Tag Archives: Run DMC

What Hip-Hop, Ballet, and A Chinese Cellist Can Teach Us About Creativity

Art is always at its most interesting at moments of collision: when two previously unacquainted elements of our culture combine to create something entirely new.

Often, artistic creativity is romanticized as the lightning strike through which a never-before-seen idea strikes from out of nowhere.  However sexy this may seem, the reality is almost always quite different.  As Steven Johnson details in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, “good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts.”

Take Gutenberg as example.  Yes, the printing press guy.  Gutenberg’s breakthrough came through his ability to combine.  “Each of the key elements that made the printing press– the movable type, the ink, the paper, and the press itself– had been developed separately well before Gutenberg printed his first bible.”

“An important part of Gutenberg’s genius, then, lay not in conceiving an entirely new technology from scratch, but instead from borrowing a mature technology from an entirely different field, and putting it to work to solve an unrelated problem.  His radical breakthrough relied, instead, on on the ubiquity of the screw press in Rhineland winemaking culture, and in his ability to reach out beyond his specific field of expertise and concoct new uses for an older technology.  He took a machine designed to get people drunk and turned it into an engine for mass communication.”

Much of musical history can be traced through similar moments of artistic alchemy (see also: Run DMC and Aerosmith, mash-up culture best captured by Girl Talk, Reggaeton, Moombahton, Dubstep… you get the idea).

Though both elements existed before, watching them come together is exhilarating.

Anyone out there want to offer additional examples?

Day 29: A Song from Your Childhood

On the awkward path to adulthood, every adolescent boy seems to walk through the same musical doorway: the Led Zeppelin phase.  You may hail from hip hop, been trapped under a sibling’s regime of pop pablum, or had only ever known the sounds of Peter Cetera.  But, no matter your starting place, we all ended up sitting on our bedroom floor, headphones on, trying to figure out what those four signs meant.

I wasn’t an obvious candidate.  Without older brothers or sisters from whom I could steal a back catalog, the musical tastes of my youth developed in real time.  Every week or so, I had a new collection of songs choppily-recorded off of live radio, and from these a new favorite song that immediately outpaced anything that had come before.  Amidst this constant churn of newness, I for the life of me cannot remember how I tumbled back a decade or so into 70’s hard rock.  But, before I knew it, the first 5 CDs to grace my family’s new Sony platter changer were all from Led Zeppelin: the four cd box set, and the fourth album for good measure.

Suddenly, every chord they played rocked.  Every word in their entirely indecipherable lyrics was profound.  And, for months, I listened to nothing else.  If iTunes’ “times played” could track the past, songs like these would be in the hundreds.

Over The Hills And Far Away, Led Zeppelin Continue reading

Day 11: A Song from Your Favorite Band

How famous can you get before you get voted off the island of the music fanatic?  Jay-Z, you are this challenge.

I’m not going to get into the kind of carbon dating debates that often preoccupy music fans, but I’ve liked Jay-Z for a long time.  When he says (often) that he is the “best rapper alive”– well, I agree.  The challenge is that, in the time since I’ve liked him, he’s also become (and stayed) the most famous rapper alive.  There’s little music cred to be gained in proclaiming one’s love for Jay-Z… except, maybe, defiant cred in that you’re cool with putting your favoritism chips down a thoroughly un-clever choice.

Sometimes I question my choice.  Hell, I own a t-shirt that says “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet” (a great t-shirt, yes?).  You can understand my dilemma.

But whenever I wobble, I wander back to the evidence. Continue reading

30 Days of Music, Day 1: Your Favorite Song

I just learned about this 30 days of music meme.  And, though I’m lagging a little, I’m going to give it a go.  It’ll be a way for me to get into the swing of daily blogging, and it’ll also be a way for me to test drive something I’ve been considering for a while: a second blog entirely focused on music.  And so here we are, on day one: your favorite song.

What a wicked hard choice to kick things off.  If you asked me my favorite song for the last half mile of a run, I wouldn’t hesitate.  My favorite song for a Sunday afternoon drive?  Easy.  But the one song in the history of the universe that I would tap as my favorite?  Wow.

I approached this riddle from a few angles.  I did a quick sort on my iTunes to see which songs have been played most, but that didn’t work.  iTunes only dates back short of six years for me, and this quick statistical analysis revealed that frequency of play indirectly reflects that I play most of my music out loud around the house, and I’ve spent almost all of this time married ;o).

My second tactic was to scan the playlists that I have created based on the star ratings that I give songs.  As an aside, I highly recommend using the star feature on iTunes.  Doing so gives you all sorts of smart playlist options, and is essential for folks who have lots of songs (I have somewhere past 8000 and counting).  The tour of my five star songs became a parade of 278 contenders for best ever.

The song that rises above the rest does so because it’s probably the most influential on the last decade or so of my love for music.

You Got Me, The Roots (featuring Erykah Badu)

I’m probably ruining the surprise for a latter of the 30 days of music, but the first album I ever bought was Run DMC’s Raising Hell.  So, from back in the day, I’ve been a fan of hip-hop.  However, through high school and college my tastes veered almost entirely into the land of various forms of rock.  This may or may not have had something to do with rural Minnesota.

But then along came The Roots.  Equal part deft rappers and hyper-talented musicians.  An unreal live act.  Thoughtful, clever lyricists.  Unafraid to experiment, but always in a way that was fun.  All of this comes together in “You Got Me”: well-crafted lyrically, textured musically, and capped off at the end with a clever, knowing nod to the drum and bass music that was at the forefront of music at the time.

From first listen, I had met a band that reigned as my favorite for years.  And, through Okayplayer and the many guests they featured on their songs, they introduced me to a universe of music that I loved.  So with apologies to the hundreds of songs that I could have chosen as my favorite, I’ll give this one the nod for now.  Hope you enjoy it too.