Pop Life

Saturday, January 10, 2004


the long road to where?

I realized this some time ago that outside of New York, Seattle is the one city that I have visited the most yet have never lived. I'm not sure why this is - surely Seattle's proximity to my current Bay Area denizens offers a financial incentive but mostly, I think it's a series of unintended coincidences and circumstances, like the time my parents wanted to visit Seattle and Vancouver for the holidays (bad choice, us not having realized that Northwest winters can be as bitingly cold as Northeastern ones, sans the debilitating visitations of blizzards) or my most recent trip to help plan for this year's Experience Music Project conference. (I won't elaborate on the conference too long here - the link above will supply you with some relevant info, or you can read the New Yorker's smarmy, sneering piece on the 2003 conference).

Seattle is, without a doubt in mind, one of the smallest big cities in America, by which I mean that my expectations of it are bigger than its reality can support. It neither announces its greatness in metropolitan brashness in contrast to New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Nor does it have the neighborhood charm of its southern cousin, Portland. The city it reminds me most of is Washington D.C., not because they remotely look alike, but because I find both disappointingly inactive for cities with such cosmopolitan reputations. (In all fairness, one could probably say much the same about San Francisco and especially Oakland but we have better weather and record stores so I don't despair as much).

I will say this much about Seattle though - it is, unquestionably, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever known. The integration between sea, air, land, development and commerce exceeds that of even my beloved Bay Area - the main difference being that the Bay is epic in its urban grandeur while Seattle offers more accessible access to its charms. I don't know why I think this but Seattle always strikes me as a more blue collar version of the Bay and there's some strange quality reminiscent of New England to it too. I never fail to appreciate the city's beauty when I'm driving through it, nor especially when I

Whenever I have come to Seattle for the EMP, I have always stayed at the Courtyard Marriot by Lake Union which is the closest hotel to the EMP museum itself. And whenever I look out the front door, or in this case, my recent hotel morning, I am always greeted with the view posted above. There's a major, elevated road - it might even be Interstate 5 but truly, I don't even know - that runs alongside the opposite side of the lake and I am utterly taken with it. You can see part of it above - the bridge that spans the center is part of it. I've struggled to figure out what it is about this road that impresses upon me so much and I have yet to come up with a suitable answer. All I know is that it manages to tap into me emotionally. Whenever I am here, with this vantage, I find myself staring at the road that flanks this lake, watching the traffic slide by, wondering where everyone is head yet knowing that I'll never know.
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Thursday, January 08, 2004


that's 80s sophistication for you

Frequently in my blog, I refer to my dissertation, mostly how blogging constitutes one helluva distraction from said dissertation. So what, exactly, is my dissertation about? I'm writing a history of the Filipino American mobile DJ scene in the Bay Area, 1978-1995. Contrary to most assumptions, I am not really focusing on 1) Filipinos in hip-hop or 2) turntablists/scratchers. It's not that I don't find either of those topics interesting, but I'm trying to learn what I can about the mobile DJ scene which was 1) embracing of hip-hop but was more oriented around uptempo, hi-NRG dance and 2) filled with mixers rather than scratchers, at least up through the early 1990s.

My history begins in 1978 when a bunch of guys at Balboa H.S. in San Francisco formed into the first Filipino mobile crew: Sound Explosion. And it ends in 1995 since that is the year that the Invisibl Skratch Piklz formed, thus marking the symbolic transition from the end of the mobile crews to the rise of the scratching crews.

Off and on, I'll be posting up more details from my research but for now, I wanted to hep people to DJ Slammin' Sam's "Classic Flyer Events Gallery" which archives over 30 fliers from the Bay Area's '80s party scene. It was a fantastic resource to find and hopefully, just represents the beginning of attempts to archive some of the rich visual material that came out of this scene.

If you are, or know of anyone who has a history in this scene - I don't need more DJs but it'd be great to find men and women who grew up attending these parties and events - holler at me.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2004


ahmir is in deep concentration

This is back from August but hey, I'm a slow reader. Touré interviews ?uestlove (aka Ahmir Thompson) from The Roots for The Believer. I've never been a big fan of Touré's writing - at one point, after Tupac died, he pledged never to write on hip-hop again and for a long time, I had hoped he was serious but I have to say - this is one fantastic interview. It's not just that ?uest is a great interview (he is) but the two seemingly establish a fantastic rapport that leads them all these different places that, as a reader, you wouldn't anticipate. If you slept, like me, get with it now - it's never too late.

And oh yeah, this piece, which goes on for quite a while, is further proof that long-form music journalism is important and should be encouraged in these days of the mini-review. (thanks to Matos' blog)
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In a now infamous blog screed, Jeff Chang took on Da Capo's "Best Music Writing of..." series for perpetuating a white, male dominated world view on pop music. In doing so, he gave voice to what many of us on the sidelines had already been grumbling about for years but just assumed nothing would ever change.

Well, maybe nothing will change - it's too early to tell but Jeff writes about his experience and attitudes towards Da Capo for the SF Bay Guardian. This is a powerful, articulate piece that manages to both remind us of what's at stake when it comes to representation and media as well as bring us to a more hopeful space as to what the future of music criticism - and who is included in those ranks - will bring.
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vibe-rant thangs

Peep: my girl Serena Kim over at Vibe Magazine and her fellow editors Hyun Kim and Donnie Kwak get profiled in this month's KoreAm Journal.
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Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Hiphopsite.com's annual year-in-review column is one of my favorite pieces to peruse. Pizzo and his merry band of Las Vegans spare nothing in lambasting the wack and praising the good. Frankly, their tastes are so out of whack with my own, I more or less skip over their "Best Of" lists covering conventional ground like "best emcees", "best rhymes," etc. In fact, I don't think I agreed with anything they wrote in those sections (maybe I'm just bitter that "Fair Weathered Fan" got their pick for "Best Conceptual Rhyme" but then again, I might be inclined to agree despite the song's content). I mean Pizzee - the Neptunes also produced "Light Yo Ass On Fire," "Beautiful," and "Excuse Me Miss Again." And you're putting them under Alchemist? And why is Eminem even on list of "best producers"? A one note style (minor key baby!) does not a producer make (though that seems to have benefitted Premier pretty well all these years).

Quick observation: HHS splits their list into two categories - Majors vs. Underground/Indies and it is incredibly striking how massive the distance is between those two categories now. A lot has changed in only about five years and this gap between where different hip-hop heads are at is stunning. Unless of course, there are a lot of cats picking up both Lloyd Banks and the Weathermen but I'm not banking on that.

Anyways, where the fun really gets going starts with their section on Beef: Memorable Battles of 2003 and keeps on extending to such notable categories as The 5 Biggest Bitch Moves of 2003 and The 5 Dumbest Moves by a Rapper. Nothing but pure comedy.
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Monday, January 05, 2004


mao on the mic

*updated*What was first just idle rumor is now, apparently, actual-factual. The Chinese gov't is repackaging Chairman Mao as an MC. Here's a radio report from BBC/NPR's The World that includes some audio examples. I'll have to post up something on China's real hip-hop scene later (what up MC Showtyme - I see you!) but for, I think the gov't should take a page from Mos Def and Kweli and call the hip-hoppin' Chairman, Red Star. Tzin hau! (spotted on the hiphopmusic.com blog)
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not mad no more

Wisdom from Skillz who follows up his 2002 in review by a reviewing the hip-hop and pop world of 2003: "thank god I'm a southerner/because you know it's over/when the Terminator is your governor." (as seen on Sasha's blog)
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Should professors and students be allowed to sleep together? - is this the "burning academic question of the day"? Northwestern's Laura Kipnis, who has become a bit of an intellectual celeb of late (and I mean that in a good way) because of her recent book Against Love: A Polemic, tackles the question in a recent Slate column. To be quite candid, I'm not sure if this is the burning academic question - out here in my parts of the academic world, the bigger questions include:
  • Will any of us find a job? Or at least a post-doc?
  • Given California's abysmal state budget (none helped by Gubnur Ahnuld), will there even be jobs?
  • Can someone please find a way to make Ward Connerly just go away? At least to another state?

    Appropriately though, what sparks Kipnis' interest in the topic is that my UC system has recently instituted a ban on consensual relationships between professors and students which is just the latest in a string of similar policy enactments that various schools (William and Mary for one) have been establishing over the last few years. These policies come amidst several high-profile media stories on the issue, no doubt fueled by obvious prurient appeal, the most infamous being Rolling Stone's "expose" on the sex lives of Wellesley students. (I could have sworn the mag then followed up with another story, specifically on professor-student sex, that appeared within a year of the Wellesley piece but I can't seem to find it again).

    Ok - so the gist of Kipnis' position is essentially a libertarian one: institutions should not govern people's private behavior. She writes specifically, "the problem in redressing romantic inequalities with institutional blunt instruments is that it just confers more power on the institutions themselves, vastly increasing their reach into people's lives." I'm actually quite sympathetic to this point of view in general theory except that Kipnis doesn't really extend on it through the remainder of her column, except to share a long yarn about a silly sexual harassment workshop she attended at Northwestern. Again, I'm wholly sympathetic to her take on that - one of my least favorite activities as someone who worked at UC Berkeley (besides my 11.5+ years of matriculation) were "diversity sensitivity" workshops that were perfect examples of how well-intentioned policies can result in the most insipid of realities. (Hint: anti-racism takes more than performing a skit about ethnic stereotypes). My point though is that Kipnis more or less lays out this idea that "regulation = bad" but fails to elaborate in a convincing fashion as to why it's bad in this case. Her attitude - and this is firmly in line with what she publishes in Against Love - is that sex is already regulated enough in our society so why extend it further into the academy?

    As someone firmly entrenched in academia (for better or for worse), this is an issue I've spent some time thinking about. For the record, I've never slept with any of my students, nor even entertained the thought (for some strange reason, some of my friends, female at that, think it's crazy that I've never tried to hook up with a student...they made it sound like the most obvious thing in the world to do and I could only stare back at them, incredulous at what they were suggesting). I do know, however, quite a few students who have slept with professors and vice versa and in general, it ALWAYS ENDS BADLY. Now - this is all anecdotal and not based on data I've collected or anything but then again, Kipnis is making her argument largely through posture, conjecture and theory too. I'm sure she - or anyone else - can provide examples of functional, productive and nurturing relationships between professors and students but exceptions don't prove the rule. After all, there are probably some people out there who think Strom Thurmond might have really been in love with the 16 year old black housekeeper he impregnated back in his 20s but for most of the rest of us, we're thinking "rape" given the obvious power dynamics at work in such a racially charged environment.

    So yes, throughout the world everywhere, there are many examples of positive sexual relationships based in unequal power relations: military officers sleeping with underlings, bosses and their workers, etc. However, the underlying issue here is one of exploitation and the need to ward against it. The reason why we formulate sexual harassment policies in general is because it's clear and apparent that those in power are usually not capable of regulating their own behavior (from the President on down, I might add) and that, given the opportunity to take sexual advantage, they will. Before anyone brings it up - yes, this can operate in reverse too - it's not as if "underlings" don't prey on their higher-ups - but once again, exceptions don't prove the rule. And moreover, sexual harassment legislation exists to protect both sides.

    Moreover, I do not think, as Kipnis suggests, that trying to formalize a ban on prof/student relationships is disrespectful to the agency of students to make intelligent, adult decisions. Though protectionism is part of the rationale behind such policies, it's not just about protecting the students but also, ideally the environment that this takes place in.

    Just to be blunt: professors f*cking students (and vice versa) does not contribute to a progressive, positive academic environment. I do not think one needs to legislate the promotion of a progressive, positive academic environment (i.e. you can't create a policy that compels people to be nice and nurturing to one another...if so, no academic would hold their job for too long, especially around tenure review). But I do think it's appropriate to create policy that hinders activity which is a malignant force between and among faculty and students. This is both at the ethical and legal level - no doubt, part of a university's impetus to institute policies such as these is to avoid ugly lawsuits that could arise down the line.

    The UC's approach has been to disprove of relationships between faculty and students that they might potential work with in a professional capacity (i.e. people they may teach or mentor at the graduate level) and this follows from the most sensible logic. Other schools have acted to ban ALL relationships of this kind - god forbid this happen at an isolated campus like Cornell where such a policy would probably destroy the entire sex lives of faculty trapped in Ithaca - and I'm probably more sympathetic with Kipnis on this...at some point, consenting adults should be given more leeway to make their own bad choices. That said though, I still think the idea and implementation of these prohibitions come out of the best possible places in terms of concern and long-ranging vision.

    One thing I heartily agree with Kipnis on is this: a university sponsored workshop on "10 Signs That Your Professor Is Sleeping With You To Assuage Mid-Life Depression and Will Dump You Shortly Afterward." Of course, based on the anecdotes I know, I suspect most students would spectacularly fail this course. But to quote Jay-Z, "I ain't no fool/I'll make it up in summer school."
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    Slate's Ben Williams looks at the year in criticism, with a focus on the mean, nasty and ugly. In other words, the good stuff.
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    More dissertation distractions:
    You are the JMZ!
    You're sort of a shady character. You sneak into
    the city under the East River, and make a hasty
    exit soon after. But while the tourists may
    steer clear of your decrepit stations, you know
    you're essential to the commuters who depend on

    Which New York City subway line are you?
    brought to you by Quizilla and seen on the different kitchen
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    Sunday, January 04, 2004


    bill's cold chillin' in a b-boy stance

    Finally - someone has finally pointed out what has been %()#in obvious - Hollywood still can't figure out how to treat Japan as anything but a well of Orientalist stereotypes that are as tired as Tomogachi keychains. "Hollywood's Land of the Rising Cliche" by Motoko Rich looks at recent, lauded films like Kill Bill, Lost in Translation and The Last Samurai. I said this before in an old blog but in regards to Lost in Translation, superior cinematography and quality Bill Murray performances still can't save this from its own pretensions of white middle-class angst set in a colonial backdrop. And let's not even start up on The Last Samurai, aka Dances With Shoguns. Is this 2004 or 1984? Or 1884? Feel me? (thanks to Hua for putting me up on this piece)
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    It's time again to compile the Pazz and Jop Poll for 2003 that the Village Voice puts out annually. These lists never feel complete to me but if you're gonna force me to choose... Here's my top 10 singles of the year - it's not exactly in order of preference though the first three-four selections would definitely have to be at the top o' my list.

    1. Beyonce - "Crazy In Love" - Columbia
    2. Andre 3000 - "Hey Ya" - Arista
    3. Neptunes - "Frontin'" - Star Trak
    These three above embody everything in a pop song that I love and long for. 10 years from now, you'll hear this in a club or on the radio and you'll wish it was 2003 again. Promise.

    4. 50 Cent - "In Da Club" - Shady/Aftermath
    More infectious than SARS and one of the first signs that American pop production is taking a page from Jamaican riddims by putting a zillion differnt artists over the same beat.

    5. Killer Mike - "A.D.I.D.A.S." - Epic
    A sex song that doesn't make you feel like you need a hot shower (or cold one for that matter) after listening to it. Besides, the track couldn't be more tailored to get your ass moving if it was a cattle prod.

    6. LA Carnival - "Blind Man remix" - Stonesthrow
    This song is incredible - makes you wonder why all soul from the '60s couldn't have sounded this good.

    7. Mark Ronson - "On the Run" - Elektra
    Lemme see - Mos Def and MOP on the same track together, over a beat that rocks harder than Aerosmith on a coke binge? It's like the birthday gift you weren't even expecting.

    8. Young Gunz - "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" - Roc-A-Fella
    The track is so deceptively simple that it sort of catches you off guard at first but you can't but help to move to its blips, bumps and burps.

    9. Antibalas - "Che Che Cole Makossa" - Daptone
    If you can't feel this Afrobeat meets Afro-Cuban monster of a club cut - you just can't feel. My man Jeff Chang gives you the full story behind this song - a must read.

    10. Ghostface Killah - "Run" - Def Jam
    Tony for President in 2004. Word.

    In terms of albums, here's what I gave Pazz and Jop officially:

    1. Rufus Wainwright - Want One - Dreamworks
    This might seem like an odd choice coming from me but there was no album that I enjoyed nearly as much as this one. I've taken it up and down with me from S.F. to L.A. at least three times this fall and winter and I never seem to get tired listening to it, singing along, cranking up the volume, etc. Yeah, it's that good.

    2. Andre 3000 - The Love Below - Arista
    I don't mean to disrepsect Big Boi - really, I don't - but after spending time with this album, I just never feel like getting around to peeping Speakerboxxx. Andre makes the hip-hop-that-is-not-hip-hop album for the ages.

    3. Lyrics Born - Later That Day - Quannum Projects (15 points)
    If all hip-hop was this creatively inspired and beautifully executed, I wouldn't go around muttering about how underground hip-hop is the embarassing disaster it is today.

    4. Jay-Z - The Black Album - Roc-A-Fella (10 points)
    Not the best of his career but not the worst either. Jay-Z ends his days as a rapper (yeah, right) with his most personal effort to date.

    5. 50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin - Shady/Aftermath (5 points)
    Not just the biggest debut of the year - 50 Cent has potentially rewritten hip-hop for this not-so-young-anymore decade. Hip-hop loves 50 like a fat kid loves cake.

    6. Styles of Beyond - Megadef - Spytech (5 points)
    It's a swift kick to the head, followed by a baseball bat to the knee caps. And that's a good thing.

    I didn't include this in my poll submission but it deserves an honorable mention:

    7. Lifesavas: Spirit in Stone (Quannum)
    See what I said about Lyrics Born's album above. Quannum had a banner year in 2003 - looks like an indie label can thrive after all, thank god.

    In the meantime, my man Sasha Frere-Jones has completed his Best of 2003 list. #1 single? "Crazy In Love" by Beyonce - can't argue with that. Sasha's so gangsta that he's already begun composing his Best of 2004 list. Also, Ian Steaman of Different Kitchen has his Best of 2003 lists up on his blog - worth perusing too.
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