Bill Clinton Helped Destroy Radio

Chuck D hiphopdx.com Interview

Anyone that has been reading along has seen me mention the latest Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs.  As a lover of albums, I not only like to hear records in full, but when an artist comes out with a new record that I love, I like to hear it in the context of their career.  Often records speak to each other, especially when artist are creating records that have concepts and aren’t just collections of songs.  So as well as checking out Public Enemy’s catalog, I have been reading different interviews with Chuck D, unofficial leader of and main rapper in Public Enemy.  Chuck D is always interesting.  In the above interview there is a segment where the interviewer and Chuck D it is mention how Bill Clinton deregulated radio with his 1996 Telecommunications act.  This is not the focus of the interview, but it is an interesting snippet.  From the interview:

DX: I wanna go back to one additional thing Too Short said. After he put Barry Weiss on blast he went on to say that he believes there was a meeting of the minds amongst the major labels to shut down conscious Hip Hop. Do you believe such a collusion happened, or was it more likely that Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996, that consolidated radio ownership, was the real nail in the coffin to message-driven music?    

Chuck D: Yeah, the latter was the real nail in the coffin – not so much to message-driven music but to local music being able to have a chance to independently breathe. The consolidation of radio stations was like the worst thing ever done to music.

As someone that works in the music industry, I have long known that the consolidation of radio stations by big corporations, Clear Channel (Now known as, I’m not kidding, iHeartMedia.) in particular, has been horrible for the music industry.  There was less artistic diversity than ever before.  One only has to look at the aftermath of 9/11 to understand what can happen.  After 9/11 Clear Channel (iHeartMedia), the largest owner of radio stations in America banned songs that were deemed “sensitive” to listeners.  One of these songs happened to be John Lennon’s Imagine.  This ban was eventually lifted, but one can see this kind of thing happening on a lesser scale all of the time.

So why is this interesting, even if you are someone like me that never listens to the radio?  First you can see how big money can stifle culture.  Art is how ideas can be spread in a way that is accessible, in a way that is entertaining and easy to understand.  Less competition, created by one corporation owning a large percentage of the market, means there is less reason for alternative programming.  Even if a corporation isn’t trying to purposely stop a certain message from getting out, there is less reason to play something new or cutting edge, even if it has a certain following.  Luckily, we now have internet radio and satellite radio, which have helped bring diversity into the market, but a large group of people still listen to regular radio.  What gets played on traditional radio still has an advantage.  Art is extremely important as a form for political discussion, as it connects emotionally.  One only has to look at the 60’s counterculture to understand how art and particularly music can affect people from a political perspective.

There are many reasons that music doesn’t have the political power that it once did, reasons that have to do with technology, culture, education, and economics.  However, I think the above Act is something that greatly contributed.

Also, I find it interesting that it was Clinton that signed the above Act into law.  I have always known that Clinton was a corporate Democrat, but being that I was 18 at the time and not fully formed politically, I never put it together that he was the one that oversaw that law being put into place.  As someone that would consider themselves as being on the left, I think it is extremely important that we condemn those on our side that do not act in the public interest, especially if we are going to be believed when we make political accusations of those that do not in anyway share our values.  Even if I view Hillary Clinton as the far lesser of two evils, when compared to the pack of mutants running for the Republican nomination, we must make sure that she does not repeat the sins of her husband if she were to gain the nomination.  (Who really was far more conservative than most people remember.)  I am hoping that Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, but I have no doubt that I would vote for Clinton over anyone declared for the right at the current moment.

So I think it is important to see how big money can corrupt culture, as a concrete example.  It is important to acknowledge how art influences our culture.  Remember, the whole reason that I am writing about this subject is because I was reading an interview with a musician.  I also think it is important, for those interested in politics, to stay vigilant especially when someone on “one’s side” is in political power, as it is much easier to be lulled into complacency.

It’s late on a Saturday and already I feel that I am rambling a bit in this post, but there is just one other thing I want to mention.  (But believe me, I actually feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg in talking about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the deregulation of media in general.)

Just as a playful what if, I want you to imagine a world where subversive art and other media voices did not face so many restrictions in communicating on mass.  If more voices were heard, would tragedies such as the Iraq War have been averted or at least not carried out with such zeal?  (Not only did Clinton help to deregulate the media, but Ronald Reagan also contributed greatly to media deregulation.)

 

Inside Most Intense Public Enemy Record of the Century – New Record 'Man Plans, God Laughs'

Inside Most Intense Public Enemy Record of the Century

As I looked quickly at the headlines over at Rolling Stone today, I was shocked and extremely psyched to see that Public Enemy is releasing a new album…this week!  The album is titled Man Plans, God Laughs.  They are one of the greatest groups of all time in any genre, and if they weren’t so intensely political, I believe their profile would be even higher here in the states than it has been in recent years.  Their last two albums, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamps and The Evil Empire of Everything, both released in 2012, were both jaw dropping and worth checking out if you have checked the group out in awhile.  (I would definitely get both records as they both feature different sonic textures, yet compliment each other really well from a musical perspective.  If you love the group or just love exciting and intense music, you can’t go wrong.)  The above video is one of the official singles from Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamps.

No Church in the Wild

I’ve been listening to this track lately.  It’s batshit insane and I love it so.  Whether it is Lou Reed or the orchestral piece Sensemaya, I love music that sounds like it is going through the looking glass.  I of course love many many different types of music, of all different emotions, but there is something about when artists sound like a modern day Icarus, like they are flying to close to the sun, that appeals to me.

I’m not traditionally a huge hip hop fan.  Nothing appeals to me more in music than a unique singer singing their truth.  (Public Enemy has always been the one exception.)  However, I have tried to be more open to it lately, as I have often loved a lot of the production on hip hop records.  As a musician I have found myself being drawn to a lot of the stuff that Kanye produces because it is often quite musical.

Batshit Insane Vol. 6: Fear of a Black Planet

At the beginning of the year I wanted to do a week where I posted seven batshit insane albums to start the year off right.  I only made it to five, as first I went to the Steamboat MusicFest and then I cedar fever hit me here in Austin like a ton a bricks.  I am making it up now.  At the bottom I’ll post the the idea behind the series.

Not choosing a Public Enemy record would be a disservice.  Their work, especially with the Bomb Squad, is some of the most intense music ever made.  In reality I could have picked several of their records, but I had to go with Fear of a Black Planet for the sheer knowledge that it had the song Welcome to the Terrordome on it.  James Brown beats, air raid sirens, scratches, white noise, and extremely political lyrics make this album sound like nothing else ever made, other than other Public Enemy records.  Chuck D’s voice is one of the greatest voices in popular music.  He has the deep baritone of a street preacher.  It’s a voice of righteous anger and endless knowledge.  I’m not even a huge hip-hop fan to be honest, though I’ve started appreciating it more in recent years.  But this stuff is more punk rock than most punk rock.  It sounds every bit as revolutionary as it did in 1990.  Samples stacked upon samples until it becomes a Phil Spector wall of sound.  However, where Spector’s wall of sound sounded heavenly, this one is full of discord.  There is so much chaos going on that it goes through the mirror and becomes beautiful.  It’s a classic album.  The song Welcome to the Terrordome especially, for sheer sonic chaos, would have to go in my favorite recordings of all time.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

If Richard Pryor Fronted a Metal Band

One of the albums I have been listening to is the new Body Count album, Manslaughter.   This is a ridiculously absurd album.  By lead singer Ice-T’s own admission this album is grindhouse.  It is meant to be over-the-top.   Songs about torture, black voodoo sex, and murder permeate the album.  However, this is absurdity with a purpose:  The record is meant to show how meaningless the modern recording industry is.  This album is a comedy record as well as a heavy metal record.  It is more laugh out loud funny than it is offensive, and that is by design.  Ice-T is just having fun. 

The riffs and songs in general don’t rise to the level of Body Count’s self titled debut.  However, anyone that liked that record will find enough to like here. 

“Guys have gone from ‘Fight the Power’ to ‘What does Kim Kardashian have on today?’  What the fuck is going on?”

Ice is telling dirty jokes and speaking truth to power, often at the same time.  On the song Pray for Death he imagines torturing a bully by splitting his nuts with a golf club. 

“America’s losing their cribs while you are bragging about the shit you did or shit you bought.  Most of it lies.  Yeah you know I know you know.”

It’s like if Slayer and Public Enemy made a record together.  In another era this album might be simply entertaining, but unfortunately it is one of the few records I have heard recently where it feels like something is on the line. 

Imagine if an angry Richard Pryor fronted an extreme metal band.  You’ll arrive somewhere close to where these proceedings go.  If that sounds at all interesting to you check it out.  If you have never heard Body Count start with their self titled debut.  If you like that album this is a worthy follow up.  

Stand Up for Something, Or Fall for Anything

“If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

I was reading an interview with Chuck D recently and he had an interesting theory.  It was that the powers that be are all too happy with the new status quo of seeing people remain in a state of prolonged adolescence.  Younger people are more progressive and more open to change by nature.  The civil rights movement, the end of the Vietnam War, all would not have happened if young people hadn’t gotten actively involved in politics.  Although we had Occupy Wall Street, that seems to have faded.  I’m not breaking any news when I say that in our culture people remain teenagers long after they stop being one.

Now I’m not saying this is part of any orchestrated effort to keep people in this prolonged state of adolescence.  I think it is a combination of cultural and economic factors.  However, if you want to see the world become different than it is, we need to become involved in it.  I’m as guilty of anyone of getting lost in the woods for long periods of time.  It’s in my nature to fly solo.  But we really need to realize that if we, and especially people younger than myself, don’t get involved, we’re going to end up in a world that we don’t want to live in.

Chuck D Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Interview

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCU2rnx3l3k&feature=youtube_gdata_player

The above video is Chuck D’s press conference before the Rock N Roll Hall of fame.  It is a great interview.  It is especially right on the money when he talks about how communities need to support their local artists and why this is important. I know I have been posting a lot about him lately, but I simply wish there were more artists like him.

The Fruits of Racism, Colonialism, and Segregation

I have been thinking lately about the word conciousness in terms of an emerging conciousness coming about because of an issue.  Two big influences on my thinking lately have been Stephen Kinzer’s book The Brothers and the band Public Enemy. 

Public Enemy is a rap group that often talks about problems facing the black community.  The book The Brothers deals largely with US policy during the Cold War as directed by John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. 

During the Cold War a lot of third world countries were emerging from the shackles of colonialism.  Many of the resources in these countries were owned by foreign powers and only marginally helped the local economies.  Many of these new countries wanted to nationalize the industries concerning these resources so that their own people could benefit.  Instead of realizing these were nationalistic movements that wanted prosperity after years of hardship, we viewed them as puppets of Moscow.  Because of this we often intervened in these countries and subverted their democracies.  Sometimes we even inspired or directly took a role in violence.  In the case of places like the Congo and Iran we actually helped overthrow their governments, helping to install leaders that were brutally oppressive. 

Meanwhile in this country, in current years after the election of Obama, we like to view ourselves as post-racial.  However, listening to PE I am reminded by the daily indignities that black people still face in this country.  Even if we are not talking about larger issues, there are things that would drive anyone crazy.  Imagine someone crossing the street because of the color of your skin.  Imagine being watched in a store and thought of as a theif, again just because of the color of your skin. 

Last year I was in east Texas and there was a girl who was slightly less drunk than her male friends.  I asked her jokingly if she was the designated driver.  She said, in a way that was full of shame, “If you are the right color, you can get away with anything in this town.”

Over the years, in this country and outside of it, there has simply been a very real effort both explicitly and implicitly to subvert people of color from rising above their station.  Slavery, segregation, and colonialism have shaped the world we live in.  Well on one hand I believe that people do need to be responsible for their own actions, we must also acknowledge the effects that these forms of institutionalized brutality have played upon our world. 

Life in general is not fair.  That is something everyone has to deal with.  However, in understanding the history of our country’s actions both at home and abroad concerning people of color, we can hopefully learn empathy and understanding for different kinds of people.  None of us get to choose the conditions we are born into in life.  There is a hope though that we can help each other get through this life, whatever it is. 

The Evil Empire of Everything

The newest Public Enemy album, The Evil Empire of Everything, is simply one of the best, most powerful albums I have heard in a long time.  It is also the most powerful political statement put on record since Neil Young’s Living with War.  I am a little late to the party.  I say the newest album because this record came out in 2012.  But better late than never, because this record is absolutely essential. 

In the late 80’s Public Enemy put our a trilogy of ground breaking albums.  From It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back they were pretty much perfect.  I kinda lost the thread after that, as some label problems took them out of the public eye, and quite frankly my tastes changed.  Recently, looking for music of substance, I have decided to revisit those albums, and eventually decided I wanted to hear something I hadn’t heard before.  Knowing that I was going on the road this weekend, and that I would have 20 plus hours in the van over four days, I decided to give their newest album a shot.  I am glad I did because this album simply blows my mind.  It is fearless politically and top notch musically.

The sound of Public Enemy is every bit as important as the lyrics.  Even when Chuck D isn’t saying something explicitly politically, the sound of the band conveys revolution.  On their classic run of albums Public Enemy created a dense chaotic wall of sound.  They did this by combining an untold number of samples into something truly original.  Both the sound of the band and the structure of their records was like a collage.  They took little pieces of different music, sound effects, and dialouge, and spliced them together until these different sounds became something greater than the some of their parts.  Because of changes in copy right laws, this approach is really no longer possible.  I have no way of knowing if this is true, but I read that their album Fear of a Black Planet has so many samples on it that each copy sold would have resulted in five dollars they would have had to pay out under existing copyright laws. 

Surprisingly, although being slightly less dense, they have been able to replicate the sonic chaos of their early albums.  There are still drum loops that sound like they came off old funk records, electric guitars, interesting sonic treatments, and thought provoking dialouge. 

The album begins, after a brief bit of treated soul music, with George Zimmerman’s 911 phone call on the night Trayvon Martin was killed.  There is an another song called Beyond Trayvon where members of Public Enemy trade verses with their sons to talk about the fact that it is still dangerous to be black in America, even after electing a black president.  Although this could seem, upon first inspection, as something that will date quickly, this incident is used as a jumping off point to talk about larger questions of race that will unfortunately be relevant for a long time to come. 

One of the things that is so great about the lyrics on this album is that Chuck D and the other MC’s seemed to have widened their nets.  Although the lyrics on this record definitely come from a black perspective, they also spend plenty of time going outside their tribe talking about much larger issues of social and economic justice.  One of the most important things in life is learning empathy for people outside of your tribe.  If this perspective cannot be reached there is no chance for unity and therefor building the coalitions that must be made to tackle the serious problems facing the world.  Chuck D and the rest of Public Enemy find commen cause with illegal immigrants and other members of the economically downtrodden.  This gives their album a much more universal appeal. 

What are other topics talked about on this record?  They touch upon the horrible state of the media as they have done before on Don’t Believe the Hype.  They also talk about war, the way the United States is percieved throughout the world, the housing crisis, problems with fame and materialism in the culture, the war on terror, the decline of meaning in the music business, and the environment among other issues.  Only Flavor Flav’s 31 Flavors provides some comic relief in the storm.  This also unfortunately makes it the one track, however enjoyable it is in and of itself, that doesn’t fit the themes of the record. 

Although their songs take strange detours like their classic run of albums, where songs were often spliced with spoken word or insturmental parts that do not resemble the main tracks, this happens less often.  However this provides the album with a stronger song oriented approach than in the past.  In some ways this actually makes the album more enjoyable on repeated listens.  Although the album lacks some of the mad genius of something like Fear of a Black Planet, in some way this album is actually more listenable because of it.  Many more of these songs have a single quality to them.  There is still enough of mini pieces to give the album a unified feel. 

Another thing that I like about the album from a lyrical perspective is that, although again they touch upon many stories ripped from the headlines, they use these stories to jump off into wider criticisms of modern America.  This album will again, unfortunately, be relevant for years to come. 

Although PE addresses many problems in our country the music still has a take no prisoners approach that is inpiring.  Thematically the record is dark, but the album has a bravado that makes you feel as if there is still hope to change things before it is too late.  It is a magic trick because except for one song this music does not feature uplifting major key melodies.  It is musically a tough record, like most of their work, that gets one ready for battle.  While it does acknowledge the problems of the world head on, it will not be defeated by them. 

If you are looking for music of substance that is gauranteed to be thought provoking, look no further.  This is powerfully passionate stuff.  PE have added another classic album to their cannon.  I can’t reccomend this album highly enough.  It features the trifecta of interesting music and arrangments, thought provoking lyrics, and especially in Chuck D, a voice for the ages.  Although his voice is more ragged than in the past, it still sounds like he is casting thunder from the mountaintop.  Get this album, and get ready for the struggle.