Tag Archives: kansas city

Berroa and the Blue October

I’ve been a Royals fan for all 27 years of my life and until Friday sometimes it felt like all I had to show for it was this lousy t-shirt.

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OK, it’s actually a jersey. I have a few other Royals t-shirts, too, ones of Mark Teahen, David DeJesus and Jeremy Affeldt that I got for free back during the “T-Shirt Tuesday” giveaways of 2006 and 2007. This jersey, however, didn’t come for free. I received it as a birthday gift in 2003. My parents got it personalized on Eastbay for me so I could walk around displaying my love of the Royals through my favorite player at the time: (gulp) Angel Berroa. Continue reading

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Kansas City in the Summertime

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I was in the Crossroads on Thursday night. Drove down there from Johnson County with my dad.  Thunder clouds hung overhead, gray but not entirely threatening, and summer’s humidity snuck through the windows, which were cracked open an inch or two as the air conditioner blasted.

I love the Crossroads. Set a few blocks from downtown, this area has a Wild West feel. There’s enough grit and wide openness to imagine yourself in a self-sustaining enclave isolated from the glitz and rush of a city, but the tall buildings touching the sky in the distance assure you that everything you need is right here. Continue reading

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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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One last song in Kansas City

It was the last week of classes, maybe a Wednesday, a warm spring morning in Lawrence, Kansas. I had a week left of college — well, technically, a couple days of classes and then finals — and I had promised my editor at the school paper that I’d file a farewell column that afternoon.

I can’t exactly remember what else I had going on that day. That night would be a party for our last night of production at the student newspaper, and I felt like maybe I had something else to do as well. In any event, I wanted to sit down and write that column. I had an idea of what I wanted to write, and I had already pieced it together in my head, but I needed a solid chunk of time. Maybe two hours or so. That should do it, I told myself.

I also had a class that morning at 9 a.m. … Journalism Ethics.

Too bad, I thought. I went to the library and started writing.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About The Men Who Sell Pixie Stix By The Highway

OK. So there are these men in Kansas City. Well, usually they’re men. And, anyway, they’re always standing at this busy intersection, this one right by my house, just a few blocks away, right down by the highway.

Like literally, By. The. Highway. Like maybe a hundred yards or so. Let’s see. There’s a stoplight. And then an intersection. And then the highway.

And what are they doing? They’re selling Pixie Stix. Yep, fucking Pixie Stix. Those big, plastic ones. Giant fucking Pixie Stix. Now, this is actually not the first time I’ve seen these men in Kansas City. I used to see them down by this busy intersection near the Plaza, right around State Line and Shawnee Mission Parkway. That made no sense, either. There was no convenient place to stop. The intersection was all sorts of busy. And they just stood there, on the medians, hawking pixie sticks. Giant fucking pixie sticks.

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Unsolicited Endorsements XXVII

Because sometimes you just want friends to tell you about cool things… the Brew House team offers up its weekly mix of author-supported goodness. 

Album: “In My G4 Over Da Sea” — Neutral Bling Hotel

In February 1998, Neutral Milk Hotel released “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”, a seminal concoction* of lo-fi indie rock.

*If you’ve never listened to the blown-out guitars on “Holland, 1945″, well, do so right now.

After the release of the album, Neutral Milk frontman Jeff Mangum more or less disappeared for the next decade. He stopped releasing music and only showed up to play live shows within the last few years.

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Unsolicited Endorsements: XXI

Because sometimes you just want friends to tell you about cool things… the Brew House team offers up its weekly mix of author-supported goodness.

Painting: “The Twist” — Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton’s roots are in Missouri. He was born in Neosho; once worked as a cartoonist at the Joplin American newspaper in Joplin, Mo., and finally settled in Kansas City, teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute (where he’d cross paths with a rebellious young student named Dennis Hopper).* Along the way, he would become famous for his depiction of life in the U.S. — often in the form of conflict (old traditions vs. industrialization, the settling of the old west, etc.)

Here’s “The Wreck of the Ole ’97

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Why, yes, Paul Rudd was once in a French commercial for Super Nintendo

The title of this post may be the most bizarre thing I’ve ever written. No, really. Paul Rudd. Kansas City’s Paul Rudd. French commercial. Super Nintendo*. Wait, what?

*The best part: I once owned F-Zero, the futuristic racing game Rudd is playing at the beginning of the commercial. 

I actually interweaved my way to this commercial through a Twitter link about Jack Black appearing in an old Atari commercial. Meh. But then there was Rudd, sitting on the side of the webpage, clutching a controller with a funny grin on his face. And, well, once you’ve seen Paul Rudd in a French commercial for Super Nintendo, you just can’t go back.

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Country Music

It was a dark Friday night, a long drive home from a high school basketball game on the outskirts of Kansas City, and I began to fiddle with the radio. It’s strange. In Kansas City, the radio formats change so often, with so much predictability (and yet, no creativity), that sometimes it’s hard to figure out what station is playing what.

Wait? Is that a top-40 station now? Wait, classic rock? Another one? Aren’t there like six of those? And must they all have “Bad to the Bone” in rotation at all times?

One of the latest to change — a station called 99.7 The Point — purports to play “Today’s Best Music.” This is, of course, a pretty vague description. And considering the station was playing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” a few minutes ago, it’s not even really all that accurate. And yet, there’s one thing that doesn’t change in Kansas City radio: the country stations.

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Buck O’Neil and Old Friends

Late last week, I spent a morning at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum at 18th and Vine in Kansas City.

I was there for work, but it didn’t feel like it. I was there to interview Bob Kendrick*, the president of the NLBM and an old friend of Buck O’Neil. And I knew this would be a morning about Buck and baseball and raw, authentic emotions.  Continue reading

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