Archive for the 'music' Category

The Week

Here in the United States we are experts in the knowledge that editorial cartooning is a dying art. In other areas of the world, however, it is an art that people die for.

– Dr. Robert Russell

The week in review

The execution, earlier this year, of cartoonist Akram Raslan is another reminder of the untenable situation in Syria, of the kind we who are especially attuned to cartooning notice. As if we needed it. It is great that the deal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons so far seems to be going ahead (though, what about the chemical weapons in Egypt and Iran?), and good to see that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this week. But I fail to see how the Assad regime can be regarded as anything but illegitimate by now. I realize the complexity of the situation in the region, how delicate affecting regime change would be, and the power vacuum any removal of the current despot in charge would cause, but how can one seriously contemplate having dealings with these mass murderers in the future? How will the region ever be more stable if they remain in charge? After a while, fear of change just becomes cynicism.

Links:

  • I really shouldn’t be giving it any attention, but the new “Leonardo” find this week is symptomatic of a rising trend toward sensationalist PR stunts in the art world, where often dubious pieces are trotted out as genuine works by one of the great masters. Another example is the recent, silly attempt to upgrade a Velasquez copy at Kingston Lacy. The press clearly laps it up, but in the long run it has to be a problem for anybody taking seriously the study and facilitation of knowledge of art, as well as to the market. And it clearly makes one wary even of more serious proposals, such as that of the new, possible Titian I wrote about the other day.
  • Speaking of new finds, the sensationalist rollout of the fantastic Van Gogh discovery by the Van Gogh Museum last month is scrutinised and found wanting by Gary Schwartz.
  • And speaking of Nobel Prizes, the one for literature of course went to Alice Munro, whom I suppose is deserving and all, but when is the committee finally going to give it to Bob Dylan? Bill Wyman made the by now long stated case once again before the prize was announced.
  • Pusha T’s new album My Name is My Name, seems poised as contender for album of the year if the singles are anything to go by. The Kendrick Lamar-featured “Nosestalgia” is hot, and “Pain”, released this week is Fyah! Also, check David Drake’s pre-release analysis here.
  • If you read Danish, Louise B. Olsen’s smart and elegant essay on Krazy Kat is a nice way to celebrate the centenary of that greatest of comic strips.
  • Oh, and this article on how the city of London has become an international tax haven for real estate speculators is just a depressing peek into the workings of global capitalism, not the least to somebody like yours truly who will soon be moving to that city.
  • A certain tendency in hip hop?


    Over at RapSpot, I’ve just reviewed Chicago speed rap veteran Twista’s incredibly poor showing in Pumpehuset, Copenhagen this past Saturday (in Danish, unfortunately). A large part of my criticism is the fact that he lip synched almost his entire concert, which ties in with the reservations I recently expressed about the Wacka Flocka show at the same venue. The difference was that Twista for over twenty years has marketed himself as the fastest rapper alive and in this represents the kind of virtuoso technique that one has to be able to deliver on stage as well as in the booth in order to retain artistic credibility, whereas Wacka Flocka has not and does not. Also, Twista’s show was lazy and poorly conceived. A shame, but the real issue seems to me that this kind of approach to performaning live is proliferating in hip hop.

    Photo: Klaus Køhl.

    The Week

    The week in review

    This week the rap game experienced tremors when Big Sean released the song “Control” online. It featured a verse from the still-young, still gunning Kendrick Lamar on which he not only claimed for himself as many indices of hip hop royalty as he could — ‘Makavelli’s offspring’, the ‘Black Beatle’ or ‘Marley’ and, evidently most galling of all ‘King of New York’, he also named names, placing himself in the august company of the current paragons (Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Andre 3000) and calling out a selection of his contemporaries, warning them that whether they are homies or not, he is trying to make their careers history (or ‘murder’ them, to be exact) in the true, competitive spirit of hip hop. This touched of a frenzy of responses from all over the rap world, with dis tracks coming at Kendrick left and right (and mostly from New York emcees, as one would expect). Several prominent artists reacted positively, stating that Kendrick has made hip hop exciting again by rekindling the focus on lyrics.

    This is the kind of verse that’s an immediate jaw-dropper, and not even mainly because of the presumption of naming of names. It’s in the performance. Kendrick here sounds as hungry as he ever has, pouring more aggression into this one verse than his entire, already impressive body of work can muster. We’re hearing a new side of him here. It’s not really about the lyrics, despite what everyone has been saying. Kendrick pushes some easy buttons and simultaneously makes sure not to piss off the establishment too much (why not include Jigga, Nas, et. al. on his hit list while he’s at it? It would be in the spirit). (incidentally, I like that Kanye is nowhere mentioned!). And frankly the rest of the verse is kind of incoherent, lacking in evocative simile and too busy with the name checks. No, what makes this verse of a different order than just about all the responses and most of what one hears in rap at the moment is the conviction he brings to it. It is truly exciting to hear a rapper spit with such passion. The words matter, of course, but only because they are delivered with such fire, such promise. In one verse, Kendrick has done much to dispel the very reasonable fear that he might experience sophomore jinx after his masterful major label debut good kid m.A.A.d city of last year.

    XXL and MTV both provide nice overviews of the responses to the verse; Brandon Soderbergh has the best critical take on the song.

  • In other news, you have to read this incredible piece on how Edward Snowden established his contact to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
  • Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz on Detroit’s plight and what one might learn from it.
  • Party and Bullshit


    Went to Waka Flocka Flame’s concert in Copenhagen last night. Didn’t quite know what to expect, but arrived stoked to find out whether the energy he channels so freely on record translated well to the stage. Well, it did and it didn’t.

    Waka Flocka’s music is simple, testosterone-charged, almost vitalistic hip hop that carries the trappings of gangsta rap, but fundamentally is about a party. It is the wrong place to look for complexity and even variety, but when he is at his best — like on his amazing album debut Flockavelli from 2010 — he marries infectious abandon and chest-thumping assertiveness, and he tends to do it over Lex Luger’s majestic, surprisingly complex orchestration.

    Anyway, much of this also happens live. Turnout was low at the venue, Pumpehuset, but what a crowd — youngsters moshing bare-chested in the front rows, the rest reliably throwing their hands up at every prompt. And Waka and his DJ brought great physical energy to their performance, never letting things slip. It was a party, no doubt about it.

    On the other hand, Waka didn’t really rap much at all. Most of the time he either shouted or ad-libbed his own recorded vocals, essentially acting as a hype man to his own music. It was more of a DJ’s vocal performance than that of an MC and when one is reared on hip hop being about skill in live performance, that just doesn’t cut it for a high profile rapper like Waka (the DJ didn’t do anything beyond pressing play, adding the obligatory gunclaps and ad-libbing on the his mic). From a musical point of view, it makes for a fallow listening experience.

    I suspect Waka doesn’t even give it second thought, coming as he does from a tradition of Southern hip hop that doesn’t adhere to the blueprints prescribed in New York last century. Where this is perfectly acceptable as a live performance because it gets the job done — it’s a party, people have fun. This seems to be a tendency that is becoming increasingly prevalent in hip hop, and one that poses a fundamental challenge to certain core values in the culture. Now, I don’t think skills are disappearing from the music — clearly Waka has them in the studio, and channels he his persona well on stage, which is also important to the skill set of an MC — but I can’t help but feel a little sad to see such devaluation of vocal and musical artistry in a genre that has always put a high premium to them. It is a carte blanche to lazy, disposable music and, in the hands of less charismatic performers, extremely dull concerts.

    The video above, from a 2012 performance in London gives a good idea of Waka Flocka’s performance style as I experienced it, although he didn’t bring a drummer to the stage last night.

    The Week

    The week in review

    This weekend saw the first Vanguard Festival here in Copenhagen. A bold step up from long-time hip hop booker Peter “Soul Kitchen” and his team, it spread over two days divided between indie rock (Friday) and hip hop (Saturday). Surely a risk, it seems to have paid off — at least judging by attendance on Saturday. The lineup was stellar, if somewhat retrograde — what one might call ‘your dad’s favorite hip hop’: Pharoahe Monche, DOOM, De La Soul, and the Wu-Tang Clan (on their 20th anniversary tour), as well as some quality Nordic acts, with Loop Troop Rockers and Malk de Koijn being the most notable.

    While among the best in hip hop of the past twenty plus years, the list carried some risk: DOOM is infamously languorous on stage, De La have long been past their (astonishing) prime, the the Wu-Tang are notorious wild cards as a live act. And while DOOM was just as boring as always, and De La gave a lacklustre performance loaded up with time-filler and frustrating wheel-ups, the festival overall was a fantastic live experience. Loop Troop ripped it with their reliably energetic show; Malk is always solid: Pharoahe, backed up by Mela Machinko and DJ Boogie Blind, was reliably amazing, his vocal stylings and content crisp on the mic; and Wu-Tang brought the blast.

    When I last heard them perform live, in 2008 — in the wake of their partly public row over royalties and creative decisions — morale was clearly fraying and their show was erratic. Five years later, and twenty years after Enter the Wu-Tang, the Clan was evidently more closely knit, even if Ghostface still seems reluctant to participate — I don’t think he spat more than four or five verses total — and any Wu-Tang show without a prominent Ghost is a less than optimal one. Good that Meth remains the fabulous entertainer he is, that U-God and GZA (the usual weak links live) performed above average, that Dek remains rock solid, and that the RZA retains his enthusiasm. Also crucial was the crowd, psyched to witness the entire clan on stage for the first time in Denmark, sending much love their way. The interaction, spiked when RZA invited two kids on stage to rock out to “4th Chamber”, was nothing less than wonderful and made for a magical finish to a great festival that I hope we will see return many a time in the future.

    UPDATE: for Danish readers, peep the Rapspot coverage by Svensker-Martin (Ponyblod, Loop Troop, DOOM, Wu-Tang) and Toobs (Marvelous Mosell, Pharoahe Monche, De La Soul, Malk de Koijn), and here are Kenneth Nguyen’s photos.

    OK, here are some links:

  • A major piece of reportage this week was Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian‘s exposure of the NSA XKeystroke surveillance programme. If you didn’t take the time to look at it already, I urge you to do so. Like so much of what the US Government gets up to internationally, this affects us all. Related: John Cassidy and Ben Wizner had useful commentary on the Bradley Manning verdict.
  • Ahmed Akkari interviewed on Danish TV. Akkari was one of the group of Danish Muslim representatives who travelled around the Arab countries in the wake of Jyllands-Posten‘s publication of the infamous Muhammad cartoons, fanning the flames of what was at that point still mostly a local conflict. Since that went down, he’s matured and done some soul searching and now comes forward to denounce his actions in public. Anyone interested in the affair should watch this fascinating interview conducted with reliable acuity by Martin Krasnik. Unfortunately it is in non-captioned Danish. I don’t know whether there’s a transcript out there.
  • The Frankfurt School. Excellent web resource presenting central texts by Frankfurt school thinkers. Great for reference, as well as general edification.
  • Photo: Ghostface Killa by Paw Ager for the Vanguard Festival. More here.

    Roskilde 2013 in Retrospect

    Kendrick Lamar by Kenneth Nguyen


    It’s been two weeks now since the Roskilde Festival. Two busy weeks with lots happening. It was another good year, however, not the least for hip hop, with a program focused on coastal innovation, from Kendrick Lamar to El-P and Killer Mike to Mykki Blanco and Azealia Banks. The notable misfire was Rihanna lip synching her way through a boring set Saturday night. Anyway, our coverage at Rapspot can be sampled here, and these are my contributions: Mykki Blanco, Killer Mike and El-P, Linkoban, and Kid Koala as well as my usual rap up commentary, which I’ve just uploaded. All in Danish. I’m sorry.

    Thanks for a great festival, everyone – and props to the graff people who celebrated their 15th anniversary at the festival this year with another great burn on the festival walls.

    See you next year?

    It’s About that Time, Roskilde!

    Photo from Roskilde 2012 by KenYen


    Once again, you know where you’ll find me this weekend. At the Roskilde Festival, covering the hip hop acts and assorted as part of the RapSpot team. So tune in over there, and witness the strength of sneed knowledge.

    The Week

    The week in review.

    Well, what do you know? The Dutch portrait head that surfaced at a small English auction sale in 2007 and was bought as a Rembrandt for £2 million has now been acquired by the Getty as the earliest known self-portrait by the master for an undisclosed sum. It now also carries the Ernst van de Wetering stamp of approval, which one should take seriously even if his and the Rembrandt Research Project’s track record is far from consistently convincing. (Check this video where van de Wetering talks up the picture).

    I haven’t seen the picture in the flesh, but it still looks like a pastiche to me. Like somebody imitating Rembrandt, overdoing his signature paint application and stylistic flourishes — the impastoed facial modeling, the strong contrast, the patchy fill-in of the background. But I am no specialist and may of course be entirely wrong.

    Links (it’s been a while!)

  • Du9′s annual Numérologie posting, analysing the French-language comics market, is back with coverage of 2012 and it’s bigger and better than ever. Xavier Guilbert has really grown with this feature and this is some of his most impressive work yet. Required reading for anybody interested in the field.
  • Music release of the week: Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson’s second long-player — now under the name of The Uncluded — Hokey Fright, available for streaming here. I already like it better than the Hail May Mallon album, I think.
  • Ray Harryhausen RIP. Steve Bissette with a personal appreciation of the special effects master.
  • Also, in the latest installment of his always excellent column at The Comics Journal, Ryan Holmberg interviews Barath Murthy of Comix India.
  • Donald Byrd in Hip Hop


    The passing of the great trumpetist Donald Byrd last week brought me back to his music, but also to the music that taught me about him. The great jazz-inflected wave of hip hop music during those magical years in the early nineties, before sampling laws changed the direction of the art, relied in no small measure on his music. Here’s my time machine. Continue reading ‘Donald Byrd in Hip Hop’

    Donald Byrd RIP

    The man with the liquid horn passed away earlier this week, we now learn. I’ll leave deeper analysis to the specialists and merely note that I’ve always gotten immense enjoyment out of his recordings, from his early bop period to his seminal fusion material, on his own and with the Blackbyrds. His playing was consistently light and energetic, celebratory even. Check the hook — and his soloing! — on “Ghana” from 1960, above. (Hank Mobley’s muscular tenor sax is magnificent too, a perfect counterpoint).

    Naturally, the entry point for me was hip hop: Gang Starr, Public Enemy, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Black Moon, and on, with Guru and Jazzmatazz providing the reveal.

    But soon, his own material took over, not the least on his fusion material for which he seemed eminently suited. Continue reading ‘Donald Byrd RIP’

    The Week

    The week in review

    Once again, I find myself moving house. This is the fifth time in two years. It’s a drag, but promises to be good once it’s done. This just to say that for the next while there’s a better than normal reason for spotty updates here, or at the very least incomplete ones. Such as this one.

    Damn, sometimes I wish I didn’t own so much junk.

    At least, here are some links:

  • James Meek on Breaking Bad. Fine piece arguing for the political edge to the excellent, if perhaps somewhat overlong, AMC show. Having enjoyed a large chunk of the series over the holidays, I must say that I share Meek’s enthusiasm, even if I have my reservations when subjecting it to closer analysis. Intelligent entertainment building a grand, if flawed conceit of chemistry as a metaphor for life.
  • Tom Spurgeon’s series of holiday interviews with comics folks are always a treat. I’ve missed most of them and his site doesn’t make them easy to find, but I’m sure he’ll post an overview with links once he’s done. Today’s interview with the fine cartoonist and groundbreaking editor Sammy Harkham is a good place to park yourself while waiting.
  • Huijbert van Opstal on Victorian Age wood engraving and its cartoon offshoots. The piece, which was inspired by a revelatory meeting of the Platinum Age nerd mind (guilty as charged) at Angoulême last year, this should be unknown territory to most people, including comics afficionados.
  • This article on Shigeru Mizuki’s autobiographically comics about the second world war is informative, but the real treat is a scanlated version of his key story on the subject “War and Japan” (1991). I’ve referred you all to it before, but that link is now dead, so here’s your re-up.
  • 2012: The Year in Hip Hop at Rapspot


    As always, we the people of Rapspot have selected our favorites (as well as the wackest) of the year 2012. The text is in Danish, but check out the list anyway, there’s some good stuff on it and for once I agree with the to highest-scoring records. I hope to write up my own shortlist soon, so stay tuned.

    Above: watch Kendrick Lamar break down the truth behind the most personal track on his brilliant major label debut album good kid m.A.A.d city.

    The Week

    The week in review

    On Christmas eve, 18-year old Joshua Davis was shot dead in the West Englewood section of Chicago. He was an aspiring rapper, going under the name Jayloud. He was killed in an altercation, allegedly because he was wearing a hoodie bearing the name of his close friend, the rapper Lil Jojo, himself shot to death in October. Another couple of statistics, I suppose, in a country suffering thousands of murders, the majority by guns, every year. Another couple of footnotes, I suppose, in the ongoing self-destruction wrought by poor inner city youth on themselves. But tragedy, first and last.

    The only reason I know about these deaths is because of the hip hop connection. The power of hip hop, in large part, has always been the voice it gives to subaltern parts of the world, primarily the United States. This is its lifeblood and its discontent. In the present case, hip hop music played an integral part in the gang feud leading to the killings, and secured for it much broader exposure than other such — from a news perspective — sadly routine events tend to get. Hip hop can be a beautiful thing, it carries a promise of emancipation, but gnawing at its core is a despairing nihilism reflective of its brain trust. It’s enough to make you wanna holler.

    RIP

  • The New York Times has a section up remembering notable people who died in the course of the year. I found this one on legendary graffiti writer Stay High 149 poignant, this one on Adam “MCA” Yauch incisive, and this radio clip with the great Maurice Sendak is very moving.
  • Keiji Nakazawa, creator of the blunt, shocking memoir of surviving Hiroshima, Hadashi no Gen (1973-1985, Barefoot Gen) also passed away this week. For those who read Danish, I wrote an obituary at Nummer9. Read a scanlation of his first work to engage the aftermath of the atom bomb, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (‘Struck by Black Rain, 1972) here.
  • Last but not least, Marva Whitney, arguably the rawest vocalist to have worked with James Brown, died just before Christmas. He gruff, rousing voice lives on in legendary recording such as “Unwind Yourself” and “It’s My Thing.”
  • The Week

    The week in review

    This holiday week, I thought I’d share a couple of insightful nuggets pertaining to particular corners of the hip hop and comics worlds that are dear to me. Little gifts of extemporal criticism, if you will. First up is cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert on the genius of André Franquin, creator of Gaston Lagaffe, from this interview on the former’s latest — great! — book L’Enfance d’Alan:

    I recently gave a talk on Franquin at a library seminar. I kind of went on a tirade to express my great appreciation I have for certain people, and especially him. This was a guy who, to me, lived his entire life, without filter. He endured perpetual and tremendous nervous stress because of his great sensitivity. Everything resonated with him: people, plants, animals, architecture… everything that surrounded him clearly affected him, haunted him, obsessed him… Naturally, this resulted in episodes of great melancholy, but this is how it had to be. When you have this human quality, which to me borders on the martyrological, there is inevitably an aspect of sacrifice. To capture the world, making the effort to do so when you’re possessed of a nervous temperament such as his, is restorative.

    Franquin’s nervousness is something singular. When you read Gaston Lagaffe or Spirou with an understanding of its aspect of frustration, of repetition, of the wear and tear of daily life (that one never succeeds in signing a contract, for example [a reference to a running gag in Gaston])… all this explains the grinding of teeth, the difficulties his characters have with fitting in… and at the centre of all this, it felt natural for Franquin to place the character Gaston, who — in contrast to himself — remained entirely unaffected. I think it would be worthwhile to write about all this. Perhaps I’ll do so one day, but it’s amazing how far it goes. And I think this explains the intensity of the passion some people have for comics.

    (The imperfect translation is mine). Next up is drummer and anchorman of the hip hop band The Roots, Questlove, ostensibly on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s classic “It Takes Two”, from his enjoyable list of fifty favourite hip hop cuts from the beginnings to his own professional debut in 1995. What an occasion to talk about James Brown’s drummers?

    For all of the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield “Funky Drummer” sample folklore talk out there, I rarely hear conversation about the James Brown drummer who actually got sampled more than my idol Clyde did. John “Jabo” Starks was the Beatles to Clyde’s Stones. A clean shuffle drummer to Clyde’s free-jazz left hand. Clyde fit more with Public Enemy’s pop-art-rock sporadic vision. Emphasis on everything surrounding the one beat, thus making other parts of your body shake in order to keep up with his rhythm – see “Mother Popcorn,” “It’s A New Day” and “Give It Up or Turn It Loose.” Jabo’s sparse, all-on-the-one funk was more at home with conservative soul lovers – see “Hot Pants,” “Escapism” and “The Payback” – which is why it makes total sense that Clyde’s panic style was the anchor to drum and bass music and other experimental styles, while Jabo was the anchor of the New Jack Swing movement. He was always reliably on the one and never, ever in the way. Jabo’s go-to magnum opus was on the five-break-filled JB-produced “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins. James’ holy ghost yelp almost threatens to upstage Starks’ show, but it’s Starks’ steady glide that gave R&B music its blueprint some 15 years after its release.

    Apocalypse Now

    Not that I want to jump on the silly media bandwagon or anything, but this End of Days affords me the opportunity to post the video above, for seminal Danish hip hop group Malk de Koijn’s “Braget” (‘The Boom’), written and directed atmospherically by Tobias Gundorff Boesen, alumnus of The Animation Workshop in Viborg — the school which has just announced a new educational track for comics makers. From the Gilliamesque vistas of a Copenhagen apocalypse to the Tarkoskyesque finish, it shows a keen visual talent and a sure directorial hand.

    Happy Apocalypse. Next.