Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dali Atomicus

Photograph by Philippe Halsman in 1948, without the aid of Photoshop or any other modern special effects.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Benefit of Hindsight

I'm a big fan of Baseball Prospectus. They've got a bunch of great writers over there and I devour their enormous book every February when the new one drops previewing the next baseball season.

This year I decided to branch out and delve into the Prospectus franchise's season preview coverage of the other sports, namely football and basketball (sorry hockey, I'll give you a shot next year). I'm still waiting for my copy of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 to arrive but I've been reading the shit out of the football one in the meantime and it served as a great resource when I drafted my fantasy team in September (and I clinched first place yesterday).

One of the things I'm really interested in with these other versions of the Prospectus series is seeing how accurate they can be with projecting which players will break out and become stars and who will collapse, as well as finding out which players are underrated by the national media while putting up big numbers in the more advanced statistics.

Well, with the Broncos in town here in San Diego to face the Chargers tonight I've been thinking about the quarterback-wide receiver combo of Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd and their unexpected success this year. I scooped both of them up in my fantasy league around Week 4 or so and they've been awesome for me. Looking at what the writers of the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac had to say about these two, though, you'd have never saw their breakouts coming.

With Kyle Orton, the book likened him to Matt Cassel and David Garrard as average quarterbacks who put up fluky numbers, predicting that he would lose his job to Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow. They also say "his numbers are likely to decline" because of the absence of Brandon Marshall and before making sure to reiterate that "He's only average."

Coming into tonight's game, Orton is 4th in the NFL in passing yards while ranking as the #1 best quarterback in the league by Football Outsiders' own special stat DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and third overall in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).

As for Brandon Lloyd, who is currently second in the NFL in receiving yards and first in that same DYAR stat (for receivers), they had this to say:
His presence on the roster was a waste of a spot by Josh McDaniels...That roster spot should have gone to a young player needing practice reps, not a wideout without any discernible abilities beyond being tall.
I find it weird that they referred to him as being tall a couple times in the book but Lloyd is only 6 feet and looks pretty short when you watch him play.

Anyway, I'm certainly not calling them out and saying that they should've seen this coming---I don't think even the most optimistic Broncos fan saw this coming---but they really, really missed big time on these two guys.

Note: They probably want to take back their Michael Vick player comment as well: "if Vick had to take over as the starter in case of a Kolb injury, the move would be nothing short of disastrous for the Eagles." I love the book, love their writing on the website and on ESPN but...I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Musical Medicine

"Ich bin das Fleisch das stets bejaht."
(German: 'I am the flesh that always affirms' - from a letter by
James Joyce describing his Molly Bloom character.)

As a follow-up to the cloudy, dismal atmosphere of my last post, here is some of the therapeutic music that I've found seems to speak strongest to me during these times and "crack open a winter sky" to bring some light through.

The frantic stress and frustration of being caught in the tarantula web of this suffocating world and one's reaction to it is urgently and emotionally expressed by Kevlaar 7 in his track "Tarantula's Web" produced by Bronze Nazareth.

The adrenaline and rapid heartbeat slows a bit from there into the more calm and controlled, yet still revolutionarily militant march pace of "Unbutton Ya Holsters" by Kevlaar 7 produced by Woodenchainz. Actually, Kevlaar's whole "Unbutton Ya Holsters" mixtape has been a great way to mollify my panic and stress.
Once I've calmed down, the slow pace of "Suicide Watch" and "Boulevard Article" sounds perfect.

Suicide Watch - Kevlaar 7 featuring Merc Versus and Illah Dayz (prod by Woodenchainz)

Boulevard Article - Kevlaar 7

And, lastly, the poignant guitar twings and smooth brooding chorus of "Days Chasing Days" by San Diego's own Blame One has been the soundtrack to my Saturday.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crumpling Buildings

Heavy gray clouds rain down on San Diego today. It's cold, gray, soggy. The weather even gets shitty in paradise.

The days of this past week unintentionally became a series of emotional bricks placed upon my shoulders as I casually came across an increasing amount of enormously infuriating and tragic information. After viewing the new documentary film Inside Job at a movie theater down the street on Thursday night, I sat stunned and shaken up like everybody else in the theater and started discussing with my girlfriend the possibility of leaving the country to go live in France for a while. That event seemed to be the final exclamation point after a sentence of bad words but then my workday on Friday was as bleak as it's ever been. The company I work for has been falling apart like an old crusty building and yesterday an enormous foundational chunk fell, reminiscent of the crumpling buildings in the film Inception.

*   *   *
It seems the news has been consistently filled with tragic stories of police brutality, excessive force and the murder of innocent young people lately. There also continues to be a staggering number of foreclosures and people losing everything they have. I recently read that the disparity between the upper class and lower class is currently as large as it's ever been in this country's history. And I saw an article that declared some insane facts about our country's military spending, including the fact that the Pentagon consumes 80% of the individual income tax revenue. Right down the road from where I sit now, at the San Diego airport, somebody stood up to those people who now insist on either looking at or touching a man's penis (or a woman's breasts) before letting him/her cross a blockade and it caused a national stir as the man was ejected from the airport and might face fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. Abuse of power.

Perhaps the ugliest thing I encountered this week was the information and images presented to me in a video lecture by a man named Gary Yourofsky. After a highly-informative weekend in San Francisco last month, I have been reading more and more about nutrition and have been amazed at the false information that persists and permeates in the knowledge and dinner plates of most people in this country (and western hemisphere). Firstly, I have learned that there is no nutritional value in meat of any kind whatsoever. In fact, because of the high cholesterol, meat and animal products are responsible for the #1 leading cause of death, heart disease, as well as numerous cancers (especially colon cancer, a disease which claimed another young victim this morning). And I learned the very simple fact that all the animals we eat are vegetarians themselves and thus we are trying to soak up the diluted nutrients from their flesh. Of course, it'd be much easier if we just ate the plants, grains, and fruits ourselves but we're constantly told that we have to eat meat for protein, iron, calcium, etc. when in fact there is NO nutrient or vitamin that derives from an animal's body, they all come from the earth.

I also learned that cheese, as delicious as it may be (and just typing about it right now makes me want to eat it), is one of the most dangerous foods in the world because of its extremely high content of saturated fat which inevitably causes atherosclerosis and heart disease. But, wait a minute, why then would Uncle Sam want us to eat more cheese as this New York Times article says?
Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.
The organization’s activities, revealed through interviews and records, provide a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.
In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.
When the campaign was challenged as false, government lawyers defended it, saying the Agriculture Department “reviewed, approved and continually oversaw” the effort.
Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health and a former member of the federal government’s nutrition advisory committee, said: “The U.S.D.A. should not be involved in these programs that are promoting foods that we are consuming too much of already. A small amount of good-flavored cheese can be compatible with a healthy diet, but consumption in the U.S. is enormous and way beyond what is optimally healthy.
So the government spends millions on a program designed to get Americans (the fattest, unhealthiest people ever in history) to consume more cheese. They got Domino's to put 40% more cheese on their pizza than last year.

It was with this knowledge that I then viewed Mr. Yourofsky's passionate and articulate lecture that was delivered to students at Georgia Tech University this summer. Here is one part of that lecture:

He goes on to explain that human beings share all the same physiological characteristics (very long small intestine, grinding lower jaws, well-developed salivary glands) as herbivores and none of the characteristics of carnivores. The most striking one is that carnivores have a small intestine that is relatively short and thus they can quickly push through all the decayed animal flesh whereas when a human eats meat the decayed flesh takes much, much longer to digest and our bodies can't handle that presence so our arteries clog up. That's why real carnivores (hyenas, lions, bears) don't have cholesterol problems.

On television commercials, the only food products we see are meat, cheese, more meat, extra cheese, etc. while it's quite clear that it's killing us. Add to that the fact there's an animal holocaust going on that most people purposely stay blind to. Not only do they stay blind to it but they actually eat the mutilated, murdered animals' flesh!

Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the lead members of my favorite musical group, the Wu-Tang Clan, are outspoken vegans. Even almost 20 years since they first came out, their influence on this planet remains very strong. The Gza recently did an interview detailing his current raw food diet and how he got Method Man to stop eating meat; The Rza is also vegan and here is Masta Killa (invoking a hilarious irony with his name) talking about his vegetarianism:

*   *   *
While eating dinner before we went to the movies on Thursday, we sat watching The Story of Stuff which darkened the clouds further and I started thinking about how there are so many great documentaries these days exposing the numerous atrocities going on behind the scenes in so many different sectors. Last week, we watched another chilling documentary called Deliver Us From Evil detailing the story of a Catholic priest who molested and raped (pretty much doing every bad and disgusting thing one could think of) hundreds of children in California, was convicted and admitted to it many times but was only shifted to a different parish each time by the slithering snake cardinal Roger Mahony who somehow got off clean. O'Grady was deported to Ireland and now walks the streets a free man, totally aloof and uncaring of how many families he destroyed (O'Grady, the victims, the families, they're all interviewed in the film).

What springs to mind when I consider all of these movies is that they all perfectly and meticulously outline for us these terrible problems, but none of them detail how the infuriated viewer can do something to help, to start really inciting change. Inside Job was no different. The reviews for this film are laudatory all around and it's really an extremely well-presented movie that looks as crisp as any other major motion picture. The opening takes place in Iceland and it draws up in one's mind the image of Pandora in Avatar. The film then dives deep into lower Manhattan, Wall Street, and details the lives of these investment bankers and stock brokers who revel in cocaine and prostitution while bilking the public's money through shitty sub-prime mortgages and making tons of money trading something called "derivatives" while facing no punishment or regulation whatsoever from the government. As a matter of fact, the government is in on it because the bankers infiltrated the government without anybody calling them out for conflict of interest.

The CEOs and big wigs for the investment banks leave their posts (collecting humongous pay-outs and stock options) to go take major positions in the White House cabinet where they let their friends in the financial industry do whatever they want instead of policing them. When they're done "serving" there they move on to top positions in schools like Harvard and Columbia where they prepare the next generation of slithering lizards and remain on the payroll of the big banks as consultants collecting millions.

These people all appear in the film and have to answer for themselves but often having nothing to say, sounding like bumbling dummies caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Everybody admitted that, during the housing boom and the trading of derivatives (which are explained as basically "weapons of mass financial destruction"), they knew things would soon very quickly and easily blow up resulting in the complete collapse of the American economy. Yet nobody did anything to stop it. And when the ball fell and houses started being foreclosed, people losing their jobs, markets collapsing, these guys raked in billions. The film shows them being lambasted in front of Congress but, alas, nobody gets in trouble, nobody goes to jail, nobody even apologizes. They just keep getting richer while the environment surrounding their castles collapses.

I've seen a few documentaries in theaters (the most powerful of which was probably Why We Fight) but never before have I felt so much anger from folks around me. Everybody is fed up. Unlike most of these other documentaries I mention, this isn't exposing something terrible that's going on in some hidden corner, this is all as palpable to us as the choke in one's throat when you see a mother and daughter digging through the trash in a back alley (something I see here in San Diego too much). I urge everybody reading this to go see this new film. Like I said, it ends abruptly without offering any kind of solution other than "keep fighting" but it is imperative that we become aware of this and who the culprits are.

I found an article from a year ago describing how Goldman Sachs* (the same firm that keeps churning out more and more White House financial crooks) employees were purchasing handguns en masse as they prepared for what they see as the inevitable uprising by the public against them. Maybe we should start doing the same?

*There are many great resources about the evil of Goldman Sachs but this is a great place to start if you're interested in reading about it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview: Building with the Wisemen (Bronze Nazareth & Kevlaar 7) Part 2

Continuing my discussion with Bronze Nazareth and Kevlaar 7 of the Wisemen, touching on the current social climate in Detroit, the state of modern hip hop, future projects they've got lined up, and more. Be sure to check out Part 1 talking all about the new album Children of a Lesser God as well.

When we left off, you guys had explained the name of your label "Black Day in July" and Kevlaar you described how the '67 Detroit riots left an indelible scar on the city. In this depressed, declining, deteriorating American economy it's the Motor City that really seems to be "ground zero" where the effects are hitting the hardest. What is it like living in Detroit right now?

Kevlaar 7: To me there’s a constant stress; like a fog in the air…that’s the whole state of Michigan really, though. This was an industrial state where there used to be so many factory jobs, you could quit one and land a new job the next day and not give a fuck. Most of those smaller factories branched off of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, so when they go down, ALL of them go down. The housing market is FUCKED UP, the crime is high, unemployment is in the top 2 in the nation, etc, etc, et-muthafucking-cetera…

Bronze Nazareth: Yeah Michigan is sunk right now. A lot of people who’ve lost their job, can’t find a job, and standing in unemployment lines, then the unemployment runs out, and what’s left? Getting by however you can right? But Detroit, which is primarily an African American city, is one of those cities forgotten by politicians. It has remained racially segregated, and most people who get educated and find good work do so outside of the city, therefore abandoning it. Lack of revenue and corruption have led to crises in government, and the transit system, and half of the schools here have shutdown since 2005. Don’t get me wrong, many Detroit activists have been working endlessly on these issues locally, but these problems see little state assistance and funding compared to other regions. Coincidence? Unlikely if you ask me. Just look at other cities, where there’s a good number of African Americans and minorities– Flint, Newark, Baltimore, Gary, Memphis, these places usually round out the poorest cities as well. This is a high interest issue to me, and a lot of people want to say “get over slavery” but Black folks are owed for centuries of unpaid slave labor that built the roots of America’s economy, as well as we are owed money for years and years of being discriminated against on issues such as wage and employment matters endured since the 13th amendment. Detroit (and many other areas of the USA) still suffers from the the inheritance of slavery and its remnants.

Do you plan to continue to live there for the future?

Kevlaar 7: I will always have a home here, but I really want to move somewhere nice and quiet where I don’t have to worry about my babies and how they will handle certain things in this environment…

Bronze Nazareth: Me, I love it here. I don’t so much love the state and the economy here.  But I think as long as you raise your children right and keep them out of the warzone, I’ll be alright here. I won’t leave willingly, if I leave I’ll be forced out by economic pressures.

That area has definitely been an extremely fertile ground for talented hip hop musicians. I'm hearing everybody rave about the new album "Gas Mask" by The Left and it's produced by a very skilled Detroit producer named Apollo Brown. I've seen "Black Day in July" mentioned along with his name before, how are you guys connected with Apollo Brown?

Kevlaar 7: Yeah there’s some ill talent sprouting from this place…That Gasmask joint is dope. You remember Cheehf?  That’s Apollo Brown…well, shit, I’ll let Bronze build on that…

Bronze Nazareth: Detroit is Motown! This is the new era of Motown, the hip hop era. Soul was it back then, hip hop is the urban outlet now. As far as Apollo Brown, I taught him how to make beats, chop samples, pull out the basslines, etc. I gave him his very first program to make beats with, gave him the cool edit program he still uses to make beats with. I’m pretty sure he made the Gas Mask album with that program.  He was once one of the Wisemen, back in the beginnings of Black Day and Wisemen Approaching but some ill things happened and we fell out. We’ve been reconnecting as of late, so look for some records in the future from us. He’s doing his thing and I wish that brother the best of luck. Oh, he did that Waters of Nazareth joint from back before The Great Migration too.

[Bronze Nazareth - Waters of Nazareth (produced by Cheehf/Apollo Brown)]

Have you worked with him on any recent material and when might we hear that?

Kevlaar 7: Yeah I just talked to him a couple weeks ago, and I’m gonna slide through there and check some of his joints and see what I can snatch up.

Bronze Nazareth: Yeah we’ll get down, sooner or later on some new shit.

What do you think of the current state of hip hop?

Kevlaar 7: I think the creativity and artistry is making a very strong come back. It’s been real watered down and exploited to the fullest by the biggest companies for about the past 6 or 7 years. Hip hop is EVERYWHERE. But the purity is making a hell of a comeback, for real.

Bronze Nazareth:  I think this sales decrease we see is slightly bullshit. Commercially it’s harder to see your product out there, partly due to digital purchasing, and due to artists being able to upload and sell their own shit. It doesn’t take particular skill to call yourself a rapper nowadays, and home studios have turned the regular joe into a rapper so it’s completely oversaturated and buying may be more spread out so you have to build and concentrate on your fanbase nowadays. Hip Hop is still troubled.

The underground (for lack of a better word) scene seems to be thriving talent-wise lately, I feel like there are more and more PURE hip hop emcees and producers springing up, folks like Tragic Allies, the whole I.W.G. crew (especially A Man Called Relik), Noble Scity, that group I mentioned earlier The Left, and many, many more. That naturally gritty, grimy hip-hop-at-its-peak sound seems to be coming back, do you see yourselves as a spearhead to this reemergence?

Kevlaar 7: No doubt, we been doing this our whole careers, making music that we wanted to hear and that ain’t never changed, and it never will. It’s ill to be looked at as one of the leaders in that resurgence and at the same time connecting and building good relationships with all those you just mentioned, word.

Bronze Nazareth: Obviously this is our arena. We went through the bling era, the hipster movement, etc, now it’s back to quality hip hop because people are living real life and not these gimmicks. There is a need to relate, and hear a bit of yourself in music now, the majority of people aren’t popping bottles and making it rain, and splurging everywhere they go with 8 cars and a mansion.  I think that, though people like to party and imagine a better life, more so people want to know that artists are seeing what they see, feeling how they feel and going through regular life too. Also, the underground is more and more independent, so creative control is back to an all time high. Not as many artists are being asked to give hits, because they control their own sound.  It’s definitely a time for us. 

What do you foresee or hope to see in the future of hip hop? With so many true emcees (like yourselves and the ones mentioned in the previous question) coming up but almost all of the record company dollars going to more commercial, watered-down "American Idol"-type acts, do you think a big change or revolution in the hip hop industry is on the horizon?

Kevlaar 7: That revolution is here already…you’re witnessing it. It’s only going to grow.

Bronze Nazareth:  Yes of course, it’s getting to a point that even the distribution companies are going to be obsolete, with artists uploading their own music. I see stores where people go in and hit a download station, and fill up their iPod, CDs are more than halfway out the door, and for artists who have built a name, the only obstacle is marketing and promotion. He who can grind the hardest, wins.

Do you guys approach your music as a therapeutic medium? By that I mean, if you weren't making any money from it, would you still be doing the same thing you're doing now?

Kevlaar 7: Most definitely. I been writing for too long, that shit is therapeutic to me mentally, as well as banging out beats. Ain’t too much money in this shit anyway, and that’s why A LOT of these fly-by-night so called emcees or “artists” don’t last too long. The shit’s got to be in your blood.

Bronze Nazareth: I’d definitely continue. It was therapy when I began, an outlet. So I just don’t know how to live without that release. This is why a lot of our music is life based.

Do you agree with this statement?: Most if not all of the greatest modern writers and poets of the past 15-20 years have been hip hop emcees. 

Kevlaar 7: Got to agree with that. Who could it be? I would say Dr. Cornell West and Michael Eric Dyson, but they will tell you it’s been hip hop emcees as well…

Bronze Nazareth: I can agree to a degree. Writing in depth is a whole different monster than albums or verses, but there are definitely some great writers in hip hop as well as many in literature.

Do you think hip hop can or will be a major force for positive global change and unity as we move into the future? (Like Erykah Badu says, "It's bigger than religion, it's bigger than the government")

Kevlaar 7: It’s going to have to be. At the least, a major force within us as likeminded people and thinkers. Unity is the key though, just like with anything. The government has ulterior motives and plans that don’t even include us as common men and women. Religion can make moves as far as global change also within themselves and their own religion, but I’m not sure if different religions can work together because of all the wars and disagreements that have been going on and which will result from an attempt like that. KP [Killah Priest] was right man, religion divides. Straight up. Maybe if there was a real attempt to truly understand one another, in religion and just as a people in general, we may start moving toward what we need as a human race to survive and thrive together.

Bronze Nazareth: Yes, I think so. Imagine a Jay Z / Roc Nation led album denouncing police brutality studying cases such as DJ Henry or a West Coast album with artists such as the Game and Ice Cube and Nipsey Hussle album concentrating on Oscar Grant and similar political agendas. Will it happen? Who knows but we do know that some of society’s most powerful voices are hip hop artists. Imagine Lil Wayne – throwing a serious movement such as a March reminiscent of MLK’s efforts? In no way am I putting him above or equal to Martin but as far as a voice if used in the right way – he’s got the people’s ears right now. These big time artists have shown a capacity to change parts of society.

What do you think of this society's appreciation or lack thereof for true art?

Kevlaar 7: I’m always disappointed in that; it’s a lack of understanding that the lack of appreciation for this art is born out of. I had this woman hit me on Facebook about a month ago that I went to high school with, and basically she said “damn I can’t believe you’re some type of big ‘thug’ rapper now”…I had to laugh at that because she obviously hadn’t listened to our material, or has grossly misunderstood it. The only other way I could discern how she came up with that label of me was how I dress and carry myself in the pictures, or videos I have on Facebook. I would say there is a huge misunderstanding of the art of hip hop by these na├»ve, conservative, traditionalists. Much like their misunderstanding of Islam, for example. You have to do the knowledge on everything yourself so you can form an educated opinion or point of view, so you ain’t just talking shit out of the side of your neck, with ignorant points of view, sounding like a straight asshole.

Bronze Nazareth: I hate this lack of appreciation, because it’s something that can be fixed. I’ve sat with many people who were commercial music junkies. I like to ‘convert’ them. I like to help them look at what is so important about true art, point things out, highlight the thought that goes into this art. I can usually get them hooked on the true shit. But it takes time and effort to do this, and you can’t possibly reach everyone. So being that there is more people who casually listen, there isn’t many who will sit and really listen to the details, or they will hear what you are saying but not put any thought into it. At times it seems pointless to craft this poetry because it’s just overlooked. It’s like training for four years for the Olympics, only to have the judges disregard your efforts. Very disheartening. 

What is your favorite art or artist outside of music?

Kevlaar 7: I would have to say mine is the art of acting. Denzel is THAT dude, yo. Gotta go with my man Don Cheadle too.

Bronze Nazareth: I like photography and visual arts, like album covers, still photos. A beautiful picture can take your mind in so many directions. It’s like freezing life.

Did you see the movie "Inception"? If so, what did you think? Would you ever write a song with that much complexity and elaborate structure?

Kevlaar 7: Hell yeah, yo that movie is sick. I watched it twice now and I gotta still watch it a few more times to catch everything. That’s my type of movie. If I wrote something with that much complexity I would have to look into making the song a movie. That shit is ridiculous.

Bronze Nazareth: No, still haven’t seen it.

Bronze, when I was first seeing your name on the internet about 7 years ago you had this lime green website with crazy animation and all kinds of amazing beats--what happened to that place? And will we ever hear those beats?

Bronze Nazareth: Well the designer Jordi for Jor-On retired that site. He was doing it out of love and decided he had to hang it up for that one.  As far as those beats, they may be heard or not. I have a lot of beats just sitting here, no one has used and many of those particular beats haven’t been chosen. As we go along they may surface. I’m not really a fan of releasing instrumentals due to all the jacking and biting these days so maybe I’ll splash some verses on those and throw them out. People always ask me about those beats.

[Here's one of my favorites of those old beats, called "Taming the Iron."]

Years ago there was anticipation about an album called "Two Champions of Shaolin" where you and Moongod Allah were gonna go back and forth, what ever happened to that? Will we ever hear your half?

Bronze Nazareth: Moon addressed this a few times, he had some personal setbacks and wasn’t able to finish his side of things, so when I turned my half in, it ended there. It’s definitely a serious mix, I still have my half, but it’s a bit outdated with the kung fu sample laden parts when we laced in there, so I’ll keep it in the vaults for now.

Kevlaar, I know the world's been anticipating your upcoming first solo album, Die Ageless, ever since we heard the impressive sampler for it last summer. What's the status on that, how is it sounding, who is producing?

Kevlaar 7: Yo, I’m creeping up on the finish line with sniper’s precision on that joint. It’s 94% done. Only a few things left to do, and it’s sounding exactly how I want it to sound. As far as producers of course I got Bronze, myself; also Woodenchainz, J $crilla blessed me, and my man from Albuquerque, Central Intelligence. I’m letting a new track off the leash in a few weeks…

The sampler for the upcoming Die Ageless LP:

How about this new EP you have coming out soon, what can we expect to hear on there? 

Kevlaar 7: Word, it’s titled “Who got the Camera?” and you will hear nothing but militant, against the mainstream grain, revolutionary material, and strong political statements. I’m bringing together producers and emcees from all over the world, plus me and Bronze and we’ll see how the public is feeling that…It ain’t on no type of commercial shit, only real life.

Will it be a digital-only release, or a CD available in stores?

Kevlaar 7: It will be a digital release, maybe physical later on, but digital is really the path to take nowadays, most of these fans nowadays ain’t purchasing the physical.

Bronze, your next project has been my most anticipated album for years now. Tell me about School for the Blindman and when we might hear it. 

Bronze Nazareth: Next 5-6 months it’s guaranteed to be out here. I had to wait for some features, and wait out a situation so it could be released the right way, I’m on track, it’s done except for one song. Got some heavy features, the ones people wanted to hear on Migration are now on the joint and it’s that Bronze fire….look out for Bronzeman 2. Classic street poetry theatre.

You guys both did one of the best beats on Hell Razah's new album, and Bronze we've heard an incredible beat of yours on Vinnie Paz' last album and you did a lot of work on the 60 Second Assassin record, what other production contributions do you guys have coming up soon?

Bronze Nazareth: I did bout 80 percent of Timbo King’s album ["From Babylon to Timbuktu"], joints on Kevlaar’s album, me and Phillie started on “Welcome To The Detroit Zoo”, Salute’s solo “Diggstown” has a lot of my work on it, Illah Dayz’ solo “The Illahstrator”, as well as June Mega’s “Ultimate Proportions” all of which will definitely see 2011 release dates. Let it be known that I intend to release these joints for sure in 2011 with no label or distributor red tape, no politricks, I take care of business and if it were up to me, no pushbacks and BS would stop me. However, I’m in position to handle the rest on my own agenda, which means I finally have control and can call the shots.  I’m also in the works on something big, with a bona fide gold and platinum proven legend, I won’t say who yet, because it’s in the legal stages and could still fall through so I don’t want to put anything out there yet. 

Will you be touring soon or doing any in-store appearances to promote the new album that's just dropped, Children of a Lesser God?

Kevlaar 7: Oh yeah no doubt all that is in the works, we’re just still busy banging out these projects.

I know you have many fans overseas, any plans to do a tour in Europe soon?

Kevlaar 7: Yeah, shout out to all our fans and fam from all over Europe, man they support us heavy there, it’s crazy. We have several shows pending out in Europe, and hopefully we can get some tours cracked off there too…just holler at if you want to bring Bronze, me or any number of the Wisemen out to your zone, and he will get it done!

I know you guys are tight with Cilvaringz [European Wu-Tang affiliate], have you worked with him at all recently?

Kevlaar 7: Yeah, hell yeah good brother right there man…me and him have passed some joints back and forth over the years, hopefully we can get something rolling soon though.

Bronze Nazareth: Yeah I did some work with him recently. It will surface soon. That’s my good friend though always.

What artists would you still really like to collaborate with? (Personally, I've been wanting to hear you guys alongside Cormega for a while.)

Kevlaar 7:  Jay Electronica, Joell Ortiz, Mos Def..there’s A LOT man. The Horseshoe gang…of course Andre 3 stacks and Nas…someday…

Bronze Nazareth:  Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu, Cee Lo Green, Goodie Mob, Joell Ortiz, Slaughterhouse, Andre 3000 as well, Jay Elec, Jay Z, Lil Wayne, I could go on and on….

Final thoughts?

Kevlaar 7: Ya’ll will be hearing A LOT more from us and the whole Wisemen crew through the rest of this year and ALL YEAR next year so get ready to fill up a whole iPod with our shit…word.

Bronze Nazareth: This will be the year for us as far as releases. No more waiting for these releases. We have heat stored up and ready to blast, fuck the politics this year we’re done with the holdups!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ason Unique

One of the founding members of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan, the unrestrained, free-spirited energetic force that was Ol' Dirty Bastard (real name Russell Jones), died six years ago today. Surely, there's never been anybody like him before and there will never be another like him again (although many have capitalized from "borrowing" his style).

Nearly 20 years after their debut album, the Wu-Tang Clan continues to be a major cultural force throughout the whole planet. The entire crew (8 living members plus Cappadonna) will be present on a recently announced major concert tour that will begin in San Francisco and then come down to San Diego before going all around the country. I will definitely get myself over there for their show as I saw them perform here two years ago and it was an incredible experience. The feeling was close to what I imagine Nietzsche would call the "Dionysian" rapture.

ODB was the energetic flowing life force of the Clan, like a river of powerful energy rushing its tide through their albums. He added an element of griminess that was due not just to his raspy loud voice but even his so often off-key delivery ("the only choir member that sang offkey" as Gza says in one of the songs below). He barely ever delivered a traditional verse, it was almost always something new and original (what he called "singin' rappin") and always unexpected, sometimes hilarious. That was Dirty. Unadulterated, pure, free and explosive. In a group that was often extremely explicit (they were banned from New York radio stations in the '90s and, at one time, MTV) he was undoubtedly the most explicit. The dirtiest. It was this wild spirit of his that led to his untimely and tragic demise, he was only 36 years old when he died from a drug overdose.

In remembrance of this hip hop legend, here are some great tribute tracks from the last few years.

This is from the 2005 release by Think Differently, Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture. Produced by Bronze Nazareth with the scratches by DJ Noize.

Raekwon's elegiac tribute "Ason Jones" from his 2009 album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt 2.

"All in Together Now" was the name of the original trio of the three New York City cousins, Rza, Gza, and Ol' Dirty Bastard when they made music for fun in the 80s. This song is from Gza's album Grandmasters.

And the internet beat-making savant who I've drawn attention to once before, Lord Beatjitzu, made a lo-fi dusty-sounding cassette tape-recorded beat tape a few years ago that was a full tribute to ODB called "Ol' Dirty Kung Fu." Here are some sounds from it and you can download the full tape here.
Who can forget Dirt Dog's interruption of the Grammys in 1998? Puff Daddy's popcorn music had beaten Wu-Tang Forever (without a doubt, my favorite album of all time) for the Best Hip Hop Album award and ODB had to set the record straight. (Kanye West would later, perhaps more famously, do something similar but as a diehard Wu-Tang fan obsessor himself, he was surely emulating Ol' Dirty and doing so in order to, strangely, defend someone else's work instead of his own).

Some people tend to take the statement "Wu-Tang is for the children" as a joke but I beg to differ. Wu-Tang came out in 1993 when I was an eight year old kid and there has been no greater influence in my life, especially intellectually, than the Wu-Tang Clan. I would not be as voracious a reader and studier if not for the Wu-Tang influence. Their music and mythology have sparked the medulla oblongata of many, many young people around the world over the years and surely there are currently many fans that show up to their concerts, collect their albums, and study their lyrics who were toddlers when Ol' Dirty Bastard took to the national stage and told the world that "Wu-Tang is for the children."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sandy, Rivers, Millsap and more (Catching up with the Sports World)

As so often happens, the world is spinning faster than I can blog about it. The baseball season ended, basketball and hockey have begun, football is just starting to really heat up (as the temperature drops) and there's all kinds of cool and exciting stuff going on. While I'm definitely keeping track of it, I'm not finding the time to sit down and write about it all. In a perfect world, I'd have written an extensive season preview for the NHL and NBA seasons the same way I did for baseball, but unfortunately I've been too busy with work and other writing projects. That doesn't mean this blog will stay quiet about that stuff, though. Here's what's happening lately.

There's no doubt that the sport with the best writing and analysis on the internet is baseball, there are just so many great sites and great writers covering the game and unveiling new and interesting things  almost daily. But, as I'm starting to notice (and am perhaps a bit late in realizing), the interwebs have been springing up more and more great NBA bloggers and writers these past few years. For me, John Hollinger at ESPN is a must-read everyday during the basketball season. I subscribe to ESPN Insider pretty much only because of his work (and also Rob Neyer's baseball blog, where yours truly was mentioned this past summer) and each year my productivity at work takes a nose dive when his in-depth NBA team previews come out before the season.

Well, we had a once-in-a-lifetime performance from the Indiana Pacers last night and Hollinger, an analyst in the Bill James mold of great writer/stats guy, broke it down perfectly. I'm not going to share it all here because, well, I'm paying for this stuff but here's the best part:
The Pacers made 20 straight shots in the third quarter, and I'm not sure people appreciate how remarkably unusual that was.
Using Indiana's 45.7 percent mark on the season, the probability of their making 20 straight shots is ... 1-in-6,333,970.
Calling it "unlikely" is the understatement of the century. In all probability, you'll never see anything like this again, ever ... and your children, grandchildren and several generations of descendants won't, either.
NBA teams play 328 quarters a season, meaning 9,840 quarters leaguewide. So if the league stays at or near a 30-team alignment, you would have to watch every quarter of every game for about 643 years, on average, before again seeing a team rip off 20 straight made shots to start a period. If you were one of the 11,122 people in Conseco Fieldhouse Tuesday night, consider yourself lucky.
There was also a pretty amazing finish to the Miami Heat-Utah Jazz game, with the Jazz trailing by 8 points and just 37 seconds to play they hit 4 consecutive three-pointers and then tied the game at the buzzer (on the road!) with a putback from Paul Millsap. Millsap had 46 points on the night and, after having made only 2 three-pointers in his whole career until that point, drilled three straight to help bring his team back. Unbelievable. This is why I love sports.

Getting back to the increasing number of great writers covering the game, today I discovered an awesome NBA blog that I've completely slept on called Free Darko. They put out a beautifully illustrated book last year called The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac that's received some gushing reviews on Amazon and just recently they released another book, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, both of which are now on my imaginary Christmas list.

To top off the NBA literature, today I purchased the 2010-11 season preview book by Basketball Prospectus after eyeing some samples and seeing that it's in the same exact format as the almighty Baseball Prospectus annual that I devour each year (I can't get enough of this stuff). Them Prospectus boys are really building a nice little empire.

Speaking of which...

From the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac (formerly known as Pro Football Prospectus) comment on Philip Rivers:
It's not just that there's no comparable player for Rivers at quarterback; really there's not a similar player to Rivers in all of sports. There's no other player who performs so well while looking so ugly doing it, combining elite output with clearly suboptimal form...
Throw in that Rivers was playing with a mediocre defense, no running game, and an offensive line that caused that running game to collapse, and he probably deserved the MVP last year. Judging by how the voters normally work, that means he should actually win it this year.
As an outside, emotionally-unattached observer of the San Diego Chargers this season, I've thoroughly enjoyed watching their entertaining style of play: abysmally sloppy special teams gaffes and boinks that would make a great blooper compilation, tough defense, and the relentless, unstoppable energetic force that is Philip Rivers. It seems no matter what his teammates, coach, or general manager does to help this team lose, Rivers single-handedly wills them to victory. 

This past Sunday, with 4 of the top 5 receivers on the team's depth chart not playing (Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Legedu Naanee, and Buster Davis) and even his favorite target, the unstoppable tight end Antonio Gates sitting out as well, Rivers threw for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns while spreading the ball around an offense mostly populated by cast-offs and practice squad players. Through 9 games this season, Rivers has already thrown for almost 3,000 yards putting him on a relatively easy pace to shatter Dan Marino's single season passing record of 5,084.

While Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (and even Rivers' predecessor Drew Brees) are considered the top quarterbacks in the league, Rivers has put up the best numbers the past few years and I've never seen a quarterback who was such an easy bet to drag his team back into a game no matter what collapses they're encountering. When I moved here in 2008 I was disillusioned with the game of football and had pretty much given up on what I consider the most boring (and brainwashing) of the four major sports after my Jets lost 12 games the previous season. That year, the Chargers started out 4-8 and everybody wrote them off for dead but Philip effin Rivers somehow strung off a victory in each of the last four games and earned the team a spot in the playoffs where they came one win away from the Super Bowl and rejuvenated my dying love for the game of football.

(I'd also like to note how much I love that wonderful name: Rivers. Whenever I drive through Mission Valley parallel to the San Diego River that cuts through the valley from the Pacific, purling eastward past Qualcomm Stadium, I'm always reminded of Finnegans Wake and sure enough there's an apartment complex right near the stadium called "Riverrun." I'm not sure of it, but I'd really be surprised if that place wasn't named after the opening word in the Wake. [His favorite target has a great name as well; Gates. "Rivers to Gates" is one of those mellifluous sports phrases that seems to elevate the players to mythic stature. Even when I'm an old man I'll always remember "Rivers to Gates" and how amazing the two players were.])

The season is over but there have been some very satisfying developments in the Hot Stove thus far. The New York Mets have hired a new GM and, if I could have chosen anybody to run my favorite team, it would probably be this guy: Sandy Alderson. Alderson was the architect behind the late 80s-early 90s Oakland A's dynasty and was the first front office executive to bring the philosophies of Bill James and sabermetrics into the day-to-day operations of a baseball team. He's the one who mentored and passed the baton on to Billy Beane who then went on to have a little dynasty (of playoff appearances, at least) of his own with low-budget, statistically-savvy teams that competed with the high-payroll behemoths in the American League.

Alderson has already brought in some great minds like Paul DePodesta (the real star of the book Moneyball) and J.P. Ricciardi to help turn this disastrous franchise around and my latent Mets fanhood has exploded through the roof. I can't wait to see what Alderson does to this team and I will be closely following the Amazins and their machinations while blogging about them as much as possible.

In other good news, ESPN has finally gotten rid of Joe Morgan as color commentator for their Sunday Night Baseball telecasts. Morgan's outspoken stupidity led to perhaps the funniest website I've ever seen,, in which a group of comedy writers (led by Michael Schur under his pen name "Ken Tremendous") dissected the many insanely dumb things Morgan (and, eventually, other ignorant sports writers) would say in his weekly chats and game telecasts. For years, I've had to watch the Sunday night games on mute because of the stuff Morgan tends to say otherwise I'd find myself yelling at the TV incredulously.

The FJM writers took over the popular sports website Deadspin for a day not too long ago and I suggest you check out some of the gallimaufry they engaged in over there because it's pretty hilarious.

Probably because I haven't played the sport myself in over four months after consistently playing in intramural men's leagues two days a week for years, I haven't really gotten into hockey yet. But today the NHL made an announcement that they are completely revamping the format for their All Star game this year and it sounds pretty damn cool. Just like a game in the street, the players will choose who they want on their team. First there will be two captains selected for each squad and those captains will then pick the players they want. The All Star games for all four sports have been in need of some revitalization for a while now and I'm proud of and very impressed with the NHL for their creativity and originality here and I look forward to seeing how they plan to actually do this whole thing. Should be fun.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Portrait of A Portrait as a Young Novel

Having already written pretty extensively about A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man so far on this blog, I'd like to now share a bit about the environment and reception of James Joyce's first novel.

The book which Joyce had labored on (writing it, scrapping it, and then completely re-writing it) over a period of ten years (1904-1914) first appeared to the world in serialized fragments in a London literary magazine called The Egoist. In autumn of 1913 the magazine's literary editor, Ezra Pound, wrote a letter to Joyce and asked him to submit some of his writing to be printed in the "new and impecunious" magazine. Joyce sent his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the short-story collection Dubliners that he'd been trying, with gruesome results, to get published for almost ten years. Pound was highly impressed and organized to have Portrait published in serial form beginning with the issue on February 2nd, 1914 (Joyce's birthday).

After appearing in The Egoist from February 1914 to September 1915, the book was rejected by every publisher in London to whom it was offered. They thought it was dirty and offensive. The Egoist's editor (and lifelong Joyce patron) Harriet Shaw Weaver then decided to help out by having it published in book form, setting up the Egoist Press on her own expense for this very purpose, but then the printers actually refused to print it. It was finally published in New York by B.W. Huebsch (later called Viking Press) in December 1916. The Egoist then imported printed sheets from America and, in February 1917, published the first English edition of 750 copies which was sold out within a few months as glowing reviews started trickling in from the likes of Ezra Pound and even H.G. Wells.

But, of course, one of the reasons Joyce had so much trouble getting the book published in the first place was because his work was so far ahead of its time and thus many of the critics and reviewers simply didn't get it. Today, I came across a comical collection of reviewer comments that was originally compiled by The Egoist in 1917, here are some of them exactly as they appeared in the magazine's June 1917 issue.

James Joyce and His Critics:
Some Classified Comments

Caution: It is very difficult to know quite what to say about this new book by Mr. Joyce. --Literary World

Drains: Mr. Joyce is a clever novelist, but we feel he would be really at his best in a treatise on drains. --Everyman

Cleanmindedness: This pseudo-autobiography of Stephen Dedalus, a weakling and a dreamer, makes fascinating reading... No clean-minded person could possibly allow it to remain within reach of his wife, his sons or daughters. --Irish Book Lover

Beauty: There is much in the book to offend a good many varieties of readers, and little compensating beauty. --New York Globe

The most obvious thing about the book is its beauty. --New Witness

Realism: It is a ruthless, relentless essay in realism. --Southport Guardian

To put the literary form of rude language in a book makes some authors feel realistic. --Manchester Weekly Times

Mr. Joyce aims at being realistic, but his method is too chaotic to produce the effect of realism. --Rochester (New York) Post-Express

Its realism will displease many. --Birmingham Post

Mr. Joyce is unsparing in his realism, and his violent contrasts--the brothel, the confessional--jar on one's finer feelings. --Irish Book Lover

Wisdom: Is it even wise, from a worldly point of view--mercenary, if you will--to dissipate one's talents on a book which can only attain a limited circulation? --Irish Book Lover

Imagination: He shows an astonishingly unCeltic absence of imagination and humour. --Bellman (U.S.A.)

Religion: The irreverent treatment of religion in the story must be condemned. --Rochester (New York) Express

Nowadays, the book is considered a classic and the consensus is that it's undeniably earth-shatteringly awesome. The Modern Library ranked it as the third greatest English-language novel of the 20th century (behind Joyce's Ulysses #1 and The Great Gatsby #2).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wu Movement

I came across this video on YouTube and I'm sharing it because I think, with all of its elements (the music, the lyrics, the message, the kung fu), it contains the whole essence of the Wu-Tang movement in a nutshell. There are two songs on it: "Shining Star" by Sunz of Man featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard (produced by Wyclef Jean) from their debut album The Last Shall Be First in 1998; and the second song is by Wu-Tang Clan's Masta Killa and is simply entitled "Masta Killa," the final song on his solo debut No Said Date that came out in 2004.

Supreme being, all eye seeing, radiant sun
imperishable absolute, y'all salute
Approximately three mil' 
bodies like an empty vessel I must fill