Sunday, May 23, 2004


JP over at Intellectual Hip Hop Commentary suggests that I should publish a small guide on "how to start writing on music" since I get asked that question all the time. It's worth thinking about but let me offer some free advice in the meantime:

I used to (and still) do this all the time but one should really try to stay away from making sweeping generalizations about an entire GENRE of music as a way to make your point. The most base form of this, especially in hip-hop writing, is something that resembles the following formula:

"While other rappers only seem able to rhyme about [insert: money, drugs, violence, women, etc], [insert obscure indie rapper] is something meaningful about [insert: what he ate for breakfast, his last break-up, some super-scientifical shit, 9/11, etc.]"

I call it straw-man criticism because you're setting up everyone else to fail simply to prop up the artist you're championing. It's easy to describe based on exclusion but it's a cheap trick that is large on rhetoric, small on actual description. More dangerously, it can and will make you sound like a total fucking ignoramous when you use it unwisely.

Case in point: this comes to me from Michaelangelo Matos, who lays into Salon's Thomas Bartlett (who writes their Wed. Morning Download column) for saying some supremely stupid things in his column. When I say stupid, I don't mean Bartlett lacks the intelligence to write well, I mean that his criticism is lazy, tired and small-minded. Matos gives Bartlett the full blast but let me just point out one thing that Bartlett writes when talking about Ghostface's "Love":

    "It's fascinating that hip-hop, notorious for machismo, anger and violence, can produce music [he's writing about Ghostface's 'Love'] this gloriously, unabashedly sentimental"

Bartlett is making sweeping generalizations that one would typically expect only from a middle-aged white man (or Stanley Crouch), i.e. that hip-hop is mostly known for machismo, anger, and violence and that it is not, in fact, about glorious, unabashed sentiment. I don't know if Bartlett is middle-aged or white but his comment does betray an ignorance that essentially invalidates whatever else he writes. See, this is the problem: Bartlett could have penned 1,000 genius words celebrating Ghostface (doubtful but let's just pretend). However, that one line undermines him so badly, it might as well be a faulty brake line on an otherwise spank car. The problem is that it reveals an utter LACK of knowledge about the very genre he's debasing. Hip-hop is FILLED with unabashed sentiment, not the least of which is from Ghostface himself, or the Wu-Tang in general, or any number of HUNDREDS of songs you could choose from. In fact, here's just a random sampling I whipped off the dome:
    De La Soul: Eye Know
    A Tribe Called Quest: Bonita Applebaum
    Jay-Z: Song Cry
    Chubb Rock: Cat
    AZ: In a Special Way
    Pete Rock and CL Smooth: They Reminisce over You
    Too Short: Freaky Tales (ok, that's a joke...or maybe not)

My point being that if you paint with such a wide brush, you're simply outting yourself as a know-nothing who's trying to talk bigger than you're capable of. I don't write on rock albums much because, honestly, I'm not that schooled in the genre. But if I were to, say, tackle Loretta Lynn's new album, produced by Jack White, I'd at least better know some basics about Lynn's background within country music as well as Jack White's position within the rock world and moreover, appreciate that the intersection between rock and country music is hardly new or unique. As I said in a previous post, that's doing your homework. Bartlett is guilty of intellectual truancy. Detention for him after school, where he'll be forced to listen to LL's "I Need Love" 100 times.


Pop Life's valued colleague/friend Joseph Patel aka Jazzbo shows you how to do this, son. Eminem recently helped encourage young hip-hop fans to get out and register to vote, and just to accent the point, he claimed that, because he has a felony record, he is barred from voting. Simple, straightforward story, right? Well, Jazzbo showed some brilliant instinct and did this little thing called fact-checking (something that far too few writers ever bother with) and discovered, actually, Eminem can vote - he just needs to register. Read about it here.

Now, it's not like this is going to bump Iraq off the headlines, but this shows you what some basic instinct and a little labor can produce: a small story now made interesting and worth a good laugh from all of us out there who love (or don't) Eminem but enjoy that even the most powerful white rapper in the world still needs to do his homework sometimes. Detention for Marshall Mathers too, where he'll be forced to hand out voter registration sign-up sheets at the DMV.

By the way, this is now my all-time favorite photo of the aforementioned Jazzbo:

I hear he's mad nice on the mic too - Kanyeezy better watch his back.


  • Upgrade: Sopranos. This show has FINALLY gotten some goddamn cajones. Watching it was like getting kicked in the stomach and it sets up what promises to be a rollicking season finale where one should assume bodies will start dropping like flies. I realize that with Drea de Matteo leaving to star on Joey, they had to resolve her character, Adriana, but I really did not see her little ride into the forest with Silvio coming. Her demise was truly tragic: her character the last two seasons has suffered more pathos than anyone, Tony S. included, and in a season that's lacked depth or even believability, her removal finally brought some realness home. Just to note too, her execution recalled at least two different movies I could think of: 13th Hour, where Edward Norton's character dreams of what an alternative future could look like, driving up north from New York. And there's Miller's Crossing, whose VHS box depicts a mob executon in the fall forest. In any case, Pop Life sheds a tear for the dearly departed Adriana and hopes that sometime between this and next season, Christopher gets his. Hopefully painfully.

  • Downgrade:Alias. I'm not dismissing the show outright but the season finale was rather wack. Apparently, they had to change the original ending (never a good sign) but what they really need to do is rejigger the entire story arc. I said this before and I'll say it again: the Rimbali plot is choking the show to death. It's actually worse than the so-called X-Files "mythology" which, while suffocating the show at times, wasn't nearly as omnipresent as Rimbali is in Alias. We've been dealing with this crap for three seasons now and where it was once intriguing, it's now become the entire logic that powers the show and it's awkwardly forcing the storylines to comply. Seeing Lauren get whacked was mildly gratifying but really, I'm not convinced she's really dead yet. No one on this show dies easily, you know? But all that aside, what new plot twist can they possibly pull out now? Mom's come and gone. Sydney's gotten her two years back. Ok, now what? I feel like next season could very well be the show's last and if things keep going the way they're going - it deserves to be.

  • If you need a good laugh over other people's stupidity, read this.

  • Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.Yes, it's from the same director who did Dude, Where's My Car but I'm not holding that against the film. Not yet at least. Still, I gotta represent for my man (and Cal alum) John Cho.

  • I missed the first episode but reality t.v. comes to Asian America. Quest USA. I am not at all convinced this is a good thing but we'll see after I catch the show.
    (credit: Angry Asian Man)

  • Hua's on-going postings about conversations heard in the club are priceless. Every DJ has had to deal with them but it doesn't make them any less funny.

  • Then again, I guess that beats cleaning up watermelon off your dancefloor.