The Dominant One, The Prominent One

What can I say… I’m speechless, at a loss for words. My favorite hip-hop MC of all time passed away Monday. Guru, of Gang Starr, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, succumbed to cancer after what was reportedly a very intense battle and ended in a month long coma and then a heart attack. He was 43 (47 according to the New York Times). There’s a lot of drama surrounding his passing, but it’s family business and should be left out of the media.

It was about 1989 and I used to stay up late to catch Pump It Up on Fox, which I think came on around 1am eastern time. I was just a kid, and I’d sneak out of bed to watch it. I was hooked on hip-hop long before I had a license to drive or even kissed a girl – the only one among my friends who embraced hip-hop long before it became mainstream. It was on Pump It Up that I first heard of Gang Starr and I was immediately hooked – like a lightning rod struck me right on my head. Hip-hop spoke to me like nothing else – certainly not the hairbands of the time, the heavy metal, the wack and cheesy R&B, or anything else of the time. Gang Starr had the video for Just to Get a Rep played on Pump It Up that at the same time as Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, so many other pioneers of the time. Hip-hop was real – and GangStarr embodied what I wanted from music in the days of my youth.

In the years that followed, through some very tumultuous teenage years (and then some), it was among others but namely Gang Starr that were always on my headphones. Guru’s philosophy, lyrical genius, social messages, messages of knowledge of Self, about workin hard, and DJ Premier’s cuts, scratches, blends of jazz, horns, and melodies kept my feet on the ground and kept me tough and strong-minded when I had little else to hold on to. Gang Starr gave me power, strength; Gang Starr was a fixture in my life and to this today remains that way.

The news hit me yesterday when my friend DJ GarfDigga tweeted:

Back home in Brooklyn passin thru East New York listenin 2radio – hearin the love for #Guru #Gangstarr – Love is Love

I had no idea what he was talking about but I instantly got the chills. Moments later I saw the news and we tweeted back and forth.

Now, I don’t usually get upset about celebrities passing, with rare exceptions like Michael Jackson, Joe Strummer, Kurt Cobain, and a small handful of others. But Guru, Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz, was like a teacher to me. With Guru gone now I can’t help but feel like a part of myself was just lost as well. I know that the music and the philosophy will live on, but it’s little comfort right now.

Finding a way is important
Map out a plan, take a stand, you can work it
The future’s all in your hands and
So of yourself, yea, you should be demanding
We’re all responsible for whatever outcome
That’s why I speak over beats for my income
Knowledge is key and if you ask what it is, g
It’s just a form of my style of street ministry
Street ministry…

And, one of my favorite’s of all time, that just gets me ready for daily battle every time I hear it:

Aiyyo I’m gonna be on ti dop that’s all my eyes can see
Victory is mine yeah surprisingly
I’ve been laying waiting for your next mistake
I put in work and watch my status escalate
Now I’ma start collectin props connectin plots
networkin like a conference cause the nonsense is yet to stop
Jakes shake me down, haters wanna take me down
Break me down, CLAP all they heard was the sound

When Guru released Jazzmatazz in the early 90s, I jumped on board and found myself hooked again. It wasn’t long after that I became a jazz freak – just took the plunge, started exploring jazz of all kinds, of all flavors.

In my early 20s when I was going through more crap, had lost some friends to reckless living, crime, prison, and others were just going down a path I didn’t want to take, it was Moment of Truth that I put on my headphones when I’d bike around the city just thinking and meditating on life. Empowered by the lyrics, the confidence, the wisdom, I sorted my shit out and never looked back.

Alright – ’nuff said. Keith (a.k.a. Guru) Elam – thank you for your gift to me and to so many others and for leaving such an imprint behind. Rest in peace.

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sweet sounds from crystal castles

crystal-castlesi came across these guys tonight watching a broadcast of the 2008 glastonbury festival when from behind my laptop screen something caught my attention, mostly it was what i heard – something very unusual but really intriguing. the screen showed a skinny girl who for a moment i thought was lilly allan but it turned out to be someone much more talented (no offense ms. allan). the performance was absolutely fantastic and i quickly went to amazon to download their mp3 album. i’m already a fan.

unfortunately i cant find a video of their performance at the festival, but there are others. anyway check them out, the song i particularly enjoyed is alice practice.

check them out on their myspace page too where you can check out more tunesness.

after listening to their album a bit i have found myself as intrigued as i am maybe a little annoyed too though. the sounds are fresh, they’re sweat, but the percussions are weak and the vocals tucked behind vaguelly familiar video game beeps and bloops can get a little tiresome. so it remains to be seen whether crystal castle is a one trick pony.

i hope that these young, talented musicians don’t end up as a flash in the pan. they have potential, but perhaps they need to grow up a little? they are perfectly lined up for the disappearing act we see all too often from talented musicians who are forced to create. that goes wrong all too often.

Thank you, Radiohead, Thank you!

Radiohead has long been at the forefront of innovation in music, specifically rock and pop, and their music has evolved greatly in the years since The Bends and OK Computer (The Bends still being my favorite) but they’ve really outdone themselves. I have to confess that their recent albums were lackluster for me. They were less approachable than prior albums – to say the least for me. I respect the artistry but I didn’t find myself enjoying the songwriting. And for me, that’s what I’m looking for in a song – good songwriting. Secondly, I prefer albums, not singles. And their later albums just didn’t do it for me.

But Radiohead has gone over the edge now – in a very good way. Firstly, the broke the seal. THEY BROKE THE FUCKIN SEAL MAN!! And now, there’s going be a flood all across the plains of the music industry. Across the barren, dry, commercially scorched plains of this shit ass music industry that has slowly turned our younger generations into vampire victims, walking around listening to shit – total shit. Turn on the radio and its shit – total shit. ALL OF IT SHIT.

Allow to rant and rave for a moment, just a little more…

I’ve long, LONG, been frustrated by DRM and the shitty choices in online music services. When I say frustrated, I mean, like RAGING ANGRY about it. Ask my wife. I’ve thrown many a temper tantrums about this very matter, and as of late, so has she. For many reasons, none of them very good, I’ve steered away from ever buying an iPod. I don’t know – I just have a moral aversion to doing what everyone and their gramma is doing. Plus, I’m a bit of a gadget freak and I prefer to take my sweet-ass time finding exactly what I want. I bought a Creative Zen Micro a good few years ago, and guess what, like a good dog it just keeps working. The battery lasts longer than any iPod I’ve ever seen. Anyway, take the fact that I don’t use an iPod and combine that with a vile disgust for all things DRM and what am I left with? Well, I’m left with buying CDs, which I don’t mind doing – remember, I like albums, not singles. And I’m left with hijacking friends music libraries when I can, and I’m also left with finding every way possible to crack DRM protected music (note to RIAA: I don’t really do such things, no way Jose! Prove it assholes!). For a while there I started using Rhapsody. What a nightmare that was. I’ve tried a number of other services out there but no matter what, I find myself throwing a temper tantrum all the way to a local music store (never a chain if I can avoid it) and buying the artists CD. And truly and honestly, I don’t mind buying a CD. I really and truly don’t. Infact, if someone said to me, “Ben, you can get this album for free and the artist will get nothing, or you can buy it and the artist will get a tiny wee bit little something. What’ll it be?” My answer will be, I’ll pay it please.

And that, good friends, is what Radiohead just asked me. At they are giving their fans a chance to download the album for any price. It can be 1 cent, or $100. You pick the price. And it’s a hell of a question isn’t it? How much do you think our music is worth? What is the value that you place on our music? And that leads to other questions, like what value do you place on music – music -…. music. Wow…. I cant answer that! There is not value high enough for me. I need music. Daily. My life is empty without music.

So what did I pay? I paid $10.45 (the .45 was for a debit card charge – I’m a cash only kind a dude). Why $10? Well, because that’s what I felt the new album was worth based on their previous releases. If I really enjoyed their last 2 releases I would have proudly paid between $15 and $20. This is my logic. And I got the album painlessly, in a zip file, with DRM free MP3s. And guess what – I ain’t sharing it! If you want it – go buy it yourself, and name your price. Oh, and guess what else? The production quality is pretty insane for an MP3 – a big concern of mine. I’m quite impressed! But not exactly surprised either – I mean hey, it’s Radiohead.

Radiohead has broken the seal. And it seems that perhaps another one of my favorites, Nine Inch Nails, is right behind them. But I believe NIN may do something even more exciting. Trent says on his website, the following:

Hello everyone. I’ve waited a LONG time to be able to make the
following announcement: as of right now Nine Inch Nails is a totally
free agent, free of any recording contract with any label. I have
been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the
business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very ifferent and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.
Look for some announcements in the near future regarding 2008.
Exciting times, indeed.

This is extremely exciting!!!

Radiohead has broken the seal and soon, they’ll go down in history as the one’s that started it all.


P.S. – Pardon all my cursing. I try not to swear on my blog but this is a subject I am very passionate and angry about, so the dark side shines through a bit.