Ever since music avatar and popular culture icon Prince Rogers Nelson died on April 21, 2016 there have been many tributes and testaments to his staggering talent but I think his most lasting legacy may be his comfort with non-conformity.
Prince KNEW he was different and that was his strength. He didn’t look, sing, play, or write like anyone else. Make no mistake, he had internalized the personas of Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone but through the prism of his own contradictory and ambiguous worldview.
Blurring the likes between black and white, straight and gay, sinner or saint, rock and R&B, was an anathema to the culturally rigid society of the 80’s. A world of cold-war paranoia, apartheid, and homophobia. Through his music and performances, he pushed the boundaries of what was considered to be socially acceptable.
As a Generation X black kid growing up in Milwaukee I knew my experience wasn’t much different from Prince’s Minneapolis and I saw him as a hero. Championing the underground and the counterculture and not allowing himself to be defined by his environment. The rebel, the hippie, the punk, the freak, and the queer were all equally attracted to his persona.
I never imagined that his vision would become the mainstream and that he would be embraced as an elder statesman by the cultural elite.
But, then again I never saw him dying at middle age either. Rest in peace, Prince there will never be another one like you.
Coda: 5 of Todd’s Favorite Prince Songs (in no particular order)
“Dirty Mind”—Beautifully stark in its new-wave minimalism and some of Prince’s finest drum and synth programming.
“I Wanna Be Your Lover”(Album Version)—At first blush this 1979 single sounds very much like post-disco Sylvester, but at 2:28 mark the track transforms into a hypnotic, proto-house electrojam.
“Controversy”—This is Prince’s Declaration of Independence as he fully embraces his bad boy persona and his mastery of the recording studio.
“Lady Cab Driver”—A magnum opus in storytelling and cinematic in production, Prince seamlessly merges his funk, rock, and pop influences into ONE song.
“She Always in My Hair”—The greatest of his impressive body of B-Sides, Prince lays down one of his most infectious guitar riffs to great effect.
A cultural institution and champion of independent music has closed. For 20 years, New York City’s Other Music has served as an invaluable resource for obscure, alternative, and forgotten music.
As a music collector, DJ, and former indie record store manager, I remember when every major city had an Other Music—small, indie stores that doubled as communal spaces serving poseurs, affectionados, students, and fanatics alike. Nowadays, places like Other Music are a rare exception—a reminder of an era long past and another lost opportunity for us as human beings to connect on an interpersonal level.
I still remember ordering by mail or friends making trips to New York to secure the latest electronic and club music imports from Other Music. These strange and obscure pieces opened our minds, formed the foundation of our DJ sets, and helped us spread the electronic gospel to the uninitiated and unconverted.
The New York Times’ Manjula Varghese’s touching video tribute to Other Music reminds us that places for self expression and artistic pursuit still matter.
MacArthur Genius Grant Awardee and National Book Award Winning Author (Between the World and Me), Essayist, and Social Critic Ta-Nehisi Coates reinvigorates the Wakandan warrior Black Panther for a new generation of readers.
Infused with a social and political urgency uncommonly present in comics, the most advanced society on Earth (Wakanda) is in the midst of revolution and unrest and the warrior/prince T’Challa must deftly balance the duties of superhero and monarch. Brian Stelfreeze’s artwork is cinematic in its scope and movement.
Black Panther will have a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) helms the upcoming film starring Chadwick Boseman (42, Captain America Civil War).
If this comic series is any indication, Black Panther will be the prototypical hero for the new millennium.
The response to this series (now in its third issue) has been overwhelming and Coates is providing a video update of each issue paired with exciting new music from artists such as Run the Jewels, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy.
Legendary New York fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died last week, he was 87.
His more than forty years of photographing New York fashion and street style is a singularly astounding body of work and a fascinating catalog of cultural anthropology.
My first encounter with Bill Cunningham’s work was attending the premiere of the documentary “Bill Cunningham’s New York” at the AFI Silverdocs Festival in 2010.
Although I remember frequently seeing his photographs in the New York Times, I never knew anything about the dedicated artist behind the camera.
Leaving the theatre I was awestruck by the passion, focus and dedication Mr. Cunningham had for his craft. In this age of social media there are many, many street fashion photographers; but Bill Cunningham was a true original.
Muhammad Ali, an athlete whose accomplishments in and outside of the boxing ring transcends the world of sport and makes him one of the most recognizable and influential figures of the past century.
Here are five lessons to be gleaned from “The Greatest”:
Believe in Yourself—Muhammad Ali called himself the Greatest long before anyone else did; so believe in your abilities and banish the negative self-talk.
Believe in Something Greater Than Yourself—Mr. Ali’s strong spiritual faith was a source of both humility and strength during a time of great social and political upheaval. Find your center and it will ground you in times of adversity.
Believe in the Greatness of Others—We can’t do it all alone and we must rely on a team to reach our goals. Choose your friends, partners, and confidents wisely and in turn help them achieve their goals.
Believe That You Can Change Your World—If not you then, who?!
Believe the Change You Affect Will Be Remembered—Execute tasks and complete work with your legacy in mind.
Electronic music production and DJ training facility Dubspot has been instrumental educating the public on the history and technique of the DJ and two-time DMC (Disco Music Club) turntable champion and instructor Shiftee’s examination on the craft is an arresting blend of historical lecture and performance art.
This is an excellent primer on one of the pillars of Hip-Hop culture (Break Dancing, Emceeing, DJing, Graffiti Art, and Beatboxing) and for those who wish to explore the subject in detail I recommend the following:
Wild Style (Film), Hip-Hop is exposed to the World in Charlie Ahern’s seminal 1983 film
Scratch (Film), Doug Pray’s fascinating documentary on the history of Turntablism and the cult of the DJ
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (Book), Jeff Chang explores the economic, political, and social forces that create and shape what we now know as Hip-Hop Culture
From my childhood I fondly remember staring at Richard Amsel’s Raiders of the Lost Ark poster outside of the theatre box office: it’s clean lines, graphic symmetry, and beautifully rendered images and bold colors inspired me.
As a designer, I have always loved to create and study posters. They have always struck the balance between information and creativity; often revealing an artist’s distinctive style and singular point-of-view as much as the product or service it’s promoting.
Cooper Hewitt’s How Posters Work Exhibition explores the theory and technique of the poster and is on view from May 8, 2015 to November 15, 2015. I have included samples below, but a detailed look at the curated pieces for the exhibition are online and print in a companion book edited by Ellen Lupton, Cooper Hewitt’s Curator of Contemporary Design.
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