ASK US: CHILDREN’S STORIES

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An anonymous reader asks:

Curious to know what rap music you listen to, if any, with your daughter? I rarely play my favorites – other than the occasional Tribe or De La – and I’ve always been concerned about my daughter (who is 8) hearing the misogyny and homophobia, not the curse words. (This isn’t to say ATCQ and DLS aren’t guilty, because, I mean, “Infamous Date Rape”? Really, Tribe? I digress for now…) The older she gets, the tougher the call, because I’d really like to share the music that’s always brought me joy, but with so much of it steeped in the denigration of women and those outside of heteronormativity (consciously and not), I hesitate. Thoughts?

First, I don’t play a ton of hip-hop in the car when my daughter’s riding with me…maybe 20-30%, tops? Usually, the radio’s turned to NPR (which will either mean she’ll grow up to love or hate public radio…not sure which yet). If not NPR, then we’re listening to a mix of old soul and new pop that I carry on my iPhone (I have a “new arrivals” folder that gets my heaviest plays). But occasionally, I get in the mood to listen to hip-hop and my tastes are such that most of what I’d listen to on my own is going to be relatively mild when it comes to misogyny or homophobia (though given how extreme hip-hop goes with either, perhaps “relatively mild” isn’t saying much).

Personally, the basic rule I apply is that I wouldn’t play stuff when my daughter is in the car that I also wouldn’t also play if my wife was in the car. My better half enjoys hip-hop broadly speaking but she wouldn’t want to hear me playing “Talk Like Sex” on continuous repeat (but she’d be fine with “Play It Kool“). Excessive profanity would bother her too, regardless if my daughter was around or not, so that would play a part in what I opt to play. However, hip-hop rarely is what I listen to the most in the car regardless so it’s not like I’m constantly monitoring my playlists for “objectionable content.”

Back to my daughter: I’m more wary of profanity around her…though I’m not entirely sure why. For example, I was playing this mix today in the car and on one of the songs, she heard someone say “shit” and she cooed from the back seat, “ooh, he used a bad word. The ‘s-h’ word.” It’s not like she doesn’t know what profanity is and she recognizes that the use it is an act of linguistic deviance…so should it matter if she hears it around her? I think I “shield” her from it simply because I feel like I’m supposed to…though for reasons I’m not entirely sure. I use profanity all the fucking time (see what I did there?) just not around her…right now. However I can foresee a point where, in 10-15 years, I won’t feel uncomfortable swearing around her and I don’t think I’d feel uncomfortable with her swearing around me. But right now, I’m sensitive to it for whatever reason.

I should also add that I think my daughter has a decent understanding of sexism and patriarchy…at least for a 9 year old (she really likes the term “patriarchy” and asks us frequently, “so is that an example of patriarchy?”). Therefore, I do trust that if something like Jeru’s “Da Bitches” randomly came on, she wouldn’t just accept its logic wholesale but would ask me, “hey, what’s this song about?” and voila, teachable moment.

ASK US: WHAT’S UP WITH NEW VINYL?

Arun asks:

Hi O-Dub,

I was wondering if you’re still buying new hip-hop vinyl these days. There were a couple soulstrut threads on how vinyl quality is going down and prices are going up, and Serato makes it easy to spin digital. I could be wrong about this, but it also seems like fewer rap singles are being put out on vinyl.

(Editor’s note: “Thanks” to Ned Raggett, people have been treating this like an article which…it’s not. That said, perhaps I may have overstated some claims so in the interests of toning down some of my “riffing off the dome” hyperbole, I’ve eased up a bit. Original comments now struck through).

All true.

Vinyl quality is going down – not just the quality of the physical vinyl itself but the vast majority some may use non-mastered CDs as their audio source (vs. an original, mastered analog source). To put it another way…if I take a cassette tape and then use that to create a vinyl record…the record isn’t going to sound better than the cassette just because it’s on vinyl. If the source material is lousy, transferring it to vinyl doesn’t suddenly improve the sound. Yet, a lot of (well-meaning) people seem to think that their new vinyl reissue of whatever sounds awesome just because it’s on vinyl but don’t consider (or likely, don’t know) what the audio source of the vinyl was to begin with. Subpar source –> subpar vinyl. I don’t care if you press that sucker on 800 gram vinyl or whatever.

That’s not to say all new vinyl is inferior. There’s plenty of smaller, speciality labels that do due diligence on quality vinyl releases. There are still pressing plants (mostly in Europe) that make quality vinyl. If a label/artist has access to quality analog masters, they can produce a superior results. But sufficed to say, these seem to be are the exceptions, not the rule. (h/t to both Chris Portugal and Andy Zax, who’ve been trying to raise these issues for a while now, mostly to deaf ears).

Also: from a DJing point of view, “original vinyl” isn’t superior to Serato either. The convenience factor of the latter is obvious and bringing vinyl to a gig these days seems more an exercise in providing one’s bonafides, aka “O.G. release, ya bish.” Believe me: I very much get the appeal of that but it’s ultimately about vinyl-as-fetish-object vs. vinyl-as-DJing-material. If we’re talking strictly utility value? New vinyl means very little.

For these reasons and others, rap labels have absolutely slowed down in producing mass quantities of 12″s or LPs on vinyl. The main exception are those cravenly bullshit RSD “limited edition” pressings that people grip and flip thanks to their manufactured scarcity. But if you’re a label and you can distribute a digital lossless version of a song you want DJs to spin vs. spending money to press that same single to vinyl? Labels are already notoriously cheap these days.

For all this, that doesn’t mean I’ve completely stopped buying hip-hop on vinyl but it really comes down to that aforementioned “fetish object” value vs. “I plan on spinning with this.” In a sense, what I elect to get on vinyl is my nod to that single/album’s quality, i.e. “I give enough of a fuck about this release to bother to buy it on vinyl even if it’s probably an inferior pressing.”

Logical? No. But then again, so little of collecting vinyl functions along the lines of logic.


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MINI-MIXERS

Hand tall 335

Anonymous asks:

Mini-mixers: I know you were curious about this yourself a while back and considered the irig since the Columbia GMX is almost impossible to find.What’s the verdict? What do you use?

I bought the iRig but I haven’t actually used it “in the field.” I can talk about my logic in choosing it but first this: I didn’t really “need” a portable mixer. The only reason I bothered was because I have a pair of Columbia GP-3s and aesthetically, I wanted a small mixer to use with them rather than lugging out something like one of the classic slim Vestax mixers (let alone my Rane).

Obviously, if it were all about aesthetics, the GMX-3 would make the most sense. However, besides the fact that – as you point out – they’re very very hard to come by, from what I’ve seen…it doesn’t have a cue function. I could be wrong about that but assuming I’m correct, that makes it substantially less useful as an actual mixer. Obviously, if I came across a GMX-3 at a swap meet, I would snap it up but in terms of a functional mixer, the iRig seemed like a good call for something very small, portable but with decent features. Obviously, it’s not going to replace a more serious mixer but for use with a pair of portables, it makes solid sense (at least on paper).

Anyways, since we opened this topic, while I’m quite happy with the GP-3 (it’s as solid a portable as you can ask for), if I were so inclined to go with a different set…why not double up on the Big Birds? Or, if you really want to catch some eyes, the Philips “UFO” players. (For the record: the Phillips is gorgeous but not terribly practical as a portable).


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THE VINYL MARKET

Eric S. asks:

I was wondering if you think the bubble of highly inflated vinyl prices will burst anytime soon, so I can finally afford some of the pieces I’m currently coveting, or if I’m just gonna have to wait for the reissues, or play crappy vinyl rips (not yours) with serato (if I had serato)?

There’s no simple answer to this since it depends on a few factors, perhaps the most important being: “what genre are we talking about?”

Let me back up a second though. From my (limited) experience, the supply of vintage vinyl is relatively inelastic. For one, you can’t manufacture “old stock.” Second, the higher the demand is on specific genres/artists/etc., the more likely the existing supply will tighten as collectors may be more likely to hold onto desired titles (grip mentality) unless the pricing is attractive enough to flip. Either way, pricing is driven up by both demand and dwindling supply. But, we know that genres come in and out of vogue. As demand falls, not only do prices drop with it but the desire to hold onto certain records may fall too, thus increasing supply, also lowering pricing.

None of this supports the idea that there’s an “inflated bubble” when it comes to records. The phrase suggests there’s something irrational to how certain records/genres grow in value but these are records we’re talking about. What about gripping and flipping 30-40 year old pieces of petroleum products is rational to begin with? To the extent that our interest in records is fueled primarily by emotional desire (rather than pragmatic utility), the vinyl market is bound to be volatile. And yet, despite that, I would wager that the vast majority of records are priced rationally, i.e. “what people are willing to pay for it.” If may be that you (like myself on countless occasions) are annoyed that there are sufficient people willing to pay more for a certain title than we are but that’s not a sign of an irrational market. That’s a sign that we – the more reluctant buyers – are not ready to be players in that market.

In any case, to get back to the core question: it depends on the title, what the actual supply is and whether or not demand is still increasing or has peaked. Moreover, if prices fall because a certain record has gone out of vogue, might that also chill your desire for said record?

For me, there are certain titles that I feel like will always be unattainable on the open market – the supply is too small for pricing to ever fall to where I’d ideally like it – so I hold out the slim hope that I might come across it through other means: that random garage sale we all fantasize about or (more realistically), a misplaced “Buy-It-Now” on eBay, heh. And really, isn’t that the fever dream that fuels us as collectors? Not the simple act of possession but the means of acquisition?

To wit: I don’t have crazy “digging in the field” stories like many other folks I know who’ve spent much more time combing through mold-infused basements and forgotten warehouses, trying to search out that heat. The best I have dates back to 2002, on a record trip through the Midwest I took with two friends. We began in Chicago, then drove down to Indianapolis, then Columbus. We eventually continued onto Elyria, Toledo and ended in Detroit. Between Columbus and Elyria, we had a decision to make: whether or not to drive down to Cincy or hit up Dayton instead. We chose Dayton.

The first store we went to was…ok. Real mom and pop spot and I did get this out of there but nothing remotely crazy. While we were there, my dude Justin talked up the owner and found out there was another store in the area that supposedly stocked vinyl. We drove over and from first appearances, we assumed this was going to be a bust: it sold CDs and pagers and didn’t seem like some vinyl hot spot but we asked anyway and were shown to a back room that wasn’t huge but felt right and sure enough, even though the owners said they could only give us an hour in there because they had close early that day, we managed to find any number of very cool 7″s and LPs, including about half a dozen stock copies of this single:

Over Night Low: Rev Jay.mp3
From 7″ (DeLuxe, 1972)

And look, this isn’t like finding a mythical box of Salts.1 Back in 2002, this 7″ might have gone for $75-100 under the best of circumstances but it wasn’t something to mortgage your house over. Still, it was one of those “nice, random finds” that fuels our impulse to keep making side trips to Dayton or wherever else the fever takes you.


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  1. If you’ve never heard the story, this has become digging urban legend – though it may be true – but supposedly, someone found a box of Salt 7″s, pulled a few out and then broke the rest in order to make sure the supply stayed low. That sounds like sheer insanity to me but I suppose stranger things have happened.

SUMMER CHILLS

Question from Luca:

I’m amazed from Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness.” I really want to do a playlist with all the mood of this song. Chill out jazz, slow and relaxing, something meditative. Could you tell me some song like that, without voices, just instrumental?

Answer: Funny, I was just thinking the other day about how good Idris Muhammed’s “Loran Dance” is and that would very much fall into the groove you seem to be talking about:

I’d suggest the entire CTI/Kudu catalog could be cherry-picked to find other songs in this vein though I always thought of “Summer Madness” as rather unique rather than a template, even in the fusion jazz era.

If you want something just slightly more obscure, I’ve always been partial to this, by the Lyman Woordard Organization:

(Sadly, Detroit’s Belle Isle Park has been in the news for the wrong reasons recently).

Also, I know you said “without voices,” but I’m going to push back and say that any summer madness mix that leaves out Shuggie Otis’s “Island Letter” is missing out:


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UMCS, CHARLES BRADLEY, AND OTHER QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Question from Nick: “I was wondering if you know what the beat is that the UMC’s freestyle over on Stretch and Bobbito’s radio show. I am pretty sure that Stretch put together beats, so it may be something he created. Regardless its classic case of how good stripped down drums and bass can sound.”

Answer: I don’t recognize it as an instrumental from an existing song from that era though it could certainly have been from a more independent release that would have flown under my radar then. I do think it’s more realistic that it was a Stretch exclusive though.

And yes, I absolutely agree about the how good stripped down drums and bass can sound. To wit, one of my favorites.


Question from Casey: “Just heard Oliver on NPR, but didn’t hear the first names of singers named Hunter & Bradley, I think both from London. Would love to learn more about them. Thanks!”

Answer: Casey is referring to this review of both Charles Bradley and the James Hunter Six. Hunter is from London but Bradley is from the States. Click either name above to go to their respective websites.

Bradley just played the Apollo and *whistle*, sick poster (click on thumbnail for bigger image):


Question from Matt: “”Hi, long time reader, first time emailer. I have a 45 that I cannot seem to find lot of information on and was hoping you might know. It is from the Rocky Mountain Recording label out of Cheyenne, WY. and the name of the group is The Soul Reflections. Track one is “”I Love You Baby”” and the other is “”Reflections’ Walk Groovin’ In The Basement.”” Both tracks feature Carroll Jones. It is also on red vinyl. It’s in pretty rough shape, but was just curious to know more about it and the label. The only other record I have seen from this label is a country and western tune, but I cannot remember the name of the group.”

Answer: Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with this 7″ at all. A quick scan of Popsike shows that there were at least a few releases on RMR (Rocky Mountain Records) attributed to Carroll Jones and the Soul Reflections; this looks like the single you have. I can’t tell if that single is less common or less in demand but the single by the group that sells more often is “Hey Girl” which has this stripped down, almost garage-y ballad on the b-side, “I Need You So Bad.” Good luck. If you turn up more, let us know.


Question from anonymous: “Who else used the melody from El Michels Affair’s “Detroit twice”?”

Answer: I’m not sure which melody you’re asking about specifically. If it’s the one carried on the horns, I have no idea; doesn’t sound familiar. However, the beginning of the song is clearly a riff on this Soul Sides favorite:

The El Michels Affair isn’t carrying the rhythm line in the exact same way, more like a vague interpolation of it. But the four note vocal cry at the beginning clearly nods to Young.


Quesiton from Richard: “Been a minute since I’ve stopped by (sorry, long time Soul Sider) but someone randomly sent me this video on youtube messages. Wanted to know if you were privy to this yet.

Answer: Nope, hadn’t heard this. Not that won over by it. As I try to suggest in that aforementioned review of Bradley and Hunter, there’s a fine line in being able to pull off a good retro-soul sound vs. sounding like you’re pandering. This track seems a little too far on the wrong side of that line. My .02.


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NOT SELLING OUT, THAT’S A NEGATIVE

Question from Damien: “I was wondering today…who introduced the RnB/Soul side to the hip hop? The one we can hear in Mos Def’s or The Pharcyde’s tracks? Was there any tension about this at the time, some kind of opposition between the aggressive tone of some early 90’s releases and the smoothness of some others?”

Answer: There’s two separate questions here so let me tackle the first.

First, it’s a bit odd to try to talk about how R&B was “introduced” into hip-hop insofar as rap music’s roots come out of soul via funk via disco. I mean, “Rapper’s Delight” was riffing on Chic. The DNA of R&B lies in hip-hop too even if the latter certainly took pains to separate itself from the former, around the time Run DMC was decimating their old school forefathers. But R&B/hip-hop crossovers existed across the ’80s, even in that area, none better (in my opinion) than this:

And of course, one of LL Cool J’s first big songs was basically a rap/R&B hybrid even though there’s no actual singing in it.

The point I’m making is that these lines were always intersecting, always blurred. There were, of course, songs that pushed this crossover point harder than others. I still remember people being madly disappointed by Nas’s “If I Ruled the World” (feat. Lauryn Hill) because they wanted “N.Y. State of Mind 2.0,” not some quasi-Fugees collabo. And that addresses your second question:

Hell yeah there was opposition.

“Real heads”, then and now, hated R&B/hip-hop crossovers if they felt that they were being done as pure commercial pandering. Of course, what one defines as pandering isn’t always easy to define. For example, what really separates this:

…from this:

…from this:

…from this:

For the record, I ride for half those songs, the other half can miss me. But is it obvious which ones? It’s taste dependent.

To me, the key thing that happened by the early/mid 1990s was that hip-hop wasn’t trying to crossover into R&B but R&B, most certainly was trying to ride off of hip-hop’s success. That’s one reason why Mary J. Blige was embraced in a way that other, previous R&B singers did not; Blige sounded like she wanted to be down. Her and her team (lead by Puffy) understood how R&B could be made palatable to a hip-hop sensibility via the right production and the right collaborators. But the important point here is that it seemed like R&B was crossing over to hip-hop on hip-hop’s terms rather than songs that seemed more like hip-hop pandering to be down with R&B.


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OUTSIDE MY WINDOW, I CAN HEAR A RADIO…

Question from Tolo: “there’s a song that’s been hunting me for days, I think you wrote about it but my memories are hazy. It’s a funk soul number (early 70s?) that DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist used to play. I remember the lyrics saying something like “he’s number one.” Sorry, I realize this is pretty vague.”

A: That’s actually more than enough info, you’re talking about this song:


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LEAVE THE GUILT, TAKE THE PLEASURE

Question from Karl: “Back in 2002, I was fortunate enough to interview El-P during the height of Definitive Jux’s fame for my college newspaper. Aside from being extremely gracious with his time and enduring what I’m sure were, in hindsight, relatively inane questions, there was one thing he said which has stuck with me since to this very day. When I asked about his “”guilty listening pleasures,”” he rightly and summarily dismissed the notion, saying if he genuinely liked something, he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Really changed some of my attitudes towards music. What are your views on”guilty listening pleasures,” and assuming you once subscribed to this notion, how and why has it evolved over the years?”

Answer: Through the wonders of text search, it seems that the last time I used the phrase “guilty pleasure” in a Soul Sides post was circa 2006, in reference to this:

Looking through old emails to editors and colleagues, I use the phrase sparingly. Besides the 2006 post, the other most “recent” usage I found dates back to a 2001 email where I applied it to the remix of “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Jay-Z).

For people who frequently write/talk about culture, “guilty pleasure” serves as a useful shorthand for describing “something you like even though you feel self-conscious acknowledging that you like it lest other people find it in poor/questionable taste.” That last part is crucial: the notion of taste is absolutely essential to making a phrase like “guilty pleasure” remotely meaningful to begin with, at least when it comes to culture. Without hierarchies of taste, why would anyone need to feel embarrassed about the kind of music/film/food/books/etc. they like?

So, to answer your question, I think my ultimate abandonment of the term has come through two different realizations:

1) As El-P noted to you, why should anyone feel guilty about liking something that gives them pleasure?1 Not to get overly philosophical about this but I think part of this stems from a fear of pleasure itself: of acknowledging it, of embracing it, or pursuing it. Pleasure may seem (take your pick): indulgent, frivolous, privileged, soft, et. al.2 And as I’ve gotten older, beginning probably around the time I turned 30, I became a lot more self-aware of my hedonistic tendencies and began just embracing them for what they are rather than trying to pretend as if pleasure doesn’t matter to me, let alone something I should feel guilty about enjoying.

2) The second part of it has to do with abandoning – or at least easing off of – judging others around questions of taste. If you haven’t read this, I can’t recommend Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love more highly. It’s a slim book (in other words: a quick read) but an incredibly poignant and profound discussion about musical taste that definitely had an impact on me and other music critics I know. It’s not that I’ve jettisoned the idea of taste for myself – I definitely have preferences in what I like and don’t like – but I’m not interested in applying those preferences to others. So it’s not all that compelling or interesting to me to talk/write about music through the lens of “good taste/bad taste.” I’m interested in figuring out why I like a song. I’m also interested to figure out why others like a song, even ones I don’t like personally. In that context, guilty pleasure is also meaningless because if you’re not invested in policing (or being policed) around questions of taste, then there’s nothing to feel guilty (or self-righteous) about.

Moreover, I also think you arrive at more interesting conversations and ideas once you get past guilt/taste. To explain to someone, “I like that [thing] as a guilty pleasure” isn’t actually an explanation at all. It’s a way of avoiding an explanation. It saves you the trouble of having to actually think and articulate why you like what you like.

I mean, that has its convenient uses; maybe you’re at a painful party and you don’t want to explain to someone why you watched every season of Entourage non-ironically. But if you cease to think of anything as a guilty pleasure, then you’re opening yourself up to thinking more about what the nature of pleasure is, why certain things give you pleasure. And maybe that helps you understand what other people find pleasurable.

So I suppose if I were to interview an artist and I wanted to ask them something similar to what you asked El-P, I would frame it more like: “what’s a song or artist that the other people in Def Jux can’t stand but you love? And why?”


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  1. Unless this involves torturing kittens or something.
  2. I recently read some asinine comment online about how celebrity/tabloid culture only exists in first world countries because the rest of the world is too busy struggling to waste time like that. Not only is this completely, factually false in practically any part of the world I can imagine, but it’s also a deeply elitist idea since it presumes, on a certain level, that cultural pleasure is the domain of the most privileged societies. I’m not saying that “Honey Boo Boo” isn’t some kind of atrocity to humankind but I’m pretty sure you can find the equivalent to that show in most societies on the planet, in some form or other. We are social creatures and gawking is a deeply social act that helps bond us together, regardless of our state of economic development.

THE MEDIUM AND THE MESSAGE

00 va loud records the set up side b shining

Question from Argonaut: “As someone trying to send albums out to “press people” what’s the proper way to do so in 2013? Back in day you could send a CD and press release and sometimes you get a review or feature (back when they had magazines) but now its almost worthless to press a physical CD so how do you submit it press. Zip file of the whole album? A streaming link of a song/album? It seems like everyone could just send a soundcloud/bandcamp link so that would just get lost in the shuffle. I have read the submissions on the blog sites and they want MP3s and high quality art so should I just assume all people want that these days? I know that if you have a buzz then people will be checking for it so opportunities are slim to begin with but just trying to decide if I should press this CD or just send out DL/Stream links. I know you know press people so would be interested if you could pose this question to them. Would they prefer the old way a CD/Bio or the new way MP3 stream?”

Answer: I think the format that writers prefer really varies on 1) the writer and 2) their knowledge of the group. If it’s a group I’ve never heard before, then I want to hear 1-2 songs as immediately as possible: embedded MP3 in the email works or, at least, a Soundcloud/Bandcamp link. Youtube links are ok but not ideal, mostly because the sound sucks. If it’s a group I have heard before, then a link to a full zip of the album is preferred since, most likely, I’d be writing about an album and not a song (it depends though).

Personally, I still like CDs because I can take them with me and listen to them in the car directly (i.e. I don’t have to synch my iPhone with the songs). CDs usually included some liner notes or at least a proper one-sheet with info on the release. But these are all carry-overs from the “old days” of how this all worked and since I’m of that generation, it’s more familiar to me. I don’t think that necessarily warrants a band from pressing up full CDs with liners just to make old fogeys like me happier.


Question from Raheem: “”Hi, would you be interested in selling your domain?”

Answer: No.


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