Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Conversation With Slate Magazine's Jack Hamilton About the Notorious B.I.G., Hip Hop, and Popular Music's Relationship to the Colorline

I hope that you had a good New Year's and first few weeks of 2015.

The Chauncey DeVega Show continues in 2015 after a several week hiatus. We have some wonderful guests for the new year, the conversations already recorded, and quite a few planned for the future. 


To begin 2015, The Chauncey DeVega Show will feature two shows focusing on hip hop music. 

Our first guest for 2015 is Jack Hamilton. He is a contributing writer at Slate magazine, and also an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Media Studies at the University of Virginia.

I am a member of the hip hop generation. My own work focuses on race, hip hop, and the politics of popular culture. It is always wonderful to chat with a fellow traveler such as Jack Hamilton.

In this episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Jack and I talk about the life and legacy of the late, great, MC known as The Notorious B.I.G., the current state of hip hop music, the occasion of how many seminal hip hop albums are now 20-years-old, teaching popular music in the classroom, writing about music for Slate, the colorline and black music, and how/if the conversion from analog to digital has changed--in a negative way--publics' relationships with popular music, as well as the complicated role of the white critic in black music.

In this podcast episode, I also share my thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo Paris terror attacks and free speech, and offer some sharing about my recent guest appearance on the RT network. Of course, I couldn't resist talking about Chris Rock's movie Top Five...and my impulse to share a personal "top 5 MCs of all time" list, while looking for the fainting couch, as I am struck dumb by Rosario Dawson's beauty.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is a virtual bar and salon where interesting and smart folks doing interesting and smart things sit down for a conversation. 

It was a joy talking with Dr. Jack Hamilton.

This episode of the podcast known as The Chauncey Devega Show can be listened to below or "watched" on the official Youtube channel for


SW said...

O-kay-kay-kay....I'll play.

First the disclaimer. I'm a child of the 80's that grew up in St. Louis, MO. The rap influences that I was exposed to came from all over. We had Biggie and Tupac, but we also got a lot of Dre and Snoop (especially in the '90s), as well as the southern rap influences of Scarface (and all of Rap-A-Lot), Master P (and all of No Limit), UGK, 8-ball & MJG, etc. Sooo, without further ado, here is MY top 5 based on the criteria that CD established (metaphors, story, flow, cadence, importance...):

Also, I am not a student of hip-hop. I listened to what I listened to with the homies, while playing video games, etc.

1) Biggie
2) Lil' before you start to criticize, I was a Wayne fan starting in his Hot Boy days. Block Burna, track 5. When it comes to the specific criteria of metaphors, flow, cadence, and importance (mix-tapes, pioneering styles), I'd put Wayne's top 5 singles against anyone else's top 5 singles, and he will be better, or at least on par. He may not have the classic album, but Wayne has a bevvy of classic hits.
3) Scarface (was glad Chris Rock mentioned him in his Top 5)
4) Jay-Z
5) Outkast (I guess I'd go with Andre 3000 if I had to choose)

And my sixth man is Twista.

One sort of related observation to the quality of music post 90's, or whatever your particular demarcation may be. Cornell West talks a lot about how jazz, R&B, and funk were all intertwined in the Black Freedom Movement. Could it be that our music has less soul nowadays, because black artists have been accepted into mainstream America? Essentially, hip-hop has been let into the class of exploiters who only care about making a buck. So we get cheap, make-a-buck black music.

chauncey devega said...

Twista and Wayne. Lord you are country :)

There is no accounting for our own personal tastes...although that doesn't mean that we can't have a criterion for them.

There is a whole store there about the Black Culture Industry. Hip hop is just those processed mated w. globalization and technologies that have made it happen in a spectacular way.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I'm glad you gave ODB such strong praise, I'm thinking about my top five... I've never listened to Rakim. I'm going to check him out.

I was born in '85 so I was a child throughout much of early hip hop. In my family, hip hop was black people (or worse) music and therefore completely off limits. The first hip hop I heard was from my rebellious older brother. He listened to Eminem, Cypress Hill, Insane Clown Posse, and Dr. Dre. I did not get into these artists, though I've listened to Cypress Hill and Dr. Dre.


1. Ol Dirty, he's unapologetic, uncompromising, and relentless. I think he is my standard for MC'in
2. GZA is a slayer on the mic.
3. Chuck D, never ending socially aware, powerful rhymes
4. MF Doom, I mean his beats are killer, his flow and topics are just great, a real story teller and most of all, a VILLAIN.
5. De La Soul. I know they're a group, but they just give me good feelings every time I listen to them.

All of my music from my late teens and early 20's had to be socially aware, my own rule which really limited my musical taste. I have expanded since then. Today, I almost exclusively listen to hip hop rhymes and instrumentals. Artists that make their rounds in my stereo are:

Wu Tang members, love some Ol Dirty, GZA, RZA/Bobby Digital, Raekwan, U-God, Ghostface, the Method Man, Killah Priest
My avatar is a Public Enemy emblem for Fear of a Black Planet. I used to think I learned all of my race politics from Public Enemy. Chuck D is phenomenal.
MF Doom, his special herbs and spices, his early albums, his many personas as King Geedorah, DOOM, and Victor Vaughn. I've even listened to the music group Monster Island Czars.
Love me some Madlib beats and Quasimoto.
Nas Illmatic is killer. Have you heard NAStradoomus? MF Doom beats with Nas acapella rhymes.
Tribe Called Quest, love some Q-Tip
De La Soul. I have a few tapes and CD's from them, 3 Feet High and Rising is in my truck stereo non stop.
Beastie Boys, Mike D, Ad Rock, and MCA
Gil Scott Heron is awesome,
Grandmaster Flash. The Message.
I Love some Kool Moe Dee
Bus Driver is good
I've listened to some Atmosphere and Sage Frances, Saul Williams...

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Oh, I forgot about how much I love Mackelmore. HA jk

SW said...

Lol. I suppose when the music I came of age listening to, frequently included "hoody hoo" and "whoadie", that qualifies as country. Haha.

I do have to say that I'd be curious to know how and where Dr. Hamilton would classify southern hip-hop, or "country rap tunes" as UGK would say, in the broader hip-hop genealogy.

It seems that the newer generation of east coast hip-hop, such as A$AP Rocky, has been strongly influenced by southern rap, in overall music production and sound. While the lyricism is still very much homegrown.

Also regarding southern rap's place in hip hop's heritage, a pioneer like Master P certainly has to be given credit for inventing a very prolific sales, marketing, and distribution machine. As a business man, he came before Jay-Z and Puff. He was selling No Limit apparel, inside his album covers, long before RocaWear or Sean Jean existed. His net-worth was several hundred million, well before the Jay-Z's and Puff's took that leap.

P was also dropping a new artist or new song every week for what seemed like several years straight. Most of them were no good, but you could certainly appreciate the No Limit strategy, which in my opinion has influenced the way Drake and other modern artists constantly release new music.

SW said...

Your criteria of socially aware music is something I think about frequently when listening to what I have in rotation. Socially aware it is not, but the beats and production are so seductive.

I have to admit that I like to drive with my windows down, and there are occasions at red lights where I find myself turning down the radio because the lyrics are just flat out embarrassing.

I've certainly learned to appreciate the likes of the Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest, artists I would consider more socially aware, but my drug is the likes of Three Six Mafia, UGK, Wayne, etc. I've literally tried to ween myself away from the brain cell killing, hard core rap, but I inevitably need a hit.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I had a friend give me a mix CD he called Now That's What I Call Gangsta!
i listened to a lot of it.

I've listened to Lil' Wayne and he's got a nice flow.
I can't listen to hardcore stuff around my kid, I'm lucky he let's me listen to De La Soul or Tribe Called Quest

GE said...

Had to jump in on this one. Luke was selling tapes out of his car in the eighties. He was an early pioneer as an entrepreneur. My very unofficial and off the cuff list.

1. Tupac. Intellect and emotion could move people to revolution.

2. Tribe called quest. Music and lyrics. Would lean toward Q Tip as fav of the two.

3. Public enemy specifically Chuck D.

4. Ice Cube. If you don't known why he's doing movies check out his first two solo albums. Another who was revolutionary in his lyrics.

5. Biggie. You could see his lyrics.

Jay Z would be sixth man. The rooster would be complete w Rakim Outkast Scare face.

I think lil Wayne, Snoop and Eminem are good. They would be outside my top ten though.

The young ones I like today are J Cole and Lamar.

kokanee said...

I'm only going to list my favorites:
1 - NWA
2 - Dr. Dre
3 - Ice Cube
4 - Ice-T
5 - Snoop Dog
6 - Tupac
7 - NAS
8 - Nelly
9 - 50 Cent
10 - Ludacris
11 - DMX
12 - Sean Paul

Great show, of course!

chauncey devega said...

Why you so angry :)

Thanks for the good energy.

What are you listening to now?

chauncey devega said...

We could see BIG. Great language there. What do you think would have happened had he lived?

kokanee said...

Re: "Why you so angry :) "
Compensating. ;)

Re: "Thanks for the good energy."

Re: "What are you listening to now?"
No comment! One word: kids.

kokanee said...

Actually, I have discovered some new stuff in the last few years:

1) Immortal Technique. His stuff is pretty good. (The rap is at the 13:30 mark.)

2) Junkyard Empire:

3) Azealia Banks (Warning - high shock value!):