September 28, 2004

Rockin' Out at The Rat
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

During a particularly loud moment in Asobi Seksu's performance in the Rat last Tuesday, the three Boston College police officers working at the event stared at the oncoming wall of noise with a mixed expression of confusion and irritation. Fortunately, they seemed to be the only ones not having fun, as the rest of the crowd obviously enjoyed the trio of indie-rock performances.

The event was co-sponsored by WZBC and the UGBC as part of the ongoing concert series in the basement of Lyons. Up-and-coming rock groups Paula Kelley, Asobi Seksu, and 27 were on all on the bill for the show.

Unfortunately, a late beginning and a long set from Paula Kelley left only 45 minutes for the two other bands. Kelley performed songs from her 2003 album The Trouble With Success, which was chosen as one of the best local albums of the year by the Boston Herald and the Phoenix.

The show was preceded by a talk given by Eric Reeves in Devlin 008. Reeves is a professor at Smith College who has testified several times before Congress on the ongoing crisis in the Sudan.

In addition, the $5 suggested donation at the concert went to the non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders in support of Genocide Awareness week.

The highlight of the evening was surely Asobi Seksu. The foursome demonstrated a delicate ability to create an overwhelming rush of white noise while nevertheless retaining a melodic, almost pop sound, reminiscent of groups like My Bloody Valentine. The group has found a considerable following in the last few years and, despite WZBC's motto of "No Commercial Potential," Asobi Seksu even has a video on current circulation on MTVu.

Lead singer and keyboard player Yuki Chikudate has a beautiful, soaring voice that still struggled to stay above the thumping drums and thundering guitar of the band. Asobi Seksu's songs would build up to an explosion of sound that approached the noise of a jet engine, only to be perfectly deconstructed to the barebone kickdrum of drummer Keith Hopkin and built back up again.

The last to take the stage, 27, warned that it would only play three songs, which worked out considering the fact that they were only left 15 minutes. The threesome, like the other two bands, boasted a female lead singer. In terms of the sheer mass of sound, 27 sounded quiet following Asobi Seksu. In sharp contrast to the spastic guitar playing of Asobi Seksu guitarist, James Hanna, who would jump around the stage as he thrashed away, 27's guitarist sat quietly in a chair onstage as he plucked away.

How could you tell the concert was a success? There were even groups of students dancing, which is always rare at a BC event. WZBC and the UGBC will continue to sponsor the concert series in the Rat throughout the year.
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Chuck D used to say that rap was CNN for black people, but today hip-hop looks more like QVC. Emcees used to be journalists who described their urban reality, whereas now rappers serve as unofficial spokesmen for bourgeois brands like Burberry and Louis Vuitton. So far in 2004, there have been 81 rap songs on the Billboard Top 20. Thirty-seven percent of these songs mention at least one brand name, according to Hennessy (52 times) and Cadillac (49 times) were referenced most often, but Toys 'R' Us and U-haul got only eight and three shout-outs, respectively. It's a sad day for hip-hop when one can't distinguish between the music and the commercials when listening to the radio.


Run-DMC - "My Adidas"
Back in the day, of course, things were different. Run-DMC unintentionally started the trend of corporate sponsorship with "My Adidas," an ode to the rappers' favorite sneakers. Following the success of the song, Russell Simmons invited company executives from Adidas to attend a Run-DMC concert at Madison Square Garden in 1986. Simmons promised his brother, Reverend Run of Run-DMC, that they could get an endorsement deal if they took off their Adidas sneakers and held them up during the performance.

When the Adidas execs saw the crowd's enthusiastic reaction, they began to grasp the power of product placement in music. For the next four years, a sponsorship deal worth $1 million annually guaranteed that Run-DMC would never be seen without their Adidas. While Chuck D and KRS-One believed in the revolutionary political power of hip-hop, Simmons viewed the movement in terms of marketing. "The hip-hop community is the biggest brand-building community in the world," he said.

Nelly - "Air Force Ones"
Years later, Nelly decided to mimic Run-DMC and write a song about his generation's sneakers. Whereas you could hear a genuine passion for Adidas coming from Run-DMC, Nelly's song sounded more like an extended radio jingle. Not surprisingly, Nike soon turned the video into a commercial, which turned Nelly into a corporate mascot with as much artistic credibility as Tony the Tiger. The problem isn't the corporate sponsorship, per se, but Nelly's ridiculous contention that he didn't write the song with the intention of getting a Nike deal. He feigned suprise when (gasp!) Nike decided to give Nelly his own line of sneakers. It's too bad that Nelly's superb marketing skills couldn't come up with a better name for his sports drink than Pimp Juice.


The Game - "Whole City Behind Us" (ft. Kanye West and Ludacris)
Music videos have looked like commercials for Benzes and Cristal for a while, but now commercials look like music videos. A new television ad for cell phone company Boost Mobile features three of the most popular emcees in hip-hop rapping into their walkie-talkie phones. Incorporating popular music into an advertisement is certainly nothing new, but the lines between art and advertisement are now becoming so blurred that one can hardly tell the difference. This song was originally released inan Ampd Boost mobile commercial and will also appear on The Game's new album.

Busta Rhymes - "Pass the Courvoisier"
Like Nelly, Busta swears he had no intention of establishing a business relationship with Courvoisier when he wrote this song. Not surprisingly, though, after the sales of Napoleon's cognac went up by 20 percent in the United States following the release of the song, the rapper and the alcohol company hopped in bed together with a lucrative promotional deal.

The October 2002 issue of Fortune magazine describes a memo obtained from Sony music in which the company blatantly offers to include product plugs in the lyrics of an upcoming album by boy band B2K. In addition, Lori Lambert, vice president of strategic marketing at Epic Records (the Sony division that represents B2K), said that the same offer could be extended on behalf of "most of our pop acts." Though more blatant than the instances involving Nelly and Busta, the idea remains the same: Hip-hop has sold its soul. All the fake pimps in hip-hop have gleefully accepted their new roles as whores for corporate sponsorship.