The always excellent Heat Rocks podcast had on Dan Charnas to talk about samples in Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2. The episode is an hour long. I wish it were four hours long.
Dan once sketched for me on a napkin the 90 and 45-degree intersecting angles of downtown Detroit in order to illustrate the overlay of straight and swung time in Dilla’s beats. Imagine squares and triangles – evens and odds – stacked on top of one another.
There are no words on paper I am more excited about in 2021 than his Dilla Time book about how the Detroit producer introduced a new formation of time into popular music – “a third way of relating to time,” as Dan calls it.
Dan is also one of the best storytellers of popular music. He has way of shuffling you details about certain minor characters who find themselves around important settings and people. You start getting curious about these minor characters while paying attention to the main story, and then Dan reveals to you the major figure this minor character would later become. He does this with many people throughout The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, and I imagine he’ll tell stories this way in Dilla Time.
What I like about this this approach to storytelling – aside from the sheer pleasure of the reveal – is how it ends up showing the ways proximity and networks play into opportunities. Dan actually does this once near the end of the Heat Rocks interview by talking about a young jazz pianist attending The New School in the late 90s but also spending time at Electric Lady studio and brushing shoulders with Dilla and other Soulquarians. I’ll let you listen to the podcast to find out who the young pianist was and who he became.
Since we’re on Dilla, here is Dilla Dimension, a 7-minute film about “two sugarcoated souls and their psychedelic journey through outer space.”
An alternate universe, blanketed with hypercolor sugar and fluorescent glaze, gives birth to an unlikely cluster of donut holes. Suddenly, they are split apart and scattered across a sea of hypnotic, interstellar chaos. But the impossible takes shape when a love is sparked, leading to a desperate search across the universe for one another.
While the visuals in Dilla Dimension are stunning, the move for me is RUFF CUTT by Jesse Moritz. The 3-minute film translates the thrid way of relating to time, Dilla time, to film through editing techniques. It’s simple, raw, and ruff.
This was fun: I recorded a keynote introduction as a dj/turntablism set. This was for the Sound Studies, Writing, and Rhetoric conference that took place last weekend – virtual edition, of course. I keynoted a panel with a group of graduate students from my BreakBeat Lit seminar last year. Our panel was called Breaking and Making: Hip-Hop Aesthetics Across Place, Sound, and the Moving Image. We made major changes to our format for this to work in the new constraints. But with constraints come new creations. The keynote-as-turntable-set was a new creation for me.
I appreciate this note on rereading from Mandy Brown’s blog on technology and, as you might guess, reading.
I’m not talking about just any kind of rereading here. If it’s been a decade since you’ve read a book, you aren’t so much rereading as reading it for the first time—again. I’m taking about rereading when the book is still reasonably fresh, maybe within a year. If more time has passed, you will have forgotten large parts of it, or misremembered, and will still experience some of the initial novelty you had with the first read. But a reread within a year, or a few at most, occupies a space where you can still recall enough to approach a book with familiarity. Instead of being surprised by a turn of events, you anticipate them; lines and phrases pop out as ones you remember, but they seem louder this time around, more resonant—as if they are lining up with the memory of the first time you heard them, wave patterns amplifying one another.
She is right, of course. I used to reread Ralph Ellison’s “Sonny’s Blues” at least 10 times a year. Now I reread Toni Cade Bambara’s “Gorilla, My Love.” Every time, it is more resonant.
Reading: I cracked opened Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Wow. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t stand back up until the book was finished. It’s stunning, and arresting. The novel takes place in an elevator. Each chapter is the time between the 8 floors the elevator travels as the protagonist, Will, descends from his apartment to the building lobby – with gun tucked in his waist to avenge his brother’s murder. Each floor, the ghost of a murdered friend or family member enters and talks to Will about his intent. What I’m walking around with most from the novel is how the elevator’s descent literally and symbolically moves the action forward. As a reader, you know exactly where the book will end: in the lobby. And you know how many floors it takes to get there and for Will to make his final decision. I can’t wait to teach this novel.
Writing: Derute Black Paper #2 is out! It covers how we at Derute, as a worker cooperative, govern ourselves and organize our work.
Teaching: It’s mostly about making modifications to reduce student anxiety right now. And I anticipate the need for this posture will increase as November approaches.
Listening: It’s all Hiatus Kaiyote, which is one of the bands that makes music in the “third way of relating to time” mentioned above. They sound a bit like Little Dragon, but dial back the electro and dial up the Dilla.