In the world of rock, the suggestion “it’s better to burn out, than fade away” has been debunked so thoroughly that the prospect seeing 70 year-old Sir Mick Jagger strut onstage fills stadiums. And the irony of their classic lyric “hope I die before I get old,” isn’t stopping The Who from reliving their mod years in the upcoming Quadrophrenia tour despite being well past their self-imposed expiry date. Hip hop, on the other hand, continues to be a young man’s game where longevity is often undermined by homicide, incarceration, insolvency or a generation gap that sidelines pioneers like Grand Master Flash and Rakim.
Against this background Reincarnated, the new documentary on Snoop Dogg, is a fascinating in-depth account of what happens when a famous OG (original gangsta) really becomes an middle-aged OG. Directed by Vice Magazine global editor Andy Capper (The Vice Guide To Liberia), the film chronicles a month-long pilgrimage to Jamaica by the 40 year old star where he records a reggae album and ends up reborn as Snoop Lion, the Rastafarian.
When Snoop Lion first debuted as a reggae artist at Toronto’s Hoxton club in August during the Caribana festival, critics suspected his intentions were as real as his hastily braided “locks.” Claiming to be the reincarnation of Bob Marley diminished his credibility even further; Snoop was already 10 years-old when the reggae legend died in 1981. As such, the faux patois in lead-off single La La La, triggered snide references to Snoop Lyin’ across social networks.
Through its translucent honesty and depth, however, Reincarnated reveals a rapper who clearly has gone through a transformation book-ended by the same factors that also shaped the music legend Bob Marley: poverty, violence, collaboration and ultimately global stardom. Between visits to hidden marijuana fields in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains and rough Kingston neighborhoods to a rarely seen Nyabinghi Rasta ceremony where Snoop is given the Ethiopian name, Berhane (“The Light”), Reincarnated is perhaps the most insightful account of an artist grappling with mid-life angst since Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster. And true to character, Snoop tackles his existential struggle with humour, aplomb, self-reflection and weed. Lots and lots of weed. Indeed, one of the funniest scenes involves the aforementioned trip to the Blue Mountains where, after inhaling some of the purest ganja anywhere, Daz the ever-blazed cousin, is literally knocked off his feet, fuzzingly announcing to the camera “I’m smoking a blunt in the jungle!” A more serious scene also involves Daz, chilling alongside a freestyling Snoop in a SUV, receives a call informing him that his young nephew has passed. The spectre of death is aptly recurs throughout the otherwise upbeat film.
Throughout Reincarnated there are telling instances of a recording process where Snoop and wunderkind producer Diplo develop songs supported by a team of engineers, singers and musicians including the joyfully sagacious Bunny Wailer (who renamed the Dogg to Lion) and venerable ex-Police drummer, Stewart Copeland. Previews of several fresh sounding reggae tracks are heard including Ashtrays and Heartbreaks — a poignant song for deceased friends and family. In one scene, Snoop confesses a need to record “softer” music for various reasons including an admission “my songs are too hard. I know Obama wants me to come to the White House, but what the fuck can I perform?”
Whether this career and spiritual shift for a long established gangsta brand is successful hardly matters. The documentary is likely to become a rap/reggae/pothead classic, adding to enduring relevance of hip hop’s favorite uncle. Bless up, Ras Lion. — MG
If you haven’t heard of him already, you’re probably not Japanese. American-born singer Jero is the biggest thing in Japan, offering a cool take on the “old school” singing genre Enko but with an interesting hip hop twist as you’ll see below:
It’s always cool to see self-identity transcend race and break new ground. And while this young brother may be Japan’s Charley Pride, gotta give it up to the quirky country for being….well…quirky. — MG
In just under two weeks, CNN will be airing Black In America 4, about that rarest of breeds: African-American entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Already the topic has generated controversy with an interview of TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. When asked if who his favorite black entrepreneur is, Arrington was stumped.
“I don’t know a single black entrepreneur,” stumbled the extremely well-connected blogger-turned-VC. From there, a heated online debate ensued — largely triggered by provocative post written by Arrington (“Oh Shit, I’m A Racist”) where he claims he was set up by CNN (whose parent company AOL coincidentally just fired Arrington over some conflict-of-interest aka politrix issues) and that his inner database isn’t racially indexed. O’Brien herself dove into the fray, claiming the interview was anything but a set up.
For longtime but still rare afrosomething new media executives like me, the discussion has been an intriguing change from the usual navel-gazing myopia that often characterizes much of tech journalism. It’s fascinating to see technologists like Mitch Kapor train their formidable sights towards a social issue that, for once, doesn’t involve unfriending or Like buttons.
While most thinkers like Kapor rightly admit one reason black geeks are scarce in Silicon Valley is because the industry is more a “mirror-tocracy” than a meritocracy, there is another side to this burdensome scenario: historically, African-American kids have been conditioned to aspire to becoming superstar athletes, platinum-selling artists and other role models far “cooler” than a serial entrepreneur or a PHP coder. Where being a brainy student among Asian, Indian and Jewish kids is not generally viewed as a negative, in too many black schools you’re viewed as a “pointdexter.” The situation wasn’t helped much by Hollywood whose past portrayals of atypical black males were too often represented by feckless fictional characters like Steve Erkle or Carlton Banks.
The good news is that, indirectly, Silicon Valley is already changing this scenario. In the past decade, technology itself has become “cool” thanks to ubiquitous breakthrough platforms like mobile tech (from the SideKick to the iPhone) and social networking — starting with MySpace and now with Twitter where a disproportionate percentage of users are African-American. Coupled with increasingly low barriers to entry, the fundamentals of network and application layers are being understood and embraced by young black America. It’s only a matter of time before the culture that produced bebop and hip hop discovers a profitable twist on new media much like DJs reinvented turntables. Any enlightened investor knows this.
And, as the obviously non-racist Arrington pointed out in his blog, good things are underway: “At Google Zeitgeist I sat with Will.i.am, Ron Conway, Larry Page, and others over lunch. Will.i.am was proposing an ambitious new idea to help get inner city youth (mostly minorities) to begin to see superstar entrepreneurs as the new role models, instead of NBA stars. He believes that we can effect real societal change by getting young people to learn how to program, and realize that they can start businesses that will change the world.”
It's Cool To Be A Black Geek
In the meantime, Silicon Valley should not let itself off the hook and should instead continue to resolve this anachronistic lopsided situation. As the digital world becomes increasingly dominated by China and India, America will need all the diverse brain power it can get to compete in the global, electronic marketplace where no one knows you’re a dog, let alone a certain color. — MG
As protest movements go, Occupy Wall Street is a fashion statement. Not in a Kanye West way as implied in the below image but at least when compared with the 1960s US Civil Rights movement, 1989′s Tianamen Square or more recently, the Arab spring. Here’s why I feel this way: unlike historical protests there is no self-sacrifice. While I may be proven wrong, I suspect this cosy, convenient movement will not survive a North American winter let alone water cannons, rubber bullets, hunger strikes and government-sanctioned goons like Iran’s Basij. Already in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Tokyo and even its catalytic centre, Manhattan, the movement has steadily declined in from a peak of thousands of union-backed, media-friendly protesters to a few hundred diehards who are more or less fringe careerists regularly seen at G20 gatherings everywhere. While CNN and other mainstream outlets report, if not pray, of a global newsworthy phenomena, the numbers and reach of the 99 percenters is a chemical trace even when compared to the Boy Scouts who can be found in 161 countries and sport over 30 million members.
While the Occupy (enter city here) movement prides itself of being leaderless, rudderless might be a better word. By not having the singular charismatic voice of a Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Ghandi, or Martin Luther King, there is no cross-over clarity, no measurable goals, no coalescence. Instead the movement is a camel with a thousand humps, a horse crowdsourced by committee. It reeks of the trivial convenience of micro-blogging where anyone can globally publish their personal umbrage in a half-conceived 140 characters or as a mere hashtag, effort be damned.
The fact that the movement was started by culture-jamming spoofers Ad Busters speaks volumes. Imagine Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement or Stokely Carmichael’s SNCC being associated with spoonfed smuggery like this. Nothing against satire — indeed George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce all triggered social change through the power of humour — but will this really be the origin from whence global economic reforms starts?
It’s unfortunate Occupy Wall Street isn’t likely to evolve into a real movement. Undoubtedly, Wall Street and its myopic Frankenstein capitalism will not just eat itself but the rest of us too if it continues to permutate unchecked. At minimum, real dialogue about economic reform should have been initiated between the haves and have nots. Instead, hardly anyone knows where to start, what to talk about, who to talk to or why this guy is shitting on a police cruiser.
And with voting among the young at historic lows almost everywhere, one can’t help but feel these protests aren’t about democratic change. If nothing, they’re about the kind of change Candidate Obama promised: shiny, web-based, long on slogans but short on details. Change you can bereave in.
An entertaining look at the early days of Steve Jobs.
As the tech world mourns one of its greatest, here is an entertaining way to remember the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Embedded below is Pirates Of Silicon Valley — an Emmy Award-winning docudrama about the two geniuses who drove the early days of the PC industry and ultimately changed the world. Aired in 1999, Pirates starred Noah Whye as Steve Jobs and Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates. As reported on this Wikipedia entry, reception to the film was tremendous:
The Apollo Guide commented that, “Over less than 30 years, a band of shaggy nerds rose to become the richest people on Earth. They were the pioneers of the computer industry [...] While you might think that a story about the creation of computer companies might be as thrilling as your university Pascal course, think again. Seeing this history played out is thoroughly entertaining [...] Jobs, played by Noah Wyle, is a child of the ‘60s: an advocate of peace and spirituality who places art on a higher pedestal than commerce. Jobs’ charisma, drive and ideology form a dangerous cocktail. He pushes Apple designers into such a frenzy that they work 90-hour weeks and intensely compete with each other. Anthony Michael Hall does an impressive job mimicking Bill Gates. Gates is portrayed as obsessed and impossibly nerdy.” Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argued that the film is, “a fascinating drama filled with Shakespearean twists and betrayals as viewers come to know the geniuses who transformed not only the way we communicate, but the way we live. You’re looking at the proof: This review was written using a program created by Gates’ Microsoft, and TV Week is designed using one of Jobs’ Macintosh computers.” John Leonard of NY Magazine, described the film as “a hoot.”
In memory of the great Steve Jobs, here is the film in its entirety. Enjoy. — MG
“ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner
For those of us who are lucky (read: middle-to-upper class, Westerner, decent health habits), there may not be a time to die. At least not for a very long time. Maybe even a thousand years if British author and gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is correct. De Grey and scores of researchers around the world have been working on reversing the aging process through various means including regenerative medicine. Indeed, De Grey famously quoted in 2008 “the first human who will live up to 1,000 years is probably already alive now, and might even be today between 50 and 60 years old.”
Similarly, noted Futurist/author/inventor Ray Kurzweil predicts humans will eventually live forever, through a mix of what he refers to as GNR (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics). “My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT,” wrote Kurzweil in 2009. “And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years. ”
In this MIT lecture Kurzeill remarks “Say goodbye to cancer and heart disease within 15 years, and hello to living way past 80.”
One issue De Grey, Kurzweill and other anti-aging soothsayers seldom discuss, however, is self-identity. Even at the age 20, human beings are not who they were when they were five — completely different epidermis, different blood and scant if any memory of themselves as five year olds. Imagine at 300 years old; you will be a complete stranger to the person you are now (unless, of course, total Singularity happens). All of which begs the question: what is the point of immortality if you are essentially “reincarnated” as a complete stranger?
Enter the cloud. Storing your digital identity in a social cloud service like Facebook or G+ will serve as a personal time capsule if you live to 200, 300 years and beyond. Everything that comprises your personality — your tastes, thoughts, friends, family, images, career — is often now digitized in the form of photos, videos, blogs, emails and short form text like Twitter or SMS. As the Nexus 6 replicants of Blade Runner showed, the difference between being a synthetic cyborg and human being ultimately comes down to memories. It’s the essence of what makes us unique individuals. Lose your memories, however, and you become whatever you are programmed to be.
This is your future...in bits.
While there are several reasons to be wary of loading your entire life on a platform like Facebook, including privacy, the fact of the matter is that a cloud-based digital backup of your life is a much safer, convenient bet than ever-changing storage devices like optical discs or hard drive. Technology is always changing as any graybeard who has owned a Zip drive or 720MB CD ROM burner knows; it’s a pain in the ASCII to migrate personal data like email every five years or so – a bigger hassle than learning how to tweak the granular privacy settings of Facebook even if they seem to change every few years.
Sure there are dozens of options including memorials websites like Remembered.com, e-Forever and MyHeartWill, but the chances of those services surviving for hundreds of years is considerably lower than Facebook who, capitalized to the tune of $2 billion and counting, is poised to become the IBM of social media in terms of longevity. If you want to electronically ”live forever” then Facebook is probably your best bet. Google too — especially Gmail. With its new Timeline feature, however, Facebook has already shown the value of the personal time capsule: your life in an easy, navigable snapshot.
It’s almost inevitable humans will live well into their hundreds so we may as well start storing our self-identity now for the future. Unless, a solar flare, EMP or energy shortage sets us back to a digital Stone Age. Maybe you should store a hardcopy back up too. — MG