Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kenneth Burke theorized that rhetoric was a way to make human unity possible. One of the key terms to his theory of rhetoric is identification, or persuading a man by “identifying your ways with his”. In speaking to an audience, one is able to identify with it by his gestures, tonality, word choice, order, image, attitude, or ideas. “Identification is affirmed with earnestness,” Burke states, “precisely because there is division.” To identify with your audience is to you unite your audience to your cause or at the very least to understand your system of beliefs. Burke went on to theorize that “rhetoric was the use of symbols to shape and change human beings and their contexts”.

In other words, humans use rhetoric to motivate other humans to take an action of some sort. According to Herrick, Burke often summed up this central action of rhetoric as symbolic inducement. By means of symbolic inducement and identification, a speaker is able to make a powerful argument, and even to motivate his/her audience to act according to the speaker’s overall message.
One such example of this is a music video created and produced by the hip-hop group Public Enemy. It was in response to the noticeable divide in Black culture in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The unity and solidarity of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s had all but dissipated by the mid to late 80’s and black people, though traditionally poorer than other races, were beginning to divide among themselves. Much of this division was reflected in the youth, and their formation of gangs centered around geographic locales. The early formation of hip-hop culture reflected this, in its movement to encourage competition resolution in a non-violent way. As DJ’s, break dancers, and emcee’s “battled” to bring honor and respect back to their respective neighborhoods, there was a much more realistic war occurring in the urban areas that each of these young men were from. From this stemmed a movement to unite the black community through hip-hop and what eventually became known as its flagship, rap.

In 1989, a rap group named Public Enemy released a single entitled Fight the Power, in which rapper Chuck D called for unity. In this rap, Chuck D used hip-hop as a culture, its language, its mannerisms, and even its visual medium of choice, the music video to bring a positive message to a generation of Black youth that were increasingly becoming lost to a violent life of illegal activities. The single was accompanied by a music video which was shot and directed by Spike Lee in conjunction with his movie Do The Right Thing. But what was the motivation behind this, if any? Some would argue that Public Enemy and Chuck D’s only concern was sales. Others argue that the imagery behind the video and the lyrics in the song were simply just a black man repeated what he had seen, without any real understanding of what the imagery he was invoking meant. Was this an attempt at simple manipulation for money? Or was the motivation behind the song and subsequent video as altruistic as its lyrics and message would imply?

The video consisted of imagery that some viewers found to be threatening. But if the song and accompanying music video performance were to be viewed critically, what would result is a better understanding of what on the surface may have appeared threatening or even derisive to some. Some have criticized the video and song as being a call to arms, inciting racial violence on the part of black Americans. Was that the case? What motivated Public Enemy in their creation of Fight the Power?
In the video, there is a crowd of black people gathered at what appears to be a public political rally that centers around a Public Enemy concert. The concert is staged in the streets of Brooklyn. Interspersed in the crowd are young black men wearing black berets, sunglasses and black military style uniforms, as well as young black men wearing black framed glasses, dress shirts, suits and bowties. Both represent different affiliations, the former with the Black Panther party, and the latter with nation of Islam. On the stage, there is a picture of Civil Rights leader Malcolm X, as well as a black silhouette in a gun target’s crosshairs. It is in this scene that Chuck D, the frontman of Fight the Power, begins to speak.
The purpose of this song and video, as stated by Chuck D in later interviews, and within the lyrics of the song, is to promote unity amongst young inner-city Black Americans in their fight against the various abuses of power against them. In fact as we examine the context of the video we can clearly see from exactly who Public Enemy is trying to reach. While it should be noted that this entire video is wholly contrived and all of the people in it were paid and acting as they had been instructed to, there are points that we can take away from it, points which allow us to understand the intended audience of the rhetor, who in this case is Chuck D, the frontman for Public Enemy. This video isn’t shot on a soundstage, but in Brooklyn, at the very heart of both the hip-hop cultures movement, and the sudden turn to gang warfare and violence. Factor in that the video is essentially a promotion for a rap song, then it becomes clear that the audience that is trying to be reached are younger black urban youth who were being engulfed by urban sprawl, poverty, crime and increasing violence. Truthfully, for many of the black youth who watched this video, it wasn’t a disturbing sight. In fact the atmosphere depicted was no different than a large block party or concert. This is supported by the interspersing images of Chuck D walking with people in the crowd and also performing on stage with a DJ.

Throughout the video there are several different symbols. First, we see pictures of the civil rights leader Malcolm X are shown. Also seen in the video are young black men dressed in two different ways, standing out from the general mass of people. Some of the young black men are wearing bow ties, black plastic framed glasses and suits. This identifies them with the Nation of Islam. The other young men that are singled out are wearing black berets, black shades and military costumes; which clearly distinguishes them as being members of the Black Panther Party. In both cases, these are organizations that were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. It is interesting to note that in each of these cases we can see that each of these young men are stepping, or dancing, in time to the music being played. This is clearly showing their support, approval and is an example of an attempt at identification. Many young Black Americans considered these organizations to be relics of the past, but by showing young members interacting and dancing to this rap song, it establishes that these young members of each organization are not very different from their counterparts outside of their respective organizations. These symbols, and the imagery behind this video are powerful. Chuck D could have very well shot a video of himself giving a speech about the need to stand up to those who would abuse their power, to be willing to fight for one’s rights, but instead, he chose to this medium to convey his message. This conscious choice helps to support the assumption that Public Enemy was targeting young black Americans, particularly those who were closer to the hip-hop culture’s birthplace in New York, and hoping to reach them with their message and motivate them.

Another insight into the motives behind this rhetorical act is the person who is speaking at the forefront of it. Chuck D, in this video, is a 29 year-old-black man, who grew up in Queens, New York. Unlike many of his peers, Chuck D was able to attend college, and undoubtedly that additional education resulted in his interest in political movements. If you look at his stated purpose and compare it to the video that he and his group have created, clearly he’s trying to motivate young black people to embrace their shared heritage. In his rap, he starts off addressing his audience as “brothers and sisters”. The lead up to the repeated “hook” or chorus is “we got to fight the powers that be”, not “I” or “you”. This is an appeal to unite, to stand up for freedoms that are denied by abuse of power. Chuck D even goes on to encourage this stance when he says that “our freedom of speech is freedom or death”, and again when he points out that “we need awareness, we can’t get careless”. Chuck D’s purpose is clearly to unite his audience. Many of his intended audience had shown a willingness to die over their “territory” or block, and Chuck D’s purpose is very much to get them to show that same willingness to die for a “good” or “right” cause. This is emphasized by his words several times, but most notably when he says “What counts is that the rhymes/Designed to fill your mind/ Now that you've realized the prides arrived/We got to pump the stuff to make us tough/from the heart/ It's a start, a work of art/To revolutionize make a change”. Even at the start of the video, while Chuck D speaks dismissively of the Civil Rights era marches on Washington, his purpose is still made abundantly clear that he is looking to inspire unity, unity of the same kind shown during the 1960’s Civil Rights Era, unity that can be leveraged to bring about revolution and of course, change. It can be well argued that the motivation behind this rhetorical situation stems from one man’s desire to unite his race, after seeing what had befallen them, and having seen what could be accomplished by the means of unity.

More light is shed when we examine the means used to deliver this rhetorical act. As highlighted before, Public Enemy, led by frontman Chuck D, effectively used rap as a means of delivering a message. The power of music lies in more than just its ability to reach a large and diverse audience. Music, particularly rap, is able to gain compliance by means of symbolic inducement. Rap, itself, is a symbol that can result in a bridge of a divide between the speaker and his audience. In the era of “popular music”, those who have success as singers, song-writers, rappers or musicians are envied and idolized by those who support their music. The shortening of fanatic to the term fan was in direct correlation with the effort to describe the reactions of supporters who unflinchingly supported their favorite musicians, bands or organizations. Rap stemmed from the culture of hip-hop, and those who were rappers undoubtedly shared a connection to those who were within that culture, just as break dancers, graffiti artists and DJs would as well. Those within the culture, as with any culture, spoke a particular language and for a speaker to truly reach and motivate them, even with a message that was largely for their benefit, the speaker had to demonstrate that he spoke their language, or that he was one of them. But the relationship went deeper than that. Chuck D was a member of the audience that he sought to reach. He was a young Black American who had grown up in the inner-city. He had witnessed the Civil Rights movement as a child, and as a teenager and young adult seen the unity that formed from that era slowly slip away and turn into territorial violence and gang warfare. Chuck D chose rap as his method to reach youth who were like him, and by using rap, he was able to demonstrate that he could relate to his audience because he was part of them. This was clearly the use of identification to motivate his audience to act.

Was Public Enemy inciting its audience to violence against all authority figures or encouraging anarchy? As we look at each of the points examined in this critique, the argument can be effectively made that wasn’t the purpose or the message behind Fight the Power. In fact, when we look at Chuck D and his choice of rap as the means to deliver his message, as well as the setting he chose to deliver that message in, we can see that his motivation wasn’t to mobilize an army. The video never depicts imagery of an angry Black army assaulting white police officers or politicians, and Chuck D’s choice of rap wasn’t motivated by the need to hide angry inflammatory speech, but to reach a very specific audience. For those who heard Fight the Power and were motivated to take action, the greatest motivating factor can be seen in the power of music and being able to relate to the people in the video, as well as Public Enemy’s frontman, Chuck D.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Take Care by Drake comes out November 15th. I got a review copy *cough* here's my listen-thru/critique.

They say the first track sets the mood of the album you're listening to right? Truth be told, this first track is MAD soft. I'm talking slow piano chords, distant drums, and a high pitched man/woman singing a echo-y hook. I'll say this for it, though. It works. I can't hate on it because its soft. That'd be like me being mad at Charmin. It's supposed to be soft. I don't think rap has to be hard all the time. And apparently neither does Drake. The song's sufficiently complex, and has a real strong "layer" effect with the way the sound hits. Drake's rapping is...well...Drake's rapping. Highlight of the track: Drake singing "Oh you wanna be a funny guy?" Then rapping "Don't make me break your Kevin Hart." I'm feeling the semi-breakdown at the end as well.

The next track, Shot For Me is baby skin. Pure and simple. Completely soft. This track STARTS off with Drake singing. I'm starting to notice something about Drake. And take this how you want to, but I've noticed that Drake's singing in itself isn't horrible. What kills it for me is the "flourish" he adds in between. Like if you can't sing, don't try to be impressive with it. Autotune doesn't make up for your lack of natural singing abilities. You're not Adele, Christina Aguilera, or even just some fat black chick in the church choir. Chill with all that oooohing and aaahing. That's completely unnecessary. It literally kills this whole song. I do like the 80's style synths and the breakdown, although I could live without Drake's DMX spoken prayer, or whatever that was supposed to be at the end.

Headlines starts off with the dopest synth of all time. I love the synth in this song. It feels ripped straight from 80's. Drake of course is rapping/singing but he's doing it relatively well. I'm not mad at him for this song. I could however, live without him singing "they know they know they know" at EVERY opportunity on this hook. Double props to his verses on this. Drake sounds like HIM. I wanna dap him up for doing his own thing and not trying to ape someone else's style. But then I hear the DMX ape-ing at the end of this song, and I immmediately change my mind.

Crew Love. My initial reaction to this is frustration with the drum hits and NO actual drums. Where are the drums at? And of course, the Weeknd is here, singing in an echo chamber of dreams. But seriously, can I get some drums please? On a side note, the Weeknd's lyrics are mad hard for someone to be singing. I mean...for real? The drums hit when Drake starts rapping. Completely alleviates my frustration. The best part of this song is how well it all FITS together. It's like a really good ambient trance/trip-hop mashup with the Weeknd singing "they loving the crew" over and over again. Which by the way, is right on the threshold of annoying. So is this repeating the drum/cymbal hit. But it never goes over the threshold. That song felt a little too short though. I would have liked a breakdown.

And here's the first song I can't co-sign. Take Care with Rihanna is just too house for me. This whole dancehall beat with a house piano riff echoing all hauntingly ain't for me AT all. Couple that with Drake singing more than Rihanna and I'm ready to check out completely. Shout out to the bass line for being at least 20 years old. Same to the four on the floor beat they're trying to disguise with syncopated drums. I'm struggling to get past the music of this album. And this breakdown is a crime against all humanity. What R&B song just got bastardized/sodomized? Rihanna says she's loved and she's lost in this song. I don't know who she loved, but she's definitely lost with this one.

Marvin's Room/Buried Alive. What can I say that hasn't already been said about this joint? This is not a good song. Drake has never seen a relationship where the woman DIDN'T walk out. Also Drake, even if a woman is with a dude that's AMAZING, I'm pretty sure he's not going to tell her she can do better than him. I mean, unless he has some issues with self-esteem. Then she probably CAN do better. I don't know how I feel about Drake's homewrecking skills. If you lose your woman to Drake, she would've left you for a self-warming Snuggy. Even the Snuggle bear might have given you a run for your money.

Underground Kings starts off with a super dope guitar sample. When the drums drop in and Drake starts rapping, I'm sold. However, I need Drake to rap about something OTHER than hitting on girls with and without boyfriends. I mean, Drake may never have been part of the struggle, but life ain't all just ladies and more ladies right? The most he ever says that makes you think he cares about anything other than women is...uh...well...yeah I got nothing. I'm not crazy impressed with WHAT he's saying, but flow, beat, samples, and all the other things necessary for this to play well in the car is present. The UGK sample is an excellent tip of the hat.

This next track starts off kinda ambient til the drums drop, which is getting to be a trend with this album. But when the drums drop, LAWD. We'll Be Fine goes hard...for this album. But without fail, Drake sings his way back to soft. Though I don't hate this distorted autotuned hook, in fact, I'm curious as to what filter he used to get it there. Add in what I swear is ambient noise barely audible in the background, and this track feels kind of amazing. Drake is still doing his rap/sing thizzle, and yes, he's still talking about the ladies. So apparently, that's Drake's world. The layering of the sounds on this is mad complex though. I can't even pick out all the samples populating the hook. It turns into a rich tapestry...what? I've been listening to Drake.

Can I admit that despite all her ghetto craziness, I like Nikki Minaj for more than her "assets"? This track Make Me Proud with her starts off kinda uninspired, but as it keeps rolling, the ongoing ambient background saves a pretty standard drum beat. And then Nikki comes in with a rap after which she does her Drake impression and starts singing the hook or whatever this is supposed to be. I was listening thinking, that she wasn't doing the hashtag line thing (that's when you say something, and then to make it clever you say something else, like, My shots'll make you jump man, Jordan) but then she dropped the Dolly Parton line in parting (HA!), and much for that. Also I want to point out that Drake is still just talking about women on this one.

Oh this choir feels SO Rick Ross, and that is not a diss. This choir sample is getting it done for me, especially when they start running it through a couple filters, and I swear I hear a familiar piano sample (shout out to Kanye and Common's The Food). Rick Ross grunts like six times before his verse even hits. Is he just sitting in the studio watching Drake spit and cosigning him with the grunt? I can't hate though because this song is the hardest track so far. I don't know how I feel about the track almost overpowering Drake on parts. I mean, I love the music on this track, but when Rick Ross starts spitting, the track eases back so we can hear every word. Is that what it means to be the boss? (UNNHH!) All joking aside, this song is mad enjoyable, even the synth solo at the end. It feels like a Kanye beat that someone bought from the Chinese vendors on the corner. Like this beat has Kayne on the logo.(unless this is an actual beat from Kanye. Then this make sense) But again, that's not me dissing it.

Drake is back to talking about the ladies on Cameras, and how he's into them, and monogamy, unless someone else is dating her. Then forget that dude, he ain't telling you that you could do better. The hook is literally a re-purposed R&B song. If I hadn't just heard that previous track, I would be prepared for this. But I got caught up in the sheer gangsta that was the last track. And now I can't reconcile this track. I mean, you can't show me a flash of legitimate manliness and then go back to talking about "mail me my ring back". Oh and Drake, you ain't getting that ring back, playa.

I love Stevie Wonder, I saw him open up for Jay-Z in 2010, and I gotta be real, that moment will show up every time my life flashes before my eyes. When I saw Doing it Wrong ft. Stevie Wonder on the track list, I got kind of hyped. But then I started listening to the song. This feels like an attempt to do what the early songs did right. This is too ambient, and these monotonous background chords that are supposed to pull the song together ain't working. Add in Drake talking about the ladies and relationships YET again and it really ain't cutting it. And you get Stevie on a track and all he does is play harmonica? Please tell me he at least played the synth a little? And this harmonica solo? Its SAD. Not that it's not well played, I'm talking sad as in, I should be crying in the shower listening to this song. Actually if this were the background track of a movie scene where a guy just got dumped, found out his dog died, and is homeless, this song would be perfect as the lead up to the dude just collapsing in tears from sheer helplessness and despair.

Next is the Real Her featuring Lil Wayne and Andre 3000. We're still crying about chicks apparently. The beat doesn't hide the softness. At all. What is Drake even talking about? Did he get his heart broke again? Does he not learn? And this Lil Wayne verse? Why did the drums drop out, change, and then come back to the first pattern? You can tell that threw Wayne off. They tried to throw Andre off the same way, but that dude can actually spit, so they couldn't shake him with this track. He redeems this entirely. Because without his rap, this whole song is sunk. Also is Andre trying to give Adele a baby? Did I hear that right? No?

This next track is better. Thank you for stopping with the sadness. HYFR could be harder, though. Also that piano chord that sounds like a phone that's been left off the hook (you super young cats won't get that) has me feeling like hanging up on this song. Drake redeems this with his flow. Lil Wayne too. He's actually kinda shining on this track. I kinda hate when he start double-timing his flow, though. Just doesn't match his voice. Add that to his breath control trying to maintain it being just a bit below par, and that equals meh. But overall this track is decent. I don't think I'ma write home about it or nothing.

Another muted piano starting off Look What You've Done? Really Drake? What is this? I'm feeling the flow over the piano by itself, but on this album? I'm literally tired. I just want to lay down and give up. I wasn't sure if that was lay or lie, and I didn't even bother looking it up. Oh wait, I see what you did there. You bring in the drums when you're NOT rapping this time. That's mad different, Drake. What are you talking about in this rap again? What's that? A woman who loved you so that you could love yourself? Sigh. At least I can't say this album doesn't have a theme.

Last track of the album is Practice, and I couldn't be more ready. This track has to bang right? I mean, is it too much to ask that it be the hardest track Drake has ever done, or at least the hardest on this album? It starts off with a really familiar sample...something I've heard before...and I can't that...NO that's not...yeah that's a Juvenile track slowed down. And then the hook hits. And Drake actually raps the verse from Back That Thang Up. Ever heard a dude try to sound like he's from somewhere he's not? No? Then listen to this track. How did you take the most misogynistic club track in recent memory and make it this soft? Drake took this track from the club to the chapel. Oh and Drake? No one's going to "drop it" to this quiet storm remix. This whole track feels like a throwaway. I could live without it. Though shout out to the super-quiet guitar solo, and the 80's synth hiding behind the sample.

Overall this album has a couple of hits on it, and when it's right, it's REALLY right. But when it misses, it's horrible. Overall I'd say this album is decent though. I feel like this wasn't made for me. Like the ladies will love it, and as long as you got your hand near the skip button, you can come to appreciate it. If you really want to impress your lady, throw this in a bag with some flowers and chocolate and watch her be amazed at how sensitive you are.'s that kind of album.

I give this three and a quarter of whatever symbol you prefer outta five.