Different

A defining aspect of my life was the realization that the way in which I do certain things is not necessarily how the rest of the world does them. The first incident of this was most jarring of course, your entire life as a child is what is presented to you, and then suddenly another way of doing things is offered from an outsider. For me the first example was the fact that most other American families do not eat soup for breakfast.  A truly innocuous quirk, one that I am surprised I found about as early as I did. But it was eye opening in the sense that it paved way for what would eventually become my appreciation and empathy for people and cultures other than my own, and what I can learn from them as a result. 

And this remains one of the few in which I have given no admission to the contrary. Soup for breakfast is fantastic, especially in winter. My folks are ahead of their time on this one.

Somewhere around middle school, I became embarrassed by these quirks, and I spent a bizarre amount of time trying to suss out exactly what made my home the odd one. In hindsight I realize that they’re inevitable and nothing to be ashamed of. In time I learned to embrace these sort of things. But something that should not have taken me so long is the realization that it is nearly impossible to do damage control on something like this. Especially when you’re a dumb twelve year old. The very nature of the things you are looking for is something you cannot observe from your own experience.

The breakfast-soup eccentricity became apparent to me in a brief conversation with a group of peers, and was not of any interest to the group leaving my embarrassment at a negligible level. But several months into being concerned about having my friends inside my seemingly weird home, I was fully convinced that all the major differences were accounted for. And then one day my parents graciously offered to buy me and my friends Chinese food, at which point I went and got the menu binder out of its drawer.

IMG_1931

Oh, you guys don’t have a menu binder?

You guys don’t have a meticulously organized sampling of the takeout offerings in the tri-state area?

Again, this artifact of my family home is something I have come to greatly appreciate. Anyone reading this who doesn’t know my father should understand that this binder is a perfect distillation of his mind. He and I rarely approach things the same way, and having a tangible example of that fact makes it easier to appreciate how much I can learn from his perspective. Where I see several pieces of potential litter, my father saw a collection of data in need of indexing.

Listen,

I am continually amazed by the amount of things that can be accomplished in this society, as most people do not seem to know how to communicate. The exchange of even basic ideas when they are new, requires a diligence that few seem to appreciate and often only exhibit themselves when playing video games.

There is a certain buffer innate in our conversations that allows some to comfortably stop listening. The person speaking could notice and call them out, or simply stop talking and walk away/fire them. However that would also require a rudimentary understanding of what an exchange of ideas looks like. This culminates in the following common interaction:

Human 1:  …and it will be over by Wednesday. What hotel are you staying at?


Human 2: (The most confident affirmative nod the world has ever seen.)
Human 1:
Human 2: Yes! Yeah—uh-what did you ask?

Speaking with certain people, it feels like they enter a conversation with the same skill set they would utilize to navigate a house of mirrors. They bumble through it, and as long as they reach the exit, mission complete. The nuance and information that are, as I understand it, the entire reason for having the conversation. They are like unwelcome decorations on the walls of the maze as they try every false door and wrong turn before reaching the end by brute force. You can sometimes stare at people and watch as their eyes dim, and the song that is stuck in their head starts playing again inside their skull. And in those moments, I always search quickly for a polite way to say, “Wait, wait! I swear my point is three sentences away. We’re almost there!”

Social interactions are something I have always paid attention to, and attempted to improve. It stems from being an excellent waiter. I was once taking a lengthy car ride with two co-workers who were sisters. The conversation intensified, and then skipped argument on its way to verbal skirmish. Feeling that I had an astute understanding of where the two actually disagreed, and beginning to worry over our car’s proximity to the shoulder, I decided to sidle into the talk to organize the mess of words and emotions that they had created.

“Alright, so Lisa is upset because you keep trying to suggest places that sell laptops in which you can get her a nice price, but she doesn’t want a new laptop. She mentioned her broken laptop in order to further explain why she was so excited to hear ‘Hello’ on the radio earlier. And Lisa, Meghan doesn’t understand that you want to talk about Adele’s new album because you started this conversation by saying “Do you remember that old blue computer I used to have?” ”

I was a referee for less than seven minutes, but I felt I had done everything in my power to steer things back in line. Their shared glances in the silence that followed immediately taught me that I had fundamentally misunderstood the point. The sport they were playing involved turmoil, and all I had done was come in like a pedant and added a bunch of rules to their pick-up game.

I hope this comes off as more observation than complaint. There is always room for improvement, but at the end of the day we get by. My root beer usually gets served to me without ice, as ordered.

3 Criminally Under-Listened to Hip Hop Albums of This Fleeting Moment

This week’s entry was written by my good friend, Donald Tiver.
Untitled copy

I didn’t get into hip hop when it was exploding in the eighties. I didn’t even really listen to it as a kid. In the latter half of my teens I started pushing past the commercial basuda that is and was mainstream rap to find nuggets of hidden aural treasure that lay scattered around our world.

Beats are cool and all but I got into this for primarily lyrics and wordplay so those who demonstrate those abilities catch my attention first and end up being my favorites. That said, I can enjoy a wide range of elements a cohesive package as much as the next guy. Your couple of minutes of poetic tour de force freestyling may have some of the best lyrics in it but am I going to frequent that piece if it sounds like a camera phone from 2002 recorded it from the back of a club? Probably not. So, in no particular order, I present to you three of my favorite underrecognized lyrical albums that should be just as classic as some of the more well known.

Diabolic- Liar and a Thief. Diabolic is easily one of the most fierce and versatile rappers around today. He can inspire vitriol, rage and even despair pretty flawlessly and crack jokes the entire way that you might not even get six or seven listens in. His flow is harsh yet satisfying and his rhymes are so layered he can be looked at like hip hop’s angsty, suicidal James Joyce.

Yeah, there are weak points. Yeah, I almost always skip the third track and the skits. But it is still a beast of an album. Tracks like “I Don’t Want to Rhyme” and “Reasons” have some of the sickest verses around and hit you like a war cry. My only complaint is how often some of those tracks repeat the chorus as it often feels like just a little bit too much. Make no mistake though, the verses are what we’re in for and they deliver. Tracks like “Frontlines” and “Not Again” are great in their own right but we are also offered top notch efforts from Immortal Technique and Vinnie Paz, respectively, pushing this album even further to the top of a must-listen list. I give it ten bullets out of who gives a fuck for ferocious delivery, raw everything and replay value.

Sage Francis- Human the Death Dance. I initially got into Sage with A Healthy Distrust, as a lot of people did, but Human the Death Dance seems to me like it isn’t listened to a whole lot beyond the regular circle of fandom. It should be.

A seasoned performer who is incredibly comfortable with letting the audience in and getting personal, Sage Francis is one of the smartest and most progressive, forward thinking rappers around. And not progressive like, standing-on-a-soap-box-rallying-for-poor-gay-kids-addicted-to-pingpong-progressive. Just like, a real ass dude with pleasant sentiments and opinions progressive.

Human the Death Dance is easy to throw on because it’s got quality production, lyrical tracks and it is engaging. Leaving in snippets of interaction with his audiences is not something he overdoes and it helps make you feel like an active listener. Sage isn’t afraid to get a little corny in his word choice or delivery, which can be off putting if you are looking for someone who keeps up appearances. But this feels very natural and makes me think he’d act a similar way when hanging out with his friends. This is part of what I mean by how he lets us get personal with him. I also love how he uses really old clips of himself as a preteen MC. This works threefold because it’s often funny, shows us he’s been doing this long as hell and exposes a part of himself most rappers would have probably actively buried.

Tracks like “Clickety Clack” and “Civil Obedience” show how a seasoned vet can take us into strange and oddly catchy territory without relying on cookie-cutter genre templates. Sage is an artist everyone interested in hip hop should give a fair shake. I’m not going to argue with someone who insists you start with A Healthy Distrust or Personal Journals but this is one that certainly shouldn’t be skipped.

Demigodz- Killmatic. Celph Titled and Apathy of Army of the Pharaohs fame give us a gem of a side project with Demigodz. I played this album on repeat for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s fucking great. The beats, all around flow and bold attitude of the writers involved make this album pop.

Not to gloss over their solo records, but Apathy and Celph Titled really seem to put their best feet forward when collaborating. Perhaps it’s the inherent competition or synergy of the projects but these two fusion together like fucking Gotenks on the same track and they rip it up.

From the Rocky sample in “Demigodz is Back” to the deliciously old school feeling “Worst Nightmare” and “Raider’s Cap” the album is completely filled to the brim with fun, dirty and hard hitting tracks. Shout outs to the old school giants run amok, like the Big Pun inspired “Dead in the Middle”. This album manages to feel so fresh while proving itself to purist audience at the same time. If you’re already listening to it you still need to listen to it more.

There you have it. Talk amongst yourselves. Or don’t.

Why “Fake It Til You Make It” Rhymes

When you move around as often as I do, you become adept at job interviews. The one thing that doesn’t change from place to place is the likelihood that I will soon be rushing through unfamiliar areas in a dress shirt and tie. Applying for employment this frequently has strengthened my job acquisition muscles, and as a direct result I tend to walk into the interviews with a confidence level commonly reserved for someone much more intelligent than myself. The internet already has vast swaths of information regarding interview preparation for specific jobs, so I wanted to focus on something more broad.

My best advice is to listen to hip hop music as close to the start of the meeting as possible. Hip hop, like any other genre these days is quite diverse, so I recommend creating a meticulous playlist the day before. While compiling the tracks, close your eyes and imagine yourself walking while the song you’re listening to is being blasted from all the phones and telescreens in the room. Use this technique to find the rhythms and beats that would propel you into an elevator or backroom of a Wendys with a gait that screams: “You will literally not meet someone better for this position than I am.”

A cornerstone of hip hop lyricism involves the rapper explaining at length why they are significantly better than others they have, or could potentially be compared to. And if the lines are catchy, or clever enough you suddenly find yourself saying things like “Our styles fuckin Posh like David Beckham…” aloud in the shower. This has a remarkable and immediate affect on your psychological disposition. And since I do not have any actual adversaries, if the lines are nothing but pejoratives towards someone else, I like to invent antagonists. Unseen villains who are applying for all the same jobs as me. However, they don’t know who they’re up against. (I put CPR training down under “Other Skills”) 

The general motif of narcissism in hip hop grates on me after a while, but siphoned off in small quantities it can make me feel like I am the god-king of all resumes.

Beyond the rampant bravado, the flow and tempo of a song are also conducive to a boost in esteem. They could be rapping about meekness as a virtue in Swahili, but the beat still makes you feel as though you are going to stand on top of your potential employers desk for the duration of the interview. An uptempo beat, and even the force in which the words are delivered from the vocalists mouth add up to create an aura of decisiveness and aptitude.

Confidence is an illusion, to yourself and others around you. The sooner you recognize that, the faster you can begin adding shortcuts like these to your bag of tricks. And as always, avoid suckah MCs whenever possible.