Oakland University’s golden grizzly, masked for the pandemic. Or is it a muzzle?
I couldn’t possibly be more excited about Fire in Little Africa:
A multimedia hip-hop project commemorating the 1921 massacre of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood known as ‘Black Wall Street’.
Fire in Little Africa brings together the top rappers, singers, musicians and visual artists in Oklahoma to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 Massacre and introduce Tulsa’s hip-hop culture to a global audience.
The album was created in massive studio sessions over a five day period in March of 2020. Most of the album was created in the heart of Greenwood at the Greenwood Cultural Center – a significant community space which was flipped to house six recording studios for the weekend.
The site-specific “massive studio session” is officially a thing now. It doesn’t take much for a group of artists to set up some digital audio workstations, monitor speakers, functional recording booth, even a portable turntable for samples, and bang out the material for an album in a weekend. We might even consider the practice an extension mobile DJ crews.
I’m reminded of how my friend Rod Wallace brings together a network of producers from across the country once a year. True to their preference for dusty samples and grimy drums, they call themselves the Dirty Ol’ Men. They reassemble in a different location each year – a kind of retreat for producers holding onto a 90s hip-hop sonic aesthetic. They hunkered down for a weekend in Detroit a few months ago on East Grand Blvd. About 20 producers in a single loft. They documented the whole weekend in a film, appropriately called East Grand.
The site-specific nature of this sound work and what it can symbolize is what excites me most about collective studio mobility. I mean, stuff like this from Fire in Little Africa:
In addition, artists took over the former home of 1921 massacre mastermind and KKK leader Tate Brady and flipped that into recording studios as well. The former ‘Brady Mansion’ is now the Skyline Mansion – an event venue owned by former NFL first-round draft pick and Tulsa-native Felix Jones.
Wire magazine opened its archives to non-subscribers during covid-19 stay-at-home orders. Like my short dive into OG Village Voice issues a few months ago, there are all kinds of gems in these archives. I’m most drawn to the places where writers try describing what they hear in hip-hop sound and aesthetics.
Here is music critic Chuck Eddy writing in September 1994 about what he hears as cut-and-paste collage music. I latched onto his critique of Grandmaster Flash’s “Adventures of the Wheels of Steel.”
I thought I was hearing music from Mars....Grandmaster Flash used his record deck’s stylus as a percussion instrument, making the lines repeat, bleeding in pieces of records where they weren’t expected; he also used it as a noise instrument. “Adventures” has a part where a fiftyish white man starts telling a story about being born in North Dakota, and now he’s here; some kids ask what happened in between, and the guy says “Something like this…”, at which point there’s an angry barrage of needle scratching – always makes me think of classified documents being destroyed.
Angry barrage, things where they weren’t expected, destroying classified documents – it’s not hard to guess where Eddy stands on Flash’s composition. Toward the end of the article, he builds some momentum while launching into the final paragraph:
The trick, I guess, is to see how big a variety of junk you can pack into a small space without making it sound like you’re just trying to pack a ton of junk into a small space.
To be fair – or maybe equally unfair – Grandmaster Flash isn’t the only one catching it from Eddy in this piece. He accuses Teena Marie, The Beatles, Def Leppard, and others of packing junk into small spaces. It might not be shocking to learn that a profile piece on Eddy notes that his “cantankerous persona has long been a thorn in the side of everyone under the sun.”
Reading: Mostly scholarship applications. It’s that time as the academic year looks to close. It’s good to give students money. Universities should give them more. Or charge them less.
Writing: A lengthy, heavy letter of support for a colleague nominated for an award. It’s incredible how long it can take to write one of these letters when you believe in the person’s work and want them to get the award.
Listening: Stories by the Fire by DOSFTP, an artist from these parts who just dropped this album. We collaborated this year making beats with kids during lunchtime at a school nearby. I’m glad he’s released his album into the world.