There are those who view hip-hop as a commercial entity, and those who see hip-hop as a way of life. The latter is how Rob Jackson, a.k.a. Blue Black, looks at hip-hop culture in his own life. Jackson, who grew up in The Bronx, met fellow MC Asheru when they both lived in Charlottesville and they began recording together as The Unspoken Heard. The Heard released two CDs that were well received. While Asheru and Black have relocated to the D.C. area, they have landed some great gigs. Asheru has written the theme song for “The Boondocks” TV show now airing on the Cartoon Network, and also has a new mix-tape release, While You Were Sleeping, which is available online.
But Jackson is looking for more that is positive in his work than bling. Currently, he is working on an independent news, politics and music podcast called Free Mix Radio. It is the brainchild of Dr. Jared Ball, journalist, WPFW (Washington, D.C.) radio host and grassroots activist. Jackson describes the vision as a “parallel education” that happens alongside kids’ school education. He likens it to our own Music Resource Center, but on a broader scale. Part of the idea came from mix tapes, which for kids now are often more popular than the albums where the tunes originated. Jackson thought that a mix tape could involve not only independent music, but also independent news and information as well. Find it online at http://freemix radio.voxunion.com.
On the music side, Jackson says, “What I’m doing is working within the Free Mix Radio format to create a marketable alternative to the standard LP. Album sales are down and digital distribution has become king, so the idea is to embrace the change in music consumption and use our talents and time to create a new type of product that would be distributed like a podcast from a weblog.”
Also, kids have a lot more technology available to them than he did. Today, they are creating beats on their Macs, taking them home and coming back the next day with a finished product. Jackson sees the production of tunes as equally important as the consumption. While a kid can dream of being Jay-Z, it is just not that realistic, and Jackson sees the greater value in hip-hop as a system in which people consume, trade and produce culture as an end in itself.
On a less digital level, Bobby Read, who is well known locally as a fine producer of records, will release a CD with his own band Monkfish at Gravity Lounge this Thursday, June 29. Read, who also has another more personal production in the works, is known in front of the scenes as the reed player in Bruce Hornsby’s band. But Monkfish, which features some of the best musicians in the area, is playing all Read originals and will put on a great show of instrumental music.