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Same As It Ever Was

by Jose Vilson on February 13, 2011

in Jose

Talking Heads

The Grammys always reminds me of the quasi-utopia the music industry portrays. With the gusto and aplomb the musicians and artists convey, one might think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this billion dollar industry. Numbers get flung around with showcases of the elected and selected best. Grandiose speeches accompany goldenrod statuettes as gifts for the figureheads for the production of tunes. Graphics and special effects light up dazzle beautified audience members preconditioned to applaud whether they liked what’s in front of them or not. Most current artists get similar amounts of time to perform their songs with no regard to sex, gender, or age. The awards continuously pay homage to the “illustrious past”, but never consider why such artistry became possible.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand this dynamic. As an adult, the veil’s been lifted.

I know the benefits of being a major creative; the swag bags and VIP parties (minimally) compensate for the darker shades of the music industry. But then I wonder about the battle for the artist voice in their own industry. With so much talent assembled in one space, one might think that these conferences would be an opportunity for artists, record managers, and execs to innovate for the 21st century of music. Yet, we notice the pull to sample the past, often formulaically, in order to achieve monetary success and popularity.

I can’t knock the hustle.

It just makes me think about how artists get developed. When does the artist get a chance to create with disregard for “best practices” and when should they try and follow a formula? Every artist struggles with this. Some of us stick to a particular formula and it works. After a while, once we’ve learned the basics of the genre, shouldn’t artists push for the intriguing, the provocative, the illuminating? The music industry doesn’t allow much wiggle room in the creativity department when the artist first starts. The collaborations done as a one-time special event and not anything profound, the tributes often exacted selfishly.

Education analogies here? Absolutely. Same as it ever was.

Jose, who didn’t know that Talking Heads never won a Grammy for anything but their album packages. Wow.

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Eminem

Eminem

So, what you’re saying is that you don’t think it’s right that Benzino and the Source are calling Eminem Elvis?”

“No, it’s like they’re using the pro-Black agenda superficially to garner the respect of the hip-hop community, and it’s gonna backfire because everyone knows it’s not true. It’s just personal BS from the Source ownership.”

Since the battle between Ja Rule / Murder Inc. / Source vs. 50 Cent / Aftermath / XXL boiled, I’ve had plenty of discussions about Eminem as a pivotal figure in hip-hop history. Almost every one of my friends agrees that they were on 50 Cent’s side, and that’s evident from the rise of the latter contingent and the precipitous fall of the former. For many, the attacks on Eminem were the last draw since, for many, bringing up the race issue when Em fought so hard to be included within the pantheon of furious rhymers were unjustified. Even after the tape with a younger Eminem rapping about the “nigger”tude of his ex-girlfriend, rap audiences forgave him and supported his records, no matter how drug-induced.

Myself included.

With Eminem, I’ve always appreciated his rhyme skills, his comical, zany, and vicious approach to lyricism, technically adept, and accurately syncopated rhythms. I’ve bought almost all of his albums, each with its own flavor of ingredients specific to Eminem. And yet, I have a sneaky feeling every time I hear him murdering his wife or vowing to tear some woman’s insides out. It’s the same nagging feeling I get every time somebody decides to make an anti-gay speech when they see a lesbian couple, or when a teacher calls one of our students animals. And it’s the feeling that I have a hard time shaking.

I contemplate it overnight, and try to understand the feeling in my gut. Is it because I know Eminem, who has explicitly said kids shouldn’t be listening to his stuff because it’s so graphic, still has a presence with impressionable youngsters all over, like many of his contemporaries do? Is it because, unlike many rappers, his off-the-mic life is a rather accurate reflection of his mental state on the mic? \

Or is it because, as a consumer of his product, I’m implicitly supporting the message on the record?

Can I make it clear that I don’t support the misogyny on his album but support the artistry when I’m buying the record? Can I see him as just like any other fiction writer in other art forms? Or is it because I’m a male that I am not as horrified by it all the way a woman might be? My honest answer is “I don’t know.” I feel as many others in the hip-hop community do that we do stand for consciousness and better opportunities for our communities but the province of our headphones, speakers, and dance floor is governed mainly by us.

That’s where I stand. Maybe when I’ll have kids, I’ll have to cut down on most of this as to set a better example for my child, but right now, I may indulge in more murder and mayhem. At least until I’m mature enough to have my music coincide with my beliefs.

Jose, who hopes God forgives him for what his pen do …

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Usually, my iPod tells me everything I need to know. When I first started teaching, my iPod would serenade me with Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” while I napped from Dyckman St. to West 4th St., a 30-minute train ride on the A. If I spent the whole night stewing over some ridiculous comments by an administrator, my iPod would play Prodigy’s “Firestarter” just to kick up my adrenaline. Granted, with over 1000 songs on my iPod and from various collections, none of these went on repeat. It’s just curious that the music I listened to set my mood.

That’s why I found it interesting when I turned on my iPod on the train and found The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” followed by Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness” blaring through my earphones. After such an emotionally charged afternoon full of tears and joviality, I needed someone to sympathize or empathize. At that moment, no one could. I couldn’t argue whether it was the nature of the people who reached out or the business of education creeping more evidently in the hearts and minds of those closest to me. The music would have to suffice for that long ride back home.

After The Verve’s violin-induced cry for normalcy, Kool and the Gang’s ode to summer reminded me how much I had to be thankful for. The summer promised beautiful and spacious airports, warm weather, more unbuttoned collared shirts, less ties, great concerts, the Yankees playing great baseball, and my first name used over and again. I’d given so much of myself to ensure the graduation of so many students, many of whom weren’t technically mine, that it was time I remembered myself. The pile of clothes in my room needs tending to, that hypothetical book every writer wants to write is still hidden somewhere between my brain and my fingers, and I haven’t lifted a barbell in a long while.

In the midst of focusing on Mr. Vilson and his success, I forgot about Jose, and his obvious needs and flaws. I’d never been an empty cup until the week of graduation. Now, I get to refill.

Jose, who loves that his earlier alum still refer to him as Mr. Vilson …

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Short Notes: Fire and Rain

July 12, 2009 Short Notes
Orange NYC Sky, June 26th, 2009

A few notes: This weather’s been so absurd lately, hasn’t it? I’ve bought more umbrellas in the past month than I’ve had to my entire life. It’s a rather heated meeting between fire and rain … Speaking of which, I know everyone wants to know what I’ve been listening to non-stop for the last couple […]

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Who’s Gonna Cover Your Vibes, XXLs, and Sources?

July 6, 2009 Jose
Jay-Z Vibe Cover

Recently, Vibe Magazine closed its doors, at least in print form. For those who never ventured into black publication, Vibe Magazine was a Black-based magazine started by Quincy Jones last decade. The ostensible vision of the pub was to highlight Black culture, but with a bit of a White lens. It mainly featured R&B and […]

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Oops, He’s Sorry, He Lied: He’s Number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

July 3, 2009 Jose
Michael Jackson RIP by RJ Matson

Someone asked me recently if I talked to my kids about Michael Jackson and the impact he had on me and people of my generation. I told the person, “No, we had things to do. I hadn’t seen them very much over the last week, so I just wanted that time to let them know […]

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