Friday, March 24, 2006

Sampling Soul

I write this post, to articulate a theory which I have been musing upon for the last five years. My speculation may be dated, but sometimes time is needed to give necessary hind-sight.

Let me begin by stating a position I hold regarding art. While many theories abound regarding aesthetics, the one which makes the most sense to me, is to say that art serves as a reflection of society. That art in turn, should either in form or content, represent some truth regarding the time in which it is produced. As such, even when a period-piece movie is produced, it should not simply be trying to re-stage the past for us, but rather, the by-gone era should serve as a metaphor for something relevant today.

For the last five years, the sounds of the exotic east have filtered into hip hop. The voice of Lata is often sampled, an Indian flute is thrown in, or distinctive bhangra dhol lines are added. And why shouldn’t Indian beats influence hip hop? It would seem inevitable, go too any Indian jam, and the hypeness of the music is immediately evident. And India is home to the world’s largest music industry. Indian culture has become fashionable in the runways, why not in music? Is this new musical urban sensibility, just a passing fad, a trend which merely points to how we are truly becoming a global village? It doesn’t appear to be simply a passing fad; Bollywood still is influencing new hip hop releases. While it may be a sign of the global village, I feel it is more of a sign of the reality of the world we live in, a reality in which there exists imperial America, which is actively occupying two Middle Eastern states.

Hip hop is musically speaking my first love. While Hindi Filmi music was the soundtrack to my childhood, it was a genre that I would later return to in my teens and explore. Before that, Hindi music had simply been the music my parents had listened too, Lata’s voice was something I took for granted, akin to how my white friends regard the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Hip hop moved me. It turned me on. The bass lines, scratching, samples, in general the whole culture, excited me at a level which was visceral.

Hip hop in both form and content has represented the truth of its times. So much so, that hip hop is a global phenomena, being the most popular form of youth counter culture worldwide. From the war-torn streets of Gaza, to the decadent metropolis of Tokyo, you will find kids rhyming on their blocks about their experiences, there unique reality. Of course, to call hip hop counter culture today, may not be accurate, as it has moved from the realm of the underground, to that of popular culture. Now, commercials abound, for products ranging from soft drinks to cars, which capitalize on the mass appeal of hip hop.

Essentially the bastard child of dancehall, hip hop began in the 1970’s in inner city New York. DJ Kool Herc – a Jamaican immigrant living in New York – considered the father of hip hop, invented the hip hop sound, by isolating “breaks” in songs - the part where only the drums could be heard - and as such the hip hop beat was born. Over this beat the Master of Ceremonies, or M.C., would rhyme tales of bravado, relating every day experiences.

While, there are some great lyrists, I mainly fell in love with hip hop for its beats. The hip hop beat originally mainly relied upon sampling soul and funk songs from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. James Brown, probably is one of the most oft sampled artists in hip hop, in 1988 every major hip hop release, had a James Brown sample to boot. While on the surface it may be obvious as to why he would be popular, his songs have an electrifying funky quality, I feel there is more to it than just that. One can not simply stand and listen to James Brown, without standing still. His tracks cause one to inadvertently start nodding there head. James Brown recorded the majority of his tracks during the civil rights movement in America. “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” was the theme song to a proposed revolution, the backdrop to the raised fist of protest. As he recorded this track, outside his studio, America was in the midst of a confrontation of its race relations. How could this not influence the track, not simply in lyrical content, but in it’s form itself? “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” can not simply be infectious because of its production value, but also due the fact that it was manifesting the truth of its time.
Like I said, hip-hop was the music of inner city youth in New York. It developed and grew during the Regan administration, a time in which the black community was faced with the harsh economic realities that the government at hand brought forth. Realities that included gang violence, poverty, and project living, which rappers related through their rhymes. While original hip hop recordings, like "Rappers Delight" were “party” songs, hip hop was a music of protest, if not explicitly, at least implicitly. It was a big middle finger in the air, to established notions of what music should sound like. The cutting up bit’s of old tracks, scratching of vinyl, and aggressive bass lines was a challenge to what was musically acceptable. Further, by riffling through the catalogues of the likes of James Brown and Parliament, hip hop was in effect sampling the “soul” of the civil rights movement itself, so that it could echo in the present. When Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth released “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” in 1992 – an ode to fallen ghetto comrades which was popular not only as a club track but at funerals – which sampled the break from “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” they evoked the essence the original recording had captured, so to reflect the truth that was theirs in the present.

Near the end of the 1990’s hip hop had moved away from the sampling of old funk breaks. New producers like the Neptune’s and Timberland had taken to producing hip hop tracks, which were based on synthesized drum beats. Also, hip hop had moved away from being conscious based music which provided a commentary on the realities of the ghetto, to glorifying the excesses which occurred in the ghetto. Materialism had been a preoccupation in hip hop from the start; disenfranchised youth dreaming of fast cars and nice clothes delivering false stories of luxuries they did not have. As hip hop gained commercial appeal, the next-generation of rappers were able to realize these dreams. While these rappers may have originally started out in the hood, the hood no longer remained there stomping grounds. The likes of Puff Daddy and Jay Z now vacation in the Hamptons, with there respective business and spin-off clothing labels accounting for multi-million dollar revenues. While some prematurely declared that hip hop was dead, it had simply evolved. The tracks released during this time, I enjoyed for superficial reasons, because they were simply that, superficial. But to me, the sound, the appeal, the gut response to the music was gone. To me, hip hop had lost its soul.

In July of 2002 Truth Hurts released, “Addictive”, a Dr. Dre produced song, which sampled the vocals of Lata Mangeshkar from the Hindi film “Jyoti”. Apparently, Dre had heard the song while randomly coming upon the movie while watching T.V., had the idea of sampling it, and the song went on to become one of the top 50 U.S. singles of that year according to billboard music charts. At the time of it’s release the invasion of Afghanistan was well on it’s way by the American military. In 2003 almost every major hip hop release contained at least one track, if not more, with an eastern influence, a situation akin to 1998 where every album had a James Brown sample. It was the same year that the American military began it’s invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq.

To me this development in hip hop was fascinating. I remember growing up the 1980’s – before the policy of multiculturalism had been instituted - when it was acceptable to be called a “paki” at school. My Indian culture was a source of embarrassment to me, and I recall being ridiculed for my curry food and the sing-song of Hindi films was the butt of jokes. Now, I would go to clubs, and people would “lean back” to the rhythms that originated from the sub-continent.

While the black community in America, has by no means attained equality in this new millennium, the music that had been formulated by their youth two decades ago, had evolved from a music of protest to one of commercial excess. Across the Atlantic, in the middle-east, where a war is being waged for oil to allow for a SUV hungry nation to drive to it’s heart content, lies this generations truly disenfranchised. Hip hop producers having exhausted ransacking through their own “soul catalogue”, probably being only subconsciously aware, turned to sample the imagined soul of a culture which was experiencing colonization. Similar in fashion to the appropriation of black culture by the likes of Elvis Priestley, American hip hop producers in turn had turned to appropriate a imagined voice of struggle which currently was lacking within it’s own borders.

I say imagined on purpose, because, of course I realize that Indian music, is distinctly different from the musical traditions to be found in Afghanistan or Iraq. However, in the melting pot eyes of America, the far east appears as one blurry vision. Cultural appropriateness and understanding of subtleties that lie across the many nations of the middle-east and Asia are not understood. Indeed, when the video for Truth Hurt’s “Addictive” was released, it featured Truth Hurts and her dancers in typical Arab belly-dancer costumes, and the décor of the set was Arabic in nature. Continuing in the great Orientalist tradition, all things Muslim were confounded into one, and seen as exotic.

Was it wrong for hip hop to sample classic Bollywood tracks? No, of course not. I personally have enjoyed this particular cross pollination. Hip hop instinctively moved to sample the soul of Indian music, because the nature of world politics today. If not in content, in form, it represented the truth of our geo-political situation.

Now what makes a totally sick tune? When content and form both strive to show truth, like this track, “Hustle Everyday” by U.K. act Def 1.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Comming Out - Part 2

Happiness. Elation. Relief.

I finally fucking did it. I told my sister that I was a big ‘ol batty mon.

I lay on her bed, as she sat by her computer, playing me the latest in Bollywood tunes. My confession lies at the tip of my tongue, as it has for the last month or so. I sit up, this time determined to get it out of me, once and for all.

“Uhhhh,…there’s something I want to tell you.”

I stare down at my hands, and then look up at her. She is taken aback by my sudden seriousness, and turns the volume down, and stares at me with concern.

“What?” She asks.

“Uhmmm…,” I look back down at my hands, and then back at her again. I open my mouth again, but only ending up grimacing. “It’s probably something you already know, but I wanted to tell you…”

I have know begun playing with my hands, and can’t seem to stop looking at them. I ending up just repeating myself.

“I just wanted to tell you something, and you probably already know….”

“What, what is it?” My sister is staring at me with alarm. We both just stare at each other. “What, that you have a boyfriend?” She asks dropping her voice.

Of course, I knew that it would end up this way. That my “big” revelation, would not be that big, and not be much of a surprise. That my keeping this from her was unwarranted. That my closet door to her was quite see-through, and I should have just opened up the door a long time ago.

“Yes, I do. I am gay.”

“Oh, I thought you were bi.”

“No. I’m gay.”

“Oh, because, I just thought you were bi, because you dated Rasta Lady for three years.”

“Yeah, no, I’m gay. I like boys”

“Then how could you date her for so long?”

I pause. And stare away at her door. I feel nervous energy. This is a challenge to myself, it feels awkward, but right. For so long, my sexual preference and choices was a taboo subject for me in our conversations, and here I am finally explaining it to my sister.

“Well, she was a special circumstance. I don’t think I’ll ever meet a girl like that again. I thought I only liked boys before her…but….we totally connected. I did love her. But, now I’m only interested in guys.”

She nods her head absorbing this.

“So, you knew all along. I was feeling afraid for telling you for no reason?”

“It was kinda obvious.” She says and we both laugh. “I can’t believe you were afraid to tell me.”

“Yeah, I know it was stupid…it’s just….”

She shakes her head.

“I just never said anything, because you never said anything. So I didn’t want to go there.” She says, and smiles at me. “But whatever, I don’t care about that, who cares if your gay? You’re my brother and I love you no matter what.”

I feel like my heart is going to burst.

She asks me about my boyfriend. And I tell her about us. I tell her how we met. She’s met him a few times already, when he’s dropped by, and she tell me she likes him. She’s shocked that we’ve dated for close to three years.

“Your right, mummy will never understand you. You can’t ever tell her, she’ll go crazy.”

“Yeah.” I respond back flatly.

I feel pure love towards my sister, a love brought through openness and understanding. Yet, her last comment makes me realize, that she is the only one in my family that I will feel this way towards. And, in turn I feel sad.

I eventually go to my room, and light a cigarette. I decide not to dwell on the negative, and instead chose to savor the feeling this bonding has brought upon.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

And Then There Was Music

I did it! I have managed to add music to this blog. It was a dream I had from day one, but being HTML illiterate, and being approximately five years behind in my computer knowledge it was an uphill battle. But, I finally figured it out.

Many of my friend’s call me the Music Nazi, I would prefer the term Music Sharer. I love my music, and enjoy sharing it with others, and spreading the good vibrations.

Well, here you go; here are some tracks that I am currently enjoying:
(click on the track name to download)

Yashomati Maiya Se Bole Nandlala
(film:Satyam Shivam Sundaram)

This track is from one of my faviourte Bollywood movies, which I also feel has one of the best filmi soundtracks. For the soundtrack prodcution duo Laxmikant and Pyayrelal were called upon, and is probably one of the best examples of their musical talents. On this particular track, the production is understated, showcasing Lata’s voice and the lyrics. It’s a shame if you don’t understand Hindi, as I love the lyrics this songs. I personally enjoy the film dialogue being included in.

Dem Calling
Bounty Killer (Giggy Throwback Riddim)

Dancehall producers have taken to revamping old classic riddims and serving them up fresh for the new millennia. This riddim is a retake on the Coca Cola Bottle Riddim, and is BAD! (bad meaning good, not bad meaning bad). While Bounty is relativley calm on this track – not up to his usual vocal acrobatics, the bass line in combination with the brilliant chopping up and re-arranging of the original riddim – is just sick. It makes me want to place both my hands on the floor and cock up my bum.

Two Can Win
Jay Dee (Donuts)

Last month I was deeply saddened, with the passing of one of hip-hops finest producers, Jay Dee. Having worked with legendary production team “The Ummah”, he worked with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Roots, D’Angelo, just to name a few. A few days after his passing, his last CD was released, Donuts, compiling 1 – 2 minute instrumental tracks which showcase his musical genius. For any one who loves hip-hop or electronic music, this album is a must have. Yeah, Kanye West popularized the speed up soul sample again, but J Dee was doing it way before, and his treatment is way better than Kanye’s simple chipmunk effect.

Hope you enjoy.

(my testing of the downloads show that the free hosting site I am using is tempermental, if it at first you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

He Look-a Like-a Man

I have issues – retained from my public school days – when talking to hot macho straight guys. Conversation does not flow with ease, I feel extremely self-conscious, and I make short remarks. While, what is internally a battle of nerves, I have been told I end up coming across as snobby and reserved, what my boyfriend dubs my “defense mechanism”.

For the last little while, as I have been moving up the food-chain at work, I have made a concentrated effort to over-come this disorder of mine, and throw myself into situations where I have conversations with these men.

Here’s and example:

I am walking into my workplace, and Papi Chulo is entering the building at the same time.

“Hey, what’s up?” He says, as he gives me a nod.

“Hey, not much, how you doin?” I respond back, with an appropriate nod. He is walking a couple steps ahead of me. I normally would have chosen to keep walking in silence, and made a parting, “later”, as we walked towards our respective seating areas.

“So how did that jam go, that you threw?” I ask instead. Last week he had gone around, handing out flyers to some party he was throwing.

“Ah, real good man, real good. Real nice turn-out.”


“Yeah, it was real good. You know, good times, good music, chillin’ you know?”


Were now in a fairly packed elevator. And, I feel that was a sufficient little testing of my boundaries, but to my surprise Papi Chulo continues.

“Yeah, every Friday, were having a night, a chill-vibe, lounge atmosphere, you can come have your drinks, listen to some good tunes.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Were looking to make it a big night, at the end of every month, get a live act in there, some big DJ, live poetry, you know whatever….”

“Sounds cool, where you havin’ it?”



“You know Buh-ta,” he enunciates the word, as if I should know this place. I don’t party hardcore like I used to a few years back, so am currently unfamiliar, with the latest clubs and hotspots. “It’s on College.”

“Ohhh,” I say, event though I still don’t know what the fuck he is talking about.

“I’m only saying, cuz’ I saw you across the street from there one time, with a couple of honeys.” Yes, I remember now, it was one of my fag hags birthday, and she had picked some place on College Street to go out.

“Ohh, okay, cool, I’ll have to check it out some time.”

“Yeah, yeah, man, and bring them honeys with you. We gotta’ have those honeys. You know what I’m sayin’?” Suddenly I don’t like this conversation anymore. This reminds me why I have my defense mechanism in place, when you talk to these type of guys, eventually the conversation comes to this sort of impasse.

I give him a nod, and attempt to speed up my walking, trying to revert to the snobby and reserved me. But, it is to late, Papi Chulo is in full salesman mode, and is continuing to sell his night to me. He pauses for a second to say “hello” to some mulatto girl that passes us, as we turn a corner in the hallway.

“Yo, that chicks sexy!” He says, as his head is turned back gazing at her from behind. I don’t know what to say to this comment. I have always found it hard to fake this part of macho dialogue. Luckily, we are at the doors to out department, and I am getting ready to say my, “later” as we head to our respective seating areas. But my lack of response is apparently not sufficient. Papi Chulo slaps my chest gently with the back of his hand, to get my attention. “Yo, you don’t think she’s sexy?”

In my head, I’m thinking, I’m gay. If you were to ask my professional opinion, she does have a nice rack, but her hair is over bleached to the point of being orange which is not attractive. And, even though today is casual day, the whole black tights with a bomber jacket, is kind of tacky and so mid-90’s.

Instead, I give one glance back at the girl in question, turn around and say, “yeah.” For some reason he find this extremely funny. I finally get to say my, “later”, and go towards my desk. I feel kind of ticked off, having had to enter into bullshit dialogue reminiscent of high-school.

Maybe, there is nothing wrong with being a snob.