First, the good news: The “Harlem Shake” viral video meme is likely winding down pretty soon—at least we hope.
And as the excellent video below shows, lots of Harlem residents emphatically disapprove of the way that thousands have mindlessly helped appropriate the name of a community dance into some dopey shit.
If you’re not familiar with the meme, here’s the rundown. Last spring, Brooklyn producer Harry Rodrigues a.k.a. Baauer released “Harlem Shake,” a hugely catchy downtempo party track that very clearly samples a rapper saying that he does said dance. YouTube comedian Filthy Frank used the tune in a very silly costumed dance video that launched literally thousands of similarly silly copycats, full of mostly costumed people (many, notably, in white-collar office settings) flailing their limbs and humping the air.
Popular culture is infamous for borrowing—and sometimes outright stealing—elements from a subculture and transforming them into something completely stripped of its origins. But it is still surprising to see how the current viral video craze called the Harlem Shake has managed to almost completely supplant a vibrant form of African-American dance that was born and bloomed in Harlem.
On the face of it, there’s absolutely zero wrong with limb-flailing and air-humping. But that’s not what the 30-year-old dance known as the Harlem Shake is about. Like most dance crazes cultivated by (and appropriated from) African-American communities, it requires a modicum of skill and, dare we say, pride.
Harlem itself is pretty unequivocal.
After the jump: want to know what the real Harlem Shake looks like? Check out this “shake cypher” video for some real context…
Deejay, producer and beautiful soul Mark Kamins died yesterday of “a massive coronary” in Guadalajara where he was a teacher at the Fermatta Music Academy.
Mark was a friend of mine and fan of Dangerous Minds. He often sent me links to articles and videos he thought would be of interest to DM. The last I heard from him was on January 11 of this year when he sent me a link to a YouTube video.
I think you will love this
“Whole Lotta Helter Skelter: Beatles-Zeppelin Mashup.”
Mark had a generous spirit. He was always supportive of my music and writing. He went out of his way to send me positive vibes and information he thought might be valuable in whatever project I might be working on. To say he is a loss, is an understatement. Mark was a force of nature that swept you up and carried you along on waves of upbeat energy, propelling you in the direction of your better self.
In the 80s, it was impossible to club hop without being infused with Mark’s aura via the incredible music he would play night after night as he deejayed at NYC’s groundbreaking dance clubs: including Danceteria, The Mudd Club, The Tunnel, Paradise Garage and Area. He discovered Madonna, introduced her to Seymour Stein and produced her first single “Everybody.” He worked as a producer, mixer and collaborator with The Beastie Boys, U2, Bob Marley, David Byrne, Sinead O’Connor and Karen Finley, to name a few. He wasn’t just part of the scene, he conjured the scene, he made it happen. He opened his own venue, The Harem, where he mixed instrumental tracks with live International musicians and dancers.
Mark continued to do what he loved right up until the day he died. He was teaching music students the fundamentals of electronic music and deejaying. The only thing that could stop Mark, did.
Peace brother. I imagine you somewhere, glowing like starlight, spinning the music of the spheres.
“Let the music take control
Find a groove and let yourself go
When the room begins to sway
You know what I’m trying to say.”
An extract from my contribution to Mark Goodall’s brand new book Gathering of the Tribe: Music and Heavy Conscious Creation, a collection of essays on music and the occult, featuring contributions from Mick Farren and David Kerekes among others, and pieces on the Beatles, the Fall, Nick Cave, John Coltrane and many more.
Before it was destroyed in a 1965 bombing, Harlem’s Nation of Islam Mosque No.7 could boast a cluster of striking alumni and associates, suggestive perhaps that powerful — or even sinister — forces were circling it. Louis Farrakhan was once in charge there, and was preceded in the role by none other than Malcolm X, who famously brought Cassius Clay into the Harlem orbit (turning him into Muhammad Ali in the process). Somewhat bringing up the rear is the comparatively little known Clarence 13X, whose eviction from Mosque No.7 and the NOI by Malcolm X led him to found The Nation of Gods and Earths — more colloquially known as the 5 Percenters, an heretical sub-sect of the NOI that would later distinguish itself by providing the slang and mythos behind much of the greatest rap music ever made, including Rakim, DOOM, and the (so to speak) meta-gangster rap of mid-nineties New York, exemplified by acts such as Nas, Mobb Deep and The Wu-Tang Clan.
Cassius Clay, of course, remained “Orthodox” — describing himself as “a fisherman for Elijah Mohammed” (the then-head of the NOI and self-proclaimed savior of Black America). While there is inadequate opportunity to get into the rules and dogma of the NOI, we should note that the hook upon which Clay skewered his bait had much more in common with Freemasonry than it did traditional Islam…
As in any Masonic sect, NOI members are initiated incrementally, and must memorize (and demonstrate some understanding of) tracts of esoteric lore in order to graduate to higher levels. One of the things neophytes must learn is a catechism of symbolism and numerology called “The Lost and Found Muslim Lessons.” These can sound pretty odd to profane ears (for example: “What are the exact square miles of the useful land that is used every day by the total population of the planet Earth?”) but are meant to impart esoteric insight through recitation.
These “Lost and Found Muslim Lessons” are wedded to the NOI’s recognizably Gnostic narrative, in which the traditional Gnostic Demiurge figure (the inept or malevolent creator of the material world in which the soul finds itself imprisoned) is the infamous Yacub, a mad scientist responsible for breeding the defective white race (“Dad”) and endowing it with a significant metaphysical fallacy for good measure — the concept of a “mystery god,” a deity that exists without (rather than within) humanity. Humanity itself is divided up between the ten percent of people aware of such truths but who opt to use them to oppress the ignorant eighty-five percent, and the remaining five percent who are aware of these truths and dedicated to using them to empower and enlighten the masses (good on ‘em).
Unfortunately, membership of the NOI looks a bit of a drag. As well as apparently having to permanently don a bow tie (I think I’d sooner be circumcised), gambling, fornication and intoxication are forbidden. Rectitude is the order of the day… excluding, apparently (and as ever), the sect’s leadership, who in the Sixties were beset with a number of scandals regarding its near pathological philandering, a double standard that must have helped to inspire Clarence 13X – expelled by Malcolm X from Mosque No.7 for like incontinence – to form his 5 Percenters, changing his own name to “Allah” for good measure.
Now here’s where it gets interesting, for Clarence 13X did not found his group in order to implement the top-down rectitude lacking in the NOI, nor to replicate its hypocrisies, but to instead altogether loosen the shackles of piety.
Goodness knows they chafed him enough — Clarence (a handsome fellow, as well as a snappy dresser) enjoyed a drink, smoke, toot, flutter and fuck no less than the average Rolling Stone, and saw little wrong with his fellow 5 Percenters enjoying the same, so long as they were careful to eschew pork — the notorious P.I.G. (he also — and in no little contradistinction to Mick, Keith and the gang — encouraged his followers to steer clear of smack, which he deemed “the swine of substances”).
Of much greater importance to Clarence than conventionally respectable behavior — which he appeared to think either would or wouldn’t assert itself in its own sweet time — was the wider dissemination of the NOI’s metaphysics among the offspring of New York’s African American slums, a rambunctious generation theoretically ripe for NOI conversion but likely to be deterred by the required lifestyle strictures.
Clarence lived out the remainder of his life balancing his role as religious mentor with his penchant for drinking, gambling and womanizing, during which time the 5 Percenters spread impressively, with its founder attracting plenty of negative attention and spending a certain amount of time in New York prisons and mental institutions, eventually being shot dead in ambiguous circumstances.
It was surely Clarence 13X’s teasing apart of morality and metaphysics that later made his creed so viable to the Nineties rap outlaws. Even in his lifetime this masterstroke had its repercussions, with the initial generation of Clarence’s converts causing a tabloid furor, the press misunderstanding the 5 Percenter insignia as merely the shtick of a dangerous new gang — by the time the ‘crack epidemic’ would divide up America’s slums into predators and prey, 5 Percenter theology was well entrenched as the warrior creed of a growing urban soldiery.
One tempting explanation for the ensuing high proportion of significant 5 Percenter emcees is that, by demanding that adolescent initiates begin committing the extensive NOI catechisms to memory, the proselytizers — usually older friends or relatives — incidentally enhanced these young persons’ mnemonic and recitative abilities.
Certainly, by the time the young RZA decided to form his collective, he was able to reap seven superb emcees with a single close sweep of his razorblade. For the initial core of the group, GZA, Method Man, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, RZA’s blade hardly had to travel, as all four were related to varying degrees and had been listening to hip hop, studying 5 Percenter theology and playing chess since childhood. These three voices — respectively cerebral, stylish and anarchic — dominate Enter the 36 Chambers...
So, one minute the Wu were playing clubs and house parties in their native Staten Island — there are rather picturesque accounts of ODB tripping on acid and firing his gun into the ceiling mid-gig — and the next they were superstars. RZA would spend the following five years brilliantly consolidating their legacy: producing and directing classic solo albums by the Wu’s five most talented members. Taken together, these solo debuts — Method Man’s Tical, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ghostface Killah’s Ironman and ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers, the Dirty Version — surely constitute the richest oeuvre in hip hop.
Besides the career criminal and the cataclysmically unlucky, no one is more instinctively superstitious than the superstar — who fortune has touched with her most conspicuous (albeit volatile) wand. You can only imagine how the members of the Wu, all long since initiated into a form of urban witchcraft that attested to their inner divinity, felt to wake up and find themselves world famous. Whether or not the impoverished and mundane aspects of their former lives ever tested their faith in the mystical worldview of The Nation of Gods and Earths, their subsequent success manifestly compounded it, resulting in their becoming propagandists for Clarence 13X’s small sect and introducing it to tens of millions of listeners around the world.
For ODB, meanwhile, who had betrayed schizophrenic tendencies long before stardom provided ostensible confirmation of this supernatural worldview, success would only push him deeper into psychosis. By all accounts, he was one of the most dedicated 5 Percenters in the Wu, a fact that has usually been met with incredulity by some chroniclers of the group, who are stumped by the challenge of ascribing fervid religiosity to a pop star renowned for his spectacular affection for arrest, anilingus and crack cocaine. Fair enough, though in ODB’s history of womanizing, incarceration, shootings and insanity, we can detect an echo of the life of Clarence 13X himself, and are reminded that the 5 Percenters are an unusually flexible – and, frankly, rock’n’roll – sect.
Hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa is the subject of this loosey goosey documentary featuring interviews and some classic videos made between 1982 and ‘89. With Jazzy Jay, James Brown, Johnny Rotten and the Afrika Bambaataa Family.
Looking For The Perfect Beat
Renegades Of Funk
Free South Africa
Well, a lot of people within government and big business are nervous of Hip Hop and Hip Hop artists, because they speak their minds. They talk about what they see and what they feel and what they know. They reflect what’s around them.” ~ Afrika Bambaataa
Update: For those of our readers that were having problems viewing the video, problem solved!
Feverishly prolific New York graf-based expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat would have turned 52 today. That fact jars us because of the inevitable Peter Pan myth that accompanies the premature death of any young artist in any discipline.
Though I hate to pursue it, does it depress us to imagine a middle-aged JMB? Would he be still cocooned and slickly dressed, and now entrenched and heavily sponsored downtown, or maybe bugged-out HR-from-Bad-Brains style, redolent in gray dreads, pursued often and obtained for the occasional commission in order to keep up his paranoid existence in who-knows-where?
Of course, Basquiat’s influence dwarfs the downtown New York art scene in the way that he embodied the New York mix of hip-hop, post-punk, and fashion. But our culture also tends to rely on him in an unspoken way as a kind of purified representation of redundant cliches like doomed youth, avant-garde blackness, and the price of fame. We do best to remember each of those features as part of him—and separately, we do best to remember Basquiat as Basquiat.
The first single I bought was “Snow Coach” by Russ Conway. It was at a school jumble sale, St. Cuthbert’s Primary, sometime in the late 1960s. I bought it because I loved winter, and Christmas, and the idea of traveling through some snow-covered landscape to the sound of jingling sleigh bells . I also knew my great Aunt liked Russ Conway, so if I didn’t like it….
I bought it together with a dog-eared copy of a Man from U.N.C.L.E. paperback (No. 3 “The Copenhagen Affair”). These were the very first things I had chosen and bought for myself, with a tanner (6d) and thrupenny bit (3d). I played the single from-time-to-time on my parents’ Dansette Record Player - its blue and white case and its BSR autochanger, which allowed you to play up to 7 singles one-after-another. My brother had a selection of The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Elvis and The Move, which he played alternating one A-side with one B-side like some junior DJ. It meant I didn’t have to buy singles, as my brother bought most of the things I wanted to hear, so I could spend my pennies on books and comics and sherbert dib-dabs. It was a musical education, and though Conway was a start, the first 45rpm single I really went out and bought was John Barry’s The Theme from ‘The Persuaders’, which I played till it crackled like pan frying oil.
As this documentary shows 45rpm singles were an important part to growing up: everyone can recall buying their first single - what it looked like, its label, its cover, the signature on the inner groove - and the specific feelings these records aroused. With interviews from Norman Cook, Suzi Quatro, Holly Johnson, Noddy Holder, Richie Hawley, Paul Morley, Jimmy Webb, Jack White, Neil Sedaka, Trevor Horn, Miranda Sawyer, Brian Wilson, The Joy of the Single is a perfect piece of retro-vision, that captures the magic, pleasure and sheer bloody delight of growing-up to the sound of 45s.
It took awhile, but finally some good footage of Die Antwoord’s hi-energy set at this year’s Austin City Limits popped up on the ‘net. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that Ninja and Yolandi bring some fun to the party. Along with Neil Young, Barrington Levy and Iggy Pop, this was the highlight of ACL 2012 for me.
The truth is, I haven’t been posting as much on Dangerous Minds lately as I would like to. And why, you might ask? Well, because my extra-curricular activities have been getting in the way. Music, performance and film-making are all beginning to take up a lot more of my time, and while this is not a bad thing in itself, I feel I have been neglecting my duties here on the cultural vanguard.
To remedy this sorry situation, I have decided to start keeping an update of my work outside of Dangerous Minds, for Dangerous Minds. So welcome to a new, regular series of posts (a “column” if you will) called Notes From The Niallist.
These columns are a chance for me to talk about my work (ok, and maybe also show off a wee bit) but it’s is also a chance for me to explore, in more depth than usual, some of the themes, works, artists, scenes, politics and people that inspire and influence me. These includes some of topics I post about already, and I have been pleasantly surprised how well people have reacted to them in the past.
But some of this will also be fresh territory for Dangerous Minds. There is definitely going to be heavy queer-slant to my content, and opinions that might be in direct contrast to views expressed elsewhere on the website. Musically, what I want to focus on has not been covered much on Dangerous Minds, if at all. Under-reported, underground dance cultures of the past and the present, the crossroads of black and gay culture from disco and Hi-NRG up to the modern ballroom, bounce and homo-hop scenes. In terms of the people I will be interviewing, you’ve had a good glimpse at some of those folks already: gender-bending performance artists, extreme drag queens, fearless comics and characters whose work, and very existence, push at the boundaries of what is acceptable to “polite” society. In fact, anything that falls outside the remit of “good taste” is fair game. As is anything that that defies accepted notions of what makes a person “beautiful” or “sexy”. Being a sexually active fat gay guy, body-image, self-esteem and self-acceptance are all important to me, and areas that I feel we need more discussion of in general, regardless of gender or orientation.
I’m not too worried about the difference in content, though. I think, after writing here for well over a year and a half, I have a pretty good grasp of what you folks appreciate, and in return, I think you’ve got a pretty good appreciation of what I have to offer. Anyway, I will still keep posting snarky film reviews, ridiculous videos and facehugger bong pics, as well as interesting new music that falls outside the remit of The Niallist—what I was originally hired to do for Dangerous Minds—so there’s not that much to worry about.
My aim is for this column to run once a week, but sometimes more, and sometimes less, depending on the content. Be prepared for a follow-up to this post early next week, though, when I will be introducing what has become the number one focus of my time and energy, and what has been creating a real buzz in the people and places around me, our drag-performance collective Tranarchy.
But to kick things off, here’s a new(ish) video from my album AKA, an ode to outsider, out-size desire over a P-Funk hip-hop beat that’s, well, pretty fat:
The Niallist “Like Em Fat”
AKA is available to download, in full, on Bandcamp.
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction.