Tuesday, 16 April 2013


   If you've been living under a rock or have zero interest in hip hop you may not have heard about Rick Ross's recent controversy. Reebok (who sponsored Ross) dropped him because he dropped this lyric-

'put molly (mdma) in her champagne, she aint even know it, took her home and enjoyed that, she aint even know it'

on this song


Ross is advocating date rape. Reebok dropped him. No brainer. 

   A couple things have come up in my corners of the internet that I think need addressing. The first one was in a happy article by Bridget Minamore on the Poejazzi website called What To Do When You Rap Something Stupid. It's good. Read it here http://www.poejazzi.com/what-to-do-when-you-rap-something-stupid/ 

got a third man boob, he aint even know it
   Bridget differentiates between Rick Ross's lyrics and the misogynist bars by rappers like Eminem and Tyler The Creator. The latter MC's frame their misogyny in psychosis and fantasy by taking on personas; Slim Shady and Wolf Haley respectively. The general argument from fans of Tyler, Eminem and artists like them, is that they aren't glamorising sexual violence, homophobia etc. The aforementioned personas are unhappy and clearly insane, not to mention fictional, so why would anyone want to even begin to emulate the things they're talking about.
   Rick Ross however, despite being the king of fictional lyrics, has dropped a rape bar 'off-persona'. Ross isn't a very good rapper. His whole career has been built on a fictional crime-lord/hustler/serial-killer/glamour-god image. People don't actively want to be Rick Ross, he's not a very healthy man, but they'd love to emulate his 'lifestyle'. If he's talking about rape, that shit serious. And he is casual with it. Listen to the song. Not. Impressed.

   That's why Ross is a candidate for our scorn and Tyler and Em aren't.

   It's an argument.

   I certainly agree that Ross's bars are gross, effed and that he should've been dropped by Reebok. However Eminem and Tyler and their misogyny-trolls, of which their are depressingly many, get off lightly in my book.

Art, see?
   Music is art. Music is entertainment. Art and entertainment bleed into one another. In my formative years I only listened to (and produced) abrasive sounds. I am super aware that there are elements of our personalities we suppress and they can be explored in art and that is exciting. There are certain corners of the musical ocean where these primal, animalistic and generally quite impolite sections of the psyche can be tapped into to make horrible and thrilling music. I'm never going to get down with someone's inner rapist but I'm acknowledging these darker facets of humanity exist and recognising that art is a place where we can safely experience them.

   'So why can't Eminem and Tyler explore their darker sides on their records, Thought Police?'

    Eminem and Tyler are great rappers. Whatever they rap about, it's got to sound good. When you make rape lyrics sound good on a beat, that's a problem.  Listeners are bopping along having a great time, feeling full of that excellent feeling that good hip hop can evoke, and the lyrics are hateful and violently misogynistic.  That's one screwed-up juxtaposition. Making something sound good is a form of glamorisation. Looking good is another. Combine the two, that's a noxious cocktail. There are a million ways to be animalistic or provocative in lyrics or performance. An artist chooses to use rape imagery or misogyny. That is a choice they make with their adult minds which they are responsible for. The persona argument doesn't wash. Ultimately, it's using rape in entertainment and while maybe not directly endorsing it, the artist is a long, long, long way from condemning it.

Which leads neatly into the second thing; Last week Evidence posted a well observed but quite unsavoury series of tweets. Evidence is a dope rapper, used to be in Dilated Peoples, I guess he's buddies with Rick Ross. He tweeted

'Drugs and murder will get you sponsored. Rape, not so much.'

First, lets address the drugs thing. Drugs are against the law and 'supply' convictions carry higher sentences than rape (this in itself is so mind-blowingly insane that my innards knot themselves in sadness). But ethically, drugs are a grey area. While there are certainly drug pushers in the world, the average dealer is meeting a demand with a supply. Most drug users have only themselves to gain consent from. Drugs are a world apart from rape and murder. Reebok were probably a bit silly sponsoring Rick Ross in the first place, but here's some pretty solid reasons why rape lyrics are not such a good look.

Sobering Statistic Warning

In the England and Wales there are approximately 85,000 reported rapes a year, over 400,000 sexual assaults, and 1 in 5 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. (source:http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Statistics2.php)

I did a bit of maths. That means 1 in 123 women will be victims of sexual assault or rape each year. How many women do you know? Check your FB list. I bet it's more than 123.

And around 1,328 women are sexually assaulted or raped in England and Wales every DAY.

In England and Wales there are 550-600 murders a YEAR. (source:http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jul/14/crime-statistics-england-wales)

485,000 Vs 600. That's fucking why.

This is why we need to condemn rape lyrics from ALL ARTISTS. I'm not saying boycott them, no one pays for music anyway, but do the fuck away with hero worship and speak against it. Free speech is a beautiful thing and misogynists are entitled to it as much as the rest of us. If we demonise Tyler The Creator kids will love him more. And rightfully so. But if we speak openly and coolly about why misogyny in music is effed, we make an argument that doesn't isolate anyone. We have to acknowledge the fact that this music is good. It's good music. I'm not a massive Eminem fan but Tyler is haaard and I can get down with Ross when I'm feeling ridiculous. I was gobsmacked by the above stats. Who wouldn't be? The majority of people don't know how widely the effects of these problems are felt, so why would MC's? But if attitudes change for the better, successful artists won't be able to spray such hateful content, in persona or otherwise.

'can't wait'
I think what I'm saying is 'be cool'. A measured argument is better than a frantic one. If we're cool then the fence-sitters and don't-carers might want to get onside. Ya dig? (that's cool, right?)

But what about the argument that artists are prisms for the world in which we all inhabit and that the misogyny in hip hop is a direct reflection of the non-stop bludgeoning sexism we are confronted with on a minute-to-minute basis?

Well, that's another blog.

And it's a long one.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Justin Beiber Ruined My Workshop

   As anyone in the 'industry' will tell you, poetry, drinking tea and watching movies doesn't always pay that fantastically. To make ends meet, us poet types will often run writing workshops in schools/prisons/youth centres etc. Over the years I've facilitated on a fair few projects and now also deliver sexual health, substance misuse and healthy relationship workshops for a brilliant, London-based charity. I was running a workshop recently and a ubiquitous, shuffling chipmunk really stuffed it up.

he shuffles
   It was a Friday and the last session of the day. We were running substance misuse classes with Yr 7's, so mainly covering smoking, alcohol and cannabis. There aren't many 12 year olds going in on Ketamine in London, even on the mean streets of Marylebone. We keep to the essentials. We'd run the same workshop three times and it was going smooooth. Then the Beiber came up.
  We were running an exercise on peer pressure in which all the students try and persuade one student to do something. In this case it was to smoke a cigarette. It was all gravy until someone dropped the line 'Justin Bieber does it'. At which point the volunteer student collapsed in a mock faint and everyone started squealing in pubescent delight (it was a girl's school). We swiftly regained control and highlighted the ludicrousness of said persuasion. Unfortunately, the mere mention of the bequiffed weasel's name was enough to intoxicate the rest of the session, and he became a recurring theme. And each time his name came out, girls squeaked, or fake-swooned or did a little shimmy of glee.

   It's bad enough that he is a recurring theme in the world, let alone in my working life. But that's not the point.

   I'd not worked with many exclusively female classes at that age group before. I never would have thought that bright, clever young girls in the UK would be so enamoured with such a vomit-inducing string of cheese. But they are. Bummer, eh? I'd never cared what Justin Bieber did with his life. When I saw the picture of him smoking I thought that must suck. To be so intensely scrutinised that having a cheeky fag, jazz-style or otherwise, becomes 'news', must be trying to say the least. Since this workshop however, my opinions have evolved slightly. 
   That reaction; the oh god isn't he dreamy sigh, the forced squeal of delight, the Pride and Prejudice style 'back of the hand to the forehead' move, that's what makes Justin Bieber such a success. Grown-ups aren't shrieking with adoration and filling their pants at the mere mention of his name. Grown-ups aren't buying his music and his merchandise and watching his youtube videos over and over and over and over. Grown-ups (with normal brain development) don't give a dick, they have acquired their own tastes and don't just like what's served up to them by radio/internet/TV. Justin Bieber is aimed with sniper-like accuracy, and suicide-bomber subtlety, at young girls. We all know that, it's cynical and depressing and gross but that's the music industry. He is a millionaire many times over and the people around him even more so. I don't begrudge him his success. He's doing something he loves and smashing it. Go J.B. However, and I hope you read this Justin, so I'm going to address you personally, if you want to make that kind of money specifically targeting young, influential minds, you don't smoke, you don't drink, you don't get a fucking hard-on where anyone can see you. You can go S and M-kink-smash behind closed doors, you can shoot-up speedballs and have your manager feed you monkey fleas while you jerk-off into fine bone china. In fact, you probably should. Behind. Closed. Doors.
you would
   These CHILDREN are watching you. And that's what makes you more money than most folk can comprehend. You didn't ask for the responsibility, we know that, but if you want to smoke doobies out the back of the rehearsal rooms, switch up or duck out. Make some music for grown-ups and cut the kiddies off, or do it in absolute secret. And stay the hell out of my workshops.




Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Django Schmango and no other stories

I went to see Django Unchained on Sunday. I'd been itching to see it since its release and was so excited I brushed my teeth.  The film has split opinion amongst my peers and I was eager to form my own conclusions to toss into the opinion-ring. I love Tarantino and thought it had to be a sure-fire winner. In my mind, all the folk who had bad-mouthed it must have just missed the point or found the ridiculous elements too jarring, or been slave-trader symapthisers, or something.

That's my shit
It was a truly gross, storm of a day. Wind and rain lashed against Brighton seafront and my hangover was a soft, dry flannel between my face and the world. Perfect cinema conditions, basically.
Me and RC leapt eagerly from the taxi (it was raining and we were both feeling flush, this isn't how I live) and split into two groups, she hit the tickets, I hit the popcorn and jalapenos. Within moments we were snuggled into the warm, spacious, front-row seats of the Brighton Odeon, stuffing popcorn and peppers into our grubby faces. Things were good.
But then, about half an hour in, something became amiss. Popcorn quaffing had slowed and we were both shuffling uncomfortably in our seats. This happened a few times throughout the movie and it was only in the storm-buffeted debrief, en route back to RC's, that we were able to exorcise the Tarantino-demons.

For anyone that doesn't know, Django Unchained is set during the slave-trade era in Southern America. Django is a slave who is freed on the condition he assists a bounty hunter, Dr Schultz, with the tracking and killing of three slave-traders with bounties on their heads. Django and Schultz become firm friends and together they attempt to free Django's wife from the most excellent and horrible baddie, Calvin Candie. QT's B-movie adoration is all over the movie; heads explode, cameras zoom, plot devices abound. The whole story is delivered tongue firmly in cheek and for the first half of the movie it works real good.

BUT. Can I make that BUT any bigger? If I could, I would, that's a big 'BUT', ok?


The images of whippings, beatings and other horrific elements of the slave trade were really getting to us. Wet blankets? White guilt? I had a good mull on it and I don't think so. Tarantino LOVES violence, right? His films are not only violent but take great pleasure in the violence within. Fuggin A. I have no problem with violence in movies and when it's stirred in with QT's trademark dialogue and characters it makes for a thrilling brew. But in Django Unchained, the violence is really, really unpleasant. It's not cartoon violence. It's historical violence. This bad, bad shit really went down. Women are flogged with bull-whips and QT puts us right there, up close, in the action. I don't think for one second that film makers should pander to the popcorn, Haribo, brain-at-home audience, but the relish with which we are presented these images makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

Roy Morgan thought it was bullshit, too.
'But it's a revenge thriller!' I thought to myself. 'I have to HATE these people. QT's using the slave-trade to hook my emotion-fish and reel it in. Uncomfortable or nay, I am most certainly engaged, I want these men to suffer. Django is my own angel of retribution, and he is cooool.'

And then, (SPOILER ALERT!), and this is where QT missed the point for me, the baddies, or at least the main baddy, the men that you have spent the last hour hating, despising, LOATHING, the baddies just get shot. Pop. Dead. Done. That's not revenge. That's BULLSHIT!

And so begins the tagged-on extra bit where Django gets recaptured and has to do it all again. Except now there isn't any able-bodied bad-guy you give a toss about. It becomes a pointless shoot-em-up game with a cool protaganist, who actually ends up being a bit of a douche-bag, and loads of screaming.

So what was all that horrible, flogging stuff about? The slaves forced to fight to the death? The dogs being set on runaways? The masks, the brandings, the chains, the hot-boxes? The tongue in cheek, ludicrous elements of the film make very, very uneasy bedfellows with the horrors of the slave trade. Tarantino's deliberately toying with us there but it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and a furry tongue, and I know it wasn't my hangover because I was drinking lots of water. My problem isn't the setting of the movie, my problem was the pleasure QT took in delivering the graphic details without any clear or effective purpose. And maybe the reasons I mentioned above were Tarantino's reasons for presenting us such nastiness. Maybe he just wanted us to be behind Django 1000,000 %, to really, truly hate these bad guys, so that when they get their comeuppance, we leave sated and happy that vengeance has been metered out.

If this is the case, he failed. The film failed. Maybe he just doesn't give a toss and loves all violence indiscriminately and sees making films as a way to get loads and loads of money and doesn't really care about them being good and Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Bastards, Jackie Brown etc were all humungous flukes. Maybe he got bored or tired half way through the script and just had a big bloodbath-wank.

I didn't like it, basically. It's worth seeing though. You will form a strong opinion one way or the other.

I don't want to end on a downer so to go back to the second paragraph, I think the world needs to know this; salted popcorn and jalapenos is the sheeeit. You want one small jalapeno, or half a large, for each fistful of popcorn. I know it sounds crazy but it's revolutionised my cinema-going experience. Check it. If you're going to see Django Unchained though, just get a medium popcorn. You'll probably lose your appetite about an hour in.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Toy Story 3 is too heavy for grown ups

It has been a really long time since I last blogged. Is an apology appropriate? Does anyone care? I'll address it and move on. Excuses: I got a job that was really time consuming. I made an EP, that was quite time consuming as well. And I just wanted to write things that rhymed for six months. So to any previous readers currently thinking I'm a half-job Harry, I am a bit, but I'm probably a much better rapper than you. Swingers and roundhouse kicks or whatever.

So, yeah. The blog post:

I watched Toy Story 3. Have you seen it? It's surprisingly good and tackles some actual themes, but it is flawed and I'd like to expose those flaws to the world in the hope that Pixar (who definitely know about me) can learn from their mistakes.

The Toy Story movies appeal to adults. The writing's good, the characters are consistent, the themes are universal. Grown ups like Toy Story. I like Toy Story. I prefer Scorsese, don't get me wrong, but Toy Story's all right by me. I'm sure this is a hugely cynical move by Disney/ Pixar, and nothing to do with good film making; grown ups have money, children don't, but it's cool that I can watch something I saw as a child and still enjoy it. However, I think they went too far with the grown-up thing in 3. TOO FAR!  

Randy Newman
The film starts up pretty well. I was amazed at how much longevity the writers had managed to rinse out of what looked to be a pretty limp flannel back in 1995. Not that I would've clocked then, I was 11. But there's a story, it's solid, I could relate. The funnies are funny, the peril is tense, and it all looks good and pretty.  Everything's ticking along nicely until the Toys end up in a 'garbage' disposal site/landfill. This whole scene is perhaps too ridiculous but we're already buying into the living toy theme so I can't gripe there. But then, due to a number of mix-ups/betrayals/near death experiences (I'm sure you can imagine), they all end up in the mountainous pile of waste slipping gradually and inevitably into a Mt Doom-esque ball of flame that passes as the incinerator. Everyone scrambles frantically upwards but to no avail, they are fatigued and the rubbish slips under their feet. Surely Woody or Buzz will come up with a plan, surely some titan coincidence will save them all from certain doom. Surely. SURELY!

No. Not this time. Buzz is the first. He turns, stares mournfully at the gushing stream of fire and stops struggling. He reaches out to his platonic love interest and wordlessly urges her to stop struggling as well. She then reaches out to her horse and another toy and so on until all the toys are holding hands, silently and lovingly facing death together as a family. Now, facing death in the movies is no biggie, but to accept it? To know it's going to happen, that this is the end? For there to be no possible way out? THAT'S LIKE REAL LIFE! 

The only true inevitability is death. I still can't handle that. Can anyone? Really? We know it. We've accepted that it's true, but to face it, calmly, with dignity, without wriggling and kicking and fighting till the last moment, I'm  nowhere near that yet. Will I ever be? Will you? Is it even possible?

Death is ubiquitous in cinema, even kids cinema: Bambi's Mum, Beethoven (the dog), E.T. (for a bit), The Watership Down Rabbits, Mufasa. Oh! Mufasa! That was a tough one. But all these characters died fighting, they didn't hold hands, smile wistfully, and cuddle-puddle into the torturous abyss of death. We CANNOT relate to that!

Anyway, (spoiler alert) the Toys get saved at the last minute and we are left dangling off the edge of the emotion-rollercoaster, numb-tongued, moist-bummed and feeling rather ticked off. Yeah, we bought a ticket but no one said anything about having to stare, slackjawed and wide-eyed into the snarling ocean of our own  mortality. Thanks Pixar.

Children don't think about stuff like that. Or at least I hope they don't. But as an anxious, hyper-aware adult, rushing at breakneck speed to my own demise, I don't need to deal with it in the final third of a children's film. And, yes I suppose Pixar should get a hat-tip for affecting me so strongly, and not shying away from the theme, and creating something genuinely memorable, but I feel deceived. And still a little shaken.

Maybe I'm a wet fart, I am a poet, but I can't be the only one. It was just a bit much.

Wasn't it?