Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Invisible Amendment

I have always been suspicious of critics who view hip-hop through the lens of “positive” vs. “negative.” My problem with this is the standard is too often based on personal politics than an actual understanding of aesthetic. This applies to not just music but all artistic expression of any era, form, and genre. Since hip-hop plays such a pervasive role not just in the US but across the entire globe, there is an incessant need to talk about the abuses of pathology or how it reproduces itself through the culture. This is to a large degree a misunderstanding and serves a media culture quick to form conclusions instead of provocative questions, but at a deeper level it's an attempt for an individual perspective to define the role of art society.

I am confidant in saying that criticism from respected hip-hop artists has been on record since somewhere in the mid-nineties. What makes these contributions different is that their understanding is connected to something objective, beyond the conventional narrative of why most hate on hip-hop. Where criticism isn’t constantly defined by violence, misogyny, the "n-word," and economic control of distribution. These are the over-arching themes brought up from opposition without really any discussion in an American context, about police brutality, euro-centrism, the prison-industrial complex, the white normative gaze, the domestic terrorism of J. Edger Hoover, the republican/conservative southern strategy and its connection to slave diaspora and the labor movement, the democratic/progressive complicity in a system that accepts racism, patriarchy, and homophobia as valid political positions, and the list goes on and on. When America gets rid of so-called “Black History Month,” and sings the praises of David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and all those freedom-fighters forgotten or left nameless in history every minute of every day of every year, I will start to listen to former complaints.

Raheem DeVaughn would fall into the “positive” category for those critics who would seek to pacify the explicit or controversial elements of the hip-hop. Raheem isn’t an MC, but fits into a part of the culture in the same way that R.Kelly and Angie Stone fit. What he misses is that for all the politically correct checkpoints he crosses off, Love and War Masterpeace doesn’t deliver consistenly enough to be comapred with the likes of Curtis Mayfield and N.W.A., whom are deeply political artists, possessing both style and substance. There are moments when Raheem turns it out on songs like “Revelations 2010 Ft. Damian Marley” and the hit single “Bulletproof Ft. Ludacris,” which he should be given credit for. These songs do the album title the most justice, and it doesn’t hurt to sample Mayfields “The Other Side of Town” for the later and have professor/activist Dr. Cornel West preaching as master of interlude.

Where Raheem goes wrong is when he tries to blend this identity with sensual intimacy. I can bite my tongue on songs like “I Don’t Care,” “Black and Blue,” or “My Wife.” These songs have good intentions but don’t stand out as knock out punches on the album. Where it really falls apart is on the - my sex is better than your vibrator - anthem “B.O.B.” Can anyone imagine Marvin Gaye comparing his sexuality on the same terms?

Love and War Masterpeace has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t have the soul to keep you playing it for months after.
I would recommend Sharon Jones or the upcoming Jamie Lidell instead of this album.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Water Colors

Right now in Korea it’s officially Cherry Blossom season. I don’t know if you are aware of what that means, but it’s a wonderland around here. A world full of unnatural color and calm that turns the sidewalks into an adventure whispered in silk.

Donawhale is the first Korean band that I have fallen for. Their most recent release Dive to Blue would be on any major “Indie” best in 2009, if anyone in the west had got a hold of it. Their sound is a mix of tween-pop and shoegaze to my ears. This observation deserves major interrogation since I have a narrow grasp of Korean culture. This of course is even a broader statement about my understanding about culture and social norms in general. What I do know about this band in a musical context, is that they are undeniably good.

Dive to Blue one of those albums that you just become calmly wrapped into. The last time I felt this way "2 a.m." by Kaki King. Donawhale is something special and I will be damned if I don’t get a chance to see them live while I am in Korea. I doubt that they will ever make it to the states, and trust me when I say that our hearts are lesser for it.