Home Think Tank

Rap lyrics sure ain’t what they used to be. Excerpt from The Lost Art of Lyricism by GZA on Medium

I’m sure there are great lyricists out there today, but when you look at mainstream hip-hop, lyricism is gone. There are some artists out there that think they’re great storytellers, but they’re not. Nowadays there are certain things I don’t hear anymore from rappers: I haven’t heard the word “MC” in so long; I haven’t heard the word “lyrical.” A lot of rappers think they’re hardcore or say they’re from the streets and there’s that thing where they always say, “I live what I rhyme about, I rhyme about what I live.” But you don’t always have to do that. Because for me it’s not about telling the story — it’s about weaving the tale.

I think sometimes most rappers’ imaginations are sterile. I can write about anything and it will be interesting. If someone gave me a beat to a song and said the title of the song was called “Drinks On Me” and then gave it to another artist, lyrically theirs would probably be all about the same types of things and mine would be completely different. I wouldn’t talk about buying bottles up in the club; I’d talk about someone that’s putting date rape drugs in drinks. You have to use everything as a vehicle. If I’m writing about a pencil I might say something like, “So I bang him in the head, just lead / No eraser / One shot, no chaser / Who’s your replacer?” It’s all a metaphor, in a sense. When you say, “So I bang him in the head / Just lead” that could be about the pencil or the gun. In a way I’m still saying the same thing other rappers are saying, I’m just saying it differently.

When I was in Wu-Tang, and even before that, it’s always been about being lyrical — who can craft the wittiest, the most intellectual, the smartest and the cleverest rhymes. It’s always been that for us as MCs from Day One. It’s the same for me now. It’s all about the story.

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman addresses graduating seniors at Harvard’s Senior Class Day ceremony on May 27, 2015 at Tercentenary Theatre.

“You are here for a reason. Sometimes, your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path.

“My complete ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director’s chair. Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so, was half the battle. The other half, was very hard work.

“You can never be the best. The only thing you can be the best at is developing your own self. Make use of the fact that you don’t doubt yourself too much right now. As we get older, we get more realistic, and that includes about our own abilities — or lack thereof. That realism does us no favors. What has served me is diving into my own obliviousness, being more confident than I should be.

“I realized that seriousness for seriousness’ sake was its own kind of trophy, and a dubious one — a pose I sought to counter some half-imagined argument about who I was,” she said. “There was a reason I was an actor: I love what I do, and I saw from my peers and my mentors that that was not only an acceptable reason, it was the best reason.

“It’s easy now to romanticize my time here, but I had some very difficult times here too. Some combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth control pills that have since been taken off the market for their depressive side effects, and spending too much time missing daylight during winter months led me to some pretty dark moments.

“By the time I got to making Black Swan,” she said, “the experience was entirely my own. I felt immune to the worst things people could say or write about me. … I was so oblivious to my own limits that I did things I was woefully unprepared to do. So the very inexperience that in college had made me insecure … now was making me actually take risks I didn’t even realize were risks.

“Achievement is wonderful when you know why you’re doing it. When you don’t know, it can be a terrible trap. … If your reasons are your own, your path, even if it’s a strange and clumsy path, will be wholly yours, and you will control the rewards of what you do by making your internal life fulfilling.”

Via The Hollywood Reporter

You’re very intentional about honoring the spirit and music of New Orleans throughout The Other Side of Desire. The song we’re premiering, “J’ai Connais Pas,” is very Fats Domino, with a French Creole twist. How specific were your New Orleans sources for these songs? What is the city giving you, today, specifically as a musician?

I live in Bywater, which used to be called the Upper 9th Ward. Remember “Letters from the 9th Ward,” a little instrumental I wrote at the beginning of my version of “Walk Away Renee,” which of course was a play on the meaning, since I knew most folks would think of the nut house? Anyway, just a lot of background about the place in my songs.

I had lived in New Orleans when I started writing Pirates. The Lower 9th Ward was hit hardest by Katrina, and when I came back, one of the first things my ex-neighbor from the old days here, photographer and Pirate Barry Kaiser, did was drive over there and show me the houses, the watermarks. They’ve built some nice new places there, with a lot of restrictions for occupancy. Anyway, Fats Domino’s house is also there, where he lived and where I believe he still lives. So I started thinking, can I use him for the record? That sound, it’s as much of an institution as the Liberty Bell. Sure it’s made of sound, but it is part of how we define rock ‘n’ roll. And he is still alive? Damn.

Folks said, “No you can’t work with him, he doesn’t work anymore.” So … I hired [producer] John Porter, an Englishman who loves New Orleans and blues music (well, they all do, don’t they?), and he hired a North England-Scotsman named John Cleary, who lives here and has made this music his home. We also had another keyboard player from Louisiana, and between them, they played this song. Also I learned, if you play that bass line with the piano instead of the bass you are playing one kind of music — Fats music — and if you play it with the bass you are playing another. Which do you want? I want the piano to play the bass.

I don’t really know if you can hear it the way I wrote it, which really was pretty straight-ahead Fats, but I think we did a good job. Oh, they call that Swamp Pop. My friends from Lafayette were very excited, “Oh dat Swamp Pop, we do that wid our eyes closed, man.” Well, that’s not how they talk but someone in their family probably does.

But, shoot, I didn’t really respond to the question. The city is giving to me, or I am scooping from it, musically, culturally. In terms of the record, not only all the kinds of music that came from here, the ’60s girl group sounds and the blues singers, the legends like Fats Domino — I mean “Blueberry Hill,” come on, or the sitting-on-the-porch Cajun voices, so clear and piping, haunting, innocent of vibrato and twisting every last affectation out of the French, or the Killer and his driving manic white man sound, slapped together with the black clay of his childhood, all this, I am waxing eloquent this morning, but you ask about the city and I am enamored. I lived here before and was not so thrilled. The Dixieland did not invite me or incite me, and I found it to be a relic.

But today it is a living thing. The parades — and I mean kids suddenly start marching in a line, playing unlikely instruments past your window late at night — are made from the Dixieland vein. These new kids are weaving that music I grew up with — that my dad sang — the Mills Brothers kind of treatment of old standards and country (not western, but of the folks’) tunes. I am hearing good music here also from the streets. I tell you, it’s alive here right now. I embraced it, somehow.

Via NPR

People call you a “folk singer” but this album is so diverse—there’s industrial, folk, electronic, country, Cree sounds—which feels like a pretty accurate representation of just how varied your career has been.
It’s just kind of the way things have always happened. Each one of my records is really, really diverse. It works better now than it would have even a few years ago because of the Internet. And that’s a similarity that the sixties has with right now. There were student movements, a lot of dissatisfaction and people weren’t sure which way to go. And there were coffee houses, which meant that young people had a place to gather as opposed to places with liquor licenses. And everybody was sharing each other’s point of views and music styles. You’d hear flamenco next to Delta blues next to some 500 year old song from England or Scotland next to contemporary songwriters, and no one worried about it. And now with the Internet, people can find each other’s music and self-publish.

You feel right at home with the Internet.
It’s a dream come true for me. I had one of the first web sites, in the eighties. I got into computers via electronic music in the sixties. I made an album called Illuminations, and folk music people all held their noses, but electronic students and art students loved it.

You’re also known for being one of the first artists to use a personal computer for your work in the eighties.
I got my Macintosh in 1984, the week before they came out—I had a connection—and all of a sudden I could do my writing, and artwork, and my music on the same little machine. I could put a floppy disk in my purse and go to Toronto and continue with my art anywhere. It became my favorite tool.

Via Vogue

Jack White took part in an online Q&A with Vault members a few days ago, but after fans went a little nuts over his answers about Meg White, White’s Third Man Records had to put out a statement on Facebook to calm and soothe the nerves of fans.

Calling out the media and the “age of instantaneous negative internet gratification.” Third Man Records’ statement – which was posted on Facebook comes “from the desk of The Third Man Council For Internet Regulation and Journalistic Integrity.”

From the desk of The Third Man Council For Internet Regulation and Journalistic Integrity…
Friends, family, journalists, naysayers, believers, tweeter & ‘grammers… I know we’ve all enjoyed our game of click bait bingo with Jack White this past year… Freeze Frame Cubs Games, Tour Manager Guacamole recipes, Tidal, Poetry as Product Placement, Private Chats with Fans.. Whatever it is, fear not because you are in the age of instantaneous negative internet gratification.
It looks we’re there again with something that seemed harmless and innocuous enough: Jack went into a fan forum and did a Q&A with some fans. This has now ballooned up in the press in a way that is suggesting Jack is going to retire, Jack will never play festivals, Jack won’t speak to Meg, etc ad nauseum.. No offense to any journalists that are “just doing their job” in this current 1 hour news cycle environment, pull quote, tabloid atmosphere but this is what happens when you isolate aspects of a conversation between a musician and his fans in a private forum and put it out into the blogosphere in a sensational way. It completely changes the context and intent of those statements, and the conversation.
So please indulge us so we can shed some light on these things and try and readdress some of these items:
* “I don’t belong here” That quote was Jack teasing Vault members about belonging in the Chat room with them, not him belonging on planet earth. It was not an existential cry to the abyss for attention.
* Never touring again – He never said that, but he IS taking a long break from the road (which was previously announced and discussed drama free over a month ago). He said he’d like to do acoustic shows in sit down venues and electric shows in standing venues. He said he doesn’t like festivals but hey, he does them anyway and he makes them work. Bonnaroo and Coachella were two of the greatest shows he’s ever been a part of (hell, we released his Bonnaroo set as a Vault release cause we loved it so much). He is not quitting music. He’s working with the Dead Weather next week, he’s involved in several projects we’re not even gonna tell you about right now cause we don’t want to ruin the surprise. Oh yeah!
* The stuff about Meg… She doesn’t have to answer her phone. He’s not even complaining about that nor is it depressing. The White Stripes is over and it’s been said a hundred times, and maybe that’s just the quickest way for him to answer that question he gets asked a dozen times a day. Jack loves Meg, and she’s an incredible drummer – nobody can do what she does and did with the White Stripes- but those days are unfortunately gone. Let’s move on, Jack and Meg have. And in the meantime we’re still selling their records (WINK!).
* And all the rest… Jack doesn’t “interview himself”, he answered Tidal questions from fans in the fan Vault forum and we posted them for everyone outside that forum to see. The poem he wrote and we posted the other day… it’s part of a larger idea that has nothing to do with music streaming and more to do with our ongoing efforts spread the love language, music and equal respect for all modes of art. Jack is for artists and Third Man does what we can when we can to help them out. That’s our heart and soul right there. Whether it’s printing obscure records or trying to get struggling musicians paid in some way, or bringing attention to writers and poets and film that we love and respect that’s what we’ll always be for.
Lastly, Jack is a guy who just did a tour charging $3 for a ticket price. How are we getting him mixed up with someone who’s ‘just in it for the money’? Everything we do at Third Man is a bad business move! But we do it because we love, music, and art and making new beautiful things exist that previously did not.
Anyway, let’s move on. We need to get back to inventing a turntable that runs purely on tweet retractions and apologies.
Love,
Third Man Records

Jack White has found another creative outlet – poetry. He just recentlypenned a poem on his Third Man Records site “music is sacred,” about his love of the art form, calling for the support of those “who stand for the sanctity of music.”

those of you who stand for the sanctity of music
so that its soul can breathe

and be heard
so that it blooms in graveyards
echoes in hotel hallways
awakens neighbors in the night
and fills peoples minds with fire
shout it out loud with whatever microphone you have
or these stones will shout for you.
jump in front of demons,
and stand over cowards and those who would intend
to rip out your lungs and dampen your desire
tell the living and the dead
what you know in your heart to be true
and what you know your ears
will forever hear
that the melody of the human race
is a song that never ends.
music is sacred.

You’ve said “While the Song Remains the Same” was inspired by walking through Manchester and seeing how the old pubs turned into restaurants and health clubs. There’s been a change in the way people are being asked to socialize, with the decline of the English pub –

Oh, for sure.

Could that have anything to do with the decline of bands, and people just retreating into their bedrooms to make dance music?

Well, of course. In your bedroom now, you can have a recording studio and a record-pressing plant. You can virtually have one on your fucking phone, d’you know what I mean? I read a quote from somebody saying, “Back in the day, when you were given a CD, it was because a group of people thought it was that good that they put this person in a studio to record it, whereas now you can get given a CD by a guy who just recorded it at home, and only he thinks it’s fucking good.” I think the decline of the English pub has got a lot to do with the smoking ban – you shouldn’t ever be able to buy food in a pub. What’s all that about? Pubs are now gastropubs; they’ve turned into restaurants, and I don’t like ‘em. The decline of bands playing in pubs is fucking sad, but I guess this is the birth of the death of rock ‘n’ roll.

Do you think rock ‘n’ roll still stands a chance of coming back?

There’s this fucking term now that I hate: “modern rock.” Bleurgh! What does that mean? That just conjures up facial hair and fucking shit shoes. “Modern rock”: what a load of fucking nonsense. I think that modern rock will survive because it will have its little place in the digital world. But trust me, when all the greats die: Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Iggy Pop — it’s fucking gone.

Via Salon

SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung appeared in front of an audience of electronic music industry creators, fans and execs at the International Music Summit (IMS) in Ibiza today to answer a few questions about the future of his streaming platform.

The challenges around solving the streaming music space is what Ljung said he spends his “entire day trying to solve”.

“Part of the [monetisation process] is a long arc, and we are actually trying to change things quite significantly. There is a lot of creativity that’s happening in the world, the culture around remixes, derivative content, we know all of this is part of life and contemporary culture,” Ljung explained.

“For a long time, that’s been sitting outside of the industry and no one is doing anything about it. We’ve said we’re going to fix that.”

In order to do that, parts of the industry need to be re-shaped, technology that “never existed before” must be built, and creators and law makers across multiple different territories “need to be influenced” to be able to get to a point where creativity is “more free”, said Ljung. “On top of that, we want to build out ways to be able to monetise and actually get paid back as well.

“When you think of it in that scope, there is a lot of things on our to do list. There are all this numbers about the large valuation of the company, but if you look at the company revenue trajectory, we’ve started quite late with our own revenue generation as well, so we’re on the same path [as the creators].

“We’ve taken in a bunch of venture capital to be able to build up the tools and the audience before we started building up the monetisation. The timing for monetisation through advertising and subscription is ripe over the next couple of years.

“We have the scale of the platform partly already in place, and it’s still growing massively. That means that over the next couple of years we can ramp up the monetisation piece quite quickly.

“In the overall arc of trying to build all of these things, solving a lot of problems around derivative content, that’s been our battle, how to best navigate through it.

“If we were monetising more there would be more pay outs as well, but we also want to make sure that we are doing that in a smart way, not just post a bunch of banner ads all over the place [that would] ruin the great experience that SoundCloud is.”

Via Music Week

Media companies who see Snapchat as a toy or plaything without any real competitive advantage should probably reassess their position. And that’s not just because of things like Discover, where Snapchat hosts short-form video content from outlets like CNN and VICE News. It’s because of the way that Snapchat functions, and the way it has tapped into the needs and usage patterns of young mobile users.

Across the media landscape, companies large and small are trying to wrap their heads around mobile, and how smartphones and ubiquitous networking and emerging social behavior are changing news and content consumption. The New York Times has launched multiple apps like NYT Now, and keeps trying to figure out how they should work: Will people pay for them? Are they just aggregators? What makes them unique? Newspapers are also betting on tablet apps, mostly because they feel similar to the way the media business used to operate, but with glass instead of paper.

Snapchat, meanwhile, has one hugely powerful tool at its disposal: It is brand new, and therefore it has no traditional business model, no legacy operations, no pension or infrastructure costs, and no concept of what the media industry used to be like, or should be like. All it knows is what users do, and what they want.

Via Fortune

Colonel Sanders is back, world. He’s back to make sure his Kentucky Fried Chicken is still as delicious as it ever was. And he made this commercial about it.

Well, not the original leader of the chicken world, but Saturday Night Live announcer and former cast member Darrell Hammond appears as Colonel Sanders in an upcoming series of ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken.