"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
ThE Pentagon's got you!
16 to 25? Pentagon Has Your Number, and More!

Published: June 24, 2005

The Defense Department and a private contractor have been building an extensive database of 30 million 16-to-25-year-olds, combining names with Social Security numbers, grade-point averages, e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

The department began building the database three years ago, but military officials filed a notice announcing plans for it only last month. That is apparently a violation of the federal Privacy Act, which requires that government agencies accept public comment before new records systems are created.

David S. C. Chu, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, acknowledged yesterday that the database had been in the works since 2002. Pentagon officials said they discovered in May 2004 that no Privacy Act notice had been filed. The filing last month was an effort to correct that, officials said.

Mr. Chu said the database was just a tool to send out general material from the Pentagon to those most likely to enlist.

"Congress wants to ensure the success of the volunteer force," he said at a reporters' roundtable in Washington. "Congress does not want conscription, the country does not want conscription. If we don't want conscription, you have to give the Department of Defense, the military services, an avenue to contact young people to tell them what is being offered. It would be na�ve to believe that in any enterprise, that you are going to do well just by waiting for people to call you."

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the notification in The Federal Register had drawn criticism from a coalition of eight privacy groups that filed a brief opposing the database's creation. Yesterday, many of those privacy advocates, learning that the database had been under development for three years, called its existence an egregious violation of the Privacy Act's rules and intent.

"It's far more serious if the database had been established prior to Privacy Act notice," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "It's end-running the act by putting it into private hands and subverting the act by creating a public database without public notice."

The issue of the database has emerged as the Army and, to a lesser extent, the Marines, struggle to meet recruitment goals to replenish the ranks of the all-volunteer services. The Web site for the Pentagon's Joint Advertising Market Research Studies division, which manages recruiting research and marketing for all four branches of the military, describes the database as "arguably the largest repository of 16-to-25-year-old youth data in the country, containing roughly 30 million records." It is managed by BeNOW Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., a marketing company that uses personal data to concentrate on customers.

The database includes the names of more than 3.1 million graduating seniors, a list bought by the Pentagon, as well as the names of 4.7 million college students, Pentagon records show. Drawing information from motor vehicle records, Selective Service registrations and private vendors, it includes a variety of personal information, including grades, height, weight and Social Security numbers.

The information is used primarily for direct-mail campaigns and to help the military weed out people who would not be eligible. It is also sent monthly to the recruiting command, said Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, and could be shared with local recruiters.

Recruiters have compiled and used similar data for decades, according to interviews with former military officials. But this database is the most extensive centralized collection of such records. The information is continually being merged for focused marketing.

"Halfway through 2004," said a briefing on the program in February that appears on a Pentagon Web site, "we started overlaying ethnicity codes and telephone numbers."

Mr. Chu said the information, particularly Social Security numbers, was closely guarded and had not been shared with other agencies.

For some parents, any information gathered by the military covertly amounts to an intrusion.

"There is no buffer zone," said Sandra Lowe of Sonoma, Calif., who is a mother of four, including two teenage boys. "It's a direct shot to someone's child without consent from a parent. If you were to come on campus and wanted to take a picture of a child, you have to get a release - just to take a picture. This is a lot more than that."

Margot Williams contributed reporting from New York for this article, and John Files from Washington.

posted by R J Noriega at 9:45 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Da City Bass Line
Let’s Boycott the Boycotts!
How Hiphop can permanently change the business world for good.
By: Hadji Williams

I’m not a big fan of boycotts. Why? Because with few exceptions, modern boycotts don’t work. Boycotts are inherently temporary: “I march until you listen… I do this until you do that…” Just as consumers have gotten smarter over the years, companies and governments are now savvy enough to call the bluff. They’ve realized that as long as they control whatever’s being boycotted, boycotters eventually have to break bread with them. So more often than not, they just dig in and ride it out.

What scares companies and governments, and most people for that matter, is permanent change. Companies don’t fear picket signs and bullhorns; they fear permanent loss of business. Companies don’t fear bad quarters they fear bankruptcy. Marketers don’t fear trends, they fear fundamental paradigm shifts. Politicians don’t fear apathetic voters; they fear voters permanently switching parties or forming viable alternate parties. Governments don’t fear protests they fear coups. Californians aren’t afraid of earthquakes; they’re afraid of the one that turns the City of Angels into the Lost City of Atlantis. New Yorkers aren’t afraid of terrorism; they’re afraid of Hiroshima II on Broadway & 5th. People fear permanent change. If people think you or your group is capable of causing permanent change in their world, they’ll listen to you as if their lives depended on it. Because, figuratively, they just might.

Looking back, the last truly successful boycott I can remember—and by “successful” I mean that one that brought permanent change—was 1992’s “Cop Killer” boycott. When Ice-T ripped crooked cops and police brutality in that song, police organizations and mainstream consumers and retailers became so outraged that they marched against Time Warner demanding that the song be banned and Ice-T lose his record deal. For months media elites blasted Ice-T and other rap artists at every turn. Time Warner eventually pulled the song and ultimately sold its stake in Interscope (the label that released the song) and has distanced itself from “controversial music.” (For a while at least.)

Now I know what some of you are thinking: What about the HOT 97/Tsunami Song boycott? Yeah, well what about it? What really changed other than firing a couple of low-level on-air personalities? Station-owner Emmis is still making money. They still play music that celebrates misogyny against black women and violence and negativity targeted at black men. In fact, the entire music industry still profits off imagery and lyrics that mainly degrades blacks and celebrates the worst in the black community while marginalizing most every artist and attempt to show otherwise. So again, what’s really changed?
As consumers, voters, and citizens we have to start thinking in terms of permanent change. Whether your goals are lofty (e.g., true equality, world peace, universal education and healthcare) or small (e.g., less bad TV) you need to ask yourself 3 questions: Who is the biggest cause of this problem or biggest barrier to solving it? (2) Who/what scares them most? (3) How do I get a hold of or aligned with it/them? Answering those questions can put the possibility of permanent change on your side thereby giving you the influence you need. Love of change and hatred of complacency are our greatest weapons. Complacency is soft. Love of change means being willing to do what complacency won’t. Remember: The Hustle was built by hard hearts feeding on softened minds and weakened souls.
Now this doesn’t mean go out and buy a Ché Guevara T-shirt, load up on bottled water, Common or Talib CDs, and Michael Moore books and go vegan. That’s just shopping and anyone can shop. And this doesn’t mean violence. Again, violence solves nothing. This is about using your purchasing power, your position as employees and your voice as voters to change how you and your communities are treated. This is about sacrificing, pooling resources, and focusing energy in the name of independence. This is about change.

Capitalism might be the wicked game, but we’re caught up in the
middle of it. So we better make up our own rules…
The only way to change problems isn’t necessarily a violent revolution,
but a revolution in education at least.
—Chuck D.1

You’re only a Customer…

One of the first rules in the marketing hustle is to remind the consumer that the products they buy are more than just purchases. We have to convince folks that they’re buying “an experience,” that they’re participants in a brand’s growth. We have to convince them that being a consumer entitles them to judge, shape, and even destroy that which they pay to consume. If we don’t they won’t buy as much stuff; and as marketers, we ain’t havin’ that.

This is a major reason why they’re so many fights at sporting events. Sports fans have been hustled into believing that their ticket entitles them to be more important to the game than they really are. Sports fans are just observers who pay to observe an event. Their $100 tickets don’t give them ownership over any player, team or venue. Truth is they’re just renting a view until the game clock hits zero. Period.

But for the last 25 years or so The Hustle has hooked fans into believing that their ticket/merchandise purchase entitles them to moon players, throw stuff at players, sling slurs and expletives at players, spread rumors about players, live out their dreams thru players, etc. And the players, who’ve long since been repackaged as entertainment product, should just shut up and take it. After all, it’s the tickets, merchandising and cable packages and media coverage that pay player salaries. Sports fans are really minority owners (pun intended); and as such they deserve to use their product purchases as they see fit. Right?

Again, if the game were just a game, throwbacks wouldn’t have gone for $300 and new shoes wouldn’t cost $150. If the game was just a game, advertisers wouldn’t sponsor it, and 45 year white men wouldn’t worship 22-year-old black boys with 40-inch verticals, .350 battling averages or 4.25 speed. If the game was just a game, it wouldn’t sell. And sports is a business and business is all about doing what sells, no matter what sells.

You see this in hiphop where people buy a CD, some Lugz or DJ equipment and suddenly decide that they’re co-owners of the culture. This is why we hawk Hollywood stars… After all, we bought their movies, watched their TV shows, etc. They owe us the autograph and intimate details of their lives. We’re consumers—we paid good money to star-worship; they owe us. And the luxury brand we just overpaid for makes us part of the upscale crowd, doesn’t it? I buy the symbol therefore I own what it symbolizes, right? Right.
In the end, it’s all just sugar water… it was probably made in Taiwan or Indonesia… and it will eventually end up in a dollar store or on one of those tired “What were we thinking?!” pop culture TV lists. The most revolutionary thing a consumer can do is to buy what you need first, question why you want what you want and always recognize when you’re being hustled. And in my opinion, that’s more effective than all the boycotts put together.

You’re only a customer—
you’re walking in the presence of hustlers…
—LL Cool J2
So if everyone is a walking advertisement for their likes/dislikes what does that leave any real substance in individuals, or are we all just like what the Nation of Gods has been preaching? Sheep.

posted by R J Noriega at 4:15 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, June 27, 2005
Da City Bass Line
The Cotton Club
Black-conscious hip-hop deals with an overwhelmingly white live audience

by Bakari Kitwana

Armed with messages of Black political resistance, Black pride, and opposition to militarization and corporatization, designed in part to counter the commercial hip-hop party-and-bullshit madness dumbing down the nation's youth, hip-hop's lyrical descendants of the "fight the power" golden era today are booking concerts in record numbers—far beyond anything imaginable by their predecessors. Problem is, they can hardly find a Black face in the audience.

As the Coup (Pick a Bigger Gun), Zion-I (True and Livin'), and the Perceptionists (Black Dialogue) get set for a wave of touring to promote their new CDs this summer, the audience that will be looking back at them unmasks one of the most significant casualties of hip-hop's pop culture ascension: the shrinking Black concert audience for hardcore, political hip-hop.

"My audience has gone from being over 95 percent Black 10 years ago to over 95 percent white today," laments Boots Riley of the Coup, whose 1994 Genocide and Juice responded to Snoop Dogg's 1993 gangsta party anthem "Gin and Juice." "We jokingly refer to our tour as the Cotton Club," he says—a reference to the 1920s and '30s Harlem jazz spot where Black musicians played to whites-only audiences.

Boots says he first noticed the shift one night in 1995, in a concert on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Opening for Coolio, he stepped center stage and grabbed the mic as usual, but then saw something unusual about the audience: a standing-room-only sea of whiteness. Some were almost dressed like farmers, he recalls. Others had their heads shaved. "Damn, skinheads are out there," he thought. "They can't be here to see us." But the frantic crowd began chanting along rhyme for rhyme.

Zion, MC of the independent rap group Zion-I, agrees the similarities to jazz are striking: "Jazz went white, then Black, then white again. At this point African Americans aren't the ones supporting live jazz [performances]. It's the same in many ways with independent hip-hop. I've been to shows where the only Black people in the place are onstage. It's kind of surreal."

"I love Boots Riley's music, but in general people in the 'hood are not checking for the Coup," says Brother Ali, part owner of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Rhymesayers Entertainment. "It's hard enough to get some of our people to go to a Kweli show. It has a lot to do with the fact that the emphasis on the culture has been taken away. It's just the industry now and it's sold back to us—it's not ours anymore. It used to be anti-establishment, off the radar, counterculture. People in the streets are now being told what hip-hop is and what it looks like by TV."

According to industry insiders and most media outlets, though, the shifting audience isn't just a Black consciousness thing—it's prevalent in mainstream hip-hop as well. Whites run hip-hop, they say, from the business executives at major labels to the suburban teen consumers. But the often-intoned statistic claiming that 70 percent of American hip-hop sells to white people may cover up more than it reveals.

No hard demographic study has ever been conducted on hip-hop's consumers. And Nielsen SoundScan, the chief reference source on music sales, by its own admission does not break down its over-the-counter totals by race. "Any conclusions drawn from our data that reference race involve a great deal of conjecture," a SoundScan spokesperson insists.

Wendy Day, founder of the Rap Coalition, a hip-hop artist-advocacy group, says she's attempted to pair up with several popular hip-hop magazines on such a study, but none would commit to help fund it. When she asked an executive at a major record label, she got an even more interesting response: "He didn't see the value in writing that kind of check," she says. "Because rap is selling so well, he didn't see the value in knowing who his market is. 'It's not broken, Wendy,' he said. 'We don't need to fix it.' "

And distinctions must be drawn between buyers and listeners. In terms of hip-hop's listening audience, Nielsen SoundScan doesn't weigh those passing on and burning CDs. (In July 2003 Nielsen SoundScan began tracking companies like iTunes that sell downloads for a fee.) Nielsen SoundScan, which claims to track 90 percent of the market, doesn't take into account underground mixtape CDs, mom-and-pop store sales, or big retailers like Starbucks and Burlington Coat Factory that refuse to share their sales information.

Concert crowds are another matter. Looking for the 70 to 80 percent majority white audience? In most cases you won't find it at a Nelly concert or any other top-selling hip-hop artist's show. At large venues like Detroit's 40,000-capacity Comerica Park, where Eminem and 50 Cent will headline the Anger Management Tour in August, estimates suggest that 50 to 60 percent of the seats are filled by white fans. By contrast, Caucasian concertgoers staring down culturally focused Black hip-hop artists topple these numbers. Although to date there's been no attempt to track concert demographic data, fans, promoters, and independent MCs who play live more than half the year give estimates of 85 to 95 percent.

Back in the day, artists like KRS-One, PE, Brand Nubian, Queen Latifah, Poor Righteous Teachers, and others coexisted with more purely party-oriented acts like Kid 'n Play, Heavy D, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. They could also be found alongside those who got a little more gritty wit' it, such as Schoolly D and Luther Campbell's 2 Live Crew. In those days Afrocentric MCs rolled neck and neck with their counterparts, routinely reaching 500,000 units—the gold sales standard of the mid '80s. By decade's end, a few such records—Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, for instance—had gone platinum.

That's no longer the case. In today's mainstream hip-hop, the mark of success is multiplatinum sales. 50 Cent's most recent release sold over 1 million units in four days; Nelly's 2001 Country Grammar to date has moved over 9 million units. By contrast, dead prez, the sole contemporary political hip-hop group with mainstream distribution, struggled to top 500,000.

Dead prez aside, the most widely circulated conscientious commentary in mainstream hip-hop mostly comes in the form of surprise protest tracks from artists who would never be deemed "political"—Jadakiss's and Eminem's pre-election hits "Why" and "Mosh," for example.

And whereas a decade ago artists consistently banged out social commentary with mass appeal, today the closest equivalents are Kanye West, Common, and the Roots, whose stance on wax focuses more on aesthetics than resistance—closer to A Tribe Called Quest, say, than to Public Enemy. PE's more direct lyrical descendants have been ghettoized in the underground, with high-end sales in the 25,000-to-50,000 range—over months or years, rather than weeks.

"Today, there are no purely conscious MCs competing on the level with the top-selling artists in the game," says Erik Smith of Critical Mass Consulting, a firm that does street-level lifestyle marketing for major labels' new releases. But does this mean there is no longer a Black market for Black consciousness in hip-hop?

In the '80s the gap between the civil rights generation and their hip-hop generation offspring was less severe. Culturally centered artists in that era were often steeped in the politics of the turn-of-the-'70s Black power movement. The lyrical content of the time didn't venture far beyond those borders. Such was the case of Public Enemy's 1990 Fear of a Black Planet. The CD jacket even extensively quoted psychologist Frances Cress Welsing's "Cress Theory of Color Confrontation" that emerged in the 1970s, likening to white supremacy football, basketball, baseball, and other ball games where the color of the ball and what is done to it are subconsciously connected to America's racial politics.

Welsing also had another, less-known theory, regarding the inferiorization of Black children. Welsing argued that soon white supremacists wouldn't have to worry about making Blacks seem inferior—they'd just need to keep providing them with inferior education, housing, health care, child care, and the like, and in a generation or two they would be. After 15 years of gangstas and bling, perhaps hip-hop's Black audience has been so inundated with material garbage that they don't want an uplifting message?

Zion, who believes the withering Black audience reflects the diminishing discussion of Blackness in public discourse, thinks so. "I do so many shows in front of mostly white audiences that it's the norm," says Zion. "When I get in front of a Black audience it's like, 'Finally you're here, feel me.' We've done shows in Chicago and São Paulo, Brazil, and it feels good to be in front of our people when they are feeling it. But there are some thugged-out crowds where our message doesn't resonate, and Black folks will say that they aren't trying to hear hip-hop artists remind them of their problems."

Today's climate is indeed a far cry from the African medallion mania of the 1980s. In the academy, we've gone from 1980s discussions of Black studies and Afrocentricity to multiculturalism to current-day debates about post-Blackness and polyculturalism. At the same time, in the arena of mainstream politics we've gone from discussing the collective Black impact of Jesse Jackson's run for president to the individual career successes of Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. In the streets we've gone from the Nation of Islam patrolling housing projects to whites reclaiming Harlem, South Side Chicago, and East Oakland, and Black scholars like Columbia University's Lance Freeman arguing that poor Blacks aren't significantly displaced by gentrification.

"So many Black people don't want to hear it," Zion continues. "They want that thug shit. That's why I'm thankful for the audience we do have."

Mr. Lif, whose success as a solo artist led him to the recent partnering with Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One to form the Perceptionists, agrees. "It's disorienting. It's bizarre," he says. "But no artist is in a position to choose his fans. Whoever is in the audience, I love them for being there. They are allowing me to make a living doing what I love."

And the demand for art-as-a-weapon hip-hop music is so great that the best-known independent MCs are able to book from 150 to 200 concerts a year in venues where the capacity ranges from 200 to 1,500, all the while not breaking through to the mainstream.

Recognizing the success of such underground white MCs as Aesop Rock, El-P, and Sage Francis—all moving around 100,000 units per release—Brother Ali says, "Our genre is looked at as white rap. It's almost like a white chitlin circuit of underground rap music." The more popular underground white hip-hop artists are helping to nurture the audience at venues that now regularly feature conscious Black hip-hop artists. At the same time as political hip-hop's audience has gotten whiter, audiences for old-school socially conscious hip-hop (think De La Soul) and politically conscious hip-hop (think Chuck D and KRS-One) have merged. It's an audience that includes white kids, college students, and those tapping into what remains of the counterculture of hip-hop. This requires fans with the time on their hands to search out MCs in independent record stores and on the Internet.

The largely Latino concert turnouts for these MCs in specific areas of cities like Houston, El Paso, and Los Angeles, however, quickly reveals that none of this is an exact science. In Oakland, one MC reports a majority Black and brown audience, in contrast to a mostly white audience when he performs next door in San Francisco. In the South, in cities like Baton Rouge and Charleston, independent labels like Slaughterhouse and Pure Pain are posting Aesop Rock numbers and their concert audience is nearly all Black.

"None of these factors change the fact that the audience supporting Black hip-hop artists with a political message is mostly white," says Nicole Balin of Ballin' Entertainment, a Los Angeles- based PR firm representing underground hip-hop artists. Yet according to Wendy Day, no matter how many white kids are being drawn in, the Black stamp of approval is critical even when the audience is primarily white.

"I can tell you as someone who works with independent labels in parts of the South and Midwest that if you are breaking a record at the street level in these communities, and you don't have young Black kids buying your record, you will not go anywhere," Day says. "Unless it's legitimized by the Black community, these kids are not buying a damn thing other than what their friends of color are listening to."

Black hip-hop kids as the gatekeepers for what's hot has long been the state of affairs for mainstream and cutting-edge hip-hop—but that may be changing in some parts of the country like Minneapolis, for example, where white MCs and white audiences have it on lock. And while there are countless white hip-hop kids supporting the underground who see Blackness as key to hip-hop's sense of urgency, growing numbers believe white underground MCs are hip-hop's avant-garde. More and more they insist without pause that their favorite white underground MCs are smarter and hence better.

"One of the hardest things we're dealing with now is the underlying feeling of white supremacy among fans who feel they are a part of hip-hop, but are listening to and prefer mostly white MCs," says Brother Ali, who recently toured with several old-school legends together with Atmosphere—a biracial independent rap group who, like Brother Ali, hails from Minneapolis. "They believe that Aesop Rock is better than independent artists who are Black and mainstream artists like Ludacris. These MCs are doing a lot with hip-hop artistically that they have learned from Black people, but [their fans] don't want to hear from the old-school originators because they believe it's the white MCs who created the styles they like. This isn't an underground-versus-mainstream thing—it's a racist thing."

posted by R J Noriega at 9:14 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, June 17, 2005
A genre’s magic moment.

Pop-music purists invariably tell the same story about their favorite music. Whatever the genre—R. & B., classic punk, dance-hall reggae, Celtic lullabies—a purist will say that it was better at its inception, when the sound was an expression of something local and unique, before the terrible money came, and strangers corrupted the music with their embrace.

The purists are not entirely wrong. When a new sound sprouts on pop’s tree, invisible to passersby, it is a wondrous thing. But what happens next is often more interesting: the music begins to find an audience, record companies offer to pay musicians to make their sounds, and someone gives those sounds a name. The music is now a genre, and it grows willy-nilly, borrowing from other genres, which it may eventually resemble, while announcing itself as something you’ve never heard before.

Electronica and crunk passed through this stage not long ago, and grime, a British genre, has now entered it. Grime emerged from the rave culture of the late nineteen-nineties, and will sound to most Americans like hip-hop performed by m.c.s with English accents and really fast raps. Hip-hop, even at its harshest, is dance music. By contrast, grime sounds as if it had been made for a boxing gym, one where the fighters have a lot of punching to do but not much room to move.

In the past three years, grime producers (who make the beats that m.c.s rhyme over) have developed a fierce, antic sound by distilling the polyrhythms of drum and bass or garage—the music of choice at many raves—to a minimal style sometimes consisting of nothing more than a queasy bass line and a single, clipped video-game squawk. Today, the music’s choppy, off-center rhythms are blanketing London. Some tracks are beginning to show the influence of American hip-hop genres like crunk, but the m.c.s’ cadences are unmistakably black and British, indebted to Jamaican dance-hall music and West Indian patois.

Grime exists largely in an informal economy. Some artists make their débuts on homemade DVDs, which feature shaky footage of competitions between m.c.s—a little like spelling bees, but louder. Some of the most popular battles are filmed in a long, narrow basement in Leytonstone, at the home of Jammer, a producer who runs Jahmek the World, a respected independent label. The DVDs, with names like “Lord of the Mics” and “Eskimo Dance,” are sold in barbershops and record stores around London; pirate radio stations like Raw UK and Rinse FM broadcast tracks made days earlier; and, on cable, Channel U plays videos, including crude productions shot with handheld digital video cameras.

The grime artist Americans know best is Dizzee Rascal, a twenty-yearold from Bow, a working-class neighborhood in East London, where many grime artists live. Dizzee and his mentor, Wiley, who created one of the first grime tracks, “Eskimo,” have both released albums in the United States in the past year. And both appear on “Run the Road,” a new compilation that documents the genre’s industry and energy.

“Destruction VIP,” the most hopped-up track on the album, was produced by Jammer. It begins with a sample from what could be the soundtrack to a chase scene from a nineteen-sixties British police caper. Then Wiley leaps in, chattering taunts at his imitators: “I know hungry—he said he don’t know you. I know who’s who, and who’s who don’t know you.” The music Ping-Pongs between half time and a faster tempo, segueing into the next verse, which is performed by Kano, a young m.c. who enunciates calmly over the aggressive beat. The song—essentially a succession of boasts and threats to rivals—is a cab ride over piles of rebar, but Kano never spills his drink.

There isn’t a bad song on “Run the Road,” and several m.c.s—all still in their teens—stand out: Kano; Louise Harman, who goes by the name Lady Sovereign; and Ears, who is only seventeen but is apparently already feeling old. In the opening of a nostalgic song called “Happy Dayz,” he sings, “Do you remember that? Back in the days, when man was just bare happy? No worries, nothing to worry about? Those days were live, I miss them days, man.” When the world turns this fast, middle age comes early.

Kano, who has been releasing songs since he was sixteen, is featured on four of the sixteen tracks on “Run the Road.” Americans who are put off by British accents and grime slang like “nekkle” (great, very cool) and “bare” (lots of, many) will warm to Kano. His delivery on the song “P’s and Q’s,” a comically fastidious call to arms, is so composed that it is almost polite, even when he’s rhyming in double time: “This year’s gotta be mine, I’m the first in line. Wow, you got your first rewind, but the second line sounded like the first line. I ain’t got punch lines, I’ve got kick lines, and they ain’t commercial, but I’ve got hit lines.”

Lady Sovereign is not grime’s only female m.c.; others include Lady Fury, the brilliant No Lay, and an up-and-coming producer called Mizz Beats. But she is the scene’s sole white woman, and she seems destined to be its biggest success. The United States has yet to produce a universally accepted white female rapper, and there’s already a debate over Sovereign’s authenticity, even though she grew up in the same kind of public-housing project—Chalk Hill estate, now demolished—that many grime artists did. Besides, she’s good: pithy, clever, and able to use her honking voice to humorous effect, much like Eminem, to whom she has already been compared. There’s a hyperactive track on “Run the Road” called “Cha Ching (Cheque 1, 2 Remix),” which features as much hooting as rhyming, and nicely showcases her eccentric talent.

When I visited Sovereign in October, she and her producer, a man named Gabriel who goes professionally by Medasyn, were bunkered in a converted textile factory in East London, an appropriately filthy building where Medasyn rents studio space. Sovereign was curled up in an armchair, looking smaller and younger than eighteen. To her displeasure, people often point out that she looks like Sporty Spice, of the Spice Girls. Her hair was held up in a topknot and she wore a tracksuit. She spoke in a quiet, nasal voice, with the hedged courage of a teen-ager determined to take on the world every time she walks out the door.

After a few minutes of polite chat, she summed herself up: “I’m cheeky. I don’t tell stories and moan about.” Last July, she was signed by Island Records, a major label, but she still posts photographs of herself on Internet bulletin boards. (Medasyn told me that after Paris Hilton’s cell phone got hacked Sovereign “was one of the first people to get the numbers. She even phoned Christina Aguilera.”)

The day I stopped by, Sovereign and Medasyn played “Random” for me, a work-in-progress that captured grime’s most irrational, fractal qualities: a pair of palsied bass notes here, a fibrillating shaker noise there, and a wobbly melody line that didn’t sound entirely well. Sovereign began the song by quoting “Tipsy,” an American hip-hop hit, and coursed through a series of seemingly unrelated ideas: “I can’t see straight like I got one eye. Ooh (pop!). Your bottle’s open, oh my. Let’s get it started, move your arms around like fucked-up karate. . . . J. Lo’s got a body, you can’t see mine ’cause I wear my trousers baggy.”

When the song was over, Sovereign asked me if I thought grime would take off in America. Five months later, the answer is increasingly clear. “Pow,” a song by an m.c. called Lethal B, and grime’s biggest hit to date, has made its way to New York, where it is currently being played on Hot 97 by the influential d.j. Funkmaster Flex. The American m.c.s Stat Quo and Pitbull have already recorded new verses for the track.

This week, Lady Sovereign’s “Random” will be formally released as a single in London. The song was ultimately completed by a pair of producers called Menta, who gave Sovereign’s charming non sequiturs a danceable makeover. This version of “Random” combines grime’s squeaky bullets of noise with hip-hop’s more forgiving swing. Sovereign might see the song’s transformation as an auspicious portent. Grime is becoming familiar, a fine black mist dissolving in the air around us.
man i love Hip Hop affiliated music. dont you ?
posted by R J Noriega at 8:14 AM | Permalink | 0 comments

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