I’m in Nuremberg and I just got back from eating dumplings in the woods (not a euphemism), so there’s only a sliver of blogging time available. I recommend checking out my German friends at Being Hunted (as mentioned here several times, a huge influence on this blog) and their rewind to the Kate Moss tee leak of 2004 and the line sheets it was taken from are worth revisiting. That whole incident preempts the blog boom of 2005. As an apology for my slackness, I’ve accompanied this with a photo of Guru and Heather B from a 20-year old Spin piece. Was this some kind of official Champion photoshoot? Champion jersey dresses, tees and backgrounds, plus an GFS hat on Guru’s head captures the era nicely. I want to know more about this.
I don’t have much of an inclination to be a writer or journalist. If an opportunity arises, I’m occasionally keen to participate, but the assumption of free work and a brief period spent in the competitive wastelands of fishing for freelance work soured any keenness I once displayed. I still enjoy interviewing people and maintain a wish list of subjects I’d love to document a conversation with. On the writing front, I’d sooner write a brief piece on a product for a brand for money than waste my energy peddling glorified advertorial for nothing. I think out-and-out corporate copy is a little more honest.
Despite this cautious approach, I wanted to speak to my friend Maxime Buchi because he doesn’t deal in one-word replies and because he asked if I wanted to conduct an interview to coincide with the release of Sang Bleu #6. If you have common ground but never grew up together, it’s strange how much conversation discusses other people’s past and output without ever broaching personal stories. If you know Mr. Buchi, you know that he’s an intense individual with a multitude of philosophies.
After conducting this interview almost a year ago in an incredibly noisy branch of Byron Burger (where background sound and dense dialogue muffled by food munching made it hell to transcribe), our outlet to publish it made the decision to stop running features. A few other outlets were approached but they wanted it edited down, which we felt rendered it pointless (and made me give up on magazines that operate within the industry I work entirely) and a mismatch for Sang Bleu’s glorious sprawl. Another good friend, Nick Schonberger wrote a great intro, but still, we had no choice getting our doomed chat published anywhere – either digitally or on paper – so Maxime upped it on the Sang Bleu site a couple of days ago. I’m blaming Maxime for any typos too. Here’s an extract:
GARY: You’ve got a Gucci Mane tattoo. What incited that addition to your body?
MAXIME: Gucci Mane as a rapper is pushing what I think is postmodern. He represents my idea of postmodernism in rap. Even before the albums he was representing something extreme and new in the same way as NWA back then. If you listen to it now, late 1980s rap was so theatrical. And then in the early 1990s, tension started building up. If you listen to NWA going into ‘The Chronic’ and if you listen to Ice Cube’s solo albums you can feel that it’s getting more and more serious.
G: It reaches an apex around 1992.
M: With the LA Riots.
G: When’s the first time you saw tattooing in hip-hop? Tone Loc’s Crip tattoos were early. There were a lot of shoulder tattoos but Treach from Naughty by Nature seemed to be on forearms early.
M: You know what? I just remembered the other day, that the first rap tattoo I remember was a French rapper from the group NTM.
G: What was the tattoo?
M: It was a logo that MODE2 designed.
G: MODE2′s and Chrome Angelz’ work lends itself to a tattoo very well.
M: MODE2 designed that logo and it was the cover of their very first single. It was a mini CD. Joey Starr had it tattooed at the top of his shoulder. You can see it in the video of ‘Le Monde De Demain.’ If I remember well, I even got it as a sticker in on of the early issue of infamous french rap fanzine ‘Get Busy,’ I am not talking about the watered-down 2000 resurrection, but about the early 90′s photocopied ones. The first copy I got — the one with the sticker — had a MODE2 illustration on the cover too. I still have it. It’s amazing. I used to think that the first rap related tattoo I was struck by was in the Warren G ‘Regulate’ CD booklet.
G: The ‘Long Beach’ back piece?
M: Yes. It’s so good.
G: You grew up in Switzerland. What was the hip-hop scene like there? Is it like Germany, where people really get into things?
M: Yes. I have a feeling that hip-hop kicked off in France and Germany as a very serious cultural thing. Switzerland came early too. Bambaata used to visit. We had the Zulu Nation, of which I was a member. Those who could were traveling to NY as if it was going to Mecca.
G: If you can only get certain things sent over, you’re going to get serious. What got you into hip-hop?
M: Rap. I grew up in a very political environment and my parents were very left wing.
G: Were they bohemians?
M: Kind of. In a Swiss way, whatever that means! They had strong values. I read ‘The Communist Manifesto’ when I was a teenager. I declared I was a communist when I was 12. Obviously, I didn’t know what it really meant, but I could understand and agreed people should generally be more equal. My grandmother was an Italian Protestant. We had that obsession with America right out of post war Italy. And also because of the hippy culture my parents were into.
G: Did your parents have any interest in the Black Panthers?
M: Absolutely. My parents didn’t like punk. For them it wasn’t an option. It influenced me. For them rap was that fight in America for civil rights. Obviously, they couldn’t understand the lyrics – then they might have had another opinion. They might have had another opinion. The first rap I heard was Run DMC’s ‘Tougher Than Leather’ which was pretty hardcore. Rhythmically and lyrically it’s pretty tough. From then onwards I was only interested in things that were tough sounding.
G: Getting a backpiece as a first tattoo is a bold move. Don’t most people end with that?
M: In Japanese tattooing you start with your back then expand to your entire body and that’s totally how I approached it. I was totally ready for such a commitment. I had been considering my tattoo for a long time. That’s just the way I am. A backpiece is a personal and symbolic investment. It’s like having a good watch. Not a lot of people know, but those that know appreciate.
Jorg at Beinghunted has started talking about the origins of his site. I’ve long cited BH as a key inspiration on what I do and with the current array of content management tools, sites like that being updated in HTML makes them seem like something from another world. Ease-of-use 12 years later is staggering, but as the man points out, it still works. I remember seeing the Hideout version of the Nike Presto on there (see above) in late 2001 and desperately hunting them until they mentioned that they were a one-off a few weeks later. Were they made by Nike? I’ve never known, but that Jordan IV Cement theme seemed unique at the time. Bear in mind that these were the days when an Alpha Project shoe could appear in a major Hollywood production, like this cameo from the Zoom Seismic in 2000’s Hollow Man.
The Mo’ Wax Urban Archeology trailer shows that James Lavelle and everybody else involved seems to have plenty to dig through. This video was presumably meant to coincide with a Kickstarter link to raise book and exhibition money, but at least it’s happening. There’s plenty of Mo’ Wax music I couldn’t listen to in 2013, but the imagery and ephemera collated is something I’m keen to see. Will the Mo’ Wax Bulletin Board get a mention too? That was a key digital nerd meet up spot to see in a new century and wait for releases that never seemed to happen.
Has it really been 20 years since Koon, Powell, Wind, Briseño and Solano were acquitted, LA burned, Perry Farrell masturbated multiple times and then everybody declared war on rap and announced that everything with an f-word was “gangsta”? It led to ‘Get the Fist’ — not a pro-fisting anthem, but a charity record that’s better than Live Aid II and III’s reminder that 1989 and 2004 were dark musical times, but not as good as Springsteen and Run-DMC condemning Sun City. I remember footage of Positive K, Biz and MC Serch’s albums being sent beneath the steamroller during the storm over that crappy ‘Cop Killer’ song too.
Still, it was nice to feel like you weren’t meant to be listening to the music — authorities, parents and even the artists goading me and calling me a cracker made the experience fun. Now it wants to be your friend — it retweets you and collaborates with Katy Perry, then saunters off and reworks an Aston Martin. Hip-hop practically strokes your balls and asks how your day at work was. Things done changed. I still can’t resist the lure of the rap autobiography – DMX, Ice-T, 50 Cent, Jay-Z (a decent read beyond the lyrical deconstructions), Common and J-Zone’s efforts were decent in their own ways, but Prodigy set the standard with ‘My Infamous Life’ by talking smack as if he was never going to be released and not letting too much truth get in the way of a good yarn. That seems to have instigated some impending tomes — Lil’ Kim’s ‘The Price of Loyalty’ drops in June, ‘Bizzy By Choice, Bone By Blood’ by Bizzy Bone, ‘The Dynasty: Sex, Drugs, Murder and Hip Hop’ by Ray Benzino arrive in July, Boots Riley has one set for December and Q-Tip’s ‘Industry Rules: the World According to Q-Tip, From Linden Blvd. to El Sugundo and Beyond’ is a long way off (25th March 2014 according to Amazon). Somewhere among all those releases, RA the Rugged Man’s book might appear too.
Given his notorious inability to hold his tongue, Benzino’s book appeals to me – I want more information on the whole ‘The Source’ deal, the early Boston rap days, label issues as a result of the aforementioned ‘Cop Killer’ fallout, the CGI magic carpets and that strange documentary that was on WSHH recently, which featured an inexplicable Jay Electronica appearance banging on about Satan and the illuminati, years before he took to blasting the shit out of pheasants with Zac Goldsmith of an evening. I imagine it will probably indicate that Made Men made classic albums too, but I’m willing to overlook all that. Every rapper used to have a book, film and beverage in the offing, but many failed to materialise. I never believed ‘Zino’s book would appear, but now there’s even a cover shot as proof of life. On a biographical note, HarperCollins are reported to have obtained UK rights to Mike Tyson’s memoir and it’s apparently set for an October 2013 release — very good news indeed. Getting overeager about these things can prove humiliating though – a lot of us have been waiting for ‘Bowie: Object’ (which sounds like an even fancier version of ‘My Rugged 211’ or that Hiroshi Fujiwara ‘Personal Effects’ book, but this time, it’s a tome showcasing some of Bowie’s favourite archive artefacts), but Bowie Myths showcased a “leak” that looked questionable. It was evidently written by somebody that understands Bowie, yet predictably, it turned out to be fake and even the man himself took to Facebook (“Blinkin’ garden gnomes! Really”) to dismiss it. Between that and a hastily doctored pair of Jordan Is with the Nike SB logo on the tongue (as I understand it, that Jordan I SB for the Bones Brigade film isn’t happening), fast news travel and a hunger for information are optimum conditions for pranks.
Every meeting I’ve gone to lately seems to have talk of “a print project” thrown around in the same way they were banging on about an “online magazine” a year or so ago. Unless you’ve got an oligarch backer the high gloss approach will crash and burn and just trying to be ‘Monocle’s fashion section distilled down like weak Ribena – a sickly pink when it should be a purple, isn’t enough. I can’t say I’ve been awed by a magazine lately (though there’s been some strong content) on visuals alone in the same way that ‘Relax’ used to blow my mind frequently. Sure, it got to a point where on grabbing it from Magma, it was all plants, pastels and Mike Mills again and again (the visual angle was important, because I couldn’t understand a bloody word of that Japanese text) and then it was cancelled in 2006, but before that, it was a perfect, progressive example of magazine design — inserts, posters, stickers and those covers…inspirational in a way that ‘The Face’ once was and very little has been since…at least nothing that would leave you with change from a tenner. The adidas and Dogtown issues were tremendous and there’s still room in my life for something just as powerful. The Being Hunted crew always seemed to worship this magazine too (I’m looking forward to seeing Being Hunted 7.0), because Jorg and co know their stuff. Salutes to the LMCA archive for maintaining the covers and the YouWorkForThem squad for keeping their magazine and book visuals stored, even after they stopped selling them. Why isn’t there a ‘Relax’ retrospective book? I still believe print can change lives, but `also I believe that it’s a format that only a select few can truly succeed in.
Page images taken from YouWorkForThem
If it’s quirky, it’s cult now. I’ve been trying to work out when cult ceased to be an appealing tag – perhaps it was the post Quentin slew of chatty, smart-Alec mob flicks that jarred each and every time. Maybe it was Rob Zombie and co’s attempts to reproduce a moment in time that was originally simply a victim of no means and a lack of professional crew. Either way, the best stuff from back in the day had an earnestness about it and a sense of strange that wasn’t synthesised. All the talk of ninjas last week had me thinking of David Carradine’s work and I still maintain that 1989’s ‘Sonny Boy’ is underrated. Alongside ‘Santa Sangre’ it offers something uncomfortable but intoxicating in a totally unrestrained approach to bloodletting and Carradine’s commitment to the film, from his cross-dressing performance to the work on the soundtrack is admirable. Cheap and memorable is a fair summary (like 1990’s unnerving ‘Luther the Geek’), but that doesn’t necessarily make it a film for all tastes — come to think of it, many will just find ‘Sonny Boy’ deeply offensive, but I guarantee you’ve not seen much like this one before. Brad Dourif has spent much of his career stumbling into curiosities like this and I’m assuming distribution issues mean it won’t ever get a proper DVD release again.
My mum doesn’t believe I do anything for a living unless it’s on paper. If it’s not paper, it’s a fad. Pixels can’t compete. So it’s always nice to get a gig writing something beyond the screen. I gave up wanting to be a journalist years ago when I realised that advertorials seemed more profitable than music criticism and if you can write an advertorial, you can probably write copy for brands which always pays more than integrity. And that was the end of my journalistic aspirations. Shit, even angry old Scott Schuman probably got no maternal props until he put out that Penguin book. That’s why he’s mad at a little girl who writes better copy than him. Anyway, this blog was meant to be a work showcase stuff I’ve written, but I only learnt how to use a scanner a short while ago. Here’s a piece on Supreme for Time Out London (strangely, while I’m prone to plenty of typos, I didn’t put that strange plural/singular G-Star typo in the brackets) for people who’ve never heard of the store. And on the subject of Supreme’s origins, shouts to Arse_Beard on twitter for reminding me about the Menace Epicly Later’d.
After this week’s madness (chainsaw hostage decapitations and corpse highway road blocks) with cartels, Mexican film ‘Miss Bala’ (based on a true story) about a beauty queen involved with some dangerous characters sounds even more intriguing than it did a few days ago. The poster’s especially cool with the bullet and bikini imagery.
Watching the appalling ‘Killer Elite,’ I was reminded that De Niro seems to have gotten by on face-scrunching alone throughout the last decade. But guess what? If he’d only ever been in one scene (the campaign HQ kung-fu stance) in ‘Taxi Driver’ I’d probably be obsessed with his acting. So he’s forgiven for the cinematic shitslide. Steven Prince is iconic for his turn as creepy gun salesman Easy Andy in that film and it’s always worth using talk of ‘Taxi Driver’ to link to Scorcese’s amazing 1978 Steven Prince documentary ‘American Boy’ in which cult ex-smackhead Mr. Prince tells amazing anecdotes about Neil Diamond, overdoses and silverback gorillas in hats. This beats any amount of George Harrison footage. It’s like being in the presence of the best cokeheads ever.
This feature on Acronym at Being Hunted is amazing (as is the Being Hunted way), but Errolson’s revelation that he’s got a line on the way with United Arrows called DISAERAN is interesting. The site’s live, but it’s not giving a lot away. I’m guessing that it won’t be waxed parkas and knitwear.
YMCMB apparel has been addressed here before, but my Rhyme Syndicate merchandise comparisons seem triply vindicated by the amazing array of trackpants on the www.ymcmbofficial.com site to complement the YMCMB sweatshirts. There’s even blank tees too, but I’m not so sure about the skateboards. Rappers filming their skate lessons for Worldstar is an excruciating fad. Still, it’s not half as bad as the Dipskate inline skating team.
I hate the overuse of of “street culture” as an umbrella term for what blogs frequently promote. I’m sure as fuck not “street.” But I can concede that the big overpriced, overhyped brew that fills blogs and expensive magazines has gone overground in a major way. That’s not to say that the blog realm hasn’t been a major topic in boardrooms globally for years, but the Art in the Streets exhibition at MOCA and Jay-Z’s Life + Times portal site feel like some big-budget crossover moments to tether multiple zeitgeisty moments. If you’re still deluding yourself that a Supreme tee on your back and pristine boutique-bought Dunks make you part of an “in the know” secret society, you’re misguided. That look has blown the fuck up.
Pharrell buddying with NIGO, Lil Wayne with the BAPE belt, Dilla in Stussy and ‘Ye in Supreme in Vibe’s November 2003 issue were just the beginning. Lupe’s ballistic nylon Visvim backpack, Bun-B’s streetwear fandom on the Weekly Drop and MURS talking Undefeated circa 2006 gave way to a limited edition lifestyle becoming the norm. That Jay would get involved (after all, he’s a business, man) was an inevitability. It’s something bigger than street culture — it’s the new face of aspiration across-the-board. The definition of what constitutes hype is gradually spreading to keep pace with the hyperactive, OCD minds of the consumer – chairs, electrical goods, business matters, luxury goods, supercars, big budget movies, pencils and architecture are all contenders now. They don’t need a screenprinted or pleather tie-in tool to justify inclusion, because things done changed.
Just as popular culture has appropriated the hype, the hype is picking from popular culture. It’s a good move too, because I was becoming increasingly jaded by the five-brand circle beat-off that created a rut that nobody could be bothered to queue for. I still can’t see much on the Life + Times site that Hypebeast, Complex, A Continuous Lean, High Snobiety and Selectism can’t fill up my RSS or Twitter timeline with. Casting my mind back to Slam X Hype, Hypebeast and High Snobiety’s early days, it’s mind-boggling to see something that started purely from fandom become the prototype for every attempt in the quest to win the hearts and minds of a particularly sophisticated audience — you can’t just stick lurid colours on something and tell them to wait overnight for it any more.
Jay’s move is a more intelligent echo of Damon Dash’s (as an aside, I love what he’s doing with Creative Control) America magazine release a few years back. Dame knew there was something there to harness beyond the voluminous denim and hefty fleecewear, but it got derailed by an ego trip. Shawn seems to have lifted elements of that halfway-there business plan in his predictably calculated manner. The site deserves some credit for creating content rather than aggregating it, unlike those curious bottom feeder URLs that lift from the blogs. Bear in mind that Jay’s “little brother”s much-feted blog started life happily heisting content from the likes of High Snobiety without a credit. I liked the shot of Jay’s Margiela sneakers too, but I’m in no doubt that Madbury and Street Etiquette were screengrabbed into the Powerpoint presentation to secure funding for the site.
So if a lifestyle portal like Life + Times represents some sort of neo-hype megabudget, mainstream movement and the blogs we check regularly are hype in its traditional, easily-digestible form, what about the proto hype outlets that helped to inspire a whole movement? They deserve a little more credit than they get.
It’s curious to think that hip-hop was one of the last subcultures to truly embrace the internet, given its power on Trending Topics nowadays (witness the recent afternoon of Earl Sweatshirt awareness), but the notion of looking at rap on the internet seemed downright goofy and at odds with the “keep it real” culture of the time (though these 1993 alt.rap entries are a charming reminder that folk have been saying “hip-hop’s dead” for almost two decades — even during a perceived golden age). Platform.net was a pioneering site on its creation circa 1996 – a proto Complex.com in some ways, that got plenty of corporate interest from the likes of Sony back when the internet scared brands the first time round and everyone threw money at unprofitable business models.
Platform offered, well…a platform for record labels and clothing brands, plus original content that sometimes talked to me like I’d never heard of hip-hop, but let me hear Ghostface’s ‘Apollo Kids’ (RealAudio, yo) for the first time, while hosting HAZE, Strength, Trace and Triple 5 Soul‘s online presence…or something like that. It was a particularly overdesigned site, but I used to visit frequently. It had vanished by 2002, but the site’s founders, Ben White and Tina Imm were part of the original Complex team in 2002. It was an ambitious move at a time when online hip-hop consisted of white men arguing about Atmosphere on message boards or sparsely designed online stores, but it pre-empted the culture’s ownership of the web.
Relax, Street Jack, Boon, Lodown and Mass Appeal provided plenty of paper content circa 1999, but it was also the time when plenty of sites began offering collated information in an English Language format. My respect for Being Hunted and RTHQ is substantial, and something that’s been covered here before several times. 1999-2001 felt like a silver age of online hype culture. Both Being Hunted and Rift Trooper HQ were utter fandom — otaku levels of interest via Europe (Germany and the UK respectively) and the blueprint for the blog realm.
Spine Magazine’s London-based mixture of sneaker, skatewear, sticker and magazine fixation, plus extensive hip-hop content is the reason I do the job I do now, but it felt utterly fresh on its debut, offering the same excitement that Phat magazine offered seven years earlier (also involving Mr. Chris Aylen too) — it also spawned online store Crooked Tongues in late 2000 (that model of sister sites would become more ubiquitous later on down the line) and even had a Recon collaboration. Now, anyone might be able to have a blog (Crooked and Spine had Blogger functions — one of the first times I ever saw the word mentioned) but it currently feels like a collection of vaguely overlapping, cliquey closed circles. Back then, simply registering an interest got me involved (big thanks to both Christophers, Steve and Russell).
Nike Park was a good source of Nike news during the Alpha Project days and a purer time when brands were a little more apprehensive of internet fandom. That would lead to Niketalk in late 1999, and Nike Park’s spam-filled message board came to a close in early 2000 — shouts to Collie, who supplied plenty of Euro exclusive images to the Nike Park and Niketalk back in the day. Fat Lace deserves props for maintaining since 1999 too (not to be mistaken for the UK-based rap ‘zine which also deserves props).
Online stores like the Tokyo-based resellers Concept Shop (Simon from Concept Shop seemed to be a frequent poster on a number of forums), Streethreds (now Hanon Shop) and Shoe Trends with their enviable collection of Air Max and FrontPage ’98, clip art laden site fill me with a certain nostalgia for electronically window shopping.
Mo’ Wax may have been struggling between 1999 and 2001, but their bulletin board proved pretty damned influential. Just as the label let cultures converge (with varying degrees of success), as with the Crooked Tongues forums, plenty of friendships were forged between likeminds on that site, with its noisy intro and black background for extra migraines. Splay seemed to operate alongside it. By the way, if you’re assuming that forums are redundant, bear in mind that Hypebeast’s forums were a breeding ground for Street Etiquette, On Award Tour and OFWGKTA (plus the Celebs Rockin Heat! thread is one of my favourite things on the internet). I remember Futura making some very gracious visits to the Mo’ Wax site too, long after the launch of his labyrinth website and around the time of the Booth-Clibborn book launch. At least I assume it was him, because anonymity on that site was a piece of piss. Superfuture and Tokion seem to slot in alongside those sites too. A fair amount of users spilled onto FUK as well.
My Internet Explorer (what can I say? I was saving for a Mac) bookmarks seemed congested at the start of the 21st century, but in retrospect, there was barely anything out there. Nothing. That’s why I feel the original obsessives deserve a little shine. I don’t think they knew how far things would go — from blindly navigating a collection of quotes and Lenny’s scanned-in photography and sketches, to a pair of Futura AF1s on Rozay’s feet. Worlds most definitely collided, and a fair few who deserved it got paid. Those who didn’t get paid deserve to be remembered too. Proto hype sites, I salute you. Internet pre-2005 seems to be gradually disappearing from memory and from Google search (I’m blaming defunct hosts too), but the dead links and missing in action images form the unassuming backbone of a snowball effect in the years that followed. Gotta love that old-world web design.