August 23, 2010

Carl Sagan

As a boy, I first came to know of Carl Sagan through his novel Contact. This introduced me to pi and number theory and reading this book--in which I learned the word "numinous" was tantamount to a religious experience. His entreaty was to see a deeper order in the world, to imagine that such mysteries exist, contained not in an ancient book or magical incantation but in the complex and uncharted depths of nature. Carl Sagan was a writer, cosmologist, astronomer and peace activist. He was all of those things and something more.

Apart from the scientific discoveries he made (mostly in relation to the planet Venus and the moon Europa, as far as I am aware) it was his power to inspire that has left the world with the great lasting benefit. He inspired generations of students to think and examine their beliefs. He imbued many, myself included, with a deeper appreciation for science, mathematics, and nature, while cutting away the deadwood of superstition. His book The Demon Haunted World tears down superstitions by exposing them to the light of reason, and he does it with ease.

Tonight I would like to share with you twelve aphorisms and quotations by the late Carl Sagan. Each one captures some of the essence of his body of work--fiercely dedicated to science as a way of knowing and the expansion of the boundaries of human knowledge.

1 ---- ---- ----
Evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted.

2 ---- ---- ----
For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner ... on an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies. ... That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that.

3 ---- ---- ----
If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.

4 ---- ---- ----
In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

5 ---- ---- ----
One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.

6 ---- ---- ----
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.

7 ---- ---- ----
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

8 ---- ---- ----
The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.

9 ---- ---- ----
The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.

10 ---- ---- ----
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way."

11 ---- ---- ----
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

12 ---- ---- ----
We are made of star stuff. For the most part, atoms heavier than hydrogen were created in the interiors of stars and then expelled into space to be incorporated into later stars. The Sun is probably a third generation star.
---- ---- ----

I hope that after reading these twelve quotes that they will have touched you as they did me. Even more than the work he did in basic, hard science, to me this power to dream and inspire others to dream is Dr. Sagan's greatest legacy. Sadly, Dr. Sagan passed away in 1996 and we have only his books, films and scientific work. But I think he would be pleased with the result of his labors if he could look on his achievements from the grave. You can learn more about him here:

August 22, 2010

Cartel de Santa

The first of three Spanish language rappers I am going to present you is a Mexican group, Cartel de Santa. They have a hard and gritty style and their lyrics often have violent, drug related or sexual themes. Their first two albums are their strongest, in my opinion and though they have produced three more since then, the songs I am going to feature here are from their first two albums.

Cartel de Santa has a distinct Mexican sound to its rapping, deep and throaty on some tracks and others in which they lend a Mexican accent to touching ballads of love or betrayal. They tend to fall hard on their beat and pound out their strong syllables as if they were blow delivered to their often mentioned enemies. A visceral emotion and sense of impending violence pervades their sound.

Their songs that break from this pattern are all the more effective because of this shift in style. The change in tone between a strong, energetic and violent rap like “Burreros” or “Asesino de Asesinos” and a more thoughtful rap such as “Mi Ciudad” or “La Pelotona” is striking.

Here I will provide the youtube videos and lyrics for four of their songs. I have included one hard song and three soft songs (in reference to their tone). The first song is “Asesino de Asesino” (murderer of murderes) and it is one of the hard songs and in it he challenges and degrades rival rappers.

Asesino de Asesinos

Asesino de asesinos como rayos elimino
Porque solo son la mierda estorbando en el camino
Mi destino está en la cima por hacer mejores rimas
Mientras que aquí en la tumba te bajan de la tarima
No gastes la saliva queriendo competir
Porque de la m a la c yo soy el mejor mc
Aléjate de aquí que tu rap es asqueroso
Pinche prieto piojoso ya salte de ese pozo
Diez años y no sabes cómo se hace el buen hip hop
Conozco principiantes que te dan una lección
Escucha bien mi voz y ya cállate el osico
Pinche micro de circo que yo soy tu domador
Mi látigo es el flow que te causa esas heridas
Andas buscando fama retando a la artillería porquería
Que creías yo soy el real emesías
Me tienes envidia porque yo soy el estigma
El enigma que siembra a todos tus secuaces
Con solo dos frases me deshago de sus aces
Mis fauces se abren y rompen el estilo
De tontos asesinos que querían jugar conmigo
Ahora con mi filo te voy a eliminar
En el cuarto de control te acercaste a saludar
Mientras que por detrás nos estas deseando muerte
Pero en ese momento (chido les deseo mucha suerte)
De frente eres un joto te faltan muchos huevos
Y mucho más te falta para llegar a ser bueno
No llegas ni a pedo y dices que eres una mierda
Gordo por favor ya vete mucho a la verga
Que estoy harto de escuchar todas tus estupideces
Pagarás un alto precio con muy altos intereses
No hace falta que reces al real emesías
Se te cumplió el deseo ya te conteste las rimas
Y decía tu pandilla que tú eras el mejor
Ahora ponen veladoras al mega rimador ósea se yo yo yo
No pudieron con mi flow mucho menos podrán con todo mi batallón
Soy la acción soy la gloria en mi micro la victoria
Tengo más audacia que los topos en Camboya
Soy la olla donde hierven los mcs cuando tratan de acercarse
Con su micro a combatir me los paso por aquí todos juntos de uno en uno
Mi ritma al rey Neptuno grande como Atila el huno
Visible como el humo de un incendio forestal
Te cagas en los calzones cuando suelto mi freestyle
Ay ay ay, ay ay ay en la mano traigo un mic
Y en los ojos el infierno del que me quiera enfrentar
Vas pa´tras en retroceso como lo hacen los cangrejos
Aun recuerdo los consejos que algún día mi dio mi viejo
Hacer caso de un pendejo tan solo es engrandecerlo
Siéntete gigantesco porque durante 2:28 acabo de hacerlo

Siempre he pensado que un verdadero mc
Debe ser directo en sus mensajes
No andar con ataduras en la lengua
Aquel que me lance rimas va a recibir rimas
Y aquel que me lance golpes va a recibir golpes
En el mundo del hip hop y sus cuatro elementos
Lo más importante es la competencia
Todos quieren ser el depredador más grande
Siempre el más grande acaba con el más pequeño
Mientras nadie acabe conmigo seguiré siendo el más grande
Vas fuera...

The next song, “Escucha”, is curiously devoid of any explicit sex, drugs or violence. It is a song about artistic creation, seizing the day, and lost opportunities. It is about struggling to follow ones dreams and refusing to accept failure. This song is more introspective and poetic than the first song. It is a smoother as well. Again, I have included the lyrics along with the youtube video.


Vivo buscando un sueño del que jamás despierto,
y en momentos pienso, si la vida dibujara mi lienzo,
seguro nubes negras cubrirían mi firmamento,
y siento que se perdió mi fe en el tiempo
y mi tiempo se está yendo volando como el viento,
observando ver si caigo, me levanto y como lo intento,
es cierto que la vida solo da una oportunidad,
y en realidad el problema está en cómo saber si apenas
viene o ya se va lejos de lo real,
no existe la gravedad y cada ilusión está latiendo
entre mis dedos pero abro los ojos y veo que no puedo,
que me quedo que no crezco,
que carezco de paciencia y la esencia
de este mundo la hundo en mi consciencia,
mi experiencia dice basta ya no sigas con eso
tu defecto es que siempre pones
los ojos muy lejos pero que de mi reflejo?,
si o no me llena de orgullo,
se que ahora construyo un castillo que destruyo al hacerlo sin cimientos,
pero en mi alma los murmullos dicen "muere en el intento" ,
textos y textos he gastado de ideas inconclusas
mientras mi esperanza rehúsa a tirar la toalla en esta lucha,
yo solo le sigo diciendo a mi corazón "por favor ¡escucha!"

The third song is about the desperation and poverty on the Street of Mexico’s large urban centers that traps children in lives of crime and abuse. There is a definite class dynamic in play in this song, as well as a critique of the church and the justice system. A cycle of violence, perversion and injustice is sustained and the end of the first long stanza reads translates as, “you had to defend yourself and you went off strongly, paying back each blow but now with interest”. An environment of crime and poverty that ignores its children has created not only more victims and misery but also a future generation of criminals, victimizers and malcontents.

The chorus, which is repeated again and again as it intones the underlying message of the rap, seems to suggest the cyclical nature of this situation. After each long stanza, the chorus returns and it is both repetitive and pounding—insistent even. “In my city it is very easy to find a child of the street living like an animal/ In my city it is very easy to observe how a child of the street is transformed into a criminal” he reminds us throughout the song until the closing when the voice of a child is heard, begging for alms.

En mi ciudad es muy fácil de encontrar a un niño de la calle viviendo como animal...
En mi ciudad es muy fácil observar como un niño de la calle se transforma en criminal...

Por la serie de maltratos de esta pinche sociedad inhalando pegamento pa´olvidar, que su madre es prostituta y su padre esta en el penal, y cumpliendo este problema me hablas de humanidad, cuando duermas en banquetas y comas de la basura, cuando te alejes de dios porque te ha violado el cura, cuando tu único destino lo encontraste en el camino, viviendo cada día rodeado de porquería donde el mas grande podía agandallarte la comida, tuviste que defenderte te fuiste haciendo fuerte, cobrando cada golpe pero ahora con intereses...

En mi ciudad es muy fácil de encontrar a un niño de la calle viviendo como animal...
En mi ciudad es muy fácil observar como un niño de la calle se transforma en criminal...

desde muy pequeño llevas el odio en la sangre, no busques solución es ya demasiado tarde, pa´arreglar este desmadre, verdad que esta cabrón y a tu primer error te encierran en la prisión y te sigues preguntando donde está mi corazón, no existe un solo momento donde haya arrepentimiento, al verte en el espejo solo ves gestos violentos que son el documento de tu eterno sufrimiento, al hijo de un Burgués nunca lo ves encerrado te buscaran a ti para que seas enjuiciado y así culpado de todos sus delitos, tu mayor defecto es no haber nacido rico.

En mi ciudad es muy fácil de encontrar a un niño de la calle viviendo como animal...
En mi ciudad es muy fácil observar como un niño de la calle se transforma en criminal...

The last of the songs for tonight will be a love song from Cartel de Santa entitled “La Pelotona”. This has a female voice as an accompaniment and with the chorus. It is a love song as only Cartel de Santa can produce—it comes off as raw, full of vivid imagery, and deeply honest. To me this honesty rings true more than most love songs that deal with an idealized concept of romance and courtship. This song is about carnal desire, loyalty, need, and love.

He begins his song appropriately by rapping about how he cannot express his feelins (certainly a manly flaw to have) when he raps, “I travel in silence/ and I don’t express feelins/ but you well know/ that I carry you here inside me”. Enjoy.

La Pelotona

Viajo en silencio,
y no expreso sentimientos,
pero tú bien sabes
que te llevo aquí adentro.

Cuando llega la noche
y es la hora de partir,
voy viendo tu silueta,
alejándose de mí.

Un profundo sentimiento
se apodera de mi cuerpo
y es que si no estoy contigo,
es como si estuviera muerto.

Tristeza se apodera
de mi mente y de mi alma,
porque solo a tu lado
puedo conocer la calma.

Se viene mucho el tiempo
que no estás tú conmigo,
pero me parece eterno
y me pierdo en el olvido.

El viento me acaricia
y me recuerda tus manos,
la brisa de la noche
me hace pensar en tus labios,
el brillo de la luna
es igual al de tus ojos,
sabes que sin ti,
tan solo soy un despojo.

Y aquí sobre mi cama,
el aroma de tu cuerpo,
que me mantiene vivo
y me eleva al firmamento.

Eres lo mejor
que en vida ha pasado,
te juro pierdo el rumbo
cuando no estas a mi lado.

El viento me repite
tu nombre a cada instante,
la brisa de la noche
me recuerda lo distante.

Que se encuentran
tus labios,
y yo sigo aquí,
y yo sigo aquí.

Cuando estoy contigo
cada día es alegría,
pero lejos de ti
me sumerjo en la agonía,
del recuerdo de tus besos
y el sabor de tu saliva,
despierto en las madrugadas
y abrazo una pinché almohada,
deseando fueras tu
la que comparte mi cama.

Te juro que estremezco
cuando no estás tú conmigo,
quisiera mandarle al tiempo,
poder hacer eternos
todos los momentos
en que me elevas al cielo,
mi vida es codiciada
muchos quieren mi cabeza,
la verdad no me preocupa
si la muerte se atraviesa,
con tal de estar contigo
juro resucitaría,
para estar a tu lado
lo que te resta de vida.

Eres lo mejor
que en vida ha pasado,
te juro pierdo el rumbo
cuando no estás a mi lado.

El viento me repite
tu nombre a cada instante,
la brisa de la noche
me recuerda lo distante.

Que se encuentran
tus labios,
y yo sigo aquí,
y yo sigo aquí.

August 18, 2010

The House on Uku Pacha Street

The following text is something I recorded in my journal while I was in Colombia and I typed it up upon returning to the US (and redacted the names of people I know who are in it). Needless to say, I didn't sleep well that night after writing down what you are about to read. I enjoyed Colombia immensely and look forward to returning, but this narrative shows some of the darker side of my move to Colombia. Nothing in this experience is without meaning (though much of it is buried) and it is true on a level that most nonfiction stories are not. If you understand what happened to me here in this story, you will understand my move to Colombia and my feelings about it.

The accompanying graphic is a photo that I took of a painting that hangs in the Botero museum in Bogotá. The title of the piece is Conversation and the painter is the German George Grosz. The version here is rather small, but the detail in the original photo shows some very sinister looking characters onto whom the viewer may project any manner of nefarious conversation. When I thought back to that night, this was the photo that best captured the sense of sinister designs buried beneath the surface and figures protruding from an inner (psychological) darkness. Well, without further ado, here is the text I have been introducing:

Tonight Sr. M. wasn’t available to drive me back to the apartment here, so I left my camera and wallet in A’s room and began to walk back. It was sometime after eleven when I left her house. This is a good neighborhood though, and I feel quite safe here. But something happened tonight that changes that opinion, though I do feel safe, in the conventional sense, I feel a profound sense of the uncanny when I think back over what happened to me between A’s house and here (as I write these words in my apartment). When I first arrived, about two weeks ago, I felt as if I were in a dream. Whether I was the dreamer or just a character in the dream of another, I couldn’t tell, but the sensation of unreality was overwhelming. I can’t quite explain why, because I have felt tropical weather before, I had already been in Bogotá for several says, and small-town Costa Rica or the suburbs of San José aren’t so terribly different from what I have seen of Santa Marta. But actually being here, in Santa Marta, was a singular and incomprehensible sense of being in a dream state, like I had never felt before—until tonight, that is—and which compels me to record tonight’s “events”, if I can even call them that.

I had been walking back to the apartment when I decided to take an extra turn. I can’t say why, beyond just the simple fact that I felt compelled to wander. I carried nothing of value to interest thieves though and I’m not an easy target for any lightly armed thief (or group of them). I’ve come out on top of several muggings and “knife fights” and though I don’t want to lose any more blood, the thought doesn’t scare me nearly as much as it should. I feel confident in most places, and more so here. So when the urge struck me, I turned to the right and then turned again and again, until I had begun to take random turns and wander the streets in the warm night air. There was no chill in the air tonight (as I’m sure there isn’t now, as I write this) and that fact only added to the dreamlike unreality of what happened to me next.

The first shock that I had was when I noticed two animals on the sidewalk in front of me, exposed to the light while the rest of the street seemed to be in shadow. It was a cat and a dog and the dog, a small breed (I don’t know much about dog breeds) was furiously copulating with the cat. I could hear the dog panting and the sound seemed almost as if it were amplified. It thrust itself into the cat with a rhythmic violence that trapped my eye for several seconds longer than was necessary. I was startled from my voyeuristic trance by a yowl from the cat that sounded frighteningly like that of a small child crying out in pain and anguish. My flesh crawled and my breath caught in my throat, as it is again now, on this warm tropical night. A chill ran down my spine as the cat’s eyes suddenly shined in the light and it let out another cry. I was suddenly aware of how deserted the streets were at that moment and how alone I felt. The streets seemed darker there than on my normal route home. I crossed the street to avoid the cat and dog that sounded, for all the world, like a child being tortured and crying out in pain.

No more than ten meters farther down the street and I began to hear voices coming from one of the houses. That fact was nothing remarkable by itself but the fact that the voices were in unaccented English was astonishing. I have not heard any such English since I bumped into the English teacher in Bogotá, almost two weeks ago. It was difficult to make out what exactly was being said, but I could discern maybe half a dozen voices inside the house. The other gate was open, as was the door to the house. Were they having a party? Why were there Americans here, in the middle of this quiet neighborhood in Santa Marta? I stopped walking and just listened in the street to those eerily familiar tones and snatches of phrases from my native tongue. I stood in the street and strained to understand what was being said, but it was impossible and I could only pick up words or phrases here and there. I moved closer to the gate, hoping I could hear better and understand what was happening. I can remember thinking, strangely enough, about the differences between the sound of English and the sound of Spanish. It is as though each language, and each dialect and subdialect of each language, has its own flavor. Yes, I thought of it as a flavor in that moment, and the metaphor seems just as appropriate now, hours later. In this case, it was the flavor of home and just as we never forget our mother’s cooking and will always long for a few dishes she made, so too I was caught by my desire to hear these English words. But also like a flavor, the effect of this conversation was intoxicating, almost like a narcotic. When I heard a voice inside the house call me by name and ask me inside, also in perfect and neutral English, I responded by walking into the shadowed interior, still unable to see who had spoken.

The house had high ceilings that were hidden in a shadow, as were the interiors of several rooms that I passed on my way deeper into the house. I turned several times as I tried to follow the source of the English words that grew almost imperceptibly louder as I moved deeper into the house, winding my way through its maze of corridors. I was no longer sure that I could find my way out again, and I wasn’t sure of which of the doors behind me I had passed through originally. It was at that moment that I found myself in a room bathed in deep shadow into which my eyes strained to see figures seated in a loose arrangement around the edge, near what must have been the walls. The sense of being in a dream intensified yet more. I honestly could not believe that what I was experiencing was real and I felt almost certain that I had walked into a dream, somehow, and that I was already home in my apartment. That belief is in doubt now though as I lie here recording my memory of the events of earlier tonight. How could it have been a dream if I am here now, awake, writing all this down?

There were multiple conversations occurring all at once, intersecting, overlapping, breaking apart and crashing into one another again, like the ripples from stones dropped into still water. I was at a disadvantage for having arrived late and not having been previously acquainted with the characters. To my right, two young men and a young woman talked about hiring a sicario to kill someone in Bogotá and this somehow intermingled with a discussion of the indigent population of Medellín. The financial consequences of the political rift with Venezuela washed over me from the front and this broke upon the shores of a disagreement between a young woman who thought that the Chávez, though a petty dictator in his own right, had value as a South American antipode to US influence while a young man thought that this opposition was counter to the interests of Colombia and that any project for unity was bound to fail if it was based, as its core principle, on opposing the US. From the left came a long and complicated explanation of a Catholic ritual, the veneration of saints, the counting of rosary beads and the eating of the flesh of a god then mixed with voices on the right who were again talking about a murder. Had it happened already? Was it someone they knew or were they describing a news story? The descriptions seemed somehow too vivid for the account to be secondhand and the bodily mutilation of the victim crossed and mixed with the bizarre Catholic ritual that now seemed more pagan than Christian and from the deep shadow in front of me in the room came a thread of the conversation that seemed to suggest that the natives who lived in Santa Marta before the Spanish arrived knew of a secret that is carried in the blood. The blood is the inspiration of the red that Chávez has taken for his coat of arms, as it was of the Communists of Lenin’s era and it is the blood that runs in the jungle in the “Red Zone” in the south of Colombia and it is the wine that becomes blood at the Catholic mass and the mutilated man in Bogotá bleeds into the street, his perforated body bleeding from deep within. The shadows are suffocating, but I imagine that I can smell blood. At first it is more like the faint suggestion of blood but soon I am overcome by the smell of blood, as if there were rivers of it running around my feet and clouds were floating in the air around me, loaded with red droplets of liquid life.

There was a woman standing behind me and she pressed herself lightly against me as she grasped my forearm from behind. She was tall, very tall, and I had the impression that she was unnaturally thin. She leaned in close to me and whispered into my ear from behind. She told me that I was very lost, very lost indeed, and that I would not make it out of this labyrinth alive. I remained perfectly still. I was not certain if she was referring to the house or some other labyrinth. I asked simply, “Where am I?” and she again whispered into my ear from behind. She told me I had made this place. She told me that there was only one way out. I turned to face her. She was taller than any Colombian I had seen in Santa Marta and incredibly thin, like a vision of starvation. Her face was hidden partially in shadow. She took my hand and I let her. She pulled my hand to her and I touched her hips. There was no flesh there, only bone. Just dry, rough bone where flesh should have been. At that moment, I imagined that her face, still hidden in shadow was that of a skull. I looked for her eyes but found only empty blackness.

The voices behind me in the darkened room were no longer conversing and I could hear just short, clipped phrases and single words, each more unsettling than the last. Profanities, curses, vulgarities, mutilated genitals, viscera, eyes gouged out, maggots, shit covered wounds, a sharp blade across the throat, poison in the brain. The air was suddenly colder and I quickly pulled my hand back from the boney hips of the tall woman, just as one might pull back from a hot stove. The room was cold now. So cold. I knew I had to get out but I didn’t know how. I rushed past the woman and through the first open door. I hurried down a corridor and took another door which was open and the air was warmer. I followed the warm air closer to the exit, turning again and again and choosing again the warmer of the doorways until at last I was outside in the warm night air, but the gate was closed. Running to it, I found the key still in the lock. It turned and I frantically opened the locking mechanism and the gate. I didn’t look back until I had shut the gate behind me, but when I did I saw only a darkened house, like any other on the street. The feeling of dreaming, of the unreal, was beginning to fade but much of it still remains even now as I pen my recollections of the events of tonight.

Did I really experience what I remember so vividly or was it some trick of the mind? Did I stumble into some strange gathering that I simply misinterpreted and misunderstood or was it something else entirely? I can only assert that I have no idea what the truth of the matter is and can only record the events as accurately as I remember them, no matter how unreal they may appear.

Music -- Rap1

I have been back from Colombia for several weeks now and I have some writing to share with you. I have written quite a lot this summer, but little of it is appropriate for this space, so what you will see here will be a selection. I began to write a longer and more scholarly piece about the nature of money: economists's understanding of money (with a particular focus on the French school of economic thought in pre-revolution France and its focus on the value of agriculture), my early musings on money conceived in the framework of Newtonian physics, commentary about how the debt based currency system that we have now makes my previous views obsolete, and a brief look at the consequences of our modern, and thoroughly broken, system. I began to write it three times and I still have parts of the third edition, with some citations. But I have decided not to post it now. My focus has shifted for the time being and I may or may not come back to that piece. If I do, I will post it here.

A coworker of mine asked me several months ago what type of music I liked. Another asked me last week. Both of them followed their initial question by asking me if I like Metallica or not. Of course, considering the persons asking the question here, it is a loaded question which can only be answered in the affirmative. Some of Metallica's music is very nice but much of it, in my opinion is not. Their album done with the San Fransisco Symphony Orquestra was particularly nice. Here are two songs from that concert (No Leaf Clover and One):

Metallica is not my favorite band, but they deserve respect. The first man who asked me the question also asked if I liked rap and I fell into his trap and answered honestly. He commented that he had forgotten that I am only twelve (I am olde than twelve, really I am). I can understand why he would say this though. Rap and hip hop have become Soulja Boy, Little Wayne, Jazy-Z and the hundreds of other instantly forgettable, no talent celebrities who pretend to rap and sell millions of copies of their songs because of the power of marketing. Thousands of songs are now produced that repeat the same three or four lines through the entire track and which invariably tell the same simplistic story of drinking, clubbing and, making music and crude sexual inuendo. When I say I like rap, I do not mean this. I will share with you some rap songs that do not fit the template of what most people know as rap now. The songs are dark though and they contain explicit and violent subject matter as well as foul language. Be forewarned, this is not PG13 rated material in this post.

The first I will mention is Jedi Mind Tricks and their album Violent By Design in particular. It is dark, violent, and lyrically smooth for English rap. Their imagery is viceral, sometimes crude and other times suggestive of something more. It lacks the depth of Roughman, Immortal Technique, Nach, or even Cartel de Santa, but it is a good introduction to the genre. Here are three songs from that album to start with.

Switching continents now, the next rapper is a transplant from Somalia to Canada but he raps about Somalia. His name is K'naan. He brings an African sound to his rapping, just as Immortal Technique, though a New Yorker rapping in English, brings his Peruvian background and Spanish into his rapping. K'naan has two songs that I will feature here. The first describes his hometown of Mogadishu and seems to be a form of one-upmanship with American gangsta rappers who rap about gore and violence (because he has seen the worst of what the world has to show). The second is a sadly hopeful song about Africa.

Returning to American rappers, Rugged Man, a rapper who colaborates with Immortal Technique and Jedi Mind Tricks and whose work appears with them has produced a haunting rap about the American War in Vietnam based on his father's experience. This song is extremely tight and fast and the lyrics, rhythm, and flow is the best I have ever heard in English rap (some Mexican and some Spanish rap can challenge him for flow). This song touches me. It is difficult to catch all the subtle detail the first time through and it takes a few more times to just appreciate how he rhymes and flows. Enjoy, Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story:

Immortal Technique has powerful spoken word tracks (with a song in the background) that aren't raps as well as some that I won't post here because of their content. His noteable albums include Revolutionary Vol. 1 and Revolutionary Vol. 2 with 1 being the better of the two. He is political and he seems to see himself as a liberation minded musician/philosopher. Some of his songs are weaker in lyrical quality or flow, but this is usually when he is reaching politically. Immortal Technique is linked with the group Jedi Mind Tricks (raps with them and on his own). The two songs here are examples of his political rapping while the third is more personal. For a glimpse into his darker work, search for the song titled "Dance with the Devil"--I won't post it here, but you have been warned.

Next up: quality rap in Spanish (i.e. NOT Daddy Yankee). Noteable examples: Cartel de Santa, Nach, Cuervo Rolo.