Monthly Archives: August 2011

Guest post: Faith Bennett Meets Michelle Bachmann

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Courtesy Faith Bennett

[Artist Faith Bennett (D-FL) was on-hand when GOP Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) made a campaign stop at Angie’s Subs on August 26. Her words and photos follow.]

Michelle Bachman’s blue campaign bus did not come silently, literally or figuratively, to Jacksonville Florida as it pulled into the locally legendary business that is Angie’s Subs. Hundreds packed in the small building pushing the capacity, and much of the crowd pushing 60. Small women stood on chairs, some waited in rocking chairs, others still stood by the glass window anxiously awaiting their favored presidential candidate.

The wait seemed more unbearable than the heat to the members of the First Coast Tea Party that remained inside. Whispers filled the room along with a sing-a-long Tea Party anthem prompting Americans to “Stand up” for freedom. “She’s probably doing her make up,” one woman noted, “she has to.” Another woman took the lull as an opportunity to show off her “I was anti-Obama before it was cool” pin to more people in the room.

When Bachman finally made her entrance, she was greeted with signs and smiles and American flags. The students starting the UNF chapter of the Tea Party seemed nervously excited. The founders of the First Coast Tea Party were proud and stood with their chins up. Ed Malin, the self described “Bible Thumpin’ Gun Totin’ Capitalist Pig,” who owns Angie’s Subs was happy. He had moments ago expressed via microphone that he hoped Bachman to be his next president. Michelle Bachman herself was hard to see at first over the crowd. As one woman put it, “She’s Teensy!” Her diminutive stature is a severe misrepresentation of her personality however. She speaks with a Minnesotan accent and all the enthusiasm in the world and gestures with her hands wildly with the zeal of a tent revivalist (and close to the same values.)

Bachman wasted no time explaining her disagreement with Obamacare. She spoke of how she wrote the bill to repeal Obamacare and how she was “The first member of congress on the floor introducing that bill.” She told of her desire to cut spending to the Enviromental Protection Agency, a declaration that was immediately met with clapping and cheering. “I intend to turn out the lights and lock the doors on the EPA,” she followed while doing a locking motion with her hands.  When she closed her brief speech she made sure to say “God bless you!” to the crowd demonstrating her beliefs.

She spent longer shaking hands, holding babies, and signing the shoulders of Tshirts than giving her speech, though she didn’t stop speaking as she posed for pictures. As she signed a piece of memorabilia for an older gentleman she expressed the ease at which she believed the natural gas movement could be started in the United States: “We can. Very easily. That’s the good thing is that we’ve got the resources in abundance.” She also made note however that she didn’t wantAmericato own GM anymore. She is strongly againstAmericaowning companies. Bachman and her fans spent the hour of meeting and greeting aflutter with hope to, as Bachman put it, “Change the Change.” The collective spirit of the room was one of triumph in that they believed to be taking backAmerica, and preserving their rights.

Outside, there was a smaller crowd. Ten (maybe) protesters stood on the corner with signs also demonstrating a desire to preserve their rights, and their country. The message was the same but the meaning couldn’t have been more opposite. Patriotism in the U.S. will always be relative.

Courtesy Faith Bennett

Preview: “Tangerine” at Walkers Wine Bar, Aug. 25

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courtesy Nicodemus Atrium Galleries

The man known as Zaiche keeps many plates spinning. After emerging in the 1990s as one-third of the hip-hop group Power Douglas, Zaiche (a native New Yorker) traveled the world before returning to his adopted home of Jacksonville, FL a few years ago. He and his mother opened the Kabre’ Cyntanna Salon on Park and King streets a couple years ago, and he is now also a principal in the Nicodemus Atrium Galleries, a new management/promotional groups focused on the freshest, most sophisticated stuff in the region. (You know, that Nick Fresh-type stuff!)

His newest project is called “Tangerine”, and it’s being promoted as an upscale, high-energy gathering of the new power base, the young artists, musicians and activists helping to put Duval back on the map as a hotbed for progressive politics and diverse cultural excellence. The first event occurs on Thursday night, August 25, at Walkers Wine Bar, located on the corner of Post and King streets in historic Riverside, just a couple blocks down from Kabre Cyntanna. It’s a perfect venue for such a gathering, with the sort of stylized industrial aesthetic that has come to define the area; the owners of Walkers also own a dance club called The Loft and a wine bar called Rogue, located side-by-side just a few yards from Walkers.

As usual with a new project, it’s unclear exactly what will happen. What we do know is that DJ Chef Rocc, of the infamous Big Bucks DJ crew, will be manning the tables. The rest is largely up to the clientele. Zaiche wants it to be the kind of place where conscious cats can network and plot the power moves needed to move the city forward. Show your support by attending, and be sure to “like” the various FB pages linked from here. I will certainly be there!

Pyramid Scheme: The Haitian Memorial Pyramid answers several questions at once.

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The horrifying human and material destruction wrought by the earthquake that wrecked Haiti on January 12, 2010 inspired impassioned humanitarian responses from around the world, linking diverse chains of concerned citizens spanning political and socioeconomic categories. These chains will hopefully pull Haiti back from the abyss. One link among these chains is veteran political activist Russell Pelle, whose latest cause is certainly his greatest—the Haitian Memorial Pyramid.

The Pyramid project encompasses many things at once, which is what has made it so potent in the public sphere. The earthquake killed at least a quarter-million people in a matter of seconds, crushed beneath the rubble of buildings built to third-world standards and pulverized by seismic shocks. The body-count overwhelmed any existing emergency capacity—it’s not certain that such an emergency could even be handled effectively in the United States—and forced a Haitian government that was itself teetering on the edge of illegitimacy to make an almost-unthinkable decision: In lieu of normal burial practices, most of Haiti’s death were bulldozed into mass-graves on the outskirts of Port-au-Price. The site is considered hallowed ground by some, a symbol of the country’s weakness and systemic failure to others.

Pelle’s plan is at once audacious and amazingly practical. They will collect the rubble that remains around the earthquake zone, haul it away and use it to construct a gigantic pyramid at the site of the mass-grave. The pyramid’s aesthetics would recall the spirit of the indigenousAmericas: “A stairway, aligned with the sun every January 12, ascends to the summit. Passing under a glass rainbow archway set aglow by the sun, visitors approach the eternal flame. Trees and greenery on the terraces of the pyramid symbolize life—and the reforestation of Haiti.”

When finished, the Haitian Memorial Pyramid should be one of the country’s major tourist attractions, as well as a place where the people can own their pain and take control of how this unspeakable human tragedy will be perceived by future generations. Perhaps most importantly, in the short-term, the project (which could be potentially beHaiti’s largest employer) will not only provide jobs for local workers, but accelerate the snail-like pace of cleanup activity inPort-au-Prince.

The extent of material waste from resources donated by citizens of the world, and the slowness of the redevelopment over the past year and a half, is a flat-out disgraceful debacle. Most reports say that over 500,000 people still live in the camps, but Pelle’s experience suggests the number is more like a million. Those who can get out and try to rebuild their lives have nowhere to do so, because most of the rubble—some 33 million metric tons—remains where it fell. The pace of redevelopment has remained still as sluggish as health care, crime control or the food situation.

Frankly, the most amazing thing is that there hasn’t been some other major humanitarian tragedy (like cholera or malaria) since then. Haitians have been catching the bum’s rush for generations, alternating between dictatorship and chaos. Why? “The ruling class’ wealth is based on buying and reselling imports, so they have no interest in domestic production or agriculture,” Pelle says. The US has been extremely deficient about its responsibilities to a country it essentially sold into French tyranny.

Citizens of Florida have, of course, been always ahead of the curve on theHaitisituation, as our state (particularlyMiami) is the gateway to that whole region. Led by a brilliant contingent of Haitian-American artists, writers, musicians, businessmen and academics (including our own Overstreet Ducasse), money has been raised, connections have been made, and the groundwork has been laid for long-term political and economic means to bring long-delayed social justice to the people of Haiti.

But first, they’ve got to move that rubble. Pelle has partnered with Jeffrey Foster, a fellow Jacksonville resident (and designer of the Girvin Road landfill) who’s leading the design team, as well as treasurer Roland Wasembeck. They will be working in collaborations with Haitian consultants, utilizing a preponderance of their local labor. It may take 10 to 15 years, and millions of dollars, to finish the project, but it’s potential long-term benefit to the country makes it well worth the investment. The site is slated to also include a botanical garden and marine sanctuary built by other groups adjacent to the pyramid. When completed, it will be 100% owned byHaiti itself.

The astonishing disconnect between the billions pledged for Haitian relief and recovery, and the stunning failure of redevelopment efforts to date, suggests even bigger challenges ahead for people like Pelle. For some, Haitiis just the newest, fashionable form of social outreach, and that’s fine. But for Pelle, this whole thing evolves organically from years of direct involvement in Haitian affairs. “It’s an amazing, fascinating place,” he says. He’s spent most summers there since 1996; his most recent trip (Aug. 7-14) was the second one this year, and his 16th in 15 years. They originally planned to spend 15 days there, but finances compelled some truncation; the estimated cost for two people to make that trip for two weeks was $6,450.

Concerns about the approach of TS Emily, which was slated to approachHaitithat very weekend, did nothing to dissuade the team; it was their most important session yet. They have now met so far with a number of Haitian officials, including former PM Michele Pierre-Louis, current PM Jean-Max Bellerive (whose successor has not yet been chosen), the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and several mayors and senators of the Port au Prince area. Their political bases are well-covered.

The Haitian Memorial Pyramid holds nonprofit status in the state ofFlorida. The group has documented their work via Powerpoint on several occasions. These materials are available online, at HaitianPyramid.org; they will also deliver the message directly to groups interested in participating. (Donations via PayPal: haitianpyramid@gmail.com.) By partnering with others working to advance the same people, options for synergy and symbiosis abound.

The project is intended to be a bipartisan effort, stripped bare of petty ideological concerns; one hopes it can remain that way. Pelle and company reached out to heavy-hitters across the ideological spectrum, and got strong feedback from Bill Nelson and Corrine Brown. The North Florida Central Labor Council (which began reaching out toHaitithe day after the quake) was first to endorse the project. “This project and others like it not only offer needed help; they also serve as constant reminders that there is so much more that must be done. … By supporting the Haitian Memorial Pyramid Project, we are provided the opportunity to help this nation become whole again. It is a worthwhile endeavor”, wrote Mayor Alvin Brown; he reportedly expressed some interest in introducing them to Bill Clinton, whose name is virtually synonymous with the recovery effort in Haiti, and State Senator Tony Hill (who also works as Mayor Brown’s legislative liaison) also supports the project.

Having made a good, quick start to the project, Pelle looks forward to the years of hard work ahead. “Anything for the revolution, anything for the project”, he says, with the kind of positive attitude he’ll need to get it done.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; August 22, 2011

G. Jerome Jones on Hip-Hop

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Jones and Justiss, 2006

[We don’t often get guest posts at the “Money Jungle Safari”, but this is a welcome exception. G. Jerome Jones is one of my oldest friends, a multitalented multimedia pro who’s been a major influence on myself and others in the business. He’s done short-stories, plays, recorded a couple albums (one with DJ Zane III, the other with Jay Cole and the late, great Alan Justiss)–but he may be best-known for his spoken-word skills. I met him in 1997 at the old Nicotine Meltdown, through Justiss, when I came to write a story about it; I met Al Letson, Nestor Gil, Matt Butler, Troy Lukkarila, Chris Spohn and others all within the same couple weeks–a good summer!

Later, Jones was a founding editor of the original Section 8 Magazine, which ultimately delivered over 1,000 pages of original “local, national and international art, music, and information” to hundreds of readers. It would be impossible to say succinctly how important he was to building the organization to the global (and, quite possibly, intergalactic) status it hold today.

Jones reads from the 8, Elevations 2000

A graduate of Florida A&M University (one of the very best HCBUs), Jones hasspent most of the past decade in his native Barbados, where he continued to crank out material while developing his own greeting card/postcard business that shows great promise to fill some sizable gaps in that industry. He’s also working on a series of new releases related to his first love, poetry.

Jones recently took time to expound on a subject central to all our lives: Hip-Hop. He helped chronicle the formative earlier years of Duval’s stellar hip-hop scene in his reporting, and was the charismatic force behind the “Elevations” hip-hop nights held at Jack Rabbits under the 8 banner a decade ago. Artists like Willie Evans, Jr., Astronautalis, Paten Locke and dozens of others (a full list would be nice) all performed at those shows. Evans debuted “Underground Utilities” there, while Astronautalis once did a 30-minute freestyle while waiting for everyone else to show up. Epic. Enjoy.]

In Retrospect: An Old Head Takes a Look Back

Lord Monsta Ty battles Triclops; Zane III on the decks, 2000.

In many circles the question is often asked “what is Hip-Hop?” or “is that Hip-Hop?”  I’m sure most would agree that Hip-Hop is steadily evolving, and has come a long way from when it was birthed in the mid to late 70’s in theNew York Cityborough of theBronx.

As with any growing entity Hip-Hop has passed through many phases in its development and sadly many of today’s Hip-Hop heads don’t know, or care to know, about these changes. Most are caught up in the now, and really, why should they care about the history? No reason. But true Hip-Hop heads care about the history if for no other reason than that it did happen and without a doubt there was some timeless music that was produced and wonderful events that took place way back when. 

To many over the age of 35 the true essence of Hip-Hop was found in the “golden era” of the decade of the 80’s. In this time a great deal took place that shaped the styles of today. So let’s rewind a bit, sit back, as I bounce around through some of the moments and happenings that make Hip-Hop the lovely thing that it is to me. Me, an old geezer on the other side of 40, who by no long stretch of the imagination is an authority of this beautiful movement, but who, like many, is just another rabid fan and, thanks to time, has seen some thangs.

THE GOLDEN ERA- 1979-1989            

A cat by the name of Kool Herc is often mentioned as the one who started it all. Herc, originally fromJamaica, would take his sound system into the parks, set-up and throw a park jam, while doing this he would sometimes talk (or toast) over the instrumental records and do a bit of mixing. More DJ dexterity came with cats like Grandmaster Flash who was basically the man who started the whole scratching deal.

From the DJ came the rapper. Names like the Sugar Hill Gang with their hit “Rappers Delight” came out in 1979 with the lyrics by Grandmaster Caz who never got the credit. Kurtis Blow whose big hit was the “Breaks” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five also began their careers in ’79-’80. In 1982 Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five dropped a bomb that showed Hip-Hop could be more than party music with their infamous “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge…” the line that started the classic jam “The Message.” Also in ’82 Afrika Bambatta and the Soul Sonic force had a big hit with “Looking for the perfect Beat.” But it was RUN DMC who took it to the proverbial next level with their debut in ’83 – “It’s like that/Sucker M.C” and their success and “push” of the artform is still very much respected.

In the mid 80’s Hip-Hop was twisting in many different positions. New variants were sprouting from the main root. There were big tunes like Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France” andShannon’s “Let the music Play” which were examples of electro funk and freestyle or Latin Hip-Hop, but the so called pure shi8t was still being represented.

 A young, lean and hungry cat full of testosterone came forward in ‘84 with his debut “I need a Beat” and shook up the game. He was James Todd Smith, or LL Cool J as most people know him. LL was tight, but other cats were approaching it a bit differently. Folk like Doug E Fresh – the original beat box- and the group Whodini who dropped their album- “The Escape”(with classics like Friends, The Freaks come out at night and 5 minutes of Funk) also repped hard in ‘84.

The group UTFO also came out in ‘84 with “Roxanne Roxanne” and created the response trend, estimates are given that between 50-100 responses came off of that song. Another significant record released in late ’84 was 2 Live Crew’s “It’s gotta be Fresh”. This record, from down south, birthed the Miami Bass sound. In ’84 The Fat Boys were also around doing their thing and they became known as the most comical characters in Hip-Hop. Yea, Hip-Hop comics; something hardly seen in present times.

Fast forward to 1985. Many call this the last great year of Old school Hip-Hop. It was before the advent of overblown sampling. In ’85 RUN DMC collaborated with ‘70’s rockers Aerosmith and came with “Walk this way” and the early rumblings of  “gangsta rap” began with a track called “Batterram” by Toddy Tee.

A massive hit in ’85 was by the sexy Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with their joint “I wonder if I take you home” causing intense reactions on dance floors. But it was Doug E Fresh who owned that year with his big tunes “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” which took Hip-Hop in a new direction.

In my opinion the years 1986 -1989 are the pinnacle years in Hip-Hop. I say this because so many important groups emerged in this time and so many other things came into fruition that pushed the culture along. 

In ’86 DJ Polo and Kool G Rap made their debut with “It’s a Demo b/w I’m Fly” produced by Marley Marl. The shi8t Kool G Rap was spitting back then could still rock crowds today. The Juice Crew and Boogie Down productions went to battle with “The Bridge” and “The Bridge is over” ,  and MC Lyte stepped into the mix with “Cram to understand”. Salt & Pepa represented for the females as well with their joint “Push it” and the Beastie Boys released “License toIll”. But without a doubt, the debut of Eric B and Rakim with “Eric B is President.” takes the cake and when they dropped the full length album in ’87 – “Paid in Full” everybody and they Mama was checking for this dynamic duo.

In ’87 rap began to spread strong on the West Coast with Ice T dropping an album that did some high numbers and got him a lot of criticism. Ice T showed that life on the West Coast was different from the East.  One of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups in Hip-Hop also stepped up in ‘87, this was the mighty Public Enemy, mixing hardcore rap with strong socio-political messages they were a shock to the system of America.

In 1988 MTV created a show dedicated to all things Hip-Hop with Yo! MTV Raps and the Source Magazine printed its first issue. NWA released “Straight Outta Compton and Slick Rick came with “Children’s Story.”

In 1989 came the birth of Hippy-Hop with the Native Tongue collective emerging. Artists that comprised this collective were people like Queen Latifah and the groups De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers. Their music promoted tolerance, respect, fun and harmony a sharp contrast from what many of their contemporaries where doing.

Okay let me, pause and admit something here. This info is readily available on the internet, that’s were I got it, and if you are interested it takes only a couple of seconds to google it up, but for me, writing this article and looking this stuff up, I must admit, was a lovely stroll down memory lane. Time traveling at its utmost. To me many of these songs conjure up images of what I was doing at the time: the chica I was checking, the different haircuts I had, the clothing styles me and my friends use to wear the different dances we use to do, the slang we use to sling, basically all the things that go into making you who you are. The memories, some of them lovely and bringing forth a chuckle, some not so lovely and bringing forth a sigh…ah the memories.

While all this was happening with the musical part of the movement the other aspects were also flourishing i.e. gaining notice among the masses and spreading.

Some of the first movies that featured break dancing where classics like Wild Style and Flashdance, these films showed audiences near and far what the kids in the NY ghettoes were up to and people took notice. Without a doubt the two main Breakdance crews at this time were the New York City Breakers and the Rock Steady Crew.

On the Graff side things were bubbling too. Although still illegal, some of the artsy fartsy crowd in the big-up art galleries in downtown Manhattan, and elsewhere, were becoming interested in the inner city art that they saw on the subway trains and on the sides of buildings, and art exhibitions started to feature some of these artists. In most Graf circles the name that often comes up at least once is the lord of Graf, Phase II who started taking Graf to another level in the 70’s.

Sadly many still think that the term “Hip- Hop” only pertains to the man or woman on the mic, when in fact Hip-Hop is the DJ, the M.C, the Graffiti artist, and the Breaker. The Four Elements. In the early days these elements intertwined and fed off of each other, the classic early 80’s movieBeat Streetshows this interaction in its entire splendor and is a good one to check if you’ve never seen it before. To me it’s fresh and innocent, undiluted by the bling  playa and gangster mentality of today.

Another movie that shows that Hip-Hop was bubbling not only on the East Coast but the West Coast as well was Breakin’ which came out around ’84 and featured two dancers- Turbo and Ozone- doing more of the “up top” dancing moves than the floor moves. Breakin’ also featured a young Ice T with his big hit of the moment “Reckless”.

THE ESSENCE

The simple answer to the question “What is the essence of Hip-Hop?” is that Hip-Hop is the DJ, M.C, The Breaker, the Graf-artist….but it goes deeper than that Hip-Hop is a culture a way of existing and expressing. It permeates the way you walk, talk, dress and view the world. It shapes the way you interact with others and is the soundtrack of your triumphs, dreams, wishes and frustrations. It’s not just something you listen to. Folk who embody the essence do more than just listen to the music they are a part of it. They are involved in the creation of all or parts of the whole. They follow the dramas and characters of it like house wives do soap operas. They discuss it and debate on certain aspects of it and they do so regularly. Simply put, it’s their religion and some folk are downright fanatical

In my life I have encountered quite a few individuals who I would say embodied the essence of Hip-Hop. My involvement with Hip-Hop culture dates back to 1984 that’s when I first became aware of it, when I bought my first album (Kurtis Blow “The Brakes”). It was new and the thing to do and I was like 14 years old and had a bit more independence. I can recall that summer clearly. 

Break dancing on a beach inBarbadoswith my cousin and some friends, in many ways that was my coming of age summer, we formed a lil crew called the Renegades, nothing much just playing around. After that summer I was in a crew with the boys from my neighborhood a crew called Rock City Crew although we were nowhere close to a city we were island boys after all. We took it a little more seriously though, battling other crews at downtown nightclubs, behind grocery stores when they were closed on the weekends, and on school compounds, moving with a roll of congoleum and a boom box we were ready.

Some of the people in my crew were my cousin Russell who was crazy on the floorwork, his specialty was swipes and the windmill. He would get so high and he was quick, nice and smooth with it. Then there were the brothers Thorne, Nigel and Ian, who were both deep into it. Nigel was the up-top man and had the perfect waves, and Egyptian Tuts, while Ian was a jack of all trades Djing and MCing along with the dancing. I remember many nites just sitting out on their front wall trading line for line scenes from  Beat Street which we had memorized or chilling in their front room listening to their old man’s  LP’s and 45’s.

There comes a time however in every teenager’s life when nothing else matters but the opposite sex and during this time I must admit that Break dancing took a back seat. When I moved to theU.S.in ’89, I was into other music as well as Hip- Hop. Going through college in the early ‘90’s I remember the different fads and dances that came, like the Polka dots and shiny black shoes and the -“ouch”- MC Hammer pants. Dances like the wop and the cabbage patch and others with names I can’t recall. I even remember riding around one Friday with my boy Harv, skipping class, just playing Dr. Dre’s The Chronic over and over again, killing the cassette.

It was only after my college days when I moved back toJacksonville,Floridathat Hip-Hop moved squarely back into my focus. Living there I met many folk who breathed it- too many to name- DJ’s with vast collections of vinyl who made beats and played at different clubs.  MC’s, with immense skill, trying, giving it all they had, honing their craft and believing the pie in the sky dream that they would get that ever elusive record deal. Breakers, full of black and blues who still pushed their bodies to the limit striving to execute that perfect move; and Graf-artists with Burners of intricate detail and tags on many surfaces throughout the city.

Along with some friends, I started a monthly Hip-Hop show called Elevations and tried to do some positive things with it. We strived to promote the culture and give it a home where it could grow, where cats (and kittens) could sell their independent product and make contacts. We also made it a point to hit folks-especially the youngsters- over the head with some new and innovative, fun ideas and also tried to provide a forum where it could get political and make changes. But more than anything Elevations was a show where the four elements could exist.  Some cool things happened and some things that weren’t so cool as well, such is life.

Lately I been working on a Play and the four Elements is one of the main ingredients in it, so I’m still doing my thing. From vinyl- to cassette- to C.D.- to MP3…..things change, that’s one fact that remains the same. But in my mind the essence of Hip-Hop is not in the tools, the trends, the flash and the posturing. Hip-Hop is in the people who live it, and when I say live it I mean they turn to it when they are up or down, not necessarily to make money off of it, although that is not a bad thing, but the rewards are basic….you do it because you enjoy it.

You hear a song, or create a song, or see a performance that gives you a lil energy boost and gets you through a tough day. You observe or create a tight Graff piece and you feel good, simple. You check a Breakdancer, or bust a move yourself, and you are still thinking about it many days later. Alone in your room you scribble verses down in your notebook and share with your bro and you both get a chuckle or little enlightenment.

On the turntables- 1 and 2- you are totally in the zone and if you at a club you get a wonderful feeling seeing the people respond to your selections, but if you are alone it’s cool  too ‘cause you totally immersed in it. With nothing in your pocket and hunger pains in your stomach you throw up your tag on a wall just to let folk know “Heh, I’m here…and I am Hip-Hop….”     

gjrome@hotmail.com

sheltonhull@gmail.com; August 19, 2011

Scan and Deliver: Notes on JSO police radios and the media

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The Jacksonville Sheriffs Office announced in early July their intent to remove 22 police radios from local TV newsrooms. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department then followed suit by announcing plans to scramble their frequencies, blocking media access to their dispatches. In both cases, officials at these venerable organizations—the guts of our city’s first-response capacity—assert that such access interferes with their duties to protect and serve the public, that media access to scanners leads to excess traffic and possibly slower response time.

Budgetary constraints necessitating their recall seem almost ridiculous; for a city this size to be nickling-and-diming on such essential equipment evokes the infamous faulty radios that caused untold havoc among first-responders on 9/11. Not only media will lose these devices, but so will other law-enforcement agencies, most of which are probably already looking into aspects of JSO activity anyway. It’s unclear if these organizations will be allowed to use their own devices, if they chose to buy them.

According to the Florida Times-Union, the devices (made by Motorola, which is hilarious) cost about $4,600 each, but they are leased for $70 per month; editor Marilyn Young claimed on the paper’s website to have paid over $30,000 for six of them since 2005. “The radios were leased to the media when the JSO’s radio transmissions were encrypted [in 2005],” she wrote. “Before that, we could keep track of breaking news with radios we bought from places such as Radio Shack. … Without the radios, though, no media will be able to tell the public about a call out for a homicide, a police-involved shooting, a rape, an assault or anything else that officers are dispatched to until JSO decides it’s time for the public to know. … It’s not the end of the police beat, but it’s the end of giving the public information it wants, needs and/or deserves in a time period not controlled by a public agency.”

Lauri-Ellen Smith, APR is the Special Assistant to Sheriff John Rutherford, disagrees with the media’s position. In an e-mail to this reporter, she points out that it was not a snap decision on their part, but the result of extended deliberation. “We have been discussing this at JSO since late 2009. We did do some research and polled other law enforcement agencies as to their status with leasing radios to the media.” Smith provided this reporter with a list of all the police radios being leased out, as well as information related to JSO’s research on the issue statewide. According to their records, JSO gave approximately 98 police radios to various media outlets and law-enforcement agencies. Besides the six leased to the T-U, two were leased to WTLV, three to WOKV, three to WJXT and two to FOX-30.

JSO’s “Police Radio Encryption Survey”, dated June 3, surveys the practices of 15 other counties, as well as the Florida Highway Patrol. (Data forBakerCountywas unavailable.) About half those counties (Escambia,Leon, Flagler, Levy, Lake andNassau) and FHP encrypt their radio content.Nassau, which takes its cues on this subject from JSO, is the only other county surveyed that leases radios to the media; they charge $54.26 per month. Media representatives inClay,Leonand Flagler counties had all previously requested access to the radios, but were denied; “[LeonCounty] went encrypted a year ago for the specific purpose of taking access away from the media because of officer safety, suspect information, and tactical information being released.”

When asked whether JSO made this move unilaterally, or in consultation with other departments (as had been widely suspected), Smith notes that JSO was already unique among its peers in the level of transparency afforded the media: “[T]here are no police radios loaned or leased to the media by any law enforcement agencies in the area such as FHP, FBI, FDLE, Clay County SO, St Johns County SO, etc.” She adds that “Many of the law enforcement agencies that had possession of our police radios have been asked to turn them back in, as well.” These outlets include the base cops at NAS-JAX andMayport,FloridaDepartment of Law Enforcement, Neptune Beach PD, the St. Johns County Sheriffs Office and the FHP.

Smith notes that, while the police radios are gone, “We continue to utilize the Emergency Area Radio System (or EARS) text messaging to the media, notifying them of police activity in the area. The retrieval of our police radios from the news outlets means they lose their access to REAL TIME police transmissions, which is in accordance with a Florida Attorney General’s Opinion of September 22, 1997.” Local reporters complain that the EARS system basically allows JSO to censor details and delay giving crucial information to the media; it has been alleged that EARS texts get sent out to the media as late as two hours after the initial dispatch was made. Of course, since they know this only because they can compare the texts to the data from the police radios, it will now be impossible to assess the effectiveness of the system. 

But, to the point: Do police scanners serve to facilitate media interference in law-enforcement business? “Only a media outlet could tell you if they were intrusive into a crime scene, hindered an investigation or police activity, or reporting something to the public that they took off the radio without verifying it with us first”, Smith writes. (For the record, there are more known cases of police investigations being hindered by other police than by the media; that is a matter of public record.)

However, when asked for a specific example of their work being complicated by the media and their access to police radios, she did provide an example: “One of the most notable recent cases was when we received a tip that a man accused of killing two police officers inTampahad fled toJacksonville. While our officers were assembling to affect their tactical strategy at that business, a news truck and crew arrived and parked adjacent to the business. This created a serious public safety issue for not only the [news crew], but every customer in the business. If he had been the suspect (it turned out he was a strong “look alike”) and spotted that news truck, a hostage situation or something more tragic could have occurred.” Other cases have been cited informally, such as the murder suspect whose police standoff was broadcast live, as he watched from inside a house. He ended up killing himself, but any plans to escape or to go out shooting would have been greatly helped by watching police formations on TV.

Cynics would argue that these moves do not occur in a Duval-sized vacuum, but work adjacently to the larger battle between public institutions and the private sector, a battle being waged now in Tallahassee and Washington DC, and on the streets of pretty much every city in America. It’s been said that removing scanners from newsrooms will make it easier for police to cover up police misconduct; rumors have already begun to filter in from other cities that some departments may begin the phasing-out of “dash-cam” videos in a few months. For its part, JSO professes no present plans to remove the dash-cams. “We find the dashboard cameras to be another effective tool in police work, in the specific instances where they are utilized”, writes Smith.

As the dynamic between police and citizens deteriorates, first-responders are having their resources cut nationwide, which probably doesn’t help things. Courts from the federal level on down have consistently struck down the will of voters on local and state levels (including a Presidential election), ruled against citizens bringing suit for excessive force (including dozens of police-involved shootings), signed off on every evolution of the Unitary Executive, permitted rigging of political elections with money proven to be laundered into parties and PACs by unlicensed foreign interests. They have still made no definitive comment on citizens’ right to videotape the police while they are arresting suspects; arrests and beatings of people shooting such video are becoming as common as in any number of nations we should be striving not to emulate.

In the old days, the police beat was the meat and sinew of journalism work. At one point in the late-1950s, there were at least 18 daily newspapers serving New York City—just Manhattan, not counting the boroughs and a lot of the ethnic papers. Young reporters would start out there, get wised-up to the business and the techniques needed for success. The old-timers would take pride in how quickly they wore out a pair of shoes walking the beat; they knew the cops, the criminals, the civilians and everyone in-between. These were giants: guys like Jimmy Breslin, who knew all the hoods in New York; Mike Royko, who witnessed the war for Division St.in Chicagoand whose Boss (about Richard Daley) is a must-read for any political junkie; Irv “Kup” Kupcinet, who ran neck-and-neck with Royko for decades. Here in Duval we had folks like Mark Foley and the late, great Jessie-Lynn Kerr.

When Lepke Buchalter, architect of “Murder, Incorporated”, finally surrendered to face justice after a career of killing professional killers, he surrendered to a guy named Walter Winchell, a reporter and radio host whose style is virtually synonymous with that era. The photography world boats a man called “Weegee”, who spent much of his career shooting shots of shootings on the brutal streets of mid-century New York. His car was a rolling mobile multi-media machine: typewriter, camera equipment and the means to develop them on the spot, extra clothes and copies of the competition, and of course, a police scanner/CB radio. (This was years before television.) As a result, he often got to the scene before the cops; he also carried first-aid gear.

The police beat has been a major casualty of the unfortunate changes to befall the journalism industry in recent years. With many of the country’s leading newspapers on the brink financially, and the rest making significant cuts to keep up with financial pressures, the days of full-time police reporting may be essentially over. There remain a few of the old-style specialists at selected papers, and some interesting blogs floating about, but it’s a dying artform. You’re more likely to see reporters working stories once they get to court than in the crucial early stages; media’s general passivity on domestic issues stands in stark contrast to their bulldog work on the war.

Conspiracy theorists projecting the expansion of a police state should be careful to note that the real trend now, nationally, is toward a sort of faux-anarchy. Government has lost its credibility not only with the American People, but with much of the world. Our economy has collapsed, taking with it much of our leaders’ ability to effectively mediate disputes among citizens. The political and business elite have imposed chaos onto the population, and it is the job of law-enforcement to manage that chaos.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; August 1, 2011

 

Kim and Kelley Deal at 50: Belated Notes

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Kim and Kelley Deal, ca. 1995

Kim Deal was born June 10, 1961 inDayton, Ohio. Her twin sister, Kelley, was born 11 minutes before. Dayton remains their primary base of operations, though you never know where either might be in the world on a particular day. The twins have pursued their own agenda in the music world, and what they may have lacked in ridiculous stacks of cash, they have made up for with a reliable brand name and a loyal fan base that has avidly followed their work for almost 25 years now, in countless incarnations.

For me, the Breeders were my introduction into the music of that era. What was once just called “alternative rock” splintered into shimmering shards of specific sounds that had their own imprimatur. The indie labels stayed afloat despite the most predatory practices of commercial radio and the major labels, which actively colluded to freeze out all kinds of independent and locally-generated content from radio systems and retail outlets alike for years; independent record stores and low-power stations around the country were driven out of business, in favor of big-box retailers and centrally-planned radio systems that used illegal and unethical methods to dominate, for a while.

Luckily, the combination of MTV, public radio and college radio was enough to keep this stuff going long enough for the technology to catch up with the ideas. Now the artists exist on a roughly equal (or at least roughly equalized) playing field. Another key factor was the success of certain artists not only in their own projects, but in advancing the people’s understanding of what music is. The obvious example, in regard to the Deal sisters, is Kurt Cobain (1967-1994). The leader of Nirvana was the most high-profile exponent of that basic DIY ethic he internalized from his studies of punk music, and he put those values to work on behalf of his peers.

The man was vastly more intelligent than he generally gets credit for. He wasn’t just an expert on the pantheon of modern rock music to that point, besides aspects of folk and blues, he’d put those ideas to work. It’s almost unthinkable that there wasn’t some degree of calculation to the band’s sound, at least subconsciously; he knew what fans of the future wanted to hear, because he was one of those fans himself. That much is clear from the albums; subsequent bootlegs and box-sets have fleshed out the body of Cobain’s experimentation. Much of his actual methodology was simply adapted from other sources then combined to create a synthesis of sorts.

He was always not only gracious about his influences, but actively effusive in putting them over to his fans and in the media. Cobain was an early master of what GQ magazine might once have called the “symbiotics of dress”. He is commonly associated with flannel shirts, cords and cardigan sweaters, all of which have remained in fashion ever since, but his real trick was using band t-shirts. It was a simple thing, really: He just always made sure he was representing some band he liked whenever he was in a situation where he might be photographed or videotaped, which was pretty much all the time for a little over two years. It may not have been deliberate, at first, or consciously articulated; it was part of his personal aesthetic, and he was rigorous about not being too altered by fame. But there are stories of photo shoots where he would refuse to button his shirt, so that whatever shirt he was wearing would end up on, say, the cover of Rolling Stone, or on “Saturday Night Live”. He wasn’t the first person to do that, surely, but he raised it to the high hipster art form it has now become.

Cobain famously derided his hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as being his failed attempt to write a Pixies song; it makes sense that he would also be a proponent of the Breeders. He was once quoted to that effect: “The main reason I like them is for their songs, for the way they structure them, which is totally unique, very atmospheric. I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies, because ‘Gigantic’ is the best Pixies song, and Kim wrote it.” The Breeders opened for Nirvana numerous times, including his last US tour before his tragic and unnecessary death in April 1994. If he were alive today, he would probably be very pleased with the way things turned out for music and the musicians he liked.

The “Breeders” brand-name, which is of course gay slang for heterosexuals, dates back to around 1986, when the Deals were a 25 year-old duo act making their way in the Dayton music scene. Almost nothing exists, in terms of recordings from that period, other than a cover of “I Believe In Miracles” that gets right at the sweetness of their vocal style. The Deals remain among the most prolific exponents of two-part harmony in modern music, a characteristic that helped define their first album, Pod (1990) and which has stayed a vital part of their tool-kit. Over the past 20 years, as the sisters have matured and their music become even more idiosyncratic, their harmonies have helped make their later albums undisputed classics of 21st century indie rock.

After Kelley Deal’s drug bust, and the court-ordered rehab that ended the intial Breeders push in the mid-‘90s, it was generally assumed that the Deals’ days as a single creative unit were gone for good. Kim formed a group called The Amps, releasing Pacer in 1995; The Kelley Deal 6000 released Go To the Sugar Altar in 1996 and the seminal Boom Boom Boom!—which is probably the single-best non-Breeders record that either Deal produced—in 1997. I recall posing the question to Kelley Deal when her band played the old Moto Lounge inJacksonville that year (where another all-time favorite, the Crustaceans, opened up), and she had no idea, either.

Rumors of a possible return, and their fans’ desperate desire for a new Breeders record, lingered for over five years, until it seemed like the Deals’ place in history was as just one of the many one-hit wonders of that decade, “Cannonball” and a bunch of stuff that only hardcore fans knew or cared anything about. But then, out of nowhere, the Breeders returned with a vengeance, making up for lost time and reestablishing themselves in an industry that had changed dramatically in the intervening years. The phrase “Title TK” basically means the project has no title yet, but one will be added later; it was, in essence, a perfect title for an album that almost everyone in the world thought would never see the light of day. It was released in May 2002, at a time when cultural matters were widely overshadowed by politics and war.

For me, it was tonic for tumultuous times. By the time I had the pleasure of seeing them perform live in Chicago in 2002 (where I actually got to shake their hands, Kelley’s for the second time), the Breeders had coalesced into their contemporary form. The old rhythm section of bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson (both of whom were key to the visionary sonic success of “Cannonball”) had moved on during the band’s extended hiatus. Their replacements were Mando Lopez and Jose Medeles, bandmates who’d met the Deals in Los Angeles, and third guitarist Cheryl Lyndsey. Their professionalism took a lot of pressure off the sisters, who were now able to focus on their voices and the actual songwriting. The writing on Title TK was some of the best of the era.

The Deal Sisters, recording "Mountain Battles", 2007.

The Mountain Battles LP (2008) and the Fate 2 Fatal EP (2009) were hardly as accessible as Title TK, but continued the band’s hot streak with all the components Breeders fans had come to expect: cute, catchy sing-along tracks replete with those golden harmonies, rendered with a fidelity of their “No Wave” system. My most salient thoughts on these recordings were rendered in a review elsewhere, but I’ll note here that, like Pod and Title TK, the latter material has held up quite well.

It’s unclear when then next Breeders album will be released, or even how much has been recorded so far. But, unlike in the ‘90s, one can rest easily knowing that there will surely be another album in the next couple years, and hopefully many more. The fact that the Deals are still making compelling, credible rock and roll as they enter their sixth decade seems almost miraculous. But, then again, Sonic Youth never stopped; neither have the Beastie Boys. If the Breeders approach this new decade anything like how they approached the last one, it should be really interesting to watch. So, even though this comes two months late, Happy Birthday to Kim and Kelley Deal!

sheltonhull@gmail.com; August 16, 2011

Anders Breivik, Clear Channel, and the London Riots: Loose Threads

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It’s almost ironic that Anders Behring-Breivik, the monster who killed nearly 100 people across Norway in late July 2011, conceived and executed his nefarious plans as a exercise in psychological warfare, given that his early adulthood was spent working in the advertising industry. In fact, it now emerges that the seed money that permitted his initial travels to London, where he claims to have been “recruited” into this still-unknown group of possible co-conspirators, was inadvertently provided by one of the most prolific practitioners of such techniques in America, Clear Channel Communications.

Clear Channel is best-known for its role in virtually destroying the terrestrial radio industry in the United States. The infamous Telecommunications Act of 1996 eliminated all previous restrictions on radio ownership in the US, allowing Clear Channel to rapidly expand its radio holdings from the then-maximum of 40 to an unprecedented 1,200 stations, including multiple stations on the same dial in a single city, which was once illegal for reasons the company demonstrated in short-order.

Under their watch, the radio industry became suffused with payola: In exchange for preferential treatment on their centrally-planned national playlists, the “Big Six” conglomerates then controlling most major record labels funneled money into other the company’s other holdings in TV and outdoor advertising. It was technically legal, but brazenly unethical and transparently corrupt. Most of this music was designed to promote anti-social and self-destructive behaviors, typified by the gangsta rap and quasi-Satanic rock music produced by Interscope and Time-Warner. By the time prosecutors in New York and Florida began looking into these practices, it was too late. Terrestrial radio bled money, losing much of their market share to satellite radio and the Internet, both of which gave listeners more options for music unfiltered by corporate priorities.

Breivik was not involved in the radio industry, although it would be interesting to know what kind of stuff he listened to. His dealings with Clear Channel are summarized on page 1400 of his manifesto, in a section detailing his professional experience: “2000-2001: Managing director of Media Group AS. Development and sales of outdoor media solutions (primarily billboards). My company was partially acquired/bought by Mediamax Norway AS after I (and my employee, Kristoffer Andresen) had built a billboard portfolio from scratch in the Oslo area which was then sold to Mediamax Norge AS (which was later bought by JC Decaux Norway) and Clear Channel (July 00 – July 01)”. The profits from the sale of his business funded his trip to London in 2002, where by his own admission he was recruited into a larger right-wing terrorist movement.

Breivik signs his manifesto “London 2011”, raising the question of whether he had been there this year. Given that his name and status as a potential domestic terrorist had been known to authorities at least as early as March, 2011, it’s unclear how he could have been allowed to travel. It’s likely that Norwegian authorities never really considered the possibility of right-wing terror, despite the rising chatter of such around the world over the past couple of years. One looks at the violent rioting that hit London just two weeks later, and can’t help but wonder if there is any connection between the loosely-organized chaos on British streets and the “lone nut” of Oteya Island.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; August 8, 2011