Thursday, March 29, 2007

Why Won’t Kele Okerere Won’t Keep His Mouth Closed?

It took a while for me to get into Bloc Party. When they started getting a lot of hype in late 2004, I dismissed them as another boring post-punk guitar band from the UK. But after a few repeated listens of Silent Alarm, they grew on me. I finally broke down and admitted that they wrote catchy songs and that they weren’t as derivative of Gang of Four as their contemporaries. Moreover, I found their singer, Kele Okerere, to be a fascinating character. I mean, here was this middle-class Anglo-Nigerian who was playing good rock music and not relying on his heritage as a crutch. At the time, I thought he was a terrific inspiration for all of us African rockers who were attempting to reconcile our indigenous cultures with those of our adopted Western homes (be they here in the States or in the lands of our former European colonial masters).

Kele was a particularly brash young lad when it came to doing interviews. During the first few months of Bloc Party’s career, he claimed that he was uninterested in discussing fashion or celebrity gossip. He was fiery and argumentative and openly voiced his displeasure with daft comments or questions that probed a little bit too deeply into his personal life. Without a doubt, his responses were a welcome departure from the dull, prepackaged dribble that one gets used to reading in the music press.

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But lately, I’ve been turned off by a lot of the comments that Kele has been making. This morning, for example, I was particularly annoyed at his response to Noel Gallagher’s comment that Bloc Party are “indie shit”:

"I think Oasis are the most overrated and pernicious band of all time. They had a totally negative and dangerous impact upon the state of British music."

Mr. Okerere decided to take things even further and accused Oasis of making stupidity hip. He also chided the group for their Beatle worship and denounced the Gallagher Brothers as “repetitive Luddites."
Now there’s certainly some truth to these comments, but three things came to mind as I read The Guardian while eating breakfast this morning.
First of all, Kele is not saying anything new. Damon Albarn and Alex James made similar comments during Blur’s mid 1990s feud with Oasis. At least they occasionally had a sense of humor about it.
Second, by making these comments Kele has degraded himself to the level of the typical, gossip-obsessed pop stars that he once derided. There was no need for him to respond to an offhanded comment with such vitriol.
And finally, it should be noted that stupidity was “hip” long before Oasis came crashing onto the scene. Kele should be so fortunate that he did not have to endure the countless idiotic hardcore bands that have roamed the United States since the late 1980s.
Kele’s petty arguing and pretentious, pseudo-intellectual babble only helps to underscore Noel Gallagher’s quip that Bloc Party are a gang of rejects from University Challenge (UK equivalent of College Bowl). What is Kele saying that one thousand other second rate indie groups from the back pages of NME haven't already said?
Nothing, that's what.
He's a pretentious man/boy with a big mouth.There is nothing special about him and I withdraw any ideological support that I once had for him. I will, however, keep buying his albums.
Please don’t get the impression that I ever worshipped Kele Okerere; my Ugandan pride would never allow me to stoop to that level. I’m just disappointed in the guy, that’s all. I could easily devote several pages to why Kele’s nonsense is so troubling, but rather than waste my time, I’ll allow you to compare and contrast the following comments:

"Why is it important to know what I had for breakfast? Or who I went to bed with? Or what sneakers I am wearing? If it's relevant to understanding my music, then so be it. But if it's purely to satisfy the media's obsession with celebrity, then no thanks. I don't want to play that game."
-Skyskraper Magazine 2005

“I used to wear Converse all the time, but the support is bad. A friend of mine got these Dunlop shoes for me in Melbourne, and they’re incredibly comfortable. There’s something about dirty white shoes that I like”
-Rolling Stone February 22nd 2007

Is the difference between Dunlop and Converse really relevant to the release of your most recent album? I really doubt it. Piss off, you hypocrite.


Photos Courtesy of Sophie Jarry's Blog

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jurassic 5 Are Breaking Up: So What....

Underwhelming hip-hop group Jurassic 5 are calling it a day. Member Soup announced that the group plans to disband upon returning from a Far East tour.

Ummmmmm. OK

Jurassic 5 will probably be best remembered for their cool t-shirt designs and college hip-hop credibility. They were the sorta group that backpackers loved to namecheck when talking amongst themselves:

"Son, I'm, like, really into hip-hop, and I'm just totally feelin' that real shit.I don't really like Jay-Z or none of that negative shit. I'm into underground and that's it?"

Like their fans, Jurassic 5 were high on themselves for being indie. But in reality, they were a dull West Coast collective that failed to offer a viable alternative to the order of the day. Production wise, they were on point. Lyrically, their shit was preachy, dull and occasionally a bit corny. Good background music, but nothing classic.

If you really want fun and progressive West Coast hip-hop,head north to the Bay Area. Home of Too Short, Hieroglyphics and E-40 and his merry pranksters of Hyphy.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Struggle Continues: Viacom Sues YouTube Over Video Clips

Viacom, the parent company of MTV and Comedy Central, sued Google (which recently acquired YouTube) in federal court today, citing “massive intentional copyright infringement.”

Because the two parties have failed to arrive at some sort of licensing agreement, Viacom has decided to go to court. Funny, because YouTube is doing what cable networks fail to do on a daily basis: provide programming that people actually want to watch.
From a legal standpoint, Viacom certainly has a case. And while this is nothing that YouTube hasn't faced before, this lawsuit has serious implications for those of us who love:

A) Music Videos
B) Re-runs of Chappelle's show (Sorry, I don’t own the DVDs)

During the last fifteen years, MTV and VH-1 have come depressing parodies of themselves. Thanks to the success of The Real World and Behind The Music, Viacom executives decided to gradually shift away from exclusively music based programming. As a result, both networks hold the dubious honor of broadcasting some of the most inane, pointless and degrading shit in the history of television. Today's youngsters know MTV as the home of white-washed teen dramas and VH-1 as a dumping ground for washed up celebrities.
Oh, and Comedy Central? Well I dunno about you, but I'm not really a fan of seeing the same re-runs of Mind of Mencia four times in same week.
Shit, I almost forgot BET, which was bought by Viacom. Well, at least they show videos. My only gripe is that they cancelled BET Uncut. Then again, after you see Nelly swipe a credit card down the crack of a woman's ass, can you really take hip hop seriously?

Viacom said today that nearly 160,000 clips of its programming have been available on YouTube and that they had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times

I’m going to be slightly unprofessional for a minute and take this time to say “Fuck Viacom.” Save for BET and VH-1 Classic (which you have to special order from the cable company) none of their networks show music videos anymore. Where the hell else am I gonna be able to watch Eddy Grant’s surreal protest video for “Electric Avenue”??????

Source: New York Times, 13th March 2007

Eddy Grant “Electric Avenue”

E40 "Tell me When to Go"

When Ghostriding the Whip Goes HORRRRRIBLY WRONG

Saturday, March 10, 2007

EDITORIAL: Sympathy for the Record Industry

Last month, the Big Four major record companies announced massive spending cuts in order to offset mounting losses. But rather than blaming internet downloading, labels have begun targeting their own artists’ excessive spending.

In summer 2006, Warner Music released an album by socialite Paris Hilton. Said album sold a meager 75,000 copies in the United States and performed even worse in the UK, selling only 13,000 copies. Yet somehow Ms. Hilton’s management convinced Warner execs to send their client and a sizeable entourage to London for a press tour, at a cost of £160,000. Oh, never mind the wasted millions in recording and promotion for a dud album, WB decided to reward the young starlet with an all expenses paid trip overseas. You know, it’s kind of funny. The labels complain about their artists' "diva behavior,” but they continue to sign the checks.

Clearly something is wrong here.

Perry Watts-Russell, a senior Vice President at Warner Brothers, once argued that major labels lose money on a majority of their acts. According to him, many rely on the sales of a few top selling singers or groups to carry such a massive loss. As recently as ten years ago, this was a workable business model. However due to rapidly changing tastes, fierce competition from other media (e.g. increasingly affordable DVDs) and internet downloading, CD sales have dropped significantly.

So what’s the strategy to combat sagging sales? Terminating artists and dismissing loyal employees. V2 Records, an EMI imprint, recently dismissed its roster and is now concentrating on maintaining its back catalog. Warner Music has been dropping “unprofitable” cult acts like Stereolab since 2004. But these bookkeeping adjustments are minor and they do little to address the real problems at hand. In spite of their cost cutting efforts, major labels continue to indulge artists with nearly unlimited recording and travel budgets.

During the last 25 years, the home computer and independent labels have challenged the Big Four’s monopoly over recorded music. Independent labels, which operate on lower profit margins and spending budgets, can regularly turn a profit. A few have generated sizable sales and influence without the extravagant expense accounts of their larger competitors. Meanwhile, the home computer has allowed millions of unsigned bands to promote shows on their own webpages, as well as record and burn their own CDs. This represents a massive shift away from the centralized power of a few New York and Los Angeles based media conglomerates.
Comically enough, major labels initially dismissed the use of online technology as a means for distribution, thereby closing the door on a lucrative opportunity. Had record executives seen the potential of online music stores, they could’ve organized downloadable libraries of their deep catalog material. Instead, most of the Big Four licensed their music to Apple, and as a result the I-Tunes Music Store currently maintains a vice grip over digital music sales.

The reliance on an outdated business model has left the record industry in a vulnerable state. If the industry does not wish to reign in its hefty costs, it will have to find some other creative means for generating revenue.
Still not getting it, eh? Let's put it this way: The film industry made the transition from the Hollywood studio monopoly to a free agent system. Perhaps record executives should follow their example.

Paris Hilton is to be dropped by her record label within the next few weeks.
According to a report in the Daily Star, Warner Music have not yet told the Simple Life star that they do not wish to work with her for a second album, but believe that Hilton will accept the decision as she has "lost interest" in her pop career.
A source told the newspaper: "Paris will be dropped in a matter of moments. She's totally lost interest in the project and in all honesty, her label feel very much the same."

HMMMMM Perhaps there's hope?
Are there any crap artists that you'd like to see dropped from their label?

Source for "Paris Hilton being Fired"

Daily Express article that provided me with the facts and figures

Friday, March 2, 2007

Memories of Wu-Wear

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Have you ever been to TJ Maxx or Marshall’s? You know, one of those outlet stores that carry out of season clothing and slightly damaged overstock goods. If you live far from a big city or don't have much money, perhaps you should. Sometimes you can find a real bargain hidden among the unsold pairs of Sneaux shoes and size 40 Lee Jeans.

When you walk around these stores, it’s impossible to ignore the unusually large amount of “urban wear” on the sale racks. FUBU, Sean John, G-Unit, South Pole; they’re all present and accounted for. Whenever I'm at Rugged Warehouse in College Park, MD, I can't help but think of all the hip-hop clothing lines that have come and gone. And when I think of hip-hop, my mind inevitably drifts to the RZA, the GZA, Inspectah Deck, Ol' Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), Ghostface Killah, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Masta Killa and Method Man (oh and Cappadonna on a good day).

Long before 50 Cent purchased stock in Glaceau Vitamin Water, The Wu-Tang Clan were hip-hop’s original ghetto conglomerate. Thanks to the RZA's dictatorial five-year plan, they were transformed from a grimy Staten Island collective to a merchandising empire in less than a decade.
Launched in the wake of Wu-Tang Forever's multiplatinum success, Wu-Wear was a strategic move on the economic chessboard. In 2005’s Wu-Tang Manual, RZA explained that Wu-Wear was created to fill a void in the garment industry. According to him, upscale hood favorites like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren didn’t make their clothes baggy enough. Nobody was making stuff that cats in the street wanted to wear. RZA’s hunch was correct, and the label took off not only in the hood, but also in the suburbs, where a sizeable percentage of Wu-Tang fans reside. In addition to t-shirts and jeans, Wu-Wear also made hoodies, wristbands, wallets and even special edition two-tone Wallabies.

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(An ancient photo from the heyday of Wu-Wear. Courtesy of Shane Annas, pictured on the right)

Sadly, the game has changed a lot since then. Nowadays, every rapper on earth has a clothing line. Hell, even Method Man broke ranks with the Wu to found Johnny Blaze. It’s gotten to the point where there are more ghetto brands than ghetto buyers. And as a result, two things have happened:
1. Most of the (particularly sizes XXXL and up) overstock is being sold at wholesale prices to any store that will take it.
2. There’s been a significant of smaller boutique labels that make very limited runs of their product. Have you ever seen anything by Ice Cream or BAPE being sold at 1/3 reduction?

It would be rather ignorant to blame Wu-Tang for causing the recent glut of hip-hop merchandise. The RZA and co. went into the business with the best of intentions. They created a clothing line that reflected their fiercely independent approach to the rap game. If you’re old enough to remember, there was nobody doing it like the Wu-Tang Clan back late 1990s. Man, Wu-Wear actually stood for something! When you saw somebody walking down the street wearing any article of their clothing, it could be assumed he or she carried a certain set of principles. Chances are, you could ball up to that person, spit the following line, and not get punched in the face:

"Aiyyo, this rappin's like Ziti, facin me real TV
Crash at high-speeds, strawberry, kiwi"

Ok, Ok...maybe I'm exaggerating. But hey,I highly doubt that any of the above could be said about RocaWear!
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(The Wally Champ himself @ the 9:30 Club in 2006)

It’s no accident that the white-tee phenomenon happened when it did. I like to think of it as a sort of minimalist revolt against the rabid commercialization of hip-hop fashion. Not only is it affordable, it’s radical.


Thursday, March 1, 2007


On Saturday, March 3rd I’ll be DJ-ing at University of Maryland. Actually, it's more like I'll be the "selector"
But for all intents and purposes, it's a DJ set and I’ll be playin’ some of my favorite post-punk, indie, reggae and electro.
I’ll be behind the laptop either between 10am-2pm or the more fashionable 12-2pm.
Either way, I'll be around.

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University of Maryland’s radio station, WMUC 88.1 FM, presents the Record Swap! Independent record dealers from all over the DC/MD/VA area to bring in their latest and greatest!

10:00am - 4:00pm
Stamp Student Union in The Atrium (one floor above the food court)
University of Maryland @ College Park, MD
Metro: Green Line College Park/U-Md. There is a shuttle from the Metro Station to Campus.

Thousands of records from all genres of music means millions of beats, all ready to catch the needle in the groove and get you movin'! LPs, 45s, CDs, etc, all under one roof. Whether you're looking for that elusive 7" or just want to see what catches your eye and ear, this is the place to be!

- Get Hip!
- Smash Records
- Yesterday & Today Records
- Dave's Metal Records
- Strangeland Records
+ more TBA!

Got vinyl of your own that you want to sell or trade? Bring it in! WMUC will have a consignment table for your own offerings, or bring it around to the dealers, and make a deal! Bring your want-lists and your headphones! THERE WILL BE LIVE DJ SETS and DOOR PRIZES, and a good time guaranteed!