Friday, November 17, 2017

Band Review: City Natives

City Natives is a hip-hop group from the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia area.

They were also mentioned in the Tom Barnes article, but the biggest influence on my perception of them was University of Alberta's Indigenous Canada class, which had a module on life off the reservations and in the city. I completed that pretty recently, and seeing the name City Natives immediately went back to that. It makes sense to me that they are from Canada, despite urban-dwelling indigenous people not being a uniquely Canadian thing. That was my context.

The other primary influence on my listening was their song "Hip Hop Heads". Being less into rap myself, when I am reviewing rap groups I often struggle to identify influences and musical currents.

City Natives lays out their journey in the song, starting with NWA, and referencing the East Coast/West Coast conflict, but then transcending it. (Which they should; it's overly reductive of scenes and rappers.) So I found the track helpful in terms of understanding the band better, but also it feels very personal and easy to relate to. That's especially true for the part about the father saying to turn it down, and resistance to turning it down.

Starting with NWA could raise certain negative expectations about the music but I don't think they apply. It's not that the tracks are void of despair, but there are also threads of appreciation of success, love of family, and especially love for their children which provides a link to the future.

Most of my favorite tracks were on 2017's Dream Catchers. "Intro" set the tone and led to more thinking about the material, but the tracks are also pretty solid.

Hip hop fans should check out City Natives, but there is enough musicality to allow some crossover for those that are not devoted rap fans.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Band Review: Witko

Witko is a hip-hop artist from Pine Ridge Agency. He was mentioned in the Tom Barnes article, specifically for "Mutiny", which is considerably more difficult to find that his other tracks, possibly due to a label change or something like that:

Barnes' focus is on activist music, which makes "Mutiny" an understandable pick for him. That being said, songs about life can still have political meaning even when it is not overt.

Witko's music tends toward the dark. Lyrics are intelligent, but more devastating for that reason.

Tracks are enhanced - though not really lightened - by higher pitched accents. This can include piano accompaniment as on "New Day" or the chanting on "Major Key REMIX". I find it most effective on "There".

For rap fans in general, I think if you like Coolio you should check out Witko.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Like a boss

I have been bothered for a while by what I have been thinking of as the toxic masculinity GMC ad:

"How do you want to live? As a decent person? Fine human being? A good husband? Is that it? Good? Of course not."

This is the improved version. The first one I saw didn't mention things like "father of the year" or making her heart skip" as getting closer to acceptable, but I guess they realized it was sounding a bit too antisocial.

Apparently the inception of the ad comes from trying to claim that their trucks are professional grade "Like a pro." What I remembered was the use of "Like a boss." That has a funny history.

It starts with a release by Slim Thug, "Like A Boss", which inspired a parody by Lonely Island that was so ridiculous it became a meme, back in 2009.

The Lonely Island version starts with relating fairly menial tasks (checking e-mail, calling corporate), but all of them done "Like a boss." The tasks grow to include sexual harassment, but also depressed and self-destructive behavior. It is chock-full of toxic masculinity, showing at least a basic understanding that this brand of masculinity is not only toxic to others, but to those exhibiting it too, which is important to remember.

Lonely Island's "Like A Boss" ridiculed toxic masculinity, which made it easily applicable to memes. Eight years later, GMC's ad team appears to be taking it completely seriously. It is possible that they were not aware of the history of the phrase, but it's also possible that they saw those memes and thought, Cool!

Again, I didn't know all of that when I saw the first ad. I was surprised at the intentional evocation of an antisocial mindset, acknowledged that it did play to the current zeitgeist, and was still repelled by it. Expecting social responsibility from advertisers is a sure path to heartbreak anyway.

This ad was a big part of when I started questioning whether married men were less likely to be recruited for terrorism because their family lives brought internal satisfaction. It was an old thought anyway; if we try and understand the terrifying acts of today in the same context that we understood September 11th, 2001, we will be missing a lot.

And yet, some of it does relate. The factors for those attackers were economic inequality, lack of opportunity for family, yes, but also for employment in general, and a readily available stream of anti-American propaganda.

Fast forward to 2017 in the United States, and economic inequality is bad. Opportunities are shrinking for affordable education; for work that is satisfying and allows you to live well; and there are voices on the internet, radio, and television constantly telling you how bad various groups are.

That does not create a good situation for anyone, but if you have been socialized that to be a real man you have to be in charge of someone - that you have to be a boss - and yet nothing you can do financially or intellectually or athletically is giving you that power, what is left but violence?

And if violence is the only way you know to get your voice heard, how easy is to get guns?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The making of a terrorist

Many years ago (maybe 2004) I read an article in Psychology Today.

If I recall correctly it wasn't even specifically about terrorism; it was about how there can be things that are unpopular to say but need to be said, like talking about why so many terrorists were Muslim, except there were specific things about that.

Most of the 9-11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Yes, it is a Sunni Muslim country, but it is also one with widespread income inequality and one that allows men to have multiple wives, greatly reducing the chance that a poor young man will be able to marry.

So you could worry that talking about that could increase religious prejudice or cultural prejudice, but you should just as easily be able to talk about how taking away positive opportunities for the young makes them more susceptible to negative influences.

(Also, any discussion on Saudi terrorists would need to get into the educational and news influences that their young men are subject to as well.)

At the time I took the polygamy factor as a testament to the value of marriage; that once a man has a home and family there can be enough validation and satisfaction within that nuclear family that it doesn't matter so much whether he is a leader at work or the alpha male of his friends or has some other way to dominate.

That could have been naive on my part. It could be that the wife and children are valuable as possessions and provide enough opportunity for domination. I don't like being so cynical, but there are reasons for it.

Terrorism and mass shootings are not exact synonyms. Terrorism would generally be expected to be political, and it doesn't require a gun. Mass shootings often don't seem obviously political. There are still a few things worth pointing out.

With the recent truck incident in New York, that does seem to be terrorism and he was radicalized here, in the United States. The September 11th attackers came here specifically to carry out their plan, but that isn't how things are happening now.

In addition, if you look into the backgrounds of the perpetrators of all of the mass shootings for the past several years as well as other acts of terrorism, the overarching common bond is a history of domestic violence. They have injured wives, children, stepchildren, partners, sometimes parents, but the violence started in their personal circle and spread outward.

Al-Qaeda put time and money and effort into carrying off their plan; ISIS just puts instructions out there for "lone wolves" who are looking for some way to have an impact. Maybe that matters, because September 11th delivered a bigger wound than, for example, the Pulse Nightclub shooting or the San Bernardino shooting. However, is that because it was bigger, or because we have just had so many other non-terrorist shootings that we can't even process them anymore?

We should be talking about things like that.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mainly about the Trimet stabbing

In May I took my mother to Italy for a week to spend time with her hospitalized sister. I have written some things about that trip, but those focused on family. This is more about the world.

We left on May 22nd. While we were at the airport, I heard about the bombing in Manchester. There were flight delays for different reasons, but while in line to fix our itinerary issues I had just been talking to a man going home to Manchester. I immediately thought about him and his wife finding out that they would be going home to that, and all of the thoughts and worries they would have while still thousands of miles away. It cast kind of a pall over the trip, but that was about to get worse.

On May 27th I logged in and started seeing alarming tweets about Portland and TriMet and that's when I found out about the stabbing the day before. Now we were the ones thousands of miles away. It's not like I would even have been able to do much being home, but it does increase the feeling of helplessness.

I tried to catch up on everything when I came back. There was one article that quoted former FBI agent Joe Navarro and mentioned his book, Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People.

Even though I questioned some of his conclusions about the suspect, I decided to read the book. It was disappointing, but that was okay because when I looked it up the library suggested another book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Bancroft Lundy, and that was really good.

The problem with Dangerous Personalities was that it gave a checklist of 120 or so traits for each of four personality types: narcissist, paranoid, unstable, and predator. If a person had more than 60 of the 120 for any of the types, they were probably a dangerous personality.

If you think those lists would get tedious to work through, and wonder if it wouldn't be easier and more accurate to just work with the Hare checklist for psychopaths, yeah, I thought so too. Navarro can spot a dangerous person, and can be an effective agent, but it felt like he did not have a deeper understanding of why everything interacts the way it does. I think that's why he needs such long lists.

The original article talked about the stabber's history, and what led him to this point. Navarro and another author, David Neiwert (who writes about far-right extremism) both talked about mental illness, especially relating to paranoia.

Navarro said that it would be a mistake to reduce the crimes to an outgrowth of mental illness. I agreed with that.

There was a lot in there about the stabber's life path that showed a pattern of low achievement: high school dropout, menial jobs, living in a friend's basement for a couple of years. He was into comics and mythology and metal, but those are positives for a lot of people, even if they show up with people who are less positive as well. (Tattoos showed up on all of Navarro's checklists.)

Navarro and Neiwert both acknowledge the appeal of groups and special knowledge, which can make certain groups more attractive when they embrace you (like white supremacists). However, there was nothing in the article about how sometimes there is such a dearth of anyone embracing  the low achievers except for white supremacists. There was nothing about how society pressures men to win, or what that does for someone who seems incapable of winning in any other way than violence.

I'll tell you something else: when you look at those backgrounds, the Trimet stabber sounds a lot like the Charleston church shooter, or the person who ran over Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. They would sound a lot like the Vegas shooter if he didn't have money, but maybe that's why he needed to be such an overachiever with his plans.

No, I am not using their names. I am also not trying to stir compassion for them necessarily, but I do think we need to try and understand. That doesn't come from shrugging our shoulders at mysterious lone wolves, not when they seem to be coming off of an assembly line. It will not come from talking about mental illness if the symptoms they exhibit are not aberrations from the societal norm but rather exaggerated reflections of it.

Now we are talking about toxic masculinity.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Band Review: Nahko

I am still not sure that I have the title right.

Nahko Bear is the person, and he has performed as Nahko and Medicine for the People, but his newest album, My Name is Bear, is listed under just Nahko. The Indian Country article that led me to him called him Nahko Bear, so that was what I originally had.

Those distinctions may not matter much, but one reason I am looking at them is that the latest album is somewhat of a departure, and a returning to the past.

I have been concentrating on My Name is Bear. It is not wholly different. There are earlier songs that sound similar ("We Are On Time" from Hoka comes to mind).

In a gross oversimplification, My Name is Bear is quieter. With Medicine for the People there is a definite world music feel, and it is celebratory and joyful -- maybe not every song but that element comes up again and again.

My Name is Bear is more reflective. It is also harder to classify. Continuing with inadequate explanations, there are times that it reminds me of Roger Miller and Cat Stevens, but that is just for they style. The mood is one of considering all the roads that brought one to this place. The roads for Nahko Bear involved adoption, and being indigenous but raised in a white home but meeting his birth mother. It passes through Oregon, Louisiana, Alaska, and Hawai'i. There is a lot to the journey and a lot in the record. It seems wonderfully fitting that "Dragonfly" was done with Paris Jackson.

I do recommend listening to the earlier music too, but starting with My Name is Bear can make sense too, because it is the beginning. But if the beginning comes later, because you can't see it clearly until you gain some perspective, that makes sense too.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Band Review: Nataanii Means

I became aware of Nataanii Means through a Mic article by Tom Barnes:

I already knew and reviewed two of the artists listed, Frank Waln and Litefoot, but the other six will all be covered this month, starting with Nataanii Means today. That makes this article slightly more influential (for my review choices) than Touré's Smithsonian article on the Blues, and it also means that this November is pretty heavy on rap (eight out of ten artists).

Means feels like a good starting point because of points of connection. Just listening to his 2 Worlds album, Frank Waln is featured on "Real Skins" and Nataanii's father Russell Means (previously appearing in books and movies that were part of Native American Heritage Month, but not previously in music) can be heard on "The Radical".

For the rap itself, Means reminds me most of what I was hearing in the early 90s, where the musical elements started sounding more serious, but before it was becoming lyrically nihilistic. That is appropriate for content that is serious and acknowledges hard situations, but that has not given up. "Genocide" is a good example of that. "Islands" might come pretty close to giving up, but it's a fine line.

(If my analysis of rap and its history seems off, I'm sorry. There are other genres that I know much better.)

I think Means' music can be great for driving along, but it would be a shame not to pay more attention.