“What’s Going On” is MusiQology’s semi-regular news round-up. We curate a selection of relevant news items from across the spectrum of popular culture, adding our own commentary and contextualizing the moments within a broader conversation. In some cases, we’ll be drawing your attention to news items you may have missed; in others, we’ll try and shed a new light on the pop culture moment. With any luck, you’ll be able to spend a little less time browsing the web for what matters. We’ve got you covered.
Thanks to projects like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, our nation’s cultural preservationist institutions are showing a greater emphasis on preserving and sustaining black history and black culture in recent years. Excitingly, a new project has emerged from the Smithsonian, titled Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap, a nine-CD box set which includes photography from the NMAAHC’s collections, liner notes, and essays. Those working on the project are a who’s who of important figures in hip hop, including artists Chuck D, MC Lyte, Questlove and 9th Wonder; industry veterans Bill Adler and Bill Stephney; music critic Jeff Chang; and professors Adam Bradley (University of Colorado, Boulder), Cheryl Keyes (UCLA) and MusiQology board member Mark Anthony Neal (Duke). The collection is being funded through a campaign on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which launched on October 17 and seeks to raise $250,000 in the next 30 days. Rewards for giving range from decals, posters, and trading cards to digital remixes, box sets, and museum tours. There’s even custom pairs of Cey Adams-painted Adidas kicks for big spenders. Check out a link to the Kickstarter campaign (with lots of pictures of the swag) HERE.
The political climate has to share most of the blame, but a lot of the blame for a lack of light and optimism in the world these days is missing due to the departure of soul singer and beacon of hope Sharon Jones, who passed away November 16, 2016. In these trying racial times, her presence is missed more than ever: To wit, MusiQology contributor Vince Meserko eulogized her brilliantly on blog, writing, “In a refrain that Jones echoed in many media appearances, she was often told she was too old, too fat, too short, and too black to ever make it as professional musician. Sharon’s abject refusal to accept these boldly racist assumptions undoubtedly animated her sense of resolve and forthrightness, but moreover, it signaled a possibility and an opening for social critique that was path-breaking in its denial of contemporary limits on what constitutes pop stardom. Her music looked backwards for its aesthetics and style as a way of affirming superiority over the present.” In the present, her music lives on, with a new release, Soul of a Woman, due on November 17. Her studio, Daptone Records, has just released video for the first single. Have some Kleenex handy.
Documentaries are a vital multimedia approach to stories untold, from the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom on backup singers to the life and times of Nina Simone in the Netflix-distributed What Happened, Miss Simone? What’s so useful about the format is that it can blend past and present—breaking the fourth wall between creative storytelling and historical archival research. Such is the case with a new film, Two Trains Runnin’, which chronicles and contextualizes two concurrent 1964 searches for missing bluesmen, Skip James and Son House. This film tells the story of the discoveries of these musicians, which happens on the same day: June 21st, 1964. Meanwhile, on this same day in Mississippi, Klan members killed three civil rights workers in Neshoba County. This film—rolling out to theaters now—takes this incredible coincidence and historicizes it. We can’t wait to see it.
In many circles, digital cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have become all the rage, and while you may not be a hacker, it is worth understanding this new form of money should it take hold at a future time. Now seems as good a time as ever: Simply put, cryptocurrencies are digital assets that are designed to function like money. Computers create them; markets dictate their value. Last week, rapper Ghostface Killah announced “Cream Capital,” a new foray that will bring the new currencies into the hands of new users through the sale of “coins” on November 11. Of course taking its name from the canonical Wu Tang song, Cream Capital has also been granted the trademark for “Crypto Rules Everything Around Me.”