Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Kanye’s “Power” and Timberlake/Fallon’s “History of Rap”

So it’s one of those sleepless nights.

Fortunately, insomnia has led me to this video: Kanye West killing it tonight on SNL, performing a live version of his rousing, forward-driving song, “Power,” in a white room surrounded by a couple dozen female dancers. Misogyny and West’s notorious inflated ego abound (a knowing misogyny and ego, I think).

Whatever your opinions on Kanye West, you’ve got to give it to the guy–he’s pushing the sound and vision of modern hip hop. I also admire the way he’s taken his original video for “Power”–a pompous, over-the-top visual feast–and reimagined it for a live performance:

Also, this viral video I missed from earlier in the week (hey, I’ve been busy). Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake put together an amazing 30-years of rap in this three-minute mashup.

Every important rap artist from The Sugarhill Gang, Missy Elliot, to Eminem and Beastie Boys. The duo, backed by The Roots, ended by leading the studio audience in a sing-along version of Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes’ infectious “Empire State of Mind.” Good stuff. Good, good stuff:

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Filed under: music, pop culture, , , , , , , , ,

NYT Profiles M.I.A., to Her Displeasure

The New York Times published a long profile of rapper/musician/provocateur M.I.A. in today’s Magazine. Last week, Maya vehemently expressed her displeasure with reporter Lynn Hirschberg’s profile, tweeting Hirschberg’s phone number to her thousands of followers.

It’s an interesting piece, criticizing M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies with her penchant for agitprop. Among other tidbits, Hirschberg discloses M.I.A.’s interview for film school admission (“If you don’t admit me, I’ll become a prostitute.”), her posh five-bedroom home in the affluent L.A. neighborhood of Brentwood, and the reporter’s understanding of hypocrisy within M.I.A.’s persona (as when M.I.A. claimed to want to give birth in water, though in reality birthing in a private hospital room). The profile creates a portrait of M.I.A. as mysterious as Lady Gaga.

How exactly does Maya meld art and fashion, the personal with the political?

“They have a jumpsuit that I like,” Maya said. “But instead of using their fabric, I want them to use a fabric that’s made from a document I found.” She took out her laptop and clicked on an official-looking typed letter that had been censored. Black bars erased certain words. “I’d like to turn this page into fabric,” she said. “I know someone who can do that. And then I want to take that fabric and make it into a jumpsuit. I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.”

I’ve embedded Maya’s video for “Galang,” one of the catchy, underground beats that launched her career in 2003. It’s obvious from the video how talented M.I.A. was, and how her artistry transcends music to include fashion and politics. No matter what the NYT reports, M.I.A. is in a league of her own.

Filed under: music, politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s Up with the Hanging Sneakers?

I had always assumed that they were gang-related.

True or not, the images of sneakers hanging from telephone wires in the neighborhood conjured images of gang territory. In this report from the BBC’s excellent Close-Up Series, filmmaker Ramon Goni seeks the answer. His interviewees have a variety of explanations for the shoes, ranging from memorializing a favorite pair of Chucks to gang violence to modern art pieces. The Murky Fringe offers a first-person explanation.

You can’t help but wonder if this earnest reporter is revealing his naivete–who’s going to admit the real meaning of the shoes, even if they do understand their true purpose? I imagine the reaction of the locals: What’s this reporter–from a news agency outside the Bronx–up to, asking all these questions?

Or, maybe the sneakers dangling from wires across the city aren’t related to gangs at all. Maybe they’re stretched across the sky by kids who want to simply say: We were here. This is our neighborhood. This is ours.

No matter their original design, the shoe couples–tied together by laces, light as air–are things of beauty.

Filed under: art, culture, new york, , , , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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