Digging D.E.E.P.

The Intellect U Well Journeys: Afrofuturism book discussion at the African American History Research Center in Houston, Texas last weekend was a blast and a blessing! Many thanks to Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton, James Stancil, Tonya Stancil, Davin Stancil, Suzanne Simpson, Lily Brewer, everyone at the Gregory School, and everyone who came out.

Me and Deep Mouton in Houston. [Photo by Lily Brewer.]

Deep Mouton’s book, Black Chameleon (Henry Holt & Co, 2023), takes hefty strides toward creating a Southern African-American mythology, its horror tempered by hilarity. Talking with her about it, Boogie Down Predictions, and our views on Afrofuturism, hip-hop culture, writing, poetry, performance, and scholarship was a privilege and a party. I hope we get to continue it sometime soon.

Boogie Down Predictions Event at Volumes Books in Chicago

On July 13th, Ytasha L. Womack and I met at Volumes Books in Wicker Park in Chicago to talk about our book Boogie Down Predictions and our other work in hip-hop and Afrofuturism.

It was a great discussion that covered the material in BDP and then used it as a jump-off point for other projects and concerns. Ytasha had just returned from Ghana a few days before where she toured the slave castles at Elmina and Cape Coast. Her stories, like so many other concepts we discussed, went backward to look forward. You truly missed a treat if you weren’t there.

Ytasha is the author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture and the forthcoming Black Panther: A Cultural Exploration. She also wrote the Introduction to Boogie Down Predictions. Here’s an excerpt:

This book, edited by Roy Christopher, is a moment. It is the deconstructed sample, the researched lyrical metaphors, the aha moment on the way to hip-hop enlightenment. Hip-hop permeates our world, and yet it is continually misunderstood. Hip-hop’s intersections with Afrofuturism and science fiction provide fascinating touchpoints that enable us to see our todays and tomorrows. This book can be, for the curious, a window into a hip-hop-infused Alter Destiny—a journey whose spaceship you embarked on some time ago. Are you engaging this work from the gaze of the future? Are you the data thief sailing into the past to U-turn to the now? Or are you the unborn child prepping to build the next universe? No, you’re the superhero. Enjoy the journey.

Boogie Down Predictions also features contributions from Omar Akbar, Juice Aleem, Tiffany E. Barber, Kevin Coval, Samantha Dols, Kodwo Eshun, Kembrew McLeod, Chuck Galli, Nettrice Gaskins, Jonathan Hay, Jeff Heinzl, Rasheedah Phillips, Steven Shaviro, Aram Sinnreich, André Sirois, Erik Steinskog, Dave Tompkins, Tia C.M. Tyree, Joël Vacheron, tobias c. van Veen, and K. Ceres Wright.

Cover art by Savage Pencil.
Here’s what other people are saying about the book:

Roy Christopher’s dedication to the future is bracing. Boogie Down Predictions is a symphony of voices, beats, and bars messing with time, unsettling histories, opening portals. — Jeff Chang, author, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

The study of hip-hop requires more than a procession of protagonists, events, and innovations. Boogie Down Predictions stops the clock—each essay within it a frozen moment, an opportunity to look sub-atomically at the forces that drive this culture. — Dan Charnas, author, Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla

How does hip-hop fold, spindle, or mutilate time? In what ways does it treat technology as, merely, a foil? Are its notions of the future tensed…or are they tenseless? For Boogie Down Predictions, Roy Christopher’s trenchant anthology, he’s assembled a cluster of curious interlocutors. Here, in their hands, the culture has been intently examined, as though studying for microfractures in a fusion reactor. The result may not only be one of the most unique collections on hip-hop yet produced, but, even more, and of maximum value, a novel set of questions. — Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin

Boogie Down Predictions offers new ways of listening to, looking at, and thinking about hip-hop culture. It teaches us that hip-hop bends time, blending past, present, and future in sound and sense. Roy Christopher has given us more than a book; it’s a cypher and everyone involved brought bars. — Adam Bradley, author, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop

Get your copy here!

New Books Network

I had the pleasure of talking with Alex Kuchma of the New Books Network podcast about my recent edited collection, Boogie Down Predictions, as well as my books Dead Precedents and The Medium Picture. A student of hip-hop culture like me, Alex is steeped in the stuff. He came to the discussion with sharp questions and insight. It was a pleasure.

Check it out here, on Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Many thanks to Alex and the New Books Network for the interest and the opportunity.

 

 

Talk Your Talk

My dumb face.

I’m on Talk Your Talk with my man Alaska this week. I’m the first guest on this spin off from his usual show, Call Out Culture with Curly Castro and Zilla Rocca, on which I was also the first guest. I did the artwork for their Michael Myers/Nas-themed “Killmatic” episode, too.

In this new one, we talk about my books, new, old, and not-out-yet, as well as a few high-minded social-science theories… and the raps, of course.

You can listen to our brief discussion via the podcasting network of your choice.

Charles Mudede Recommends Boogie Down Predictions

Charles Mudede is a senior editor at The Stranger, “Seattle’s Only Newspaper,” and he’s recently started doing a video series called Charles Mudede’s Book Nook. He writes, 

Because a big part of the only life I’ll ever have  is devoted to books, the best thing I can offer during this holiday season is a recommendation of five books you can read by a fake fire (like the one in my cottage) or gift those who happen to be close to your life or who you want to be close to your life. 

In the third installment of the series, Charles recommends Boogie Down Predictions, a collection of essays edited by me and published by Strange Attractor Press. See the video below:

Many, many thanks to Charles and The Stranger for recommending this book. We worked very hard on it. Find out more and get your own copy.

[Video by Shane Wahlund.]

Walk This Way

I was in the tenth grade when Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” came out. I remember hearing it and feeling like something truly unique was happening. Raw, raucous, and rocking. It brought together fans of both traditional rock n’ roll and rebellious hip-hop.

Recently, I pitched the song to a book series specifically about individual songs, but they didn’t agree on the impact or the import of it. Well, while I was factchecking my memory, I found out there’s already a whole book about it! There’s no doubt it was a special moment in music, a new node in a burgeoning network of sound.

Notebook cover I made from the sleeve of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell (1986).

Aerosmith’s original version of “Walk This Way,” from their 1975 record Toys in the Attic, starts with a few measures of just the beat. It’s just the kind of clean drum beat hip-hop DJs scour recordings to find. With two copies of the record, one can loop it back and forth, providing a seamless backbeat to rap over. Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay had already been using the record in this manner.

In 1986, Aerosmith was in shambles. Their 1985 reunion record Done With Mirrors had not met the expectations of their fans or their label, and their personal lives were in decline due to persisting drug problems. Starting with singer Steven Tyler, they would all enter rehab over the next couple of years. If not, they knew they were likely over as a band. After rehab and collaborating with Run-DMC on “Walk This Way,” Aerosmith followed the song with a string of multi-platinum albums and Top 40 hits, entering the most successful era of their careers and becoming one of the biggest rock bands of the 1990s. It was a miraculous turnaround.

Though they hated the idea at the time, Run-DMC’s version of “Walk This Way” is a testament to the ear of their producer Rick Rubin. His production style, which he’d already used on previous Run-DMC records, as well as records for T La Rock & Jazzy Jay, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J, was credited as “reduction” instead of production. He stripped their sound down to its basic elements: boom-bapping 808 drums, classic-rock guitar riffs, the shouted voices of Reverend Run Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and the nimble cuts and scratches of Jam Master Jay.

As a nascent record label mogul and producer, Rubin was only getting started. The iconic sound he developed with early hits like “It’s Yours,” “Rock the Bells,” “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and “Walk This Way” keep him in demand to this day. He’s gone on to produce everyone from Public Enemy, Ghetto Boys, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Kanye West to the Mars Volta, Metallica, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Lana Del Rey, and Adele, and he’s redone the reduced style of his early work on everything from Jay-Z’s double-platinum “99 Problems” (2003) to Eminem’s Grammy-nominated “Berzerk” (2013), even appearing in the videos for both songs.

Speaking of, the video for “Walk This Way” was as iconic as the song. It starts as a fight, with Aerosmith practicing loudly in one room, disrupting Run-DMC’s session next door. Run-DMC then turns up the volume on their equipment and launches into their version of “Walk This Way,” confusing the aged rockers. By the chorus, the wall is torn down (inviting more than a few interpretations), and the two groups are ripping through the song together. The video was even parodied in 1994 by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on their song “Flavor” which features Beck in the practice space next door.

For better or worse, “Walk This Way” also sparked the further mixture of rap and riffs, giving birth to collaborations between rap groups and rock groups and a start to acts firmly on the fence in between. Public Enemy and Anthrax covered PE’s “Bring the Noise” in 1991. The two groups even toured together that year. I saw them at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a chocolate-and-peanut-butter package that also included Young Black Teenagers and Primus. In 1993, the infamous Judgement Night soundtrack featured collaborations between Slayer and Ice-T, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, and Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien, among many other embarrassing pairings. And, as if reading “Walk This Way” as a blueprint to success, acts like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Rage Against the Machine also emerged in the 1990s.

“Walk This Way” was an unavoidable song and an undeniable hit, Run-DMC’s biggest, peaking at #4 on the Billboard chart. It was bigger even than Aerosmith’s original, which just broke the top ten. Run-DMC is one of the core groups of the first recorded era of rap music and hip-hop culture. They were successful and respected before and after this song, but they never saw heights like “Walk This Way.” The song was the nexus of several trajectories and the birth of a hybrid new life form that still stomps around today.

wow&flutter

In 1997 I put out a zine called wow&flutter [.pdf]. It was an attempt to merge two of my main musical interests at the time, turntablism and experimental noise. I interviewed DJ QBert, DJ Spooky, John Duncan, and Daniel Menche, and reviewed records from the rapidly expanding releases of ambient, noise, and turntable artists. I lived in Seattle at the time, and there was so much going on in all of these areas. There were regular live events and several specialty stores, and I tried to bring them all together under the banner of sound experimentation.

wow&flutter was intended as part of a series, but the second issue, attack&decay, featuring interviews with Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto and Warren Defever of His Name is Alive, among others, never made it to press. I still love the idea of noise and hip-hop coming together, and there are others who’ve merged them in the meantime better than I could have imagined (e.g., dälek, clipping., Ho99o9, Death Grips, Cloaks, Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin, et al.)

It’s been 25 years since its release, but maybe it’s worth another look. Download this .pdf of the first issue, and you’ll see the seeds of my future projects like Dead Precedents and Boogie Down Predictions.