The Voice

“It’s mostly the voice, that gets you up/ And mostly the voice, that makes you buck/ Some got flavor, and some got skills/ But if your voice ain’t dope, then you gots to CHILL”

“Mostly tha Voice” (1994)

The recent passing of Keith Elam, a.k.a. The Guru (1961-2010 RIP), reminds us of an era in hip hop, that for all intents and purposes has also passed. A time when the culture was still underground, but standing on the verge of Planet Rock. Gang Starr was a transformative act, bridging the gap between hip hop’s second—”golden”—generation in the late 80s, and the music’s explosion onto the world stage as a defining pop phenomenon of the 90s. And in the beginning, Guru’s was manifestly the voice of change.

His warm, burred monotone had an inherent authority, revealed an acute intellectual foundation, and built upon the broader thematic claims for hardcore rap at the time being staked out by the triumvirate of Rakim, KRS-One and Chuck D. Where these masters challenged the format of rap, Guru’s consolidation of their innovations became a proposition for the future of the form, a statement of its viability and versatility, a formula for longevity. It made of an MC of somewhat limited technical skill one of the signature voices of hip hop, but the constraints it imposed on the ambitious and apparently somewhat unbalanced Guru seem also to have contributed to his sad decline as an artist over the last decade.

Bill Dubay RIP

The notable comics writer and editor Bill Dubay passed away a few days ago, and I just wanted to note it. I’ve enjoyed a good number of his stories for the Warren magazines and even wrote at length about one of them when I was older and more sentimental. It can be found here.

Tom Spurgeon has an informative obit up, and there’s a recent interview here. Rest in peace.

Ron Regé Jr. in Copenhagen this week!

As announced on the Comics Council webpage, the great American cartoonist Ron Regé, Jr. will visit Copenhagen this week, and participate in no less than two Council-organised events.

On Tuesday 27 he will give a presentation of his work and talk to Christoffer Zieler in the bar of the Department of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen (room 21.0.17), 4.30 PM. Free admission, cheap drinks and good vibes, so be there! Facebook.

And on Thursday 29 he participates in the second Comics and Beats event at Ideal Bar, Vesterbo (peep the flix from the first event here). He will be joined by cartoonists Rasmus Bregnhøi and Christian Skovgaard, and — once again — M. Dejean on the wheels. Council chairman Thomas Thorhauge will be MC. Free admission Facebook.

Above is an image from the Danish version of Regé’s She Sometimes Switched to Fluent English and Occasionally Used a Few Words of Hebrew, in Danish shortened to Piger mod smerte (‘Girls Against Pain’). Of course, Regé already has an established Danish connection in the form of his collaboration with the band Mew. Here’s the video they did together for the song “156” some years ago:

Contemporary Comics in Copenhagen – Programme

The programme for the international comics symposium that I’m co-organising at the University of Copenhagen in connection with the comics festival, is now ready.

The symposium presents papers from 12 international comics scholars on a diverse range of subjects in contemporary comics, features a keynote from Canadian scholar Jacques Samson, and a special appearance by Chris Ware, in conversation with British expert on comics Paul Gravett.

The full programme, including abstracts, is available on the symposium’s official website, where you can also sign up. Check it out — and come!!

Image from Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan — The Smartest Kid on Earth.

Malcolm Mclaren RIP

As you might be aware, legendary impresario and cultural activist Malcolm Mclaren passed away about a week and a half ago. It’s a little late, but I wanted to add my own little tribute here, because besides his cred as the Man at the Crossroads of punk, he had a brief but fruitful involvement with hip hop, producing some classic material with The World’s Famous Supreme Team, who were rocking WHBI in New York from 1979 through the early 80s.

That’s Mclaren’s voice you hear on “Buffalo Gals” — “round the outside, and dosy-doh your partners!” (see above) — irreverently appropriating the American blackface traditional, hip hop style (and notably later referenced by Eminem on “Without Me”). That and the tune “Hey DJ”, especially, continue to reverberate through hip hop culture, so what was essentially a dalliance became a mainstay.

Hype: Will I Go to Hell for This?

My man Lars and co-authors Rasmus and Jacob, are about to drop a brick of Danish graffiti history with the book Will I Go to Hell for This?, which will be on the bookshelves on Monday. A hardcover, 264-page, full colour coffeetable book, available both in Danish and in English, it presents the history of Danish S-Train graffiti from the pioneers of the early 80s till today (1984-2009) in 600 photos and 75 interviews with Danish and international writers. Looks like a must-have to me!

And if you’re in Copenhagen, today’s the release party! It goes down near Lygten Station, next to Nørrebro Station. The book will be for sale at the event for DKK 400 — bring cash, no cards accepted. Other limited edition goodies will also be available. Music will be provided by Slick Nick & Dulfi, DJ Cars10, DJ Swingking & Funkcutter Old Chesse, Dj Skinny Pimp, and others. Here’s the Facebook page for the event.

Release parties are also scheduled for Ã…rhus, Stockholm and Oslo — check the official blog, or the book’s Facebook page, for more info.

Hype: Fabrice Neaud’s “Émile” in English

As mentioned earlier in this space, it is really sad that Fabrice Neaud’s comics have failed to generate translations. Now, however, publisher Ego comme X and Travis Leland-Maplesden present an online translation into English of the short story “Émile”, which was first published in the anthology Ego comme X #7 (2000) and is also available online in the original, French-language version.

While perhaps not the ideal introduction to Neaud’s both ground- and heartbreaking autobiographical work, it’s as good as it gets for his short stories. Written at a time when he was experiencing a draining personal blowback, including lost friendships and threats of violence, from having portrayed the people around him as honestly as he could in his masterwork Journal III (1999, recently released in an ‘augmented’ edition), it aspires toward emotional distancing by the non-portrayal of the people about which it nevertheless hovers attentively and analytically. An understated, powerful piece — personal and political — that I can only urge you to read, or re-read.