‘The Construction of the Tower of Babel’, by Hendrick III van Cleve, 16th Century, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Click for bigger version, it’s a nice painting. Taken from Giornale Nuovo.

Hi everybody, I’ve been away off in real life (What a fucked up place to spend extended periods of time) but just wanted to stick my neck in and say a few words, and probably piss off a bunch of my friends. The goal of writing these polemical attack posts is to sort of kick the tires on our musical activities and cultural practices and to make sure that everyone is really thinking hard about why and how they’re doing what they’re doing. If you feel this as an attack on you or your music, I’d love to hear your response here in public so we can all learn something.

Gex recently posted up the Stereotyp affiliated Kubu mixtape which has some cool beats on it, below, I like the bass on the second track especially. Then Ty responded by saying “looks like Stereotyp… oh great, another Teutonic ‘barefoot baile’ advocate, what the world needs is more white european & american dudes “keeping it real” & getting sexy by going native.” And I LOLed and started writing a comment but decided to turn it into a post as it got longer and longer. Full disclosure: I am probably one of these sexy white guys that Ty is aiming at, not sure if my involvement in ukg and dancehall qualifies me but anywayyyy.

Here’s my point, more or less: I think it’s lame to use vocals in your music that are in a language you don’t really understand. That said, this is not a direct shot at Stereotyp, maybe he speaks Portuguese or whatever language the people are speaking on his mix, I actually don’t know. In vocal music, especially rap, the vibe and energy of a tune is SO MUCH about the lyrical content that putting vocals on tunes that you, or perhaps more importantly a major chunk of your audience don’t understand is just weird to me. I feel that you are using these people and their words as an idea, or a reference or a signifier in a way that’s totally disconnected from their artistic intentions.

If you, the producer can’t understand all the layers of what they’re saying and the audience can’t either then the words are just rhythmic or melodic noise, a kind of cultural texture. I feel like when it’s melodic singing then it makes a bit more sense because at least the people who don’t understand have some purely formal things to grab hold of, and melody is a kind of unconscious language of emotion and therefore there is some kind of non-verbal communication possible. But rap? Rap is words and rhythm, it’s word music.

As someone who listens to quite a lot of word music I’d argue that in the success of any given artist in any of these scenes (rap, dancehall, grime etc) the words they use, the things they say, their message, their attitude, their swagger, and their lyrical content is much more important than the formal qualities of flow or rhythm. In grime and dancehall the thing that will trigger a rewind is an artist saying something, something specific that has tremendous resonance with the audience. How they say it is important and necessary but WHAT they say is what gets them a forward. Especially in dancehall where a lot of it comes down to clashing and beefing the thing that will win a contest is some particularly clever well-timed and somehow true insult. The flow and pattern is necessary but secondary, it’s a vehicle for the message. So when the message is behind a language barrier the order is reversed – flow is in front and the message is behind, or gone.

A lot of fans will say, “Oh I don’t understand, I don’t care what they’re saying I’m just dancing along” but I actually think in taking that position you’re sort of marginalizing these people and their opportunity for artistic expression. It reduces them to being ‘the sexy and exotic other’ that we don’t understand, and don’t care to understand because we think “oh they’re probably just saying ‘dance, party, fuck’ or something like that, and that’s what we’re doing”. But what about when they’re not saying that? What about when Buju Banton is singing about shooting gays in the head over that nice easy party beat? And you’re dancing along obliviously, and because you and everyone else who doesn’t pay attention dances along then the DJ says “see look, that song always works, I’m gonna return to it” and that message gets repeated and repeated into the world. Whether you like to dance to ‘Boom Bye Bye’ or not (nastiness aside, it’s a good song) in this young new global underground dance whatever scene we’re in I think that we really need to make sure that if we’re gonna engage in a style that we’re doing it on all levels, not just formal (wow this beat pattern is great, I’m gonna put my euro synth bass on it and call it ‘global-fusion’) but on the levels of slang, culture, meaning, people, relationships, beef and history. And some may say: “But it’s too much work to learn all these languages, and I’m on the other side of the world and blee blah bleh” well then I’d say either make some friends who can teach you or maybe you should focus in on something that you can understand and try to develop some depth in it. Basically, not being a tourist is hard work but I think, worth it.

Since the last post was about a mambo tune that I won’t be playing out anytime soon I thought I’d start out with a fun spanglish mambo party jam that I DO like and got a big forward at the last New York Tropical Dance. Bachata meets Mambo meets ATCQ.

Sakawaka by the official Dominican Pimp Makaraka y la Grande Liga


Tiroteo [tee-roh-te-o] or alternatively Tiradera [Tee-ra-deh-rah]

1) A shoot-out

2) gunman lyrics in latin music

3) Battle tunes dissin other MC’s in latin music

I could draw on a million gun choons you’ve heard so I’m rollin with definition 3 here and offering a nugget from an unknown young Dominican duo called The Mr. feat Yankee Next. A ting called Ratata

Another bachata meets mambo tune, this one takes aim at the big boys of Mambo: El Sujeto, Jucafri, Tulile and Omega. The Mister who refuse to be pigeon-holed as Mamberos or Reggaeton artists fuse all sorts of urban and caribbean music and are comprised of Wagner Jesus Ortiz aka Mr. WJ and Franklin Emilio Gomez aka Mr. Frank. In recent hip-hop history this underdog tactic was deployed to career-launching success by one Mr Curtis Jackson on the now legendary How to Rob.


I went back and found the video of El Sujeto I mentioned in comments of the last post. Here he and up and coming latin hip-hop artist El Lapiz are in a parking lot cheezin for the camara, flashing loaded clips, matching hardware and rattling off lyrics…. they then take turns exchanging poetic two-line couplets of street verse (as u watch, think bomba improvisada)



Now, I’ve got guys and girls in my family that freestyle and act just like this on and off camara so here’s some thoughts on the gangsta/bling ethos infiltrating the jibaro homelands.

At home in PR, after a blunt, my cousins are easy enough to get along with. We spend our time together laughing at some of their admittedly moronic antics; a 26-man brawl with a police squad, pranks played on crack-heads, stealing cars (na dawg- sorry to break it to ya…. playing Grand Theft Auto does not a gangsta make), motorcycle crashes, bar fights, turf wars etc. Every visit is replete with new stories and matching battle scars. They boast of a revolving door at the local precinct that was recently installed, just to keep up with our brood. As they’re telling me all this, I watch two of them bitch up to raised hand from Titi Lulu, standing a towering 5’4 en chancletas y rollos.

This in-and-out of jail pattern that has developed for my cousins on the island (and in the Bronx), it causes grief to both their families and the community. Some of crimes are necessitated by survival, but most of it is carried out just to get a rep. (There is also a percentage of our cumulative arrests that is attributed to cops being pigs, racial profiling and babylon system)

I ask myself where they get it from because we were raised together outside of the fact that I left the island our biggest differences aren’t a formal education. I stand with them as a student of life educated by my environment who chose to go my own road while good friends opted to finish school and then college to get their degree. True enough, the experience of coming to the states lends me some advantages like mastering English as a first language but that gets balanced-out by other factors. They own their houses, while I pay rent. One even has a garage below his house which has rented as a tire and mechanic shop his whole life, so he’s learned a trade by osmosis. Neighbors come to him for the odd jobs they cant afford to pay a trained mechanic for. Nobody offers me gigs for my superior tele-marketing skills and DJ’ing has yet to re-coup the amount of money I’ve spent on music, my drug of choice.

Then there are my cousins in the Bronx. Like me, they are transplants that have been here in the states for more than ten years. They speak English as a first language and spent most of their lives here but they share equally riotous stories. Difference between me and most of these kids? Surprisingly, neither camp watches much TV so the best I can pin down is that Hot 97, La Kalle and NYC’s mixtape circuit dominate the South Bronx, PR is bumpin reggaeton and I’m the odd man out that listens to as many genres as they do artists. Obviously, I’m tuned into the internet streams on BBC radio, Samurai.FM and the elsewhere in blog-landia. Therein lies the discrepancy. Puerto Rico’s internet is still largely dial-up last I checked and neither they nor the Bronx camp are web-crawlers so they are subject to whatever information is given to them.

I wanted to hold off on the following for a next conversation but I welcome your thoughts this: Gangsta rap’s ideology, the image of guns and bling being cool wasn’t made popular by the general American public or the hip hop community at large. Industry force-fed it to us with little alternative until we got used to it and its now grown past our borders and is affecting other communities. This isn’t my opinion as much as a springboard for dialog I’d like to engage in with you in the comments section. If you wanna go deep in the hood chronicles dig up Bushwick Bill’s album Lil Big Man and try that on for size before writing your response. What I’m getting at with this is until recently, when $mall Change invited me to play on WFMU, no one ever asked me what I wanted to hear on the radio, much like no one I know has ever participated in the political poles that CNN and other media outlets wave as hard statistical data.

Now, back to my hick relatives. Talking to most of my primos (i’m the fourth oldest of 32 blood-related cousins) I find they all share a highly-animated sense of reality, one in which being gangsta is how u gotta be ‘cuz that’s what its like in the streets yo! But when I look down the hill we all grew up on in Puerto Rico, there is still a huge field that horses graze. Behind that, the race track belonging to El Recinto de la ‘Yupee’ Bayamon (University of PR). Standing there, I often myself pondering if I had stayed would have stayed in Puerto Rico, living that close to a great university…

The oldest of the my cousins back on the island has enough crack-heads and ganja smokers in the area to pay the bills, but overall its really not that gully in Barrio Juan Sanchez where we’re from. The neighborhood remains mostly friendly jibaros, who now lock their doors because scattered corrillos of kids with shaved legs and plucked eye-brows are tryna act hard?!? These kids perceive their world through a lens calibrated by the gangsta-ideology that permeated reggaeton and now merengue and what we are seeing are consequences of allowing music and other forms of media to go off into the wilds uncontested.

One of our daily newspapers in Puerto Rico is named El Vocero. On more than one occasion and from both younger and older generation sources I heard it described like this…. when you pick up El Vocero, (holding it out pinched between thumb and index finger) ….it drips blood. During a two-week stay there, I read 3 separate articles about mercenary style killings; bag over head. hands tied to their feet behind their back- shot in the back of the head; all of them within a few miles of where I was staying and suspected to be carried out by guys my age and younger. These were separate articles over the span of a few days but there was no visible thread between them one was a car robbery, one over a girl, one over drugs. It seemed to me at the time, that several one-up ‘a ver quien es mas gangsta’ disputes had climaxed in tandem, resulting in copy-cat atrocities.

I’m not blaming artists or their music for the violent acts committed by individuals. But denying that the demeanor and attitudes which have become prevalent in the current generation is not in some way affected by the music these kids are digesting seems beyond naive. We can take a lot of what singers say with a grain of salt but the question I’m posing is why is the line so far off center? Does calling a spade a spade have to = censorship? I’m not saying these guys shouldn’t have the right to make their music or that it shouldn’t air. But is there a forced emphasis on new jingles or the dance of the week and an oppression of air-play for thought-provoking music, or is it me? What I see is a bunch of kids setting the coordinates to stat quo and forcing themselves into the cookie-cutter gangsta image in hopes of making it so they can get outta the hood.

I speaky di inglesh and my native tongue and I understand quite clearly the words that are coming out of their mouths.… so when do we get to the scene where bubble-gum gangstas get knocked the fuck out by artists with more talent and a different set of standards? At the very least lets call them out on their shit and ask them to elaborate. There are circumstances where letting art speak for itself is useful but when you have so many clones I think we would all be better off to challenge an artist on what they are trying to accomplish with this a piece of art beyond just making money. Those who put thought into their art will usually rise to the occasion. You can get into the ‘why does art have to mean something’ question if you wish, but I won’t be taking part in that with you. I’m busy looking for art with substance or both new and old genres to explore and learn from. Too busy working with MC’s that CAN break the mold. To watch artists hide behind the stage persona and do and say ridiculous things while in character seems a cop out even when factoring in that being an entertainer is, in rare cases, a well-paying job opportunity to someone who comes from bleak circumstances.

Here’s an all-star line up of MC’s with real street-cred that aren’t afraid to face the wind and are ready to blow the current whackness out like the flickering flame that it is. Jahdan Blakkamoore the man Guyanese from Crown Heights Brooklyn, Princesa hailing from Argentina, recent unsigned hype inductee Homeboy Sandman outta the Qboro serving nourishment to the masses, Durrty Goodz in the UK whose Axiom EP raised the bar for grime MC’s, and MV Bill who lives in the City of God, Brazil (his documentary Falcao is story more people should be aware of- large up to Maga Bo on this one). All of them have wicked flows and make it a point to challenge norms plus know how to rock a party. Show them some love ya’ll

Now, I’ll admit to getting older, ornery and detached, having not owned a TV in 8 years. I still manage to enjoy the art of story telling in rhyme, slang and street context. Can you admit a large percentage of new artists out there offer very little lyrical song-writing ability and rely on good publicists to determine for the audience what’s hot? I have to believe at some point society should hold people accountable for their words and actions and at the same time strive and get to the root of our problems. As a Latino, I take it upon myself not sit idle and watch apathetically as my family and culture are brainwashed. I’m happy that Immortal Technique is doing his thing but he’s got a way too much M.O.P. in ’em for the average listener, myself included. Nobody likes Debbie Downer so I search far and wide for party-rockin music I can stand up for because, often times, that can’t afford a publicist. Challenge yourselves to create play-lists that work well on the dance-floor and balance lyrical content. You’ll find its a lot harder than keeping your eye on what everyone else is playing but infinitely more rewarding. That’s how we go ’round payola. Thank you for pushing good music forward via your blogs and the encouragement to air these ideas. –

run go tell dem come…we ready fi dem- Gex

In one of his first acts in office New York’s new blind, black Governor David Patterson (replacing hypocritical philanderer Elliot Spitzer after his scandalous flame-out) issued a full gubernatorial to Slick Rick to prevent him being deported away from his two teenage daughters back to England where he was born.  As a long-time Slick Rick fan and hater of both the US and UK immigration bureaucracies I personally am delighted.

The upcoming Nas album which was to be titled Nigger has been stripped of a name. The project will now be simply untitled, and this came after Wal-Mart and other retailers voiced their concerns about carrying a project with such a provocative title, and we’re all a little poorer for it.

The first track below is one of the best sounding leaked songs from the album. Nas is a lyricist writing a verbal book with a lot of truth in it (unadulterated, wisecracking truths—but there’s also history, struggle, conflict, duality and so much more!) DJ Toomp’s production, which we are now all too familiar with (after Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, T.I.’s “What You Know”, Jeezy’s “I Luv It” et c) adds a certain sparkle with some lush, uplifting strings, and the message floats on top perfectly.

Nas – N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and The Master)

This second track is also a raw portrayal of truth, but this is rougher and may be a little too much to take (I know someone who hates this song with a passion.) Nas is in one of the most defiant moments of his career, and embracing the fire? (remember Hate Me Now?)

Nas – Be A Nigger Too

They like to strangle niggers, blame a nigger, shootin’ niggers, hang a nigger still you wanna be a nigger too!

Nasir and wife Kelis at the 2008 Grammys:

Yes, he’s one of the most articulate emcees on the mic, but his failure to communicate these grand ideas that, at least on the surface, appear to be profound is also part of the problem. I’m not saying that it was going to be easy to put such ideas/substance into concrete form or to sell that particular title to his record label (especially after people from his community dismissed the idea from the onset and threatened his employer’s bottom line) but still Nas should have stuck to his guns on this one.