Monthly Archives: January 2008

An Introduction to Hip-Hop Culture

Culture is defined in the Webster’s Dictionary as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.”

Hip-Hop is a way of life for a certain group of people. It has unique rules and customs that are observed. As such, hip-hop is clearly a cultural movement.

Rap and hip-hop are not the same thing. Rap is the music. Hip-hop is the name of the culture that is built around the music. Krs-One, legendary hip-hop artist put it best, “Rap is something you do. Hip-hop is something that you live.”

There are four elements to hip-hop.

1)Djing
2)Emceeing (rapping)
3)break dancing
4)graffiti art

All of these artistic elements are related and form the basis of hip-hop culture. I will be covering these elements in detail in my upcoming series of posts, A Brief History of Hip-Hop.

These four elements of the culture are universally accepted. Many people have tried to add to this list, but there is quite a debate about what is and should be included. Some will argue that fashion is an element. Some would say that beatboxing needs to be added. Others argue that skateboarding is a part of the culture as well. I believe that hip-hop is a diverse culture that needs to include the main four elements. The other elements that can be suggested are complementary and not completely necessary to define this culture.

A lot of people don’t understand what hip-hop is all about. I hope that my serial will help educate those who wish to learn about this great culture. I may even make a presentation to accompany these posts. Stay tuned to Silent Cacophony for more.

Why Can’t Teaching Be Like Coaching?

I saw a great movie on the weekend called We Are Marshall. I was really impressed with the coach in this true-life story. He was an amazing character that brought out the best in his staff and players.

As I was watching the movie, I started to draw comparisons between being a coach and being a teacher. I would like to think that both jobs are about bringing out the best in the team or the class. In both positions, the authority figure needs to inspire confidence, to work with individual players, and to get results.

I know that these two jobs are not interchangeable. There are coaches who could never teach in a classroom and teachers who just aren’t cut out to be coaches. That being said, I think the classroom could run quite effectively if a teacher were to take on some characteristics of great coaching. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work for a variety of reasons.

Teachers are held to a higher standard than coaches. Proven coaching methods would be deemed inappropriate for the classroom. I have seen great coaches lose their temper from time to time. I have seen great coaches yell and swear at their players. I have seen coaches push their players to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. Teachers could never get away with any of this behaviour.

I think we need to remember that teachers are real people. Some days are hard. Sometimes things pile up and there is so much pressure that it is hard to cope. I admit to losing my temper a few times in class. Every time it has happened, I have feared for my career. People can be so unforgiving of teachers.

I wish as a teacher that I had more power. I wish I could push my students hard and let them feel the consequences of their actions. I wish I could try some unconventional plays in order to reach all the students. I wish I could draw from old playbooks and use some proven methods.

All I want to be is a great teacher. I want to reach my students. I want every student in my class to reach his or her true potential. I want them all to develop academically and aesthetically. As a teacher, I always have to worry about how my actions and methods are perceived. It’s a standard that I have to live up to. The only thing is that it is limiting.

I know the rules of the game. I know how the education system works. I just think that there needs to be a little leeway. My methods don’t always work but my heart is always in the game. If I have a bad day, I always work hard to overcome it, and to improve. That’s what life is all about.

Album Spotlight # 1


Raising Hell – Run-DMC

This is the album that introduced me to rap music. I remember it quite well. I was at a family due and my cousin had the cassette tape. He made sure that the adults weren’t around and he played it for a few of his cousins.

One of the rappers swore in one of the songs, and that was all the kids huddling around the tape deck were focusing on. At the time, I didn’t think much of people who swore so I wrote it off as something that I didn’t want to hear.

It took me a while to come around and actually give the tape a good listen. I was glad that I actually did. It was amazing. Something about it really spoke to me and I discovered rap music.

Run-DMC became my favourite group and I bought their previous two albums. I collected all of their albums of cassette and on vinyl. When I finally started buying CDs, I bought all their albums again on CD. I think they are the best group ever and that this album is a hip hop classic.

This is the album that produced their biggest and most recognizable hit, Walk This Way. The funny thing is that they only wanted to sample the beat and not redo the entire song. The producer and label convinced them to do it and they very reluctantly agreed. The rest is history.

Run-DMC brought rap music to the masses. They were the first group to ever have a video on MTV and the first international success story. Quite frankly without Run-DMC, hip-hop would not exist, as we know it today. They are true pioneers and this album is a must have for any music collection.

Give the Cameraman Some!


I used to volunteer at the community cable station in Stoney Creek. It was quite the experience to go into a tiny television studio, operate the equipment, and actually be part of a team that put on television shows. That was a long time ago but the memories stay with me.

Operating a camera inside the studio wasn’t as easy as you might think. The cameras were huge and quiet heavy. I would wear a headset to get instructions from the producer on what shots he wanted me to get. After a while, operating it became a snap. I thought I could shoot anything. That was until I went out on a mobile production.

The station had a mobile studio and could drive to any event to tape it. The hardest thing I ever had to film was a figure skating competition. I didn’t realize that it would be so tough to follow the skaters across the ice. My camera was fixed in one location and the truck would switch to my camera whenever they need to get a shot from my angle.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Wrong.

Of course, in the studio all I needed to do was focus on someone sitting down. It is a lot harder to focus on someone when they are moving quickly across the ice. As the skaters moved from one end to the other, you would need to pan the camera to keep them in the shot. If they got closer or further away you would need to zoom in or out. You would also have to tilt the camera depending on where they were on the ice. All the time, you needed to constantly adjust the focus so that the skater wasn’t blurry on the screen. I just couldn’t do it.

It took me the entire competition, about two agonizing hours, to figure out how to keep a skater in the frame and in focus. It was a disaster. I try not to think about it, even today. I know the producer in the truck was probably banging his head against the wall because he had to use some of my shots and I know that they were all horrible. And of course, the only time someone notices the camera operator is when something goes wrong.

That’s why I want to salute camera operators everywhere today. I was amazed when I saw the Winter X Games this past weekend. A camera operator would follow a snowboarder down the slope. You could see these operators at times during the broadcast. It is amazing to me just thinking that they had to do all of the things I had to do during the skating competition, all the while they were skiing down a hill at the same time. That must take a huge amount of talent.

So I say we need to give the cameraman some applause. That sporting event was great this weekend. I enjoyed every minute of it. And it is all thanks to the camera operators who capture every moment in clear focus and keeping the subject in the frame. Great job!

Transformers – Just Can’t Seem To Get It Right


Transformers are an iconic part of my childhood. I remember quite clearly running home form school to watch the cartoon show. I was excited about the theatrical release and dragged my parents to it. I even bought the soundtrack. The songs wouldn’t normally have been my taste of music but it was Transformers so I loved it. I wore that tape out from playing it so much.

I asked for the toys for Christmas and birthday presents. I had quite a few of the toys too. I had an original Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Ironhide. Man, I wish that I still had those. I remember when they started selling smaller toys that had a colour changing logo on the front. You would have to rub the logo to see if the robot were an Autobot or Decepticon.

They have tried to keep the franchise going since then, but nothing has ever really matched that original animated series. They have had several other animated series, some have even been computer animated. The only one that was remotely good though was Beast Wars, and while I can say it was okay, I can’t say it was great.

A few years ago, they started up the comic book again. I was intrigued and started buying the montly issues. Dreamwave told stories that focused on the robot characters. They were adult stories and quite well done. They had a series entitled, The War Within, which I absolutely adored. Finally, I thought, someone gets what Transformers is and should be about. The story took place in the past and focused on the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. There were no human characters involved whatsoever. It was entirely the robots on their own planet. It was brilliant storytelling. Unfortunately, the company went belly-up and the third story arc was left uncompleted.

A new company has picked up the title and put its own spin on the franchise. So far they are doing a fairly good job. I really miss The War Within though. I was so looking forward to the live action movie, but it was garbage. There is also a new kids animated show on the weekends, and it is horrible as well.

I’m not sure why the Transformers can’t seem to get it right. I have high hopes that the big budget sequel to last summer’s movie will focus on the robot characters and tell a better story. The compelling thing about the Transformers has always been the robot characters. The gimmicks, and effects don’t really matter as long as there is good character development and story writing. Here’s to a return to the glory days.

My New Novel

I started working on a new novel three weeks ago. I had a situation, a character name, one rough scene of dialogue, and not much else. That was my starting point. I didn’t really know where I was going with it, but I sat down and typed away anyway.

I wrote a prologue and then got stalled. I wasn’t sure how to connect my story idea to what I had written. Truthfully, it was the second prologue I had written for this story. The last one, I wrote way back in the summer. It just didn’t seem to work for me for some reason. I was afraid that I was going to get stalled again.

But as I talked to a friend about my idea, he gave me exactly what I needed to move on.
He said that I should start the next part of the story with, “I can’t believe that it’s been five years…” I ran to my pen and scribbled that idea down. It was perfect. I was back on track. That was January 7th.

Well, last night, I just incorporated my initial rough scene of dialogue into Chapter 3. I can’t believe it, but the story has come quite a way. It’s actually been a surprise how it has all unfolded.

It’s amazing what you can do with just the seed of an idea. I can say this because I now have over 12,000 words written. I am aiming for 80,000 – 100,000 words so I am only just getting started.

I like the fact that you can write without knowing where you are going. It’s like going out on a hike around town. Who knows where you might end up? It’s just nice to go out for a stroll and explore the environment.

Random Acts of Kindness

First I saw a commercial where cars were stuck in a gridlock and a few of the drivers stuck started to blow bubbles. It was a light moment in a usually tense situation. It was also kind of beautiful. The voice over announced this as a “blatant act of road joy.” Nice!

I then came across this blog http://cindy-hesse.blogspot.com/2008_01_01_archive.html
and read her post that gives us ideas on how to perform random acts of kindness. She actually lists 100 different ideas and has the post linked up to this website.

http://www.actsofkindness.org/index.asp

This website has a teacher’s guide and resources on how to bring this idea into the classroom.

I then found this site from visiting Lone Grey Squirrel

http://theopengrove.com/everydaykindnessblog/

Is this a revolution happening online now? Are people doing kind acts for no reason other than doing them? This is such a great thing. When I was a Boy Scout in my youth, our movement encouraged us to all perform a good turn daily. Simple acts can make all the difference to someone. It seems like this idea is catching on. It’s about time I got back to actively looking for opportunities to do a good turn daily. Today’s surfing has been enlightening.

Album Spotlight

Tuesdays are when new music is released. I used to look forward to Tuesdays. I would run to the record stores downtown and try to find the lowest price on the new must-have tape. Yup, I said tape.

I reluctantly started buying CDs when I realized that I could not save the cassette tape format all on my own. It was a losing battle. Surprisingly, I now own over 800 CDs. I’ve just gotten used to this format and it is dying too. Fortunately, CDs can be transferred to digital files easily enough. It’s harder to convert over tapes but I have managed to do so with a few of my most favourite albums.

I am beginning to think that this new digital music revolution is killing the album. It seems to be about the song now. Singles and ring tones are ruling the charts. Albums don’t seem to be as important anymore in the grand scheme of things, but they are to me. So I am starting a new weekly feature here. Tuesdays will be album spotlight days. I will post an entry every week about my all-time favourite albums.

Choosing what albums to spotlight will be a chore for me. I have so many albums where I can sing along to every single song. I have albums that have special significance for me for a variety of reasons. Of course, I also have albums in my collection that merely collect dust. I blow off the dust every now and then play them but I have many albums that have remained unplayed for quite some time and will probably stay that way as well. I have jewels in my collection but I also have turds. I think all music collections are like that.

So, be on the lookout for the album spotlight. It starts next week. I hope this feature will be as well received as my Commonplace Book Tuesdays, which has been spun off into its own blog. Remember to go check it out at Thoughtful Cacophony. I highlight song lyrics there every Wednesday as well. I hope you enjoy both features.

Recommended Reads # 6


Story by Robert McKee

I first heard of this book from a comic book convention. I sat in on a writer’s panel discussion and was quite fascinated. It was amazing to hear writers speak of their craft, characters, and creations. I have been to a few of these events and have been able to meet some legendary writers. One of them was Brian Michael Bendis. He is an amazing writer, so when he sang the praises of this book, I knew I had to check it out.

This is a must have for any writer. Read it with a pencil in your hand. Make underlines and notes. Study it, memorize it, and apply it to your work. It is the best book I have ever read on the craft of writing and I know many writers in several different genres that sing its praises. If you don’t already have a copy, you NEED to go get one.

Blog Surfing

It was one of those rare occasions where I had time to surf for blogs. Here are a few that I found today that I thought might be of interest.

http://www.valeriemorrison.net/blog/ Thinking Out Loud – humour, observations, etc

http://zenhabits.net/ Self help advice, etc

http://daily-rambler.blogspot.com/ Daily Rambler – info on blogging, advice, etc

http://writetodone.com/ Advice and tips for writers

http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/ Nathan Bransford is a Literary Agent and his blog has tonnes of advice and tips.