Scholar. Street philosopher. Triple Nobel Peace Prize victor. First black male to pilot an aircraft. Father of the Nike Swoosh. “The man that made Kool Aid say, ‘Oh yeah!’” So said Dave Chappelle, that hip-hop tastemaker with the 90-percent free-throw percentage, on the first track of Talib Kweli’s first album, Quality. Yeah, it was hyperbole worthy of ushering Xerxes the Great into court, but it reflected the rising Brooklyn star’s bottomless ambitions.
A night of live rap music is taking place in the basement of The South William bar and a young guy in the audience is doing what I can accurately describe as a ‘dad dance.’ You know what I’m talking about. You can picture it now. You’ve seen it before, though probably not in an underground DIY venue with a ceiling that hangs so low, if House of Pain walked through the door and ordered the crowd to ‘jump around’ the more vertically gifted might be in danger of a vicious head injury.
Sharon Jones died on November 18th, 2016 and the world became a few shades less funky. Jones had the kind of voice that could instantly warm your blood an extra degree; she had a four-foot-eleven-and-a-quarter-inch frame that metamorphosed into pure thunder and lightning when she stepped on the stage. She seemed to have the power to call on everyone from Apollo, Greek god of music, truth and prophecy, to Al Green, himself a soul deity.
At the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, Eminem commanded an army of bleach-blonde soldiers. Beginning his performance of The Real Slim Shady outside New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Em and his squad of lookalikes entered the arena and made a beeline for the stage like white blood cells rushing to a wound. It was a clever performance, ribbing on the wacky single’s central theme: that when it came to the Detroit rapper, accept no imitators. But it also worked a microcosm for the wider pop climate. At the turn of the century, Marshall Mathers was absolutely everywhere.
How do you quantify racial bias in recruitment? No job advert reads: “only whites need apply” and you won’t get turned away at the door of an interview for having the wrong skin tone. But prejudice doesn’t have to be so overt to be present. It’s a concealed barricade that many people of colour in Ireland would recognise. That creeping sense that their applications are being overlooked for reasons beyond the outdated typeface.
Miley, what’s good? Not hip-hop any more? Cyrus’s latest rebirth attempts to strip away the pop star’s sardonically provocative, supposedly sinful, “will somebody please think of the children” image, and cast her as a reformed, fresh-faced, all-American starlet. Instead, this stylistic shift just serves as Exhibit A in her trial for cultural crimes against black America.
Curtis Mayfield was a revolutionary. A guitar was his weapon of choice; the singer’s gentle voice bristled with righteous dissent. Mayfield’s music lobbied black pride and self-determination, while probing every ripple of systemic racism and urban mismanagement. It’s a tragedy that his words seem so relevant, so vital in 2017. That we still have them to sooth strange times is something to be thankful for.
If releasing just one album a year takes patience and focus, then multi-instrumentalist Charif Megarbane is one of the most patient and focused people around. As of this writing, his Bandcamp page boasts 68 records recorded under several different aliases: Cosmic Analog Ensemble, Heroes & Villains, Trans-Mara Express, Cz101, Firahc Enabragem, and more.
November 12th, 2016. On the first episode of Saturday Night Live following the election of Donald Trump, Q-Tip tries to soothe the shell-shocked New York crowd.
Steven Patrick Morrissey isn’t always easy to love. New biopic England Is Mine has hit cinemas at a time when the singer is testing the limits of his fans’ loyalty. Asserting his admiration for Nigel Farage; claiming politicians are too scared to blame Islam for terrorist attacks; and engaging in barbed, “bloody foreigners comin’ over ‘ere” rhetoric: the last decade has seen a series of statements that has seemed less the songbook of a pop immortal and more the dregs of right-wing internet comment sections.
Music iconography matters. Memories of our favourite records conjure up more than just the sweet sounds that wriggle down our ear canals. Video, photography and art are all permanently bound to the songs they accompany. When marrying the audio to the visual, it’s best to have a minister as inventive as photographer and director Timothy Saccenti. The new-age visionary is blazing a visceral style that draws influence from installation art, advanced science, deep-thinking philosophy and wild psychedelica.
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All could barely have scorched the Academy with any more heat if they’d doused the stage in kerosene and sparked up a match. It was August 2011 and the brattish young Los Angeles hip-hop collective were right at the cultural zeitgeist, unleashed on Dublin with no rules, directives or adult supervision.
For three decades U2 have filled the world’s biggest stadiums as easily as guitarist The Edge fits his trademark black beanie hat. The group’s cultural reach is as wide as the 200-ton arachnid-shaped stage they once performed their mammoth shows on. As an Irish export, they’re in the same category as George Bernard Shaw and Guinness.
It’s eight years since Michael Jackson moonwalked off this mortal coil, and are we any closer to nailing down his legacy? Pop’s eternal monarch left a cultural footprint as wide as Neverland Ranch. His songs will probably still set the club off 100 years from now; his videos are pop-culture moments inseparable from the eras in which they were forged. It’s a body of work forever under analysis.
When our generation’s history is written on papyrus scrolls and committed to hidden crypts accessible only to the most daring Lara Crofts of the distant future, one sheet of parchment will be etched with a list of ‘90s R&B jams and stuffed inside an old C90 cassette tape. It was a genre that created some of our doomed species’ most precious works. The cultural footprint was as wide as Arthur Ashe Stadium.