What does it take to turn culture to myth? How do we in 2016 enshrine a way of living, speaking, being? This year, The Get Down, on Netflix, and Atlanta, on FX, took on the ancient project of mythologizing, both looking at hip-hop episodically, through the lens of a television camera. But though the center of their focus is the same, their approaches are remarkable in their nearly diametric opposition to one another.
It all started with Lost—as I’m fond of saying about nearly any network television show featuring any kind of sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery elements. Lost premiered at a time when science fiction on television was brusquely relegated to the Syfy channel or nostalgic reruns of those campy yet halcyon series of space travel; a time when network television desperately needed something to come along and dislodge the apathetic viewership of long-slogs like CSI and American Idol; when middle class families like mine would typically gather to watch whatever sitcom was on between the rotely formulaic case-solving and bloated reality television; and maybe most importantly: when network television was all we had, unless we were paying for premium channels.
How do we remember? What is it that clings to us long after the moment has gone? Memory tends to exist first as a series of images, of sensations encoded in words that we then arrange as we piece together the narratives we think of as our remembered lives. The unsettling truth, though, is that all of these stories are our own constructions, and once we start sifting through them, trying to pin down the kernels of reality, they begin to drift apart, vaporous as curls of smoke escaping up from the dance floor.
Everybody starts somewhere different. This is the point of the game. I happened to materialize amongst crimson flowers, on a small plateau overlooking a canyon filled with fat green trees whose leaves glowed neon in the light of a distant sun. The clouds overhead were greenish yellow, the sky a greenish blue. Squidly-looking alien creatures floated lazily by. My ship sat smoking next to me, presumably having been damaged in whatever crash had stranded me here.
There are little monsters all around us, hiding in the air, crouched in the grass, peeking out of our pockets. They cluster in public spaces, around parks and monuments, drawn by scraps of food, or by the scent of incense hanging on the breeze. They are the same monsters we saw as children, the ones we had all but forgotten, and now they’re back.
(Edit: Due to massive amounts of copyright infringement, The Was has been taken off Vimeo. It can now be found here.)
The gang’s all here. When Soda_Jerk and The Avalanches get together, they invite everybody they know. The recently released collaboration between the two sample-based groups is one of those things that, having happened, now seems utterly inevitable. Both make new things out of old things, one with film, the other with music. The fruit of their union comes to us in the form of a thirteen minute audiovisual collage of movies and cartoons spanning more than sixty years, accompanied by a medley of songs from The Avalanche’s latest album, Wildflower.
The experience of watching it is a kind of sensory unmooring, a drift back through the cultural consciousness in a series of scenes laid over one another with the cohesion of a dream logic that never seems to quite reveal itself, just as the music never quite settles into this or that song. We see faces we know, places we recognize, but the words don’t always match up to the movements of the lips, and the people aren’t always where they should be.
Just before the halfway point, Beavis and Butthead trudge through the paint-huffing scene from Citizen Ruth. A naked Steve Martin from The Jerk wanders by, covering himself with dogs. “Marie, Marie!” He cries.
“Everything decent’s been done,” says Butthead, borrowing a monologue from Pump Up the Volume. “All the great themes have been used up, turned into theme parks. So I don’t really find it exactly cheerful to be living in the middle of a totally exhausted decade, where there’s nothing to look forward too and no one to look up to.”
But the early 90’s malaise doesn’t last long. The next scene has everyone pillaging the supermarket to the tune of Biz Markie, pulling things off the shelves, gorging themselves on whatever they can find. This is how sampling works. The Was is an exercise in defeating the exhaustion of the used-up by breaking it all down, picking up the fragments and rearranging them into something that is both unrecognizable and familiar.
From there, the video moves into a realm of double exposure as the Lords of Dogtown skate through a mashup of pool parties. The pool is at once empty and full, the water receding with a rush into the blue concrete wave of a SoCal afternoon. The finale comes in bursts of flame across suburbia, on roofs and bushes, a faint fire that might be in front of the couples kissing beside whitewashed houses, or might lie just beyond them. It’s difficult to tell, with everything as a calculated unsettling of the images, all of them flickering together at once. All in all, it’s a strangely comfortable feeling of disorientation.
“It’s a world of fantasy,” sing the chorus girls, and they’re right. It still is. It always was.
Here it comes. Another goddamn epiphany about Kanye West. I know what you’re thinking, but there’s no way around it. The man continually demands our attention. That’s actually what this whole thing is about. Micah and I reviewed The Life of Pablo earlier this year, and my feelings regarding the album haven’t really changed–I still think it’s all over the place, and doesn’t really function holistically as a piece of music.
The end of the universe may come as a state of perfect equilibrium, a point of balance between all forces and exchanges such that nothing is capable of happening. At that point, we will all be thoroughly bored to death. This year’s blockbuster contributions from both Marvel and DC have brought us incrementally closer to such a death, a series of films depicting the superheroic clash of various costumed ideological vehicles, all amounting to more or less nothing.
Hip-hop is a genre caught in a crisis of identity, an art perpetually torn between an unquenchable thirst for swagger and age-old truisms like keep it real and don’t front. Rap demands self-assured confidence, but it also demands honesty, and striking a balance between these two poles is perhaps the single greatest challenge there is. Still, there are artists hard at work doing just that. Serengeti is one of those artists. To figure out how he’s doing it, we might start with the following question:
Who is the “I” in a rap song? And as a follow up: does that “I” have to be real?
It’s been a privilege watching Chance the Rapper ascend to claim his godhead. Since 2013, he’s gone from earnest-eyed tripper to outspoken family man on his journey towards becoming hip-hop’s presiding minister. What hasn’t changed is his indomitable optimism. It sustains an auditory space like the holistic bubble of an acid trip, a memory of summer, or a hymn’s harmonies emulating the divided unity of the holy trinity. It’s a feeling that comes across as a confidence in his cadences, offset by a vocal vulnerability and a lyrical honesty that has the miraculous effect of shielding him from all sin. But he would probably tell you that it’s called faith.