LOVE Hip Hop History Jam

Photo of brick casey and pace @ beat research c/o Derek Brain.

On July 30, from 4-8 PM LOVE is throwing a Hip Hop History jam in Union Sq, Somerville, MA (outdoor in the plaza on Somerville Ave). (Mapquest directions here.) Fun-ded by the Somerville Arts Council as part of its Arts Union Series, we will be bringing together some incredible talent to re-present the history of hip hop in an uplifting community celebration. The event will be hosted by Lyrical and Brick Casey and will include demonstrations by the amazing LOSST UNNOWN and members of the Boston hip hop legends the FLOOR LORDS. DJ C and DJ Flack (Beat Research/Mashit), DJ Yamin (Beats Not Bombs), DJ Def Rock (of Monstamind/Megabug fame), DJ Drama (Elemental Compounds) and Wayne & Wax will be providing the beats. The youth/activist collaborative Critical Breakdow and the Massive Records Family will be there too. The evening will include a series of thematic sets revolving around 6 DJ sets representing one era of Hip Hop history each: Funk&Soul, Jamaican Roots, Birth of Hip Hop, Old/Middle School, Golden Age, Back to the Future. During each DJ set, local MC’s, breakdancers, writers and DJ’s will reinterpret these eras thereby uniting the original 4 elements in an evening of uplifting community “edutainment”.

In the words of the Godfather, “Peace, unity, LOVE, and having fun.” What more can you say? Here are some links to get you in the mood!

Hip Hop Timelines
Experience Music Project
Digital Dream Door

Videos and docs
Boston Beats and Rhymes
Wild Style
Style Wars
Krush Groove

Globaldarkness article 1
Globaldarkness article 2
NPR program with video

Graf Gallery
149 St.

Mixtapes and Shows Hip Hop Tapes
Old School Show Flyers

Music Dork Meme

Looking at Wayne’s comments on the Six Degress of Reggae Riddims I realized he tagged me with the music dork meme that is going around (I can’t wait to map this!). It seems particularly appropriate given the comment on Blood and Fire about me — “Too much nerd a gwaan.” Alrighty then. Busted. Here is my latest.

The brain: Lovingly adorned with some recent selections.

Total volume of music on my computer: I have not caught the IPod bug yet being a true vinyl junkie, so I actually don’t use my computer for playing songs as much as for making them. 13 gigs in my ITunes folder and 4 gigs in my Sounds folder that contains all my samples. Then I have a Lacie 160 gig external hard drive I use for ProTools files which has 127 gigs of various sound files and backups. Call it 150 gigabytes of music files of ALL KINDS but only around 14 of mp3s.

Last CD I bought: Since I mostly buy records, it’s somewhat rare, but the last CD I bought was the DJ Wicked wicked mixtape Got Milf? I heard it at new Cambridge hip hop outpost Massive Records (who are poised to blow up with in store visits from KRS-1 etc.) and had to have it!

Song playing right now: The record just ended. So nothing. But just a minute ago, it was Laguna Oreenee by Slim Gaillard. The more I listen, the more I agree that he was one of the first b-boys for sure.

Five things I have been listening too a lot lately:
1. Ever since Amerie’s 1 Thing flipped that break from the Meter’s track Oh Calcutta, my gal Carey and I have been on a Meter’s kick. Their Very Best of the Meters CD has been running in the car going on 2 weeks now.
2. Minute Men. Double Nickels on the Dime. Man, George Hurley’s drums on this record were so TIGHT.
3. Rik Rue. Sound Escapes. RRRecords in Lowell, MA. This strange cut up and tape manipulation record is a future scratch classic for sure.
4. Wings. Wild Life. Panned at the time as sloppy and lame. McCartney was apparently influenced by Dylan’s fast production and created this sleeping masterpiece of loose 70’s rock goop. I have been loving it.
5. Old school hip hop! I have been getting ready for our big hip hop history party on July 30 with Wayne&Wax, DJ Flack, DJ C, Critical Breakdown, DJ Yamin, Brick Casey, Def Rock and others So I have been watching Wild Style, etc a lot. This clip is Cold Crush from the Dixie Scene. Does that sound like a ragamuffin style “get on the mic wit ya rhymes galore” from JDL of Cold Crush at the end there? If so, the oldest commercially released toasting over hip hop beats I have found yet.

So, let’s hear from:

Six Degrees of Reggae Riddims

Just coming off teaching a 3 day social network analysis (SNA) master class at Boston College (with my fellow PhD student Inga Carboni and professors Steve Borgatti and Bill Torbert), I have networks on the mind. Just before the workshop started, I was finally able to diagram a very large network data set I have been working on for a long time (with the help of programmer pal Stephen Cook and fellow Borgatti student Rich DeJordy). The other night I finally got back to it.

Frequencies of 2o most versioned riddims at

Ever since reading Howard Becker’s (1982) book Art Worlds, I have been interested in using network methods to operationalize Becker’s claim that art worlds can be seen as networks of cooperative relations among individuals and orgnizations producing and consuming artistic products (Becker, 1982:x). While network thinking has been a central part of this theory from the beginning, SNA methods have only recently been applied to large data sets on cultural markets. For example, the now familiar Oracle of Kevin Bacon site uses the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) to create an interface that allows you to play the Gen X parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” (e.g., trying to find an actor that is connected to Kevin Bacon in more than 6 links via co-occurrences in movies with other actors). If you play, you will find that it is hard. That is because Hollywood is a Small World. However, even this site does not really let you visualize the network of ties among actors and movies. Scholarly work on cultural markets is even less likely to do so. This is a shame because SNA is so useful for visualizing patterns in large social systems that are otherwise hard to see.

Using Ucinet and Netdraw to diagram (below) the data at Becker’s (1982) idea comes to life in a new way. In this art world, it is common practice for multiple artists to sing over instrumental “versions” of popular songs (which are called riddims). One of the things that makes this art world particularly interesting from a network perspective is that the same riddims are often used over and over by different artists and producers and released by “competing” labels under different titles. As a result, we can examine cooperative patterns and see what artists appear on what riddims recorded by what producers, etc. It also helps me to find another setting that operates more like a creative commons than a traditional market (as this distinction is also emerging my dissertation). (Note the sneaky nod to the ethnographers in my title which alludes to Gertz’s 1978 piece “The Bazaar economy: Information and search in peasant marketing”, American Economic Review 68(2):28-32.)

The first thing I did was to generate a frequency list (above) of all the riddims (e.g., the number of times each had been done) and plot the results. Not surprisingly, a small number of riddims get versioned a lot and most get versioned only once or twice. This kind of picture is typical of cultural industries (e.g., a few composers do most of the scores in Hollywood, a few actors do most of the movies, etc.) and is related to the idea of long tails (for anyone who caught the Wired buzz a while back). To keep track of these ideas, check out Chris Anderson’s site the Long Tail and his upcoming book. Clearly, the art world of reggae versions is another example of this ubiquitous phenomena. For yet another (that relates to my love of formal field methods in anthropology), see the excellent word count flash site which lets you interact with a frequency list of english words.

Network map of 20 most versioned riddims (blue nodes=riddims, red nodes=artists)

I used this frequency list to select the 20 most versioned riddims for further analysis. (The data set was so large — e.g., more than 10,000 lines of data), that it became hard to run on my weak machines, let alone visualize. Therefore, for practical reasons, I decided to cut the set down to the top riddims for a first look. The diagram below depict ties between artists (red) and the top 20 most versioned riddims (in blue). It uses an algorithm (called Gower Metric Scaling) that basically puts riddims that were done by many of the same artists near each other on the map.

I have just begun to analyze this data, but already, interesting patterns are emerging. For example, you can see that there are basically four “neighborhoods” of artists. The first cluster (in the middle of the diagram) are all doing many of the same riddims. The second cluster (middle left) is a group of artists associated with the Real Rock riddim. (This is interesting in itself as the Real Rock is the most versioned riddim, so you would expect it to be in the middle of the network.) Another cluster appears in the bottom right around the Stalag riddim. Finally, there is a group of artists (bottom left) that did the Stalag and Real Rock, but not much else. This is already pretty interesting, as it demonstrates the power of network analysis to identify emergent communities in artistic markets (exactly what Becker would have predicted, btw).

While the diagrams tell us something, they are really just the beginning. You see, network analysis is really good at picking out hidden patterns in social systems. But to understand the meaning behind the pattern (e.g., the why), you still need to do good ethnographic work. As far as I can tell, that is still lacking in many quarters of the academy. Moreover, because of the increasing balkanization of the academy, network analysis and ethnography currently occupy separate spheres (despite sharing common intellecual roots).

Luckily, my pal Wayne is doing his dissertation on Jamaican music and I hope we can combine our structural and interpretive approaches to provide a new look at some important cultural practices at the intersection of music and the creative commons.