Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

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The appeal of Boom Bap still mystifies me. I’m sure it gives the people who listen to it a comfortable feeling. They feel tough in how their beats are hard, but not too hard. The lyrics are about being a tough guy, but it’s never too vulgar. Boom Bap also makes you smart. It’s the Hip-Hop equivalent of boring Post-Punk. The main appeal of it is that it’s not accessible.

I know, I know. Talking about the fanbase takes us nowhere. Diving through the ‘wordplay’ and ‘metaphores’ of GZA or Ghostface never appealed to me because they never gave me a hook to latch on to. In fact, nearly every rapper that tries to sound hard over those type of beats comes off as pathetic. Smooth flows and jazz horns don’t sound tough, just restrained.

I was ready to dislike Big L. A Boom Bap album full of punchlines has nothing to offer me. Then I hear Big L talking about how if he has AIDS, then every other girl has it. The same songs include various threats of rape and murder and about how your family will be dressed in all black.

This is everything I wanted in street rap that’s about being tough. All those rap songs tell you how rough it is in the streets, yet they sound calm. Big L is angry. The punchlines aren’t just good on paper. I don’t want to hear anyone else say them but Big L. His performance is so energetic. It’s impossible to imagine him not rapping any clever lines. ‘Sounding hungry’ is dropped often in rap reviews, but there’s no better way to describe Big L. He’s immersed in the battle rap bullshit, sounding like he genuinely believes everything he says. Check his verse on “Da Graveyard” and how he loses rhythm because of how literally hungry he sounds. You can imagine him biting the microphone. Everyone else sounds utterly pathetic after him.

I always found ‘complex’ flows to be overrated. A lot of multi-syllabic and interior rhymes aren’t helpful if it’s just a string of rhythmless words. Expression is far more important. No one in Wu-Tang Clan can muster the same anger Big L does when he says he can’t afford the “O-R” in ‘poor’. Big L emphasizes catchy lines that stick in your head. His flow is clear and his to follow, rather than pile rhyme upon rhyme upon rhyme. After all, what’s the point of dissing sucka MC’s if the line doesn’t make sense?

Surprisingly, the beats keep up with Big L. It’s hard to imagine a Boom Bap beat fitting him (“Flamboyant” sounds better with Popeska’s bass growls) but they do. Although they never become true bangers, they at least don’t do the boring smooth crap. They’re skeletal, driven only by drums and basslines. There’s a roughness, often exeggerated to them. I can’t imagine Wu-Tang rapping over “Da Graveyard”. The drums are too loud. Even at their more atmospheric moments, they beat RZA at his own game.

Beats like “All Black” sounds detached from musical conventions. It’s deliberate. Like Big L’s demeanor and lines, it’s an expression of the personality. Besides punchlines, Big L has the street nihilist personality to give his raps context. Beats like “All Black” sounds like the producers couldn’t care about whether the beat is appealing or not. They lack the pretentiousness of RZA’s beats since they never try to be artistic using conventions. There are no sounds posturing as ‘weird’. The producers sound like they simply don’t give a fuck just like Big L.

The album as apparently ignored until Big L’s death. That’s weird, since the album doesn’t need a death connected to it. Sure, you can connect L’s nihilistic attitude but he doesn’t explore it like Biggie does. He simply does the Boom Bap thing much better than others. He has more passion, funnier and catchier lines, better beats and doesn’t obscure the songs behind ‘complexity’. It’s everything you wanted in a battle rap album. 36 Chambers is slightly better than this, but Big L almost tops it and he’s just one person. He’s that good.

3.5 families dressed in all black out of 5

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TumblrInAction, Feminism and The Straw Men

Look, I love TumblrinAction. The things they post are hilarious. They’re so disconnected from reality and logic, so dying to protect their little worldview that they will lash at everything. I talked to religious people who stick to their dogma, but it’s never like this. The religious often have a sense of doubt and humility. They think, “God shows me X and Y. The rest isn’t up for me”. The posts on TumblrinAction are different.

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Check this picture. This person is sure he has to resort to fanfiction because gay people are so hard to find in literature. Now, of course there will be less gay people than straight ones in literature. There are less gay people overall. It’s how I can’t expect Jews to feature in a lot of books, because Jews are a worldwide minority (Actually, they do have a presence in literature for some reason but that’s a different discussion). I only have to Google ‘Gay Literature’ and I get a huge Wikipedia article┬áthat even links to a page about gay literature from Singapore.

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In this one, they rail against nature. You were born blonde? Too bad! You appropriate cultures and are a racist! It’s funny how quickly this degenerates into saying people are X because of what they were born with. Isn’t that how racism works?

As hilarious as that subreddit is, we need to remember this. No matter how good an idea is, it can still attract morons. We will still eat our favorite type of food just because it has the potential to attract flies.

TumblrinAction is useful in displaying what went wrong with social justice. As an idea, it’s not bad. There’s no reason why one group should have more power over another because of illegetimate reasons. There’s no need to discriminate people based on skin color or sex or body structure.

Social justice, at its best, makes us question assumptions about society. Racism and sexism are dogmatic. They do not encourage discussion. They promote the idea that individuals belong in a certain group and that determines their value. These are inherent traits that can’t change. These are not fluid categories that change, nor do they have scientific basis. Sex exists, but it’s not our only trait. Race is complete pseudoscience.

Social justice should make us these question these assumptions and categories. It should question the main narrative, offers a new one but make sure the new one is also open to criticism. If you criticize something but refuse to check the flaws in your alternative, you do not care about improving things anymore. You only care about gaining power.

It’s similar to the Left/Right axis. The purpose stops being improvement or solving problems and it become defeating some enemy. That’s what we see in a lot of social justice discussions today. They’re not really discussing specific issues, but just look for ways to push the narrative of victimhood. That’s why EverydayFeminism publishes an article about how focusing on female pleasure is misogynistic (because it might! Just might put pressure on her) or the article about “People say Islam is homophobic because of racism”, sweeping away any evidence.

Criticism of these people can easily degenerate into what they are. If the only social justice content you encounter is from TumblrinAction, you’ll become just another raving extremist. I haven’t seen it in the subreddit itself, but I’ve seen people react this way to the content that gets published there.

A guy on Facebook keeps ranting about feminists, how they are all full of hate and uses examples from crazies on Tumblr. The irony is, MRA’s rarely talk about raped-males and such issues in a way that’s not a weapon against feminism (Dear MRA’s: Male victims of rape aren’t weapons in your silly little war). He cheered for the removal of feminism from history lessons. Apparently, since feminists offended him now it’s okay to remove facts from history lessons. There was even a post which could be summed up as “You got raped because it’s your own fault”.

This is not a person who believes in equality and is frustrated with what feminism became. I’m not going to get on anyone’s ass just because they don’t label themselves feminists. I tackle ideas, not people. Still, this is an example of a person who doesn’t care about equality or anything. It’s about defeating the feminists, the so-called hateful bigots. Issues aren’t discussed. Rather, he posts rants about feminists or by feminists and use it as proof they’re out to get our precious fluids.

We must be wary of being too attached to our ideas. The purpose of our ideas is to be useful. If an idea isn’t true nor useful, it must be discarded no matter how much we love it. Ideas are supposed to serve us. We shouldn’t serve ideas. The question rises: Some people will stick to ideas that only benefit themselves and might harm others, no?

Of course, but this is a different discussion, of selfishness vs. community. Even if what drives you is pure selfishness, you still need to avoid getting attached to ideas. You might miss ideas that will benefit you more.

The Doors – The Doors

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I wonder if people who think ‘music isn’t as good as it used to be’ are taking the same drugs the Doors were into. You don’t have to go too far into modern times for this to sound dated. A year after this came out Iron Butterfly dropped “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. It was the same year the famous version of “Just Dropped In” was released. How did this stick in people’s consciousness?

I can understand why, but it’s not a flattering reason. The Doors sound like the protoypical ‘classic rock’ album. It’s a little loud, it has sex in it and some psychedelia to give it an edge. It has some long songs and it sounds very important. That’s the difference between “Light My Fire” and that Iron Butterfly song. Iron Butterfly just got a banging bassline and rode for 17 minutes. The Doors were sure they discovered new frontiers.

Maybe they did back then. The record has some charm in how big it is and how much it thinks of itself. Every song is deliberate, revolving a clear idea. The sequencing makes perfect sense. The first is a fast-paced rocker. The second is a macho pick-up-women song. The third is a weirder psychedelic ballad. The band wisely chooses these songs to introduce people to basics. “Light My Fire” comes later, after you’re used to the band to show you they can be weird.

Of course, ‘weird’ back then meant long songs and free improvisation. “Light My Fire” just sounds like an ordinary rock song with a jamming session. It works there because finally the band lets out all the energy they have. Add an extra minute or so to that section and the song wouldn’t be any worse.

The difference between that song and everything else is that it’s less caught up in making a statement. Compare it to “The End” (which sounded way better when I saw Apocalypse Now). “The End” doesn’t justify its length. The band tries hard to let you know this is the climatic ending with drum rolls, a serious atmosphere and Jim Morrison telling you it’s the end. The result is just showing off, but no energy or fun or substance. On “Light My Fire”, they just bang their instruments.

The album is part of the era before Rock was divorced from its rock influence. It’s no wonder artists were so confused. Only later artists like Black Sabbath and Five Horse Johnson knew how Blues worked and combined it with loud guitars. The band thinks being theatrical equals to being bluesy. The cultural appropriation debate is pretty stupid, but not as “Back Door Man”. It’s better than Led Zeppelin’s attempts, but it sounds the guys heard some Blues on the radio and made a song based on a few parts.

Even at their best, it’s just serviceable classic rock to play in bars so no one would get offended. There’s nothing really annoying about “Soul Kitchen” or “Break On Through”. They’re pretty catchy and fun, but they don’t have that attitude that made “Just Dropped In” so successful.

Psychedelic Rock can work in two ways. Either the band sounds like they’re off in another dimension, or that they make a melodic, pleasant song with weird sounds. The Doors only try the former on “The End” and “End of the Night”. Neither of them are weird enough, but the latter is good enough to make it the blueprint for the next album. When they try the other method, they make some pleasant music but nothing like the Zombies or Monster Magnet or “Planet Caravan”. The worst are the songs where their sense of self-importance comes through. “Take It As It Comes” is the sort of Classic Rock crap that ignorant listeners think is ‘meaningful’.

I heard that Morrison’s lyrics are supposed to be a big deal. I hear nothing attention-grabbing. No lyrics are bad or good. What exactly is a soul kitchen? I don’t know, but the song doesn’t make me care to find out. It’s easy to assume Morrison just wants to have sex with that woman. Weird lyrics that don’t make sense are a lot of fun. Even if the lyrics were moronic, I would’ve enjoyed them. Morrison’s lyrics are just various ways to tell a woman he wants sex without the vulgarity. It’s less impressive on record.

There are some fun songs here, but what’s the point? The psychedelic parts are rudimentary and you’re better off with their next album, or any of Monster Magnet’s psychedelic works. If you enjoyed the bluesy stuff here, check their own L.A. Woman or Black Sabbath. The Doors sound excited here. It does make these ideas sound new, but everyone – including the band – improved on this.

2 doors out of 5

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart is the most famous African novel. It’s easy to expect it to give an unfamiliar portrait of an African society. Hopefully, it will be one that hasn’t been ‘Westernized’, and will show us the unique aspects of that society. It should be in-depth, and perhaps by showing the richness of that culture it will tell us how awful racism is, and that ‘black people’ are also people.

Achebe did show us that ‘black people’ are also people, but his method wasn’t to turn Igbo society into a tourist attraction.

Achebe’s Igbo culture doesn’t come off as very alien and different. That’s because Achebe doesn’t see it that way. If you grew up in Africa, it wouldn’t seem so exotic and odd to you. It would be the norm. Raymond Carver doesn’t treat his middle-class people as an exotic culture, and instead opts to explore the people in it and how they function in it. Achebe does the same thing here. He cares less about showing an exotic society than telling a story about human beings.

That’s why Things Fall Apart‘s themes and tropes may seem familiar. Maybe it’s not because White People ruined African culture, because there wasn’t so much difference to begin with. That leaves Achebe exploring his characters, without caging them in their culture.

Until the last part, where the White People appear, there’s barely any mention that these characters have dark skin. Instead, Achebe tells their stories dealing with topics such as parenting, childbirth, climbing the social ladder and masculinity. The last one is a big deal. It may be a common theme in a lot of Western literature, but anywhere that there are humans, there will be men and women. It’s a universal theme.

Things Fall Apart is actually more of a critique of the concept of gender, rather than embracing masculinity. Okonkwo being a protagonist doesn’t automatically means he’s supposed to be flawless. He’s not Atticus Finch. He’s sexist, but plenty of time that sexism is being challenged. In Igbo society, men are valued much more than women. “Women” is an insult. That’s why Okonkwo can deal with a son that doesn’t fit the traditional male role. He just calls him a woman and that’s it. When Okonkwo has a daughter that is much better than all his sons though, Achebe starts to question the sexism in Igbo society.

There’s a whole arc devoted to one female character and her devotion to motherhood. It’s not motherhood that’s been forced about the character. Ekwefi’s love for daughter makes her go against a spiritual custom. This is motherhood by choice. If Ekwefi’s motherhood is just a sign of submission, she wouldn’t have rebelled and went against the gods. However, she made a choice, and put what she loves above what society expects from here.

It gets even better when the White Man appears. Achebe’s sympathies may be with the Africans, and there’s no reason to expect anything else. However, it’s not the narrative of noble savages being trampled by the evil conquerer. The White Man doesn’t appear until the last part. By that time, Achebe lets us get used to the African culture, stop seeing it as exotic and start examining where it falls and succeeds. By the time the White Man comes, Achebe already gets rid of that simple narrative.

The part about the invasion is also less about the collision of ‘black’ and ‘white’ cultures. It’s about what happens in general when cultures collide. Just as we tend to view all of Africa as one thing, so do the Igbo view them as just ‘the white man’, although he could have come from anywhere in Europe. When they come, Achebe keeps viewing his own culture with a critical eye.

One of the best parts is Nwoye, Okonkwo’s bad son’s arc. The Christians offer a place for the weak to belong to. Igbo culture doesn’t just have outcasts, but is very mean towards them. They flocked to Christianity not just because the White Man conquered by force, but because something was missing in Igbo culture.

At the same, Achebe also criticizes the White People for their brutal treatment of Africans. That part is less novel, but that’s just because it’s a well-known story. Achebe criticizes less White People for what they are, but the exact method. White People became a problem not when they built a church, but when they decided that their rules should apply to every single one. It’s the lack of dialogue between the two cultures, the decision to stick to absolute morals that caused the destruction. Once one side decided to use violence instead of dialogue – it’s the White Man in this case – everything spinned out of control. Violence, and being unafraid of it, by the way, is seen as a desirable and masculine trait.

Do not get the wrong message, by the way. Things Fall Apart doesn’t say that African culture is obsolete and that the White Man somehow saved them. Rather, Achebe applies the same critical thought that any good author applies to his culture.

Things Fall Apart deserves its fame. Maybe, after devling deeper into African literature I will not find this so great. For now, this is the type of novel that deserves to be representative of the continent, if a novel can represent a continent. It doesn’t celebrate its culture and it doesn’t view its history as just bad people doing things. It respects it by treating it with the same critical eye that every other culture deserves. There’s no greater service to a culture than giving it an honest examination, not flinching from its flaws and successes. Some will think the familiarity is because Achebe is also a victim of Westernization, but perhaps ‘black’ and ‘white’ people are more alike than we think. Maybe, the missionaries have thought like this, Things wouldn’t’ve Fallen Apart.

4 yams out of 5