year. My goal is to have this book published. Not self-published, but actually published by a publisher. I've self-published before and I might do so again, but I want to test the waters in the publishing industry. I want to put the name of a publisher on my resume.

With that in mind, I've decided to make every Friday "Book Update Day". Every Friday I give an update as to where I am in the writing/editing/publishing process - at least as far as I can say.

Book Status:

Based on the suggestions of my mother - who read the first 10 pages - I re-wrote the first 10 pages. Again. Although I passed the book to a few people, the opening two chapters were a little herky-jerky for me. But I thought it might have been just me. But my mother confirmed my initial thoughts were correct. So I went back to the drawing board on Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

Now what was Chapters 1 & 2 is now Chapters 1, 2, and 3 and everything following is higher in sequence. I am happier with the flow.

Yesterday, as I wandered around Tampa pondering how to fix my first few chapters, I stopped by the University of South Florida writing center. I scheduled an appointment, so we'll see if they help and how much. I also found out about Tampa Writers Alliance constructive criticism meetings. I might just stop by those as well. Maybe they will help and perhaps I can help another local writer in turn.

Interesting links of the week:

Here are a few links that have inspired me this week:

First, here is a really great post on baseball blogging by a former Mets writer who walked away. He claims writing about the team became too much of a job and he missed being a fan. I can totally relate, although I wasn't near the regular writer he was. Anyway, its a really good read, so please check it out.

The Misadventures of a Baseball Blogger - Narratively

On the flip side of the same coin, here is a post by Pittsburgh writer Dejan Kovacevic on how to survive writing sports for a living. He says to never be a fan and never let your affiliations blind your story. Writers write about anything. I loved these quotes:
The job is about journalism, not about being pals with your favorite teams or athletes. The passion has to be for journalism, for reporting and writing and editing and taking pics and page-designing or whatever your specialty.
Later on in the article:
If you want to blog into adulthood about what you know or think about sports, better make sure you’ve got a separate way to actually make money.
My final favorite quote:
Learn to write. It’s a learned craft, not an inherent one. No one is born a good or great writer. It’s up to you to read and to practice as much as possible.
Writers write.

Want to be sports writer? Forget sports. - Morning Java