Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Pop Music’s Exploitation of Hip Hop

With a new album on the way Taylor Swift made a splash when last week she dropped her new track “Look What You Made Me Do” as well as an accompanying #music video. It was treated like the kind of event you would expect from one of the biggest stars in pop music. And even though reception for the song itself has been mixed it has already broken Spotify records and the focus has mainly been on the song’s content. While no other artist is named it has been interpreted as a diss track towards Katy Perry and, more importantly, #KanyeWest. Now the history between the two pop stars hardly needs to be rehashed. With a feud dating back to the incident at 2009 MTV VMA’s the two have thrown subtle, and not so subtle, jabs at each other for years. Things between the two finally seemed to cool off after a phone call between Taylor and Kanye agreeing to the lyrics to the song “Famous” were made public. Yet here we are, once again, talking about the two. Ignoring that things seemed done going at Kanye after he had to cancel the Saint Pablo tour due to time in a mental health facility just feels gross. Then again I shouldn’t be surprised. As exploitative as it may feel it’s nothing new. As soon as she stopped doing country music and drifted towards pop she has used hip hop for per own gain.

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Washed: Or How I Learned To Accept Aging Thanks To Hip Hop

In the world of entertainment there is nothing more important than connecting with the youth. As corny as that sounds it’s the young and young-at-heart that push entertainment forward. It’s why Hollywood will take a chance on an unproven YA book franchise or a TV movie like Disney Channel’s Descendants 2 will get 8.6 million viewers on its first run. But as much as tweens and teenagers influence film and television it is most obvious when it comes to music. Since the beginning of modern pop music it has been the teenage fads that determine where music goes. Young women were able to turn appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show into full blown Beatlemania. Before he was big Michael Jackson performed the moonwalk on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever and captured the imaginations of everyone from suburban youths to a teenage Corey Feldman. Kids have a massive impact on music and it is probably most obvious in hip hop. It can also make growing up as a fan of hip hop super weird.

While I can’t say I have been a fan since day but rap has been one of the biggest musical influences of my life. I have vivid memories of seeing Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin but a G Thang” video on MTV while at a childhood friend’s house pretending I cared about LEGOs. For a kid living in the suburbs seeing this party in the middle of Compton was game changing. As I got older and other music would become my focus (such as punk rock and those regrettable nu-metal years) hip hop would always be around. The biggest rappers in the game becoming more than men and becoming gods to me. By the time I discovered mixtapes on Datpiff the culture had become one of the most prominent things in my life. Artists like TI, Kanye West and Nas would provide my life a soundtrack filled with 808s and turntables. Then the inevitable happened, I grew up.

Slowly but surely I started to fall behind on who was coming up and who was falling off. The XXL Freshman cover went from something to examine to rappers I didn’t know. Then came the day I was dreading, discovering an artist when everyone else did. As silly as it sounds it sincerely bothered me. I’m not going to claim I was the biggest hip hop head but I was able to keep up on who was popping. I used to love cruising mixtape websites to find the next big thing. Suddenly names would crop up with tons of praise and I had never heard of them. I was officially washed. Given I knew I wouldn’t stay young forever. Still it bummed me out and looking to my musical heroes did not help.

Growing Up and the Old Guy in the Club

With hip hop as young as it is fans haven’t had much time to actually see rappers age. It hasn’t been like country where you can see Johnny Cash go from young rogue to religious singer and finally the haunting covers that define his twilight years. In fact pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc and Fab Five Freddy are barely entering their 60’s. For the most part older rappers have quietly retired or fade into obscurity. Even rarer is for a major artist to age gracefully.

It’s easy to make jokes nowadays LL Cool J and Nelly the two were massive artists in their day. LL Cool J was a pioneer in hip hop and Nelly is one of the most successful rap acts of all time. Yet as the art form evolved and I grew up they didn’t. Classic LL had the ability to shorten careers with his rhymes but times have changed. He seems more comfortable hosting award shows and his flow feels downright archaic on recent releases. And while Nelly could be as charismatic as ever was ill-conceived collaborations with country artists and pop stars like Miley Cyrus would come off as desperate. Essentially the two would become the equivalent of being the old guy in the club and it put the fear of God in me. I had to wonder, is that who I am by still listening to hip hop? I mean I was out of school and officially began a career but I still loved listening to Three 6 Mafia and Young Jeezy, not exactly the most mature listening choices. It wasn’t until Eminem came out of seclusion in 2009 that I really stopped worrying.

Slim Shady, T.I.P. and Growing Up

Like a lot of people my age I was a huge fan of Eminem. Coming to prominence at the perfect time his pop-culture skewering, shock rock antics appealed to a generation of suburban teens looking for ways to rebel. But like the rest of us he got older and those very same antics would become cringeworthy the older he got. Despite being one of the best rappers of all time his childish horrorcore tendencies on Encore and Relapse began to appeal to me less and less. Then something surprising happened, Slim Shady grew up.

In 2010 Eminem released Recovery and his style was totally different. Given he wasn’t the first rapper to get introspective but it is rare to see it from such a huge artist. With his seventh album Em delves into his struggles with addiction, the death of hype man Proof and his struggles in hip hop. I know a lot of fans weren’t into it but I found it comforting. Even if I couldn’t relate it was nice to hear one of my favorite rappers move away from his silly Slim Shady persona and talk about real issues. He wasn’t the only rapper to mature either.

For the longest time TI was best known for early trap music and being the self-declared King of the South. Then, after one of the best run of albums in hip hop history, he was facing U.S. federal weapons charges. With incarceration in the horizon the southern rapper put out Paper Trail, an album more about redemption than slinging dope. Tracks like “Ready for Whatever” and “No Matter What” were perfect as I hit my mid-20’s and was trying to get my life straight. Again I hardly know what getting locked up on weapons charges could be like but it helped put my life in perspective. Now both Eminem and TI would eventually go back to what they were best known for which is fine. In all honesty, both artists are so good at rapping that even when Shady in “Rap God” mode or TI is talking about the trap I will still dig it. But as I started to leave my 20’s I saw the light. Not only is it possible to age within the hip hop culture but it could be done with dignity.

Hov, Nas and Legacy

While they may not have been the first two rappers I discovered there have been few rappers on my radar the way Jay Z and Nas have been. With his boundless charisma and mastery of flow Jay Z is everything I expect out of a “mainstream rapper.” Right next to him is Jay’s ex-rival Nas. One of the most talented rappers of all time he represented what “real hip hop” is meant to be. The kind of MC that favored bars and storytelling above all else. Whether it was Nas releasing “Hate Me Now” right before my angst-ridden high school years to Jay releasing The Black Album before I graduated from high school these two New York MC’s always seemed to put out something perfect for where my life as heading. And it was no different as I approached 30 and was finally starting to grow up.

In mid-2012 Nas dropped his most mature album to date, Life Is Good. Reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear” it addresses aging, marriage and his divorce from singer Kelis. Given marriage and divorce were the farthest thing from my mind. Heck, I was barely had any lasting relationships at the time. Still, with songs like “Daughters” were encouraging. It went a long way in showing me that one of my favorite artists was not only human but struggled with mat1uring himself. I found it to be oddly inspiring. Here was a man who I considered a god in the booth, who put out some of my favorite tracks of all time and he wasn’t perfect. Just a man who struggled like the rest of us. The man who said on Illmatic that “Life’s A Bitch” was now happy and content with everything. I know how silly it sounds but if Nas had issues and he could come out on top, why couldn’t I?

More recently we saw Jay Z go a similar route in his music. Like Eminem, Hov has always felt untouchable. If not because of his lyrical superiority then because of his amazing business acumen and notorious privacy. He has had an air of royalty surrounding him since I was a teenager and it only grew with each passing year. Then, after years of rumors and controversy, he put out 4:44. Starting with the song “Kill Jay Z” we finally hear the man Shawn Carter discuss his life. Sure we got glimpses of him on tracks like “Song Cry” but this is the first real glimpse we get at the man not the persona. He not only wasn’t the invincible god he portrayed himself as but he was talking about things I think are important now that I’m an adult. The main event may have been his marriage to BeyoncĂ© but that’s not what resonated with me. Issues like intergenerational dynamics within hip hop, race in America and legacy are issues not only covered by on my mind with more frequency as I age. He looks back at mistakes he has made in his life and looks at it with a critical eye. More importantly it taught me that yes, it is okay to grow up. There is such thing as grown ass rap. You don’t have to try to keep up with the kids or follow the latest rap trends. It’s okay to age gracefully and still have a passion for the genre. Not only is it okay to enjoy the music but there is a place in the culture for me as I get older.

Fade To Black

When I started I wasn’t sure where I was going and I’m sure it shows in my rambling. More than anything else it started as a vessel to make Nelly jokes. But as I wrote this piece I came to realize how much hip hop meant to me. Yeah I’m passionate about it and it’s my favorite music genre but I saw how much of an impact it has made. How despite being an Asian-American stuck in suburbia rap was always there for me. Whether it was to analyze, to inspire, or just something to be entertained by. It has been here throughout my life and now I realize it will be here as I get older.

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‘Savage Dog’ and Five Direct-To-Video Action Movies You Need to See

We are just over half of the way through the year and it has already been a banner year for action movie fans. More than just Marvel movies audience have seen Xander Cage return to action, adventurers uncover the king-sized mysteries of Skull Island and an iconic comic book character finally get her own movie in Wonder Woman. Even more impressive is how good the direct to video market has been in 2017. DC Comics continued to expand their animated movie universe with its adaption of Justice League Dark while distribution companies like Well Go USA and Asian Crush continue to bring some of the best Asian action fare stateside. It doesn’t end there either. The criminally underrated direct-to-video mainstay Scott Adkins (Dr. Strange, Zero Dark Thirty) has continued his winning record with Boyka: Undisputed and his latest film, Savage Dog.

Set in 1959 the Southeast Asian territoriy known as Indochina contains one of the most dangerous prison in the world, Den-Dhin-Chan Labor Camp. Run by Vietnamese warlords and European war criminals perhaps the most dangerous person there is Martin Tilman (Scott Adkins). An Irish boxer he is kept behind bars to participate in fights to the death. When the leaders hurt the people he loves he is out for revenge and will achieve it by any means necessary.

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8 More Badass Women To Watch After ‘Atomic Blonde’

When it comes to #action movies 2017 has been the year of the woman in the best way possible. We have not only seen returning heroines like #Underworld’s Selene but all new characters such as Justine (Brie Larson) in Free Fire headline major motion pictures. We even saw veteran actor Hugh Jackman was upstaged in his final outing as Wolverine by relative unknown Dafne Keen in Logan. This is all without mentioning the DC Extended Universe having their first biggest commercial hit yet in the critically acclaimed #WonderWoman. If there has been anyone to benefit from the female hero renaissance it has been #CharlizeTheron.

For years the Oscar-winning actress has been playing action heroes and all the hard work seems to have finally paid off this year. First there as her turn as the villainous Cipher in The Fate of the Furious and now her starring role in the critically acclaimed Atomic Blonde. Set in 1989 Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is sent to take down an espionage ring in Berlin after her lover is killed. Directed by John Wick’s David Leitsch it looks to be one of the most exciting and original action movies of the summer. More importantly it’s the latest in the long lineage of women on the big screen kicking more ass than the men. So like Wonder Woman earlier this year after you see Charlize Theron become the coolest spy since 007 here are 8 MORE bad ass women to watch after Atomic Blonde.

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‘Killing Ground’ and 5 Of The Best Australian Horror Movies of the 21st Century

One of the most fascinating things horror is how various parts of the world interpret the genre. Whether it is the predominantly outdoorsy horror in America to the supernatural tales from Japan each nation seems to have their own take on terror. One of the most fascinating is countries when it comes to horror movies is Australia. The content is like American horror but their movies have a mean streak that runs through it. A perfect example of this is IFC Midnight’s Killing Ground.

Starring Harriet Dyers and Ian Meadows Killing Ground is about fiancĂ©s Sam and Ian going on a camping trip together. Worried by an abandoned tent nearby they are shocked to discover a toddler wandering the forest. Pursued by local hunters German and Chook Sam and Ian are pushed to the edge and expose horrifying sides of themselves they couldn’t have imagined before. The feature debut of writer-director Damien Power Killing Ground takes the evil redneck subgenre and gives it the rough edges that only way Australian filmmakers can pull off. In fact, since the year 2000 we have seen a significant uptick in tremendous uptick in quality Australian horror. If you still need more proof here are 5 of the best Australian horror movies of the 21st century.

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Baby Driver, Edgar Wright and 5 of the Best Soundtracks of the 21st Century

After months of waiting Baby Driver is coming out and looks to be a huge hit. As of this writing Baby Driver has an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and with good reason. Director Edgar Wright’s first foray into straight up action movies is an absolute blast taking classic action film tropes and recreating them in ways never seen before. The biggest reason this all works is the strength of the soundtrack. Mixing a variety of genres tracks such as “Hocus Pocus” by Focus and Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” blend seamlessly into what is happening on screen.

As important as the soundtrack for Baby Driver is making it so integral to a film is nothing new for Edgar Wright. Contemporary music has been crucial to his work as early as Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. In fact since the beginning of the 21st century we have seen a bit of a shift when it comes to soundtracks. Very rarely are songs made exclusively for a film but instead are used to punctuate a scene. It has led to not only the discovery of older artists but to exposing classic songs to a whole new generation. Needless to say it’s not only a great time for fans of movies but music as well. So in honor of Baby Driver here is a look at 6 of the best movie soundtracks of the 21st century.
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7 Hip Hop We Need After ‘All Eyez On Me’

It is 2017 hip hop is bigger than it has ever been. No longer relegated to the Bronx in just 40 years rap has become the biggest force in music today. More recently we have seen this once underground movement make the jump to the silver screen. While the first rap film was 1982’s Wild Style movies like Friday, 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow have proven to be hits with critics and fans alike. Most recently we have seen a wave of hip hop biographies getting green lit thanks to the success of Straight Outta Compton. The latest of which being a biography about the legendary Tupac Shakur in All Eyez On Me.

Born to members of the Black Panthers Shakur would get his start with hip hop group Digital Underground. Going solo shortly thereafter he would become one of the most celebrated rappers in hip hop history thanks to his vivid imagery and his ability to fuse social commentary with west coast party anthems. The first victim of the West Coast-East Coast feud #Tupac was a gifted lyricist that reached peaks then unheard of for a rapper. Needless to say when it came to rappers to get the big screen treatment he was near the top. In fact, hip hop is full of colorful characters like Pac that have lived an interesting life too unreal to believe. So in honor of All Eyez On Me, here are 7 rappers that deserve a movie of their own and the perfect scene.

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