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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

some horns to lock
Some weeks ago i had a bit of a muse about sampling, after chancing upon a site listing well-known hip hop samples. i didn't really think the argument through, partly because in my naivety i didn't expect anyone would read it, so just wrote what it was i was thinking about, and put it up here.
As i should have known, just as hip hop don't stop, neither do hip hop bloggers. A couple weeks after the post, i noticed a few fresh comments from Jay Smooth.

Tamas, who other Melbournites no-doubt know for providing the muscle in the love and the rough sound system (as well as being as well-rounded a renaissance man as one could hope to meet), was interested to see Jay hadn't acknowledged the fact that i was making the comments as someone - unlike him - pretty removed from the culture i was commenting on, and thought he was leaping to the defence of hip hop producers a tad, well, defensively.

At that time it hadn't occurred to me to think critically about Jay's points. Truth be told, i was just chuffed he'd found my post (altho' i still haven't asked him how he happened upon it - Jay?), and bothered to respond in such a constructive (as opposed derisive) manner.

So i checked out his site, something i unreservedly recommend everyone does, and noticed a comment from Oliver Wang referring to my comment as 'dumb ass'. I didn't particularly have a problem with this - you put things on the web, you take your criticism - but i was curious as to why someone so intimately involved with and knowledgable about hip hop would bother to post a permalink on Jay's site to something they were so dismissive of. So because i didn't want to think someone i admire and respect is an arsehole, i wrote him an email to ask if he could shed some light on a throwaway comment he made. I also felt the need to defend myself by using Tamas' point that us honkys out here in Australia come at hip hop from a rather different standpoint to the him and Jays of the world.
And here's what he wrote back:


Hey Tim,

Don't take my "dumb ass" comment personally. Wait, ok, it's kind of hard NOT to. I was being off the cuff in that "it's only the internet" sort of way which means I act like a complete asshole in ways that I don't at all come off in person.

So my apologies on being an asshole.

To lend some context to where my head was at in particular though (i.e. the constructive criticism element that you were asking for)...what bothered me about your post was this thinly hidden layer of derision. I mean, you weren't calling people who sampled dumb asses, but you were making a general comment on how creatively exhausted hip-hop has become simply b/c people keep using "Synthetic Substitution." Ideologically, I find that opinion to be problematic, especially b/c your explanation of how you arrived at said conclusion is quantitative rather than qualitative.

It's importnat that you should have listened to some of these songs before passing judgment on them or the people who created them. It's not like most producers remake the same beat twice in all its entireity. Marley Marl did it when he made LL Cool J's "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag," - basically a remake of Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half Steppin" which he also produced. But examples like those are few and far between.

Most people who are not the most uber of uber-nerds will never notice if Prince Paul flips the same break twice. Partially b/c often times, the same samples will get engineered differently from use to use. Other times b/c producers will chop up drums and create a new pattern even if they're using sounds that possess a unique timbre (Premier, for example, uses the same snares ALL THE TIME). But the re-use, in and of itself, is not a sign of creative absence and I think to accuse it as such reflects a tired high culture/low culture binary about how "art" should be properly produced.

More than that though, your logic doesn't quite hold. Is a drummer who uses the same kit and plays some of the same basic patterns creatively dry? Or how about an artist who records with the same group of studio musicians on several albums, thereby creating a consistent sound?

So why then would a hip-hop producer be any less creative for working with some of the same sounds more than once?

Like I said, what it really comes down to is that you should listen to these songs first and then pass judgment. Here are two that are relativley easy to find online:

Gang Starr's "Dwyck" and "Code of the Streets." Both use the Melvin Bliss break.

Again, apologies on my lack of decorum from before.

Sincerely,

Oliver


I take all points, and said as much in my reply. Having been prompted by Tamas though, i find it interesting that in both Jay's comments on the original post and Oliver's reply, they don't see my argument holding any water. Sure, they may well've moved beyond it and in their contexts it may seem facile, but there was no acknolwedgement of the point i was making, which is this: with the entire history of recorded music avaliable to them, it's interesting/disappointing that so many hip hop producers return to the same source material.
Yes, i take the point that they use the original sources in different ways, and yes, i have gone away and listened to more examples. But in my own small way, i stand by the thought that this was worthy of at least a blog entry. Tamas, on the other hand, was really put out that Jay and Oliver choose to ignore the idea that how an Australian - who hasn't grown up with hip hop but nevertheless appreciates and loves it - comes at the culture can be as relevant as how they do. So when he writes his response, i'll publish it here.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Listening to Rainer Truby recorded at Seen in Bristol about a week after he was here, playing many of the same tracks (the Sumo mix of Spirit of Drums, the new Ame, Spiritual South's Jazz Rooms rub etc) in a similar vein. In retrospect, i had a great time listening to him the other week. It didn't touch hearing him in Osaka at Freedom Time, but i don't think much could, that brief foray into the world of Japanese clubbing being on of my favouritest nights in memory.

I'm in two minds about how people reacted to him playing, by his standards, such a linear set. Of course it doesn't matter, he can play whatever he wants, but out on Saturday listening to Lava Nick and his Audrey crew doing a goodbye set at a great party celebrating last drinks at the sure-to-be-missed Liquorice brought it up again. Those guys are great djs and get as excited as i do about labels like 4Lux and other good broken beat, but really, they just want to play house. Nick and i were having a drunken mumble about this at the time and i commented on how tracky Dan was playing, to which he replied; "Tim, explain to me what 'tracky' is."
It's not something i've given any thought to, but all these terms used to describe dance music; driving tribal electro-tech dubby breakbeat tools; are completely open to interpretation, and often completely useless. You read them in reviews and on record sales-notes, but they're just handy bits of jargon for us folks who can't be arsed with the effort of actually thinking about what something really sounds like. Trying to engagingly describe this music in ways meaningful to people who aren't intimately aware of the differences between a tracky tech-house record from San Fransisco, and a tracky tech-house record from Sheffield, takes more effort than most of us would consider it worth.
But as Nick illustrated, even people who are aware of these types of music still find the terms unhelpful, as everyone in the scene assumes a knowledge of what they signify. As no-one has the balls to publish an explanation for fear they'll get it wrong, this means we all come to our own conclusions, and one man's electro-dub-tech is another's driving breakbeat.

All part of life's rich tapestry, i dare say.
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Friday, June 18, 2004

they've gone and fucked it up again
Here they come ... all the people i can find who agree with my view that even though i haven't heard it, the new beastie boys album plumbs new depths in cringe-inducing, head-shaking wrongness.
Did you really even need to hear the first single? Just seeing the title your reaction is like 'boys. Really.'
And then you actually hear the track and your suspicions that they're going to end up on that pile of bands in your head that make you wonder why people think they're relevant anymore because they just aren't even a little bit, are confirmed in the most disappointing way.
I think i heard a song off the album with Biz Markie on it which sounded cool but it woke me up when the clock radio went off so i wasn't totally listening and am therefore not sure, but don't think i care enough to investigate it.
Joe here has a nice post about it which i will quote from, if i may.

Today the number of cringe-inducing lyrics known to be found on To The 5 Boroughs has grown again, with the revelation of this little gem:

Walking down the block, you say, 'Yo, D!
'When you coming out with the new CD that spreads love in society?
'

As Gear! on ILM so rightly says, "If the line that follows up is "I pull out my piece and take that motherfucker down/turn that big hippie smile into a motherfucking frown", all is forgiven." But I think we'd be a little optimistic to expect that.


As Joe goes on, Let me get some confusion out of the way by stating for the record that the problem with many recent Beastie Boys' lyrics is not that they are "simplistic" or "one-sided". (A lot of things in this world are more simple and one-sided than people would have you believe.) The problem is that they are bad lyrics, the kind composed by rubbish old men desperate to prove they are still 'down'.

I think he may have something there.
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Thursday, June 17, 2004

A modern man's hustle
Have just been listening to this having been informed by Rens that it was the hotness, and would restore my faith in hip hop. It's pretty good.
I haven't heard much from Slug, but have been meaning to for awhile, altho' i gotta say at first cop J-Live kinda sorta blows this out the water.
Also finally got around to listening to Brett Johnston's Classic mix. I was just now searching for something to link to, and found a review of it by some girl who felt the need to give a p.s. at the bottom to Brett reminding him that he "had" her at some party. Even if she's not talking about a quick post-set shag, i found it incredibly lame, and it kinda killed my enthusiasm for saying anything about the CD.
It's not a Brett Johnson mix like maybe you'd expect from him, it's a compilation of Classic classics mixed in a pumping bigroom way - you know, like Roger Sanchez or someone where they never let the intensity drop, mixing the next track a good 32 bars before the previous one breaks down and slamming it in right as the first one peaks. That's fine and it's fun to play that way but i don't know if it brings out the best in these tracks, although they come off sounding a lot more fluid than anything you normally associate with Classic. It made me ride to work a lot faster than usual, so i guess that's something else.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Yahoo: taking it to the Google pretenders.
i just logged into Yahoo to find i now have 100 megs of space. Not 6 megs. 100.
Don't give you any reason either, they just give it to you.
I guess they're taking this Gmail shit seriously. Can anyone tell me if Hotmail have entered into this fray?
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Monday, June 14, 2004

A dark and stormy Queen's Birthday holiday good for lots of indoorsy activities like eating toast, drinking tea and making a start on a review pile as top heavy on compilations as ever.
Currently listening to Gilles' Worldwide exclusives which is okay, but hasn't yet made any real impact as a whole despite a couple of standout tunes, but it got sent late and i'm only halfway through it.
Was at Revolver again last night - bowled up to find an insane crowd at the door, peopled most probably by no-one actually there to see Rainer Truby, which, especially after a brief, concern-inducing foray into the backroom, was most definitely their loss. Wheras back there was all tight jaws, vacant stares and 'bows being autopilot thrown to decidedly workmanlike techy-electro, the front room found Kaman and Kano laying down about the best warmup a dj like Rainer could hope for. As Annie noted, there were a lot of smiles in the room.
Having had Larry Levan throwing down the Salsoul classics for our cross-town pleasure in Nick's car we ducked past the queue to find Kaman in like-mind, playing some beautiful warm old mid-tempo disco before being joined by Kano to play the sort of latin-based music that never fails to make me smile. As we were expecting/hoping from Rainer, they moved through hip hop to drum and bass to house tempos, leaving him with Kaman's mix of Belladonna's Ebatule (which Irma have somewhat bafflingly not given a release date to, despite it being far acer than the DJ Uovo mix out earlier this year).
They left him with with everywhere to go, and for half an hour, Rainer held onto the floor they'd built with a slightly housier (but from the looks of the gradually thinning crowd, slightly less engaging) take on the same latin and afro-beat sounds, before moving into one of the nicer house sets I've heard in awhile. It was interesting hearing him play as hard as he did; tho there were points where i felt he stripped things back so far he lost momentum, when he reined things in after that one track too many by playing something a bit more dynamic, it was all the more appealing for it. The promoter who brought him out had come down from Sydney with stories of the last night's genre-hopping set, so it was a bit disappointing not hearing him play broader here, but i guess a dj like him doesn't often get to indulge in a straight house set - maybe people will talk. Personally, i'd forgotten how good it was to hear that sort of music, especially as so surprising a number of djs playing brukbeat won't touch it (which is weird).
Still and all, i didn't hear anything that had me rushing up to peer over his shoulder.
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Friday, June 11, 2004

bleurgh. far too tired for a friday afternoon not preceded by an evening of drinking and/or carousing. Instead spent helping a friend panel-beat articles written for the design magazine she edits into some semblance of readability; no small task given that most of these designers (ahem) cannot write for shit (aaaaaaaaa ha ha ha).
she had me write a couple of things for the current issue, the last she's editing before the publication moves up to Sydney, which was nice, as it's been awhile since i've had something published on anything other than music. One of these things was street art, and boy did having a tight word limit make for a pity.
Great frustration for me was not being able to properly lock horns with the people i was interviewing about what's problematic in the eminence of stencils, lightboxes, posters over, say, graf.
There's more to say, but just quickly, train-painting friends who've lived graf for most of their lives have a real problem with the stencil as street art; not (they say) so much for any issues of realness/hardness (though of course it's that too), but just because they see it as studio art that happens to be displayed on the street, not street art.
I'm not thumping any tubs over this, but i can see their point, although it's very easy to dismiss it as territorialism (especially in Melbourne, which isn't, after all, the Bronx). Is it sour grapes that artists who take less risks are getting more kudos for work in a forum that's always been the preserve of these mostly-maligned painters?
Being given The Art of Revolution, a German hardcover coffee table book full of photos of street art, has helped make my mind up on this. While it comes with a nice mix CD by Florian Keller, this book is so heavy on stencils, posters and stickers at the expense of any exposure of real graf you can't help but feel their defensiveness. Of course there are dozens of books featuring nothing but photos of whole-cars, but you know none of them were marketed, sold as well, or capture the imagination of the curious punter like The Art of Revolution will.
As if to defend it from this sort of argument, the book's collator refers to the work as 'post street art' in his introduction.

Two interesting things happening tonight making me wish i didn't feel quite so crap. Jamie Lidell and the unabombers.
For Jamie Lidell, see someone who writes better than me.
Both should be the hotness.
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