Presidential campaign heating up on eve of first debate? Ehh. Al-Qaeda terrorists on the rebound in Afghanistan? Yaaaawn. Iran and Israel's escalating war of words over nuclear attainment? Boooriiing. All of that pales in comparison to rappers beefing at the BET Hip-Hop Awards.
Yes yes, y'all. Rap reached old levels of absurdity last weekend when two melees broke out at the Atlanta Civic Center taping of the BET Hip-Hop Awards. It was like the ’95 Source Awards or the 2004 Vibe Awards or the 2008 Ozone Awards all over again. Chalk it up to music business politics.
By now you've heard all about it, watched the grainy Blair Witch-style video footage, probably even made predictions (i.e. bets) on the final outcome. As it's been widely reported, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross's entourages almost got into backstage fisticuffs (footage above). A lot of noise was made. Police had to restore the order. A mirror was shattered in the process. (That's seven more years of bad luck in case anyone's counting.)
Meanwhile, in the parking lot of the Civic Center, Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group signee/resident wild boy, Gunplay, got jumped by members of 50 Cent's crew. It was a World Star moment, according to the cameraman:
A quick run of the man's history and you can see validity in both arguments. But if you dig a little deeper, you begin to realize that both of these “Elvises” are largely fabrications — variations on a musical superstar — created to help both sides come to terms with the duality of his legacy.
Growing up, I was conditioned to loathe Elvis Presley. The lightest criticism I heard of Elvis was that he “stole Black people's music.” The harshest criticism I heard was that he was a blatant racist who felt that all a Black man could do for him was “shine my shoes or buy my record.” I heard this from several family members and casual acquaintances — a sentiment that was forever immortalized in Public Enemy's classic single “Fight the Power.” Elvis was no hero. And he certainly never meant shit to me.
I viewed white folks' obsession with him as evidence of their inherently racist preference for black music without a black face. Even as I became a fan of 1960s British Invasion bands, part of my praise of the Beatles, Stones, and Who was that they openly acknowledged the Black influence in their music — “unlike Elvis Presley.”
But it wasn't until years later that I really had to learn about Elvis beyond what I'd been told. I was working on a piece about his supposed racism and racist legacy and started doing research for proof.
You can't imagine my surprise at what I eventually discovered.
Back when Ice Cube was sick of seeing brothers "on the video trying to out-dance each other," Atlanta was dancing its ass off. Fact is the early rap that came out of this city was dance music, just like the Miami bass that migrated to Atlanta in the mid-'80s, forever infecting our sense of sound.
Over the last two decades a long line of dances emerging from Atlanta has left an indelible imprint on pop culture - from the Bart (Michael Jackson even did the dance with in his 1992 "Remember the Time" video) to the Bankhead Bounce to the Soulja Boy.
But before all of that, there was the Yeek.
So named for the call onlookers would yell out when a group of syncopated dancers emphasized every fourth step in their routine, the Yeek was a dance reserved for real dancers. You might try it at home alone in front of the mirror or playing around with your friends. But you didn't just break out in public with the Yeek unless you truly knew what you were doing and had your routine down pat. And unlike most fad dances, the Yeek never really died out. There's even a 2011 video of a boy band called Hamilton Park teaching some homogenized new millennium version of the Yeek.
At its height in the late '80s, yeeking was the dance of choice at high school talent shows across the city, from Mays to Columbia. This was around the same time when a strip mall on Gresham Road in Decatur housed the popular black teen nightclub Shyran's Showcase. It was also the era of such preppy gangs as the Stray Cats, which was really more of a social club than a straight-up gang. How hard of an image can you really project wearing madras plaid pants and polos with a tennis racket case slung over your shoulder? But damn, they were fly.
A new documentary in the works intends to capture this watershed moment in the city's history - just as LaFace Records was setting up shop - by unearthing all of this cool lost footage of brothers trying to out-yeek each other at high school talent shows and the like.
The filmmakers are still looking for footage and old school/new school dancers. To contribute, contact Creshindo at Creshindo@yahoo.com or 770-873-9549.
Last night, Atlanta-based god-hop emcee Sa-Roc dropped homemade visuals for "Queen's Philosophy," a song from her stellar Sol Messiah-produced LP Ether Warz, which has been garnering serious word-of-web traction - including 3,000 Facebook likes on her Bandcamp page - since the album's mid-December release. In fact, it's no longer available for free streaming on Bandcamp. To hear Ether Warz in its entirety, you'll have to grab a late pass and purchase it via her website now.
Here's why you should cop that if you haven't already: Sa-Roc is
arguably, no, easily one of the best lyricists out right now. No modifiers needed - not best Atlanta lyricist, or best female lyricist, or best conscious lyricist. Despite the fact that conscious rap has taken a huge hit over the last decade or so thanks to well-intentioned novice emcees who'd be of better service preaching behind a pulpit, Sa-Roc's method is straight-up microphone madness. With a message steeped in Five Percenter teachings, ancient kemetic wisdom, and metaphysical enlightenment, she can spit with the Gods. Yet she does so without coming off holier than thou. When she sat in on our female MCs roundtable last year, Sa-Roc, panel moderator Ms. Dia, and rest of the artists (Boog Brown, StaHHr, Lyric Jones, Khalilah Ali, Adrift Da Belle) talked about the need for lady emcees to carve out a space where they can be feminine without succumbing to rap's narrowly proscribed gender roles - i.e., the promiscuous ho or the manly dyke.
In the essay, Beats, Rhymes and Rap's Gender Gap, that resulted from that conversation, I used Nicki Minaj as the premise to talk about the need for an alternative to the hypersexualized industry standard. But in a recent essay of her own, titled "Why I'm Mad at Nicki Minaj," Sa-Roc breaks it down further, calling Minaj part of a self-hating racist agenda:
Washington, DC-based record label Peoples Potential Unlimited has spent the last few years blessing vinyl collectors with limited run 12-inch and 45 reissues. The label specializes in rare boogie-funk, digging up forgotten dancefloor gems laden with heavy 1980s synthesizer sounds. Most of these records never made it far from the artists' hometown, and surviving copies of the originals sell regularly above the one-hundred dollar mark and beyond. Fortunately for the vinyl addict on a budget, PPU chose earlier this year to bring us Geno Jordan's 1982 vocoder jam, "You're a Peachtree Freak on Peachtree Street." The cut was originally released on Atlanta's now-defunct Velvetone Records, and the reissue contains a previously unreleased version as well as two new edits. [Click link for sample.]
I know, I know, you're saying: "Another year-end list?" To which I respond: "Yes."
As years in music go, 2011 was a beaut. Underground hip-hop blew up the blogosphere with hundreds of stellar self-released mixtapes that seemed to render rap's reigning kings all but irrelevant by comparison. (Atlanta's own most anticipated commercial release of the year? It barely made it out by December and sounded a little like a white flag.) Meanwhile, the chillwave craze thankfully died out fast, but not before leaving an appreciable mark on rap and R&B, not to mention the much-needed stir it caused in the bored indie culture from whence it came. And even the mainstream got in on the creative explosion, its centerpieces sporting names like Adele, not Britney.
The year saw eagerly awaited studio releases that exceeded their billing (Kate Bush!), swift flashes of unexpected brilliance (James Blake) and fresh-faced outings from reliable standbys (too many to name just one). As far as bloated, insufferable messes go, it offered only a merciful few, the now infamous Metallica/Lou Reed collab Lulu at the front of the line. It was, overall, a very good year for music, one whose mark on our culture, I dare say, will not be an insignificant one.
So, yes, another list, because I can. Below, check my top 10 albums of 2011 with descriptors of each. Also, a (thankfully short) list of 2011's major disappointments as I saw 'em.
The first call I got Thursday morning was from Jason Orr. The new issue of Creative Loafing was out, and he was pissed about it.
Though he admitted he hadn't yet finished reading the CL cover story on Diary of a Decade — his new documentary which chronicles the rise of his iconic FunkJazz Kafé festival — he expressed his disappointment at the angle of the story and his intent to discredit it.
His main beef, as he repeatedly told me during our hour-long conversation, was that I'd killed his mystique and potentially damaged his brand by revealing too much personal information in the story.
After we talked, I encouraged him to put his response in writing for CL to publish online. He has since posted the following response on his FunkJazz Kafé website, titling it, "Sad Case of Irresponsible Journalism by Creative Loafing":
Wow. It’s appears that Creative Loafing chose the low road position in analyzing and journaling the accomplishments of FunkJazz Kafé and founder, Jason Orr. Therefore we are releasing the following statement:
“The cover article featured in the Creative Loafing publication written by Rodney Carmichael displays a form of commercial entertainment satire instead of truth and substance about FunkJazz Kafé. Their story unfortunately is misleading, misguided, misquoted, and does not reflect the true essence of the upcoming screening “Diary Of A Decade” documentary film. The primary purpose of this article was to express the interest and foundation of FunkJazz Kafé, along with the tenacious efforts in creating the documentary “Diary of A Decade”. Instead, the article conveys a much deeper insidious connotation to the brand by misinterpreting the concept of the documentary as being a controversial/conspiracy film; which is false. It further reflects an ambiguous view to the image, brand, and reputation of Founder and Creator of FunkJazz Kafé, Jason Orr. We at FunkJazz Kafé denounce the erroneous, irresponsible statements made in the article and will not associate the brand with this misleading article.”
As the founder/creator of FunkJazz Kafé, only Orr can determine whether the story enhances or damages his brand and image — and I respect his right to do so — but my intent as a journalist was neither. Rather, it was to tell an honest, factual story about a man who helped spark an alternative movement in Atlanta, and whose new film documenting that movement could potentially face the same quandary many artists within it have faced. I couldn't make up a storyline that compelling, and I'd be a piss-poor journalist if I chose to ignore it.
There are no misquotes in the story; I have over 10 hours of conversation, recorded with Orr's permission, to disprove that. I even kept the majority of our discussions off-the-record without him asking me to do so.
Unfortunately, Orr seems to have had other expectations regarding "the primary purpose of this article." But the story behind the story is what makes FunkJazz Kafé so vital nearly 20 years after its inception. Nothing can tarnish that, and it's discouraging that he feels that was my motive. If I'd known that he wanted me to tell anything other than the truth, I would've gracefully declined to cover the story. But I stand behind it despite the outcome, and consider it a professional and personal honor that I was a part of its telling.
I wholeheartedly encourage readers to go see the National Black Arts Festival screening of Diary of a Decade next Wed., July 13 at the Rialto Center of the Arts. It's epic.
If you were a part of Atlanta’s hip-hop club scene in the ’90s and early millennium, Club Kaya was a must. The spacious part-restaurant, part-dance spot, part-performance venue that later became the ornate Vision — now the site of the 1010 Midtown condominium high-rise — was the place to be.
This Friday at 595 North, some of Club Kaya's former spin doctors are reconnecting to reminisce on the good ol’ days. DJ Nabs is lining up an all-star team that includes Kemit, Doc, Toomp, Frank Ski, Mike Swift, Cowboy, Mars, Jaycee and A&R Philips.
Before he hits the lab, Nabs took a moment to stress why he thought the reunion was necessary. “I’m a Capricorn. It’s during my birthday week and we wanted to bring all the DJs together since it’s been 14 years since we all been in the same spot.”
Atlanta journalist Dominick R. Brady has begun an amazing audio project documenting the city's hip hop history. Headland and Delowe: ATL Hip Hop from '79 til features interviews from DJ Jelly, Zapper, MC Shy D, Cee-lo, Senor Kaos, Talib Shabazz and plenty more, along with classic Atlanta tracks from the past and present. Listen to (or download) the whole 35 minutes here. While the city's hip hop history books often seem to begin and end with the Dungeon Family (for good reason), Mr. Brady has spent plenty of time researching pre-Laface Atlanta rap as well as presenting the work of some of the city's most exciting current artists. Seriously, run go listen. You'll be day-dreaming about banging out beats on the lunchroom table before you can say "That boom, that boom, ooooh I like that boom."
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