But the annual return to the emblematic and lyrically gifted emcee is a good chance to think about Ghostface Killah in the current moment. It seems as though the hip hop of Wu-Tang golden era through the 2000s offered creativity and unlimited opporunities for growth. If you were talented, relentless and willing to match the moment then the world was your oyster. Cue the Wu Wear documentary.
Artists could make a living by spitting aggressive disrespectful bars spotlighted in videos of New York backstreets and bodegas made by friends, cousins and sycophants. I watched the RZA centered Wu-Tang: An American Saga which offers up the early years of the Wu-Tang conglomorate in glacial formation. The series has ended with the crew on the verge of what we know is industry-wide revolution.
In this series the Ghostface character comes across as heartfelt and desperate. A debonaire loyal friend with the need to earn money to support disabled siblings and a drunk mom. For those of us who spent years trying to decode Wu-Tang slang by rewinding the CD, the show was a revelation – background characters and stories come into visibility through memorized Wu-Tang lyrics. And then it all stops.
Amazing emcees with historic catalog of genre-defining tunes who get the veteran musician documentary treatment can still disappear (Ghostface Killah’s most recent album Ghostface Killahs charted at 25 on Billboard top 100, this video has a little more than 100,000 views).
I think that this experience of being squeezed out has guided Ghostface Killah to a more conservative discourse. The rhymes are crisp with clever inventive word choice (“My moms never knew she was nursin’ a wolf/And I wrote this on 9/11 covered in soot”) and the now-pattented rhymeflow that can only be Ghostface Killah (or Action Bronson).
But the subject matter is old. Guns, home invasions, objectification of women, liquor brands, fashion label, and the relentless juxtaposition of upper class symbiology brought to lower class contexts. I loved this from Ghostface Killah in the 1990s, but today it seems nostalgic and out-of-date. The fact that Ghostface created some of the most significant home-invasion fables of all hip hop history probably leads him to lean on this genre when it comes to 2019 recordings, but I find myself longing for a little more from Ghostface.
The other part that seems old is the use of the anti-gay slur “faggot” in a 2019 record. The last 30 years have been a significant period of culture change in hip hop. Hateful language and insulting slurs were the norm in hip hop and over the course of a few decades things have changed. The genre itself has opened, and the artists who record hip hop music select from a wider genre of symbols and narratives. There are quite a few hip hop artists who present a kind of repudiation of the traditional masculinity of hip hop (Lil Yaghty, Future, Young Thug).
The battle for the soul of hip hop can be understood as attempts of gender policing (Sean Price’s anger at emcees wearing tight pants). The small symbols and language of inclusion (and lessening of hateful language) should be understood as a genre discussing teaching, evolving and learning from itself. Careful observers of hip hop can map lyrical choices of emcees to understand how the discourse of the genre evolves over time.
Conservative hip hop vocalists might veer back into the gender policing of men in hip hop in order to dip into the well of hip hop authenticity. This is a tactic to identify who is real and who isn’t. But the cost is too great – the community of those who are comfortable with hateful slurs isn’t real hip hop – it is casual gate-keeping to create an artifical community that nurtures bigotry.
To understand the multiplicity of Ghostface Killer discourse should be a semester-long university course. The contributions of an artist who should be honored and critiqued in equal measure. Which is how we move forward into Ghostfacemas this year – critical, optimistic and savvy about the possibility that the next year might disappoint.
Fear draws out creativity – telling ourselves a story that we made up can be soothing. When we share our stories they go from sublime-to-mundane.
Good writers manage to capture some element of the sublime experience and convey it. Dragging some element of magic along in their prose.
Some writers make us feel more sublime than we have lived or experienced – their words point to something we can only imagine at that moment. Some rare writers create new possibilities by writing them into existence.
Amateur etymology is really my bag. I love learning where words come from and understanding about evolution in context. Several VERY smart arguments from this first episode of Victoria Coren’s show Balderdash and Piffle from 2006.
Great premise where she pitches revisions to the OED. The focus on a few words and the mix of investigative reports / bad CGI and face-the-camera-and-lecture tactics work for me.
I think Mitchell is wrong about the inclusion of gay from the context of the Gertrude Stein quote. I don’t dispute that the quote is dripping with queerness, but the forced inclusion in the dictionary seems like tokenism. It also sort of positions the dictionary editors as resisting the path of inclusion – which is distinct from the request for gay to get an earlier citation. The editors seem to want evidence and Mitchell has suggestion. I can’t help think that early journals and letters could provide this evidence. Not to mention that the actual dates for queer history are important (First gay man on television).
The pig segment is awesome and the narrator seems pretty cool (until the barbecue scene!)
The Ploughman’s lunch is a pretty cool vignette. I like that the evidence tracked down is anchored in consumer advertising culture post WW2. The use of nostalgia to market British cheese may not be the most romantic of origin stories, but it is credibility enhancing that the show would lead with this kind of honest inquiry.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and strategic communication of the 1UP graffiti crew. The above videos are a pretty good representation of the trans-national cohort bent on leaving their shared name on any (un)available surface.
1UP have challenged the stereotypes before with their coral reef tag, and the #LEAVENOONEBEHIND campaigns. They are graffiti extenders – moving the practices of graffiti into new mediums and methods. The crew seem comfortable with a variety of new application strategies including the whole crew whole car strategy with the car in service, fire extinguisher painting, and of course repetition.
These two videos present some of the more interesting elements of 1UP practice. I’ll observe:
Collaborative vacation. These videos document 2019-20 New Years Eve in Napoli. The crew pick a location and then paint up the town and socialize. They share a crew tag and a goal of making it beam from every surface in the city.
interactions on the street. The 1UP crew zip around Napoli and paint on the walls with passersby interacting. These offer up some great moments like the memorial tag at 2:28. But the 1UP crew seem social, jolly, the paintings all seem pretty crisp and they seem to pass cans to people walking by if they express an interest.
Include the failures. I really like the disruption of the standard graffiti video format. Including some high profile failures and semi-honest reflection about those tactics adds a lot to these two films.
Strategic painting. Two giant cans of silver paint with fat caps allow a person to cover a lot of terrain. The use of teams (one person doing the fill and another to do the outline) and the multiplication of these roles if they are doing something larger was really impressive.
Nostalgia. After a half a year of COVID-19 and stresses of the end of democracy in the United States, seeing a band of artists run through a European city on New Years eve seems like nostalgic hi-jinx.
Vele. The Vele houses in the second video (10:45) offer up one of the best case studies of representation and voice. My concern is that it would be exploitative for the community members, so I appreciated that they foregrounded consent with the neighborhood and participation in the message-making.
Art. I have some aesthetic preferences. Not sure what the face on the Vele houses was. Was not moved by the addition of the yellow streaks to most of the finished throwups. Really liked the rainbow drip piece. Appreciated the solid lines and old school letter styles used for 1UP across the project.
Ethics. I’m sympathetic to anyone who was disrupted in their transportation to work. I bet quite a few people were terrified by the giant firework explosions. And I think that some of the crew shots of large gatherings of hooded men may seem menacing to some.
Overall these two videos are great examples of communicative strategy both in the video construction and the 1UP artwork.
The guy who founded the online forum Muffwiggler passed away. His vision of a forum to make modular synths accessible has been really meaningful to a lot of people and has corresponded with the rise in Eurorack. He had been an opaque figure for me – a mostly unknown founder with a basement full of rare synths. With his passing a number of interesting videos have emerged including this one which gives Mike a chance to talk about the origins of the forum and reflect on the often consumerist nature of modular synths.
This video by the guitar pedal manufacuters Earthquake devices is particularly good. Featuring Money Mark (artist and famed Beastie Boys collaborator) in a laboratory with some created tools to make music.
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