Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bob The Sound Guy: Listen and Learn

Bob "Bob The Sound Guy" Ranalli is a man to whom I owe a large amount of my musical beginnings. He ran sound for the majority of my gigs with The Jackalopes and when Bob ran the boards, we knew we were going to sound good. He apprenticed under his father who started Ranalli's Music Service in Philadelphia in 1959 which would eventually become Noteworthy Music in Gettysburg, PA. The majority of my musical instrument repairs have come from the "master instrument repairman" himself or his many talented employees, some of whom taught me some of my first guitar lessons. His store is the definitive epicenter for Gettysburg musicians.

Anyways, I highly recommend following his website, His knowledge of everything from live sound to instrument repair to recording equipment will be a valued asset to any musician attempting to find their way to their musical objectives.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Up Is Down

I first found this video this summer when I was up way too late in Belgium with my family. It's a protest movie made in 1969 and dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination that year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boxcar Children House Holiday Concert Videos

The Boxcar Children had a house concert this weekend before the Temple holiday break. Here's video to let you know how the festivities went.
You know the deal by now... more videos on YouTube.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Beats: Buddha Monks With The Ale or Deluded Drunks Bound to Fail?

Jack Kerouac, the reluctant founder of the Beat Generation, explains that the repressive values of the previous generation have caused his generation to be "beaten down." The Beatnik interpretation of Buddhist teachings highlights the difficulties of interpreting religions from other cultures without the context of one's own culture creating conflict. The Beats use arguments within Buddhism to rationalize their place within American society. Though they recognize the reality of Siddhartha Gautama's Four Noble Truths, they fail to follow the Eightfold Path by breaking the fifth precept of Buddhism, which forbids drinking intoxicating liquors.

Bob Marley may think that alcohol does not make you meditate but does he have any right to say anything about deluding oneself when he smokes a pound of pot a week?

Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg discovered Buddhism in the libraries of Columbia University. Kerouac wrote as the character, Ray Smith in The Dharma Bums that he “didn't give a goddamn about the mythology and all the names and national flavors of Buddhism, but [he] was just interested in the first of Sakyamuni's four noble truths, 'All life is suffering.'”

The Four Noble Truths

Life means suffering.
The origin of suffering is attachment.
The cessation of suffering is attainable.
The path to the cessation of suffering.

Kerouac, through Smith, admits that he was unsure whether the cessation of suffering was possible in an American society that is so attached to such “meaningless, arbitrary, and unreal” ideals. A visit to Columbia University from Japanese scholar D. T. Suzuki, who wrote an essay entitled “Buddhism and Drugs.” 

In the essay, Suzuki acknowledges that “Zen people cannot simply ignore” individuals “with the intention of forming an intentional society of those who seek 'internal freedom.'” On The Road, Kerouac's most popular novel, represents the Beats' attempt to emulate the spontaneity of the “masters of Zen who seemed to make their everyday lives into an improvised performance.” The story follows Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the pseudonyms of Kerouac and Neal Cassady respectively, as they chase their pleasures on the American road at jazz clubs, poetry readings, and drunken parties.

After the success of On The Road, Kerouac still find himself disillusioned with the American Dream as his new found fame brings him more annoyances than enlightenment. Dean Moriarty's real life counterpart, Neal Cassady, is set up and arrested for selling marijuana (a violation of the Buddhist 'right livelihood' as one of the few forbidden professions). Kerouac finds himself getting ambushed and beaten up by people disagreed with him. His publishers had edited large portions of his novel for the sake of avoiding lawsuits and general moral outrage. Kerouac feels the need to escape the traditional morality of America. He escapes to the mountains outside San Francisco and by the demands of his publishers, wrote a sequel called The Dharma Bums.

Were the Beats trying to live with just the "bare necessities?" Did going out into the woods actually connect them to nature or was it just a delusion their desire to escape the pitfalls of modern society?

While writing The Dharma Bums, Kerouac finds a new energy in Gary Snyder, who Kerouac gives the pseudonym of Japhy Ryder in the book. Kerouac's character Ray Smith says that during this time he realized that there is “nothing in the world but the mind itself, and therefore all's possible including the suppression of suffering.” Kerouac believes that the cycle of suffering could be escape by pursuing his freedom within his mind. However, Kerouac's approach to the suppression of suffering is a hot topic of debate in the Buddhist community.

The Eightfold Path
Right View
Right Intentions
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

The fifth precept of Buddhism holds that one must “abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.” In the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha says that breaking the fifth precept leads to six dangers, including the "present waste of money, increased quarrelling, liability to sickness, loss of good name, indecent exposure of one's person, and weakening of one's wisdom." In An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Peter Harvey writes that the fifth precept is not an issue of “right action” or “right speech” but rather an issue of “right mindfulness.” Intoxicating oneself creates “no mental clarity or calm.” Harvey explains a story in Thailand about “an exemplary man” who was challenged to break just one precept. The man can only bring himself to break the fifth precept. However, upon breaking the fifth precept he proceeds to break the other four.

While the breaking the fifth precept may lead to wrongful action, some do not agree that breaking the fifth precept is “naturally reprehensible.” The Mahayana commentator Jinaputra held that drinking alcohol is wrong “when done with a defiled thought” but when it can be done with clear thought “it is what the Lord has prescribed.” Therefore if one can drink without “desire-attachment,” it is not reprehensible by nature. Harvey says that some Buddhists treat precepts like vows and they do not promise promise to adhere to them if they think they will fail to uphold it (Harvey 84). Many Buddhists would disagree with this interpretation, arguing that it is a manipulation of the doctrine which is intended to protect against the breaking the others. Others would see it as wrong for a Buddhist who does not drink to look down on others for drinking, one should simply enjoy a drunkard's merriment with him without having to resort to drinking.

Suzuki suggests that “enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind.” He claims one can meditate through actions rather than through the traditional idea of non-action. In Suzuki's view to mediate “is to be ourselves.” The Beats took this idea to mean that each person should be free to live their life the way they wanted. They decided not to judge each other for their chosen delusions. At one of the parties in the mountains, Ray Smith asks a Buddhist wearing a necktie and suit, “what is Buddhism?” The man replies “Buddhism is getting to know as many people as possible.” (Kerouac 77).

Kerouac saw others' perspectives as valuable in alleviating the samsara illusion of life. In The Dharma Bums, Japhy and Ray have an argument about a “big fat woman” preacher who Ray thinks speaks to him but Japhy complains he does not like “all that Jesus stuff she's talking about.” Smith argues, “What's wrong with Jesus? Isn't Heaven Buddha's nirvana?”
"According to your own interpretation, Smith."
"Japhy, there were things I wanted to tell Rosie and I felt suppressed by this schism we have about separating Buddhism from Christianity, East from West, what the hell difference does it make? We're all in Heaven now, ain't we?"
"Who said so?"
"Is this nirvana we're in now or ain't it?"
         "It's both nirvana and samsara we're in now” (Kerouac 45).
Kerouac recognizes that his desires can create delusion. Smith tells himself not to “run after liquor and excitement of women and talk, stay in your shack and enjoy natural relationship of things as they are." He describes that when he “was really drunk and high and sitting cross legged in the midst of the mad parties” he saw “visions of holy empty snow in my eyelids” and none of his friends would think it was strange. He listened to others for wisdom while not worrying what others thought of him.

At the same time, Smith's character recognizes that performing duties properly is a necessary process in life. Japhy would exclaim, "You've got to learn!" he'd say. "Dammit, if there's anything I can't stand is when things ain't done right."
Japhy said "Why do you sit on your ass all day?"
"I practice do-nothing."
"What's the difference? Burn it, my Buddhism is activity." (Kerouac 69).
Ray Smith is constantly concerned with the semantics of right and wrong while Japhy tells him to stop worrying about “words you made up all winter, man I want to be enlightened by actions” (67). Smith and Ryder's discussions about Buddhism brought the Buddhist values of freedom and asceticism into conflict. The discuss the boundaries of what their obligations to themselves and others. They are mindful of their towards others. Japhy says "when a mule weeps, I feel like praying for all sentient beings"(66). When critics of the Beat Generation said they were immoral, Kerouac retorted “who wouldn't help a dying man?”

The question the Beats posed to American society using Buddhism was what the reality of death means for a person's obligation to the rest of the world. While people should eliminate their desires that lead them to death and delusion, does this mean they are obligated to stop others? Does someone own their body and soul or are we obligated to live for the sake of others? How do we judge what is acceptable or unacceptable for an individual to consume when anything in excess leads to either spiritual or physical death? Should we celebrate life by preserving its very delusion or should we drink to our death's knowing that we enjoyed it to the very last drop?

Kerouac's writing is fascinated with whether or not we can disassociate our desire-attachment from our real lives. As Japhy begins to get naked with girls at their party, Ray compares his situation to a past life where he and his friend Bud are “old monks who weren't interested in sex any more” watching “young monks...full of the fire of evil” and having girls dance for them while resisting the need to lust (70). 

Ray does not always succeed to disassociate himself from his desire-attachment. His desire to drink causes a fight between him and Japhy. Ray decides to skip a lecture at a Buddhist center to drink in the alleys. Ray argues that he drinks for joy. He argues that “there's wisdom in wine” and that Japhy would not have written some of his poems without it (75). Japhy replies that he would have written the poems either way but that he did think Ray would “gain enlightenment” through drinking when he will “always be coming down the hill spending your bean money on wine” and he will “end up lying in the street in the rain, dead drunk, and then they'll take you away and you'll have to be reborn a tee-totalin bartender to atone for your karma” (77). However, Japhy returns to the cottage “drunk as a hoot owl” yelling to Smith about how he drank raw saki at the Buddhist lecture. After the the experience at the lecture he and Japhy “never had an argument again” (78).

Later that night, Japhy Ryder describes an ideal existence where everyone is free to practice Buddhism their own way.
I see a vision of thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy, and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason, and also by being kind, and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody... We'll have a floating zendo, a series of monasteries for people to go and monastate and meditate in... wild gangs of pure holy men getting together to drink and talk and pray.
Japhy argues that everyone should find their own through the world, that instead of judging each other we should accept that everyone has their own version of Buddhism. During a climb up a mountain Ray says that a Hershey bar is the one thing he wants most and Japhy replies, “there's your Buddhism, a Hershey bar” (84).

While Kerouac could qualify an ideal world in his literary work, he found that attempting to achieve his ideals in real life lead to delusion. As the Beats try to create a harmonious existence in the real world, the conflict between reality and their dream created suffering in their lives. On October 21, 1969, Jack Kerouac dies at the age of 47 in hospital after “vomiting much of his vitality” into the toilet of his mother's home. In a 1974 interview, Gary Snyder comments that “along with other casualties that most people have never heard of...Kerouac was a casualty” (Barnett). The late Kerouac distanced himself from his former ideals, saying “I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic” (Lelyveld).

Kerouac may have become a victim of his own desires and delusions but he paid no mind to critics who thought that “the Beat Generation means crime, delinquency, immorality, amorality.” He knew that they were just as deluded as he was and that they “don't understand history and the yearning of human souls.” He learned not to hold on to his anger against those who did not understand him and learned to live with them. In the end, he knew that the karmic cycle of the world tends to bring justice, saying “woe unto those who spit on the Beat Generation, the wind'll blow it back” (Coupe 143).

"The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way--a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word 'beat' spoken on streetcorners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America--beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction--We'd even heard old 1910 Daddy Hipsters of the streets speak the word that way, with a melancholy sneer--It never meant juvenile delinquents, it meant characters of a special spirituality who didn't gang up but were solitary Bartlebies staring out the dead wall window of our civilization--the subterraneans heroes who'd finally turned from the 'freedom' machine of the West and were taking drugs, digging bop, having flashes of insight, experiencing the 'derangement of the senses,' talking strange, being poor and glad, prophesying a new style for American culture, a new style (we thought), a new incantation--The same thing was almost going on in the postwar France of Sartre and Genet and what's more we knew about it--But as to the actual existence of a Beat Generation, chances are it was really just an idea in our minds.”
-Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Works Cited
Barnett, David. “Misremembering Kerouac.” <> October 23, 2009. December 7, 2009.

Berrigan, Ted. "The Art of Fiction No. 43: Jack Kerouac." The Paris Review. 1968. December 7, 2009. <>
Coupe, Laurence. Beat Sound, Beat Vision. Manchester University Press, 2007. 143. Print.
Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 77-84. Print.
Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. Penguin Classics, 2008. 4, 45, 60-65, 70-79. Digital.
Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. Penguin Classics, 2008. Print.
Lelyveld, Joseph. "Jack Kerouac, Novelist, Dead; Father of the Beat Generation." The New York Times. 22 Oct 1969. Print.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Separation of Music and State- The What, The Why, and The Way

Before this even starts, I want to apologize to all the religious people I'm about to offend.

The nature of religion is to explain and rationalize the improbable nature of the universe and palliate the conflict between self and this nature. Certain facets of humanity are consistently recognized as the root of said conflict. Music, on the same note, is an individual's attempt to reconcile the self with reality, and has followers that use lyrics to determine moral codes. Given their similar functions and mollifying effects, as well as the rights outlined in the First Amendment, music ought to be exempt from censorship the same way religion is in the United States.

Special Thanks to Richard Libowitz

Friday, December 4, 2009

Today's Temple Bell Tower Cipher

That's proof the cipher went until the street lights turned on today.

Here's a video for your enjoyment. The healthiest portion of all of this is yet to be loaded, I need to cut up some sections to make them fit on YouTube. I wish I had Final Cut on my computer.

There was also a flash mob that showed up at the beginning of the cipher...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mic Stew: The Melting Pot of Musical Minds

Michael James Stewart, the MC more commonly known as Mic Stew, never seems more centered than when he finds himself in the middle of a cipher on Temple University's campus.

No verse is ever the same for most MCs that attend the weekly cipher but Stewart remains one of the undisputed favorites at the event called Freestyle Fridays.

"Watching Mic Stew rap is like watching dominoes fall,” fellow cipher participant Gary “Verbatum” Jones said. “You know it's gonna be cool to watch, but every time you're amazed at how they're arranged. He was the one who encouraged me to rap and I'm forever grateful for that."
Stewart's stream of consciousness is constantly tuned to his immediate environment and his audience. He projects his voice confidently while uniting the attention of a cipher. His hands fly with smooth exaggeration as he responds to immediate happenings while maintaining a narrative that reflects careful mediation and meditation.

“Sometimes when Mic's rapping he'll close his eyes and start to wave his hand around like he's writing a verse,” Matt “EMC Karma” Berman said. “He's pulling words out from past thoughts and refocusing them into his surroundings.”
Photo Credit: Rashid Zakat
“It sounds a little dramatic but I don't think I ever wanted to be a rapper. I think I was a rapper.” Stewart said. “I used to talk to myself a lot but in my head I'd be like—normally you'd run through how your day might go or how a conversation with someone you're about to talk to might go but when I was like fourteen or fifteen, I started freestyling instead of that. For about three years I did that, just freestyling in my head at all times. I started freestyling over hip hop songs that I liked. So it kinda chose me, I don't think that I chose it.”
While hip hop may have found Stewart, he chose to take the initiative to develop his abilities through self diligence. Stewart says being an MC is a matter of hard work and patience. He tries to write a verse every day. He began to practice his craft over the beats of other more well known rappers.
“The first beats I started rapping over were from Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter I. I would listen to what he was doing and I'd rap like him but make up my own words.”
Stewart eventually felt that Lil' Wayne's music did not speak to his experiences the same way other forms of hip hop did.
“A year later I got tired of that style of music I started listening to a lot of Black Star, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli are tight.” Stewart said. “It appealed to me more consciously. It got me thinking more. It was thought provoking. I feel like any human can get down with this. You don't have to live a certain way to get what they're saying.”
Growing up in Royersford, Pennsylvania, Stewart had a different experience growing up than his rapping idols. Stewart started out rapping at local coffee shops like Steel City in Phoenixville, PA.

“I was like the only one rapping, everyone else was pretty much playing folk music.” Stewart said. “Not to toot my own horn but they loved me because I was different. They didn't expect me to do what I did, let alone as well as I did.”

Stewart contends that life is a matter of balance. He said he stumbled across the concept as he constructed his first mixtape, The Equilibrium.

“When I was in high school I was writing The Equilibrium, I didn't know it was called the Equilibrium and I didn't know I was writing an album but I was,” he said. “All my writtens from high school carrying over into my freshman year of college went into my first project. I wrote most of that when I was 17.”

Stewart understands the act of balance best from dealing with differing viewpoints amidst his parents divorce.

“They divorced when I was very young. So they were single, I saw them each alone, never doing anything together.”

Stewart learned not to favor one parent to the other, understanding both parents points of view.
“My dad is a Christian. He's a Christian of great conviction. He tries to do what's right. He's a stand up guy,” Stewart said. “I'm not a gospel rapper, I am not a Christian. I know Christianity very well, I've read a large portion of the Bible. I understand very well a lot of the moral principles of the Bible but I'm not a Christian. I don't go to church. I don't know that I've been saved. I've formed my own spiritual understanding.”

Stewart says as an artist and as a person he has “general goodwill towards people” but he is not afraid to speak his mind on an issue. While Stewart respects his father's religious beliefs, he finds validity in his mother's perspective. He describes his mother as “hard-working.”

Stewart credits his mother with his willingness speak his mind without caring what someone else thinks of him. “I want to set an example for people but I'm not afraid to tell it like it is and call people out.”

“I guess my mom, she's pretty much just plain speech, she'll tell you like it is, sometimes she's got a dirty mouth.” Stewart said.“That kind of melted with my dad always trying to be a stand up dude in front of me. Overall they're very good people and that's where a lot of my conscious content will come from.”

Through balance Stewart has learned to appreciate the viewpoints of others. encouraging others to learn to express themselves like he has.

“There's different world religions all over the place and often times we kill each other in the name of God more than the name of the devil. Any good person who practices religion will tell you that this isn't God's work, that's the devil.”

After finding his voice in The Equilibrium, Mic Stew sought out the voices of others. He listens “Sometimes you'll listen to me and it's like it's a different person.” The result was The Equilibrium II: Ugly.

“The whole thing was that I felt I was coming into myself as an MC. I felt like there was nothing I couldn't do but it wasn't channeled energy, it was sporadic energy. So one song to the next, I sound like a different person. On a lot of them, in the delivery I'm just screaming, some of the rhyme schemes are deeply intricate, five syllable rhyme schemes, fast as shit,” Stewart said. “I was just spaz-ing out I felt like the ugly duckling. That's why it's called ugly. I felt like I was a basketball player who just found out that he could dunk so he goes to the court and just crosses people, jamming on everyone. It's just a little reckless, a place for me to dump all that unadulterated Mic Stew.”

Here's a link to a video of Rashid Zakat's that's a classic Mic Stew spaz-out.

The "unadulterated Mic Stew" is not the stereotypical 8-Mile battle rapper ready to cut down opponents by exploiting their weaknesses. He embraces the goodness in others while asking them to question themselves. He speaks in language his audience can understand to explain his perspective while staying true to himself.

“When I explain things, I explain them in terms that I think all people can understand rather than leaning on the Gospel or the Quran or something like that. No matter what religion you practice there is a moral to be gained and you can translate it into your own moral fabric. It helps me stay centered when telling my story.”

He understands that his story is not the only one that matters. Just as much as he tries to teach others lessons through his verses, he listens to other's words intently while they speak, searching as if he's a chef learning the ingredients to his next recipe.

“I'd rather just appreciate them all for the wisdom that they hold and appreciate every person for the soul that they are inherently given.” Stewart said. “I don't really concern myself with semantics or which god I pray to. The one god, the universe, the soul is what governs us all. The way that manifests itself in the music is I think of a universal appeal.”
Universal appeal is a necessary thing in a world where everyone has their music on the internet. Stewart recognizes the advantages and disadvantages of the reality of the self-promoting musician.

“I think it's good and bad at the same time. What you're getting with the accessibility of production, is you're getting a constant flow of artists so it's almost cheapening the material,” Stewart said. “I could be horrible at what I do and create an album on my own and go and hand it out. So when you give people a CD now, they laugh rather than being intrigued because everybody's got a CD. Everybody's a rapper. There are thousands of us and there are probably only hundreds that are worth listening to. So that kind of thing has almost taken the potency out of doing it for yourself.”

Stewart understands he is one voice in a group of many equals. His approach to master his craft rather than expanding his ego.

“I don't advertise the fact that I rap, so by the time they know they've heard me do it and most people show love,” Stewart said. “It's wonderful that I can just sit in a room with a microphone. I think good music or good art will always find its audience, it'll always find its fire. So I keep making it, keep pushing it.”

Stewart's ultimate goal with music is as an expression of his soul, rather than the pursuit of fame, fortune, and fabricated persona. His music seeks to share common experiences with his friends, family, and audience. He does not deny that he wishes for acceptance for his peers.

“When I die or when I'm gone, be it an untimely death or at a ripe old age, I want people to say that I 'never didn't bring it.' If you go to a Mic Stew show, you saw a Mic Stew show every time at every place, whether I was sick, whether I was pissed off, I brought it.”

Though Mic Stew is still bringing in material for his next mixtape, his efforts towards the Mic Stew show may take a backseat to recording with his band, Guerilla Funk, founded with guitarist Jules “Faze Two” Roldan and bassist Adam Willeta. Stewart does not mind committing himself the communal cause.

“We were just writing it so fast, we were all so driven. It was like 'this band's gonna actually do something,'” Stewart recalls. “We're all working, we're all hungry and we get along well. [Guerilla Funk] is coming together better than anything I've ever been a part of.”
Stewart wants to bring his audience together. He asks them to forget their pride and their sense of self, hoping that they dare to share the truth.

“I want my experiences to come out purely because I feel if I share purely and truly my experiences then you'll be able to relate to them. Don't necessarily bias it with your own personal experience.”

Stewart thinks they will push Guerilla Funk into breaking barriers, which he continues to do by participating with his audience rather than at them. He is the product of the modern music era, where the line between fan and friend have become blurred.

“I have stuff you can dance to, I have stuff you can just nod your head to, I have stuff that's kind of boring but just take off that shell and try to get into what I'm doing. What I want to bring to people when I do that is all of the facets of my life. Don't just come to my show to get hype or to listen to an intelligent lecture on gentrification-- come to my show to break down your walls,” Stewart said. “Take off your skin, your shell and have a genuine good time listening to music that I want to share.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Nothing Gives Good Music Back to Gettysburg

After my struggle this past summer to find hip-hop friendly venues in Gettysburg, I never thought there would be a place for a hip hop show in my hometown. However, last night I was proven wrong by The Nothing at their "A Little Thanks Given" concert at the Ragged Edge, a coffee shop typically more accustomed to singer-songwriters than DJs and MCs. The Speak Easy has played a few open mics at the Ragged Edge before but we never got a crowd quite as hype as what The Nothing got to see last night.

I was surprised that there even is another hip hop group in Gettysburg when I read Adam Michael's article in The Gettysburg Times but the trio of emcees, Solomen Pade (Kendrick Johnson), Wallypeanuts aka Mar (Jamar Tyler), and Teddy Holmes, along with DJ Doug Shue, thoroughly rocked a standing-room-only crowd on the second floor of the coffee shop.
I had my camera off for the beginning of Mar's introduction to this next song, "There Ain't No Love," and I really regret that because it was best song of the set in my opinion. Essentially, Mar said he was watching Oprah one day and saw her talking about a list of the happiest countries in the world and America was not very high on the list, in fact we did not even break into the top ten. He said that with the amount of wealth and prosperity we have in America, we should have health care for everyone that needs it and education for anyone that wants it.

Mar said he wasn't trying to be negative. Judging from the crowd's response to his song, he had no real reason to worry about ruining the good times. While a lot of political hip hop songs gets panned for being too preachy or angry, I thought Mar's song struck a good tone with an audience that could appreciate the substance of Mar's material. The song's straightforward message energized a crowd that had taken a little extra time to warm up. I think part of this was because the three MCs were on the floor with the audience. I even had to stand on top of a chair to get these videos. While the crowd was mostly still, occasionally bobbing their heads or raising their hands in the air, they were keenly focused on every word from the group.

I think the video really reflects how well their mix turned out. The show, which was supposed to start at 7, was delayed about a half hour for the sake of perfecting the mix. With most hip hop shows, I usually hear someone complain about how bad mixes make it impossible to understand a word the musicians are saying, even some of the best MCs can have bad mixes. When I saw the Wu-Tang Clan at second day in New York for Rock The Bells 2007, the mix was terrible; the instrumentals were too soft and it made the group sound like they were just shouting. But when I saw them at the Trocadero Theatre last year the mix was perfect and they could exhibit their mastery of their craft. Even artists like the Wu can get ruined by a bad mix and The Nothing showed they knew how to run things themselves.

Here's the last two songs from the set:

You can hear songs from The Nothing's latest release, Digital Villains, at their website...
...or you can buy the whole album on Amazon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Today's Temple Bell Tower Cipher

In case you live under a rock, every Friday Temple students gather at the Bell Tower outside Paley Library to rap, sing, dance, play instruments, or anything else your soul desires. They call it the Freestyle Friday ciphers. These guys are real motivated cats, many are making music all over the place.

With so many people in the cipher, it becomes difficult to track down every MC that comes to the cipher and find out what other music they are producing. The Turbo Times wants to change that... so here's the beginning of an attempt to centralize the work of those musicians.

Verbatum Jones frequently updates his twitter with his music.

Next to Verbatum in the videos is Aime, who's music I still haven't found online yet, but he is featured on a song with Verbatum called "Lazy Afternoon" on Jones' myspace.

Mic Stewart's band GuerillaFunk has been playing gigs around Temple a lot recently. They've been hitting up house parties and shows at Maxis.

DJ B Free posts his beats for others to use on his Facebook page.

There are rappers who frequent the ciphers who aren't in the videos posted here.
A lot of the people missing from the November video are on this video from last March.

EMC Karma hustles his CDs and tickets to concerts to make a living when he's not stuck at work, he's a truly independent musician. Here is some of his music at his myspace.

Lee G and Delon create an interesting duo. Delon mostly makes beats but his surreal half-rap half-poetry style is always a favorite when he makes an appearance. I really regret the fact that I haven't made it to one of Lee G's backyard bashes yet. Anyways, their website is right here.

Faze Two plays guitar in GuerillaFunk and is a truth-telling cipher regular. He's also got a group called the Dead End Kids.
The Alien Architect rocked the second half of the cipher today with a guitar in hand but didn't get any face time for the camera. His music is here.

That's all I've got for now... don't feel offended if I didn't feature you in this article, email me at or contact me any other way you can if you want your music on full display.

Home Taping Is Killing Record Industry Profits

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Foundation Magazine: Laying the Bricks for Hip Hop and Journalism's Future?

In a series of strange occurrences on April Fool's Day 2008, Chris Malo, the editor-in-chief of mixtape magazine Foundation, found himself at the other end of a Lil Wayne rant against mixtapes. After leaving the awkward encounter at the star's Atlanta mansion, Malo knew he had valuable material but he also knew he had to use it wisely.

Although Foundation started as one of the get-rich-quick schemes pitched to Malo by his partner, B. Mack, Malo is more concerned with the editorial side of the magazine than the business end of things. Despite his idealistic approach, Malo had to weigh the business consequences as well as the ethical complications for “pissing off the biggest guy.”

Despite Lil Wayne's hatred for mixtape Djs, he considers himself the Arthur Nobel of mixtapes. His comparison is right in that he detonates the competition by dropping multiple "bombs" of mixtapes and stealing beats from well... everyone. He then honors the people who make mixtapes, except instead of handing out money and peace prizes, he sues them.

“We're concerned about our integrity but we also have a 'fuck you' attitude towards a lot of stuff,” Malo said. Lil Wayne's manager said Wayne was sorry but he still would not grant another interview to Malo. Malo had to consider whether going forward with the material was worth risking access.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Did My Band Get Played On Guantanamo Radio?"

R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Billy Bragg have filed a request under Freedom of Information Act as part of the national "Close Gitmo Now" campaign, asking whether their songs were used in the interrogations of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

CNN reports that "The FOIA requests stem from testimony of former Guantanamo prisoners that heavy metal, rock, and rap music -- even children's tunes -- were part of interrogation techniques."

The Independent reports that music from "AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee Gees and Sesame Street were played at an ear-splitting level to break terrorist subjects."

"The fact that music I helped create was used as a tactic against humanity sickens me. We need to end torture and close Guantanamo now." - Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against The Machine

Monday, October 19, 2009

Boxcar Children and boog Serenade TU Student Center

PHILADELPHIA- While many Temple students awaited the much-hyped Asher Roth and Lupe Fiasco Homecoming concert at the Liacouras Center last Saturday, a smaller audience of students witnessed a very different concert a few blocks away in the stairwell of the Student Activity Center (SAC).
Photo Credit: Bryan Mann

The Boxcar Children, an acoustic “urban folk” band of Temple students, organized and performed at a concert alongside another Philadelphia favorite, boog, on the fourth floor of a stairwell in the SAC a few hours before the hip hop homecoming concert.

Photo Credit: Kristen Lynn
The Saturday show was originally planned to occur at the Russel H. Conwell Founder's Garden on Temple's campus but the weekend's rainy weather forced the musicians to improvise a new location quickly. The band alerted attendees through their Facebook page to relocate the performance to the top stairwell in the SAC.

“The location of the show was really great in haphazard kind of way because the stairwell was like this natural auditorium.” said Temple history major Alex Weigard. “The echoes reverberated all over the place.”

"The venue and the weather outside added even more poetry to what was already a beautiful event," Temple political science major Beth Cozzolino said. "Boxcar Children's synergy was remarkable, the sound was a three dimensional tapestry of melody."

The show started at 3 p.m. with an opening performance from singer-songwriter duo Conor Mcalarney and Ella Coffin. Shortly after, Kyle Simmons, better known as boog, began his set with a haunting version of Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean.”

Using his bare fingers on a guitar and his voice, boog, the self described “bastard child of the Philadelphia folk scene,” filled the stairwell his original sound. Zachariah Beaver of The Boxcar Children, a collaborator with boog on his recently released demo, assisted boog's set with rhythmic accompaniment on a simple snare drum with brushes.

After boog's set, Boxcar Children member Jon Vidumskay played harp with percussionist Jeffrey Sacks-Wilner as the rest of the group climbed the stairway to the stage to begin their set with the folk song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” a vocal call-and-response between guitarist and singer, Kierstin Siegl, and the rest of the nine-member group with each member contributing to the full harmonies. The set proceeded with an original song with full instrumentation sung by mandolin player, Ziggy Gamble.

The Boxcar Children began as The Noble Womanizers last year as founders Beaver, Siegl, and Gamble were incoming freshmen at Temple University. The band started as a small trio performing around Temple's campus with unique instruments like mandolins, ukeleles, banjos, and a banjolele (a mixture of a banjo and ukelele), as well as more traditional instruments like guitars and drums.

The band's instrumentation became more elaborate as the group grew with members, adding percussionist Sacks-Wilner and harpist Vidumskay as well as violinist Andrew Yang, baritone ukelele player Justin Patrick Foley, and rhythm guitarist Christie Offenbacher.

“The size of the group gives us a really good dynamic. I feel like the violin and the harp sound like a string section of an orchestra,” percussionist Sacks-Wilner said. “With that we can mix classical music with a folk sound and I think that's what brings out the beauty of the music. The beauty of the past mixed with the beauty of the present.”

The audience seemed to agree with Sacks-Wilner's assessment of the music's "beauty."

“They really played like a folk orchestra,” said Weigard, “that gave me goosebumps.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

boog on Under The Radar

Tonight at 5 PM the Under The Radar program at Temple WHIP Radio had my friend, boog, perform a small live set in the studio. This brightened up my rainy day. Hear the posted set at the Under The Radar podcast here.

boog's new demo: five tracks by boog on his own four-track mixer. Hear it here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cash Rules Everything Around Me: ?uestlove on Not Selling Out

I think ?uestlove's answers here help us understand the balance musicians have to make between maintaining a livelihood while also maintaining a dedication to their art style. I'll have more detailed thoughts on this soon in an editorial I'm working on.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tayyib Ali

My friend, Tayyib Ali, a 17 year old MC, is playing tonight at the Trocadero Theatre with Shwayze.

I met Tayyib while he was skating at the Cecil B. Moore Ave skate park near the intersection of Broad and Cecil.

The Speak Easy got the chance to sit down in the studio with Tayyib Ali earlier this week, here's the result of that meeting of the minds.
&amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=""&amp;amp;amp;gt;Raw Spinach feat. Tayyib Ali by The Speak Easy&amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;gt;

Friday, August 14, 2009

Did Protest Songs Make A Difference?

This was a research paper I wrote in 10th grade about the impact of protest songs on the public opinion of the Vietnam War. It is not a very conclusive paper but I think it sparks some new ideas into the debate about how music affects the way we think and act. Did protest songs simply tap into a market that was there or did they persuade individuals against the war in Vietnam? Did actions of protesters influenced by these musicians make a difference or were they empty acts of rebellion? Does our nostalgia for the Woodstock generation cloud what actually happened in that era or does our sentimentality reflect the strong impact those events had on our culture?

John Lennon said it best: "All we are saying is give peace a chance." His song sums up the entire mentality of the Anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Other songs by the politically minded musicians of the time convey similar messages. These visionaries spoke out against what they thought was wrong and started an entire movement to change the world. Through their music, they sent out a message of peace and tolerance and taught Americans to be more conscious of the impact of their actions on the world. They helped create awareness of the problems in the Vietnam War by calling out the government, exposing the horrors of war, and demanding a change. Once the movement was underway, their music propelled the movement by defining the anti-war culture, bringing in more protestors, and using music in demonstrations.

Prior to any major involvement from musicians, there were only a few minor demonstrations that occurred in 1963-1964 (Burns 71). After their release, popular protest songs converted more people to the movement. By November 16, 1969, as many as 250,000-300,000 protestors marched down Pennsylvania Avenue while countless others around the country supported the cause (Herbers "250,000"). As artists released more and more protest songs, the movement expanded dramatically. Simply reading and interpreting the lyrics to these protest songs can help to understand the ideas and awareness created by the music, which won over people and made the Anti-Vietnam War movement so powerful.

By definition, protest songs intended to call out the government for its actions. Although these songs did not definitively state their purpose as Anti-Vietnam War, they did set the stage for other protest songs that rallied against the Vietnam War. Bob Dylan released the protest song, "The Times They Are A-Changin’" in 1964 very soon after the United States’ involvement in Vietnam began. His song is one of the first to protest the government’s actions.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Dylan tells the senators and congressmen, who represent government as a whole, not to just stand by and wait for the war to continue, but to take action instead and get U.S. troops out of Vietnam (Dylan). John Fogerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival, sent a similar message in the song, "Fortunate Son."

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they're red, white, and blue
And when the band plays "Hail to the Chief"
They point the cannon right at you
It ain't me, it ain't me
I ain't no senator's son
It ain't me, it ain't me
I ain't no fortunate one
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war
And when you ask them, "How much should we give?"
They only answer "More! More! More!"

In "Fortunate Son," Fogerty challenges the government in a way similar to Bob Dylan in "The Times They Are A-Changin’." Fogerty expresses his rage about America’s mixed up priorities of fighting an unjustified war rather than helping the people who are not "fortunate sons." The instrumentation in the song supports a strong "we’re not going to take it" attitude that makes it even more effective in conveying the song’s message (Fogerty). Other songs of the era, while not explicitly "protest songs," promoted the idea of questioning authority that propelled the protests. The Who’s "My Generation" exemplifies this sort of "subconscious protest song."

People try to put us d-down
Just because we get around
Things they do look awful c-c-cold
I hope I die before I get old

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

Why don't you all f-fade away?
And don't try to dig what we all s-say
I'm not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation
I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation

Townshend accuses the older generation of being out of touch with his generation and putting his generation down. "I hope I die before I get old," demonstrates Townshend’s contempt for the older generation’s corrupt ways. He also tells the older generation not to try to "dig" what his generation is saying because they’ll never understand. Along with other songs, "My Generation" helped bring in a new era of questioning authority and being innovative instead of doing what the establishment said and being traditional, which was an essential component to the Anti-Vietnam War movements (Townshend).

Other songs released during the "flower power" era painted the picture of war for the American people. They described the effect the war had at home, specific events involving the war, and the violence that occurs in war. Jimmy Cliff recorded the song "Vietnam" to tell the story of a woman, Mrs. Brown, who loses her son in Vietnam; Cliff uses this story to show the people how the war doesn’t just hurt the soldiers but their friends and family back home as well (Cliff).

"Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young told the story of the tragedy at Kent State University, Ohio (Young). This incident occurred the weekend after President Richard Nixon made a speech announcing an incursion into Cambodia by U.S. troops on Thursday, April 30, 1970. Students burned the Army ROTC building on their campus when they heard this news. The National Guardsmen that came to the campus claim that students were demonstrating peacefully until they started to throw rocks at the guardsmen. The guardsmen supposedly had to take action for self-defense. The guardsmen killed four students, injured eight others students, and left another student paralyzed. The demonstrations ended on May 4, 1970 (Morrison 329). The song brought this travesty to the attention of the public and secured it as one of the most infamous events related to the Vietnam War.

Many protest songs cried out for change. Artists asked the American people for "peace, love, and understanding." A verse from Edwin Starr’s "War" sums these ideas up very well.

Peace, love and understanding, tell me
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But lord knows there’s got to be a better way

Starr’s song is best known for its catchy, obviously anti-war chorus that screams that war is good for nothing. Starr’s fellow Motown artist, Marvin Gaye, wrote "What’s Going On," which was an effective way of telling protesters what to value when they are protesting.

Mother, mother

There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today
Father, father
We don't need to escalate
War is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know you've got to find a way
To bring some understanding yeah today

Aw, picket lines, picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me so you can see
Oh what's going on,
Tell me what's going on

Gaye’s song elaborates more on the basic ideas presented in Starr’s song: peace, love, and understanding. The music itself is very soft and tender which Gaye uses to convey to the protesters how they should protest. Unlike other protest songs, Gaye preaches peace instead of angrily challenging the government or the war (Gaye).

After many protest songs flew to the top of the charts and the movement was underway, the songs themselves and the ideals they taught were applied to the cause itself. Protesters used song lyrics for slogans on banners, picket signs, and chants. The protesters often sang the protest songs as well. At the protests on November 15, 1969, protesters sang John Lennon’s song "Give Peace a Chance," as a way of expressing the need for peace and the end of the Vietnam war (Frankel).

The protest songs defined the culture and mentality of the Anti-Vietnam War movement. It is very evident that songs that called for change and helped to create the "everything is possible" attitude of the era. The musicians that wrote popular protest songs helped in creating a new libertarian, drug experimenting, war protesting counter-culture (Burns 95). This counter-culture became powerful, influential, emerging into what would be the most memorable element of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Some protesters failed to follow the peaceful examples that had been set in the protest songs and caused riots, made mischief, and increased tension between the government and protesters. At President Nixon’s inauguration parade, demonstrators got out of control and threw smoke bombs and stones at Nixon’s car (Franklin "Parade"). The Manson family murders showed us how easily some can manipulate lyrics to justify any behavior and misconstrued the message of the songs. Thousands of other protesters had a peaceful counter-inaugural march during Nixon’s inauguration (Franklin "Counter-Inaugural") but the media’s attention was often diverted to the violent, misbehaving activists.

Music shaped the ideals, magnitude, and direction of the Vietnam War protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Artists such as Lennon, Dylan, and Gaye provided a unifying message from a counter-culture intent on urging the U.S. government to pull troops out of Vietnam. Driven by the Anti-War culture, the government ended its involvement in the Vietnam conflict. On January 15, 1973, President Nixon announced progress in peace negotiations and the suspension of offensive action in North Vietnam which was later followed by a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Without the efforts of the musicians and protesters, peace would not have been achieved as rapidly. The legacy of these songs gives Americans a peaceful alternative to hatred and violence.
Works Cited

Burns, Stewart. Social Movements of the 1960’s. New York: Twayne, 1990.

Cliff, Jimmy. "Vietnam." Wonderful World Beautiful People. A&M, 1969.

Dylan, Bob. "The Times They Are A-Changin’" The Times They Are A-Changin’. Sony, 1964.

Fogerty, John. "Fortunate Son." Willy and the Poor Boys. Fantasy, 1969.

Frankel, Max. "Parade Marshals Keep It Cool." New York Times.16 Nov 1969: Frame 11.

Franklin, Ben A. "Thousands of War Foes Stage Counter-Inaugural March Down Pennsylvania Ave." New York Times. 20 Jan 1969: Frame 2.

Franklin, Ben A. "Young Demonstrators at Parade Throw Smoke Bombs and Stones at Nixon’s Car." New York Times. 20 Jan 1969: Frame 3.

Gaye, Marvin. "What’s Going On." What’s Going On. Motown, 1971.

Herbers, John. "250,000 War Protesters Stage Peaceful Rally in Washington; Militants Stir Clashes Later." New York Times. 16 Nov 1969: Frame 13-14.

Lennon, John. "Give Peace A Chance." Boombox, 1969.

Morrison, Joan and Robert K. Morrison. From Camelot to Kent State: The Sixties Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived It. New York: Times Books, 1987.

Starr, Edwin. "War." Motown, 1970.

Townshend, Peter. "My Generation." My Generation. MCA, 1965.

Young, Neil. "Ohio." Four Way Street. Atlantic, 1970.