Happiness vs. Productivity

In my sociology classes this semester at Northampton, I have adapted the this  David Brooks article "The Experience Economy" to discuss the economic impact- or lack thereof- of our society's fascination and consumption of immaterial online social networks and recreational technological toys.  It has produced a measurable response of thougthful astonishment and consternation in my students.

I urge you to read Brooks' piece in its entirety as some of its stats are fascinating.  One of the many illuminating points from his piece explains that our technological fetishes may satiate a certain individual desire but it does nothing to wholly improve our institutional productiveness.   In other words, my blogging or your reading about it may make us feel good and, perhaps, with a good post, even more enlightened.  But for overall economic stability, infrastructure expansion and long term improvement in the quality of our lives, we are essentially pissing our future away.

So stop reading this and go produce a tangible widget that will create jobs for our economy.  Money can't buy you love but free online socialization doesn't do a whole lot either.

PS: Full disclosure, I aspire to be as handsome and professional as David Brooks except maybe I would sport a Kangol and a Public Enemy t-shirt.


J Dilla : The Ghost of Future Past

It has been five years since the passing of the often lauded Detroit hip hop producer Jay Dee / J Dilla of Detroit. In the past, I have ripped the bandwagon coverage while indirectly dissing Dilla- utter blasphemy in most circles.  But I don't know if I can stand by such sentiments anymore.

Maybe I am just less angry these days. And perhaps in B. Kyle's documentary showing Dilla's mother, brother, friends and fellow artists gushing with such sincerity for the man is irrefutable testimony. Here is ample evidence of Jay's other-worldliness and humility in character, ingenuity and delight in his music. I still can't reconcile the casual misogyny that found its way into his music but I also cannot deny the sublime and understated quality of his best work. Are we not judged by the motives of the sum of our efforts? Ultimately, Jay Dee seemed to simply have a yearning love to create futuristic hip hop funk soul that no one prior or currently has matched.

It is DJ Dummy's thoughts that most accurately assess why J Dilla's continual recognition is not measured in album sales but in the praises of the cognoscenti: "Jay Dee makes classics.  He doesn't make songs for right now.  Every day he made [songs], we will be singing them forever."

Sadly Sublime

Hauntingly catchy like Buddy Miles cover of "Down By the River" or alarmingly insightful like Notorious B.I.G.'s "Suicidal Thoughts".  This is when tragedy, 3 chords and a driving rhythm meet at the crossroads.  Props to Scott Curt for this one...


Monsters vs. Beasties

As my own efforts reveal, not surprisingly I think the viral video remix is post-modern DJ TV bliss.

The visual lyricism of "High Plains Drifter" captures both idea and spirit of the Beastie tall tale with authentic accuracy.  Not an easy task as this 1989 track hails from the Beastie Boys' second LP Paul's Boutique known for its scattershot late 20th century pop cultural references of all things hip from Kerouac to Bowie; Dick Butkus to Travis Bickle.

But don't dismiss the Monster mash too quickly for its obviousness.  Watch as wiggling Muppets dance to the mumbled rhythmic yelping of the backing track and Piggy spits a mean 16.  Actually, this video is proof how weird Kanye's song is.


Guitar Hero on a SP 1200

Recently my man King George and I have been discussing one of our favorite topics,  Brooklyn's Da Beatminerz.  Sports is a close second for me, but strangely, George only responds, "Yeah, that was a good ass game" anytime I mention to him last night's score.

Da Beatminerz are a DJ production crew comprised of two Bushwick brothers, energetic Evil Dee and the bespectacled Mr. Walt.  In the mid 1990s they rose to prominence crafting some of the most gorgeous haunting basslines that have ever gurgled out of a speaker for Black Moon, Smif n' Wessun and others.  The Dewgarde brothers' beats have a knack for making murderous lyricism as cleverly entertaining as a Kubrick steadicam shot.

While George and I need to have an offline discussion on the Beatminerz' back catalog, I thought I would break out this dissection of Walt and Evil Dee's LP version of "I Gotcha Opin," one of the duo's most illmatic productions.  This post is bumped to you from The Audio Goldrush...

My good friend Fearless Jones and I have been clowning friends of ours who are intent on mastering video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Our feeling is if you spent that much time strumming a guitar as you did playing a video game you would be a regular Bobby Dylan by now. Or in these guys case, Eddie Van Halen:

This phenomenon reminded me that as a Hip Hop DJ/Producer I am in no means immune to this idolatry. I have always favored “covering” songs or making versions or remixes. In my early days at the school of Bard Knocks one mentor of mine (*cough*couch*CHASE*ahem) became exasperated that I was constantly looping beats that had already been broken. He threw up his hands as day after day I would tinker with King George's boxy Gemini samplers re-looping Diamond D bass lines or X Clan drums (no small irony that versions were X Clan's Paradise's production hallmark in the early 90s).

In my defense, finding the originals of a Hip Hop beat, picking it apart, cutting 'em up and mixing them back together gives me a greater knowledge of how exactly beats are made. In this instance, I chose to break up and piece together Black Moon's “I Gotcha Opin.” Attempting to push the same buttons as producer Mr. Walt revealed a couple of things to me:
  1. Walt and his brother Evil Dee's eclectic record tastes are crazy. We babble on and on about Tip and Ali, Pete Rock, Large Pro but often forget the lo-fi jazzy boom bap crate diggin' sound of the Beatminerz. At a time when most producers were all about finding cool like dat be bop funky horns that matched the vibes and stuff of their MCs, the Beatminerz took a different direction. Walt especially was unafraid to match the rugged intensity of Franklin Ave Posse's finest to the sounds of a female fronted jazz rock fusion band from New Jerz of all places.

  2. Getting disparate samples to work in unison together both spatially and harmonically is incredibly difficult. Walt's choice of ingredients for this song hail from different genres and different decades yet all the snippets sound as if they hopped the train to Bucktown for one terrific menacing recording session. “Gotcha Opin” sports drums from Iron Butterfly, basslines from Ten Wheel Drive and horns from Art Ensemble of Chicago. Oh, a snippet of “Jimbrowski” for good measure. There are dub like samples that ride the beat that I couldn't figure out so I approximated.
  1. I couldn't help thinking that what undermines many contemporary Hip Hop productions is the unwillingness to chances or make mistakes. So many beats these days have promise but they are too clean, too rigid in their professionalism. Hank Shocklee has said countless times that real time recording mistakes informed the apocalyptic sound of Nation of Millions as much as any planned production. I imagine this approach may have made Walt's unorthodox choice of samples work together.

I had considered playing this straight ahead like the original Black Moon version but I decided to actually be creative and re-imagine this beat with drops and variations. Don't front.

gOTCHA oPIN (A18 Mix):