Monday Jun 20, 2005

A mini-break from technology...

My web surfing tonight has gotten me to revisit a previous blog entry. Spin Magazine just came out with their top 100 album list from the last 20 years. They selected PE's 2nd album from 1988 "It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" as number 2 on the list - quite an achievement given the competition over the last 17 years.

I found Spin's take on the "freshness" of the album interesting and deserving of a little commentary from the cheap seats.

Each album on the list finds a sweet spot between artistic brilliance, stylistic innovation, and cultural relevance. You could listen to the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead hiding under a pillow fort in your bedroom (as Morrissey would no doubt prefer), or it could blow your mind in a crowded bar. Why? Because it pushes a unique vision from the margins to the mainstream (or the margins of the mainstream), reshaping both. Until someone new (a Wu-Tang Clan or White Stripes) emerges to redraw the margins all over again. These records tell us something different with every listen; even at their tiniest, they make private epiphanies feel like public events.

This explains why we picked Radiohead's OK Computer as our No. 1 album over Nirvana's Nevermind and Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Between Thom Yorke's orange-alert worldview and the band's meld of epic guitar rock and electronic glitch, it not only forcast a decade of music but uncannily predicted our global culture of communal distress. Nevermind and Nation of Millions, while changing their moments irrevocably, seem less open-ended now, a little more "resolved."

Resolved? Maybe on the surface to the untrained or uncaring eye but peak under the covers and the issues mentioned on the album are still with us today. I won't dive into this complex problem here - one only has to look for 5 seconds to know things are far from resolved - but rest assured just looking at this one arena there isn't a large segment of black people in this industry (in leadership or as individual contributors) and it's an issue that has got to change for the better as we make our way through the 21st century.

In any case here's the top 10 from Spin's list:

  1. Radiohead - OK Computer
  2. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
  3. Nirvana - Nevermind
  4. Pavement - Slanted And Enchanted
  5. The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead
  6. Pixies - Surfer Rosa
  7. De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising
  8. Prince - Sign O' The Times
  9. PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me
  10. NWA - Straight Outta Compton

Monday Apr 11, 2005

One Last Thing Before I Hit the Sack...

I have to add a little "flavor" to the typical Sun blog mix. Of course everyone has to have the obligatory post about music so here is my short random thought. It doesn't pay to be unicultural and unlike many people I know I've always had a wide variety of musical tastes. My collection of music ranges from hip-hop to classic Rolling Stones to jazz.

That said, without question the two groups that have had the most influence on my life are Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. Now for all of you who choose not to listen to hip hop they were some of the most influential groups in the genre during the late 80s and early 90s (Rolling Stone still has PE's 2nd album "It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" as one of the top 50 albums of all time). Chuck D's and KRS-ONE's ability to talk about complex subjects and feed the minds of young African Americans was nothing short of a godsend for me during my formative years. They provided the background music for so many things my friends and I have tried to accomplish over the years to help improve the plight of our communities. In general they spoke to people's intellect and encouraged us to be about something. Back in the day I went to a PE concert at the Spectrum (do they even call it that now? I'm really dating myself now) in Philly - that was the show they made their first concert video from - and it was damn near a spiritual experience for me. I felt so connected to the crowd and the energy from the event made me think an army of us were going to make an impact on this world the very next day.

Unfortunately that style of hip hop isn't the dominant form played today. Today's music in many forms is does serious damage to those yound minds whose brains aren't developed enough to weed out the good from the bad. To quote another favorite group of mine, the Poor Righteous Teachers, has a line the captures the state of hip-hop today "never will I feed you poison and disguise it with a beat..." But that is exactly what many artists today do - with tracks that have you bouncing your head and tapping your feet your brain is processing verbal garbage and too many young folks unknowingly internalize many of the negative things that I'm sure impact their behavior. Will they act literally or directly on something said in a song? Probably not. But does what they hear and see in videos impact their value system? Given my observations over the years I'm damn sure of that...



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