Deeper Than Rap: Black Bar Mitzvahs and the New Rick Ross

A black music magnate pops out from a Star of David in an image that seems to slap Al Jolson across the face while simultaneously high-fiving him.
The following is a guest post by Jack Hamilton. Earlier this week the prolific Miami-based rapper Rick Ross released his latest mixtape, pictured above. From a purely musical standpoint it’s pretty good in the way that a lot of Rick Ross’ stuff is good: lively, consistent, generally bereft of risk. But evaluating anything Rick Ross does from “a purely musical standpoint” is a little like evaluating Star Wars based on Chewbacca’s acting technique: Rick Ross isn’t so much a musician as a constellation of interconnected ideas, an concept album in human form. And when that concept album suddenly boasts the title The Black Bar Mitzvah and a cover that scans like Choose Your Own Adventure: Overdetermined Signifier, well, it’s best to begin from the beginning. Rick Ross (pronounced RICK RO$$) was born William Leonard Roberts, taking his professional handle from… Read More...

Little Yellow Boy Giant, Terrorist

The seen and unseen controversy surrounding the Os Gêmeos mural in Boston.
Boston is a city perennially self-conscious about public art. A recent Boston Phoenix cover story examined why so many young artists leave a city ranked in the Top 10 for national arts funding. When it comes to large-scale works in the public domain the city tends to favor exogenous creations rather than home-grown communities that shape or foster artistic breakthroughs. The accusation that the city is risk-averse and WASP-y descends from an 'age-old attitude central to the very culture of Boston itself: a city where philanthropy as historically been dedicated to institutions and fine art, rather than to visual art and artists that push boundaries.'¹  The most publicly discussed art work to happen to the city this year, or at least as long as anyone can remember, is 'The Giant of Boston' by Os Gêmeos. Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo are Brazilian brothers… Read More...

Five Questions with CAConrad

The top five regrets of the dying will either crush your soul because you recognize yourself in the list, or will make you smile that you’re free and clear.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet CAConrad. If you are dejected or confused or depressed about the place of art in the age of mass technological fuckitallwithery you might consider reading Conrad, who bursts in on that debate from the bitterly frigid outdoors with a warm gust of joyousness, righteous anger, and hard-won self-possession. His poetry is an outstretched hand with a note scribbled inside that says, Art makes the world go 'round. For Conrad, an active questioning of where art comes from and the interpellation of the writer/reader/listener within that enterprise is at the center of things. He shows you the physio-psychological labor behind that work by exposing carefully prepared 'somatic exercises' of which he is a creator and participant—as far as 'teaching' writing goes, it's an egalitarian performance. In… Read More...

My Two Dads

Every few years we get to play a part in choosing the national Daddy.
Every few years we get to play a part in choosing the national Daddy. I see your Tiger mom and raise you an Eagle dad. _____ I've held several jobs considered menial or 'jobby-jobs' but one I have never chosen and would never be able to choose is sewing flags. To thread non-wearable fabric in primary colors would give me nightmares of being BLED THROUGH with them. _____ They hate us because we use money from China to pay for a children's program featuring a giant bird. We have failed in being nuanced and cautious about how we pay for the televisual sighting of our national birds. _____ It is dishonest to call U.S. elections U.S. elections. They are by default world elections. They collapse the concept of 'at home' and 'abroad' in ways that have not even begun to… Read More...

Five Questions with Juliana Spahr

The forum: 'The bedroom, the kitchen, the garden, the oasis, the well, the beach, the forest, the clearing.'
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, essayist, editor, professor, and political activist Juliana Spahr. Have you read her essay 'Metromania: Poetry, Academy, Anarchy'? (I searched high and low for it—at least two library archives carrying the journal in which it appeared skipped that publication year, and I surreptitiously started to give this omission greater meaning—so she has generously allowed me to set it free.) Published twelve years ago, 'Metromania' reflected on the institutionalized American literary establishment, the nature of creation and the larger social fabric, and financial subsidization (or lack thereof). It is as relevant as ever. To see just how relevant, I refer the reader to two places: (1) Spahr and Joshua Clover's jointly-written 'A Job Letter to the Poetry Foundation' (May 2012) nominating themselves for the organization's presidency on the grounds… Read More...

Repetition Without Difference

The mediocrity-machine: what’s “stealing” from another when the game is to produce tripe, churn it out, and witness it flowing out of one mouth or another?
The following is a guest post by Elliott Prasse-Freeman. The meteoric rise of comedian Louis CK’s show Louie reached its zenith during the infamous Dane Cook episode, in which the ostensibly-fictional narrative addresses a real feud: Cook’s alleged theft of CK’s jokes. The viewer can only suspect what kind of wrangling went on in the writing of the scene in which they confront each other, but it produces a remarkable economy of fame: in exchange for accepting that Cook did not intentionally steal CK’s jokes, CK gets to effectively destroy Cook as a comic: You’re like a machine of success, you’re like a rocket, you’re rocketing to the stars, and things are getting sucked up in your engines, like birds, and bugs, and some of my jokes. I think you saw me do them, I know you saw me do them, and I… Read More...

A Sword in the Arm of the Statue of Liberty As If Nearly Stretched Aloft

In which a man has a nightmare of the cross-country railway in a country he's never visited.
A letter by Franz Kafka to Milena Jesenská. A sword in the arm of the Statue of Liberty is considered the only surrealist image in his novel Amerika. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional. [Prague, September 9, 1920] Thursday I am grateful you asked about my sleeping—it has steadily improved so that I slept through at least five consecutive hours one night this week, only awaking once when I heard that mouse squeak in the corridor again. Could it really be a mouse, or did I dream it up? I still haven't found him. __________ Should I worry that I entertain you? It could scarcely be my actual intention. I would never dare try to entertain you on purpose. Your illuminated face, your accent rolling the r, and your telepathic humor make me give up on competing in the… Read More...

I Was Never a Surrealist

In which a woman bitterly resents America.
A letter by Frida Kahlo to herself, written in Detroit in August 1932. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional. Carta: Mater Dolorosa. I am eager to survive. Let's leave this place. Long dining room tables scare me. To rejoin the revolution is a hope I still carry. I am not nothing. I am a small thing. Small thing with a dead small thing in an urn. DEDICATED TO: My first cell. An egg laid in Coyoacán. I am determined to stay resolutely bright Despite the unpredictable phenomenon of my disintegration. Feet. Cells. New nations. Grease. Inhalation. Phony smiles. Terrible pain but I am grateful to be LIVING. 'To live' — the irony of writing those words on a day of death. 'Colorado.' They told me it is white. (To be white and colored!) There are no colors. Supposedly we… Read More...

My Years of Militant Surrealism

In which a man moves to America.
A letter by Luis Buñuel to Paramount Pictures. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional.   TO: Ms. Alice Velotta, Secretariat, Paramount Pictures SPAIN, ONCE RED has taken on a gray-yellow pallor. I no longer view my presence here As anything more than a heavy sack— A boat filled with the hollow shavings of deadwood trees, A set of outdated almanacs gathering aluminum-white dust. So you will excuse my ready tone. Don't believe them When they turn my pride against me. I am not too good For Los Angeles, knowing angels never Forsook a degenerate. Since my christening at the Urselines Theater when all of Paris stood on its feet for some reels of celluloid We scarcely agreed to show our own friends I have been nurturing this spiritual connection To America, its soil and people So astonishingly unlike Spaniards.… Read More...

Wikipedia Politics

In Wikipedia’s earnest and well-intentioned struggle with its own ineluctably political nature, we may be seeing how an online community begins to think like a state.
The following is a guest post by Matthew Battles. The invitation to post at South/South came to mind the other day as I was driving fast down a country road in Illinois: a gravel-dusted, two-lane blacktop, of all places, a blistered seam between corn and beans. A quarter mile or so down the lane, a flock of birds wheeled against the molten sky—a token of disaster, a sign of impending crisis brought by drought and industrial agriculture. Or so it seemed; as I drew closer, the birds lost focus, grew tattered and uncanny, until passing beneath I managed to reread the apparition as mere shreds of dried cornstalk twirling in a stately vortex of slow-turning air. Now, arguably, the image was a more-fitting symbol of agricultural apocalypse: these were after all actual crops, withered and torn from the ground, turning… Read More...

How to Shop Better?

There is something primal about going shopping and going to war. Both come from a hunger to be our best, to compete, to exercise a right or a belief.
The following is a guest post by Christina Kral and Adriana Valdez Young.  SETTING The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has a desk space for 1,000 staff and 619 blast-proof apartments, the sealed compound includes a cinema and retail complex, a food court, schools, and medical facilities as well as its own power generation and water purification systems. A perfect American container city within a war-torn Baghdad. The first shopping mall was born in post-World War II America. Émigré architect Victor Gruen was nostalgic for his home city of Vienna, which he had fled in 1938 after it was annexed by Germany. In 1956, he created the Southdale Center in Edina Minnesota, the world’s first enclosed shopping mall. Gruen had a dream of the mall as a harmonious city. He planned for schools, apartments, cultural institutes, hospitals, parks and more to be attached to… Read More...

I Have No Memory of It

The fate of some paintball gunshots, flames, hammers, pig's legs, and bottles of acid in August 2012 in the United States of America.
Transcribed data on the fate of some paintball gunshots, flames, hammers, pig’s legs, and bottles of acid in the first half of August 2012 in the United States of America.   ONTARIO, California. Worshippers said two women threw the three legs onto the driveway of the proposed Al-Nur Islamic Center in Ontario shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday and sped away in a white pickup.     NORTH SMITHFIELD, Rhode Island. Muslims from a North Smithfield mosque are asking for extra protection after a sign outside their place of worship was vandalized over the weekend. North Smithfield police confirmed they are studying surveillance video recorded around 3:30 a.m. Sunday. That's when a person was seen driving into the mosque's parking lot and smashing the sign with a hammer.     MORTON GROVE, Illinois. The shots were heard by worshipers who were outside the… Read More...

Preferential Immunity

The argument that we are all at risk, bare and naked against a transcendent virus, actually serves the opposite function. Rather than making us feel vulnerable, we feel safe in our shared vulnerability.
The following is a guest post by Elliott Prasse-Freeman. I visit Uganda’s capital Kampala regularly, and so the city’s recent Ebola outbreak might have seemed relevant to me. And yet, oddly, I didn’t really think much of it. Indeed, despite the generally horrific deaths that befell those folks in that 1990s-era mass-contagion movie, and the fact that the film was inspired by real events in east Africa, my first reaction upon hearing the Ebola news was casual curiosity. It was only upon a doctor friend impressing Ebola’s “it will kill you” nature upon me did I even consider canceling my upcoming trip: Are you in Kampala? Just don't go to Mulago hospital, which you shouldn't be going to anyway. And don't go to Kitaale. Otherwise you're probably fine. If it gets to more than a few hundred cases, I would… Read More...

“Healthy” Nationalism?

The opening ceremony of the Olympics distorted the image of a country that was burning just one year ago and whose economy is yet waiting to cool off. Maybe the broadcasters figured there would be no audience for the re-enactment of the British slave trade, imperial torture, or people losing their jobs en masse.
The following is a guest post by Linnéa Hussein. It's called Slumdog Industrial Millionaire and the Ecstasy of Victoria. Not even the Nazis could top this shit. —Danny Boyle on the Opening Ceremony, "Fuck the Olympics" in If You Can Read This You're Lying During the Olympic opening ceremony I sat outside in a beer garden in Germany trying to have a conversation with an old friend, when my visiting friend from Luxembourg kept pointing at the television screen behind the windows mumbling about Britain’s idiotic ways of spending money and distorting their history. That was my first glimpse at the Olympic Summer Games 2012: a muted screen full of bizarrely arranged Mary Poppins, Shakespeares, steelworkers, and 007. I didn’t think much of it until I came home and saw the flood of enthusiasm and national pride on Facebook coming from… Read More...

Army Realness from NATO to NBC

Pairing the realness of celebrity participants with the real of former combatants has generated the most mainstream military drag show in American television history.
Stars Earn Stripes is a freshly pressed NBC drag show reality television series which debuts its two-hour premiere on 13 August, or 'Monday after the Olympics at 8/7c!' as its promotional spots blared all throughout the station's Olympic Games coverage. The emphatic promise of militarytainment—a real NATO ex-general, real ex-Navy SEALS, real ex-Delta Force commanders, real ex-Green Berets, real celebrities, etc.—outranks previous shows of its ilk. It also makes the Pentagon Channel look like the army version of the perpetuated congressional yawn that is C-SPAN. Here is the show's self-description: Hosted by General Wesley Clark (retired) and Samantha Harris, "Stars Earn Stripes" is an action-packed competition show that pays homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services. The star-studded cast includes four-time undefeated world boxing champion Laila Ali, actor Dean Cain ("Out of Time," Five… Read More...

There’s Still So Much to Say

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
  Giddy-Up I have been abducted by the final chapters of my dissertation. The Stockholm Syndrome effects are setting in nicely. (Occasionally—let's call these photosynthesis breaks—I get water and sun.) A friend once described the hackneyed fantasy of the dissertation writer, and how much it unnerved him. The fantasy's genre is the western, he said, and the dissertation writer is a cowboy mounting a steed. Fastening on the horse's harness followed by his own holster (on the buckle of his brass belt, which keeps up his perfectly faded Levis), he dreamily looks out onto the haystacks where the entire cast of his family and friends have gathered to see him off. He is, after all, star of his own film. Occasionally a damsel wipes away a tear on a lily-stitched handkerchief. His mother nods wordless affirmations. A child approaches the… Read More...