Wednesday, August 31, 2005

My review of the Power to the People & the Beats release from Public Enemy-

Artist: Public Enemy
Title: Power to the People & the Beats: Public Enemy’s Greatest Hits
Label: Def Jam/Universal
Release Date: 8/2/05
Behind Enemy Lines: Public Enemy’s Best of LP shines.
By Christopher 'HypeStyle' Currie
Power to the People & the Beats: Public Enemy’s Greatest Hits arrives in stores over a decade after the band’s zenith, but perhaps there was no better time than this for it to come out. What can be said that hasn’t already been said about arguably hip-hop’s most influential band? Well, first of all, this isn’t the first best-of PE set to hit American shores. The first was part of Universal Music Group’s ongoing 20th Century Masters series, in 2001. Designed as a budget-minded sampler of various artists’ work, it was a nice attempt, but far from comprehensive. Entire albums were overlooked, and several key singles were bypassed in favor of lesser album cuts. Power to the People attempts to correct that oversight, and they succeed in a major way. Unlike the previous hits set, Power was personally overseen by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, as well as Hank Shocklee, the producer who co-founded the band. The cuts are culled from the band’s entire tenure at Def Jam Records, from 1987 – 1998. The 18-track set has all the key singles are here, like "Public Enemy #1", "Fight the Power", "By the Time I Get to Arizona", "911 is a Joke", and the band’s late 90’s comeback single, "He Got Game", with Stephen Stills.
For those who need an FYI dose, Public Enemy started off as a loose congregate of college radio DJs and party promoters in the urban Long Island community of Roosevelt (which, perhaps incredulously, also helped shape the formative years of shock-jock Howard Stern—go figure). Adelphi University’s WBAU featured a hip-hop mix show hosted by Carl "Chuckie D" Ridenhour and a few cohorts, including William Drayton, aka MC-DJ Flavor Flav. Spectrum City was a traveling DJ service run by Hank Shocklee, and in between getting his degree in graphic design, Chuck worked the parties along with Hank. Not so much actively rapping as he was simply giving an MC flavor to the proceedings, Chuck and company eventually started recording promos for WBAU, which caught the attention of producer and Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin.
At the time of their signing, rap had gained a foothold in urban pop, and a toehold in the Top 40 mainstream, thanks in part to releases from Kurtis Blow, Whodini, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and of course, Run-DMC. The fact that most of these acts had a relationship with pioneering hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons certainly helped. But with the possible exception the Beasties, none of the aforementioned acts saw or promoted themselves as agitators; certainly not as revolutionaries. Public Enemy dared to give themselves the title of "the Black Panthers of Rap", issuing forth a blatantly confrontational image that compounded with hip-hop’s vaguely "threatening" ethos to all those who considered themselves the Establishment—both inside and outside urban Black communities. Rubin already saw rap as black pop’s analog to punk rock, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when Public Enemy set out to be hip-hop’s answer to the Clash.
The late 60’s and early 70’s gave birth to a wealth of direct social commentary from artists as diverse as the classy soul of Marvin Gaye, the beat-heavy funk of James Brown, and the psychedelic-fueled rock-funk fusion of Parliament/Funkadelic. But by the close of the Carter administration, Afrocentric, angry, and/or political themes in black pop had long-since become dormant in the aftermath of the disco movement. By the time of Public Enemy’s debut, Michael Jackson and Prince were arguably the biggest pop/rock stars in the world. Not just one, but two black men, ya heard? Still, many fans had to privately chuckle at the spectacle of these two slight, vaguely effeminate brothers sporting spiky leather, adopting tough stances and spouting tougher talk in their videos. Public Enemy reflected a toughness that you could actually buy into. With Chuck and Flav dressed largely in black, with backup dancers the S1W’s decked out in paramilitary uniforms, Public Enemy may have scared as many people as they attracted, early on. Most recording acts, including within the rap world, tended to downplay directly opining on the urban condition, let alone contemporary world issues. The most you could hope for would be generic We-Are-The-World sentiments that didn’t really push anyone’s buttons. Not that most mainstream journalists of the time felt that rappers had anything substantive to say—or would even be around long enough to say it.
Public Enemy defied the assumption that black men had to be disinterested and de-fanged to be viable recording artists. .Public Enemy’s logo declared that young black men (and by that extension, black youth in general) were walking targets, and the band boldly stated one of its early goals was to raise "5,000 black leaders" for the future. They flaunted a quasi-gangster image, but with a message that went above and beyond the get-money-get-laid aesthetic that rap would eventually get swamped by in years to come. They didn’t apologize for having a harsh words about racism, black apathy or accomodationism. For as far as Public Enemy was concerned, the conditions affecting the inner-city and blacks in general were even harsher.
Sonically, the band had virtually a punk approach to creating its music—for as much as it was steeped in soul, funk and other modern strains of black pop, the Bomb Squad—including Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, (and his brother Keith), Eric Sadler, and ‘Carl Ryder’ (a pseudonym for Chuck)— created soundscapes that defied traditional notions of rhythm and melody, even for most rap of the time. Most rappers had a palpable desire to get on the radio. Public Enemy, seemingly, didn’t give a damn. Their records raced at ultra-high tempos, with purposely-used feedback and fuzzy breaks that made it sound like someone had bumped your stereo and kept doing it. They pioneered the use of archived speeches in their recordings, citing figures both familiar and mainstream (Jesse Jackson) as well as those who were clearly outside of that particular box (Khallid Muhammad).
Their debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was the most sonically spare and unadorned LP the group recorded, but then the ante was upped with each subsequent release that featured multi-layered samples galore, that sent a generation of milk crate-diggers searching for the original sources. Before sample clearances became a major source of revenue for established acts, the Bomb Squad took full advantage of the audio collage-making that the newer drum machines made possible. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back is now considered one of the great pop masterpieces of all time, alongside Fear of a Black Planet, the latter of which was just recently archived in the Smithsonian. For these landmark recordings, and even their follow-ups, the band continued to be the head anchors for what many considered as the urban CNN.
The band’s approach to live performance is virtually unprecedented. Their earliest touring jaunts had them as a supporting act for Run-DMC, Whodini, the Beastie Boys, and Doug E. Fresh. Taking cues from their contemporaries, the group has always made sure that videos weren’t the only way that fans could see them perform. The advent of video stardom became a semi-pacifying tool for rap acts, who were already going up against the corruption of fly-by-night promoters and the apprehension and/or hostility of venue owners who looked at rap shows as headache money. But Public Enemy weathered these storms, taking the initiative to tour internationally as often as possible. While the language differences and wildly varying accomodations proved too much for many a rap act to stay long (which illustrated how staunchly American even the most disaffected cats from the ‘hood were, once they stepped off that plane), Public Enemy soldiered on, sometimes sleeping in their own tour bus instead of a hotel. As years went on, the band proved itself to be flexible enough to go on tour with metal and alternative bands, expanding their audience and proving that live hip-hop could be just as engaging as a rock show.
As the 90’s expanded the commercial viability for hip-hop music, geographic diversity in rap expanded tremendously, while thematic diversity, ironically, began to narrow. Rappers from the West Coast, the Deep South, and the Midwest began to inundate the scene, and admirably pushed their own brand of hip-hop for all to enjoy. Social commentary in rap was de-emphasized, and the party ethos of rap’s earliest records came back in focus. Which, by itself, seems innocuous enough. But on the flip side, rap records focusing on the inner-city underworld "gangsta" lifestyle started to become even more mainstream, to the point where "thug life" became the default voice among rap’s most accessible faces.
Rap’s pioneers from the "golden era" late-80’s started to drift further away from having a radio presence, and in some cases from recording entirely. But Public Enemy has endured, still making records, and still touring, whether radio, BET, VH-1 or MTV are asleep at the wheel or not. You can call it cult status, but how many other rap acts can still command an audience of thousands, whether or not they have a hot single in rotation? And with elder-statesmen status comes a certain degree of nostalgia; Flavor Flav’s reality show stints have helped to make him a household name, perhaps even more so than when the band were at its zenith. Plus, the 80’s are hot again anyway, and if Aerosmith weren’t too old to make a comeback and have impact, why not Public Enemy? The rampant disengagement of urban audiences is one of the reasons that rappers struggle with longevity. Most heads who were taken aback by Flav’s canoodling with Brigitte Neilsen probably hadn’t listened to the band since Apocalypse ’91, and probably had no idea about Chuck’s radio show at progressive talk network Air America.
Many of those who criticize current hip-hop tend to ask, "whatever happened to…?"; but when a veteran act releases a project, you can almost hear the moans of "Oh, them again?" Well now, people have no excuse if they want a convenient compilation of some of the best hip-hop ever. They shocked America & the world before it was considered trendy to do so. For heads who want to relive the band’s best moments, or for others who are curious about the old-school when it was, well, new-school, Public Enemy is already a timeless act. Power to the People & the Beats makes sure you don’t forget it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

An essay about Malcolm X that I banged out for school in less than a day, under stress..

the assignment is (PSY 200) is to "address to various aspects of human development: Physical, cognitive, emotional, personality, and moral. Select a current day or historical famous figure. Research the background of this person to determine what forces have impacted the figure's life. Distinguish between the influences of heredity and environment on their psychological development (e.g., moral, emotional, etc). What parenting practices and/or social support systems may have optimized their developmental growth and adjustment?

Biography/Personality Subject: Malcolm X

Malcolm X’s birth name was Malcolm Little. He was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father Earl—by his accounts a tall, darker-skinned man—was an ordained minister in the Baptist faith and was a supporter of black Nationalist ideals, as espoused by seminal black leader/speaker lack Marcus Garvey. According to Malcolm’s personal accounts, his mother Louise was a fair-skinned black woman of Caribbean descent. She was a homemaker, and Malcolm had eight siblings.
The elder Mr. Little was active in preaching and promoting black rights, which earned him the enmity of hostile whites, many of which had white supremacist ties. The family moved several times before settling in Lansing, Michigan. Around age four his family’s home was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and virtually destroyed by arson. Mr. Little’s activism continued, but ultimately he would die under mysterious circumstances within two years’ time. The body had been badly torn up and was found laying on train tracks. Local police ultimately ruled it as an ‘accident’, though the family would allege it was the work of a white mob/Klan plot. Malcolm’s mother would go on to experience extreme emotional distress, and state social service workers took away the children, funneling them through various orphanages and foster homes while Louise herself was sent to a mental hospital.
Parenting Practices/Social Support & Effects:
Having his mother and father in his life for a longer period of time would probably have provided more optimal circumstances for his personal growth and/or adjustment. As it stands, he was one of several siblings who lost their father under presumably violent circumstances in early childhood—which is a traumatic event not likely to be discounted in assessing his personality growth. Before his father’s death, the family was subjected to terror tactics of the (usually) white-coated Klan, et. al; when his mother had her emotional breakdown and was institutionalized, it was another group of ‘white coats’—the medical establishment—that now removed his biological mother. The foster care system he lived under for a few years offered a form of care—indeed, during this time, Malcolm excelled as a student—but according to Malcolm, his foster mother and school teachers—more or less, all the other adult whites around him—were casual bigots, their everyday conversation espousing racist views. As such, these relationships had to have a profound affect on his outlook on the society he was a part of, how it viewed him, and what his role could/should be. His moral development was apparently stunted, seeing as how he drifted into crime as a natural consequence of the racial class system.
Despite being a very good student, a conversation with a bigoted teacher soured Malcolm on school; he ended up dropping out before graduating high school, and he headed to the East Coast to stay with his oldest (half-)sister, where he eventually descended into petty crime and the urban black underworld. Feigning insanity to dodge the World War II draft, he continued this lifestyle until he and a partner were arrested for burglary in 1946. Convicted and sent to prison, Malcolm read dictionaries and other books to pass the time by, and during this time he was recruited into the Nation of Islam, via his brother Reginald. Paroled in the early 1950’s, he officially joined the organization as a minister and a recruiter himself. Like most NOI members of the time, he informally adopted the surname ‘X’ in symbolic rejection of a European-derived name- thus becoming ‘Malcolm X’. Primarily reaching the urbanized North, he was instrumental in the growth of the Nation of Islam during this time, including helping to inaugurate the organization’s self-published newspaper, Muhammad Speaks (later The Final Call). His live lectures, as well as increasingly frequent appearances in print, radio and television, made him a known—and controversial—figure in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Internal politics with the Nation of Islam and philosophical differences with its founder, Elijah Muhammad, led Malcolm to leave the organization in 1964. later that year he would go on a trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia—in traditional Islam, such a trip is required once in a Muslim’s lifetime. There, he met a multi-cultural group of Muslims, and adopted a worldview that was more accepting of racial diversity and cooperation. He set up his own independent Muslim mosque. All this time, he endured lingering death threats, and at least one attempt on his family’s life was made when his home was set ablaze by an unknown party. He would also adopt an Arabic-derived name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, though still allowing himself to be called Malcolm X in public. His life was ended on February 21, 1965 when he was killed at gunpoint by three assassins.
Question: What Theories Might Apply to Assessing his Life Story?
Theory 1- Social Learning Theory:
Social learning theory postulates that people learn by observing the actions of other people and the results of those actions. This theory also says that learning can frequently occur without necessarily an alteration in the observer’s conduct. While the theory of behaviorism states that the learning process needs to be marked by a lasting adjustment in conduct, social learning pundits insist that since observation by itself can cause learning, a person’s conduct may not necessarily show said learning. Some feel that social learning theory is a ‘transitional theory’ to close the gap between cognitive-based theories and behaviorism. A change in conduct is not guaranteed. Attentiveness and outlook of possible rewards or penalties will frequently influence the outcome on human conduct.
In the case of Malcolm X, in his teen life and young adulthood, it could be argued that he, as the Observer, was at one point influenced by ‘the model’. For example, when he left his basically rural home environment in Michigan for life in Boston—later New York—he changed his style of dress and hair to fit in better with the ‘hip’ crowds of the jazz & nightclub culture that he was now exposed to and sought out. This change helped to ease his transition into being accepted into the new environment he sought fellowship with.
He would later quit the ‘square gigs’ of shoe-shining and train porter work for a relationship with Harlem racketeers, seeming to indicate that he, as the Observer, was now influenced by a third person—settling on a prominent policy (numbers) ‘hustler’ known as West Indian Archie, and taking him as a mentor of sorts. The ‘teacher’, Archie, takes note of this and congratulates the Observer for their newly-modeled conduct.
The next level is that emulated activities start to highlight the outcomes that manifest. During Malcolm’s underworld ‘career’, he became a small-scale bootlegger, pimp, and narcotics dealer. These activities brought him a not-insignificant amount of money, which he then in turn used to access a desirable material lifestyle, romantic attention, and respect among those in this particular subculture who admired such men in his ‘field’. His future arrest, incarceration, and subsequent relationship with the Nation of Islam brought about another set of Observer/Teacher roles to play out.

Theory 2- Humanist Personality Theory:
As espoused by Maslow and Rogers, Humanism promotes the tenet that, beneath whatever negative traits a person may possess, that there in an innate ‘goodness’ that lies inside all people deep down. This point of view lays contrast with the older theories, especially Freud’s psychoanalytical views, that tend to assume that humans are fundamentally flawed in the negative, and that personality develops as a person comes to grips with controlling that negative. Humanism acknowledges the unhelpful tendencies of humanity, and that there is ‘wickedness’ in the world. But, humanism also stresses that if a person/people are willing to acknowledge that they currently harbor negative/destructive traits, then, under ideal circumstances, people will come to the realization that said ‘wickedness’ is but a socialized illusion as well as ‘false goodness’, and that civil and peaceful cooperation can take place.
In the case of Malcolm X, it could be argued that he was a good person from birth, and the various traumas in his life, combined with the lingering effects of racist actions and attitudes espoused by the greater society, led him to create an attitude of ‘badness’ that fed his desire to pursue a life of a ‘hustler’ and embrace a criminal lifestyle. His conversion to the doctrines of the Nation of Islam brought him out of his criminal ‘mask’ and to a form of stability; he became gainfully employed, and had a wealth of peers, followers and observers who admired and/or respected him; his embracing of the wobbly doctrine of the Nation of Islam’s views on whites and racial separation was still a stumbling block, however, and a future ‘illusion’ to confront and release from his social outlook. His discovery of infidelity on the part of his mentor, and the growth of opposing factions to his leadership of the Nation of Islam were signs that his current belief system was not without masks and imperfections. He had to reexamine himself.
His going to Mecca was arguably the catalyst that helped him to release himself from previously rigid views and uncover the ‘deepest truth’ within him, and thus in allowing that to manifest, his latter-day attitudes of embracing more racial diversity became clear.
Out of these two, the best way to look at Malcolm X’s life story is to look at it in humanistic terms. Humanistic theory holds that human beings function as combination of mind, body, and spirit. If any one of those elements is ignored, then one is missing the point and really has made only a partial evaluation of that person. Psychological health depends on people taking responsibility for their own behavior, whether one’s actions/words are negative or positive. Human beings have an inherent worth, and even if some deeds are not positive, that person is still valuable. Finally, the goal of a human being’s life should be to seek personal knowledge, wisdom and understanding of one’s self and the world around them. Looking at the history of Malcolm X and his personal quest for personal knowledge and community equity & self-sufficiency, it seems that this description fits him quite well.
random mini-rant:

I don't think I'll be going to see The 40-Year Old Virgin in theaters. At the risk of exposing a part of myself I don't expose-- so to speak-- The movie strikes me as being too much of a Ghost of Christmas Future for me to get into whole-hog. Aging fanboys, this is your life. Then again, it does look to be fun..
"Lady! Your weave's blocking my view!"

A suburban Michigan legislature elected official is introducing a bill that would require Michigan's movie theaters to post "real-start" times for films, so moviegoers can avoid the 'torture' of the now-standard 10-20 minute run of commercials and previews for other movies. For what its worth, I think this is the best thing in the world for black folks. At the risk of giving 'Colored People's Time' a free pass, in my experience, most people show up late to movies anyway-- so, let's say a flick starts at 6 p.m., if most people get there between 6:15 - 6:25, the movie's literally just starting, so it's not like they've really missed anything.
And, based on my own admitted quasi-film scholar tendencies, I don't mind getting to stretch and relax in my seat (with arms outstretched to the adjacent seats) for a few minutes before the main attraction starts.

...a little bird told me of a good way to scam free popcorn-- go to a theater that gives free refills on tubs-- as soon as the show is over, skim the emptying aisles for someone who's left a tub-- if it's free from bodily secretions and other garbage, then take it up to the concession stand for a 'refill'... this technique is not really recommended for soda refills, though...
random rant of the day, pt. 1--
The Wit and Wisdom of Pat Robertson
Well, Uncle Pat, here you go again.. This time, publicly calling for assassinations.. was it only back in February that you said Haiti's historical problems go back to a Satanic pact made by the black slaves before their revolution? I guess The 700 Club needed its quarterly ratings boost....chances are, any criticisms laid against him will be dismissed as 'Christian bashing' and PC-jibber-jabber by conservative pundits-- (Tucker Carlson, you loon! The media does not hate evangelicals! If anything, they get more of a pass compared to say, Farrakhan or the like...)
.. Hopefully, the more common-sensed talking-heads on some of these shows will point out his quackery, and not be bullied into just saying "Hey, he's just an old man, leave him alone!"
**** him and everyone who thinks like him!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I can't believe I found this old rant of mine floating around somewhere-- I think this was from an old message board, and apparently somebody picked it up and posted it elsewhere.. Circa 2000/01.. at the time, I think there was some kind of public "report card" delivered by the NAACP, about the lack of blacks on prime-time shows-- The WB was reaching it's zenith of "pretty white kids with problems" shows, NBC's "Friends"and the like was still da bomb (in suburbia and with hipster urban Anglos).. of course, UPN and WB had their default handful of black sitcoms (I'm thinking FOX had long since washed their hands of this genre), but still there were no functioning dramas anywhere with a mostly black cast except for Showtime's Soul Food..

Blacks on TV: Written & sent by HypeStyle
So what do folks think about most of these prime-time shows on television? Buffy, Dawson's Creek, Popular, Freaks & Geeks, Odd Man Out, etc.. The lack of Blacks has the NAACP tripping, among other folks.. The way I see it, if these networks want to do shows about sullen, silly white kids (oh, my parents are middle class- oh, the angst!), then I can't really be mad at 'em. As ridiculous as so many of these characters are, it would be embarrassing to me for them to be Black.. Imagine a brother on "Buffy", running from monsters and whatnot.. You know folks would be protestin' that- "Come on, brah, go back to the crib, pick up your piece and start bustin caps on some vampire ass!".. But on a slightly more serious tip, I think that a lot of writers are out of touch with the Black diaspora.. Over the years, watching different programs, I've noticed something peculiar.. Often, when a black character is introduced to or involved with a "White" show, the character functions as a "soul sister/brother" to their ethnically homogenous (and common-sense lacking) peers, interjecting with ghetto-hewed wit and advice: "Ya know, White folks sure drive cars funny".... "Giiirl, you better straighten out (amidst prerequisite head-twisting and eye-rolling).." And then on a lot of the Black sitcoms the routines are often based around shrill street-corner histrionics, which may work well in a nightclub atmosphere, but many of the contexts and "inside-ness" of it all becomes lost in the translation when trying to do a television series (or movie) for the masses with the same type of thematic bent.. Black characters whose occupations and hobbies don't fall into the typical "hood" thing are hard to find-- you know, those who are into, i dunno, rock music, science/inventing, rock-climbing, skateboarding, art films, who don't obsess over Fubu/Hilfiger, etc.. The "nerd" character in some of these shows (i.e. 'Braxton' on The Jamie Foxx Show) are almost constantly reminded (or at least the audience is) that they're not really 'black' enough.. Where are the brothers that don't fall into the "Buppie/Urkel" stereotype, but aren't trying to out-do Eddie Murphy & Chris Rock in the foul-mouthed/Super-hip quotient?