Tag Archives: De La Soul

Reasons to be Cheerful Summer 2010

Every few months here at SCOTT TOPICS™ I like to assess my level of happiness. Of course, that can be a sorta futile exercise at times, considering a) the general state of the world and b) how busy I make myself and some of the ridiculous decisions I’ve made (go back to Brown AND still work at Giant AND try to finish a novel?) and continue to make (get a PhD?). That said, I did get to spend a great month in New York, visiting with my Mom and Pops, the greatest parents in the world (or at least they were from 1970 to 1980, and then again sometime in the late 90s—only kidding, Bryants, you know I love you), and seeing my lil sister, who keeps me grounded and likes to wax nostalgic with me. So I try to be thankful for the good things even when I’m chastising myself for being lazy or boring or jealous of my friends who got a chance to actually get a vacation this summer.

So, here’s my list of Reasons to be Cheerful. Maybe some of them make you happy as well…

  • Janelle Monae‘s album, yes, but also her amazing new video for “Cold War”—stunning, as they say, in its simplicity, making perfect use of her expressive face, and doing what rarely happens for me: making me like the song more than I had just listening to it on iTunes. As a constant complainer about the paucity of cleverness, drama and creativity in contemporary pop music, Janelle Monae has given me faith that music (and videos) that makes you think and feel can still be made with grace and smarts. Check out the vid here if you haven’t seen it:
  • Mad Men: Still so entertaining that I actually watch it first-run (and miss baseball) instead of DVR’ing it, just cause I have to. Even when its disgusting 60’s-era sexism and racism rears its ugly head—as, one guesses, it must, to stay realistic to the time—it’s never not watchable, and always resonant with such timeless meditations on loss, identity, desire and the often covert intricacies of pleasure. Scrumptious.
  • Shane Vogel’s Scene of the Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance: A book, among a few others, that gave me faith that perhaps this grad school thing might just work out. Vogel’s cultural history of the “Harlem Renaissance” nicely traces some of the historical debates around African American “uplift” as it theorizes on the critical cultural work done by the “Cabaret School” of entertainers, writers and musicians who found space in the nightclubs of Harlem to critique many of those debates. Maybe my favorite scholarly text since discovering Daphne Brooks’ Bodies in Dissent last school year.
  • Cardullo’s: A gourmet delicatessen in Harvard Square that actually makes sandwiches, which seem to be in short supply around Cambridge, other than the Subway stores I stumble upon. It’s the closest I’ve come to a stylish NY sandwich spot, where I can also get gourmet jam or pasta sauce if I’m so inclined (or flush with cash). And the peeps who work there are actually pleasant and nice—something else in short supply in Cambridge. (Is it a New England, or Boston, thing?)
  • The SPB Q Grad Chapter and otherwise: The success of my new blog feature excites me to no end. Glad that so many cool peeps have agreed to do my fun little questionnaire. Good to share some behind-the-scenes interests of folks doing great work in their fields. Upcoming Qs (Grad Chapter or otherwise): Farah Jasmine Griffin, Christina Sharpe, Alexander Weheliye, Patrik-Ian Polk, Bassey Ipki, and some others I’m just starting to confirm!
  • blip.fm: Thanks to my new Twitter friend @Fortitude1913, I’ve discovered this fun website that allows you to DJ your own playlists. It’s like a virtual digging into the crates. Music Geek Central. Go give it a whirl.
  • Twitter: I wasn’t much of a social network-type til my agent and editor convinced me, around the time of HUNG’s release, to get into the blogging/Internet world to make my presence known beyond print media. When I got to Brown in 2007, like every other undergrad in the world, I joined Facebook. And loved it. Then came Twitter, which I resisted in a major way—way too much screen time that wasn‘t devoted to work. Then I tried it, and the community of new peeps in my life, mostly other grad students going through a lot of the same dramas and issues, has made this new experience bearable in an crazy way. Go on if you haven’t; you might find a community that needs you as much as you need it. (shout-outs to @soulunderthesun, @happybrowngirl, @redclayscholar, @ashoncrawley @negrointellect @sherealcool, @roopikarisam & all the other phd-seekers who’ve made my Twitter-time fun.
  • My lacrosse stick: Who, even though I sometimes used to  lose him due to fear, insecurity, time constraints, away games or combinations of any of the above, always managed to get found. And I gotta shout him out for letting me call him “my lacrosse stick” in very public spaces. ; )
  • Peter Pan Bus: When I don’t have to be in NYC in a hurry (and thus fly), it’s easy (and cheap) to hop on the Peter Pan bus from South Station. Amtrak isn’t even on my radar anymore when I can sleep, chill, watch a flick or go on the Internet…for 18 bucks, and be in NYC before I know it.
  • Darieck Scott’s Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination: I came close to working with Professor Scott at Berkeley but decided to stay on the East Coast for my studies, but I can still learn a whole lot from this brother, an incredible writer and thinker. I cannot wait to get my copy of his new book in the mail later this week. Robert Reid-Pharr calls this theorization of the relationship between blackness and abjection “sophisticated, provocative, and indeed, titillating.” Sounds like a winner.
  • EBONY Magazine: Of course I grew up reading Ebony like every other black kid in the US of A. Never got a chance to write for it til last year’s tribute to Michael Jackson. Now, there’s a new editor-in-chief, my old Brown classmate author/editor  Amy DuBois Barnett, and I’m already writing for them. My “making-of” love jones article runs a coupla issues from now. Sending good thoughts to Amy in her mission to redefine EBONY for a new era and generation. Let’s all support a sister.
  • New De La Soul music: A coupla days ago I got a mysterious email. Opened it to find a link to a brand-new track by my favorite rap group of all time. De La’s recording a new album and this track, called “The Return of DST” might be on it. It’s a hot, funky, catchy lil record, clever as usual: paying tribute to DJ Grandmixter D. ST., the song eventually mutates into the actual Fantastic Five’s “gusto is going home with me” freestyle. (Which is sorta cute considering The Fantastic Five sampled The Headhunters’ “God Made me Funky” on that record—which was also sampled by De La on De La Soul is Dead‘s “Pease Porridge” and “Take it Off” from 3 Ft. High and Rising. It all comes full circle, old school to new school and all the way back again…) Hear the song here at SoulCulture.com.

So, till next time: don’t worry, try to be happy, and remember the things that make you cheerful…Oh, by the way, for those of you who don’t know the original song that gives this blog post its name and theme, here’s a video of Ian Dury and the Blockheads funky 1979 song:

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Filed under books, music, PhD, Reasons to be Cheerful, TV, Uncategorized

SPB Interviews De La Soul (VIBE 1993)

A coupla days ago I was bold enough to tell the world that I believe the best hiphop album ever made to be De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead. I got a lot of responses to that, here at the blog, in Facebook messages and comments, tweets, and a WHOLE lotta emails. Several of them told me I flat-out wrong (can an opinion be wrong? Disagreeable, maybe, but wrong?), some told me I was mis-guided, and clearly not the hiphop head I claimed to be (never claimed to be one—just a boy who grew up with this music before it was a “cultural phenomenon,” when it was just the stuff you listened to and danced to cause it was yours and it spoke to you). Others agreed with my choice and liked the direction I took. I appreciated all the responses. I love a good debate.

Oct 1993 issue of VIBE

I figured maybe I should share some writing of mine, if not to defend my choice, then at least to defend the greatness that is De La, and the good-ness they pulled out of a young writer back in his early days. So here’s a piece I did about the group back in the first year of VIBE around the time Buhloone Mindstate was about to drop. I remember really liking this piece when I handed it into my editor Ben Mapp—something that never happens to me; I usually hate my pieces when I (finally, often late!) hand them in. But I liked it even more when ASCAP awarded me the Deems Taylor award for music writing for it a year later. What a night that was! (Big ups to Ben, Joan, and Ipe for a fun night!)

Hope you like the profile. Click here at Google Books to read the story.

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Filed under hiphop, music, writing

The SCOTT TOPICS™ Mail Bag #2: Best Hip Hop Albums, How Do You Be a PhD? & Hating Teddy Ruxpin

“What’s the best hiphop album ever made?” ~ G.F., Hartford

Why you gotta go there, huh? Why you gonna make traipse through my iTunes and listen to all the rap stuff I got in there, just to answer your ridiculous question? (I’m being willfully full of it right now, obviously.) And do you mean “my favorite” or “the best”? Oh heck, they’re one and the same anyway…Can I name three? The best hiphop albums ever made are: De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead, Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell and, depending on the day, Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, L.L. Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out, or Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. These choices partly come because of my age—over 21…by, um, a lot—but also because I probably have very formal tastes in things like this and I don’t believe a great rap album has been released after 2000.

Why isn’t there a B.I.G record on the list? I don’t exactly know other than I rarely play B.I.G’s whole albums anymore like I used to, unless it’s his Greatest Hits, because I like to hear the hits, and because I think “Niggas Bleed” is, like L.L.’s “Fast Peg” one of the best written pieces of Black Noir in the past 20 years. My reasons? De La’s record predicted a group’s demise but only ironically made them seem more alive (and smarter and saner and more special as writers and thinkers than anyone else on the scene and “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa,” still, to this day, chills me to the bone); Run-D.M.C.’s record because it is the single best evocation of b-boy glamour-meets-grit and never takes itself seriously while breaking all kinds of new cultural ground (and because “Peter Piper” can still rock a party); Ice Cube’s record because it’s one of the most incredible sounding albums ever, sonically and lyrically dazzling due to the beautiful tension of the Bomb Squad’s techno-scratch futurism blending with Cube’s gangsta-as-everyman realism; L.L.’s because it was a comeback that dared to be sexy and self-centered and superstar-y when many artists would have slunk away after the way Todd had been received with his last record (and because “Jingling Baby” is the kind of brilliant, stupid-good, politically incorrect single that only rap knows how to do with any real imagination); and PE’s record because, well, when black America needed a CNN, Chuck, Flava and the Bomb Squad ripped straight outta the Long Island and gave it to them. (Honorable mentions: All For One, Brand Nubian; Paid in Full, Eric B. and Rakim; and Mecca and the Soul Brother, Pete Rock & CL Smooth; Debaters, haters, and 5-mic raters are welcome to offer their own opinions—cause I know you will!

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Filed under hiphop, music, PhD