Beat n Path: Journeying with Lupe Fiasco Part 1

Artists are complex individuals that draw inspirations from underground wells that are fed by different bodies. These hidden rivers are tributaries to the sources that pour into the souls behind the music. The convergence of these waters pool into the reservoir that become the ink for the quill. Lupe Fiasco is more than a Hip-Hop artist and a philanthropist. Before he was an emcee, he was a martial artist. Lupe’s lyrics are littered with double entendres and Street Fighter references, but what is hidden beneath the bars is his connection to karate. It is this connection that drew me to Lupe’s music because, as with his father, my mother is my Sensei. With his new web-series, Lupe takes us on a journey of discovery into the origins of Kung Fu and how the spiritual connections of its values branched out from the temples in China and wove their way across the world to shape and mold a kid in Chicago.

When Lupe announced his Beat N Path series, my green belt heart lept at the chance to see how karate has shaped Lu’s life outlook, worldly perceptions and how he uses those as a mirror to reflect who he is through music. Known for his intricate lessons and visualizations of abstract ideas conveyed by his lyricism, Lupe lets his faith, his home and his hobbies be the conductor of his songs. By allowing us to travel on this pilgrimage to the home of Kung Fu, he is once again giving his passion the wheel and riding shotgun to his own story.
My mother has been teaching a Japanese martial arts called Isshin-ryu for over 20 years. Starting when she was a child, she has dedicated her entire adult life to bringing the pillars and practices of this martial arts and instilling their values into the kids she teaches, I among the many generations of students that cycle through her dojo. Through unarmed and armed forms called katas, we learned discipline, grace and purposefulness of movement. Through sparring and wrassling, we learned self defense and disarming tactics. Every lesson my mother instills begins and ends with Isshin-ryu’s principle, “I do not wish to fight you, but I will if I have to.”

I ended my martial arts career at my green belt, but Lupe continues to allow the lessons his father taught him to have a seat at the table behind his decisions. This latest offering from Lupe is a 9 part web-series, with a 10-minute running time per episode. Each episode follows Lupe as he dives deep into the heart behind Kung Fu by immersing himself in its training and culture. The unique vantage that Lu holds as a student outside of the community serves as an opaque backdrop to how worlds can collide and the resultant explosion births new horizons. This is seen the most in Episode 1: I Think I’m Ready. Lupe and crew visit Shaolin Temple but the experience is an unexpected one. From temple to temple, Lu enters Fa Wong Temple and has the honor to have his form critiqued. For those of us who study a martial arts, the heavy panting afterwards is a sign of putting strength behind movement. Open-hand katas can be seen as blocking for a potential fight so they depend on inner power and explosive force from your core. 
In the second episode, Lu is learning the root form of Kung Fu. As with my background in Isshin-ryu, “a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest.” Forms in Kung Fu and katas in Isshin-ryu sync your motions to your surroundings, using one as a compliment to the other. This synergy can only be achieved if the lines your body makes are firm and strong. From the knuckles of your downward block, through your wrist, to the elbow and shoulders, each strike or block must be completed as a part of the broader motion of the body. Fluidity is key in transferring the energy needed to defend or attack. 

If you’ve ever tried to mediate, you understand the difficulty it can be to turn your thoughts inward. In Episode 3: Thanks Pops, Lupe is taught proper meditation techniques. All martial arts rely on the quiet spaces between the movements. When you allow yourself to sit inside the pauses between your breaths, then actively practicing the arts will flow naturally. But you can’t have the Path without the Beats and in episode 4, Lupe links with a Bejing producer Jeff kung to speak on Hip-Hop in China as well as to gather the soundtrack to this trek.

The convergence of who Lupe is seen at Wushu mosque in Episode 5: It’s really Full Circle. In this episode, he learns the history of muslim martial arts in China as well as how martial arts can be taught anywhere; any building can be a dojo. Episode 5 demonstrates how martial arts principles translate within religion.

Beat n Path is a great glimpse into how Lupe creates his art. The meaning behind his time in China and the determination he put into learning the martial arts that his father so loved. The entire series is available to stream at Beat n Path, with downloadable content available for purchase. Proceeds from the purchases go to Rebuild Foundation, a non profit that champions giving back to underinvested neighborhoods in Chicago. Check back next week as we finish the series.

Expectation Management in Hip-Hop

Late last year I wrote a piece (redirected to that touched on the changing landscape of music and specifically the garden of Hip-Hop. Just as farmers cycle what seeds they plant in order to keep the ground fertile as to not permanently strip it of its nutrients, each new generation of artist plants what they have the capacity to grow. Asking a gardener that is proficient in cultivating corn to harvest sunflowers is not an efficient use of that farmer’s talents.

This same logic can be used when managing expectations within Hip-Hop. The aforementioned linked piece introduces the argument for a sub-genre of Hip-Hop that emcompasses the sounds and production methods of a younger generation. Generational wars have a tentative cease fire at the moment, but these fragile peace times do not last long. Inevitably, one “side” comments on the other’s inability to make “real Hip-Hop”. A sly remark or off-handed comment will get memed and the larger picture will, undoubtedly, get lost in the fray. The expectation that Hip-Hop does not evolve is only eclipsed with the idea that it’s evolution can be logically tracked and predicted.

Hip-Hop is a true reflection of its community..its entire community. The inspiration that flows through pen to pad of artists in the genre are as vast as it is varied. The allure of a career as a Hip-Hop artist is its ability to build bridges and pave lanes that otherwise would have continued on as dirt roads. Traversing through Hip-Hop can be seen as driving through Texas; you can spend 16 straight hours on the road and still be in the state. Once fans and critics accept that rappers have many faces, the journey will become much more enjoyable.

Artists put their souls into their art and it is up to the audience to see them for who they are. Most artists have a very acute self perception and do not shy away from being candid and naked when illustrating their awareness. Artists are writing love letters, baring their inner demons and exalting their shoulder angels with every project. When critics expect something from the art that was never promised, they are breaking their own hearts.

#GuestWriter: Why I Hate White Rappers - GM

As a white rapper, I’ve always had an underlying feeling of being the underdog. If we’re being real, now that I think about it, as time went on I felt a disconnect with most rappers and nearly all white rappers in general. With few exceptions, the majority of white rappers that I’ve heard along the years end up sounding like a parody of what they see hip hop as, rather than embracing what it is -- clinging to a gimmick like an early 90’s wrestler, fighting for relevance or trolling to be a part of the conversation, usually making up in comedic value for what they lack in substance or originality. 

There, I said it. I decided to open this piece with a full blown honest assault for the reader. I feel like
you deserve nothing less than the same amount of energy & honesty Mac Miller gave his fans with
every moment he was here.

Image result for mac miller
“This that music that make white people mad..”

In the early 90’s, hip hop started to accept a much more grimy display of the artform and there was a
disconnect that formed; comparable to the rock vs. disco split in the late 70’s/early 80’s.  The sound
became polarizing and people found themselves stuck in the middle, somewhere between clinging to
a warm St. Ides in a brown bag and hitting The Hammer Dance with one shoe in and one shoe out.
Some never found a place at all. Most commercially successful rappers were just looking to find a way
to make a hit and dance their way to the top of the charts. Vanilla Ice jumped on the scene and the
mold was cast: If you were a white rapper, the first and last comparison you would hear is Vanilla Ice.

Rob Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice was light on his feet, quick to fill his live shows with choreographed
dance routines and his studio albums didn't give much in the way of substance. Ice's image was that
of Johnny Bravo mixed with New Kids on the Block. Baggy pajama pants and a studded leather jacket
seemed to be enough to play the part, V-Ice was sitting at the top of the white rapper list, like it or not. 

What a time to be alive, indeed. Fast forward a little over 5 years and the world is introduced to a
bleach blonde, angsty, angry white kid from Detroit, Michigan named Marshall Mathers aka Eminem.  

Em was quick to point out his own mishaps and misfortunes all by himself. Fighting with his mother (or
in some cases just flat out wishing she was dead) to seeking the same fate for his then new born
baby's mother, Kim, Eminem was the attitude of a late 90's South Park episode mixed with a verbal
assault unlike anyone the country, let alone the world, had heard at the time. It's not much of a reach
to say that Eminem was considered the perfect mix of Beastie Boys & NWA, backed by a pioneer in
his own right, Dr.Dre, he was prepped and ready to take over the airwaves and launch into your living
room one blonde dye job at a time. 

Parallel to Marshall's rise, there was an underground hip hop movement forming that left everyone on
the outside with a place to exist and at that time I was still relatively young and opening up to a world I
didn’t know much about in general. I wasn’t new to hip hop but I was wide-eyed, open-minded and
looking to fill a musical fix with zero idea of what I was getting myself into. I also grew up in a lower-
middle class home and have identified with the authentic, organic struggle I heard through a skilled
emcee grabbing a mic and letting you step inside his world. Coincidentally, at the time, Hip hop was
my world. If it wasn’t a steady dose of UGK, Wu-Tang Clan or Mobb Deep blowing out my Chevy Nova
stock speakers at 16, it was Lyricist Lounge: Volume 1 in my headphones. 

Nothing was off limits.

I started rapping words myself around that time and as the years passed the white rapper stereotypes
began to evolve a bit but, still, if you rapped and you were white, you were considered “Eminem”. You
could have been the worst (white) rapper on the planet, you would still be “Eminem”. The same way
before Eminem, you would be “Vanilla Ice”.  Some emcee’s would come along to try and shake things
up a bit. From the ugly, southern-fried Bubba Sparxx to an often off-beat El-P, an (ironically)
institutionalized Cage, to the golden-grilled glow of Paul Wall, every once in a while we would get a
glimpse of an alternative perspective but at the end of the day, you were going to be pigeonholed and
it was up to you to break that mold. Mac seemed to have faced this himself and he didn’t seem to hold
back from speaking on what it was like being considered the “other” M&M…

Related image
“I’m P.A.’s baby, I ain’t been to P.A. lately, see I left and they call me shady, I’m a white rapper they
always call me Shady, Got no idea what I’m contemplating I guess..”

I slept on Mac Miller for a long time, admittedly. At the time Blue Slide Park was released I had been
past my high school and even college kid stage and was looking for something with a bit more
substance I could relate to. Also admittedly, I was looking at Mac Miller as just another Vanilla Ice, or
Eminem, or I guess at the time Asher Roth. Asher had hit the scene previously with a college frat
anthem, “I Love College” and needless to say, it wasn’t my cup of...anything. For what it’s worth, Asher
did seem to grow out of his ILC days and shake a lot of the stigma along with it but I didn’t bother
looking back.

With that being said, I should have tuned in by the time Macadellic was released, I shouldn’t have
slept on Watching Movies With the Sound Off either. Fact is, GOOD:AM, Divine Feminine and
Swimming are are all projects that should have been talked about more by literally every person that
has a blog or website not related to being a #Machead. In a time where complaints run rampant about
lack of substance, un-original style, clout chasing & the endless list of what could be plaguing hip hop
at the moment I couldn’t figure out why I never gave Mac an honest shot until I was digging, listening
to old random joints of his on YouTube after his untimely passing.  

That’s when it clicked.

Image result for mac miller

“I hate myself because I’m a white rapper… I hate white rappers (corny)…”

We are both white rappers. Something that at one time was almost controversial and has since
become somewhat of a normality. Nobody likes the person that says “I don’t see color” because it’s
bullshit. Mac didn’t hide from the fact that he was white and he didn’t expect you to either, all while
finding a perfect balance between dwelling mentally in the underground and shining bright for the
entire world to see, as long as they were paying attention to what was in front of them. 

He didn't use a trailer park upbringing as a crutch and he never pretended to be a part of a scene he
knew nothing about just to get ahead in the race for #1 on your “Rap Caviar” playlist. Being a white
rapper, it's easy to be guilted into listening to one style of artist over another but it seems Mac never
put a label on what he would, or wouldn't fuck with. In turn, Mac Miller made songs that he knew would
contain longevity. Infused with bits and pieces of what he was inspired by along the way.  This was
obvious just based off the seemingly random collaborations found in Miller’s catalog. Maybe random
to the outside listener but from Ab-Soul, Vince Staples, Statik Selektah, Termanology and Sir Michael
Rocks to the Migos, Lil Wayne, Cam'Ron, Rick Ross, Mike Jones (Who?), and even pop culture
princess Ariana Grande, Mac Miller was a fan making music with his most respected artists. He found
a way to be himself in the midst of a culture that is constantly shifting and quick to point out any slight
missteps. Mac found a way to keep dancing. 

At a time in my life where I’ve started questioning more than ever, Mac Miller has become a
companion, almost a co-pilot through the good, the bad and the ugly. Even in his most flippant, self-
aware, reckless ponderings there is an almost brutal honesty that would let you know things are going
to be alright.  He didn’t always have to say it, he was living it and evolving along the way. Something
his pale-skin forefathers seemed to be lacking the entire time. Mac Miller learned that evolution is key.
While it feels like Marshall or Rob have been stuck in a time capsule, Mac was able to show the
complexity that comes along with being a real human, not just a white rapper. 

Mac’s passing has taught me a lot both directly and indirectly. The fact is I may not have been a Mac
Miller fan when he was here, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me saying that. We all have
flaws. We tend to take for granted what we think we know and our missteps and misfortunes have a
particularly odd way of shaping us into the person we need to be. 

Of course, Not to mention, white rappers are usually trash. I have a feeling if anyone would have
understood it would be the man himself, no motherfucker iller, Mr. Miller.

Image result for mac miller

“If I ain’t in ya top 10 then you a racist..”

Where Are They Now? - All City Chess Club

They say time heals all wounds and we certainly hope that is the case for these stages of grief that believers in the impossible have been cycling through since 2010. Detailed in this DJ Booth article, All City Chess Club was slated to be The Scorpion King’s oasis in a desert of turn of the decade Hip-Hop. But what was supposed to raise an army of undead lyricism over Pharrell inspired beats, was instead a necropolis, as fictional as Hamunaptra.

Nine years later, residual memories of the super group that could have been make their rounds across social media platforms and live on as murmurs around blog water coolers. While the collective acceptance of the fate of ACCC has been reached, there are still many questions unanswered and bears un-poked. The dismantling of the group may not make it to the yearbook pages, but one has to wonder what the alumni newsletters would look like at the 10 year reunion. For the kids voted Most Likely To Succeed, we have to ask, "Where Are They Now?"

Asher Roth

His aura took the form of the Aroura bourealis and his northern light continued to beam from 2010 to the present. In 2011, Roth released his mixtape Pabst & Jazz as a recent artist on Def Jam. His next album was tentatively titled Is This Too Orange, but he scrapped that title out of respect for now label mate Frank Ocean's Channel Orange. From 2012 to the present, Asher announced an EP Rawther with Nottz Raw and Travis Barker and and subsequently released the follow up to his successful mixtape The Greenhouse Effect, The Greenhouse Effect 2.

RetroHash was released in 2014 and is a phenomenal project with features from ZZ Ward, Curren$sy, and Chuck Inglish. In 2016, Roth finally released his promised EP Rawther and hinted at working on his third album, Red Hot Revival by dropping loosie freestyles.

Asher's latest entry to his discography comes with the help of Cool Kid Chuck Inglish. Along with his consistentcy in music, Asher can also be caught helping keep the City of Brotherly Love beautiful by volunteering for community clean-ups.Stream his 2019 single "Can't Jump" and check back to see what the rest of the group has been up to.

#NewArtist - AlphaRiff

It's not easy being introduced to someone's music via their live show. Opening acts have this issue all the time; understanding that they are seen as filler until the headliner emerges. There is an added weight of knowing this is a first impression as well as putting "headliner" energy into a performance you are almost certain nobody will be able to follow.

AlphaRiff is not new to the Nerdcore scene, but he has been absent in the past couple years. His re-emergence at #SXSW2019 was met with reverence and video games. The Nerdcore Showcases, hosted and curated by Vincent "DJ R.O.C.K.M.A.N." Banks are a cultural staple at SXSW and, for the niche target audience, a welcome sidestep to mainstream SXSW shows.

This year, the showcases were held at Firehouse Lounge, a hostel and speakeasy in downtown Austin whose entrance is hidden by a sliding bookshelf, Kick Butt Coffee, and Game Over Video Games. While each of these venues were undoubtedly picked because of their ambiance, nothing spoke more to the heart of the genre than the performances at Game Over Video Games.

AlphaRiff's performance at Game Over was an epic told over instrumentals. Telling the story of an intergalactic bounty hunter from another planet and his A.I., AlphaRiff weaved a tale of self actualization, fear, love, remorse and peace. The show demonstrated captivating storytelling through rap, rock, ballads and composition. When speaking on sequencing on both projects and live performances, nothing comes close to the way that AlphaRiff created this Cowboy Bebop-esque tale.

Watch the full performance below and visit AlphaRiff's Pateron to get the full story of this master class in story-telling.

#NewMusic: Noveliss - Metal Face Hokage

The Leaf didn't stay Hidden for this latest EP by Noveliss.  This nod to both Naruto and MF Doom is laced up with beats by Def Dee as well as bars that Noveliss uses to meld anime themes with life lessons. Def Dee got vividly creative with sampling and inspiration digging. With Naruto's nindo as a catalyst, Def and Noveliss drew inspiration from Doctor Doom, the OG Ninja Scroll movie, and the Power rangers. Watch Noveliss' first single "Traveling Man"  and stream the entire EP below.

#NewMusic Justin Sky - "Human" (Feat. Leiah)

Sometimes we discover a song that gives us a nostalgic feel the first time we hear it. It’s in this nostalgia that Leiah lends her angelic voice to Justin Sky for what feels like a classic mesh of hip-hop and R&B. “Human” features Sky cruising through a love letter to our need for emotional and mental companionship.

The duo converse back and forth over sweet-sounding synths and unique percussion laid by DJ Roshay. With a vintage duet feel and the satisfaction of a memorable chorus, “Human” brings dynamic production while Sky operates with a soothing tone backed by imagery, compassion, and vulnerability.

#Repost: The Cool: Rap’s Dorian Gray Painting

Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool is many things to many people and any 2019 reflection on this album from 2007 would be correct. Twelve years, not a slave to time or fickle industry trends, The Cool is the type of album that doesn’t give up its ghosts easily. While it still maintains a level of inclusivity to give whatever a casual fan would want from it, the depth and heart of the music can only be activated with multiple spins.

LupENDBlog. Powered by Blogger.