Culture Bully Presents: 2011 Mashed

Real quick… I just want to say thank you all of the friends I’ve made in the mashup community over the years: the producers who have created some terrific music (including the mashups on Culture Bully’s annual Mashed compilation), and the fans who have taken the time to visit the blog.

About six years ago I posted my first year-end mashup list and thanks to a little luck it received a link from Boing Boing (and a ton of traffic). Without that I likely wouldn’t have pursued blogging. So, when it comes down to it, I owe a lot to mashups: without them and the people who create them this blog probably wouldn’t exist still.

This year’s installment in the annual Mashed series has a bit of a spin: instead of exclusively consisting of new mashups which utilize source tracks that were released this past year it also includes my favorite mashups of the year. So, in addition of the seven new tracks, here are my five favorite mashups that were released in 2011 (for what it’s worth, they’re not in any particular order).

Hope you enjoy the music and thanks for visiting Culture Bully.

(Florence and the Machine vs. Carbon Based Lifeforms)

(Jay-Z vs. Brian Eno)

(Childish Gambino vs. Joker)

(The Isley Brothers vs. Kelis vs. Calvin Harris)

(Queen Vs. Bruno Mars)

(Vanilla Ice vs. Foster The People)

(Ellie Goulding vs. Kanye West vs. Portland Cello Project)

(Fugazi vs. Wu-Tang Clan)

(T.I. vs. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros)

(Beastie Boys & Santigold vs. Destroyer)

(The Rapture vs. Fake Blood)

(David Guetta & Usher vs. No Doubt vs. Dev vs. Bryan Adams vs. Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera vs. Eurythmics)

*Previously released

How to Fail at Blogging

Last week I wrote something called “How to Fail at Promoting Music Online” which was pretty much about a handful of issues I take with the way publicists and bands push music online, particularly via email marketing. It’s pretty easy to unload such unsolicited advice though, and truth be told, picking on some issues and poking fun at what appear to be obvious mistakes is kind of fun. Case in point: it’s the second time I’ve done so this year. Fun, but hardly groundbreaking stuff. What I’ve really wanted to do for quite some time though, which sort of does the same thing, is turn the focus onto the mirror rather than the window. It’s pretty easy to look outside and see what’s wrong, but it’s a little more difficult to take a serious look at yourself with the same sort of critical eye. When it comes down to it though, for every easy joke about mindless mistakes bands make or how bad at their jobs some PR monkeys are, it’s every bit as easy to look at how remarkably silly bloggers can be. Many may not be guilty of such offenses and many may not confess to them, but with a strong sense of sarcasm in tow, here are a few of the ways that as a blogger, and in particular a music blogger, you’re failing at what you do.

Never Stop Documenting

Your opinion is valuable. After all, it’s on the Internet. (You’re a “freelancer,” you say? Even better!) So why not give the people you’re best and document as much as you possibly can. Why be a spectator at an event and immerse yourself in it when you can “cover” an event and document what you experienced? Why listen to an album and give yourself time to appreciate it when you can hastily gather first reactions and spit out a blog post? Don’t know anything about a band? Don’t let that stop you from blogging about them as though you have an authoritative voice on the subject. And don’t stop with your experiences you’ve just had either, document experiences as they’re happening, or even better, document experiences that you haven’t even had yet. Sometimes in order to reaffirm your place in the blogosphere it’s important to serve as the window to what might be perceived as cool by others. Re-tweet, blog, or post “content” to Facebook that might be appreciated by potential readers whether or not it reflects your personal sense of taste, or whether or not you’ve even bothered to consume, much less, appreciate it.


What is your motivation with meeting people in your same industry and/or niche corner of the blogosphere? Not entirely sure? Don’t worry about it. Treat friends like acquaintances, acquaintances like friends, “contributors” like friends, or even better: blur the lines of each so no one really knows where they stand with you. Further, considering that your own intentions aren’t always “noble,” assume that everyone you deal with has an ulterior motive. Are people contacting you only to get something from you? (Are you only reaching out to others because you want something from them?) Don’t worry about setting these double standards: Take the time to mock others you deal with on a daily basis without taking a glance your own habits. Certainly just because you’re tired of people link-spamming you, asking you for some sort of “coverage” or “support,” that doesn’t mean that you can’t still do the same: Spam for re-tweets, follows, votes, or simply to “inform” others about new “content” that you’ve blogged about.

Welcome Jealousy

In addition to allowing yourself to gain no real perspective of what your personal motivations are, it’s okay to unjustly feel like every time something good happens to someone else, that it somehow takes away from your “cause.” Allow Facebook fan, Twitter follower or pageview statistics to dictate your personal value relative to your contemporaries, and allow resentment to build if you don’t feel that you measure up. Allow contempt to develop if ignorant acquaintances aren’t using the Right metrics program to monitor their traffic. Do you feel that there’s some elite group of bloggers who are undeservingly given the bulk of the industry-love and media attention, who subsequently may or may not be stiff-arming the development of others who aren’t in their clique? Toss a little more resentment into the mix whether or not that's a thing. Also, you’ve been blogging for longer that that other website, so why didn’t you get to post that “exclusive” track? Or if you did post something “first” only to later see other blogs posting about the same “content” long after you did, you allowed yourself to become angry at them, right? After all, whether or not they might have actually posted about the same subject on their own doing, they had to have seen your post first and didn’t cite you as a source or give you your much due link-love. Jerks. Do you feel as though you’ve been slighted or disrespected in some way? Act out! Take everything personally, strip names from your blogroll, bad-mouth bloggers behind their backs, or un-follow them on Twitter. Blogging is as much a pissing contest as it is a medium for personal expression. Never forget that.

Compromise Your “Content”

While blogging is an easy and widely used method to broadcast opinion (and pictures of cats), don’t feel that you have to be clear about what your motivation is — to others or yourself. Is your blog a business first or is it a personal platform to share your opinions (and pictures of cats)? Is your blog a medium which you use to personally “help bands,” “support artists,” or “promote good music” by illegally offering “sharing” free mp3s? Or is it about feeding a personal sense of self-esteem that you never really bothered exploring until the invent of Blogger? Are you supporting mediocrity to drive pageviews or are you truly standing behind the “content” you’re boosting? Are you constantly striving to find new music to “post” because you need more music to post or because you want to find more music that truly resonates with you? Is the subject of what you’re blogging about good, or just good enough to blog about? Are you lowering the bar for what you’ll promote so that in the event that a band miraculously breaks out one day, you’ll be able to have your own “I was there when…” moment? Are you so caught up in pageviews and SEO-hacking that you devote just as much time to that aspect of the “blogging process” as you do “content development”? Are you blogging to feed Google, to be the “first” at posting anything, actively searching for ways to support your own relevance (year-end lists and wrap-ups in early November… why not!), or to help drive eyes to your “brand”? Which outside sources are influencing what you blog about, and how clear is it for an outsider to figure out whether your “content” is the result of a PR-push, a band letting you into a show for free, a “sponsorship,” or if it’s something that you would be blogging about regardless of any outside factors? Does it even matter? Just go with the flow: addressing any of this might end up shedding an unpleasant light on you as a True music fan.

Inconsistent Habits

Aside from blurring the lines surrounding why you’re blogging, be as inconsistent as possible with what and when you’re blogging. Abandon ideas about the “direction” or “focus” of “content” on your blog as quickly as you adopt them. Want to cover news one week? Local news the next? Local artists the next? Music videos the next? Mashups on Mondays? Electronica on weekends? Metal on Fridays? Then forget all of that and only blog about pop? Do you post a dozen marginally interesting news items, music videos, or mp3s one day then go a week without posting anything? It shouldn’t matter, right? After all, it’s your blog and you should do whatever you want with it.

Take Your Readers for Granted
"According to Google Analytics, there are, as of this writing, over infinity active blogs on the Internet. And your article is battling all of them for attention. And you’re not just competing against other articles, or even other blogs; you’re competing against Facebook, and Wikipedia, and YouTube, and the news, and The Daily Show, and last night’s sports scores, and tomorrow’s weather, and online games, and an impossible amount of pornography. Just because someone’s sitting in front of a computer doesn’t mean they’re going to read a 2,000-word article, because they can be doing almost anything else. It’s a tough market on the Internet. Cheers gets a lot of credit for being a popular show, but Cheers never had to compete with the most comprehensive and specific library of free pornography that has ever existed in human history."
Pay no heed to such advice because, again, it’s your blog and the mere fact that you have taken the time to grace the Internet with your presence means that you deserve to be seen. Not only that, but your readers, Facebook fans, or Twitter followers should be fine with whatever inconsistencies you throw at them and support you in your online endeavors. Don’t take into consideration what might be in the best interest of readers when re-tooling the layout of your blog (it now takes three clicks to see a single article? Let’s do it: more pageviews!), or whether or not they’ll grow tired of you turning over new designs on a seemingly monthly basis. Don’t take a reader’s perspective into account when you flood their RSS reader with 20 posts one day, and none the next. Don’t bother thinking about whether or not your drunken live-tweeting of your YouTube surfing will be of interest to them. Of course it will! They wouldn’t follow you if it wasn’t of interest, right? Oh, and if you get burnt out on the upkeep of your blog’s Twitter or Facebook accounts and decide to delete them altogether, expect fans to re-emerge when you open up new accounts and latch back onto your every word. It’s not that you shunned their patronage, you were just cleaning the slate.

Overestimate Your Own Importance

You’ve made it! People now visit your blog. A lot of people, actually. So why not give yourself a little pat on the back? After all, you’ve got x number of pageviews, y number of Facebook followers, and z number of Twitter followers, and that really means something. Not just something about your blog, but something about you. Were you recognized for your work by another website? Perhaps you were invited to contribute a guest-post or two to a well-established media outlet? Maybe you were you asked to freelance by a magazine/paper/weekly/blog/website that has a strong following? Wild! Never let yourself forget that, because no matter how long ago it happened it’s still important. Why would it not be important? They picked you because your opinion is obviously original and your taste as a music blogger, nay, Journalist(!), is impeccable. Whether or not you say anything that’s remotely original, express anything that readers wouldn’t actually be able to pick up on simply by listening to the music themselves, or document your experiences with a competency that remotely reflects the level of education you have isn’t really important here. What is important is that you wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t important. Even if no one else does, and whether or not it really exists, be the first in line to acknowledge your own “importance on the Internet.” You deserve it, buddy.

I know that it’s more than a little ironic to rant about bloggers who inflate their own importance by writing something that’s essentially all about me, but that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I originally started blogging about seven years ago, and started Culture Bully a few months after that. In the following years I’ve not only made every mistake mentioned here (and plenty more), but I’ve actually grown from some of them. (That said, there are still plenty of mistakes that I continue to make. Plenty.) People are supposed to do that though, right? Make mistakes… change… grow… mature…?

All considered though, I’m all but done with what this blog has become because while certain methods and practices keep pageviews coming in, doing so doesn’t really mean anything. I guess that’s the main piece of advice that I can give here: Stop taking the things that don’t actually matter so damn seriously. In the end the pageviews, followers, likes, fans, and subscribers aren’t really important if you can’t figure out what’s so special about them. It’s not about popularity or even ad revenue (the latter of which I’m thoroughly grateful for, by the way), but it’s that in a world where there might as well be “infinity active blogs on the Internet” someone looked at yours, followed you, subscribed, or liked what you did. The most important thing about this blog for me has been that many times when I began to feel invisible it’s helped me feel like I’m not, or that among an endless sea of people spouting loony opinions, that sometimes what I have to say does actually have some sort of value.

Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to that feeling. I should have said it a lot sooner. I don’t know what it means to move on, because I’ve done that before, but I’m moving on from whatever the past six and a half years have been about. Maybe I’ll try reaching my full potential or something… I don’t really know.

(The rest of this is just personal rambling [in true blog fashion, right?] and I wouldn’t bother reading it if you’re looking for more “handy tips” on how to avoid being a dummy. Rather, it’s just here for me to help sort out my thoughts as I continue to fumble my way through a digital identity crisis.)

…Guilty as the Next…

As much as I’d like to say that band spam or “digital marketing” might be the most frustrating aspect of blogging, it’s probably the blogging culture itself that takes such a distinction. Why? Funny enough, because the landscape is filled with people just like me. In the summer of 2010 I was able to attend the Sled Island festival in Canada, but by the end I was really bummed out because of the overall vibe. My conclusion was that I was part of the problem. While I was technically there to lend coverage – as is the trade-off for access – I was not there having fun or immersing myself in beautiful moments. I was only regurgitating what had happened, be it through typed word or videos of performances. And I wasn’t alone. (Have you ever been to a concert and witnessed the band take the stage only to be greeted by a swarm of cell-phones and cameras raised to capture the moment? Ever feel sort of sick about that? Ever feel sort of sick about that only to realize that your camera’s in the air as well?) I swore off “live reviews” then and while a few local showcase recaps snuck in over the past year, I’ve largely stuck to it. While I haven’t been to remotely as many shows as I once saw (actually having to pay for these things is tougher than I’d remembered) it feels good to just be a spectator again. What I probably should have done was swear off blogging on the whole though, because again I think the way I’ve been doing things here has positioned me as a contributor to a similar problem as the one I saw up in Canada. Only it’s online. And it’s everywhere.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve picked up on over the years is how little music bloggers actually interact with one another. I don’t mean interaction through Twitter or via public meet-ups though (both are pretty good ways of making new friends, both online and off), I mean through each other’s actual blogs. Most music bloggers aren’t passionate about music blogs, we’re passionate about our music blog. But not even to the degree that it’s our favorite blog, it’s just something we expect others to find value in. The idea dawned on me one day: If I had to read my own blog, would I? For the most part I wouldn’t. Yet I expect other people to read it… Why?! This is partially what drives a lot of these issues that I listed above: a widespread feeling of over-inflated self-importance.

What follows are criticisms no different than those made of the younger culture‘s increasingly strong sense of self-importance fueled by the urge to constantly update the rest of the world of their every action and thought via Facebook and Twitter — a compulsion made that much worse every time society force-feeds the idea that we’re all special, we’re all unique individuals with something important to say, and even further inflated every time someone responds, likes, comments or otherwise shows interest in what that person’s sharing. I’m hardly an expert on the inner workings of the entire blogosphere, so whether or not this is widespread across various niches I really don’t know, but this sort of thing is really evident in the music blogosphere. Somehow music bloggers have become important not only because we have an outlet for opinion, but curious enough, because the value of what we’re doing is tied to the quality of what we’re blogging about. Curation, right…? But including a single enjoyable song on a post that features a dozen, or posting a single legitimately unique or enjoyable music video over the course of a week’s worth of slop somehow means the blogger (as a “curator”) has done an excellent job in some circles. The whole thing is bizarre.

Recently I wrote something for a friend’s zine called “Why I (Music) Blog,” with an overly-dramatic conclusion about how it’s helped save my life (yada yada yada). There’s actually a bit of truth to that, but at the time I wrote the essay I only skimmed over something that I was already really really tired of: the depressing nature of being a blogger. Not only is it depressing living tied to a screen in a room by myself for the majority of most days (which, it could be argued, is my own doing, and I get that… still a bummer), but the reality of turning a hobby into a business has its drawbacks as well. For instance, eating your favorite food every few days can be great, but what happens when you take that leap and make eating your favorite food your job? What happens when you’re in a constant dialog surrounding your favorite food with friends (or are they acquaintances… or contributors?), are hammered with emails constantly alerting you to all sorts of different brands of your favorite food, faced with an RSS feed bulging at the seems with updates from hundreds of other blogs spewing conversation of your favorite food, and are bombarded with countless Twitter and forum discussions surrounding the development, evolution, and business of your favorite food (largely between people who can’t cook to save their lives)? Sure, it all comes with the territory, but regardless of how much you once loved that food, immersing yourself into such a culture gets a little old. What’s worse is that to gain the most visibility, or succeed financially so that it’s still your job to do it all again tomorrow, it’s rarely discussion of your favorite food that is the most lucrative, but rather food that you would otherwise never waste your time with.

It should be obvious for anyone who’s checked this blog out over the years, but for me, blogging has long since become a continual push for pageviews rather than actually aspiring to showcase music that’s really good. Album reviews have been the pageview equivalent to bread and butter for years: so why not squeak out immediate reactions to an Eminem or Taylor Swift album following their leaks online, as they typically draw a good bit of traffic, and in theory ad revenue, rather than post something about a far less known act that I really enjoy? For the longest time I haven’t even been blogging about my favorite food, but food that I’ve only ever had a marginal interest in. Now the entire buffet of different flavors and aromas has lost quite a bit of its appeal. Every email from a band is as gag-inducing as day-old marked down tuna rolls from the local convenience store. They might be a hidden treasure but I’m too turned off by the idea what they might be to take that risk.

There are plenty of other downsides (having to have a basis for opinion on the entire history of a band in order to write anything about them for fear of being terrorized by commentors, or having to simply have an opinion on everything in order to keep up, for instance), but something I recently read spoke well to an issue I hadn’t even realized existed within me. In a recent entry in his Why We Fight column, Nitsuh Abebe (whose writing is genuinely as great a response as anyone’s to the accusation that “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”) explained something that he’s lost over the years: his ability to be “suckered by trends.”
"I miss my capacity to fall for everything. I miss getting caught — hook, line, sinker, reeled-straight-in — by trends, revivals, passing notions, idiot bastard styles. I am trying to re-cultivate the overwhelming enthusiasm I have had for truly, truly bad ideas."
In August of 1998 one of my best friends and I made it our business to get out to the local electronics shop to get there just as it opened so we could be the first to get our hands on a CD on the day of its release. As the doors were unlocked, we rushed in only to find that the day’s new inventory wasn’t even stocked yet. So we had to wait for someone to go to the back and unearth a pair of discs for us. I guess there wasn’t much of a feeling that there’d be two ravenous teenagers anxiously counting down the minutes to get their hands on Korn’s Follow the Leader. Oh, how wrong they were. As unpopular as confessing to being one of those obnoxious nü-metal kids might be, that was one of the first eras of music where I can remember really feeling like I was caught up in a whole scene that was pretty awesome. Incubus’ S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was in there, as was Limp Bizkit, Soulfly and Pantera, but before long we’d drained the well dry (Cold Chamber) and moved on to the next trend. However, that wasn’t before I was also introduced to Rage Against the Machine and turned on to rap through such ridiculous and strange collaborations as Korn teaming with Ice Cube. Embarrassing? Absolutely. Regrettable? No way.

I’ve had similar moments of true fanaticism since then, of course, but after opening up the blog my perspective slowly changed from that of a fan to DIY “music critic,” and I’ve had fewer and fewer of them as each year passed. It wasn’t only that my opinion now seemed to matter, but that simply deciding who I paid attention to mattered. For all the nonsense that’s still projected at bands about the importance of getting music heard on blogs, the flip side is that bloggers start to believe that what their doing has importance. How could we not? Traffic takes off, ad revenue builds, a “fan base” develops, “contributors” reach out to you to join your team… hell, a couple years back a company flew me and a few other bloggers down to Austin for some parties (read: year-end tax write-off). All that and no one has ever even heard of this blog… Point is, it’s really easy to become caught up in the same wave of hype surrounding this whole “digital music explosion” from the blogger’s side of things as it is the musician’s. So as the years passed I spent more and more time grazing on PR emails than actually appreciating music, exploring my true interests or contemplating critiques by those who have been deep in the trenches of actual music journalism since long before my fascination with camo-shorts and backwards baseball caps began. Music blogging has quickly become a cog in machine that it first appeared to be raging against. Much like nü-metal ran its course with me, so too have the days of really taking this shit seriously.

Speaking of his work in radio and video, This American Life‘s Ira Glass explained in an interview a few years ago that “Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.” Even when this blog was good it still wasn’t that good (which isn’t meant to undermine the many kindhearted people who’ve shared articles here), and to keep on with the way it was going was driving me crazy because I knew it was getting worse. I was becoming more complacent with allowing that to happen despite becoming more and more aware that I can actually put something together that means something to me. That’s kind of why I invited some new folks to join in over the summer and that’s why I started posting about the UFC. Also partially just to see what would happen, but more than anything I was looking for a way to not abandon my crap. I still can’t kill this blog — I have rent to pay and to be frank, the scattered advertising and completely out-of-place sponsored posts still help a lot with that — but what I can kill is the process of continually stumbling through the many many many mistakes accounted for above. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done blogging, but I’m done for now. (Or is posting to Facebook and Twitter blogging?) Hope you’ve gotten something out of my little blog post here, and if you’re one of the many making the same mistakes that I’ve made, do yourself a favor and reconsider why it is that you (music) blog. I know you could have spent it with anyone, but you spent your time with me today. Thanks for that.

The Trouble with Local Scenes

I moved to Nashville last summer on a whim, really only because one of my best friends lives here and it seemed like a not-so-terrible idea. And here I am 17 months later, still waking up each morning in some strange city that has somehow become a part of me. I can’t explain what exactly it is about Nashville that makes it unique, nor can I narrow down what it is about the city that I really enjoy, but perhaps part of my appreciation reflects the circumstances that have arisen during my time here that have allowed me to swap out certain labels that help define who I am. For the past three years I’ve been able to miraculously survive as a “professional” music blogger – which, as far as job titles go, doesn’t really have an authoritative ring to it, does it? – but in recent months, largely because of dumb luck, I’ve been able to slowly move on from that stage of my life. I can now just be a fan of music again, which has been kind of nice because I’ve become very conflicted about this whole blogging-about-music thing. The daily obsessing, processing and digesting of an endless supply of music is tricky, and for whatever reason, six and a half years of it has left me a bit tired of actually listening to new music. The irony of this coming to a head while living in Music City isn’t lost on me.

While reflecting on the past few years though it’s become quite apparent to me that this growing distaste for the process is largely of my own doing, and mostly because of my own inability to be honest with myself. For the most part, having to push out blog posts to get the page views to get the pay checks means promoting music that’s not necessarily good, but really only good enough to blog about. This issue becomes amplified for “local blogs” that seek to promote “local talent,” something that I’ve aimlessly tried to do for a number of years and something that, quite frankly, I’ve really made a mess of. Again, mostly because of that dishonesty with myself.

Early in 2007 I met a bunch of really fun and interesting people who were working together under the banner of a review website called How Was The Show in the Twin Cities. I wrote a few forgettable concert recaps for the site but the introduction helped open my eyes to something I hadn’t even really considered before: focusing on local bands. This process of digging into the scene was rewarding in that it led me to discover some cool music that I didn’t know existed, and the consideration of local artists ultimately spread to this blog where I started to document local goings-on. In the following years some friends joined in and this Twin Cities focus on the blog gained some momentum. Around this time the opportunity became available to contribute to the local alt-weekly, City Pages, where for a little under a year I put together locally-focused news posts online (nearly) every weekday, while also adding various show previews and features along the way to the print edition. By the end of 2009 though I was really struggling with some things in my personal life and I made some poor decisions which led not only to putting this blog on the shelf, but the unfortunate crumbling of a few good friendships. If I could do that all again, I’d handle things much differently.

A couple months later, I found myself unable to land work up in Canada, where I’d moved, and out of necessity to get some sort of income going again I started blogging again. I should have just done my own thing, but to some degree I had sold myself on the idea that there was some inherent value in building that local presence and promoting local artists. Unsuccessfully grasping for some sense of relevancy I tried to put together some locally-based news posts (something I later failed to do consistently here in Nashville, as well) and I even went as far as putting together a local band directory. Before long however I was back in the States and I lazily tried to again turn the focus locally. I really didn’t have any direction with what I was doing until some time in December though, when a phone call influenced how I approached the next few months of blogging.

Chatting with a friend online I was asked if I’d met John Gotty, who runs The Smoking Section, yet. Honestly, I hadn’t frequented the site in ages and had no idea he even lived in Nashville. A few days later I got in touch and we eventually connected on the phone. Unable to really figure anything out on my own, I was curious to ask him about what was going on in terms of rap and hip hop in the city and by chance it just so happened that he was preparing an idea that would start showcasing the very community I was trying to learn more about. He was still in the planning stages of bringing Yelawolf to town in a move that he was hoping to replicate: attracting audiences to come out to shows by alluring them with a big name and offering local MCs the chance to be seen by new faces by adding them to the bill. The Yelawolf show at Phat Kaps worked (big time) and the procedure has continued to do so, bringing a bit of visibility to local names who might not otherwise have the opportunity to perform in front of large audiences. But what it also did was spark a bit of a push to encourage local MCs in general.

This past May, Sean Maloney wrote an article in the Nashville Scene that covered this rebirth, of sorts, titled “How guys like Openmic, Dee Goodz and more are leading the Nashville hip-hop charge, and creating a scene all their own.” In the article Sean discussed a few of the MCs he felt were driving this new breed, while also touching on a few additional factors which were helping to drive the shift including an increase in media coverage, including a push from such blogs as Break on a Cloud, 2Ls on a Cloud (I still crack up at the unintentional similarity in their names), and this blog. Why go through explaining all this? To emphasize that while I’m still relatively new to Nashville, and still have no idea how deep or shallow the pool of talent in the city might be, I’m not new to the idea of supporting local artists, pushing for them in local online and print publications, and hyping local shows. What I am new to, however, is an idea that leaves me feeling that depending on how it’s done, it might not have the value that it appears to. But supporting the community is the right thing to do, right? Buy local, support local artists, etc. Well, there’s a little more to it than that.

Part of the reason that I personally grew tired of focusing on Twin Cities’ acts was that when it comes right down to it, a lot of them just really weren’t that good. Or maybe they were good, but they just weren’t my thing. Numerous times I was responsible for blog posts on City Pages’ website or show previews in the paper that promoted artists in the name of community who I genuinely didn’t care about. Instead of being honest with myself however I went with the flow: To some degree it’s part of the job, but had I realized then what I believe I do now I would have given up on the local-focus long before I landed in Nashville, and long before I got involved in promoting local artists here. I would have never blogged about plenty of the acts that hit the front page had it not been for the fact that they were based in the community which I lived. This doesn’t reflect well on me, and I realize this, and that’s fine, but it’s important to consider because dating all the way back to 2007 when I started to spend more time looking at the city around me, no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve hardly been the only person selling local mediocrity as something truly worthwhile. Sadly I think that this is a symptom of locally-aimed outlets wherever you go, and I might take some heat for saying this but Nashville is no exception.

What might be most interesting thing about Sean’s May-article came not in the cheerleading but in a comment which followed from “Yep” that read, “We’ve seen iterations of this same story since the early ’90s. Between Count Bass D, Iayaalis, Haystack, Utopia State and others, Nashville hip-hop still has not taken off. This city is still in retrograde mode when it comes to supporting music that does not have a country spin or a light & bright face attached to it.” Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by purpose, it was around the time that a friend of mine gave me an article which ran in the Nashville Scene in September of 2005 titled “Cashville Underground: Nashville’s hip-hop scene is poised to blow up.” The timing was remarkable.

Written by now-Managing Editor Jack Silverman, the article detailed the rap community in Nashville and defined the landscape as being “a scene that, given the right set of circumstances, could boil over at any minute.” Citing MCs such as Cadence & Jelly Roll, the article reflects a similar feeling of optimism that Sean’s did when he called Nashville “a scene on the move.” Jack’s article did well to not get entirely ahead of itself by explaining some of the difficulties facing local artists though, and while Sean’s didn’t detail them, many of the problems still exist: the city’s MCs tend to stand on their own rather than work together, there is a scarcity of local venues that consistently welcome MCs, and the list goes on. All of these issues might be changing, and some are even beginning to turn around completely, but there remains this curious tendency to hyperbolize the local rap scene here in the city. To some degree I think it has to do with the anger tied to Nashville’s image being so very tightly pinned to the development and support of country music (nearly exclusively), but part of it also has to do with that broader issue of supporting local for local’s sake. I want to make something clear here, I’m as guilty of this as the next person (perhaps guiltier than the next, even) and I’m not trying to point fingers or make a mockery out of anyone, be it artist or media member. What I’m trying to do is suggest that there’s an alternative way of doing business that might be more valuable to everyone involved. Sean and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but he’s a good guy and is leading the pack right now in terms of giving exposure to a largely overlooked faction of artist. And to be fair, I think he’s trying to confront this very same issue as he continues to push things in a positive direction.

In addition to various features which date back to long before I even moved to the city, Sean’s recently been compiling submissions from local MCs for weekly "Party & Bullshit" blog posts. We chatted about them a little bit online earlier this week and he addressed this need for better curation, “At the beginning P&B was mostly me with my fingers crossed hoping that I’d have a enough material to even write a blog post. Now it’s a question of whether or not I have time to listen to everything that comes my way and then wrestling with what I want to put in there. That there’s enough hip hop in Nashville these days to be really selective about what I cover.” I’m really glad he brought this up because what Sean’s saying here about the process of increased selectivity is as important to the ongoing development of any “scene” as it is for the growth of individual artists.

In a recent Huffington Post article, filmmaker Kevin Smith spoke to how unnecessary it is to degrade the work of creative-types, as on the flip side, “It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential return is immeasurable. A song will cheer your mood. A movie will let you escape. A podcast will make you laugh. Nice dividends to a simple investment.” He continued, “Art can’t save the world, but it can make the world a lot easier to take. You tell a budding artist something good about their work, or share with them the things you’ve learned, or show them how to advocate for their art themselves? It costs you nothing but time. The potential upside? Maybe one day, they make your favorite movie. Or write the book you’ve read twenty times. Or record the most-played song on your iPod. Or rock the longest-running podcast in history. All because you said something kind.” He makes a great point, and I’m not here to argue that, but when these avenues of positive feedback are so widely open for access, and so readily lending encouragement it begins to water down the entire process of defining what’s actually good. C.S. Lewis has a funny quote that sort of applies here: “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” There’s probably no real use in telling an artist that their work is laughably terrible. But it might be more detrimental in the long-run to lead on like what they’re doing is great when in reality it’s only marginally better than being entirely forgettable. It’s a difficult line to walk, finding a balance between insult and embellishment, and unfortunately we’re usually left leaning closer to the latter.

My opinion, over time, has became fairly worthless in this online forum largely because it’s been so heavily tied to nonchalant blog posts about artists who I really didn’t care about (this isn’t specific to local artists though, more on that to come in a later blog post). Without setting a higher standard for who we place on a pedestal and offer our support to, we’ll be left with preaching about how an act like Mobb Mafia could be the key to the success of an entire city’s musical development (as MC Kool Daddy Fresh did in Jack’s article). But even if we do place our collective weight and support behind a talent that we feel is legitimate, I’d still argue against putting the weight of such our-scene-is-on-the-cusp-of-breaking-out articles on their shoulders. You don’t really have to look any further than Jack’s article to see what I mean, particularly focusing an MC that he pumped up pretty hard in his piece when he explained that “It’s almost unanimous among local rap insiders that All Star is the next big thing to break out of Cashville.”

Now performing under the name of Starlito, the MC might have had the potential to be that break-out star that a scene needs, but damned if he didn’t face some major hurdles along the way. Hitting big with the 2005 Yo Gotti & Young Jeezy collaboration “Grey Goose,” All $tar struck a deal with Cash Money, but even so, by February of 2008, when the New York Times’ Kelefah Senneh wrote a feature about him, he was still struggling to rise to the next level. “He calls himself All $tar, and he has what most rappers dream of: a devoted fan base, a strong regional reputation and a big-time record deal. His major-label debut, ‘Street Ball’ (Cash Money/Universal), is one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated Southern hip-hop albums. But all that was equally true last year. And in 2006. And in 2005 too. All $tar, who just turned 23, has been Nashville’s next big hip-hop thing for so long that the title has stopped seeming like a compliment.” Starlito’s local shine hasn’t really faded away in the years that followed — this past December he released the full-length album Starlito’s Way 3: Life Insurance, and he dropped the Ultimate Warrior mixtape earlier this month — but that next level never really materialized for the still-young MC. This isn’t to say that he’s not talented, that he didn’t hustle, or that a breakout down the road might not still happen, but simply that it’s just ridiculously hard to actually break out and taste mainstream success, let alone carry an entire city’s roster of MCs into the public eye with you. Perhaps nothing would have changed if such a burden of potential success wasn’t placed on his shoulders at such an early age, but it still makes me cringe a little to see the same thing happen in 2011 to a talented guy like Openmic who’s barely legal, himself. Artists need time to develop, and if they’re being illegitimately touted (again, as I’ve been guilty of countless times) there’s a chance that they begin to buy their own hype regardless of whether or not they actually have the talent to back it up. The really depressing thing is that this empty hyping isn’t even the worst thing that I’m guilty of in terms of pushing the whole local angle on the blog. The fact is that I was being dishonest without even really realizing it: I’d been going about things the wrong way for so long that I didn’t even realize that I was trying to make it more about me, and my “personal brand” or whatever, than about the music.

It’s disheartening to go back through the mental scrapbook and realize all the times that my intentions were put out there for personal gain while I was spouting off about building community. Certainly I believed in its importance, and I still do, but I guess I wasn’t ever really honest with myself about how much of what I was doing was a personal grab at some sort of notoriety. Sad as it might be, this blog has been one of the only things that ever really made me feel important in my adult life, which might be why I’ve always returned to it, but that realization hardly cleanses the bitter taste that all of this has left in my mouth.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I feel that it’s the another one of the key issues that can get in the way of any local music scene developing: The music has to speak for itself and validate its own importance, not the importance of those who document it. There’s a documentary that I’d recommend people checking out called PressPausePlay that focuses on the democratization of art in the digital era. In it Pitchfork’s Amy Phillips touches on the idea that just because you can make music does not mean that you’re entitled to a fan base. The exact same thing is true of bloggers: just because we can figure out how to install WordPress and embed some YouTube clips doesn’t mean that we deserve to be seen. And just as they do with musicians, audiences have to assume motivation with bloggers. It just so happens to turn out that after all this time I had become largely misguided about what mine was. I feel like I’ve been deceptive and I really regret that.

Last week I asked Gotty, who continues to be nothing but a rock in this city, for some feedback about what he’s seen happen this year and he explained another problem facing Nashville artists, which could potentially be the most crippling. “The biggest challenge the city faces is much like any relationship: sustaining and finding a way to stay in love. Keeping the rap romance going requires continuing to spread the word and bring friends to shows, taking a gamble on shows where maybe you don’t know all of the artists on the bill but you know the show’s host and their ability to put together great bills or going out to a Wednesday night show because there will be newfound friends there, etc.” One doesn’t need to look any further than Jack’s article to see how short the lifespan of a regional talent can be, and I don’t know that many of the MCs and producers making music in the city right now will fare any better. But what seems apparent is that there continues to be a shift in the local culture. Sean added, “It used to be that I would know every show that was happening and every person that was going to be there and, well, that’s just not the case anymore. There are more club nights and shows and artists than I can even keep track of and there’s an audience that keeps showing up for all of ‘em, which is just mind blowing. I think Nashville hip hop has finally found itself.”

As far as whether or not there’s a legitimate chance that Nashville develops into a nationally-regarded scene for anything but country music is far beyond me. It’s still a strange city and I still have no idea about how it works. Take Nashville’s Dead for example: since I moved here it’s been one of the most influential blogs that I know of in terms of pumping local talent. The people who write the blog posts might be friends of the people they write about, or in the bands themselves, but it’s still a damn fine outlet to discover what’s going on in the city. Yet despite its consistency, or the work of my aforementioned Cloud friends, the Nashville Scene recently named itself the “Best Music Blog” for the second straight year, comically adding as its runners-up both a “music discovery platform” that recently (un-ironically, mind you) posted a Coldplay tribute, and a blog aimed at the sharing of “experiences in marketing music and managing artists” which most recently awarded Switchfoot as its “October Pick Of The Month.” (Yes it was a reader’s poll and yes Sean made room for a well-deserved special mention of Break on a Cloud, but that breakdown still concerns me.) Had I been paying better attention these past few months I’d probably be able to list a few more instances of goofy industry goings-on, but as such I haven’t.

Even if music-heads are able to avoid puffing up local talent that isn’t all that talented, even if those documenting the community don’t mistake their own importance for that of the subject their covering (essentially if you can do what I haven’t done), and even if MCs are allowed to develop slowly, with artists taking time to find their voices and grow into their music, this is still a tough industry city (maybe The Industry City), and from where I’m at the process of swimming upstream against the current here appears damn near impossible. Add to it that Nashville, by population alone, is a relatively small market, and thus has a smaller pool of talent to rely on. Interestingly enough though, I might be in the distinct minority here.

Sean closed our discussion by summing up his take on the future, “I’m thinking there are going to be a lot more high quality records from innovative artists. I also think that folks outside the city are going to start noticing what’s going on here.” He continued, “Basically, I’m thinking 2012 is going to make 2011 look like a quiet and unproductive year, which it definitely has not been…” Gotty reflected a similar feeling of optimism, “There’s no reason Nashville, as ‘Music City,’ should be continuously overlooked as a hub, either for tour stops and the music being created here. For years, the rap scene here has been overlooked and un-nurtured. Now, everybody’s working, taking shifts and adding their skills to the mix in order to make sure the garden’s growing.”

The whole purpose of this, other than it being helpful for me to figure myself out a little, is to say that I really didn’t go about things as I should have in Minneapolis, I was completely misguided in my lazy attempt to focus locally in Calgary, and to go on doing so in Nashville would be a disservice to not only those who are doing it with genuine intentions, but also the few artists who do deserve better. I take issue with the idea of a “scene” even needing to be built, when a strong community (there I go again…) is really what’s most important. If all that happens in the coming years is that MCs begin to really work together and fans continue to pack shows, the city will be immeasurably better for it. When it comes down to it I do want to see people succeed (even those who I don’t feel are all that good at what they do), but I don’t want to see this become another scenario where some blogger is pointing the finger six years from now saying we did things all wrong, questioning why there still isn’t any rap or hip hop scene in Nashville. Sorry if I’ve already let you down in working against that happening.

Mac L's "Raw Material"

It was just about 10 months ago that I first met Mac L. In a number of ways the cocksure MC served as my introduction to a side of Nashville that I didn’t know much about when first moving here, and certainly a sector that isn’t entirely visible unless you’re actively looking for it: the rap and hip hop community. The night we met we talked at length about the issues facing young artists in Music City, discussing in detail the lack of cohesion between contemporaries and other factors cramping development such as scarcity of live venues in the city that are open to “urban” acts and general disinterest from the media. I was a bit taken back by the reality that Mac painted for me that night and here it is, 10 months later, and I still don’t know what to make of this city. Sure, Nashville faces issues that strike every city, regardless of location, concerning the nurturing of local artists, but Nashville also has a few of its own problems that are more specific to its community that I’m still trying to figure out.

The main purpose of this article is to document and celebrate something Mac’s accomplished in the time since I first met him. To put it bluntly, I probably wouldn’t be posting this if I hadn’t told Mac many months ago that I’d help “sponsor” his mixtape (I’ve not really been blogging about much of anything lately). As time passed I about forgot my promise, but I figured why not – Mac’s my friend. This isn’t to say that his new mixtape, Raw Material, doesn’t deserve recognition however. It’s an interesting album in that it identifies a young lyricist in transition, slowly growing into the realities of the modern political and economic landscape, slowly identifying his changing perception of the country, slowly finding his place. One of the things that Mac isn’t slow to, however, is announcing his own importance as an artist, nor is he slow to suggest that his future will be anything less than successful. As irritating as his self-assured chest beating might be at times, which he does no more or less than any other MC who’s trying to gain attention, I admire Mac’s persistence – he isn’t about to let anyone tell him that he isn’t as good as he thinks he is.

A free download of the entire album is available below, and for those interested in learning a bit more about Mac there’s also a brief Q&A with him that touches on his future in the city, whether or not he’s calling it quits after this release, and why he feels that there is “no one else who makes music like me” (there’s also this interview with him from this past January). The bottom line is that Mac might not be every bit as phenomenal as he feels he is (yet?), but I’m still comfortable standing behind Raw Material and putting my name on it because it just so happens to be that in addition to being my friend, he’s also one of the select Nashvillian MCs whose work I actually enjoy. It’s my hope, as I’m sure it is Mac’s, that you too enjoy what he’s put together here.

On one hand you speak to how proud you are of graduating college, but the flip side is your own sense of feeling disenfranchised by the system: how the degree helps your self-esteem yet burdens you because it has yet to give you an advantage in finding a job. Do you feel people can relate to you on this and how much do you struggle with this daily?

Mac L: The short answer is yes. I know people can relate to me, simply because I know people who are going through the same things I’m going through, if not worse. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, but you gotta have faith. That’s why I try not to let this get to me daily, because with despair comes opportunity. As of late I’ve come to realize my destiny, and ultimately I need to stop letting the system stop me from my dreams. With that said, I’m no longer looking for a job, but an expansion of my career.

We briefly talked about this before — cocktails might’ve been involved on either or both ends of the conversation — but you’ve hinted that this might be your swan song. Are you going to continue pursuing rapping as a genuine outlet following this release, and if so, what still drives you to push forward?

Mac L: (Laughs) Blame the alcohol. Rap always was and always will be my outlet. I enjoy music too much to quit, as an artist and a fan. With that said, I’m already working on my next project as I wait to release this one. I have two younger siblings that look up to me. They mean everything to me. My brother plays my music all through the house and even has his basketball teams (yes, teams) playing my joints. There’s too many people who enjoy my work, who depend on me, who expect great things from me, and that’s because there’s no one else who makes music like me, who can drop knowledge and entertainment at the same time. For me to give up, at this point, would be turning my back on everyone who has ever had a kind word for me.

“…and that’s because there’s no one else who makes music like me, who can drop knowledge and entertainment at the same time.” This isn’t meant to sound confrontational or critical, but do you really feel that way? Deep down inside, that you’re in an elite tier among MCs?

Mac L: Shit, I know I’m not the only one who can do it. I just feel like I’m the only one that actually takes a stab at it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my doubts, but who doesn’t? As far as being in an elite tier, the record won’t allow me to say that I am. I will say that I’m on my way though. My plan and my ability will show and prove it for me.

How much did you invest in Raw Material when all’s said and done, and how much might that aspect of the artistic process play into whether or not you continue to release music in the future?

Mac L: I invested a lot of time, energy, and money into Raw Material. The few people that heard The Great American Paper Chase will understand that my main focus is progression. My next tape will be a further example. The only thing that would stop me from continuing to release music would be if I lost my artistic freedom.

Raw Material touches on everything from grievances with the President to celebrating nostalgia, but what was left on the cutting room floor? Do you have any half-finished ideas that you simply had to let go?

Mac L: There were TONS of songs, some finished, some unfinished. If you notice the tracklisting, there were basically no features on the mixtape. That’s not the way I originally intended. If Raw Material went the way I originally wanted it to be, there’d be a movie to go with it. I had more feelings to unload, more ideas, more stories, but it was too much. I had to understand that I’m not in a position where I can just do whatever I want and expect people to gravitate toward it. Some songs will be on future projects. Other songs may ultimately be scrapped. A lot of songs were put on The Prelude, which is up for free download now. For the record, despite my frustrations with our President, I’m standing by him.

Letterman Said it Best...

This started as a Facebook post. Initially I feared putting something like this up on the blog because it might be misconstrued as another in this weekend’s parade of tasteless grabs for pageviews and misplaced online celebrations. But my words eventually outgrew the word-count limit on Facebook’s “wall,” and I’d like to think that my concluding idea might be worth sharing with more people than the few dozen friends I have. (That last part is arguable.)

The idea of “where were you” is nearly foreign to me. My generation has no moon-landing, Lennon assassination or even its own “Who shot J.R.?” Additionally the news that does seem relevant is tweeted, aggregated, and archived before its genuine relevance is even really felt. Yet keeping that in mind, we don’t really have another time where we were collectively shot in the chest as when we were ten years ago: 9/11 is our only real “where were you.” And in my own “where were you,” I was at the dentist’s office with my father. I don’t remember the exact reason behind the visit, but I imagine that I was there to get a check-up because we weren’t sure when we might next be able to get our teeth looked at as we were on the verge of moving to the U.S.

I’d love to say that we had some kind of rah-rah patriotic intention in mind with the relocation, but we didn’t. We were merely moving to try something new. For my parents our leap from Alberta to Minnesota marked a return home: my dad was born in St. Paul and my mom, while born in Iowa, grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids. For my sister and I, the move would put us closer to our many cousins, aunts and uncles who live in the area. But at the dentist’s office, things changed.

We’d already sold our house, purged most of our belongings through a series of successful garage sales (which in my case included a mean 1984 Chevy pick-up), and were packing up what little remained, preparing it for the moving truck. But after what happened on the television in the dentist’s office we became afraid. This wasn’t Y2K, this was something real that could potentially prevent us from making the leap that we’d planned; after all, it’s damn near impossible to make a move from one country to another if the border is closed.

Without drawing this out, we were fine in the end. Making the journey in October, we found a small, minimally trafficked crossing between Saskatchewan (I believe, it might have been Manitoba) and North Dakota and as we had our documents in order, we were allowed to pass through. Our fear was that we’d have to unload the entire truck so that our belongings could be searched but the patrol guards barely gave us a once-over. Although I’d just turned 18, even then I knew that things could go sour real quick for us, but we made it through without complication. What a gigantic relief.

Despite the circumstances, the process of looking back on that period of my life, and comparing it with where I am now, is an enjoyable one. Comparing that time with the present in terms of where we are as a country, however, is much more complicated. There’s been a lot of change in ten years, and unfortunately much of that change has included painting the nation with a myriad of grays where black and white once appeared. This morning I was directed to an essay that David Foster Wallace wrote in 2007 which speaks to this shift while questioning the price of our liberties. Immediately my mind drifted from there to the foreboding article that Hunter Thompson wrote for ESPN in reaction to the events of September 11, before creeping toward David Letterman’s first show back on the air after, what he described as, the “obscene chaos.”

Acting as a modern-day Nostradamus, Hunter’s “Fear & Loathing in America” accurately mapped out just how war would evolve on a global scale and how it would affect each and every one of us. If you haven’t done so before I encourage you to read the entire article (it’s brief), and if you’ve read it before, it probably wouldn’t hurt to re-familiarize yourself with it.
"The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. But the Letterman clip is something different."
I don’t feel that there’s a place for Alex Jones-ian, Loose Change, building seven conspiracy rhetoric this weekend, so I’d like to stay away from dissecting his points about Rudy Giuliani and the like. Rather, what’s important to me about this clip is Letterman’s seemingly earnest, heartfelt reaction. This speech is the only time that I can recall hearing the utterance of “goddamn” on network television (which actually helped cement it in my mind), and the statement that surrounds that word is what continues to resonate with me,
"As I understand it — and my understanding of this is vague at best — another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we’re told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor… religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamned sense?"
Dave’s words on confusion still move me, but more important than those, his remarkable thoughts on courage, and his brave ability to find humor among the darkness, was Dave’s touching anecdote about the spirit of the country’s people. While time has helped mask the bleak confusion that followed the events that took place a decade ago, what remains is something that I still cherish: the human spirit. This isn’t exclusive to a small town in Montana, nor the U.S., nor North America, but what continues to flourish around the world is the spirit to come together and help one another in time of need. We saw it after 9/11, we’ve recently seen it Haiti, and we continue to witness it in Japan.

So on a weekend when levels of celebratory flag-waving might reach an all-time high (if not for the anniversary, then certainly for the kick-off of the NFL season), what makes sense to me is to reflect not on the actual events of 9/11, the questionable politicking which followed, or the static surrounding the entire package, but rather: the persistent human spirit that remains within us all.

UFC on Fox, Warrior and the Changing Face of MMA

While Culture Bully has been a predominantly music-focused blog, a few months back I had a crazy idea that I wanted to pursue which included expanding content to other “cultural” points of interest: This included sports and, more importantly, coverage of mixed martial arts and the UFC. Things have subsequently changed quite a bit, leading to a general bottoming out of coverage in all areas, but what remains is a passionate eye for the sport and its development.

A little about how I got here: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta and all across Canada one of the main big-box retailers is called the Real Canadian Superstore, or simply Superstore for short. In traditional big-box fashion, Superstore had an electronics section with bargain bin videos (VHS), that ranged from shitty old martial arts movies to a slight trickle of less than successful recent releases. Somewhere in 1999 the bargain bin became littered with titles from the UFC’s still-young history; a longtime fan of pro-wrestling (and, yes, I’ll be honest: Van Damme’s Bloodsport) I was also a fan of the hand-to-hand combat style of mixed martial arts and I had been a curious onlooker of the UFC for a year or two, as the show wasn’t really on television anywhere. Being both a fan and a young opportunist I scooped up as many of the tapes as I could, watched them all, then took to eBay to make the most of the situation. (The Canadian dollar was weak, the videos were rare in the States, and I did well.) From that point I was hooked, picking up whatever little information I could about events and the evolution of the sport as I could along the way. It wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to put together my first stint as an MMA blogger, working for the content farming Examiner. That spot only lasted a couple months, but I’d like to think that it helped me nurture a deeper appreciation for the sport (this feature on Roger Huerta might have been the most rewarding thing I wrote during that stretch, for what it’s worth). The point is: I love the sport of MMA and the UFC’s development has almost come as a personal victory in some regard. It’s the band whose demo tape you bought at one of their first gigs or the classmate who made it big as a politician: There’s a personal feeling of satisfaction that accompanies such growth regardless of the legitimacy of the relationship.

As the sport and my passion continued to boom I felt the urge to dip back in, taking on Pay-Per-View coverage, the occasional editorial and playing with news updates. None of it really stuck. But this past month (especially) the sport has seen an fantastic series of events that has given me, as both an interested onlooker to the business aspect of things and a fanatic of the sport itself, nothing less than an MMA-high. Here are just a few of the developments in the sport and the Ultimate Fighting Championship that have taken place recently which might help shape the face of MMA for months, if not years, to come. Blog or no, I’m as excited as I’ve ever been to see how these particular events will help change the course of history. And if you have yet to give the UFC and MMA a try, I’d recommend checking out one of the many spectacular events that are set to take place as 2011 winds down.

• UFC on Fox — Historically, the UFC moving to Fox could be the most important thing to ever happen to both the promotion and the sport’s mainstream perception. I’d argue that mixed martial arts is every bit the sport that a combat sport relative such as boxing is (and it ultimately poses much less physical risk to the fighters than boxing) yet its aptitude for perceived violence and injury (let’s face it, a hematoma isn’t pretty no matter which way you spin it) leave it nothing more than human cage fighting in the eyes of many casual sports fans (let alone non-sports fans). The move to Fox, and the kick off with such a remarkable display of talent on the network’s first broadcast (Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos), should help put the wheels of legitimacy in motion for mixed martial arts. Not to mention the slew of expected programming on Fox, Fox Sports Net and FX including…

• The Ultimate Fighter moves to FX — TUF14: Bisping vs. Mayhem will be last season of the beloved reality show to be shown on Spike before moving to FX in the spring of 2012. It’s hard to argue the show’s power in driving new eyes to the UFC and its role in solidifying emerging talent as true competitors. (Also, the TUF season 1 finale’s bout between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin will remain one of the best and most influential fights in the history of the sport for as long as it’s around. I’ll happily argue that with any takers.) In addition to a pre-recorded recap of the week’s events the series will now feature a weekly live fight which will air once a week for 12 weeks. The Ultimate Fighter, live on cable, once a week. How quickly might the next star be born?

• The continued rise of Bellator — In part to make up for the pending departure of the UFC on Spike, the network’s parent company (Viacom) is beginning to prep for the hole by shifting content between its stations. Bellator Fighting Championships, which is currently featured on MTV2, will now air its preliminary cards on Spike’s website, surely putting it in line to make a leap to the channel’s programming schedule following its final MTV contracted season. This leaves Bellator in an even better position and one which could have it rank as the #2 promotion in the U.S., which is good because…

• Strikeforce is practically dead — When the UFC’s parent company Zuffa purchased Strikeforce it was all but believed that the company would be folded into the promotion just as Pride and the WEC had been before it. Despite UFC President Dana White announcing that everything would be “business as usual,” things have been anything but usual: Strikeforce presently has no Heavyweight Champion, no Middleweight Champion and its Lightweight Champion is on his way out the door. Former Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed Lawal was recently quoted in an interview when asked about the company as saying, “It’s like a cancer patient, like a dying cancer patient. That’s how I feel like the organization is. We’re just waiting for it to die, to pass.” Not only is Strikeforce crumbling, but its also toying with fans, ideas and fighters along the way. After the drop of Marloes Coenen seemed to signal one of the final shifts toward eliminating women’s divisions from the promotion, they resigned Cris “Cyborg” Santos (after previously letting her free of her contract), who’s largely regarded as the best pound-for-pound female fighter in the world. So, if nothing else can be said of Strikeforce at the moment, at least the company’s prolonging the inevitable death of mainstream WMMA.

• UFC in Rio — The UFC’s most recent PPV in Brazil wasn’t simply a success, but a mammoth success. Fanfare was incredible and the show was as exciting as any other this year. Promising a return to the country in the none-too-distant future, the UFC will now venture to Japan in February of 2012 (the company’s first Japan show since 2000), but it’s the storyline involving a pair of victorious Brazilians that might be the most intriguing fallout from UFC 134. Resurrecting his career with a victory over top 10 Heavyweight Brendan Schaub, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira will now face Frank Mir at UFC 140 in Toronto; a bout that could easily be the last in the UFC for the loser, regardless of whether it’s the aging “Big Nog” or the unsteady Mir. Additionally, as previously mentioned, current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson will likely be making his return to the UFC as he is presently without a contract, and one of the bouts he could step into would be one against reigning Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. I’d argue that Henderson’s better off staying at the heavier weight, where he is excelling as of late (also, remember his forgettable outing at middleweight against Jake Shields?), but this particular option would grant fight fans a rematch from Silva’s 2008 submission defeat of Henderson, and potentially something that the champion is much in need of: competition.

• UFC on Versus 5 Fallout — The August 14 card on Versus was an interesting one, if not because of the solid fights, then certainly in terms of its implications. Veteran Chris Lytle rode off into the sunset, which includes a rumored Indiana State Senate run next year, capping off his MMA career with a huge victory over Dan Hardy. While Lytle’s story is certainly one of great significance, it might not be the most important here in terms of the UFC’s future and its policies. Fans of the company have long-since put stock in an unofficial three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy; one that has left beloved veterans and relative unknowns alike without a job. Yet, unlike beloved veteran Keith Jardine, who was dismissed following four consecutive losses in the UFC, Dan Hardy still has a job after dropping his fourth-straight to Lytle. Could retaining the young scrapper be due to his rambunctious outgoing attitude or simply the UFC’s need for British fighters to help break further into to the struggling UK market? Regardless, it shows that if you are able to prove your worth, even a losing fighter can keep his job in the company. The second area to consider following the Versus show is the shake-up of the lightweight division. While he’s a former WEC Lightweight Champion, Ben Henderson was all but expected to lose to Jim Miller, allowing the latter to claim the next spot in line to fight for the Lightweight title against the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Yet despite the odds being against him, Henderson took the much deserved decision victory in a turn of events not entirely dissimilar to when Clay Guida defeated Anthony Pettis (who was in line for the title shot) this past June. Fitting then, that the explosive Guida is now tentatively scheduled to face Henderson on the historic UFC on Fox card in November, with the winner likely getting the next crack at the title. That fight should be amazing!

• Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz — This week alone has swung the direction of next few months for the UFC in an entirely new direction. With former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz (who vacated his title to compete against GSP) no-showing a pair of press events, and making his whereabouts unknown to the UFC and his camp, Dana White announced that the surging Carlos Condit would step in to fight for the unpredictable Diaz. After taking his meal-ticket from him, of course Diaz reappeared, questioning his removal from the fight and suggesting he might turn to boxing (after all) due to the perceived disrespect. White, now looking for someone to step into face BJ Penn, as Condit was set to do at UFC 137, then made the decision to pin Diaz against the future hall of famer. Though circumstances have led to slightly less intriguing match-ups, it appears as though all is again right in the UFC’s welterweight division.

• Heavyweight shake-up — After it was first announced that Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem had been “cut” from Strikeforce, heavyweights across promotions have seen a strange twist in their entangled storylines. The now-purposeless Strikeforce Heavyweight Granx Prix continues this weekend as Sergei Kharitonov faces Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva faces Daniel Cormier, who is stepping in for the injured/released Overeem. Elsewhere in the world it was announced that Cormier’s last opponent, the tank-like Jeff Monson, will face off against the struggling-legend Fedor Emelianenko in November, as both fighters make their first appearances after Strikeforce failure. And as for Overeem, as expected his leash wasn’t let off Zuffa’s hook as he was recently signed to a multi-fight deal with the UFC. His first opponent will be a returning Brock Lesnar as the two will square off at the end of the year in a fight which might very well be the most anticipated heavyweight fight in MMA history.

• Warrior — To bookend the step toward the mainstream that is the UFC’s move to Fox is the debuting theatrical release, Warrior. Campy as the trailer might be, the movie’s received strong pre-release feedback, currently scoring a favorable 82% at Rotten Tomatoes. Regardless of the film’s success, simply projecting a story utilizing the theme of legitimate mixed martial arts into the mainstream is a victory for MMA supporters. Warrior opens today in theaters everywhere.

“Cowboys & Aliens” Review

Armed with a Megaman blaster and his rugged good looks, Cowboys & Aliens finds Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) leading a strike against an encroaching team of aliens that have settled on Earth to strip mine for gold (for some reason or another). Aside from this undeniably superior alien race being taken down by far lesser manpower and artillery, which is kind of like the adorable Ewoks bringing down the Empire with sling shots and determination, there isn’t much here in terms of story. When considering all the plot devices – from Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and his son being pompous dicks to everyone in sight to Ella Swenson’s (Olivia Wilde) mysterious history – there isn’t much in the development of the story that’s particularly engrossing. That said, we need more Olivia Wilde in this world, be it on movies, TV shows or pay per view specials: that woman is breathtaking. Unfortunately however, considering that pre-production of the movie dates back over a decade, the delivery of the movie is not. Director Jon Favreau’s Iron Man thumbprint is all over the film without adding anything flavorful, Ford’s supporting role doesn’t utilize his gritty charm, and when combining these aspects with Craig’s lack of personality, Cowboys & Aliens throws a lot at the audience without actually giving us much of anything.

Ween’s Homo Rainbow

Originally titled “The Rainbow” when released on South Park‘s Chef Aid compilation in 1998, the song was later rechristened “The Homo Rainbow” as it became a staple in Ween‘s live set. As is true of many of their other songs, the Live Music Archive is ripe with bootleg versions of the track, but none that I listened to offered any noteworthy variation; these 2001 performances from Charleston and San Francisco are rather clear and enjoyable, though, for what it’s worth. The song also appeared on Ween’s 2003 Live at Stubb’s release and anyone with the most beginner level Google skills can likely scrounge up a few more concert takes, though none might be as blog-worthy as the group’s ’99 performance of the track in Atlanta with Queens of the Stone Age (which is in convenient video form below). All said however, it’s hard to match the bizarre beauty of the original.

From the track’s casual and simplistic, yet no less clever, lyrics to its place on a Rick Rubin-produced novelty album alongside the likes of Master P, Joe Strummer, Primus & Elton John, “The Rainbow” is about as much of an oddity as any from Ween’s career. Considering that it features the late Isaac Hayes, who was an outspoken Scientologist, cast alongside overdubbed remarks about living under God’s watchful eye, while spouting humorously inaccurate geographical rhymes encouraging all to feel welcomed to be themselves… well, it’s simply a thing of beauty.

Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Hamill and the Writing on the Wall

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the world of mixed martial arts; particularly in Strikeforce. Aside from the brothers Overeem and Marloes Coenen being released, word came on August 4 that so too had “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko.

On the heels of a first round TKO loss to Dan Henderson, Fedor’s third in a row, his cut comes as no surprise, especially considering his well documented issues with Strikeforce’s parent company Zuffa. Yet equally intriguing is the news that followed a crushing defeat at the hands of the surging youngster Alexander Gustafsson, as UFC veteran Matt Hamill announced in a message on his personal website that he would be stepping away from the sport, “I can’t continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so.” While being quite different fighters from separate promotions hailing opposite sides of the planet, there is a unique similarity between Fedor and Hamill, and further: the present state of their respective fighting careers.

Born a week apart in the fall of 1976, Hamill and Fedor both took to competing at young ages (Fedor in judo and sambo, Hamill in wrestling), each boasting life stories fit for film; in fact, the wrestler’s will see release this fall when the deaf fighter’s inspirational tale is released as Hamill. However remarkable his life might be, Matt Hamill’s respectable MMA career fails to compare to that of the highly decorated career of Fedor Emelianenko. Aside from his decade plus of elite competition as a Sambo world champion, he is a former PRIDE, WAMMA and RINGS Heavyweight Champion who amassed a legendary decade-long 28 fight streak without accruing a single loss (going 27-0 with 1 no contest). Yet both fighters, where they stand presently, find themselves at nearly the same crossroads.

For all intents and purposes, the writing is on the wall for each fighter to call it a career. Hamill, himself, explained that he wanted to retire following his UFC 130 loss to “Rampage” Jackson, a match which he showcased an uncharacteristically unsuccessful wrestling display, leading to a one-sided decision loss. The Gustafsson beating he took this past weekend was academic: his heart simply isn’t in it anymore. And after his string of three firm defeats, the same appears evident of Fedor as well. Yet key difference here isn’t determination, nor will to compete, but financial. Rather than hang up his gloves, something fans have been crying out for since his beating from Antonio Silva this past February, M-1 Global president Vadim Finkelstein announced in a press release that not only will Fedor continue to fight, but that he will be tentatively taking on bouts in both Russia and Japan this year before returning to the U.S. again in 2012. The difference here is clear: Fedor raked in a tidy $1.5 million for his match with Henderson while Hamill took home a comparatively meager $32,000 for his efforts this past weekend.

Though neither fighter may have that fire that once drove them to their respective peaks, both are still elite-level practitioners and could likely utilize their fame by Ken Shamrock-ing their way through another decade of meaningless sideshow bouts. But at this point in time the only thing separating the two is a paycheck: Fedor, and more importantly Fedor’s small army of management and other hangers-on, can still draw a rather hefty sum while Hamill can’t. Without it, the Russian legend would likely be making the same decision as Hamill: that being the right decision.

Jay-Z and Kanye West "Watch the Throne" Review

The success of Watch the Throne is going to have to be defined by how each unique passenger of the vessel approaches the collaboration. Kanye West and Jay-Z are undoubtedly two of the most elite and in demand voices in rap (or pop music, or simply music in general), and if the focus is the music, the album will be defined by its sound. With production by the likes of West, Swizz Beatz, the RZA, 88 Keys and Q-Tip, there’s no shortage of talent behind the scenes to allow the songs to burst with excellence. But if looking below the glossy exterior, the perception of what the core of Watch the Throne is all about changes dramatically. “Doctors say I’m the illest ’cause I’m suffering from realness,” teases Kanye in “Niggas in Paris,” a track which was recorded in the extravagant Le Meurice Hotel in Paris, France. Keeping it real never appeared so luxurious.

But in the world of Jay-Z and Kanye West, that’s what keeping it real has become: it’s about how hard you can stunt and the excessive lengths which your posturing can reach, while still retaining an appearance of realness. As Jay continues in “Paris,” “What’s 50 grand to a muhfucka like me?… The Nets could go 0-82 and I look at you like this shit gravy.” Perhaps the chest-pounding is no more excessive than it is on the Otis Redding/James Brown-sampling “Otis,” with Jay further reaching toward tasteless extremes, “Photoshoot fresh, lookin’ like wealth, I’m ’bout to call the paparazzi on myself” while Kanye boasts “Luxury rap, the Hermes of verses/Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive.” In the world of The Throne this is the norm which is lived by, so of course it’s going to be a non-event when they brag of having “so many watches I need eight arms” as they do in “Who Gon Stop Me.” But what’s more is that this shift in belief is not only an expectation of the listener at this point, but of themselves: “I’m at the table/I’m gambling/Lucky lefty, I expect a seven/I went through hell, I’m expecting heaven/I’m owed, I’m throwed and I stuck to the G-code.”

The trouble isn’t in that this brand of living is the new elite standard, but that with every reminder of the duo’s swag comes an equally empty reminder of how it's deserved. In the Kanye-produced “Lift Off,” Beyonce‘s hook loops around the singer’s qualification that “you don’t know what we’ve been through to make it this far.” “Paris” finds Jay justifying his excesses, “If you escaped what I’ve escaped you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.” Led by Frank Ocean’s hook, engineered for emotional appeal, the duo continue to expound on their life lessons in the track, while reconfirming just how in touch with the world they still are in “Gotta Have It,” despite having “Maybachs on bachs on bachs on bachs,” Yeezy adds “I remain Chi-town,” and Jay, “Brooklyn till I die.” And while he might be living lavishly, Kanye’s quick to remind us how hard Chicago still rolls (“And I’m from the murder capital/Where they murder for capital/Heard about at least three killings this afternoon”) which somehow adds further to his realness, if only by proximity.

If that contrast weren’t difficult enough to digest, Watch the Throne is ripe with plenty of other twists, turns, and inevitable Kanye-isms. Without even touching on Holocaust allusions (“Who Gon Stop Me”), the duo both lean on race to combat feelings of insecurity and perceived artistic injustice: Kanye accuses “white America” of character assassination in “Gotta Have It” while Jay preaches how they need to “put some colored girls in the MOMA” in “That’s My Bitch,” adding, “I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice/But why all the pretty icons always all-white?” The RZA co-produced “New Day” takes an odd turn as both Jay and Ye speak to their future children, attempting to steer them toward private paths of happiness long before their birth, while still finding ways to be casually venomous, “And I’ll never let my son have an ego/He’ll be nice to everyone wherever we go/I mean I might even make ‘em be Republican/So everybody know he love white people.” A faint shadow of poetry appears in the Swizz Beatz-produced “Welcome to the Jungle” as Jay looks back at the inescapable lows which still find a way to drown out the successes, “Work pots and pans just to come me some Airs/My uncle died, my daddy did too/Paralyzed by pain I can barely move/My nephew gone, my heard is torn/Sometimes I look to the sky, ask why I was born/My faith in God, every day is hard/Every night is worst, that’s why I pray so hard.” But cast among such a focused body of self-congratulatory work, the feigned sensitivity is washed away by wave after wave of empty boasting by the braggadocious tag-team.

For the numerous basketball related references that pass by throughout Watch the Throne, it’s interesting to follow how the two solo performers do in fact end up working together as a team on the album. But as Grantland’s Hua Hsu explained in his take on the album, this ability to co-exist shouldn’t be viewed as an immediate sign of greatness.
"Instead of competition, we now live in a culture that produces mutually beneficial agreements. Instead of rivals there are dream teams, talents taken around the globe in the name of common goals, brand visions, the quid pro quo backslap culture of “liking” and retweeting. Instead of a guy emerging from a bench-clearing brawl with his arm dislocated, we have the Miami Heat and their ‘Big Three.’ By most accounts, this is a far preferable way to live… But it doesn’t necessarily make for more interesting art."
Not unlike the “Big Three,” Watch the Throne finds Kanye and Jay bringing out an unusual side in each other, kicking back and basking in their collective glow, examining their successes, congratulating one another on sticking to the “G-code” and making a point to reference how selfless they’ve been in helping the less fortunate along the way, despite continually remaining targets themselves (which covers the lyrical basis of “Why I Love You,” the Cassius-sampling track which might be one of the musical highlights on the release). But this is far more blatant than “Big Pimpin’” ever was, instead portraying the pair as insiders looking back out over a world that they are no longer in touch with; their reference points so far changed that their extreme stories of success have become folklore championing the “everyman” within their circles. Illuminati? No need. What’s the use of a secret society when you can live and breathe your creed out in the public, documenting your own personal new world order in plain sight, painting it gold, and shelving it exclusively at a big box retailer where fans will still inevitably line up in droves, hard-earned cash in hands to see their reflection in its faux-metallic cover?

Well, if you’re approaching Watch the Throne from that perspective, the album might not present itself with quite the same value that it otherwise would. But at least it sounds tight.