Fear Of An Un-Toured Planet: Chuck D and Questlove Join GrindXDesign!

“83 tours, 82 nations.”

That’s Chuck D of Public Enemy, right, giving a terse description of his career as a global artist.

In other words, he has steadfastly carried the flag “in the name of hip-hop,” as he often notes, to many places, just to firmly, lovingly plant it. That’s the best reason for having him co-lead the Wednesday, September 19th GrindXDesign.com tutorial on working as an international artist.

(When I asked Chuck to speak and take questions on this issue, he said “Yes,” immediately. Immediately. He doesn’t say yes, immediately, to anything, certainly not to me. So, in part, that’s when I knew I was on to something.)

That he’s been so many places, though, is not my only reason to host him. The other one is that he often took me with him, and he didn’t have to do it. Ghana. Australia. Hawai’i. France. Brazil. The aforementioned Germany, and many more places. (That, above, is a picture I took of Chuck, one morning, in Egypt, in front of the pyramids.) These, and others, were all sites I never thought I’d see, but did, doing so on behalf of the culture, and P.E., courtesy of Mr. Chuck. Thank you, sir.

Getting someone else to help Chuck carry the ball for GrindXDesign wasn’t a struggle, though. (I say his, despite the fact that far too many U.S. hip-hop artists give side-eye to touring overseas. It’s the food, they often say.) That’s because I reached out to the inimitable Questlove, of the Roots, and bandleader at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, right. (Before doing the TV show, his crew’s 200-shows-a-year churn was legendary, which is much of how they got so astounding as a live act.) In fact, when I DM’d him, Quest was, actually, on tour in Europe. Getting him booked required nimble mediation from his manager, Rich Nichols, to get it done, but it was.

Get on the horn and hear what these two giants have to say about this often overlooked aspect of being a modern musical artist. Purchase your ticket to the entire GrindXDesign series of 8 live, one-hour “modules,” presented one-per-week for eight weeks, by phone.

Tickets are $77 until midnight, tonight; $97 after that. (Save 20 bucks, spend it on more hip-hop.) Everything starts this Wednesday, August 15th, with Rap Coalition’s Wendy Day and Booth Sweet LLP’s Dan Booth. Subject: “How To Get A Record Deal.”


#gXd: It Starts Now.

As you probably know from my writing, my broadcasting, and certainly from my long-standing relationship with Public Enemy, education and information has always been critical to me. I don’t think that education or information, themselves, liberate. However, I firmly believe that they are the basis of freedom.

That’s why I’m extremely excited to produce and host GrindXDesign, an eight-week tutorial that starts about a week from today, on Wednesday, August 15th. I trust that you will be a part of it.

I’ve been working with my team on this for a while. A large part of that time had to do with me just understanding the concept. Brilliantly executed by social media strategist Lena West, it consists of creating a technology format through which hip-hop industry leaders can connect with, and teach, groups of committed, driven individuals who need the information those luminaries share.

That is what I hope to create for artists, through knowledge. The business of music is an amazing, fearsome world. It has produced some of humanity’s most powerful art. But, for many, it has also functioned as a cesspool of exploitation, usually those who merely wanted to get on stage, as fast as possible, and sing, dance, or rap.

That has got to end. As my friend and mentor Chuck D has often noted, even the term music business is over 60% the word “business.” That is, it’s mostly business.

Hip-hop artists may suffer most from the lack of this information. If we’re going to save hip-hop, that, too, has to change. If hip-hop is going to be preserved as a cultural and social system—if such a thing is possible—people who are concerned about its survival are going to have to commit to performing strong acts.

That is the definition of leading by example. We need more of it in our culture, one built by many, many hands. I’ve put mine in, and, if God gives me life and strength, this is only the beginning.

I’ve officially opened registration at GrindXDesign.com. Grab your seat. Take no prisoners.


#gXd: Fear Of A Black Planet?

Americans travel less than almost any other people on Earth.

Most of the hip-hop ever made was created in America, its birthplace.

What are the implications of these two facts for touring, and the benefits artists can derive from going abroad?


#gXd: Is Hip-Hop Getting Better, Or Worse? Or Is It The Same? Or Is It Simply A Matter Of What You Like?

The majority of all human output is of average quality, or trash. A small amount of it is excellent. What we remember most, though, is what excited us, and moved us.

So, like René suggests, was hip-hop in the past—the Pre-Wax Era, the Pioneer Era, the Golden Era, the Gangsta Era, the Baller Era—better? Or is it that you just really remember the parts you liked? Or is it that you just don’t like what you’re hearing because you liked what you heard? Or do you like what’s coming out nowadays more?

What are your thoughts?


#gXd: Hip-Hop Allows Artists To Express Diversity And Uniqueness. But How Did These Become Values In, And Qualities Of, The Culture?

One of the hardest aspects to understand about any phenomenon is why it is the way it is.

Take, for example, the United States. It’s commonly held that this is a country which values individualism. As opposed to celebrating the person who dutifully does what his family or community says and wants, as some cultures do, we hail the white guy—it’s typically a white guy, right—who “bucks the trend,” “goes against the grain,” takes the path less chosen,” “innovates.”

The Iconoclast. The Rebel. In some societies, these are figures of outrage. But, here, they are seen as absolutely, quintessentially American.

But why?

Continue reading →


#gXd: How Big A Role Do “Connections” Play In Hip-Hop Success? Is It More “What You Know,” Or “Who You Know”? Why?

What do you think of Erick’s statement?


#gXd 1


Two Years Ago…

…I stopped blogging.

At that point, I’d been running the Media Assassin site for 2½ years. I was publishing new content every single day, five days a week. I had an interested, growing readership. I was being noted in the mainstream press. I broke a story. I even got into a fight with Kirstie Alley.

But, two years ago, after 828 posts, I just felt I’d run out of things to say. So I stopped blogging.

I knew it would not be forever. I knew I’d be back when I had a different, more compelling way to express myself: Something interrogative, more varied, deeper.

As well, I knew I wanted to confront the state of hip-hop culture, above. I didn’t want to just talk about it. I wanted to mount actual projects, and use the blog as a central location for drawing visibility and help to those efforts.

We’re at a real inflection point. Hip-hop is bigger than ever, right. There’s more opportunity than ever. There are more ways than ever for artists to truly get their grind on: To reach audiences and to profit from what they make. This, even as the music business changes radically.

One thing that will never change, however, is that knowledge equals power. It’s one thing to work hard. That’s grinding. It’s another thing to work smart. That’s design. The most successful people effectively blend the two.

That’s why, for the first time, I’ve decided to not only share what I know, but who I know.

If the state of hip-hop music, the record business, or where they’re going mean anything to you, keep reading this blog. Follow me on Twitter (@harryallen). Friend me on Facebook.

Keep your eyes open for the hashtag #gXd.

I’m going to be launching a project that is really important to me. It’s going to be a game-changer. I’ll be inviting you to join me.

Artwork: “Wack Rappers,” silk screen and watercolor on archival paper, by Patrick Martinez, 2007


Getting High With T.I.

I can see my house from here: T.I. and I survey his domain.
Photo by Akwasi Prempeh

Rapper Clifford “Tip” Harris Jr. and I lock minds, above, in the Westin Peachtree Plaza’s rotating Sundial Restaurant, 72 stories over downtown Atlanta. We’d stopped at the second tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere (and 16th tallest in the world) for an upcoming edition of BET’s Food For Thought. It airs in September, shortly after the release of the artist’s upcoming album, King Uncaged.

How did the convo go? T.I. has a sharp mind. He was frank about the issues he’s faced and the challenges now before him. Plus, the food was good, and skydiving off the Westin’s roof was a blast. I’m kidding.


Harvey Pekar, 1939-2010

Harvey Pekar, above, the renowned comics writer whose life’s own banalities formed his narratives, died from prostate cancer, Monday, at the age of 70.

A mainstay and elder of the underground comics movement, Pekar was an oft and early collaborator with artist Robert Crumb. Yet the Ohio native worked as a Veterans Administration hospital file clerk most, if not all, of his adult life.

It was only after retiring in 2001, that his American Splendor series—turned into a 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar—brought him mainstream fame and acclamation.

I met Pekar at our WBAI studios on Wall St. in 2006, when he was promoting his latest American Splendor book, Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, right, with its namesake subject, the contrary blogger and founder of Overheard in New York.

The late Harvey Pekar, and Michael Malice, are the guests today on this rebroadcasted edition of my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, July 16th, at 2 pm ET.

You can hear their ideas by tuning in at 2 pm ET. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.