Tag Archives: midwest

Invasive Species (They and Me and You)

I see the way they look at me and mumble a meek “Hi” as I duck into my renovated apartment in the building we share.

After all, they were here first. They lived through the days of glass-enclosed cashiers, barren after-dark avenues and the crime that made New York notorious. My Brooklyn — its craft beer bars, wine shops and organic groceries — isn’t their Brooklyn.

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Tech, tech, tech, tech, nine, nine, nine

Everyone from the Kansas City area has a Tech N9ne story.

There was one time that he showed up in the parking lot at a Saint Thomas Aquinas football game.

He arrived in a massive van, decorated with a mural of his recent album, “Absolute Power.” The car was somewhat out of place. This was St. Thomas Aquinas for a Friday night football game. The parking lot was filled with mothers’ minivans, Leawood* students’ Lexus’s and the car jockeys’ Preludes and souped-up Civics.

*My bad, I mean Leahood.

Tech N9ne styled his hair in orange dreads that night, just like on the album cover/side of the touring van. He didn’t quite fit in.

No, the car, the hair, the fact that Tech N9ne was rumored to have worshipped Satan – it all didn’t quite feel right in a parking lot in a southern Johnson County Catholic school.

But no one seemed to care. A celebrity had come to Aquinas. This was automatically big news, no matter the person. Fran Drescher could have arrived, giving out free DVD’s of “The Nanny,” and we would have thrown a parade.

And here was Tech N9ne. Tech-FREAKING-N9ne at our high school. He was famous. Yeah, he must have been famous. He was Tech N9ne.

That mattered to us.

***

I write this blog now because I just noticed that Tech N9ne has a new CD. I saw it at Best Buy in Dallas on Sunday afternoon. It’s called K.O.D., an acronym for King of Darkness. I don’t expect many people down here will buy it.

They won’t understand it. They won’t understand Tech N9ne. They’re not from Kansas City.

To us, he’s the most famous rapper to ever come out of the city, probably the most famous musician of the last 10 to 15 years, assuming you don’t count David Cook (and I don’t).

When he released his “Killer” album in 2008, Kansas City Star music critic Timothy Finn called it a classic. Jason Whitlock called it the best rap album since Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.”

It sold 36,000 copies in its first week. That’s certainly not bad, but something hailed as a classic in Kansas City carried little weight anywhere else.

And that makes total sense.

To everyone outside of Jackson, Johnson, Cass and Douglas Counties, Tech N9ne is nothing. He’s a guy who likely seems disturbed given his album covers and song titles. He’s a guy who hasn’t appeared on MTV, who has done few songs with other reputable musicians in this decade. He’s a guy who’s not…famous.

Those of us in Kansas City don’t quite understand that.

***

There was one time a friend of my brother’s hung out with the fast crowd at Shawnee Mission South during his freshman year.

One of the passengers on this night smoked what may or may not have been an illegal substance and didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group.

He was Tech N9ne.

This story, along with mine from the beginning, should illustrate a bigger point. Think about it. Two times, at least, Tech N9ne was spotted hanging out among people I know in Johnson County.

That doesn’t exactly help out with street cred*. And if you’re interested in becoming a famous rapper, you need street cred, something that doesn’t come easy in hip-hop.

* Whenever people say “street cred,” it’s always “cred” never “credit.” What, does it show a lack of street cred to use the word credit?

You see, rap music is strange in that lame suburbanites such as myself buy the great majority of records. So to become famous and keep your street cred you have to make music that alternately pleases this suburban crowd, yet also alienates them so as to impress the urban crowd.

This can be done in multiple ways.

One, you can include words and messages that lame suburbanites don’t quite understand. An example of this would be the famous song by Lil’ Jon, “Get Low.” He repeated a highly explicit word in the chorus that I will not write because this is a family blog. No one who lived within 10 miles of a cul de sac knew what that word meant until Dave Chappelle hilariously brought this up on his TV show, sending suburbanites scrambling to urbandictionary.com.

Two, you can glorify crime and boast of a criminal background. 50 Cent does this as well as anyone. He talks about how he was shot several times before he got famous. Every once in a while he makes sure to get accused of a minor crime for which he will get acquitted, allowing him to skate off freely yet still put on the façade that he is a gangster/thug.

Three, you can start an imaginary feud with another rapper. Just mention some obscure line that doesn’t quite call someone out, but under the right circumstances could be interpreted that way. Then, six months later, declare that “the beef is on wax,” meaning it was all in good fun and won’t lead to any real fighting.

Tech N9ne didn’t pull this off. At the beginning of his career, he rapped about more standard topics such as repping his neighborhood and visiting far away hoods.

Then he dyed his hair orange. Then he wrote songs like “Slacker” and deeper, almost scary songs like “This Ring.” Then he started showing up in St. Thomas Aquinas parking lots and Shawnee Mission South social functions.

He didn’t hang around 56th and Highland too often.

He made moves that were innovative and bold, but in rap music, where clichés and catchy, formulaic hooks equal money, that’s not how you become famous.

***
Kansas City always wanted Tech N9ne to break through.

Maybe it was because of the way he uttered the name of our city in nearly every song, not to mention outlying places like Lawrence and Cameron, Mo. Maybe it was because he invented or at least popularized the drink, Caribou Lou*.

*That’s 151, Malibu Rum and pineapple juice. And if you are to listen to Tech, you can’t get the party started without it.

Maybe it was because no famous musicians (again, I’m not counting David Cook) have come from Kansas City since the Jazz age.
We knew we couldn’t compete with LA or New York, but other Midwest cities had their artists.

St. Louis had Nelly and even a one-hit wonder from J-Kwon. Omaha had 311. Chicago had Common and Kanye. Denver had India.Arie.

We knew Tech N9ne was our opportunity. So we built him up. We imagined that “I’m A Playa” would be a perfect club anthem, and that yes, the album “Killer” could be a classic.

In the ears of outsiders, the lyrics and beats didn’t sound the same. I remember asking people who lived at my dorm my freshman year in college about Tech N9ne. I would always get the same response. Yeah, he’s OK.

Tech N9ne is OK. That’s the prevailing opinion, not that he is too out there or that he doesn’t have enough street cred, and it leads into the final Tech N9ne story.

There was one time a reporter from Yahoo conducted a Q&A session with Aqib Talib during KU’s dream football season of 2007.
He asked him about the year, asked him about his daughter, asked him about coach Mangino and asked him about music and Tech N9ne.

“Yeah, he’s a Kansas City guy,” Talib said. “I haven’t gotten into him yet. I haven’t lived up here long enough.”

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Amazed that this is all scarily real

For two hours the other night, four heavily-tanned men hollered at morally questionable women, fought a man who dared look at them and spent plenty of quality time getting jacked. In the same time frame, four self-described “classy” women, also bronzed past the point of comfort, detailed their desire to hook up with guidos and called any girl who was not her a “slut” or a “whore.”

Strangely, I couldn’t change the channel, and I suspect that there is only one way to describe this phenomena: I was vibing.

Not familiar with that word? Don’t worry. No one is. At least, no one was.

MTV changed that.

Yes, on Thursday night MTV aired the first episode of the reality series, “Jersey Shore.” In short, this is a show about eight guidos, an obnoxious subculture of Italian-Americans, living together on the East Coast.

But that’s just a cosmetic description. For those of us in the Midwest, the show is eye-opening confirmation of what had been a mystery. We have finally discovered that there really are people who act like complete meatheads and are proud of it.

Others have been equally impressed. Notably, the Web site “Gawker,” has gone as far as to call “Jersey Shore” a reality TV show revolution.

And Gawker is correct.

Reality shows have long been artificial. Paris Hilton looking down on farmhands in Arkansas is not real. Living with 15 jerks and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on a deserted island and eating worms is not real.

Neither is vying for the love of a 50-year-old washed up rapper with gold teeth who can say his name in a mildly funny tone, or attending Tool Academy.*

*I just found out what this show was on Saturday. Later that day, I read a blog on Joe Posnanski’s Web site about Tiger Woods and in it, he mentions “Tool Academy” because apparently one of Woods’ alleged mistresses appeared on that show. He didn’t know what it was either. There are so many reality shows out there, and I bet most people couldn’t name half of them.

“Jersey Shore,” though, is real, more of a National Geographic special about the Galapagos Islands, than “Temptation Island.” Rather than put people in a fake, made-for-TV environment, MTV has filmed eight obnoxious people in their natural habitat, the Jersey Shore, or as the show’s creators cleverly wrote on a wall decoration in the house, “Nu Joisy.”

This is a true depiction of a culture where vibing is acceptable lingo for getting along well with someone or something, where men need 15 bottles of hair gel and an hour to prepare to “get after it,” and where a “situation” is not a state of affairs but rather an obnoxious man’s description of his abdomen muscles.

Indeed, Gawker’s blog about the show is not a story but a “field study.”

One thing missing from its study, though, is how truly captivating all this is to those of us who don’t live on the East Coast, among guidos.

Through the eyes of a Midwesterner, like video-taped activities of Amazonian tribes, the documentation of these people truly provides an educational experience, a lesson in the art of narcissism and abrasiveness.

Here in the Midwest, guidos were previously known almost entirely through the YouTube video “My New Haircut.”

This video features a young man who is sporting the same new greasy haircut all of his friends have. He is sitting at a bar ordering Jaeger bombs.

But before he does this, he talks of “stotting” fights. He calls the bartender “chief,” the same name that one of his friends uses for the desk worker at his apartment complex.

This friend, who has curly hair, is noticeably upset. There is, of course, a plausible reason. His mother has forgotten to restock his protein stash.

Without protein, he can’t grunt while “getting his swell on” at the gym so people can see how “jacked and tan” he is.

Without protein, he can’t join his friend at the bar, who by the end of the video, has yelled Jaeger bomb several times while wildly gesturing to no one in particular, before slamming his drink in one gulp.

People like this are rarely, if ever, seen in Midwest cities.

Instead, arrogance reaches its peak with the collar popper, a person so cool that his neck is adversely affected by cold climates causing him to fold up the uppermost part of his polo, and even that subset of jerk is quickly fading.

We hear about guidos from college friends who hail from New York, New Jersey, Boston or another East Coast city. We might even catch glimpses of them if we travel to those places, if we visit bars in those places.

But we really knew guidos only from “My New Haircut.”

It all seemed like a joke. People didn’t actually act like that. They couldn’t actually act like that.

But now we have “Jersey Shore.” Already, by watching only one program, I’ve learned so much.

Guidos are actually just the males. Girls are called guidettes. These women love guidos and as one expresses, her desire is to meet the ultimate guido one day and start a guido family.

The males and females share several characteristics. They love to spray chemicals in their hair for long periods of time. They often own personal tanning beds. They have nicknames, ranging from “The Situation,” to “Snookie” to “J-Woww.”

Despite these similarities, when placed in Seaside Heights, N.J., in a house that features a garage decorated with an Italian flag that has the outline of the state of New Jersey emblazoned in the middle, not surprisingly, the guidos and guidettes clash.

As one might predict, a disagreement breaks out because of “sluts.” The boys invite three of them into the hot tub, and the guidettes go crazy.

And it is all real. The fights, the people, ther personalities, everything except the steroid-produced muscles and surgery-enhanced physiques. THEY ARE REAL.

Mike, who goes by the name “The Situation” because he has the aforementioned abs, is not playing to the cameras when he convinces a girl shopping at the T-shirt store he works at to make pink shorts that read “We’ve Got a Situation” on the rear.

Other examples: Sammi, a guidette, spurns “The Situation,” even though she was clearly vibing with him and discussed with him this instance of vibing, stating solely that fellow housemate Donnie, a behemoth of a man with spiky hair, is hot.

Nicole aka Snookie really doesn’t know how to use a land-line telephone. Pauly D, at 29 years old, really does want to make out with two 20-year-old “sluts” at the same time and style his hair for 20 minutes every day.

These people aren’t provoked. This show is a medium for them to express their true desires and feelings, for them to demonstrate and educate to those of us who didn’t believe this type of behavior was possible, that they truly are attempting to reach hair-gelled, tanning-oil-soaked nirvana.

Of course, the depiction of the guidos and guidettes is causing a bit of controversy. Italian-Americans aren’t laughing so hard. Neither, I would suspect, is the state of New Jersey.

But my advice?

Just vibe with it.

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