Category: Politics

Ice-T gets back to hip-hop roots in ‘The Art of Rap’

In the new film ‘Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,’ Ice-T reels in artists like Dr. Dre, Kanye West and Eminem to tell the story of hip-hop’s gritty beginnings.
Ice-T“Look around you,” says Ice-T. “Where are the Bentleys?”

Even amid the pleasantly neutral setting of a Hollywood press day, there’s still one topic that gets the 54-year-old rapper-actor riled up, and it’s not his 12 seasons on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

“In rap, everyone is driving a Bentley and drinking Cristal,” says Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow. “That’s not reality. We have a war, we have a black president, we have people unemployed, we have people losing their homes, we have some pretty serious stuff and music is not reflecting it. It’s like everything is Lady Gaga and life is perfect.”

To remind the public of a time when hip-hop more regularly addressed societal concerns comes Ice-T’s directorial debut, “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.”

The documentary -- out this week -- offers candid interviews with Dr. Dre, Eminem, Grandmaster Caz, Kanye West, Mos Def, Nas, Rakim and many others, probing the masters of the genre on their inspiration. The film stops short, however, of presenting a thesis. Still, Ice-T had a mission: To capture secrets of the craft from as many artists as possible, and remind artists, fans and moguls that rap is more than “money, cars, girls, jewelry or beefs.”

The film is arriving at a time when other hip-hop pioneers are taking a preservationist view toward the genre. In L.A., acclaimed indie artist Murs is staging a six-month-long hip-hop performance series, “Through the Mic,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Superstar Jay-Z has also become a curator of sorts, and is programming a multi-genre, two-day festival in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend.

As one of L.A’s groundbreaking rap pioneers, Ice-T specialized in bringing a moralistic bent to inner-city tales. His 1988 single “Colors,” from the film of the same name, captured the toll L.A. gang life has on a family, and 1992’s “Cop Killer” was a ferocious reaction against the LAPD following the beating of Rodney King.

The latter, recorded with his rock band Body Count, galvanized those who fought for explicit content stickers on albums, and the violence-in-lyrics controversy ultimately led to his split from Warner Bros. Records. His 1993 “Race War” addressed whether any lessons had been learned from the L.A. riots (they had), and now “The Art of Rap” culls stories from many who had a hand in hip-hop’s countercultural beginnings.

Today, Ice-T’s acting and celebrity persona have arguably eclipsed his rap roots. His résumé ranges from the tough 1991 film “New Jack City” to the blithe, unscripted E! series “Ice Loves Coco.” But despite venturing out of the studio and in front of the camera, Ice-T’s plea to return substance to the pop charts isn’t just talk.

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Jay-Z rips anti-gay marriage movement as 'discrimination'

Vice President Joe Biden generated headlines -- and inspired a few jokes -- when he credited sitcom "Will & Grace" with educating the American populace on gay rights. Now it's Jay-Z's turn to make headlines.

This week, the hip-hop star-entrepreneur and longtime supporter of Barack Obama echoed the president's sentiments on the topic of gay marriage. Denouncing gay rights "is no different than discriminating against blacks," Jay-Z told CNN. "It's discrimination, plain and simple."

Jay-Z is one of the most powerful figures in a genre that over the last decade has been shedding its perceived anti-gay tendencies, a dialogue that went mainstream after the union of Eminem and Elton John at the 2001 Grammy awards. To be fair, Jay-Z himself used an anti-gay slur more than once in his early works, but he left no room for misinterpretation this week when he stated that the refusal to allow gay couples to wed is "holding the country back."

Jay-Z could prove to be a powerful ally. For one, his "Empire State of Mind" has positioned him as a modern-day Frank Sinatra, and his daughter with Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, is treated like American royalty. But more important, American voters remain divided on the issue, and ballot box polling has shown that gay marriage is a particularly contentious issue among African Americans. The Times recently reported that in "2008 more than 9 in 10 black voters in California backed Obama, then overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 8, the successful ballot measure to overturn the state Supreme Court's decision allowing same-sex marriage."

Jay-Z has been making the media rounds to discuss the two-day Made in America festival he'll be hosting Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia. No doubt by then, more artists will have weighed in with their thoughts on the upcoming election, but one topic won't be up for debate at the event.

"What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love," Jay-Z told CNN. "That's their business."


Musical moments with U.S. presidents

Campaign music: Politicians are playing their song

Parsing President Obama's mixtape: POTUS on Spotify

-- Todd Martens

Image: Jay-Z at the press conference for his Made in America festival. Credit: Associated Press.

Campaign music: Politicians are playing their song

Barack Obama channel's Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together.' Mitt Romney leans on K'naan's 'Wavin' Flag.' If there's a politician, there's a song ready to blare.

Like less charismatic hip-hop artists, politicians routinely repurpose other people's songs. And like a great many rappers over the last several decades, they've often done it without permission. As we move into the summer-long showdown between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, here are five songs recently heard reverberating in the corridors of power.

K'naan, "Wavin' Flag"

Romney used this Somali Canadian rapper's 2009 hit after a Florida-primary win, leading K'naan to tweet, "Yo @mittromney I am K'naan Warsame and I do not endorse this message."

Al Green, "Let's Stay Together"

In January President Obama sang a few lines of the 1972 soul classic during a fundraiser at New York's Apollo Theater. It's also included on an official (and no doubt carefully curated) campaign playlist available on Spotify.

Survivor, "Eye of the Tiger"

The early '80s rockers went as far as suing Newt Gingrich to stop the Republican hopeful from using "Eye of the Tiger," best known for its appearance in Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky III."

Toby Keith, "American Ride"

Texas governor Rick Perry regularly used Toby Keith's 2009 country hit at his campaign events, indicating Perry's Southern roots and his freewheeling iconoclasm.

First Love, "Game On!"

Though not perhaps an official Rick Santorum selection, this effervescent pop-country ditty earned the former Pennsylvania senator's approval on Twitter. And why not? "He's got the plan," the sisters of First Love sing, "to lower taxes, raise morale and put the power in our hands."


PHOTOS: Coachella 2012

Coachella reveals 2013 dates, raises prices

Live: Pitbull, Nicki Minaj, Maroon 5, others at KIIS-FM's Wango Tango

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: K'naan. Credit: James Minchin.

Rush, Peter Gabriel, Fab Thunderbirds want off Limbaugh's show

Rush, Peter Gabriel, Fab Thunderbirds want off Rush Limbaugh's show

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh's attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke last week, nearly 50 advertisers have fled his show, including Netflix and AOL, undeterred by the fiery announcer's subsequent apology in which he regretted his choice of words but little else.

First the money walks, now it's the music. Rush, Peter Gabriel and the Fabulous Thunderbirds have all demanded that their music immediately stop appearing on Limbaugh's program. (And lest you think it's confined to rockist quarters, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which bought a package of ads through CBS Philly, has also "taken steps to ensure that our ads no longer run on the Rush Limbaugh show," according to its Twitter feed.)

If you watch Limbaugh's now-infamous remarks, he uses Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" to introduce his labeling of Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute." As for the others, Rush's prog epics and the T-Birds' "Tuff Enuff" have been used on Limbaugh's show as bumper music for years now. For the record, Pop & Hiss would like to point out that these songs aren't exactly fresh. Are Wayne and Garth working as Limbaugh's music programmers?

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Survivor songwriter wants Gingrich to stop using 'Eye of the Tiger'

Click here for the Times' latest political coverage
Regardless of the outcome in today's Florida primary, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich may want to take a closer look at his campaign's playlist. A member of Chicago rock band Survivor has taken legal measures to stop the Gingrich campaign from using the band's underdog theme "Eye of the Tiger," the Oscar-nominated song written for "Rocky III." 

News of the lawsuit hit media outlets Monday afternoon, and early Tuesday, Survivor guitarist-songwriter Frankie Sullivan posted a statement on the group's official Facebook page. While numerous rock 'n' rollers have gone after Republican candidates charging unsanctioned use of music, Sullivan said he wants to keep politics out of his cause. 

"I'm sure many of you have heard the news about the request for Newt Gingrich to stop using 'Eye of the Tiger' as his campaign song," he wrote. "It is not for political reasons, it is strictly an artist protecting their copyright."

Pop & Hiss requested a statement late Monday from the Gingrich campaign and has not yet received a response. 

Sullivan's attorney told the Chicago Tribune, which like The Times is owned by the Tribune Co., that the artist had reached out to Gingrich before taking legal initiative.  "We've tried to deal with them for months, and they've been trying to ignore it," said Sullivan's lawyer, Annette McGarry.

Gingrich has been associating himself with Rocky Balboa since at least 2009, and as recently as this month was using the song at campaign stops. Videos online (posted below) show Gingrich making dramatic use of the song's extended intro, with the candidate entering rooms from the back and walking through the crowd to "Eye of the Tiger's" signature guitar riffs. 

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Documentary on Paul Simon's 'Graceland' screens at Sundance

'Under African Skies,' a doc on Paul Simon's 'Graceland,' shows at Sundance

A new documentary screening this week at Sundance, "Under African Skies," chronicles the making of Paul Simon's 1986 solo album, "Graceland," and seeks to resolve some of the political static that has long surrounded the work.

Floundering with writer's block after the commercial flop of "Hearts & Bones," Simon jump-started his career with "Graceland," which won a Grammy for album of the year. But it also unleashed public scrutiny and protests, including bomb threats, that dogged the "Graceland" tour.

Critics charged Simon with valuing his own careerist goals above the priorities of the South African musicians he worked with on the album. By playing and recording in the racially segregated country, the musician violated a United Nations cultural boycott — a cornerstone strategy in the fight against apartheid.

PHOTOS: Scene at Sundance

Last year Simon, now 70, released "So Beautiful or So What," but it didn't receive a single Grammy nomination despite scoring high with critics and ending up on many best-of lists for the year (though "Graceland" is being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame). It doesn't seem a stretch to wonder if the shadow cast by some of the furor surrounding "Graceland" doesn't still affect the public perception of Simon.

Director Joe Berlinger sought to answer some of those questions when he followed Simon to South Africa last summer for the 25th anniversary of "Graceland." During the 10-day shoot, Simon reunites with former "Graceland" collaborators such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo for an anniversary concert.

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Singer Youssou N'Dour to run for president of Senegal

Yousso N'dour
Grammy winner Youssou N'Dour, whose soaring voice and pointed lyrics have attacked power structures and injustice for more than three decades, has declared his candidacy for president of Senegal, the singer announced Monday. Perhaps best known in America for his work with Peter Gabriel (most notably as a collaborator on Gabriel's "Shaking the Tree"), the singer with a floating, wondrous tenor is one of the most popular in Africa, and recently announced he would retire from touring.

“For years the people have asked me [to run], for years they have searched... for a new model of government," N'Dour said in a statement. "I have proven myself in the private sector. I have proven myself in 30 years of working with the people.”

N'Dour, who grew up amid the thriving Senegalese music scene coming out of Dakar in the 1970s, will be challenging the 11-year rule of President Abdoulaye Wade, whose government N'Dour has long criticized. The current president is vying for a third term despite constitutional rules against such a run. The singer made the announcement on his own Senegalese television and radio station, Tele Futur Media.

"For a long time, men and women have demonstrated their optimism, dreaming of a new Senegal," he said. "They have, in various ways, called for my candidacy in the February presidential race. I listened. I heard.

"It is true that I do not have a university education," he added, "but the presidency is not something you go to school for."

The election will take place Feb. 26.


Year-end top 10 list: Reissues

2011 year in review: Best in pop music

Critic's Notebook: A midyear look at some of the best music of 2011 (so far)

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Youssou N'Dour. Credit: Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press

Loudon Wainwright sings 'Newt Gingrich Is Running For Pres'

Loudon Wainwright Loudon Wainwright

Singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III has tossed off numerous topical ditties over his 40-year career on subjects including war, O.J. Simpson, Christmas, Olympic figure-skating anti-heroine Tonya Harding and millennial panic, among others, so it’s no surprise he’s come up with one pegged to the 2012 presidential campaign.

He’s posted the song and accompanying video for “Newt Gingrich is Running For Pres” on YouTube, a cheerfully barbed number set to the tune of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”

A writer who often has used sharp-edged satire in his music, Wainwright sings:

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Live: Bill Clinton's 'Decade of Difference' party at Hollywood Bowl

Former President Clinton takes the stage during the "Decade of Difference" concert Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl

This post has been corrected. Please go to the bottom for details.

Saturday was likely the first time in pop music history that a performer made a pass at a former president and his secretary of State spouse at a live concert.

“I just love you and your hot wife,” Lady Gaga said, writhing like a breathy, smitten Marilyn Monroe on the Hollywood Bowl stage mere feet from Bill Clinton, his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton,  and their daughter, Chelsea. Gaga described her life as a screwy embodiment of the American dream in eyebrow-raising language, and she praised the Clintons by promising that “tonight, I thought we’d all get caught up in a little Bill romance.”

And with that she bucked into a Clinton-specific take on “Bad Romance” that left the full house at the Bowl wondering whether this concert celebrating 10 years of the Clinton Foundation’s work to fight disease, poverty and violence had just been scandalized.

PHOTOS: 10th anniversary of the Clinton Global Initiative

The concert, “A Decade of Difference,” doubled as Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday party and brought out a group of activism-inclined singers to fete the initiative and a former president currently on an unexpected tide of nostalgia, based largely on the foundation’s work abroad on a variety of economic and political justice issues and its efforts at combating disease.

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Lady Gaga, at Obama fundraiser, urges end to bullying

Lady Gaga wants bullying to stop

Lady Gaga has made good on her promise to voice her concerns about teen bullying to President Obama -- no matter the cost. The singer dropped the $35,800-a-person fee to attend an exclusive Obama fund-raising event in Silicon Valley on Sunday.

Wearing a black floor-length dress and her signature sky-high heels, Gaga stood at least two feet taller than Obama and the 70-plus guests at the event. ABC News reported that during a Q&A session, the artist made reference to Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old who recently committed suicide after incessant bullying because he was gay. She also read a letter from a fan about another bullying victim. She then thanked the president for what he’s accomplished in office so far.

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