THST 2450 – Approaches to Media Studies – Exercise 2: Speaking Subjectivity

YAGpXPd

 

Language, and the way we use it, is clearly a prevalent factor in how we interact with the external world and how others perceive us. In different circumstances, we demonstrate language habits that reflect our class or perceived class distinctions. Personally, in the presence of a prospective employer, for example, I might say that I am “going to” do something, not that I am “gonna” do something. This also depends on the environment of the prospective job. The distinction would probably be inconsequential on a construction site. However, if I was on a construction site and had to communicate with a corporate member, a project coordinator or building manager for example, I might be inclined to speak more formally. This also might depend on the level of familiarity with the person I am speaking to.

 

With the idea of the workplace in mind, a lot of self-monitoring seems to be inherent in going for an interview at a new prospective job. I, whether premeditated or not, tend to rely mostly on a rehearsed mental script when taking part in an interview. A lot of statements made during the conversation feel the need to be ended with a result, like: “I coordinated locations for placement of outdated equipment, which I feel helped the company with more efficient operations.” It likely isn’t as formal as it is written here, but the focus, for me and ostensibly the employer, is on the results-based outcome of the answer. As in the construction site example, there is likely a propensity to speak in more proper terms, even though this may not even be absolutely necessary given the interviewer. Even though my high level of language self-monitoring may not needed from the interviewer’s perspective, it might still be a good idea to take part in this monitoring because it shows a certain amount of effort and a disciplined mindset.
Other than the interview scenario, I find a certain amount of self-consciousness in many environments. A recurring environment is the university campus. This awareness of language appears in a few aspects of content. Firstly, the content of informal language seems to have a higher sense of monitoring attached to it. A joke among cohorts — “talking shit” — I feel at least has the potential to be construed more often as insensitive language. I’m not advocating hate speech by any means, but the trend of this issue looks to be indicating a more politically correct ethic. The content of academic language is something that I am perhaps hyper-conscious of. Each individual university course, or at least each department, seems to have its own linguistic nuances, and essentially its own language. Words take on different meanings at different times; in an art history class, a ‘formal’ analysis means examining the use of form (shape, line, composition) in a piece of art, rather than an ‘official’ or ‘sanctioned’ analysis. If a work makes a ‘classical’ reference, that word is probably being used to mean “relating to Greek or Latin literature, art, or culture” rather than having to do with tradition or establishment.

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THST 2450 – Approaches to Media Studies – PSV Collage and Reflection

To represent my passions, strengths, and values, here is the collage I put together for Assignment #1:

 

 

PSV Collage v7

 

By default, one of my main passions is what this project is made of and what it is: art. It includes representations of some of the forms of art that are my passions: obviously visual, and musical as well. These two passions are represented well. Visual art is represented by the whole collage as mentioned, but also by the spray-painting hand (which I painted), the obstructed smiley face, the spray paint can, and the grey background. Another passion is fashion, represented by the two figures standing in the piece. This also represents my passion for visual art (drawing). I admittedly people-watch, and these two were real people who I saw on the street at some point. So it’s kind of an admiration of other people’s fashion sense, but I’m also into engineering my own clothing styles. I believe these sketches also are representative of one of my strengths, which is observation. I’m fairly reserved, so I like to take the role of observer most of the time. Another one of my strengths is represented in the smiley face. I think smiling is one of my biggest strengths; I try to smile as much as I can (when and where appropriate). The broad lines on the smiley are supposed to be sort of melting through the background to reveal the universe full of star clusters and galaxies, which I use to represent unlimited creativity — something that I like to think is a strength of mine. And I also value the idea of creativity; anyone can create almost anything, anywhere, anytime, whatever it may be. Another big value of mine is family, who own the top right corner of my collage. My family is important to me, because no matter how weird I might be or whatever I do, they usually understand me on some level, and they always love me as I love them. We’re not a typical family; my brother and I have different dads, but we’ve never considered each other any less than “full” brothers. He has a wife and three kids, so my family keeps growing. Pictured at the top is my stepdad’s side of my family. My mom remarried a few years ago, and again my family grew. It is nice to have that kind of connection with people, and that they see you as another actual person, not just an idea or projection. Below the family section is a small “poster” that reads “Free Humanity”. Both of these ideas are a value. The idea of freedom is a simple one for me, in that humans should be free to do what they want in life, insofar as that action or purpose doesn’t go against their humanity, meaning that it doesn’t harm another person. These two ideas as separate entities are ideal, and they rely on each other to coexist. Humanity should be structured so that anyone is free to dream, and thus project those dreams onto the canvas of life, represented by the spray can and galactic graffiti. The quote in the top, middle, and bottom of the collage is from the author Charles Bukowski, and it reads: “Not wanting solitude, not understanding solitude, they will attempt to destroy anything that differs from their own.” I chose this quote because it is kind of a reminder that there are people who are perhaps so dissatisfied with their own lives that they will try to quell ways of life which they don’t understand, or choose to understand. Bukowski was a very solitary individual, large and loud but also quiet, sentimental, and introverted, who, I think most of all, liked to just be a private person doing what he liked to do: drink, smoke, write. Some don’t understand it, but it is one of my values — solitude. Everyone values it to one degree or another. As a self-described introvert, I think it is in my nature to value solitude. Another value, depicted along the bottom of the picture, is nature itself. To be specific, the wilderness part of nature. I enjoy walking in the woods, and I can’t imagine living in a place where taking a nature walk was not an option at any point. This value probably goes hand in hand with solitude and walking, a moving form of meditation while out in the forest. The wave of water also refers to nature and solitude. (Fun fact: I heard the Bukowski quote in the song by Toronto hip hop artist D-Sisive, called “The Water”. Awesome song, awesome video, awesome artist.)

 

THST 2450 – Approaches to Media Studies – Week 1 Reflection

All Posts With “THST 2450 – Approaches to Media Studies” As Part Of The Title Are For The Media Studies Course. 

As I learned from last semester’s Media class with Lipton, it is best to not expect an “ordinary” lecture or seminar experience. We had started last semester in a large circle and one smaller one, hand-in-hand. trying not to think for a minute. So when the idea to push all tables in the classroom to the side and form the chairs into a circle was put forth, I wasn’t surprised — in one sense. My reaction was mainly, “here goes Lipton again,” with a head shake, but when something takes place that disrupts the usual routine of going to lecture to take notes or to the library to study or to the cafeteria to get a coffee, it forces your brain to enter a different space of critical social behaviour, to be present in a situation. I like this. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to a big lecture hall, getting in my note-taking zone and tune in (or out), but this situation is a healthy change to what we might normally perceive as classroom life as a student. Paradigm-shifting is one of the key concepts of this class (as we determined) and so far, we — with the guidance of Lipton — are doing this and more, under the class name “Meta Dope Cogninauts The Third” 🙂

 

The mostly free-form discussion led the group to talk about the concept of mirrors. While leaving the class, I started to write this rhyme; this is something I do quite regularly, and have done for some time now. I think it helps me understand things on a different level while simultaneously giving me space to express what I think or feel about a subject or concept. I usually like to give titles to these rhymes, so, this one will be called:

 

Mirrored Movies   

 

I’m watching the images flashing

the image is masking

The real matter in which these atoms are acting

It’s fascinating, we’re waiting like we’re fasting

But the slow pace of time remains everlasting

And we morph through it hopefully dodging dysmorphic thoughts

Adhering to the same structures of folklore we’re taught

Reflecting on the visuals seen in the scenes

We’re all selfie, hands out with our face in the screens

Making ourselves memes while battling the extremes

Stepping in front of the mirror, our own kings and queens

Stepping to the glass, resulting in broken pieces

In light of all this mess we still search for where the peak is

To peep it, to peek at what can be

We can’t really reach it, can we?

In one sense, it’s important to make change

But it’s unnatural to make your face strange

In hopes of a favourable comparison

When you’re the only one comparing it

And it becomes a poor measure of health

When all the mirror itself is is a mirror of itself

The Path of the Pygmies – Anthropology Major Paper

Here is the major written assignment I did on a group of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP). I chose the Efe pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo after I became aware of them from a guy named Justin Wren, who started Fight For The Forgotten, a non-profit with a mission to help the pygmies gain access to clean water, establish food production systems, and provide them with LOVE!

I would like to think there are only a few errors, as I put in a good amount of research, but please excuse any that are found. (Sidenote: I received an 85% — not too shabby! Also, I love when I get to cite The Joe Rogan Experience as a source! #POWERFUL) 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

A certain demographic of humans, significant because their direct lineage goes back tens of thousands of years, who face constant displacement and mistreatment, is the Pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A sort of perpetual group of IDP, the Pygmy people — also known as Efe, Mbuti, or Bambuti — are subject to social oppression and control from other people groups. Because they do not adhere to land ownership, they are, in many cases, forced to either move from their dwelling communities or work as cheap slaves for whoever buys or steals the land from them. As a result, many Pygmies have been mainly pushed to parts of the Ituri forest in the Northeast corner of the Congo near the border of Uganda. In environmental aspects, Pygmies have been affected by conservationist groups who have either bought up parts of the forest and displace them and condemned their hunting practices. Deforestation of parts the dense Ituri forest, for resource extraction purposes, has driven away the animals that these hunter-gatherer tribes hunt for survival, leading to further relocation. Although they are not usually involved directly in political issues, the Pygmies face a sort of ripple effect from political conflicts by rebel groups and certain tribes. These factors, this consistent obstruction to their lives and survival conditions, lead to the Pygmy people being accurately described as the worst bullying victims in history (Rogan, 2013).

 

BODY

 

In general, Congolese people have had to endure many hardships for many years. In the last century or so, colonization efforts by European countries like France and Belgium have disrupted and restructured the social ecology of the nation. A slave economy was implemented and genocides were committed when Belgian King Leopold II took control of the area from 1885-1908 (Findley & Rothney, 2011). But within the Congo, the Pygmy tribes were, and continue to be, mainly used as slaves by other Congolese civilians. More recently, there have been many examples of abuse against the Mbuti, including rape, torture, murder, and isolated instances of cannibalism (IRIN Africa, 2010). The Bantu people, who consider the Pygmies less than human, have been enslaving them for hundreds of years. Part of the reason for this inhuman characterization, and subsequent subjugation, is likely their physical stature. Pygmy, translated from Latin, means “height from the elbow to the knuckles”; the average Pygmy height is 1.5 metres. In the eyes of their slave masters, the Pygmies are easy to dominate and control. The forced labour mainly includes working in coltan, gold, and diamond mines for a small amount of food daily; this is to create a forced incentive to bring the Pygmies back the next day to work for more food. If you own a smartphone, thank a Pygmy. One of the main raw materials in that device, coltan, was probably mined by a Pygmy. All of the coltan mines in the Congo are owned by government troops or rebel groups and mined almost exclusively by the Pygmy people (Rogan, 2013).   

 

The Pygmies are indeed the stalwart people of the Congo, without whom the nation would look very different. It is a “considered opinion that they are among the oldest inhabitants of Africa” (Turnbull, 1962). Consistent dwellers of the Ituri forest, including Virunga National Park, the Efe are considered “Forest People”, as described in-depth in Colin Turnbull’s book of the same name. They are known as one of the largest hunter-gatherer group on the African continent (Patin et al., 2009). Forest life usually lends itself well to this subsistence pattern; Pygmies are able to move quickly and quietly through the dense foliage to effectively track animals, they recognize habits of mammals of prey. They know when and where to most efficiently gather wild fruit (Haviland et al., 2013). These survival practices, however, have been systematically threatened and deteriorated throughout the last century or so. In the past few decades the influx of conservationist organizations, who buy up forest land in order to protect it, cause Pygmy tribes to be displaced. A sort of contradiction regarding this conservation program is that the efforts to conserve plant life is threatening the preservation of arguably the oldest people group in Africa and possibly the world. More recently, there have been many claims of other Pygmy tribes, the Baka for example, of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund abusing tribespeople for ‘poaching’ (Survival International, 2015). Certain animals have been deemed illegal to hunt by the WWF, with many of these sources of meat acting as the main forms of not only subsistence but trade as well. On the other end, European and Malaysian logging and mining companies constantly seek to deforest areas where Pygmies happen to inhabit since the 1990’s (World Rainforest Movement, 2007). Even tree removal near Pygmy camps causes the wildlife to scatter, leaving the tribe with scarce food sources at best. The factors of deforestation, ‘anti-poaching’ organizations, and forest conservation are all considerably troubling when taking into account the settling habits of Pygmies, who almost always set up camps near Sudanic or Bantu villages and trade their meat for plantation products such as grain and vegetables — doing so since at least the 1920s, when Reverend Paul Schebesta studied them (Turnbull, 1962). From this hunting devastation comes the decreased ability of the Efe to trade effectively, ultimately unable to do so at all, which then results in the weakening of their sovereignty. This transitions to outsiders seizing control of Pygmy camps and enforcing slave labour at the behest of the Bantu.

 

The Pygmy are generally outsiders to political issues in Congo and central Africa; they have no political representatives or state-recognized authority. Larger political crises within the Congo and neighbouring Rwanda have led to a flow of immigrants and other Congolese IDP that has pushed Pygmies farther into the Ituri and parts of Virunga as mentioned (Fitz-Henry). What leaves them perhaps more susceptible to displacement, aside from the perceived weakness due to biological factors, is the fact that they do not hold any legal land titles. In this overly legislated world, the Efe are self-proclaimed “people of the forest” with makeshift shelters and a highly traditional way of life. With forest areas either being reduced to flat land or declared off-limits for Pygmies, the saying of Pygmy elder Moke is closer to coming to fruition: “When the forest dies, we die” (World Rainforest Movement, 2007).

 

CONCLUSION

The Pygmies, though certainly not oblivious to the outside forces that lead to their displacement, are a people who have still managed to preserve their customs through oral tradition — perhaps more so than any other group in the world. A certain unsympathetic paradigm might cause them to have to adapt to a changing and increasingly globalized society.  

Hope is certainly not lost for the Pygmies. Organizations like Fight For The Forgotten, a non-profit aiming to give the Mbuti tribes “radical love” in the form of resources needed to effectively survive in this new world while establishing and maintaining consistent living conditions. This is being done in a few ways. The Pygmies, often trapped in a slave labour situation due in part to decreased trading power from loss of food sources, are being provided with the resources to maintain a farm of animals like chickens and goats. This helps with trade and also with moving them closer to a self-sustaining society. In partnership with Water4, the non-profit is drilling wells and setting up irrigation to get clean water to the people and grow crops respectively. Many parasites are prevalent in these communities, particularly filarial worms, causing several deaths due to dirty water consumption. In addition, these organizations have been able to buy small plots of land on behalf of the Pygmy people. Lastly, they hope to provide good education in areas like agriculture, management, and practical water pump maintenance to help Pygmies sustain a healthier way of life. Fight For The Forgotten founder Justin Wren says of other NGO’s: “They’ll ‘Show Up, Blow Up, and Blow Out’ of there, leaving people worse off than when they came. You can’t just throw money at the problem. You got to build relationships with the people. Empower the locals. Teach them sustainable solutions” (Wren & Hunt, 2015). From this interactive relationship and resource establishment, the Pygmies could very well be starting a transition from a strictly hunter-gatherer subsistence pattern to a hybrid between that and an agricultural society, and through further education eventually can gain their own representation in political proceedings. It is generally not hard for one to feel empathy towards these displaced peoples, and one can only hope that they find their real, permanent home in the dense Ituri Forest.

 

References

Findley, C. V., Rothney, J. A. M. (2011). Twentieth-Century World (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

 

Fitz-Henry, E. (n.d.). For thousands of years, the Efe… . Cultural Survival, 1.4. Retrieved from http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/voices/erin-fitz-henry/efe-people-ituri-forest

 

Haviland, W. A., Kilmurray, L., Fedorak, F. A., Lee, R. B. (2013). Cultural Anthropology (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Wadsworth.

 

IRIN Africa (2010). DRC: Displacement and discrimination — the lot of the Bambuti Pygmies. IRIN. Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/report/90354/drc-displacement-and-discrimination-the-lot-of-the-bambuti-pygmies

 

Patin, E., Laval, G., Barreiro, L. B., Salas, A., Semino, O., Santachiara-Benerecetti, S., … Kidd, K. K. (2009). Inferring the Demographic History of African Farmers and Pygmy Hunter-Gatherers Using a Multilocus Resequencing Data Set. Public Library of Science. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000448

 

Rogan, J. (Producer). (2013, Mar 13). Justin Wren [Episode #337]. The Joe Rogan Experience. Podcast retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWUDckvf2Lo

 

Survival International (2015). One year on: WWF fails to act against abuse of ‘Pygmies’. Survival International. Retreived from http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10708

 

Turnbull, C. M. (1962). The Forest People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

 

World Rainforest Movement (2007). DRC: Efe Pygmies deprived of their homeland and their livelihood. WRM Bulletin, 118. Retrieved from http://wrm.org.uy/oldsite/bulletin/118/DRC.html

 

Wren, J., Hunt, L. (2015). Fight for the Forgotten: How a Mixed Martial Artist Stopped Fighting for Himself and Started Fighting for Others. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/ebooks/app#reader/tkcjBQAAQBAJ/GBS.PP7

 

Here is a wonderful video from Water4 and Fight For The Forgotten about the Pygmies:

 

 

Top 10 Songs from 10 Days at the Cottage

IMG_20150907_161616

I just got back from the cottage after a week and a bit. With no internet and no TV, I had the bonfire glow, the beautiful lake, and the general happenings of nature to keep me entertained or to experience — although I was not totally without my own resources. Loaded up with offline albums from Tidal, my phone provided some amazing music to serve as a soundtrack to the stay. Here, I picked out ten songs (in no particular order) from some of the albums I listened to. From the classic-level-old to old-new to brand new, these songs are great (in my opinion), but more importantly they resonate with me on some level. So here they are:

1. The Weeknd ft. Ed Sheeran – Dark Times

Beauty Behind The Madness

This is a dream vocal team-up. The British songster Sheeran and Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, push each other throughout this ballad. Simply put, they croon the shit out of this song. The slow, steady groove of the instrumental is prominent on this song and other tracks from the now-chart-topping album Beauty Behind The Madness. The two trade verses and alternate on the hook like true pros.

Favourite Line: Weeknd – “Only my mother could love me for me, in my dark times…” 

2. Dr. Dre ft. Anderson Paak & Marsha Ambrosious – All in a Day’s Work

Compton

Starting with a straightforward, inspirational speech excerpt from co-founder of Interscope Records and Apple Music, Jimmy Iovine, this track is an ode to consistent and disciplined work ethic amidst unbridled success. Dre raps and crafts songs with the hunger of an up-and-comer, even though he has done so much musically and thus financially. This was a great track to ride the bike and work out to.

Favourite Line:  “If you really wanna do it like this, shit you gotta work”

3. Have Gun, Will Travel – True Believers

Science from an Easy Chair 

A quicker-beat, chanty tune, ‘True Believers’ and the band in general have a Canadian music feeling (although they are from Bradenton, Florida and this recent album was release on the label This Is American Music). It has a simple message, and I find simple clarity in the music.

Favourite Line: “We are the only true believers that we have”

4. MGMT – Alien Days

MGMT

In all their trippy, abstract glory, The Management expertly dances around the concept of existence in human time on the opening track of their self-titled album. The playful track starts with a child reciting the first lines, and the song progresses along with floaty melodies leading to sequential cymbal explosions. What I’ve come to expect from MGMT, and I can’t seem to get enough.

Favourite Line: Hard to single out one line, especially considering the nature of the music, but – “You don’t need wings to hover 40-ton stones for a mile”

5. Bon Iver – Woods

Blood Bank

It is hard to describe or get across how I feel about this song, or how it makes me feel. I can say that it almost provides my mind with a reset. But perhaps even cooler than the song itself is the story behind it. Wisconsin native Justin Vernon’s most successful music “project”, Bon Iver, has produced three top-notch alternative/indie/folk albums, two of which (For Emma, Forever Ago; Blood Bank) were born out of the stuff of legend. Vernon went up to a cabin in rural Wisconsin for a few months after two breakups — one band and one girl — and, among other things, recorded those collections of songs. He started developing the song in North Carolina, while still with his band, and took an extreme liking to the Auto-Tune effect — including something called a “Harmony Engine”. Thus, the four-line, no-beat, layered harmony song was born. And those who like it are thankful it was. (Fun Fact: Most people probably recognize this song as it was used for the basis of Kanye West’s “Lost in the World”, which Vernon worked with West on along with other tracks on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)

Favourite Line: Wow, soooo many to choose from, but I like – “I’m building a still, to slow down the time”

6. Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1 & 2)

Wish You Were Here 

This is a two-parter, and the two parts together make a 25-minute song, so it’s kind of cheating. But who cares! I DO WHAT I WANT! Sorry. From the iconic Floyd album, or should I say the other iconic Floyd album, this is a wandering symphony of psychedelic rock and roll. It hits ups and downs, lulls and crescendos, transitions, and contains incredibly personal lyrics. It is a somewhat mournful tribute to former band member, and arguable catalyst for Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett. The talented and charming musician got deep into drugs, specifically LSD, after which point the rest of the band says he was never the same, and left The Floyd. Guitarist David Gilmour hit four notes which probably changed the trajectory of eventually one of the most revered bands of the last two centuries. The track in its entirety is one of those ethereal numbers you can put on in the background and just zone out; looking out at the water from the beach or a rock, or looking at nothing in particular. As mentioned, the lyrics are not only personal, but conceptually on point.

Favourite Line: “Come on you boy child, you winner and loser, come on you miner for truth and delusion, and shine!

7. City and Colour – Woman

If I Should Go Before You 

Dallas Green and his band depart from the acoustic-based, folky songs they are known for on the upcoming album, and on this song in particular (which is also Floyd-inspired). A plodding, subtly building track, Green reflects on and pleads perhaps for a lost love. It’s as if he is writing a letter into the ether, floating a bottle into the ocean with the message being the simple yet powerful lyrics of the song. You can relate to the longing, installing the archetypal ‘woman’, and pine for the love you once had (or even currently have, depending on your experience).

Favourite Line: “Woman, my love, is neverending, like a, sea with–out a shore”

8. S. Carey – Supermoon

Supermoon 

A bandmate of Justin Vernon and fellow Wisconsinite, Sean Carey gets real minimal on his third “solo” effort. The title track, and most of the project, just crosses the plane of absolute silence. Carey’s voice itself is so soft that it completely tunes you in to a new level of perception and thought. Because of the delicacy of piano plinking and the low fuzz of his vocals, he forces you to pay attention to the song more. From this new awareness, experiences were coming back to me from my childhood — playing in the neighbour’s backyard, climbing trees, catching frogs — that seemed so vivid as I laid in the cottage bed with my eyes closed.

Favourite Line: “Who’s to say, where we’ll end up?”

9. The Staves – Make it Holy

If I Was 

Another musical act with a connection to Vernon, the magnetic British sister-trio recorded this most recent album, If I Was, at the Bon Iver musician’s Eau Claire, Wisconsin studio. Vernon is also featured on this record, adding an even more extreme degree of harmony to the magical amalgamation of the three singers’ heavenly voices. Not much compares to the innocent sweetness this music contains; there is an inherently hypnotic element in its abstract contents.

Favourite Line: “Shaking out the sheets and holding on (holding on)                                                                  Following my feet until it’s gone, (until it’s gone)”

10. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile

Electric Ladyland

Another long rock hymn. The version of ‘Voodoo Chile’ on the album was recorded live, and it is a total jam in the most musical sense of the word. This is another one you can put on and just forget and come back ten minutes later when Hendrix is just shredding through one of many breakdowns. Drummer Mitch Mitchell, perhaps the Meg White to Hendrix’s Jack White, is to me generally underrated, and does a fantastic job not only on this song, not only the album, but all of The Experience’s performances. It is a very extra bluesy rendition as opposed to the more commonly known ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’.

Favourite Line: “Because I’m a million miles away, and at the same time I’m right here in your picture frame”

I couldn’t find ‘Voodoo Chile’ on YouTube, so here is probably my favourite video that exists of Jimi Hendrix.

The “Become A Rapper” Meme

Through my recent rambling around on the grand old internet, I have come across a certain meme a few times, and it’s almost offensive — I feel like that might be too strong a word, although still appropriate. Here it is:

 

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I’m not sure about the significance of the duck, maybe an ode to stagnation or inaction, but the caption reads: “If you ever feel that you haven’t accomplished anything, there is someone in your home town still trying to become a rapper.” I have seen it so many times that I felt it necessary to voice my opinion on it, and really analyze it, because every time I see it I feel strongly about it.

My first point of attack so to speak, was to ask: given the many instances that it or an iteration of it gets shared, why is it that this particular collection of words provides comfort for someone? Why can they relate to that?

Answer: I think the first small part comes from the idea that the “rap industry” is pursued by people because they want money, and don’t usually get it. That is of course a huge generalization about motive, and is more than likely incorrect. But let’s assume it is correct, and it will fit in to the larger explanation. This analysis starts with the idea that rap has been widely considered a low form of art, apparently. Some of this perception I think is due to the less wholesome manifestations of capitalist ideology through rap: the money, hoes, cars, and clothes aspects being particularly prevalent in the last decade or so. But these examples, and the public figures who embody them, are just what I said: manifestations of an ideology through the vehicle of rap music. There is a whole large segment of rap that is “conscious”, a term that also gets thrown around ad nauseum, if only in hip hop circles, though perhaps for good reason. Rappers, or emcees, like Lupe Fiasco, Brother Ali, Kendrick Lamar, Shad, and many more have each produced intricate, nuanced bodies of work replete with lyrics that read more like college dissertations or critically-acclaimed novels than songs. Shad — full name Shadrach Kabango — the Canadian wordsmith who actually holds two university degrees and now works hard at his new job as the new host of ‘q’ on CBC Radio — made his name touring the country doing hip hop shows from small towns to festivals far and wide for almost the last decade. He is also arguably the best all-around hip hop lyricist in the nation (I acknowledge the bias of my opinion).

Yes, maybe Shad is the exception to this “Rapper Rule”, what with the industry success and academic chops to boot. But there are many people out there, myself included, who have a vision in their minds and a dream in their hearts to express their art to a wide audience. Or at least an audience. For me, it’s not about trying to “become a rapper” — granted, the amateur-to-professional transition hasn’t happened yet — but it is more about expressing creativity. The label doesn’t much matter, because again it’s about finding an avenue for art. For example, I rap, so does or doesn’t that already make me a rapper? It is also just one aspect of what I do within what can be considered art. I write every word I rap, and I am working on the instrumental side of things for works in progress, which includes playing instruments like acoustic guitar, hand drums, and a plain old singing voice — up until now I have just curated different pre-existing instrumentals, or “beats”, for my projects, commonly called “mixtapes”. I do all the corresponding visual artwork for these projects — sometimes for individual tracks as well — and there are other creative things in the future that I will be working on more, like making more music videos and short films (I have made one video so far). Is every person who raps doing this? No. Do they have to? Absolutely not. If they’re walking around saying they are a rapper just to say it, or thinking that they can pull cash from the title (very hard to do), but don’t have any intention or passion in their hearts, then that’s a different story. But personally, I sort of cringe at the word. Instead of a rapper, I’m an artist. Does that sound arrogant? Maybe. But that I think most accurately describes what I “try to” do through various media, whether it be music, illustration, or video. I know that I am at least competent (amateur) in all of these things, and I believe I will become excellent (professional) in all, or at least most, of these things.

But back to the original thought that prompted me writing this out. What might be most frustrating is that a sense of comfort about one’s position in life is being inferred from the shared meme, one that connotes a lower standing of the prospective “rapper” relative to the subject consuming the meme’s implied meaning. It is quite puzzling when you consider that this is in reference to an aspect, rap, of one of the most universal art forms — hip hop. Yes, hip hop is really the overarching umbrella that rap sits under, along with four other aspects, all of which make up the Five Elements: graffiti, turntables (DJing), beatboxing, and breakdancing. I digress for a short history lesson. Back to the point. What is confusing to me, both a consumer and creator, observer and subject, is how rap is perceived in some segments of culture. This meme probably wouldn’t work if you replaced rapper with actor, or painter, or writer, even though the latter is a title that most if not all rappers can lay claim to. Yet we have Drake, one of the biggest rappers/artists/performers at this time in history, selling out shows all over the world, putting on his own super-popular spectacular concert weekend, OVO Fest, all over his hometown Toronto. One could argue, well, he already had a name before the music fame. Let’s take a guy like J. Cole then. Sure, maybe not as well-known as Drake, but still very successful, very intelligent (degree from St. John’s University), who parlayed that intelligence, along with talent and above all hard work, and formed a budding career he enjoys today. Let’s not stop there. Let’s take a real local example for me; a guy by the name of Robbie G. I remember this guy putting on shows at my high school, at local arenas too for 20-30 people. He even did a speech on pursuing your dreams at the high school show. What does this dude do now? He flies overseas to perform hip hop shows. He just announced an upcoming Canada-wide tour. How crazy is that?!? On one hand, it is super crazy for him and those who know him, on another hand it probably should seem a lot less crazy to people looking from the outside. People who like to take comfort in and chuckle at this meme, for example.

Now, what if he would’ve seen that meme pop up on his Facebook back then?  Maybe he would have gotten discouraged. I know anyone can post almost anything on the internet without a second thought. As Joe Rogan has noted, that is the best thing about the internet and the worst thing about the internet. It would be interesting to know where that post originated. Maybe it was someone who was sitting there, procrastinating, thinking of all the things they wanted to try do in life but never did, and they typed that out to make themselves feel better. That’s the best, or worst, scenario I can think of. But its relative popularity (relative meaning I have seen it at least ten times) is at once unsurprising and sort of disturbing. It’s like, ‘Oh hey, I may be a guy who hates his job, doesn’t like his wife, dog, or life in general, but hey at least I’m not this guy trying to make his dreams a reality through art! Boy would that suck! *inaudible mumbling* *sobbing* *crying* *smashing plates and glasses*…

Between that scenario and ‘trying to become a rapper’, I’ll take the latter any day of the week.

There’s probably a lot more I can say on this topic, but I’ll stop it for now.

This song, Gossip Files by Kanye West, popped into my head as I was typing this out. There are some other video links from the artists mentioned above. And stay tuned to my SoundCloud page, things keep on cooking!

Might as well plug my t-shirt store too: http://neatproductions.bigcartel.com/

Peace!

 

 

 

Fantasy Set List: Jay Z

Unless he continually puts on special performances like his upcoming B-Sides show, or there is a Watch The Throne 2, a Blueprint 4, or a Vol. 4, we probably won’t see Jay Z on a big stage in some time. For the aforementioned B-Sides set, Jay is putting on a contest through Tidal to pick 1,100 winners that put together the best curated, most diverse playlists imaginable. I decided instead (not for lack of interest, but due to geographical location) to arrange what I consider to be the ideal set list (with the input of my big bro) made up of songs from Jigga’s catalog and features. Without further ado, here’s how I see my ultimate Hov concert going.

1. The Prelude (Kingdom Come)
A voice speaks, “You know you got this fantasy in your head about getting out of the life, and setting the corporate world on its ear…”, a sample from the film Superfly. It aptly describes exactly what Jay has done in the years since that release. He steps forward through the smoke-covered stage to appear visible to the buzzing crowd. He starts his verse, a classic intro piece, just to get the party started. This short, off of the critically maligned Kingdom Come album, is one that flies under the radar and doesn’t spoil the excitement of the myriad of hits to follow. Keeping his head low and arms gesturing in the pocket like he’s on a roller coaster, Hov smoothly delivers drug-game-infused lines like, “Pantries full of arm and hammer, don’t take Nancy Drew to see what it do, I’m a damn G”  . Jay is in the drivers seat now, and is ready to take us on a trip back to Marcy.

 

2. December 4th (The Black Album)
The second track on The Black Album, named after his birth date, features vignettes spoken by his mother Gloria in place of the hook, with a grandiose melody flitting in the background. A subtly pulsing beat comes in coupled with an undulating string instrumental loop, and Jay fakes us out from the first two bars: “They say they never really miss you till you dead or you gone, so on that note I’m leaving after this song…” Fortunately, he’s not going anywhere. He’s here to tell his story of birth, growing up Brooklyn, and the ins and outs of a once-flourishing hustling career.

3. So Ghetto (Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter)
In this historic collabo with the legendary DJ Premier, Jay bounces all over the beat with expert smoothness. The classic instrumental takes on a new life as he revisits the throwback joint. Some years ago, former Jay-co-signed artist Lupe Fiasco had a go at it on his Enemy of the State mixtape, and did not disappoint. On this live take, Sean Carter is quick to remind us who the originator is here.

4. Hard Knock Life (Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life)
We’re still posted up in Marcy Projects, or at least Brooklyn, for the time being, and that’s more than fine. Jay is comfortable as ever on the Annie-flipped beat, gliding effortlessly until,  “flow infinitely like the memory of my ni**a Biggie, ‘baby’.”  It’s the second song in a row that Jay spits a bar dedicated to his fallen friend. The beat stops.

5. Whatchu Want – The Commission (The Biggie Duets)

The unique voice of the Notorious B.I.G. blasts through the speakers. The track starts at his second verse, we can’t handle the “hard, hardcore” content of the first. Jay stands posted up, arms crossed, head bobbing, in the middle of the stage as a picture of Christopher Wallace appears on the large screen behind him

Most of crowd produces chills that match that of Mr. Carter, and he puts a bow on the track by delivering his verse. Everyone throws their peace sign in the air for Big, and then the show goes on.

6. Izzo – H.O.V.A. (The Blueprint)
We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. Jay immediately hits us in the face with another… well, hit. He’s back to waxing nostalgic about his past hustle — “herbin’ them in the home of the Terrapins”  — and then bringing us into the current state of affairs (even though the song came out in 2001). The industry is still “Shady” — some say that was a thinly-veiled shot at Eminem — but it’s pretty safe to say the game is as much Jay as it is Em. And we can sense his industry aspirations by the end of the verse: “Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hoe’d us/We can talk, but money talks, so talk mo’ bucks”. Then perhaps the most poignant bars come after the hook: “Ni**as acting like I sold you crack/ Like I told you sell drugs: no/ Hov did that so hopefully you won’t have to go through that”. He then gives more snapshots of Marcy, “the life”, and broken ghetto dreams. For a song with a catchy Jackson Five sample, Izzo’s lyrics are heavy, and Jay knows how to pack weight into every verse.

7. Public Service Announcement (The Black Album)
We experience another interruption, but it’s another one that we’re more than happy to sit and vibe through. This loud, grand, but short interlude-ish track was and is so impactful that, in my opinion, it overshadowed the song “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” when Jay paired the two in a music video. It is boisterous, and Hov performs it as such. Instead of cutting off after the first verse, as many hip hop performers do, Jay continues into the next verse to deliver that subtle yet clever line, “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex”. That personal favorite is a reference to his outfit during his MTV Unplugged set: the well-known Che tee with a gold chain draped around Jay’s neck and onto Che’s head. The line, which is delved into by Jay in his book Decoded, gives you some things to chew on — the capitalist success of a communist revolutionary’s likeness on consumer products, for example. So while Jay is busy spazzing out with flows that take you “back to the dude with the Lexus, fast forward the jewels and the necklace”, he also finds time to drop jewels in front of your eyes and ears.

8. Lyrical Exercise (The Blueprint)
At this point, Jay has done his laps, and then has come back around the track to talk shit to us. And we don’t mind this because it’s entertaining as fuck. We follow him into the proverbial weight room, where he makes it look effortless once again. He comes out with a heavy punch: “I jog in a graveyard, spar in the same ring/ that was housed by the building where Malcolm X was slain”. There’s that weight again. But he reminds the suckas, “getcha weight up, not ya hate up”. He’s at least throwing a lifeline for anyone who is even considering turning a particular shade of green. Plus, he is a staunch opponent of the “loser’s mentality”.

9. Renegade (The Blueprint)

Now that Jay is sufficiently warmed up, the brooding instrumental of ‘Renegade’ starts playing, and he pinballs expertly through the first verse. “Can’t step in my pants, can’t walk in my shoes…”. I call to mind a line from Kanye West, Jay’s protege: “If you can do it better than me then you do it!” Well, Eminem is featured on this track, and he could do it better than Jay, so he did it. The common consensus among hip hop heads is that Marshall completely annihilated this song. Which is not to say that Jay didn’t bring his too, it’s just that his didn’t measure up. For after describing critics’ claims that he is “a monger of hate, satanist, scatterbrained atheist” , Shady starts “waving the pistol at sixty Christians against me” , and there’s really no looking back after that. On this fantasy set list performance, Em tries and succeeds at matching the ferocity in his lyrics — trading verses with his contemporary — even though nowadays he claims to have a higher power.

10. No Hook (American Gangster)
The darkness continues, as nightmarish scenes from ghetto life come flashing back to Jay on No Hook. He harnesses that dark energy and turns it around on the song to express his disdain for commercial music, and scoffs at the audacious comparison of him to other rappers. “Compare me to trappers,” Jay says, “I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris”. The prominent Harlem-and-beyond drug kingpin in the 70’s, Lucas was ruthless and calculated in survival, a quality that both Denzel Washington, the legendary actor who played him, and Jay Z have in common with him in regard to their respective professions. That, along with discipline and consistency, is why we see the two artists where they are today. Hov half-leans-half-sits on a stool near the front of the stage, the tone of the song’s content weighing him down. The track fades out.

11. Lucifer (The Black Album)
The pull of D’Evils can be felt through the dark-stained, subdued bass-like guitar pluck, a plunging kick drum and eerie knock snare of a Kanye-crafted arrangement (“Kanyeezy you did it again, you a genius!”). A tenacious Jay comes out firing in the second verse with an eye-for-an-eye intention, igniting the fire of vengeance in the eyes of spectators. He promises those who wish him ill that he’ll “leave you in somebody’s cathedral for stuntin’ like Evel Knievel”. The build-up of hatred has to have a breaking point. As if he and Ye know what they’re doing, the bridge between second and third verse is chock full of repenting: “Man, I gotta get my soul right, I gotta get these devils out my life…”. And once again, the third verse leaves Jay the most vulnerable, as he pines for the opportunity to rewind the incident that left his friend, Rocafella co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke’s brother Bob, shot to death. The darkness creeps in again at the last moment, as Jay asks the lord if he feels he wants vengeance, to blame it on “the son of the morning”, aka Lucifer. Jay skulks to the back of the stage and out of view. Pablo Picasso’s painting of the devil is projected on the big screen just as Biggie’s picture was before it. Jay had bought the original painting a few weeks prior.

12. Picasso Baby (Magna Carta… Holy Grail)
We enter an entirely new, but not totally unfamiliar, vibe with the first offering of the night from his latest album. The graphic on the screen changes to a large white room with a white bench, to mimic the art project that was the Picasso Baby music video/short film. This is where, in my eyes, the most inspiration comes from. Yeah, Jay name drops more than The Game in this song. But it is not for trivial reasons. It is part of an effort to, consciously or unconsciously, raise the taste level that hip hop culture applies to other industries and that it expresses itself through. I believe that’s what is trying to be done with Tidal; the service being offered comes at a price, absolutely, but the enhanced consumer experience and value placed on artists is what is being heralded . Anyway, back to the show. Sonically, the tone of the Timbaland-produced banger echoes the qualities of the previous track. Lyrically, it exudes high class and a self-imposed need, or duty, for Jay to cement his legacy as the greatest.

13. Allure (The Black Album)
“I solemnly swear, to change my approach, stop shaving coke…” Much like the previous Black Album cut, this track deals with the evils that come with the game Jay has put himself in. The hustle game brings with it a rush that can’t be matched by drugs or women. Jay flashes a smirk under the brim of his Don C. designed Yankee cap as he reminisces on the rush of his previous hustle. The allure of the game can’t be explained, and Jay, joined by Pharrell playing a piano version of the loop on stage, echoes this thought on the hook.

14. Part II (On The Run) (Magna Carta… Holy Grail)
The cast of special guests continues with the queen B joining her husband to dominate this Bonnie and Clyde style track. Thematically, in the last four songs, Jay has gone from having flashbacks from his old life (No Hook), to resentfully attacking his detractors and seeking vengeance (Lucifer), then focusing on the ultimate success and the opulence that comes with it (Picasso Baby), to going back to getting caught up in The Life. Now, he and his love are on the run, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Beyonce swoons, “I don’t care if they give me life, I get all of my life from you/ And if loving you is a crime, I would pay my life for you”: the definition of ‘ride or die’.

15. Already Home (The Blueprint 3)
Home free. This ode to success in the face of haters and hangers-on is a light, bouncy, and underrated offering from TB3. Jay is back at the crib, lamping on the couch surrounded by the spoils of victory, and commentating on the various ways his competition tries to get to him — to no avail. Kid Cudi appears on stage and lays down the poignant hook with adlibs from Jay: ” They want me to fall, fall from the top, they want me to drop, they want me to stop, they want me to go, I’m already gone…” They want him to stop, but he can’t. They want him to go ahead and disappear, but the fact is he’s already gone — into the stratosphere. He can’t be touched. And there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.

16. Encore (The Black Album)
We reach the end of our regularly scheduled programming. Jay Z goads the frantic crowd into a roaring ovation, and they oblige. With lines that culminate his rise in the industry, to his long reign, Mr. Carter flies in the face of all the detractors like “record companies [who] told me I couldn’t cut it”. Jay stands alone on the stage, looking out at the people he owes his success to. The moving instrumental decrescendos, and Jay gives a salute before walking slowly into the darkness.

 

 

 

17. Ni**as in Paris (Watch The Throne)
The people continue shouting “Encore!”, then begin to mill away from the stage. A voice comes back onto the mic. ” You thought I was gonna leave y’all like that?! DROP THAT SHIT!” The snippet of Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory comes on, and everyone who’s anyone knows what time it is. Jay and Kanye have performed the contagious 2011 release almost countless times, famously performing it a record 12 times in a row at one of their WTT tour stops. The energy for this song is no different here. Jay is feeling it, speaking the lines that flaunt his unfettered success — “The Nets could go 0 for 82 and I look at you like ‘this shit gravy'” — over the crowd. Ye jumps on stage like a banshee — in a black Been Trill crew sweater, black Margiela pants, and black Yeezy Boosts  — for the first “That Shit Cray”, and the crowd goes wild. He maniacally delivers his verse over the frenetic digitized instrumentals, with Jay playing hype man. They congregate at center stage for the song’s breakdown, getting the crowd to give them more. The two moguls look out in their iconic pose as the static instrumental fades…

18. Run This Town (The Blueprint 3)

All black everything. If the first half of the set was the regular season, this half is the all-star game and the playoffs combined. As soon as Rihanna’s ubiquitous voice comes in to sing the intro, it sets up the rest of the song that features a steadily explosive, guitar-laden instrumental. The three Roc Nation mainstays line up side by side, hyping Jay during his first verse. Rihanna, the clear standout of the song, slays the hook: “Life’s a game but it’s not fair, I break the rules so I don’t care”. All three have, if not broken the rules, completely reshaped them: Jay with the guidelines of what hip hop artists can do in the business world, laying out his own Blueprint; Ye finds new ways to express subversive art and speaking his mind when and where most don’t; Ri Ri redefines the idea of a pop songstress, moving out of the frame that she is “supposed to” fit in. We skip Jay’s second verse, and get straight to the Kanye verse that many know very well (I once rapped the entire thing on a crowded club dance floor, at the height of the song’s popularity — a proud moment). “What you think I rap for, to push a fuckin’ Rav-4?” Mr. West lets everyone know that he is certainly not averse to financial gains off his art. And there’s really no legitimate criticism of that motivation; if someone is driven to become a plumber for financial reasons, why not a rapper? This occupation alone is something that West has clearly moved past.

19. Holy Grail (Magna Carta… Holy Grail)

Oh hey, here’s a guy named Justin Timberlake too. In easily his grittiest, most raw vocal performance, JT trumpets out the sorrowful yet enchanting intro (and the chorus). The song comes back to the questions and issues that have been peppered throughout most of the songs in the set, things like the pull and the rush of the game, past traumas, and everything else culminating into the quest for meaning through the lens of fame. “One day you’re screaming you love me loud, the next day you’re so cold,” Justin reflects. He has seen his fair share of fickleness from the machine, as has Jay (see Kingdom Come, Blueprint 3, Tidal). Every move is scrutinized, every piece of being taken apart and magnified. Jay sheds light on the dichotomy of the bright lights: “Goddammit I like it, the bright light is enticing, but look what it did to Tyson”. The first verse ends off with a reference to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, calling to mind tortured frontman Kurt Cobain, whose battle with life through the filter of fame ended with a self-inflicted bullet to the head. The hook is offered again, and as the second verse starts, the instrumental elements drop away only to leave a snappy, echoing snare for Jay to go on. The crowd claps along, and the weight of his words amplifies even more than before. Timberlake comes back in to finish the job acapella. “One day you’re here, one day you’re there, you’re so unfair… Sipping from your cup till it runneth over, Holy Grail”.

 20. Made in America (Watch the Throne)

The incomparable Frank Ocean starts the song off how only he can, with an amazing intro hook. The journey is indescribable, from being made in America, to ni**as in Paris, to officially “making it” in America. It’s a beautiful thing. Ocean walks slowly to join Jay on front stage, and Kanye comes back reenergized to deliver his verse in incendiary and passionate form. This verse perhaps best tracks Ye’s rise from where and who he was to where his today, albeit in a condensed fashion. “I told my momma I was on the come up, she said ‘you’re going to school, I’ll give you a summer’, then she met No I.D. and gave me his number… Ten years later, she’s driving a Hummer.”  Imagine your mother meeting one of your eventual major mentors, the man to whom you owe a great portion of your success, where she initiates contact. Ye then gives insight into how he established a sense of loyalty with his adopted big brother: “Ni**as hustle every day for a beat from ‘Ye, and what’d I do, turn around give them beats to Jay/ And I’m rapping on the beast they were s’posed to buy, I guess I’m getting high off my own supply”. That first part is a big reason why there is such a relationship with the two: they took a different lane when a possibly better one was available, and made something really work. The product of that chemistry is the album which this song is on. Kanye had a hand in all but three beats on WTT, and Jay is featured delivering some of the more advanced rhymes in his catalog. He featured entirely new flows, mostly synthesized by running popular rap cadences through his own sonic and lyrical filter, to deliver arguably the most passionate and sharp verses he’s ever produced. In this verse, he follows the same pattern of detailing his first-person story in sixteen bars. The beat for Jay’s verse gets stripped away, much like the last song, and what’s left is the knock of the three bass kicks and the long, ethereal synth notes in the background. That’s all Jay needs to make the crowd’s collective heart beat, as he gets to the subtly powerful line: “I got my liberty, chopping grams up/ Street justice, I pray God understands us”. Frank plays the song out with his best instrument, and a spotlight encircles him in middle stage.

 21. Young Forever (The Blueprint 3)

Frank sticks around to put his own take on the iconic Alphaville sample, sung on TB3 by GOOD Music recruit Mr. Hudson. He has experimented with covers in the past. Again accompanied by the long synth keyboard notes, Ocean plays around with the melody with unparalleled originality, leading the track up to the start of Jay’s dream-like lyrics. The bass beat never kicks in, because it doesn’t have to. All we hear to accompany the wavy synth are a digital screech in place of the snare, and Jay Z’s voice. He half-talks, half-whispers the rhymes in recognizable fashion: “Leave a mark that can’t erase neither space nor time, so when the director yells cut I’ll be fine, I’m forever young”. The beat stops. Jay walks off, gives Frank dap on the way by

as Frank continues to sing the infectious chorus. The crowd is clapping and singing along with him, all the more amplified now that there is just a voice on stage. He improvises different ways to sing the same lyrics before chuckling and finally leaving the crowd, who continue to sing the looped hook. The stage goes dark. We burst into ovation: claps and whoops and screams. We have won the day.