[Five Deadly Everythings]

Is hindsight still 20/20 when 50’s involved?

Posted in hip-hop, music, Toronto by Jef on September 27, 2007

A discussion on rapper 50 Cent will take place tomorrow night, 7:30 p.m., at the Canadian Business Ethics Research Network (CBERN), Schulich School of Business, York University.

The discussion panel will include Neil Shankman, who is the CEO over at REMG Entertainment Corporation (full disclosure: I used to intern for them).

REMG is the concert promotions company that brought 50 Cent to Toronto in December, 2005. If you remember, 2005 was the year of “The Summer of the Gun.” Because of that, there was much hoopla leading up to the concert, exemplified by Liberal MP Dan McTeague asking for 50 to be banned entry into the country.

(Dalton McGuinty, however, responded that we shouldn’t overestimate 50’s influence.)


Shankman’s discussion will focus on the ethical issues behind his company’s decision to bring 50 to the T-dot. It should be noted that nobody was harmed at the concert despite (or perhaps because of) the concerns raised by the controvery.

So why bring this up now? 50’s concert woes may be old news but I think it’s a valuable case study, especially now in hindsight. Was the proposed ban nothing more than a political chess move? Was 50 a scapegoat? Was the proposed ban racist? Was the whole controversy, on the part of the media and the politicians, an unfortunate sensationalization of “The Summer of the Gun”?

Like I was saying, hindsight is 20/20. I’m sure Shankman’s discussion would be radically different if someone in the crowd had been shot that night.

But I think back to Richard Budman’s documentary, The Toronto Rap Project, to the scene where a group of “at-risk-youths” stand outside of the 50 Cent concert and one of them remarks that the type of kids people were worried about after of the “Summer of the Gun” probably couldn’t even afford the exorbitant ticket prices. I wonder where classism fits in this whole debate.

The discussion will stream live on the CBERN website.

A review of my album reviewing experience

Posted in music by Jef on September 25, 2007

Last Thursday my internship sent me to the listening party for Nicole Scherzinger’s solo album, Her Name is Nicole. You may know Scherzinger as the lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, who were all over radio and television last year with singles from their album, PCD.

As a newbie journalist, the listening party was a very interesting experience for a number of different reasons.

Confession: I kind of liked the album, even though I loathe the Pussycat Dolls. Bigger confession: I was kind of drunk when I listened to it. I had a suspicion when I walked into the posh downtown lounge that they might try to ply us with liquor in the hopes for better album reviews. And they did, and maybe it worked. It was my first time at one of these industry functions, and I was weak.

On Her Name is Nicole, Scherzinger shows
she has more tricks up her sleeve.

You can get the full record review later when the new issue of our magazine drops and you go buy it at your local bookstore.

Another interesting aspect of the listening party was that everybody seemed to know each other. I was the only one there who didn’t have someone to catch up on old times with. It leaves me wondering how many in attendance were media like myself, how many were industry execs or PR people, and what the difference really is once alcohol gets mixed in.

Which leads me to my final observation: nobody really cared about listening to the music. Everyone was enjoying the ambiance and hor dourves. The small talk was almost as loud the beats. One of the label execs even took a friendly jab at my expense because I was furiously taking notes and constantly asking the titles of songs.

Meeting and talking with the industry folk was an experience all in itself. I spent time with one of them afterwards talking in-depth about pop music. Picture your average talk among music-snobs, except substitute any indie bands with pop acts like Rihanna and Ne-yo, and you’ll get a fair idea of how our conversation sounded.

The rep from Interscope Records said they are putting all their resources behind this album for final quarter. So like it or not, get ready to hear and see Nicole all over the place.

Supergirl’s Identity Crisis

Posted in comics by Jef on September 25, 2007

This month’s issue of Supergirl is the second installment from writer Tony Bedard and artist Renato Guedes. Although a filler team (they’re only on the title for this three issue arc), their stint on the book has created a lot of discussion among fans.

After months of negative feedback from readers, Supergirl, 16, typically drawn as half-naked jailbait, was given by Guedes a longer skirt, biker shorts instead of peek-a-boo panties, and a couple pounds of flesh to soften her exaggerated, unrealistic physique. To accompany the new visual look, Bedard made the hero less angry and plucky, more reserved and full of self-doubt.

Before: Image from Supergirl #15

I talked to blogger Rachel Eddin of girl-wonder.org about the changes made. She felt the debut of Supergirl’s new image in last month’s issue 20 was an important moment for female fans.

“It was a big deal,” she said over the phone from Portland, Oregon. “I think a lot of women had avoided Supergirl…her reputation had gotten so bad because of the art. She was a character who was over-sexualized, who represented what is frustrating about a lot of adolescent female characters in comics.”

But not all reactions were positive. A contingent of fans right away called the new Supergirl “fat.”

“You open the book up, and it’s a Supergirl head on a fat boy’s body… not to mention the biker shorts and the pajama-esque quality of the uniform redesign are ridiculous,” reads a typical response posted on the DC Comics message board.

After: Image from Supergirl #20

“She’s a fat Supergirl to the extent that Kate Winslet was fat in Titanic,” said Eddin in response. “She’s not emaciated. She looks like a real 16-year-old. She looks like she has internal organs.”

While agreeing that Supergirl’s new look is “definitely more realistic,” life-long comics fan Lauren Penney of Mississauga said she ultimately longs for something more.

“I would be more impressed if maybe Supergirl decided to enrol herself in university and kick ass on campus,” said the 23 year-old Seneca College student. “Or if Supergirl decided to wear pants. I don’t necessarily think that making Supergirl look like the all-American girl-next-door is in any way going to help girls who have body image issues.”

I contacted DC Comics several times about the story I was trying to put together when issue 21 first dropped in stores. They declined my interview request and eventually said they were “not commenting on the story in any capacity.”

These last two issues from Guedes and Bedard are tie-ins to the latest big DC cross-over event, “Countdown,” rather than a standalone storyline. Because of that, their unique version of Supergirl probably won’t get much in the way of character development before the next creative team takes over.

A shame, really.

Interview with: JIN

Posted in hip-hop, interviews, music by Jef on September 24, 2007

Awhile ago I interviewed Chinese-American rapper Jin about his most recent album, ABC, which was recorded entirely in Cantonese.

Jin first gained popularity as a contestant on BET’s 106&Park show as a battle rapper. ABC marks a departure for Jin not only because of the switch-up in language, but also because he trades in his typical braggadocio for more personal songwriting (and here I’m going by reports, as I don’t speak or understand Cantonese).

Jef: So where are you right now?

Jin: I’m in New York right now.

What are you up to this week?

Just got off doing a couple shows and whatnot…But this week? Nuthin! I’m going to Shanghai in a couple of weeks.

Are you touring in support of the “ABC” album?

Yeah. A combination of that and also just exploring other opportunities that are out there.

So I was listening to the new album…I don’t understand any of it man.

[laughs]

So for your fans that don’t speak Cantonese, what’s the gist of the album? Is it a concept album?

Oh definitely. I think on all levels it certainly is. The concept of it is really like the whole ABC thing, which is an acronym for “American Born Chinese.” And that’s a title that’s been around way before me. It’s a term they use to label Chinese that were born here in the States. And there’s so many different perspectives to it. You got like the people back in Hong Kong or the Mainland who look at Chinese that were born in American as not as Chinese as they are. Then you have some that kind of envy ABCs, because ultimately a lot of times their goal is to immigrate over here and start a new life anyway. So it’s really an interesting situation, being an ABC. That’s what this album is all about.

How did the idea come about?

One of the questions I’ve always been asked, especially early in my career, is “Do you speak Chinese, and would you consider doing an album in Chinese?” And I was always really nonchalant about it, like, “Whatever. I’ve got an English album I’m trying to put out!” [laughs] But fast-forward six, seven years later, I was in Hong Kong. I just got the proverbial light-bulb over my head, and I knew it was time. I wanted to do an album in Cantonese. So I came back home and went to the studio, and banged it out in like two or three days. And here we are now.

Hip-hop in general always deals with race and identity. Has being involved with hip-hop from such a young age helped you to pursue your own heritage?

You know, I’ve always thought that the most beautiful thing for me has been that I was raised in an unorthodox household, being that my parents were young when they had me. So they were open-minded…but only to a certain extent. Because at the same time they were very traditional. We spoke Cantonese at home. Celebrated all of the cultural events, you know the Lunar New Years, and real just day-to-day stuff even. There’s just certain principles and values that are instilled in you as a child. And I’m blessed to say I was raised in that upbringing. But what hip-hop did, when I really got into hip-hop, was, in a sense, it created a clash. Because the biggest brick wall that I ran into when I really started getting into rap music and hip-hop was within my family structure. You know, my mom and dad were leaders of the anti-rap parade. They were at the front with picket signs. “No, we will not have our son doing that.” And you know, there was a lot of conflict at that point. I’m talking like 10 years ago. But I look back on it, and I don’t even blame them for it. I think overall it’s probably just a communication thing, and beyond that, it’s just their perception of what hip-hop may have been. And how can I blame them? All they knew of it was what they saw on the news and the TV, which was the “Rapper Arrested,” blah blah blah, “Shot at Concert,” blah blah blah. And that’s just only within the family structure.

Then I definitely ran into brick walls and obstacles outside of that. Being just general day-to-day people on some, “Yo look at Jin. He thinks he’s black.” And what really does that mean? He thinks he’s black. He’s trying to be black. So all of these different things is kind of the experience I went through. I convey it a lot of the times in my music. I wouldn’t change it though. I think all of that stuff made me who I am today.

I was surprised because your flow in Cantonese sounds pretty much the same as it does in English.

A lot people actually ask me, “Did you write a rhyme in English and then translate it? Like how did you do it?” And I was like…that sounds logical…but that wouldn’t really work! So what I did, I actually composed the lyrics in Cantonese. And being that I don’t know how to read or write the language–I speak it only and understand it, and there’s actually a song on the album called “Speak Can’t Read” which basically says that–so what I had to do was like…I don’t know if you’re looking at documentaries, like the Jay-Z one, “Fade to Black?

Yeah.

[Jay-Z] kind of broke down the process of how he was recording, where it was like he was more or less putting it together as he was recording it. As opposed to the traditional pen and paper and writing out a rhyme? That’s kind of how I did it and it worked perfectly.

You must relate to that process more because your freestyling background, right?

Exactly. Well you know I think the whole concept of freestyling and writing a rhyme, it almost goes hand in hand anyways because when you’re writing a rhyme, it all starts out as a freestyle at some point.

You’ve got Ken Oak on the album. You’ve got Daniel Wu on the album. These are guys I would not have expected to hear on a Jin album. One’s a traditional cellist, the other is a guy mostly known as an actor–

Yeah, Ken Oak is ill! That song itself, is called “Wun Lern Chon.” So I had that song done and me and the producer was like, “Yo this song is so ill.” It’s probably the most powerful song on the record as far as relating to social issues and themes that many people can relate to, Asian or not.

That’s the one track where, even though I couldn’t understand what you were saying, I could really feel it.

Exactly. So sonically we were just like, “Man we should get somebody to play that.” And [the producer] happened to know Ken Oak. Like I knew of him, but I had never met him before. But they had made music together, and [the producer] got him in there to play those strings live, and it just made it so much more lively. Once I heard the final version, I was like, “Yo, this sounds like a whole new song.” Then the other one, the one with Daniel…it’s funny because the concept of that record is about me dreaming and fantasizing about being a Hong Kong superstar. So were just like, “How ill would be to actually get a Hong Kong superstar on this?

And I had met Daniel a couple of years back when I went to Hong Kong for a show. And you know he’s just like this mega mega big icon out there on the movie tip. He was BIG, just churning out films. And we approached him with the concept of the record and he was like, “I’m with it.”