Monday, April 19, 2004


I don't have time to drop a full report back but message to music scholars/journalists who did NOT attend the EMP Conference this year: ya'll missed out. Seriously.

Maybe you went before and were non-plussed by the experience: I don't blame you - like any conference, there are going to be uneven experiences that come out of it and EMP has gone through the growing pains of a new conference, trying to get its footing and chemistry right. I thought The New Yorker's Alex Ross was rather snarky in his review of last year's conference but some of his observations were accurate. With this year's conf though, I think EMP took a big leap forward in making the panels/papers more focused and cogent, and the proceedings were decidedly more diverse (both in the topics being presented as well as the attendees themselves). Just to provide full disclosure, I was on this year's conference committee so it might seem self-serving to pat myself and the other committee members of the back, but in my conversations with both first time and returning attendees, it was nearly universal that people came away with very positive feelings about their experience. Certainly, I had a fucking blast - not exactly the most scholarly evaluation I could give, but it's honest.

More importantly (and less profane), EMP has started to cohere the beginnings of a potential community of scholars, writers and musicians who use the conference as a space to exchange ideas and conversations that don't always exist elsewhere. In other spheres, scholars worry about not being jouranlistic enough (ok, actually, they don't, but they should) while journalists worry about not being academic enough, etc. but here, I don't think those distinctions matter so much as all so long as long you're presenting material that's interesting, relevant or informative. The best papers, it seems, are those that hit the audience with research on a song, or album, or artist, or trend, etc. that they never knew before but feel enriched now having that knowledge or perspective. That transcends your professional affiliations or methodologies.

I didn't get a chance to catch everything but these were just a sample of some of the things I either knew to be kick ass or heard were:

  • RJ Smith on the history of the song "Nature Boy" and its eclectic songwriter Eden Abez.
  • Ted Anthony on the genealogy of "House of the Rising Sun" (which apparently included the greatest Powerpoint presentation ever created)
  • Jeff Chang, Benji Melendez and Henry Chalfant on the history of the South Bronx gang (turned Latin soul group): The Ghetto Brothers. Essential pre-hip-hop history.
  • The entire Hip-Hop Travelogues panel which includes papers by Christian Veran, April Henderson and Raquel Cepeda, opening up the conversation on thinking about hip-hop beyond just the staid paradigms of Blackness and New York-ness to include Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and the religion/culture of Yoruba.
  • Julianne Shepherd (aka The Coolest Gal Ever) on Christina Aguilera as post-Riot Grrrrl Feminist icon.
  • Robert Fink on the curious history of the ORCH5 chord ("Planet Rock" fans represent) - on paper, you'd thikn this was some esoteric stuff until you hear this paper and realize how fascinating a single chord can be within pop music history.
  • The Walk on Both Sides panel which had Mark Anthony Neal, Jason King and Jon Caramanica presenting on White Chocolate Soul, Rap Flow and Feng Shui and Rappers-Turned-Rockstars respectively. More heat than a haberno.
  • Elizabeth Mendez Berry (what up girl!) on unsung Mexican diva legend Chavela Vargas.
  • Tim Quirk on the magic of Pete Townshend's windmills.
  • The entire Female Hip-Hop Writers Summit: Joan Morgan, Karen Good, Raquel Cepeda and Lizz Berry. Talk about the history you never get to hear about...
  • The entire Critical Karaoke crew (you kind of had to be there to understand though)
For 2005, I'd encourage past attendees to seriously consider coming back, either to present or just spectate. And folks who've never been there, including many of you who I know read this blog on the regular, take a chance to try to come out for 2005.