Monday, August 31, 2009

The Gospel of Hip-Hop (No, Really...)

When news hit today that hip-hop legend KRS-One will be releasing a 600-page book titled "The Gospel of Hip-Hop," one assumed that the volume would be a photo-heavy exploration of hip-hop culture or maybe an insider's history of the Brooklyn-born art form, not an actual religious text.

But that's exactly what it is. "It explores the spirituality of Hip-Hop, the divinity of Hip-Hop," KRS-One said in an interview with "I’m suggesting that in 100 years, this book will be a new religion on the earth."

Religion has always played a significant role in hip-hop culture. In addition to the ubiquitous platinum cross around a rapper's neck, hip-hop luminaries have often depicted themselves as Jesus Christ, most notably 2Pac on the cover of his "Makaveli" album and Nas in the music video for his song "Hate Me Now," and several rappers have defined themselves by their Muslim religion, including Rakim, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Mos Def, and Brother Ali.

In his book, though, KRS-One is not emphasizing the connection between hip-hop culture and modern religion, he is actually building a hip-hop religion unto itself. According to the website of the book's publisher (powerHouse Books), "The Gospel of Hip-Hop" is a "life-guide manual" that is committed to promoting "self-reliance, dedicated study, peace, unity, and truth."

The 600-page tome may prove to be a good career move for KRS-One. When L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, died in 1986, he left an estate worth $600 million. Hubbard founded the church in 1953.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Might As Well Jump

Bob and Mike Bryan are 31-year-0ld identical twins who make up one of the most successful men's doubles teams in tennis history. With the U.S. Open set to begin in Flushing, Queens in less than a week, it makes sense that the twins would be profiled in The New Yorker and The New York Times.

What is a little odd, though, is that these profiles would both be accompanied by photos of the #1-ranked doubles team in mid-air. The Bryan brothers do often make like a Van Halen song on the court, celebrating success with a jumping chest bump, but one wonders if now the team's default response to an open lens will be a mid-air collision.

Dewey Nicks, The New York Times Magazine

Martin Schoeller, The New Yorker

(It appears that the photographer for The New Yorker was barely through the door of the Bryan home before the twins started chest-bumping).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Agostina

Summer's bartender is beginning to lower the music and turn up the lights. In search of a suitable cocktail to toast the last moments of summer, I came up with The Agostina.

The sunny fruitiness of guava is snapped to attention with Angostura bitters and cinnamon syrup, and the whole affair is brightened by citrus and club soda.

Pisco provides the backbone along with orange liqueur, and the flavors of the drink are reminiscent of the classic Pisco Sour. (Pisco's unassuming sweetness makes it an able, unobtrusive foundation for punches--that and it's inexpensive).

It's a great drink for a party because you make it in a big batch then top off individual glasses with a gulp of soda and a lime wedge.

1 L pisco
375 mL orange liqueur
5 pints guava nectar/juice
4 lemons, cut into slices
4 limes, cut into slices
juice of 4 limes
14 dashes of Angostura bitters
club soda
lime wedges for garnish
cinnamon simple syrup:
-1/2 c sugar
-1/2 c water
-6 cinnamon sticks

To make the cinnamon syrup: combine sugar and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is bubbling, drop in the cinnamon sticks and lower the heat. Let simmer for about a minute and then cover with a lid, allowing the cinnamon to steep. Bring to room temperature and then refrigerate.

Combine all of the ingredients, except the club soda, in a large container (pitcher, cooler, punch bowl--I use a clear plastic cooler with a spigot that I got at K-Mart for ~$10), and let sit in the refrigerator for a handful of hours before serving. Cheers!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Netflix, FM Radio, and The Big Idea

I came across a story today that made me want to launch a new blog titled 'AheadOfTheirTime' that would be dedicated to all of the inventions and big ideas that came too early to be adopted or even appreciated.

For instance, there's the case of Edwin Howard Armstrong who, in the 1930s, invented FM radio only to have the technology criticized and entangled in patent disputes. Distraught that his idea was not taking hold, Armstrong committed suicide (a college professor of mine once told the class that Armstrong jumped, poetically, from an AM radio tower--alas, according to Wikipedia, he escaped through the thirteenth floor window of his New York City apartment).

And recently there has been a video circulating online of a 1981 KRON-TV news report about a newfangled method for reading the newspaper: on your home computer.

The 'AheadOfTheirTime' piece that I came across today is the story of one man's mission to build Netflix. In 1987.

The Consumerist picked up a story yesterday from a blog called HackingNetflix: In 1987, a company called Video Mailbox (they used spaces in names back then) debuted a VHS rental-by-mail service in which the customer paid a flat monthly fee to rent as many movies as he wished. According to Video Mailbox's brochure, the customer filled out a "Favorite Fifty List" from their catalog of 10,000 titles and then the company would ship two sets of videos at a time, along with the necessary return postage, for a monthly fee of $29.95. The brochure even promotes a free, no-obligation, one-month trial.

The method, promotion, and pricing structure is so close to Netflix that one does begin to wonder if this is just an elaborate hoax. According to HackingNetflix, though, there was a Video Mailbox trademark filing in 1987. There's even a commercial for the service that predicts the demise of video stores...

The story of Video Mailbox goes to show yet again that in entrepreneurship, execution, timing, and luck matter just as much--if not more--than The Big idea.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Complex's Sgt. Pepper, "Lordarmercy!

Full image here (sorry for bad Blogger formatting)

The team behind Marc Ecko's music-lifestyle magazine Complex has put together what may be the best homage to the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album cover ever. The interactive bit of web media combines the Complex team's roster of favorite pop culture one-liners. Besides being an impressive amalgam of pop nonsense, the piece is an example of the expanding possibilities of interactive media being fostered by the web (similar to the NYTimes' interactive features). That and it's a great way to while away the last hours of office time on a summer Friday.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cable Newsers Dust Off The Beef

Over the past several weeks a feud has burned between cable news blowhards Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly. According to a now infamous article by Brian Stelter of The New York Times, a truce had been brokered by the corporate parents of MSNBC and Fox News (specifically Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of GE, and Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp.). The article only served to stoke the fire, though, as both Olbermann and O'Reilly tried to distance themselves from the reports of corporate censorship by escalating the severity of their barb-slinging.

"I don't like how they handle themselves. I don't like NBC News." O'Reilly said on his show on Monday. The Fox News host has gone so far as to claim that GE is being investigated for supplying components of roadside bombs being used against American soldiers (a report that GE today described as "maliciously false"). Olbermann, for his part, has continued to name O'Reilly the "Worst Person in the World."

The feud certainly seems to be a success as far as ratings are concerned, especially for O'Reilly. His "Factor" scored over 1 million viewers on Monday in the 25-54 demographic and Wednesday's broadcast saw that number increase to 1.08 million, a high for the year.

Fostering a feud for the sake of publicity is nothing new, though, as Olbermann and O'Reilly appear to be following the long-held rap tradition of the Beef. The two make good adversaries: each are supported by ruthless businessmen and propped up by some of the biggest media entities in the game.

The most famous rap beef is, of course, the East Coast vs. West Coast feud that centered on the Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur. In the years since, Jay-Z and Nas have picked up the tradition as well as 50-Cent and The Game.

Here's a breakdown of Olbermann-O'Reilly and 2Pac-Biggie...

Olberman-OReilly Beef

Monday, August 10, 2009

Timberwolves, Rec Specs, and a Clothesline

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced today that they have named Rec Specs spokesmodel and mustache aficionado Kurt Rambis as their new head coach. It's a move that the basketball gods must have nudged a bit for their own amusement: you see, Rambis is replacing Kevin McHale on the sideline roughly 25 years after the two met in the NBA Finals and Rambis's head met with McHale's lanky forearm on the way to the basket.

As the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes, "Now, the working man's power forward who headed toward the basket for a layup so long ago will replace the future Hall of Fame player who once laid him flat on his back."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Google Threatens to Kill Microfiche Industry

The struggling microfiche industry was struck another blow yesterday as online advertising profiteer Google announced that it was quadrupling the size of its Google News Search index of historical newspapers. The Mountain View, California-based company will now make historical text from newspapers such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Halifax Gazette available online.

In response to this recent development, the Associated Microfiche Association board of directors announced that it will launch an industry initiative to protect old news content "from misappropriation online." In an interview with The New York Times, Tom Shirley, The AMA’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a historical news article online was “a gross misuse of valuable historical content in a modern environment.”

The AMA announcement is a clear attempt to tackle a problem which the industry has been facing for some years: that of competition from search engines and aggregators such as Google, which index newspaper content and hence reduce the amount of time that people spend on microfiche systems.

Duane Henry, a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, has even suggested that Google take an active role in saving microfiche systems. "It stands to reason that Google and corporations like it," Henry wrote in a recent editorial the San Francisco Chronicle, "should begin to take on greater civic responsibility for microfiche's plight."