I am happy to announce the details for my annual birthday party/fundraiser (#brainiacbash) for my arts non-profit organization, The Brainiac Project. This year's event will actually fall on Sunday, September 10th at AceBounce (230 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60601) from 5pm-8pm. AceBounce is a gastro-pub that is themed around the game of ping pong. Tickets are $25.00 for the time being but will be $30.00 after September 1st.
This event will aim to raise funds for the upkeep of the recording studio and assist with the maintenance of the organization. Additionally, this event will attract a crowd of progressive professionals and other tastemakers from the Chicago area.
Here's the link to get tickets to the event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-brainiac-project-inc-presents-naledges-birthday-brainiacbash-2017-tickets-37054523076
Hope to see you there!
I rolled out of bed two months ago (literally..lol) and went to the 247HH studio in South Loop to build with my man Ranadeb and my colleague at NU Kalonji (Big Shouts!) to talk about a potential podacast opportunity and in true media fashion, they somehow got me to sit down for what may have been an hour long interview. You can check the best bits and pieces of that conversation below and get the rest of their great content at 247hh.com. Enjoy!
This past Friday I was honored to be able to speak at the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) partnership event with Donda’s House called ChicagoMade: Leveraging the Local to go Global. DCASE is bringing its impactful programming to Chicago neighborhoods, making it accessible for more of Chicago's Creatives. Panel us the opportunity to highlight the cultural assets and working artists in community. I sat on a panel with Lavon Pettis and Chavonne Nash, two Chicago stakeholders that work in the fields of artist management and advertising. The event was held at Captain Hard Times Dining and Banquet Hall in the Chatham area of Chicago. I am so glad that the City of Chicago is beginning to hold events that are accessible to those of us who live on the Southside. I was even more blessed that I got the chance to do a short performance at the end of the event! Check out the video below to see the visual recap of the event:
In Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet, Pratt Institute Professor Minh-Ha T. Pham addresses the changing nature of the traditional fashion industry and details its recent infatuation with the styles and taste of Asian internet/social media influencers. Pham calls this process the “rise of the Asian Superblogger,” a group she defines as elite fashion bloggers who themselves identify as Asian or as part of an Asian ethnic group. She states very early in the introduction, that their textual, visual, and sartorial representations are what she calls practices of "taste work" (p. 15). She emphasizes that their self-representations via images posted on the internet and social media do transformative work to re-negotiate the racialized terrain of western fashion to be visible in very specific ways. She makes it clear that although these bloggers maintain an art to being distinctively Asian, they don’t aim to be any different from their White counterparts. Pham also believes that these online personalities represent themselves as authentic bloggers who are racially different from the fashion mainstream but whose race also cannot discount their unique abilities.
One of the main arguments Pham makes throughout the book is that she seeks to change the cultural perceptions of what an "Asian fashion worker" is. She seeks to discredit much of prior scholarly discourse that has focused on the Asian fashion workers as merely those whom are exploited in the “sweatshops” that produce much of the textiles and garments for the Western fashion industry. It is because of this work that Pham believes that all Asian fashion workers in the garment industry are generally victimized because of their race, gender, and class.
While acknowledging that much of the scholarly and media attention on Asian fashion workers represents them as poor, voiceless victims, Pham glorifies the stories of elite Asians in the new digital fashion economy as proof that Asians have far more power to represent themselves and to define they participate in the fashion world. She explores within this very different context of fashion labor--race, gender, and class -- superbloggers are re-shaping what "Asian fashion work" means. She uses this backdrop to state her opinion that Asian fashion workers have always also defined their own identities and created alternative working conditions even within the very limited sets of available options they have.
This is a key issue in the book. Although Pham acknowledges the Western fashion industry is still a very white industry and that are only a small handful of non-white bloggers, models, and designers who are quite successful, she seeks to attempts to explain why Asians occupy a very tenuous position as racial minorities in a white industry. Thus, she also acknowledges throughout the book that most Whites in the fashion industry only accept Asian superbloggers’ success as a novelty, a very temporal moment in elite fashion trends.
Pham maintains that the resentment that Asian elite bloggers uniquely face comes from, on one hand, being some of the most visible non-white faces and names in fashion and, on the other hand, from out-lasting and out-growing their expected roles as novelties of fashion's digital turn. They're proving to be not just temporary visitors or tourists in the western fashion system but here to stay and possibly change fashion and fashion journalism's racially-homogenous business as usual.
These new cults of personality created by Asian superbloggers differ from their traditional counterparts through collaborative, co-constructive and communal interdependence between “culted” figure and follower. While I would maintain charismatic authority has its source in the innate and exceptional qualities of an individual’s personality, Pham submits that in consumer culture’s current era of consent, the ‘culting’ of Asian superbloggers is not just a triumph for the individual bloggers but a victory for racial diversity in the Western fashion industry at large.
I'd agree with Pham that the bloggers she speaks about may be challenging many of western fashion's business practices and assumptions. The enormous popularity of Susie Bubble and BryanBoy's blogs have forced the mainstream industry to take blogging seriously whether they liked it or not. I also would agree that the success of their blogs show that Asian people can be style leaders, successful entrepreneurs, and tastemakers among western fashion audiences.
However, I believe that Pham over-romanticizes the idea these elite bloggers have the leverage to disrupt the industry they're trying to seek the approval of. In many of her examples, the milestones of success for these bloggers only tend to occur when white industry leaders (such designer Marc Jacobs did with BryanBoy) re-appropriate their work. That said, it doesn’t seem as though these superbloggers have necessarily forged a permanent path to reproduce a true community of Asian gatekeepers in the fashion community. I wasn’t quite convinced that these bloggers are as “threatening” to the status quo as she would want her readers to believe.
In distilling Pham’s arguments, I found it easy to relate her work to Pierre Bourdieu and his theoretical models on social and cultural capital. Her arguments about Asian fashion taste-making extend upon more traditional Bourdieu ideas of capital categories such as social capital, cultural capital, financial capital, and symbolic capital. Pham proclaims that in blogging and posting about fashion, young Asians occupy a unique position in a new multidimensional world of style; one where they are not simply members of the Asian community but also well informed brokers of every single kind of capital they can articulate through their websites and social media accounts.
One of the best parts of this book for me occurred when Pham discusses how the superbloggers got met with increasing resistance from traditional industry insiders as fashion houses began to pay them large fees for their efforts. On page 60, Pham writes about Bourdieu’s formulation of “aesthetic intolerance” to speak about racial “aftertaste” and how public curiosity towards Asian superbloggers quickly changed once their voice threatened to become permanent fixtures in the fashion media industry. She subsequently details a backlash among the industry that came in the 2010’s after many of the bloggers began to gain access to and wield more influence on the more exclusive fashion shows. She carefully dissects the published stories of mainstream fashion publications that used the Asian superbloggers to represent the face of the fashion blogging industry at large and in turn discount their true relevance in the labor market. Pham makes no qualms about her belief that much of this backlash can be traced back to the historic marginalization of Asian laborers in the fashion industry saying that mainstream fashions criticism of the superbloggers was undoubtedly racially charged.
Not so privy to the innerworkings and customs of the Western fashion industry before reading this book, I still found this piece to be very fascinating and engaging. Pham’s interviews and commentary about various Asian superbloggers indicate that these individuals have in fact managed to turn the narrative of the Asian fashion laborer “on its head” and are utilizing high fashion preferences with images that strongly tie in with their social position; and showing that subtleties of “cute culture” and Asian identity can be a major factor in their social mobility. Overall, Pham presents a compelling argument on why Asian fashion bloggers are gaining tremendous attention within the modern fashion industry and why their success represents cultural and economic shifts in the digital fashion media economy.
The Ringtone Dialectic by University of Minnesota Professor Sumanth Gopinath enthusiastically tells the history of mobile phone innovation and how the dematerializing of music led to the phenomenon of the ringtone. The Ringtone, as he describes in this book, was created almost by accident and was a fashion/vanity accessory for individuals purchasing their first cellular phones. Though a low-end innovation, the music industry and telecommunication startups took advantage of the rising trend of mobile phone entertainment to charge mobile phone users for individualization of their phone ringers and ring backs played to incoming calls. After reading this book, I think that Gopinath carefully presents the ringtone as a remarkable cultural phenomenon that demonstrated a high degree of popularity and polarity therefore, that makes it (surprisingly) worth historically assessing.
Gopinath starts off the book by talking about the murky yet fabled story of origin for the ringtone. He states that the commodification of the ringtone occurred in several stages. These stages provided the outline of a model for ringtone development, whereby functional tones became: 1) monophonic ringtones or simple melodies; 2) polyphonic tones (MIDI synthesizer music); and, 3) digital sound files (the most associated with the development of MP3 files). Gopinath points out that these developments in the ringtone industry did not take place the same way in different regions around the world. Instead, convergences of national legal systems, consumer preferences, and the interests of local wireless firms and handset manufacturers led to differing rates of acceptance for each type of ringtone, as well as ringtones generally.
Gopinath recounts that sound file ringtones heavily favored the music industry, since legally sound files fall under the more lucrative category of sampling rather than covering or arrangement. For monophonic or polyphonic synthesizer arrangements of tunes, only a small royalty would to the original music’s composer or songwriter via a publishing company. For a sound file ringtone, however, sampling rights allowed the music label that released the original sound recording to claim 40–50 percent of these more lucrative ringtones. Sound file ringtones gave higher returns to their right owners because of their ability to accurately reproduce current radio hits, their higher price, and their relative ease of production.
During the early 2000s, ringtone sales were often outpacing the recording single sales of the same song and music industry officials leveraged ringtone sales to help them recoup their losses from stagnant record sales and budget expenses for various artists. Gopinath points out in Chapter 2 that many major record label executives believed the ringtone could “save the music industry.” With the music industry’s efforts to reclassify sound file ringtones as being record single sales rather than licensed products, the recording industry moved briefly in the direction of equating record sales with ringtone sales and profited handsomely. During this era, the biggest U.S. music trade magazine, Billboard Magazine, even created the Hot Ringtones Top–20 list for polyphonic ringtone sales in North America.
In thinking about our class discussions, Gopinath’s discussions of some of the global cultural implications of the ringtone industry attempt to explain, from different perspectives, a small set of arguments. First, he says he believes the appearance of the ringtone itself helped to create new forms of high–tech production and consumption, demonstrating a broad “continuum” between those employed as ringtone composers and those involved in forms of consuming/using and representing the ringtone, such as professional artists, songwriters, and composers on the one hand and average mobile phone users encoding their own ringtones on the other. Second, he uses his historical analysis to state that the shift from preset monophonic ringtones to sound file ringtones resulted in numerous disturbances in the ringtone industry, the music industry and broader society. Gopinath believes that although these disturbances were very subtle, they were taken for granted as part of the general instability of the high–tech and entertainment industries, ignored and deserve recognition. Finally, Gopinath believes that the ringtone can be understood as the intersectionality of social conflicts, in which age, national, ethnic and gender divisions are present.
Before reading this book, I never even thought about the idea that the ringtone industry had some ethnic implications as well. As noted on page 28, Gopinath smartly noted that during the “ringtone movement,” African Americans that rarely bought digital music downloads or had access to personal computers now had the option to purchase their favorite music through personalization their mobile phones. Gopinath backs up this point by showing that the top musical recordings of the ringtone charts frequently looked like a replication of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Charts of that era. I suppose one could even argue in retrospect that the ringtone industry demonstrated the future importance cell phone access would have in helping to close the “digital divide.”
Ultimately, the ringtone industry thrived because it made a commodity of personalization. Personalization was what Gopinath referred to as the ringtone industry’s “ideologeme” (unit of ideology) in the Frederic Jameson sense. The “dialectic” of economics and cultural form existed because this personalization of ringtones was something that the music and mobile entertainment industries exploited for profit, something that musicians and composers freely exploited for inventiveness and digital creation and something mobile phone companies used to build databases of information on customers to better customize devices.
Frederic Jameson’s Marxist stance provides a brilliant synthesis Gopinath’s argument, in which the analysis of ideological utterances, class struggle, and modes of production are combined in overlapping temporal frameworks. Gopinath titles the ringtone industry as a “dialectic” by creating two parallel sets of time scales devoted to cultural production — in this case, economics and cultural form— the two of which are interwoven together, with the economic taking greater priority as the latter time–scale broadens.
For me as a person who spent over a decade in the music industry and sold ringtones as an artist, I never considered anything about the ringtone industry to be worth re-examining before reading this book. However, after reading this text I realize that there is some validity to the author’s claim that besides bolstering the economy of the music landscape, the ringtone ushered in society’s obsession with mobile content and was the pre-cursor to the mobile application craze of today. Keeping this at the forefront of his examination, Gopinath proposes a framework for analyzing the phenomenon of the ringtone, in which we should consider the ringtone as “a high–tech fad, as a conflict between larger and smaller forms of capital, and the ringtone as indicative of a long–term shift in productive capacity from the United States to all the way to Eastern Asia.” Even still, the Ringtone bubble would ultimately burst in a similar way as the dot com bubble did: with empty promises of sustainability for a redundant micro-industry. Gopinath details the rise and fall of this process very tediously but with great precision and gives an interesting take on what many scholars wouldn’t naturally consider a “historical” moment in the mobile entertainment industry.
AirGo showcases the strong young voices who shape Chicago and beyond, sharing their stories over the air, on wax, from the stage, and across the city. Each episode of AirGo features a live longform interview with and some sort of on-air performance from an artist, writer, activist, thinker, actor, or musician whose work and spirit is reshaping the city and the nation’s contemporary culture. Explore the stories and voices that are reshaping our culture with AirGo. I enjoyed being on this podcast and I look forward to hopefully collaborating with the guys from AirGo in the near future. Check out our conversation below:
It's been quite some time since I have posted about The Brainiac Project since my annual Brainiac Bash but it has been with good reason. I have been working really, really hard completing the first year of my doctoral program and I have been strategizing how to leverage my time at northwestern university to pursue research and community arts partnerships that will continue to push forward the TBP mission and vision to promote the power of music creation among urban youth.
Currently, I am working on a project in conjunction with Foundations of Music Inc. To assist and evaluate their songwriting and music production curriculum that is being piloted in cps schools.
In recent years, many CPS school districts have recognized the importance of providing arts education in their curriculum to promote stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning for urban youth.
Research indicates that culturally competent digital learning experiences in combination with arts experiences help black youth to better formulate future professional goals recent research also suggests that interventions that utilizes hip-hop culture coping promotes connections to the local community provides the most protective classroom setting.
The Foundations of Music’s curriculum addresses this research by fostering culturally relevant arts programming for African American youth. It is my thought that our youth utilize hip hop music to absorb racial stereotypes and redefine themselves and their community in more positive terms. I really look forward to this project and think it could be groundbreaking for changing the way cps views digital music creation in the classroom setting.
I will keep you all posted on how it develops as i begin the project this spring.
10 Years After School Was My Hustle: No Longer Kidz In The Hall, Men In The World
by Ryan Glover - December 16, 2016
It’s been ten years since Kidz in the Hall dropped their classic debut album School Was My Hustle. The duo met as students at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and ended up releasing their first album on legendary Rawkus records. After disagreements with the label they parted ways and released three more studio albums on Duck Down Records. I caught up with Naledge and Double-O and spoke about their experience coming into hip hop via an Ivy League institution, the backstory behind School Was My Hustle and The In Crowd and when we can expect the next Kidz in the Hall album. A really great opportunity for me because I’ve been a long time fan of Kidz in the Hall since they dropped their first LP. This is an underrated group which doesn’t really get the credit they deserve. They are pioneers in the rap game and instead of relying on cliches this was a group that wasn’t afraid to experiment and be different. They make fun records but are also capable of making introspective ones as well. The production is always top-notch courtesy of Double-O and the rhymes are always on par thanks to Naledge which makes them one of hip hops best current duos. In addition Naledge is running a successful non-profit in his hometown of Chicago while pursuing a PHD at Northwestern while Double-O is finishing up on tour with Lupe Fiasco and working as an Executive Producer on the next Nikki Jean project. The amazing thing is with all this going on they found time to finish the next Kidz in the Hall album which the world is waiting to hear next spring or summer!!
Slickster: Do you feel you guys going to an Ivy League school gave you guys an advantage or disadvantage in coming into hip hop?
Double-O: I would say that at least for me it was the only way that it could have happened. Cause I’m a couple years older than Naledge. When I first started school, a career in music wasn’t even thought about. I thought I was going to be an engineer. I’d been deejaying for years but I never thought about it as a career. So going to Penn specifically your talking about a time when John Legend was there and a lot of other musical acts. That’s kind of when the idea was presented. So without Penn I don’t think we would have met and I don’t know if music would have been a viable option.
Naledge: That’s an interesting question I think it did both. It gave us a very distinct identity, it gave us something the label was able to market. The way the music industry has changed the last three to four years you couldn’t even fathom having a music career without a label. Back then it gave us an advantage because it made us unique. The reality of it though while some marketing angles are just that, we are really Ivy League Graduates. We had friends making six figures going into finance, so it’s a fear initially that you are pursuing something that isn’t stable. So we had those internal struggles which we had to overcome but you have to remember nobody gives a flying fuck about the fact you were really smart in high school.
Slickster: Do you have a favorite track from School was my Hustle?
Double-O: “Hypocrite” for me was my favorite record on the original record. The rerelease has some more of my favorite songs. I really like the idea for me it was the crux of everything I wanted to have Naledge talk about. It was definitely one of my favorite tracks at the time.
Naledge: “Go Ill State of Mind” I think it told a story, putting into context it was the first record I ever had on our local radio station here in Chicago and as a artist I think that’s one of the things you always look forward to hearing your song on your local radio station with your friends in the car and that moment happened for me. The thing about that record it wasn’t a single or something I created for radio. It was a record that represented me, my upbringing, and what a day in the life was like for a person on the south side of Chicago. The beat was different and I thought it represented a style of hip hop which was a great introduction of who we are as artists. It wasn’t too underground. I loved the hook. I wanted to do something that was similar to what Nas did on “NY State of Mind.” I wanted to do something for Chicago, create a new dynamic give us some identity. I feel like now we call it Chiraq, I felt like “Go Ill” had a more positive bend on what we were trying to portray.
Slickster: On School Was My Hustle you use several samples which on later albums like Land of Make Believe was sample free? Was that a conscious decision or a reason behind that?
Double-O: It was absolutely a conscious decision. Basically School Was My Hustle was not a premeditated album. Once we got to see how stuff worked in live space we wanted to change the tempo the way we wanted to act on stage. It didn’t give us the hype rara stuff we wanted to make. So we were like lets figure it out that way. It was a smooth transition. The In Crowd is probably 50/50 with sample based stuff but by the time we got to Land of Make Believe we had success with licensing placements and we realized that half of an album was useless other than being great songs we couldn’t use it for much of anything. So Land of Make Believe was this shift to start experimenting with innovating sound so we wouldn’t have to clear any samples or owe anybody anything.
Slickster: When you were making records how conscious were you of making records for radio, was that ever a discussion you had at Rawkus or Duckdown?
Naledge: I’ve never made records with radio in my mind. I think thats always been Double-O’s frame of mind as a producer. Through our first and second album it was a lot of trial and error. We don’t live live in the same city so often times they were these situations where he would send me beats and then I would pick these beats and rap on them and send the ideas back and then we would go back and forth. Then we would meet up in the same city and I would find out what he really wanted that beat to be, like I thought you were going to make something a little more radio friendly for this record. Thats how “Driving Down the Block” was formatted for radio, but I know he made that with that intent in mind. Producers tend to think about that more. When I rap I don’t think about that.
Double-O: School Was my Hustle exists because everything we were making at the time wasn’t radio enough. So School Was My Hustle was supposed to be the mixtape before the Naledge album. The conversation at Rawkus was like you guys don’t have the radio record yet. We need to push back the release of the album until. So then when it comes to the In Crowd we wanted to make more fun records but the In Crowd starts off in the same weird way School Was My Hustle did because we were working on an EP which was called Class Participation which was supposed to be a six, seven song EP with guest features on every single song with new industry friends and connections we had made. The only reason we even sat down with Duck Down is because we wanted to get Sean Price on the record and when they heard what we had they were like we should make this an album and we want to put it out. So both those albums never came from sitting down trying to make a proper album, just experimenting and starting with a small idea. Land of Make Believe was the first time we made a proper Kidz album.
Slickster: I feel I could list a number of contributions you guys have made to hip hop, do you feel that you have gotten the credit you deserve?
Naledge: (laughs) Hell naw we haven’t gotten the credit we deserve. It’s some people who really get it and really respect what we’ve done. It’s an interesting thing, we get our respect amongst industry heads. I can’t even think about the number of artist that told us “I used to really fuck with y’all shit back in the day.” That’s the type of the stuff that lets me know the type of stuff we was doing was good. When I met Kid Cudi he gave respect, when I met Drake he gave respect, when I met J. Cole he gave respect. All these people I was surprised they knew about the music, more than I even knew, like Pete Rock, a lot of people, Redman, like when I met them they were like “what y’all did was dope, I can’t wait to hear more, why didn’t Rawkus do more with y’all?” We helped a lot of younger acts by putting them on the road with us. I think it was a group of us who were all making music at the same time and I think we get lumped in with a bunch of other groups and when they are listing these groups they forget to say us. I think people will go Cool Kids, Pac Division, they’ll lump us in they’ll mention Asher Roth and these are all great artists who came out around the time of our second album, a lot of people kind of forget that first album we made or that we weren’t new artists when those guys were new artists.
Did you feel School Was my Hustle was properly promoted by Rawkus? What do you feel that they didn’t do that they could have to done to push the album further?
Naledge: No (laughs). Thats not even a diss to Rawkus, School Was My Hustle wasn’t even supposed to be an album it was supposed to be a mixtape. It wasn’t even meant to do what it did as Double-O said earlier. We were just anxious to put out music. Really Rawkus signed me as a solo artist they were really trying to push me as a solo artist, they weren’t even messing with the group, they were like wheres your solo album? So I was making solo records and they weren’t feeling them. So I had made a ton of records and me and Double-O had a ton of records together that we were like we have a project. So we wanted to find a way to put some music out and get on the road. So we started exploring other options. Keep in mind this was 2005, in 2016 you would’ve just took that music and put it on DatPiff or whatever and shot a video. But we were waiting for the label to do something. In hindsight I wish we were more renegade about what we were doing. So we were shopping that project to other labels and Rawkus was like we’ll put it out but this is the music you said you didn’t like. Thats when I realized the music industry is a guessing game, they figured if other labels liked it than it must be pretty good and I don’t even think they thought it would do much. It did well though for what we spent on it, especially in Europe. So we spent a whole year in Europe. The European market loves hip hop.
When can we expect the next Kidz in the Hall album? What are you guys doing now?
Double-O: Right now I’m on tour with Lupe Fiasco wrapping this up, working a bunch with Nikki Jean on her new project, put out two records with Tabi Bonney the first with Wiz Khalifa. The new Kidz in the Hall album is done just gotta tighten it up.
Naledge: First and foremost I have to mention the fact I’m in Chicago and I run a non-profit organization called the Braniac Project which has a mission and goal of promoting the recording arts as a way of helping young black men into the workforce, teaching them computer software and engineering. Pretty much just making the music industry a viable option for Chicago youth, so thats what thats the last four, five years of my life has been. As far as the new Kidz in the Hall project if you were to ask me in January I would have thought it would be out by this year but I’m leaning to say by the Spring or Summertime
Ryan Glover is a contributing writer for www.slickstermagazinecom. Follow him on Twitter @ActorRGlover, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your Google network
Last night I was at the Metro in order to attend the 2nd Annual "Timbuck2 Forever" Celebration. Although the untimely death of Tim was a real "kick to the gut" to the Chicago hip-hop ecosystem, it was so great to be in an environment where that allowed so many good people to congregate peacefully in the name of dope hip-hop, turntablism and positive vibes. I collaborated with Tim on several occasions and even provided the first theme song for his radio show on WGCI. It is still crazy to think he is not going to be in the booth at any party that I go to or that I will never hear his mixes on the radio ever again. However, I know that if Tim saw the event that took place last night....he is in heaven smiling down on the scene he helped create here in Chicago.
You never know the internal battles a person is going through daily but I do know that his story should serve as more than just a footnote in the legacy of Heisman trophy winners. Rest in Power.
Raised on the East side of Chicago. Globally Local. Cheers!