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Preview: The WELL: inkwell.vue.308: Jeff Chang's "Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop"

The WELL: inkwell.vue.308: Jeff Chang's "Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop"

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#49: looming tricycle menace (anna) Thu 4 Oct 07 15:55

Thu, 04 Oct 2007 15:55:00 PDT

thank you, Jeff! thank you, David! it was great fun being a part of this interesting and invigorating conversation. [Read entire topic]

#48: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 3 Oct 07 12:19

Wed, 03 Oct 2007 12:19:00 PDT

I'd like to thank everyone who participated in what's become a very interesting discussion on hip-hop culture and beyond, and especially Jeff for joining us and Anna for driving the conversation.

We're turning our official focus to another topic, but this conversation doesn't have to end as long as there are questions to discuss. [Read entire topic]

#47: Jeff Chang (jeffchang410) Tue 2 Oct 07 20:14

Tue, 02 Oct 2007 20:14:00 PDT

that's brilliant. i've begun doing a bit of research into, of all things, sneaker culture. in 1986, run dmc had a hit called 'my adidas'. their manager, a guy named russell simmons, invited adidas officials to the concert at madison square garden, and when run dmc performed the song, they asked the crowd to hold their sneakers in the air. the sight of thousands of kids holding their shelltoes above their heads just floored the adidas reps. run dmc signed a million dollar sponsorship deal in weeks. that, plus spike lee and michael jordan teaming up to push nike, were sort of like carnaby street moments. now adidas and nike--much less so reebok, which was the #1 company at the time--actually have high-end designers routinely designing $1000 sneakers for the elite fashion boutique market...

there's a natural cycle of style that occurs in hip-hop. every 3-5 years or so the styles turn over, and it corresponds to the cycle of style in the neighborhoods--which are literally driven by 16 year-olds. when they grow up and move on, the next cohort of folks transforms the style--so that over the course of a few years, there's another shift that has been completed. it goes to everything from coloring in clothes to slang to musical styles to dances. if you have access to some urban 16 year olds, esp in nyc or la or miami, you're seeing and hearing the styles that will filter out to the malls and the mainstream over the next two-three years.

i think the future is global. i'm doing a big piece right now on m.i.a., a british sri lankan refugee, and how her particular style and point-of-view seem to point the way forward. she's been hyped quite a bit, perhaps overmuch, but behind her, i hear a large world waiting to make their mark... [Read entire topic]

#46: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 1 Oct 07 18:54

Mon, 01 Oct 2007 18:54:00 PDT

Years ago i did a college paper on adoption of new ideas and focussed on the dissemination of fashion information in 19th century America. (A few real patterns from Paris by boat, the rise of mail order catalogs with pictures, all kinds of fun things to consider as the new way to look good would slowly spread into the interior, reinterpretted by local seamstresses, etc.)

In the research for that little paper, I picked up some very interesting texts about how style is transmitted. The latest tech, be it railroads or text messages, is sure to be part of the vector. Seems to me that hasn't changed.

A couple of ideas caught my attention.

- An author who asserted that the court of Marie Antoinette *invented* the fashion cycle with its arch disdain for last year's style, and that since then, fasion change has served as a placibo for revolution. Not so effectively for Marie, but stronger since then. (We look radical compared to people x years ago, so we have evolved and rebelled!)

- Carnaby Street fashion in the 60s, just pre-hippie era in London, changed the entire clothing world. Top-down designer ideas were the way of the world until then. At that time, London designers started looking at kids on the street for fashion ideas. That has not stopped since.

That might mean that the "co-opting" cycle kicked in in the designer clothes world at that time. It had kicked in to some degree in the music world back inthe jazz and rock&roll eras, I'd guess.

If those ideas are valid, then high fashion and high finance has a thrist and a use for the creativity of the street, and this functions in part in preventing the blossoming of an extensive underground. I don't say this in a parnoid way, but in a pattern-observer way.

So sending new tech out to the streets and seeing what comes back is a reasonable intentional strategy these days.

Just a thought!

So Jeff, your book blurb mentions the future of hip hop.

What trends are you seeing? [Read entire topic]

#45: Jeff Chang (jeffchang410) Mon 1 Oct 07 12:14

Mon, 01 Oct 2007 12:14:00 PDT

gail, david and anna, thanks for stirring up the synapses. i've been struggling with the question of whether all countercultural movements are meant to become commercialized and co-opted. this is a popular line among some intellectuals i admire: naomi klein, thomas frank, joseph heath and andrew potter. on the other side are colleagues like danyel smith, greg tate, joan morgan, and even the novelist william gibson, who seem to me to try to stake out a principled engagement with countercultures.

i don't consider myself naive or innocent--i'm published by major houses, my friends work with major labels, i've worked for some of the corporations i criticize. but there's also a part of me that, fox mulder-like, just wants to *believe*. and i take solace in w.e.b. dubois's insights about 'double consciousness'. it would be intellectually dishonest of me to act like the purist i wanted to be back when i was in my 20s...

ok, let's go to the question of technology. i am on board with david's reading of the music industry and technology, and i suspect that there's a fantastic conversation to be had here about whether the industry has turned into a dinosaur obsolescence by being so reactionary to new technology. what do you all think?

and just one last thought: with regards to the point that i think gail was alluding to in terms of personal technology, lots of times the question of race and technology has been framed in terms of the digital divide. i would never deny that the digital divide is an important issue to address. but i do want to note that hip-hop has been an amazing example of the opposite trend--socially disenfranchised populations exploring the implications of new technologies and making them stylish, from spraypaint to sound mixers to sneaker soles to pagers to samplers to cell phones to blogs long before they reach the mainstream... [Read entire topic]

#44: Jeff Chang (jeffchang410) Mon 1 Oct 07 11:52

Mon, 01 Oct 2007 11:52:00 PDT

hey everyone,

i'm back from miami, which was a wonderful experience. i was out there for an annual festival put together by the miami light project called project hip-hop that features some of the best national hip-hop theater, dance, film, and this year, a brief lecture from yours truly.

i really love these kinds of events because they give a chance for people to gather and really debate and discuss aesthetic and political issues, and just to kick it and enjoy some great art. the headliner this year was the bronx's fine, nationally acclaimed theater company, universes, who did a stunning showcase of their unique mix of rap, poetry, and music. if you can catch them on the road--they're in texas this week i believe--they are one of the most exciting companies around.

but a lot of the fun comes from the multigenerational mix that comes together--children, community leaders, young and old artists, journalists, activists, and just fans of every possible background you can imagine. after universes' performance, we all spilled out onto lincoln road and had long discussions into the night. that's the hip-hop i've come to love. [Read entire topic]

#43: Lisa Harris (lrph) Sun 30 Sep 07 15:31

Sun, 30 Sep 2007 15:31:00 PDT

Wish I could have come to see you in Miami,. Jeff. Unfortunately I was in Central Florida for the weekend. Hope it all went well. [Read entire topic]

#42: Gail Williams (gail) Sun 30 Sep 07 15:06

Sun, 30 Sep 2007 15:06:00 PDT

Sounds like quite a festival. How'd the reading go?

And who goes to your readings... what do they tend to ask about? [Read entire topic]

#41: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sun 30 Sep 07 12:05

Sun, 30 Sep 2007 12:05:00 PDT

. . . and if you're following this conversation on the Interwebs and have a question for Jeff or some observations you would like to contribute, e-mail us at and we can post for you (or, become a Well member and *you* can post for you) [Read entire topic]

#40: Jeff Chang (jeffchang410) Sat 29 Sep 07 22:11

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 22:11:00 PDT

Thank you all for these really thought-provoking replies. I'm going to apologize now for the radio silence. Since Friday I've been in Miami to participate in the Miami Light Project's Project Hip-Hop, an amazing weekend of hip-hop theatre and performances. I'll get back to posting regularly beginning Monday, but I did want to let anyone in the Miami/Dade area to know that I'll be speaking Sunday at 11am at Books and Books on Lincoln Road in South Beach on my two books. Please drop by and introduce yourself if you do come through! [Read entire topic]