Tag Archives: music

Nicki Minaj’s “Pound The Alarm” Reveals Trinidadian Party Politics

by Guest Contributor Annita Lucchesi, originally published on Tumblr

**Video Slightly NSFW***

Perhaps distracted by the picturesque scenery or the flash and glamor of Carnival, music critics have yet to say anything substantial on Nicki Minaj’s new music video, “Pound the Alarm.” Indeed, the overwhelming response has been to dismiss both the song and video as “virtually indistinguishable” from her previous single, “Starships,” and nearly all reviews have nothing to say other than run-of-the-mill comments on the beauty of the setting and Minaj’s physical attributes (see: MTV, Billboard). Fuse even went so far as to describe Minaj as a “bikini wearer extraordinaire” who “made sure her goods were front and center,” and Perez Hilton’s first comment was to tell Minaj, “pound that alarm with your bombastic bosom!”

While Nicki Minaj is obviously exceptionally beautiful, these reviews are as vapid as they are repetitive. Minaj is routinely overlooked as a ‘conscious artist,’ despite the fact that many of her songs, as well as her carefully curated appearance, are politically charged. The vast majority of the narrative on her fame is centered on her body and relationships with male rappers, as if she isn’t an intelligent artist who is very intentional about her image and her work (much less one who attended performing arts school!). Anyone who has heard her more directly “conscious” tracks like “Autobiography” or her remix of “Sweetest Girl” knows that she can be a passionate performer and talented poet. Despite this, Minaj constantly gets criticized and dismissed as lacking substance, which I believe has more to do with the combined forces of racism and sexism in popular media and consumer consciousness than anything else. No matter how gorgeous you are, it can’t be easy to be a young Black West Indian woman in the US media, much less one who is so confident in her ownership of her body and sexuality as Nicki Minaj.

There is also a not-so-subtle unwillingness on behalf of many of her critics to dialogue with Minaj’s work on her own terms, which the “Pound the Alarm” reviews each fall prey to. Though most of them acknowledge that Minaj was born in Trinidad, the video’s location, none of them attempt to place the video within its context—Trinidadian party culture and national politics.

Trinidad & Tobago was in a state of emergency for a sizeable portion of 2011, and nightlife was forced underground after a curfew was imposed. Continue reading

How Nicki Minaj Kicked Open the Door for 2NE1

Nicki Minaj

In keeping with their moves toward global domination, 2NE1 is performing in Times Square today along with the other three MTV Iggy Best New Band finalists.

If this part of their launch is successful, they will be better positioned to make a dent in the US pop music market where many other popular Asian artists have failed before. Despite having huge fan bases overseas, artists that make their debuts in the US have generally been faced with lukewarm receptions. BoA’s self-titled English language release dropped in 2009 and barely dented the charts. Hikaru Utada (who to be fair, spent as much time in NYC as Japan coming up) attempted to make a genre-crossing album with 2004′s Exodus, which spawned a #1 single on the dance charts, but absolutely no impression elsewhere despite her work with hip-hop heavy weights like Darkchild and Foxy Brown. Utada’s 2009 English release This Is The One was designated a heat seeker with almost no radio airplay – but still only sold around 15,000 copies stateside. The Wonder Girls are still struggling to stay in the limelight after entering the charts with “Nobody” in 2009 but still trends fairly low. Se7en and Rain’s attempts never really got off the ground.

After watching good artists try and fail to make it in the US market, I began trying to find a pattern. Why was this happening? The reasons vary – particularly because artists often use their entry to the US as a kind of reinvention, which can be risky – but a big component is that American marketers/listeners had no idea what to do with them.

But, luckily for 2NE1, they have a secret weapon: Nicki Minaj. Continue reading

Quoted: Beyonce’s Observations on Women and Liberty

Beyonce

During our November 9th, 2009 show at Port Ghalib in Egypt, something happened that inspired some of my writing for my album 4 (arriving in a few weeks). I was in the middle of performing “Irreplaceable,” and as the audience started singing “to the left, to the left” there was a woman sitting on top of a man’s shoulders in her full, traditional burka. Only her eyes and hands were visible.

She was waving her hands to the left, to the left, and singing every word – which I could see because the veil around her mouth was moving. Although the venue was at capacity, I could see her clearly in the audience. I was shocked she was even there, that she’d even been allowed to go to a concert, because after it gets dark, you don’t see any women in burkas on the street. So her presence alone was so moving. Witnessing the power, beauty, and strength of women – especially those living in places where their liberty is limited – is what moved me the most. I felt she had her beliefs, and they were important to her, but music also had a place in her life and she made a choice to be there.

—Beyonce, “Eat, Play Love,” published in Essence, July 2011

It’s Complicated: DJs, Appropriation, and a Whole Host of Other Ish

by Former Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Diplo

I’ve been following Diplo for some time, observing his work with appreciation, other times disappointment, and sometimes both at once. Back in the early days, when he was throwing warehouse parties in Philly, and later profiling DJs from around the world on his Mad Decent podcast (now a full-on record label and official site), Wesley Pentz was brazenly admitting to pirate-everything, right down to the clandestinely operated podcast itself. There was something refreshing and almost alluring about the nature of backpacking around the world with a passport and a tape recorder. Often considered a modern-day, musical Columbus, though his reputation for “discovering” new musical worlds would be one that would soon bite him where the sun doesn’t shine, Diplo made a name for himself by appropriating a variety of music and presenting it all with chameleon-like efficiency.

Some of you may know him for his production work on MIA’s first, albeit bootleg, album Piracy Funds Terrorism, a mashed up, remixed set of tracks which would later find themselves cleaned-up and repackaged on the official studio album Arular, or later for the Clash and Wreckx-n-Effect sampling “Paper Planes.”

However, he ultimate climax in Diplo’s fame has been in recent years, arguably months, with his promotion for Blackberry…

…and his collaborative work with UK producer Switch (producer for M.I.A. and Santigold) for the dancehall outfit Major Lazer.

But this month, Diplo’s spike in popularity came from a place slightly removed from his music by way of scathing criticism by a DJ named Iceberg Venus X. You see, much like other forms of appropriation (see: imperialism, colonialism, and popular use of cultural artifacts), a backlash always follows. Continue reading

Venus Iceberg X and the Ghe20 Goth1k Crew Call Out DJ Diplo for Musical and Cultural Imperialsm

by Latoya Peterson

MIA, Diplo, Cash

Around April Fool’s Day, I got this tip from friend of the blog Christina:

So, (queer) (Latina) DJ VenusxGG got in a Twitter fight last week with well-known but kinda slimey bass producer/DJ Diplo. Venus accused Diplo of being imperialist in his appropriation of musical forms (something he’s been accused of lots of times) and it ended up as a pretty entertaining/interesting public discourse for the bass community.

THEN today, XLR8R (another big bass magazine) decided to tap this for their April Fools joke…except they got Angela Davis involved. Kinda sloppy.

According to Fader’s Naomi Zeichner, who documented the tweet stream, the twitter fight began after Diplo came into one of their parties and began recording part of a set on his cellphone. @Ghe20Goth1k’s issue is extremely clear:

I told @diplo to stop and he was embarrassed by now we won’t get ant [sic] credit and he keeps making $$$ I can’t pay rent lol

Now, apparently DJ Diplo has developed a reputation for cultural appropriation – a term we’ve discussed often here, without much resolution. Since culture, by nature, is fluid, it is difficult to pinpoint when an homage or inspiration ends and appropriation begins. Diplo is best known for taking the sounds of other cultures and presenting them as hip consumables for a western audience. He rose to prominence alongside collaborator M.I.A. – and interestingly enough, even that story was steeped in appropriation of the work of a woman of color to advance his own ends. Despite being friends, Diplo (née Thomas Wesley Pentz) revealed to Drew Tewksbury:

“With M.I.A., we made a pop song totally by accident,” Pentz says. “We didn’t aim to have a big record. But she’s so cool, and that resonated with people.” He loaned a baile funk beat for her song “Bucky Done Gun” and got much of the credit for producing the whole album, which he says isn’t exactly the truth. “Back then, I told people that I produced [Arular], to get them to know who I was, but that was a total lie,” Pentz says.

Just another Diplo hustle. Continue reading

HAPPENING: The World Festival of Black Arts & Culture

by Guest Contributor Rob Fields, originally published at Bold as Love

World Festival of Black Arts and Culture Promo v. 2 from BKFN.org on Vimeo.

#WishIWasThereNow

Okay, I’m a little bummed that the family and I aren’t spending the holidays in Dakar, Senegal. I mean, how hot would that be? And then to be able to attend this festival, only the third of its kind? Wow. I just learned about this from our friends over at Society HAE, who have a correspondent there. So, we’ll all have to live vicariously through Raquel Wilson’s dispatches, which I will post here as they’re available.

It’s a multidisciplinary event that features a broad range of art, including architecture, dance, theater, literature, visual arts, etc. The music program features artists such as Manu Dibango, Archie Shepp, Youssou Ndour, Angelique Kidjo, Somi, The Refugee All Stars, Akon, and a ton more from across the diaspora.

In the meantime, here’s some background on the festival:

In 2010, the focus of the world will be Africa. At the heart of sporting news with the recent Football World Cup, the continent is also celebrating fifty years of independence of French-speaking Africa. It is in this context that we present the third World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, an international event which has been entrusted by the African Union to his Excellency Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal.

Initiated by President Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first edition of the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures was held in Dakar in 1966. The first Festival brought together people from all generations and disciplines in order to make the rest of the world aware of the struggle and persistence of Black peoples in the face of colonization. In 1977, Nigeria hosted the second edition.

The 2010 Festival conveys a new vision of Africa as free, proud, creative and optimistic. With Brazil as the guest of honour, which is a country rich with artistic cross-pollination and cultural diversity, the Festival will emphasize dialogue between peoples and cultures.

Access to the Festival will be free in order to encourage people from all over to participate, and many of the educational activities will be focused on engaging children.

We all have a duty as sons, daughters and friends of Africa to do everything we can to make this unique event a resounding success, an experience that will ignite the African Renaissance.

Love the part about it being “an experience that will ignite the African Renaissance.” That’s a win in any book!

Quoted: Rob Fields on “BlackRoc”

How can you call something “BlakRoc” when the black folks on the project only rap and the rockers are all white?

BlakRoc is the name of Damon Dash’s upcoming project, a collaboration between white rockers The Black Keys and rappers such as Mos Def, Q-Tip, Ludacris, and Raekwon, to name a few.  Ordinarily, I could care less what Damon Dash does.  But in choosing this name for the project, he crossed a line: You can’t match black rappers and white rockers and call it “BlakRoc.”

No, BlakRoc has nothing to do with black rock, something I’ve spent nearly the last three years championing on my blog.  The conflation of the two is offensive. There’s too much history there. It’s like he’s acknowledging the existence of black rock with his middle finger.

“BlakRoc” is a slap in the face to those of us who have been working to develop audiences for black artists who don’t fit neatly into pre-conceived categories. It’s an affront to those of us who still face apathy and dismissiveness when it comes to the place of blacks in beyond hip hop and R&B.

It’s galling, too, coming on the heels of Dash’s former partner, Jay-Z, saying bands like Grizzly Bear were going to push hip hop.  Some hipsters are going to save hip hop?  Great.  Statements like this ignore all of the black artists who are embracing live music, forming bands, telling more substantive stories, and the audiences who are supporting black alternative music in growing numbers.  That’s going to force hip hop to evolve.

— “Dash’s BlakRoc Disses Black Rock,” Rob Fields, black rock evangelist and blog owner of BoldAsLove.us

Latoya’s Note: I’m a big fan of the work Fields does at BoldAsLove, and just found out they released a free compilation called “Fire in the Dark: Songs from the New Black Imagination.”  You can download it on Amazon.  I like “Freedom is Over,” “Everybody,” “On Planet Earth,” “Icon,” “The Last Time We’re Here,” and “The Ballad of Fletcher Reede,” but they are all worth a listen. – LDP

NPR sort of hates “black music”

by Guest Contributor Kelvin


Last Monday, I was in the middle of my daily ritual of checking on my favorite online newspapers and blogs, when I happened upon a blog post on Slate.com written by Jody Rosen. The title of the post is “The DORF Matrix: Towards a Theory of NPR’s Taste in Black Music”. The author attempts to provide either a social commentary or critique on the selections in NPR’s All Songs ConsideredBest Music of 2009 (So far)”.

Rosen argues that music of black origin usually selected by NPR: (1) tend to be either from obscure or dead artistes black people don’t listen to (2) are restricted based on genre, and (3) heavily influenced by the majority white and male (with beards and guitars) NPR audience.

In the weeks since the publication of the All Songs Considered list, I have been puzzling over NPR’s musical coverage—in particular, its approach to black music. I wondered: Could NPR’s musical taste be as lily-white as the “The Best Music of 2009 (So Far)” list? After scouring NPR’s Web site and studying its broadcasts—All Things Considered profiles, Fresh Air interviews, even the music interludes played between segments on NPR’s marquee programs—I can report that the answer is no. It’s not that NPR doesn’t like black music. It merely maintains a strict preference for black music that few actual living African-Americans listen to.

Now, I don’t have any particular issues with the writers description of the “Best Music of 2009 (So far)”, which is voted on by NPR listeners. If you look at the list itself, it’s pretty lily white and tends to hipster indie tastes. But that’s a topic for another day. My problem with the article is based on a framework defined by Rosen in his article called the DORF Matrix.  Rosen describes DORF as “an acronym for Dead Old Retro Foreign”.

Dead: artists who have shuffled off this mortal coil. There was a significant spike in this category this summer with the passing of Michael Jackson. In general, though, NPR prefers its dead black musicians decades dead. Bonus points are awarded to performers present at the 1963 March on Washington, and to Bobby Short.

Old: musicians of advanced years. Crusty soul-belters on the comeback trail, gray-bearded jazzers, Motown legends, defunct rap groups.

Retro: musicians, young or old, performing in styles two or more decades out of fashion. Sixties soul revivalists; old school rappers who “[stick] with the puns, jokes and silly one-upsmanship that once defined hip-hop …Thank goodness“; Lenny Kravitz.

Foreign: black folks who live in far-flung places. And/or the children of Bob Marley.

Continue reading