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:

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 does Jay-Z have to do with U.S. hegemony?

Jay-Z and Obama

Jay-Z and Obama

Great article by Marc Lynch, a political science professor and rap aficionado, drawing parallels between timely feuds in the rap world and the international political scene. Sound like a stretch?

The article has its roots in L.A. rapper “The Game”‘s attack on rap behemoth Jay-Z. Lynch’s comparison likens The Game to a small nation and Jay-Z to a superpower (the only remaining one) like the United States. He says that it’s a crap shoot whether The Game will actually make a dent in the Jay-Z’s hegemonic rap empire, but it’s the effort that will make a name for The Game. Kinda like a newbie politician who knows that he’ll lose his first campaign but gain name-recognition for future runs.

Jay-Z is entrenched in a prince-like seat of power in the rap world. Lynch notes that few rappers have challenged him:

As a young 50 Cent spat at him (twisting one of Jay’s own famous lines), “if I shoot you I’m famous, if you shoot me you’re brainless.”  He’s generally avoided getting embroiled in beefs since reaching the top, only occasionally and briefly hitting back at provocations from rising contenders like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, and others.  Responding to every challenge does not become a hegemon.

We know that often our greatest success comes in the student surpassing the teacher. This may be the case for The Game, a rising young star who was once a protege of Dr. Dre. We’ll see how the feud–and its parallel to international politics–plays out.

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

Funny Brown Rappers

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I don’t quite know what to make of the rappers Das Racist.

Just heard their song, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” that consists of, well, the duo repeating the lyric “I’m at Pizza Hut/I’m at Taco Bell/I’m at Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” repeatedly. Part caricature, part social commentary, part serious hip hop, the song (as well as others like “Fake Patois”), plays on rap and rapper stereotypes. It’s also messing a little bit with the audiences in that Al Yankovic-kind of way.

The Village Voice has a great meta-interview with the duo: Himanshu, whose parents are Indian, and Victor Vazquez (aka Kool A.D.), whose multi-racial roots are from a mother born in Italy and a father from Cuba. Chime in with your thoughts.

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

Writing

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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