Category Archives: Culture

“50-inch screen, money-green leather sofa”: A middle class person could now live Biggie’s “Juicy” lifestyle

“Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G. is perhaps my favorite rap song of all time. It’s a Puffy-produced, nostalgic ride through the early-to-mid 90s, the history of New York hip-hop and a brief autobiography of Big, how he goes from “a common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach.”

It also came to my attention recently while listening to the song that the lavish lifestyle he brags about isn’t really all that lavish — certainly not anymore, given our advancements in technology. The life he live is more middle class to upper middle class than the Gilded Age boasted by Kanye and Jay-Z in “Watch The Throne.”

Because this is The Brewhouse and we tend to do awesome, pointless things I decided to see what it would actually cost to live like Big. Here’s a financial breakdown of the “Juicy” lifestyle. Continue reading

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Forward in Boston

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I went to Boston last weekend because I wanted to see the marathon the year after.

Marathons have environments that defy logic. I’ve seen them in St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas and now Boston. To think: An event that considers its origin the death of a Greek messenger sharing the good news of a battle is equated with a party. But it’s true. Marathons have evolved from the necessity of Pheidippides, to the straight-business approach of most of the twentieth century, to block parties full of behavior that would be considered odd in about every other circumstance. Continue reading

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Subway or No Way

All Subway “sandwich artists” employ one of two very precise techniques for slathering mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip) on their god-awful sandwiches. Their choice is dependent on the utensils available at the respective restaurants. Some Subways carry the plastic spatula. The artists at these establishments dip this rectangular piece of plastic into a square-ish receptacle – also made of plastic – twirl the spatula until it is sufficiently coated in mayo and then splotch the mayo back and forth on the sandwich in a motion almost entirely unlike one used by Monet as he applied a final touch to his canvas, searching for a perfect measure of abstraction.

Other Subway restaurants store the mayonnaise in a canister similar to the type used for ketchup and mustard. These canisters are opaque, the better to prevent customers from seeing the yellow, solidified state the mayonnaise has reached while it has lingered away from refrigeration for several hours. The artists squeeze the mayonnaise out and in a fluid motion they zig-zag it over and over and over again atop the cold cuts. Though the strategies involve markedly different skill sets, each leads to the same frustrating, invariable conclusion, which is a mayonnaise-soaking so deep and thick that a small rodent could drown on that piece of nine-grain honey oat bread.

I imagine the sandwich artists are trained how to spread mayonnaise during orientation when they are newly hired. Some middle-manager on a video tutorial probably says, “Remember kid. You can never give someone enough mayonnaise.” After taking a few minutes to display a good mayonnaise-drenching, the middle-manager, I suspect, must also train the newbie employees to accept the look on the face they are bound to see from the customer whose sandwich has been dampened, which is, invariably, a look of resignation.

I haven’t been to Subway in a long time. Continue reading

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Music and 2012

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I hate many things about year-end lists. For one, I hate the phrase you see when you encounter a list —  “It’s that time of the year” — which is really code for “OK, here’s a list because we need to provide something to click on while everybody goes on a two-week holiday bender of eggnog and Christmas cookies.”

But I also love many things about these lists. Sure, they’re gimmicky and lazy. But they’re also important. Life is fast, and hard, and busy. And sometimes, we need people to remind us what happened. I have been doing this list here for a couple years now. And I’ll go ahead and recycle what I wrote last year. Sure, it’s lazy. But then again, so are lists.

When I think back to (2012), I know I won’t think of one monolithic theme or narrative. Life doesn’t work that way. Not for me. But I will remember certain moments… and certain songs. So here we go, finally, the 12 songs I will remember from 2012.

12 Civilian — Wye Oak

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11 Same Love — Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

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10 Swimming Pools — Kendrick Lamar

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9 Hold On — Alabama Shakes

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8 The House That Heaven Built — Japandroids

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7 Take A Walk — Passion Pit

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6 Ghost Fields — Murder By Death

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5 Live and Die — The Avett Brothers

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4 We Take Care of Our Own — Bruce Springsteen

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3 Harlem Roulette — Mountain Goats

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2 Bigger Than Love — Ben Gibbard & Aimee Mann

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1 The King of the World — First Aid Kit

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On Internet fame, authenticity and Mac Lethal

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His name is Mac Lethal, a rapper. He writes fast little rhymes. He posts them on YouTube. Sometimes, they go viral.

It happened again this week.

On Tuesday, Mac Lethal published his latest creation, a video titled “Oh My  God! You Need To See This!” (Or at least, I think it was titled that for a while. And then I guess it changed.) It (was) a fantastic title, especially for a video that, presumably, was made to go viral. But the content of the video isn’t all that important. In this case, this was a screed rap against the lunacy of the Westboro Baptist Church, an emotional outburst of words and beats in the wake of the wounds of Newtown, Conn.

But this post isn’t really about Lethal’s latest video, in and of itself. This is more about Lethal, or what he represents, or what talent and ambition represent in today’s free-store culture. I’ll pause to note that these thoughts are incomplete, these ideas bloggy and undeveloped.

But let’s start with Lethal. He is a Kansas City native. Put out a few albums. Raps about the Royals. A year ago, he was living in a somewhat crappy apartment in Overland Park. The kind of place any late 20-something would live.

And for me, this all makes him interesting. He’s been around the KC rap game for years, showing up at shows in Lawrence, hosting shows on the radio, playing a cultural character in a Midwest city with too few of them.

He is not famous. No, not in that way. But if you live in Kansas City, you may have HEARD of him, and you might think you should know who he is, and in this odd Internet age, that can be part of this bizarre realm of not-really-famous fame.

“Hey that’s Mac Lethal. He’s the Kansas City dude who raps insanely fast and writes sort of ironic songs. I guess I’ve heard of him”

Maybe if a Kansas City rapper would have made it big; maybe if Tech N9ne had produced a best-selling, top-40 single, the environment would be different. Not better, mind you; but different.

Last fall, Lethal released a YouTube video of him in a kitchen, spitting out some of the fastest lines you’ve ever heard, an ironically goofy cover (at least, that’s the way I took it) of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”.

The fact that this YouTube video now has more than 27 million views is important to our overall thesis here. But it is, perhaps, just as interesting (although maybe not all that important) that Lethal could gain such click-ified success by rapping lines like: “Gotta butter up another one, and put it  on the skillet, another couple minutes until it’s done-done / ain’t nobody fucking with this kid, so tell Jerry Sandusky I’m gonna kill him with a stun gun.”

But all this Internet fame, all this viral success, all this bizarre creation of art, well… it leads to few questions.

What do you do after you create a video with 27 million views… and then go viral again? And has Mac Lethal passed a threshold … an invisible barrier of internet fame, never to return again? I guess what I’m saying is this: If Mac Lethal has ambitions, dreams about being an artist who supports himself on his work… does becoming an Internet sensation hinder this pursuit?

Part of Lethal’s appeal, part of what makes him unique, is how home-made it all feels. He creates a beat on his iPhone, he sits on his couch, he spits out a perfect rhyme on the “first” take, and then he turns the camera off. This is not Rebecca Black, we’re told, or some methodically planned lip-dub proposal; this is hip-hop in its purest form.

And it’s quite brilliant, in its own little way. But here’s the question: When you get 27 million views while rapping about flapjacks, can you maintain authenticity?

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Seattle is a music city. This is the rep, anyway. For years, a young rapper named Ben Haggerty plowed away in the local hip-hop scene. He performed at local shows, appeared at Seattle sporting events, and earned thousands of clicks on YouTube.

He was not famous. But he was notable. A white rapper from Seattle with a little bit of talent. If you asked people around  the Seattle scene, they might say something like… “Yea, I’ve sort of heard of him.”

But how does somebody like this break through?

Earlier this year, Haggerty released a song called “Same Love”. It was a serious song about serious stuff.

Within a few weeks, it viral. A few weeks later, it went to No. 1 on iTunes.  At some point during all this, Haggerty performed on the Ellen Show with his producer, Ryan Lewis.

She introduced him as her hero: His name is Macklemore, a rapper.

I thought off Macklemore the other day when I watched Mac Lethal’s latest creation. Maybe it was the similar names. Or the thought of two underground musicians taking on an admirable, emotional issue.

And then I scrolled through the “About” section on Mac Lethal’s Westboro rap.

It had the lyrics, and some info on Lethal’s facebook and twitter pages. And then it had this  message:

“Please send this to Ellen Degeneres ASAP!!!!”

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The Apocalypse by Hip-Hop

So the world might end later this week. If civilization does go all Cormac McCarthy on us, I think I owe a beer to Nas, a spliff to Busta Rhymes and whatever the thinking-man’s drug is to Chuck D. Now, I won’t actually be able to make good on this promise on December 21. I mean, I’ll be dead, probably roasted by nuclear lasers, and I don’t personally know any of these musicians. It just feels like I do. Their apocalyptic thoughts and predictions have been swirling around my head for way too damn long.

Yes, it’s true. Hip-hop musicians actually do have something in common with Glenn Beck: They preach apocalyptic messages all the freaking time. Continue reading

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Tilly and The Wall

The other night, on a Sunday in Lawrence, I walked down the street and watched the band, Tilly and the Wall, perform at a place called the Jackpot Saloon.

This was surprising for a few reasons, namely that I didn’t know that Tilly and the Wall was still a thing. So, yes, that would have to rate as the most surprising aspect of the night. A little background: When I was in college, I worked for the student radio station at KU, KJHK, perhaps the most hipster thing in a really fucking hipster town.

I was on the sports staff, mostly doing play-by-play for KU basketball games, and occasionally going to staff meetings that looked like the editorial staff at VICE went to a bar in Greenpoint and the whole thing exploded into one mess of scarves and glasses and plaid shirts from the 1970s.

Continue reading

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The Gypsy Man

NEW ORLEANS — The Gypsy Man in the blue shirt was shouting, his voice careening off walls and into empty alleys.

“I’m the fucking gazda,” he would say.

It wasn’t quite a scream, or a bellow, or even a holler. It was a quiet shout, if such a thing exists. And he was directing his seeming anger toward a young woman named Gina. I can’t say that Gina was strung out. But she looked it. Her skin was brown, but maybe just a tick too translucent. Her teeth were a mangled mess. Her hair was thinning and brittle. More than that, she appeared disoriented — the toxins in her body winning a battle over the healthy endorphins, if such a chemical process is even possible.

“We’re gypsies!” the man in the blue shirt shouted.  Continue reading

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The College Town Circle of Life

On a Sunday afternoon this summer on my way to a coffee shop, I parked my car on the side of West Beaver Avenue, a road that cuts through a leafy neighborhood adjacent to downtown. The residents are primarily college students, you know, real salt of the earth inhabitants. Rather than measure worth by monetary gain, stature is gauged by seconds spent standing upside-down atop a keg, or by swiftness of movement after lighting a couch on fire in the middle of the street. The simplistic beauty of this lifestyle reminds me of late 19th-century America, when men and women lived off the land and daily alcohol consumption stood at about a liter per capita.

I live a half-mile away from the student neighborhood in a subdivision known as College Heights. The neighborhood, for the most part, houses professors and their families. It’s kind of quiet. It is famously where Joe Paterno lived for most of his life. The houses and the inhabitants are old, the structures and the humans dating back to the 1930s.

Trash pickup here is on Monday mornings. Yellow bags rest on yellowing lawns. There is nothing else to the curbside landscape. The opposite is true in the Beaver Avenue neighborhood. Trash heaps, nearly every week of every week, are like free stores. I’ve seen skis, computer speakers, mattresses, dressers, desks, lamps, Dodge Vipers and actual vipers. Whatever does not work for you will work for someone else. One man’s venomous snake is another man’s treasure. Continue reading

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#MusicMonday: Macklemore

Every Monday morning. Music so good, it must be shared. 

This week: “Same Love” — Macklemore, the Seattle rapper, and producer Ryan Lewis, featuring Mary Lambert. 

The song can be found on Macklemore’s latest album — “The Heist” — and, yes, the name pays homage to former Mariners infielder Mark McLemore.

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