Category Archives: 2018 Reads

Rap Music Needs More Anthologies

The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley and Andrew Dubois (editors)

Rap is poetry. The way emcees put together words and deliver them can be magical. This book tries to highlight that be stripping everything else away except for the words on a page. The editors let the words speak for themselves as well. There are no annotations and  nothing to help interpret any given line.

There are a few essays about different eras and times in the history of the art form, however. There are also brief introductions to each act before their rhymes are laid out in front of us on the page.

This was a nice read and I will be writing one or two more posts about it in the near future. Here are a few things I took away from my dive into the book.

First Political Rap

“The first rap record to be explicitly political both in its lyrical content and in its method of production and distribution, “How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?,” released in 1980 on Clappers Records, is an example of a song practicing what it preaches.

The Collective Effort is a group of MCs that includes both male and female members that urges “their listeners to consider the disjunction between good time music and the actual times from which it derives. The lyrics, against their ironic sonic backdrop, diagnose the danger of becoming “pacified” to the point to living death and outline a litany of social problems”

Female Ghostwriters

“The women from Sequence wrote their own rhymes; in fact, they often wrote rhymes for their label mates. Cheryl Cook was especially active as a ghostwriter, penning verses for “8th Wonder,” “Apache,” and “Livin in the Fast Lane by the Sugarhill Gang.”

First Rapper with X-rated Content

Spoonie Gee, apparently holds this title. It quickly becomes apparent when reading through the lyrics here.

First Speed Rap

Spoonie Gee was an original member of Treacherous Three. When he decided to go solo, Special K joined the group. Their first release, which features Spoonie Gee, “came forth with a song that contains more syllables per line than any rap of it’s time.” This was for “The New Rap Language.”

No Braggadocio 

Chuck D got his start as a radio DJ. He definitely is one of hip-hop’s great voices, but did you know, “he used none of the cliched familiar, conventional braggadocio emceeisms! He never even talked about being the best, and he never criticized another emcee. He never even compared himself to another emcee.” That is really cool and hard to do.

My List of 2018 Reads – my annual reading log with links to each title

Not Your Usual Time Travel Romp

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

We didn’t get the future we were supposed to have. Remember when we all thought that by the 2000s we would have flying cars and robot maids? Well, that actually did happen. It was thanks to a renewable and clean source of energy that was created in 1965. And it changed everything.

That’s the premise behind this amazing book by Elan Mastai. It was really hard to put down both physically and mentally. Long after I stopped reading a chapter, the book had me thinking about the fictional clean energy source created in the novel. Why doesn’t this exist in real life, I thought. It just makes so much sense. It doesn’t even feel like science fiction.

The idea is that we create electricity all the time by harnessing the power of spinning turbines. Niagara Falls or windmills create power for us by converting rotational energy into electricity we can use to power all sorts of devices. Now, if we could do this with something that already spins every single day, we would be very well off.

Well, in this novel, a scientist figures out how to use the rotation of the Earth to create limitless energy. It is absolutely brilliant. And when he does this in 1965, it changes everything and a future utopia, like we imaged when we were kids, is born.

Unfortunately, in 2016, another scientist creates a time machine that only works by tracing back the radiation of this power source. This means, they can go back and watch this historic moment. What could go wrong, right?

This story is a page-turner and very well-written. I thoroughly enjoyed it and think you will too.

My List of 2018 Reads – with links to great book reviews just like this one

Iron Fist Finds Himself

Iron Fist – The Trial of the Seven Masters

This is the first Iron Fist comic that I have ever read. It’s not the first time I’ve come across the character, however. I have read stories that featured him in several different titles, but I never really got into the character. I enjoyed the Netflix series though, so when I saw this book at the library, I figured it was worth the read.

It starts out with Danny Rand being in a rather low point in his life. He hasn’t been able to access his chi for a while but still feels the need to fight, so he goes into several underground fight clubs. He wins but still feels empty.

After one of these fights, he is approached by a fighter with skills that appear to equal his own. He gets invited to a tournament on an island he has never heard. Urgent to find himself again, and with very little options, Rand agrees and follows him to the island.

Will Rand find himself once more, or is this secret island society using him for some purpose?

This was a good read. It hasn’t sold me on the character though. I am not left eager to read more of the title. But I would like to see a second season of the Netflix show.

My List of 2018 Reads – coming soon

Canada Under Siege

We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, Matt Hollingsworth, and Fonografiks

In the year 2112, a war erupts between the United States of America and Canada. This graphic novels tells the story of a small band of freedom fighters doing their best to stop the invasion and “stand on guard for their home and native land,” a reference to the Canadian National Anthem.

The book is uniquely Canadian too, despite it being created by a mostly American cast. The artist, Steve Skroce, is Canadian, but the rest of the creators are not.

Several characters in the book speak French and the creators fail to provide a translation for the reader. Many times, the reaction  of the other characters let us know what was said, but sometimes, we are left to wonder. The art helps us figure it out for non-French speakers.

We are also reminded that Superman was a Canadian creation but was warped by American publishers.

Another interesting thing in this book was how the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) went underground and continued to provide pirate transmissions to help both freedom fighters and citizens now living under American rule. It was nice to see national public radio still having an impact one hundred years into the future.

The horrors of this war are graphically displayed in this book. It is definitely not a title for children. One scene in particular disturbed me for a few days.

The story is well told and fast-paced. It captured me from the very first page. Brian K. Vaughan always tells engaging stories and the rest of the creators did a great job with the book too.

My List of 2018 Reads (coming soon)

My List of 2018 Reads

I like to keep track of what I read and I think this is a great platform to do that. I blog about every single book I read, keep track of the number of books and the genre, and put them all together in a annual reading log that I update frequently. This is the 2018 edition of my personal reading log.

I hope that you will find it useful as well. Maybe you can learn about a book you would like to read. Perhaps I can influence  you to read something you might not otherwise of read.

Since starting this series back in 2012, I have read, on average, 65 books a year. This includes graphic novels, teaching-related books, non-fiction, and novels.

Let’s see how I do this year.

Happy Reading!

NOVELS

Mr. Mercedes

GRAPHIC NOVELS

coming soon

TEACHING RELATED BOOKS

coming soon

WRITING BOOKS

coming soon

MUSIC RELATED

Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting
Hip-Hop DJs
The Anthology of Rap
Toronto Sound: Vol 1

NON-FICTION

Start With Why

MEMOIR

coming soon

Total Books Read in 2018: 6

Always Start With Why

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Remember when Oprah gave away a car to everyone in the audience of her talk show?

Do you remember what car she gave away?

Or even what brand of car it was?

My guess is that you do not.

According to Simon Sinek, this is because this giveaway didn’t tie in to what the company was all about.

Sinek writes, “For a message to have real impact, to affect behavior and seed loyalty, it needs more than publicity. It needs to publicize some higher-purpose cause or belief to which those with similar values and beliefs can relate. Only then, can the message create some lasting mass market success . . . Why the stunt is being performed, beyond the desire to generate press must be clear.”

The Oprah car event benefited Oprah because she seemed to really care about her audience. She was generous on her program often. This stunt fit into her “why.” It was what her show was all about. Conversely, no one was sure why the car manufacturer donated their cars. It didn’t make sense to their “why” and so their role in the stunt was forgotten.

Creative Zen vs the iPod

“Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player but it clearly ruled the market and completely eclipsed the original creator and manufacturer, Creative Technology.”

Creative is responsible for the Soundblaster audio technology that enabled home computers to have sound. This was a huge development in home computing and paved the way for the iPod. The curious thing is that Creative came out with a much superior product well before the iPod was launched.

Apple didn’t introduce the iPod until nearly two years after the Creative Zen entered the market. “Given their history in digital sound, Creative is more qualified than Apple to introduce a digital music project.” So why did they fail?

Here is the answer . . . We didn’t feel the need to own an MP3 player until the iPod had become popular. Apple gave us a reason to have such a device, whereas Creative simply told us what their product was. The very succinct phrase, “1,000 songs in our pocket” was all we needed to buy in. The why was there and it was very apparent.

I didn’t know this history at the time, but did a lot of research before buying an MP3 player. I decided to purchase a Creative Zen because, for all intents and purposes, it is a superior product. Creative could have ruled the market if they had put forth their message of why instead of what.

This was an interesting read. It is something that I have known in education for some time. If I want to motivate students, I need to teach to a sense of purpose. The students need to know why we are doing what we are doing in class. This helps them buy into the work and enhances learning. Maybe starting with why is what we all need to do.

My List of 2018 Reads – coming soon

Hip-Hop DJs Advancing Technology

Hip Hop DJs and the Evolution of Technology: Cultural Exchange, Innovation, and Democratization by Andre Sirois

This was a fascinating read about the importance of hip-hop DJs in advancing and developing technology. Sirois aka DJ food stamp has done his research and it shows on every single page.

Here are some of the things I took note of while reading it.

The First Mixers

“Around 1990 Vestax release the PMC-05 TRIX battle mixer. [This] made Trix the first DJ to have a signature mixer, which included his signature on the faceplate, and it marked the first major instance of a DJ’s design concept being executed in a product.”

I was surprised that it took that long for a signature mixture to appear.

“In 1971, the first DJ-specific mixer (nicknamed “Rosie”) was custom designed by Alex Rosner for Francis Grasso to use at the Haven Club; it’s basis features reflected the needs of Grasso’s mixing technique. Later that year, the Bozack CMA-10-2DL rotary club mixer became the first commercially available DJ mixer. By the mid-1970s, manufacturers began recognizing and dveloping mixers for mobile DJs as well, most notably the Clubman line of mixers manufactured by Meteor Light & Sound, CO, and the GLi380 and 3880.”

Authenticity

I love this passage about the importance of being authentic and how one could build up credibility in hip-hop culture.

Sarah Thornton “subcultural capital” – one’s authenticity and credibility with the hierarchic of a subculture. Within hip-hop; DJ culture, subcultural capital is amassed in a variety of ways, including being skillful with turntables and a mixer, having a unique style, naming and popularizing new DJ techniques, winning DJ battles, touring with notable musical acts, owning and collecting rare records, producing tracks, making records or mixtapes, DJing at large venues, and so forth.

In hip-hop, we refer this as “paying your dues.” You need to demonstrate that you have put in work, you have invested the time and effort into the craft, and that you have something to show for it, whether than be accolades or co-signs.

You Can’t Be a DJ Without Gear

According to Thornton, it involves objects (for instance records, mixers, and turntables) and knowledge (how to manipulate those technologies with the hands). Within a creative network like hip-hop DJ culture, subcultural capital creates hierarchy and difference and adds value to the recorded music and DJ product industries.”

Know the Music

“In knowing, owning, and playing the music, ” Thornton writes, “DJs, in particular, are sometimes positioned as the masters of the scene.” That is, within music scenes or subcultures, DJs often have the most credibility and subcultural capital, and are at the top of the scene’s hierachy.

Grandmaster Flash Had the Clout

Grandmaster Flash was a well-established name in the early days of hip-hop culture.  When rap music was first recorded and released commercially, he was signed simply because of the clout he possessed. Unfortunately . . .

Flash did not perform on the records or get songwriting credit. Instead, Sugar Hill Records used Grandmaster Flash solely as a brand to authenticate and sell records to hip-hop fans. Flash’s name was used for its brand equity because he was the most popular DJ at the time, and in the 1970s the DJ was the main celebrity in hip-hop culture.

How the 12″ Record Became Standard

This is a fascinating story about how the 12″ vinyl record became the standard format for rap music due to a mistake in the early 1970s.

Tom Moulton needed to release a single but he had run out of 7″ blanks to press the song on.  He was “in a rush to get his remix to DJs [so] he adjusted the gain and EQ for the song and cut it on a 10” disc. He said, “So , it was by accident . .. But for the next song we cut, we went for the 12″ format instead of the 10″ . . . That was the birth of the 12′ single.”

People quickly followed suit.

In 1976, Salsoul Records decided to meet the standards and produced the first commercial vinyl 12″ maxi single “Ten Per Cent” by Double Exposure. Shortly thereafter, the 12′ single became a commercial format used by record labels and made popular by DJs and club-goers.

This was a fascinating read. It was great to see a scholar work about hip-hop deejays and how influential they have been in helping create and shape DJ culture. Without the hip-hop DJ, we wouldn’t have much of the technology we now take for granted. Even other genres of music owe us a debt.

The book also covers how the Technic 1200s became the standard turntable, how digital vinyl systems came into creation and popular use, and it features quotes and stories from some of the best deejays in the genre. Every hip-hop DJ should read this.

My List of 2018 Reads – coming soon!

Detective Novels Meet the Master of Horror

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

I had no idea that this was a detective story when I picked it up from the library a few weeks back. I have enjoyed every single Stephen King story that I have ever read. He just has a way with words and storytelling. However, this one seemed to be a bit different right off the bat.

I almost stopped reading it. I wasn’t interested in reading a story about a serial killer who never got caught and then decides to taunt a retired detective. It’s a tried and tired trope. When I told my wife about my reservations, she said, “It’s Stephen King though, he probably will put a twist on it.”

She was right. This time, it is the detective who strings along the bad guy. The detective was at a really low point in his life at that start of the story. He didn’t have much to live for now that he wasn’t wearing his badge. The thought of finally solving this case and catching the Mercedes Killer rejuvenated him.

The Mercedes Killer is a man totally without conscience. He is the type of guy that is bland, forgettable, but always outwardly pleasant. He hides in plain sight and is easy to hate and fear.

One of the interesting things about the fictional world of this novel is that Stephen King books exist within it. The main character makes reference to a few of the author’s previous works including Christine and It.

Stephen King did a great job in what he calls “his first hard-boiled detective novel.” This is normally a genre I stay away from. But I just discovered that King has written two more books and this is now part of the Bill Hodges trilogy, I might just have to dip back into the detective novel genre.

My List of 2018 Reads – coming soon

 

Adventures in Record Collecting

Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting by Eilon Paz

There is something beautiful about a record collection. This book captures that perfectly with amazing photographs. Every picture has a quotation that gives us an inside glimpse into the collection itself and the mind of the DJ, music lover, radio host, or musician. It’s vinyl porn with a purpose.

William “The Gaslamp Killer” Bensussen says, “Even after the apocalypse you could still get vegetable oil and run two tables and speakers. That’s what I hope to be doing at the end of the world – spinning all this wonderful music, dancing, and being in love.” 

I have no idea how that would work. I am sure there are ways to power a turntable with conventional activity. You could manually spin a record and it would still produce sound, so this is a very romantic idea.

Rich Medina suggests getting plastic sleeves to protect your collection. He admits that they are expensive but “totally worth it for preserving the cosmetic and sonic integrity of your stash.” He has damaged records and learned this lesson the hard way. He believes in protecting your records in as many ways as possible and closes with this thought, “the record you disrespect in storage will soon embarrass you in front of a dance floor.”

There is plenty of discussion in the book about classic samples including this one. Do you recognize this from rap songs?

I love everything about this book. I read it from cover to cover even though it begs for you to open it up randomly and discover something new. There are great interviews with Questlove, Giles Peterson, Four Tet, Joe Busard, and more.

Let’s close off with this thought, “Records are time capsules. They’re emotional, spiritual, energetically bound pieces of vinyl. They were cut with force and energy, not by a programmer.”

My List of 2018 Reads – a continually updated account of everything I read this year (coming soon)