This post by PostBourgie’s Shani, comparing jazz and rap’s development as genres and as industries is pretty brilliant, and I’m really appreciating the discussion below. It’s so nice when the internet takes something random you put out there, and gives you answers better than the one you tried to provide.
I really can’t believe I didn’t think of this before, but as Jon Pareles points out in this New York Times piece is one of the reasons that the indie rock and pop charts seemed to integrate so much this decade was simply because album sales overall fell:
The blockbuster mentality that settled over popular music in the 1980s has not disappeared. The 2000s still had multi-platinum pop stars, some who got a running start in the ’90s (like Eminem, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake) and some who made their way through the debacle (Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Norah Jones, Lil Wayne, Taylor Swift). But as disc sales fell, the Top 10 was repeatedly breached by acts with cult followings — the Mars Volta, for instance — rather than mass-market consensus. It was a good time for indie-rockers and for older musicians who weren’t going to get played on contemporary hit radio.
Making the charts still carries cachet with it, of course, and I’m not sure that cachet has lessened any. But the road to get there is just numerically different. As more groups share that cachet, the pool of our core popular music looks bigger, and more stylistically (if not by any other measure) more diverse. While as a journalist, I’m not ever going to say that diminishing sales in an industry are a good thing, I am in favor of more people getting access to the kind of publicity and status that makes significant success viable. And music, like the movies, is probably an industry where the folks at the top can lose some income and still remain wildly more than comfortable, while making room for a large number of other people and other groups to do the same.
TNT did one of their innumerable airings of all three movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy this weekend (sadly not all three in a row so I could have an excuse to hole up with hot chocolate and avoid braving the exceedingly-cold-for-DC weather), and the movies got me thinking about how that series set the standards for special effects in a way Avatar, I think, is still grappling with. Discussing them in context, I think, makes sense. Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s special effects firm, handled a great deal of the effects work on James Cameron’s latest movie. And even though Avatar in some ways is a clear step forward from Lord of the Rings, especially in the power of the 3D technology, and in the design of an entirely new world, I think Lord of the Rings still sets some standards in terms of imaginativeness that Avatar failed to match.
A couple of examples. First, the Na’Vi incorporate a lot of human features and feline ones. But other than differences in hairstyle and body paint, there isn’t an enormous amount of variation or detail in their features. Looking at the Uruk-hai and Orcs in Lord of the Rings, their features are more complex and detailed. Ugliness can be harder to do well than beauty, and for the most part, Cameron didn’t really attempt ugliness in Avatar. Second, there are clearly gravity issues on Pandora that don’t particularly get explained at any point in the movie, but I thought the land animals in Avatar didn’t always operate particularly smoothly or consistently. Jackson had the advantage of being able to tweak, for example, elephants, in Lord of the Rings. But the fell beasts that the Nazgul ride, for example, seem simultaneously sinuous and logical and totally alien.
Weirdly, I suppose what I’m saying, is that even though James Cameron was creating an entirely new universe and Peter Jackson was adapting an extremely well-established one, there are a number of cases where I think Jackson’s adaptation shows a further-ranging visual imagination. When the technology Cameron developed to make Avatar is put to use actualizing a world as beautiful, and as ugly, as the one Jackson brought to life in Lord of the Rings, it’ll be a real triumph, and a huge step forward.
I don’t agree with every prediction Sgt. Tibs over at GoWhereHipHop makes for the year in hip-hop, but it’s certainly an intriguing list. Where I think he’s wrong:
1) Gucci Mane’s probably not going anywhere. Having a significant hit (with critical acclaim, even! Though I’m not in love with it) with Big Boi will be good for Gucci’s cred. The State vs. Radric Davis is selling well, giving him publicity that will carry through at least part of his prison sentence. He may be gone temporarily, but it’s not permanent.
2) I’m not sure Kanye’s going to be back huge this year. As I’ve written, I think dude is overextended and needs a break. And I’m not sure where his next source of artistic inspiration is going to be–although he apparently plans to channel Maya Angelou, which does not have me super-excited. If he does a lot of “me against the world” stuff, I’m not sure how compelling it’s going to look to a lot of people who think he’s turned into a prima donna. He’s not fresh off the kind of breakup that fueled 808s & Heartbreak. And there isn’t a grand narrative like the one that dominated his three previous albums. So we’ll see.
That said, I’ll be excited if two of his predictions, digital sales reaching the level of physical album sales, and the rise and reinvigoration of the hip-hop blogosphere prove true. What I’d really like to see is quality hip-hop coverage move into prestige publications, who really ought to be ready, by this point, to acknowledge the primacy of hip-hop in our cultural conversation. I’m sick of token pieces, no matter how wonderful they are.