Friday, May 21, 2010

When Hip-Hop Boarded the Soul Train

When I was watching VH1 late Wednesday night, the station aired one of their Rock Docs on "Soul Train" during their "Black to the Future" marathon called "Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America."

"Soul Train" was a television show started in 1970 by Don Cornelius, and was aimed at the general audience to show positive images of the Black community. Essentially, it was a recorded club party! They played the latest music and had different musicians perform (i.e. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, just to name a few), gave everyone the latest scoop on fashion and showed off the newest dance moves.

One thing "Soul Train" accomplished was to be the first T.V. show to air breakdancing. They cleared the dance floor and allowed a segment just for the poppers and lockers from Los Angeles to do their routine.

Although the dance element of hip-hop is known for being something from the streets, "Soul Train" broke the mold of hip-hop's being something that is only for the streets because of the glamor and positive reputation the show had on its audience.

Whatever was on Soul Train meant nothing but good things; so, when an element of hip-hop appeared in the show, the audience felt hip-hop was a positive thing to embrace. That segment opened so many doors for other hip-hop artists to grace the stage of "Soul Train." It also was the inspiration behind "Yo! MTV Raps", a show dedicated to exploring the culture of hip-hop and to entertaining the general audience with hip-hop music videos.

Basically, "Soul Train" was a stepping stone in making hip-hop approachable to people outside of the community.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hip-Hop Fashion, Music, and Sports! Thank you, Ice Cube.

An important moment in hip-hop was covered on ESPN. A moment for which I definitely wasn't ready.

In his amazing documentary titled "Straight Outta L.A." for the ESPN 30 for 30 Film Series, Ice Cube explored how the Raiders franchise, while in Los Angeles, was iconic during the Golden Age of Hip-hop, the late 1980s and early 1990s. That was a time when there was a balance in the kinds of hip-hop music surfacing in mainstream media. For example, hot groups during that time included: Public Enemy, a highly political and socially conscious group, NWA, one of the first rugged and raw gangsta rap groups, De La Soul, a free spirited group, and Kid N' Play, the rap group that was all about partying. NWA, which included Ice Cube, was one of the first groups to rock Raiders gear. Not only did it make the group look cool because of its black and grey colors, but it was something everyone could wear to look hard and not to be affiliated with a gang, unlike someone wearing blue or red.

Cube interviewed everyone from the '80s hip-hop era (including Snoop, who he plays catch with in the above video clip), as well as people from the L.A. Raiders franchise of the '80s to explain how the team had a huge impact on the city and how hip-hop put the Raiders on the map. He addressed how the team became a fashion icon for gangsta rap, how the crowds at the games consisted of hip-hop heads and urbanites, and how the movement ultimately became the reason why Al Davis pulled out of L.A. and moved to its current location Oakland.

I don't want to reveal too much about the documentary, so enjoy the clip and tune in to ESPN for its re-airing of the film. Check the
schedule for its next showing!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hip-Hop Pit Stop: Washington, D.C.

Although the birthplace of hip-hop is Bronx, New York, its development can be traced all over the East Coast, which includes the nation's capital.

Washington, D.C. is one of the places where hip-hop got its funky and rhythmic beat through the influence of Go-Go music. Go-Go was a style of funk music with a twist percussionists lived for because of its heavy reliance on drums and congas. Basically, Go-Go was a funkier and more rhythmic version of disco music. It was groovy and raw at the same time!

Dating to 1976, Go-Go blasted the D.C. music scene with bands like Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited (also known as E.U.) and Trouble Funk. Chuck Brown, who was credited as "The Godfather of Go-Go," used the improvisational type of music as a transition to the next song when he performed live with his band, The Soul Searchers. It was his way to respond to the cheapness and popularity of the disco D.J.s who had the advantage of spinning into the next song without missing a beat when they D.J.ed at local clubs. Brown allowed his drummers and percussionists to keep playing how ever they wanted to as he spoke to the crowd with call-and-response lyrics. That kept the crowd hype, plus it was a very innovative way to move into the next song.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, everybody was traveling to D.C. to witness Go-Go. In the early 1980s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell took interest in the sound and wanted to sign bands to the label to make it almost like a Go-Go label. Unfortunately, due to heavy competition amongst the bands, none of them wanted to be on the same label. So, for the most part, Go-Go bands continued playing music unsigned and with their only exposure coming from their live shows. In 1988, Spike Lee featured the band E.U. in his movie "Skool Daze" and their hip-hop classic "Da Butt" on its soundtrack.

After "Da Butt" grew popular, hip-hop musicians took note of it and wanted to incorporate Go-Go on their records. Artists like Salt-N-Pepa, Kid N' Play, and DJ Kool had Go-Go influence on their hit songs like "Shake Your Thang" (Salt N' Pepa), "Rollin with Kid N' Play" (Kid N' Play) and "Let Me Clear My Throat" (DJ Kool). Those artists added more energy and an impeccable rhyme flow to their records that had not been touched by the founders of Go-Go.

Even artists nowadays use Go-Go in their music. Wale is one of the biggest hip-hop artists to come out of D.C., and he often uses Go-Go on his records. Examples include his major hit with Lady Gaga, "Chillin' (Looking at Me)," and "Rising Up," his breakthrough single as a featured artist with hip-hop legends The Roots and Chrisette Michele, which was a direct tribute to Go-Go music. He even won best breakthrough artist in 93.9 WKYS's Go-Go Music Awards.

Go-Go is still around in the D.C. area as artists like CCB, Familiar Faces, and UCB perform live throughout the metro just like those before them had in the '80s.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spiritual Strain of Hiphop Part 2 - Christianity

Although I recently wrote about hip-hop's spirituality and "religion" the Universal Zulu Nation, that doesn't mean people from other religions don't use hip-hop as an expressive tool. Other religions use hip-hop music, dance and graffiti within the contexts of worshiping their god or higher being.

Christianity is one of the religions that use hip-hop as that form of tool. Also known as "Holy Hip Hop," hip-hop art in Christian culture has been known as the new and hip way to rally a younger audience into the church. People from the Christian faith that believe hip-hop, although it is "created by man," is used for God's purpose to reach out to the youth. Those who accept Holy Hip-Hop hold similar beliefs as the Universal Zulu Nation, but believe it is the principles of Christianity that need to be pushed in the lyrics and that the Christ figure should be added into songs. Even some famous hip-hop artists are now apart of the Holy Hip-Hop community, including Christopher "Play" Martin (from the hip-hop rap group Kid N' Play) and Kurtis Blow.

Below is the video "Hip Hop Church" that was aired on Current TV covering hip-hop in the church. It features Kurtis Blow as well as other emcees who rap in the name of Jesus.

The connection between hip-hop and the Christian church is nothing new. Actually, Black music today, as well as any music genre, has origins laced in the Black church. For starters, oration in hip-hop culture is a derivative of the call-and-response style of preaching. Think about it: how many times have you been to a hip-hop concert and the artist will say "if you in the place to be, make some noise!"? It's the same in the Black church. Typically, a preacher will ask his congregation, "if you hear me, say amen?" And then the church will respond saying, "amen." That particular style in both the church and in concert is used to pull energy from the crowd and bring them together. And this is used in all kinds of concerts, but it is also a style used in Black Christian churches.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spiritual Strains of Hiphop

Within the culture of hip-hop lies another element often ignored by mainstream society -- religion. There has always been the question of where the people of hip-hop get their energy from, and the answer is often umbrellaed as an energy that is used to fight freedom. However there is a deeper layer in the hip-hop community than the mere desire to be equal, and most people attribute it to a form of religion within hip-hop culture formed by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa.

Before he became "The Godfather of Hip-Hop," Bambaataa was a leader of the Black Spades, a notorious Bronx-based gang. After he discovered hip-hop and Zulu, he made it a purpose to fuse the values as an Amazulu believer with the tools in hip-hop. He not only left a legacy consisting of great music like "Planet Rock" and "Looking for the Perfect Beat," but he also started the Universal Zulu Nation, an international group of b-boys and b-girls, DJs, emcees and graffiti artists who are dedicated to pushing the beliefs of Zulu and Afrocentrism through the artistic elements of hip-hop.

The Zulu Nation carries some similar and different religious values other major religions of the world have. For starters, they believe in no single god figure and that all major religions of an omni-God faith (i.e. Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are essentially the same. According to their first tenet, "We believe in one God, who is called by many names -- Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, RA, Eloahim, Jah, God, The Most High, The Creator, The Supreme One... We will recognize them all to be the same one God."

Their tenets also stand against any form of racism, instead promoting peace among every human and the environment. It also references Supreme Mathematics as the foundation for "life, creation, everything." An example of Mathematics in hip-hop could be directed to the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album
Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers:

There is a story behind why the famous hip-hop group named their album 36 Chambers, and it is due to their value of mathematics. In Supreme Mathematics the number 9 means "to bring into existence" (also known as a debut). At the time of their debut album, Wu-Tang had 9 members, each members having 4 chambers of the heart (2 atria and 2 ventricles), and if you multiply 9 and 4 you get 36. Hence the title 36 Chambers, meaning a total of 36 chambers within the hearts of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Over its years, the Universal Zulu Nation began to take a more Afrocentric turn, embracing thoughts and ideas from the Five-Percent Nation of Islam. Specifically, the notion of overthrowing white supremacy was through centering their spiritual beings around the Black men, i.e. claiming the Black man as God. For example, if you listen to a lot of Wu-Tang's early music (in particular, 36 Chambers), they will greet each other like "Peace God" or "God, check it..." greeting each other as if they are a god because that is the belief of the Five-Percenters.

Other famous hip-hop artists with ties to the Universal Zulu Nation and the Five-Percent Nation of Islam:
  1. Eric B. & Rakim
  2. KRS-One
  3. X-Clan
  4. GURU
Recently, the Universal Zulu Nation joined forces with the Temple of Hip-hop to form the Declaration of Peace. This declaration proclaims hip-hop as a nonviolent culture that seeks "a foundation of health, love, awareness, wealth, peace and prosperity for ourselves, our children and their children's children, forever."

A good book that explains everything religion-wise in hip-hop is "The Gospel of Hiphop: The First Instrument" written by KRS-One. It is essentially a bible aimed at the hip-hop culture using the same principles established by the Universal Zulu Nation and the artistic elements of hip-hop as tools for social and political change. It is a book that explores the science and religion of hip-hop.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spectacular Vernacular: The Development of Hiphop Rhetoric

Hip-hop music has always been dubbed "poetry in motion" over its years of existence. The "poetry in motion" saying holds two meanings: rhymes flowing over beats and the constant change of the rhetoric in hip-hop culture.

Language develops over time, and no matter what culture you live in, words change meanings all the time. Hip-hop is no different. Actually hip-hop, along with many other subcultures in America, is a heavy influence of the changes in mainstream society. From words like "bomb" to "bling," we've witnessed the definition and context of hip-hop's vocabulary used by almost everyone in America. "Bling" rapidly became the term to use for luxurious items such as jewelry and cars for everyone, but not until it was used in the song "Bling Bling" by the Cash Money Millionaires (seeing the video will show you why it was so influential).

Take Urban Dictionary for example. Although this "dictionary" is the Wikipedia of vocabulary - with its user-created content, which makes the words and their definitions exaggerated - it is a great example of how influential hip-hop culture has been in developing language for all of America. How?

Well, to credit Urban Dictionary, and the development of the vernacular of hip-hop, you have to understand hip-hop is all about representing. It's always been about how you represent your neighborhood - from the neighborhood's style of music to the type of language they use - through the artistic elements hip-hop has to offer. Like the post about chopped and screwed music in Texas, their style of music is slow and relaxed. So their style of rhyme and vernacular, just as it has been before the days of hip-hop, is slow and drawn out.

Bringing this back to Urban Dictionary, the site has over a million submissions per day from people of various backgrounds. And if you notice the definitions (including all of the ridiculously sexual ones), they always let you know what region of the country the word comes from. For example, if you look up the word "shorty" you'll get over a dozen results that come from over a dozen regions of the world. The definitions vary from culture to culture, especially within the culture of hip-hop. Like in the South, "shorty" means a fine, attractive girl. In the North, "shorty" means a young man new to the streets. In Australia, according to Urban Dictionary, "shorty" means a way to insult someone smaller than you.

Basically, the rhetoric of hip-hop is ever-changing with the time for the region that it serves. And as it changes, so does the rhetoric of mainstream American society. Language can be a never-ending cycle, and the cycle is often sped up by the culture of hip-hop.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


In hip-hop, all good things never come to an end!

Here's the scoop: I graduate this June, and I would definitely love to see this blog for ACRN continue. One important thing about hip-hop is dropping knowledge, as well as carrying on tradition, so I am seeking some writers who are knowledgeable about hip-hop that want to post pieces on this site on anything hip-hop.

There aren't many requirements to this job; in fact, it is more fun than anything! Your only duty is to post one blog - whether it is a small, 200-word joint, or a piece of media, or an elaborate article - per week. This is not a paid position, but it is a great way to get some experience out there working for a radio station and online magazine, plus it'll reap some great clips to add to your resume.

If you have any questions about this position, feel free to shoot me an email me at, or the ACRN blog editor Krisi Nehls at!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hiphop's 5th Element: Kickin' Knowledge

As mentioned before, hip-hop culture is typically broken down into four elements: emceeing, breaking, DJing and graffiti. Throughout this blog we've examined these artistic aspects and how much they have impacted the globe. However, we haven't discussed one other important element in hip-hop culture: Knowledge.

Knowledge, an element made by Afrika Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation, is the glue that holds the artistic elements within the context of hip-hop. Without knowledge, a person who can rap will never be an emcee. A person who can mix records on a turntable can never be considered a DJ if he or she doesn't have knowledge. Spinning on your head without possessing knowledge only makes you capable of getting dizzy. Tagging the walls without knowledge is just vandalism.

Knowledge is the element that explains the difference between mainstream society and the hip-hop community. It helps the people of hip-hop learn about and embrace their differences, from language to physical abilities. It teaches the hip-hop community how to properly express themselves for the entire world to experience.

Knowledge can be seen in numerous ways. It explains the reason why folks who are in tune with hip-hop can rhyme over any beat about political and social issues. For example, if you put a rapper on the spot and ask them to rap about the health care reform, and this person says one line about health care and seven lines about how great they can rap, then that person lacks knowledge.

Another way knowledge is portrayed is in pieces drawn by graf writers. The famous "Tuff City" piece by Skeme is not just a picture showing off the skills, but a story of corruption in the eyes of a then 17-year-old. A true graf artist won't stop at writing his or her name in the subway train. They want everybody to know who they are and their story.

In essence, that's what knowledge is. It is the element that teaches the hip-hop community about their identity and how to express it. The entire concept of knowledge dates long before hip-hop; it lies within its roots and sheds light on why hip-hop is so powerful.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Real Hiphop 101: The H2Ed Guidebook Series

Beyond trying to teach hip-hop as a subculture in America, different educational systems (from elementary schools to colleges) are exploring ways to use hip-hop's creativity and energy to help students learn about cultural, social and political issues in today's world. After digging deep in some textbook crates, I found one of the rare books that explains the best ways to use hip-hop as an educational tool - The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook by the Hip-Hop Association.

The Hip-Hop Association (also known as the H2A) is an organization composed of hip-hop artists, filmmakers and scholars such as Mazi Mutafa of Words, Beats and Life, Inc., renowned female battle emcee Roxanne Shante' from the legendary Juice Crew, Associate Director for the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs at New York University Marcella Runell Hall, and filmmaker and activist Martha Diaz. The H2A seeks international social change through the use of media, pop culture, education, social entrepreneurship, leadership development and diplomacy.

The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook Volume 1 (edited by Martha Diaz and Marcella Runell Hall under the H2A) is a resource book for parents, teachers and scholars that addresses how to analyze hip-hop's influence in mainstream American society and pop culture from a scholarly standpoint. It doesn't explore the hip-hop arts in as interesting a way as That's The Joint, but it does have creative ways to finally put hip-hop in the classroom. It offers extraordinary ways to develop a student's writing in both poetry (because, of course, rapping is poetry in motion) and storytelling.

Plus, the book shows ways to use breakdancing to explore human anatomy and the laws of physics. In short, this book explains how hip-hop educates its community, and it takes hip-hop outside of the streets by putting it into the schools. It also addresses how to approach things such as diversity, leadership development, cultural heritage and identity in ways the hip-hop culture has done in its past - with its arts.

This 246-page book is now available as print for $26.50 and as a download for $10.55.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Real Hiphop 101: That's The Joint! The Hiphop Studies Reader

Remember I said last week that the real hiphop 101 has a required textbook? Well, this is what we had to use for our class:

Released in 2004, That's The Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader is a 628-page textbook with hundreds of articles dating back to the 70s, when hip-hop first began. It covers all of the artistic and cultural elements within hip-hop in sections classified by art, race, gender, politics and hip-hop's impact on the world.

The editors of this book, Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, managed to find all types of articles, from newspapers, magazines, radio interviews and even scholarly journals. Some articles are written by different famous hip-hop scholars, including Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Nelson George, Joan Morgan and Bakari Kitwana.

I loved this book when I first bought it for the class. It included interviews with almost all of the hiphop pioneers I discussed previously in this blog, and it is a very easy read. The way this book was broken down into sections gives people a great leeway into discussing the given topics very easily. I use this book for almost every post in this blog, as well as for every forum I organize with Hip-Hop Congress. And although this book cost me about $50, it is one of the greatest investments I have ever made.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

AAS 357: The Real Hiphop 101

Every Spring Quarter, the Department of African American Studies offers us OU students a real hip-hop 101 session called Black Music Seminar I.

I took this course my freshman year because when I heard from Anita, then president of the Ohio University Chapter of Hip-Hop Congress, tell us about "the hip-hop class" I was amped. I had never heard of somebody literally teaching hip-hop in a classroom setting!

Yeah, I know you can teach someone about the ins and outs of the hip-hop culture, but never did I know that you could reserve a space on campus, as a faculty member of a university, and let students register and receive credit for learning about a subculture in America, including a curriculum and required textbooks!

Taught by Dr. Akil Houston, this class engages students in discovering and developing critical analytical skills within the context of hip-hop history, culture and politics. Hip-hop culture as a manifestation of Africana visual, performance and oral tradition is studied. Africana cultural practices that have given rise to the numerous manifestations of hip-hop in the United States and abroad are explored, and the class looks at how hip-hop has affected/infected all facets of popular culture from the classroom to the corporate boardroom. The development, contradictions and various representations of hip-hop culture are examined (from OU's online course catalog).

Here is this year's information for the course on Athen's campus:

AAS 357, call no. 00673, will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Morton Hall Room 322.

Don't miss out on a wonderful experience. This is one of the best courses on campus because it's the best way to broaden your horizons within music as well as different cultures. Plus, your final is a performance organized and performed by you!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Still Tippin': A Chopped and Screwed Blogpost

DJing has many dimensions within its own element in the hiphop culture -- the scratching, the blending, the mixing and more. But one dimension is always left out of the bunch, and that is the art of chopped and screwed. Founded and based in Houston, Texas, chopped and screwed is a part of the DJing element of hiphop, relevent for how different aspects of culture comes out in its technique and for its connections to its hometown. It also known as controversial because of how people may interpret it. Being that it is, it is a techniques still finding its fit in hiphop.

The history of chopped and screwed dates back to 1991, where Robert Earl Davis Jr., also known as DJ Screw, was playing around with his turntables (scratching and cutting as all the typical DJs were doing) and found a cool, fresh sound. He dramatically reduced the pitch of a hiphop record (or "screwed" it), making the song sounds mellow and deeper, and the words sound slurred, similar to the style of Black Southern dialect. DJ Screw made mixtapes out of his house (often known as the "Gray tapes" because the mixes were recorded on gray tapes) with the sound, charging extra for folks who wanted a shout-out or who wanted to freestyle over his mixes (the freestyles, of course, screwed like the music). Once people caught on to freestyling over the mixes, the Srewed Up Click grew into a large group of emcees and DJs (including E.S.G., Lil' Keke, and Big Pokey). In all honesty, the rhymes weren't the greatest, but they were highly representative of the sound and the southern city.

But it doesn't stop there.

Once the scene traveled to the northern part of Houston, one particular DJ took Screw's techniques and added the "chopped" to it. Around the mid 90s, Michael " 5,000" Watts heard the tapes from DJ Screw and wanted to get the new movement out of Houston, TX. Aside from just slowing down the song, Watts had two records of the same song on a turntable and would start the first record a few milliseconds ahead of the second record. He would then cut back and forth so that the words sounded like they were repeating, almost as if the record was skipping. The result was more rhythmic and fun mixes than DJ Screw's mixtapes. And just like DJ Screw, Watts started the record label Swishahouse Records, holding a roster with some of the most well-known artists out of Houston (inlcluding Paul Wall, Mike Jones, and Chamillionaire).

A key track from Swishahouse (featuring Bun B) with the chopped and screwed sound and emceeing on it is "Chunk Up The Deuce." If you notice, only the beat is chopped and screwed, and the sample used (from the Twilight Zone) is screwed too. Below is the video. Enjoy!

Bad connotations from this scene in Houston are often associated with the predetermined reasons behind why DJ Screw and Michael Watts chopped and screwed their music -- drugs and alcohol. Around the same time the screw music started, this new trend also started, which involved people drinking Promethazine, a prescription cough syrup that contained codeine. Referred to in hiphop records as syrup, drank and Texas tea, the main and major side effects with codeine are dizziness, change in vision and even loss of consciousness. So people unfamiliar to the sound of Houston were quick to assume the cause of the DJing technique was from the side effects from Promethazine, even though screw music came first. And when DJ Screw died from a heart attack in 2000, there was codeine found in his system, although his death was never officially attributed to an overdose. And along with several songs released in the height of the syrup hype, people were ready to shut the screw music scene in Houston, Texas down!

However, even to this day you can find the hottest hiphop record being chopped and screwed. Although people connected codeine use to the chopped and screwed sound, the music still managed to identify itself with the neighborhood it served. The sound still resonates as the style and life of Houston.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hiphop Pit Stop: Detroit, MI

While hiphop has rich styles down South in Atlanta, out West in Los Angeles and up North in New York, one city often forgotten about that has a rich hiphop culture is Detroit.

Known for the productions of the late and legendary J Dilla (who we'll save a blog for later), Detroit holds a lot of emcees who have strong lyrical skills but little to no credit. Not to mention the OTHER producers who can compose tunes just as good as Dilla did in his day.

The first artist that comes to mind is Black Milk. Not only does he come with raw lyricism that could get him through 8 Mile (and no, I'm not talking about the movie), but he is also a great hiphop producer. He has done work with J Dilla, as well as Slum Village, Royce da 5'9" and Lloyd Banks.

Speaking of Royce, he has just joined the new hiphop mega-group Slaughterhouse, composed of lyrical monsters Joell Ortiz (hailing from New York), Joe Budden (hailing from New Jersey) and Crooked I (hailing from LA). This group has the potential to be a group that no rappers will approach to battle. Ever. But the story of Royce is an interesting one. He first made his footprint in the hiphop scene under Eminem (who is also from Detroit). They did numerous tracks together (if you check Em's old albums you'll see). After breaking away from Aftermath for personnel issues, he kept a low profile until joining Slaughterhouse.

Another great hiphop artist that represents for the 313 is Invincible. She not only spits hotter lyrics than most men in the rap game, but she does a lot of community work too, which makes her far more hiphop than a lot of artists out of ATL, New York and LA. She currently works with kids in a program called the Live Media Arts Project (LAMP), where they research a problem in the city (ranging from public housing to education), and based on their findings they use one of the elements of hiphop as a tool to report it. This could range from an album to a graffiti mural.

One of the best videos that gives you an idea of the current environmental state of Detroit, as well as a great grassroots effort by Invincible and LAMP, is this docu-music-video called "Locusts," featuring rhymes by Invincible and Finale (another dope emcee from Detroit), as well as interviews from the kids in LAMP.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hiphop Video Games: DJ Hero

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it's a duck - right?

Well, since this looks like a turntable, feels like a turntable, and sounds like a turntable, then it's a turntable - right?

Well, not exactly.

This is Activision's latest venture after their success with Guitar Hero called DJ Hero. It's basically where players are given the ability to spin, cut, scratch and blend classic hiphop, rock, and funk songs. With classic songs by Jay-Z, Eminem, and Daft Pun and featuring guest players that resemble Grandmaster Flash, DJ AM,and Z-Trip, the game was a sure-fire hit among all music lovers!

DJ Hero had to have the best gameplay simulation any hiphop video game has ever had. I mean, turntables aren't hard to replicate, but the developers of this game did a very good job putting the controller together. And not only does it look nice, it also plays just like a turntable. Like, literally, it plays like a turntable!

Whenever a colored note slides into its corresponding matching circle, you hit the matching button. Whenever the squiggly lines slide into its corresponding circle, that means you have to hit the button AND scratch. There are also parts where you have to push buttons that play sound effects to enhance the mix and, just like Guitar Hero has, there are also moments where you play so good, you reach "euphoria". Imitating a DJ mixing "Atomic" by Blondie with "Feel Good, Inc" by Gorillaz on DJ Hero is nowhere near as easy as imitating the guitar play on "Miss Murder" by A.F.I. on Guitar Hero.

Another great thing about this game is the music selection. Now, I have heard every song that could possibly be mixed on DJ Hero, and I am very impressed. It is very club-heavy and lacks the amount of breakbeats and funk records I expected, but I'm still glad it gives classic records like "Bustin' Loose" by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers and "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock (which was a huge jazz-hiphop collabo in the early 80s) the credit they deserve.

Now, I understand the game needed to have a club vibe so that the gamers would feel better about their mixes. In this game the background, plot and scenery matched the mixes the gamers replicated. Just as in Guitar Hero, in DJ Hero you battle different characters in the game with your turntable as a weapon. The more you win, the more music, characters, places, etc. you unlock. So why wouldn't the game also have battles that took place where DJ battles originated - in the park.

Of course, the battle of the DJs blew up internationally once they hit the clubs, but they started in the parks where DJs would show off their skills with the turntables. It was also a battle of who had the most records as well. And although DJ Hero does show that significance with the unlocking of a records with each victory, the gamers do lose out on the street scenes as a DJ.

But I still feel that DJ Hero is one of the greatest hiphop games ever made.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hiphop Video Games: Flow

If you can't keep up with the rhythm to most hiphop songs, you have no need to worry - there's a game for that.

In 2005, Ubisoft released the game "Flow: Urban Dance Uprising," a b-boy flavored DDR video game full of hiphop tracks and breakbeats. Using your Dance Pad, PS2 controller, or even an EyeToy Camera, you have the ability control the guy or gal breaking for points for more songs, costumes, territory, and ultimately respect.

If only it really felt that way.

Don't get me wrong! The tracks selected for this game were great, including Kurtis Blow, Rakim, and the Sugar Hill Gang. Although they were the typical breaking/break dancing/b-boying/b-girling (whatever you call it; I'll explain that later though) songs that no hiphop head could not dance to, the developers in charge of the music could have dove a lot deeper in the crates for better hiphop records. I expected more breakbeats and got a lot of mixes from different styles of DJing from all over the world. Even though it's a good thing to hear hiphop mixes from other countries, the game should have kept the soundtrack filled with original breakbeats that b-boys and b-girls first fell in love with.

Another problem I had with the game was the simplicity of the dance moves. I know we're not all breakers; most of us can barely dance, let alone break dance! Even beyond all that, I would've thought we would have more control than step left, right, up and down. I really thought I was going to get to use my hand for this game, like breakers usually do with their footwork, but was heavily disappointed when I only got four ways to move. The closest the game got to the footwork in breaking was the top-rock, where breakers use their feet to bust moves as well as their hands to taunt the opponent and add dance moves. I wanted to at least try a handstand or spin, or, in all honesty, hurt myself after several attempts.

The good news is the dance moves for Flow aren't as easy as normal DDR games. Even the "easy" setting is pretty difficult for people who aren't good at moving their feet. This game is for those who are naturally loose when they dance. If you are stiff when you dance, this game will be a challenge for a long time.

The overall problem with this game was the lack of connection between the art and culture of breaking and video gaming. There were plenty of opportunities where the developers could have made gamers feel like they are really breaking but fell short. From the music to the controls, there was only a small taste of a simulation of breaking. More beats, movements and options would've given gamers a better experience of hiphop, especially if they want a more physical experience. Thanks to the lack of development (and what I am assuming is also lack of research), the game was ultimately too simple to flow with hiphop.