Street Photography from Malaysia and Myanmar

Selection of street photography from Malaysia and Myanmar

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Hip Hop: A Way of Life: The Fire Beneath the Sea

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To quote legendary MC Rakim “it’s been a long time” since I last wrote, but I have not been idle. Over the past few months I have been getting to know members of the Liverpool based Hip Hop group The Fire Beneath the Sea. The key members of this group are MCs and producers Armen Starfish and Sea Eagle Tradstool and MCs Kyle E Unlikely, Lleraf Zafgir and Scuba Fly Jesus. However, under their umbrella come a host of other MCs, horn players, bassists and DJs. What interests me most about this Hip Hop collective’s style is their position of positivity, their take on collaboration and bringing hip hop to the streets, all of which I feel are essential elements in the creation of “true” hip hop.

The Fire Beneath the Sea itself is a metaphor for the groups’ views on creativity in a capitalistic society and its ability to unite people under positivity. The sea represents the world, with some as the fish, lost in the giant ocean facing the pressures and danger of the “sharks”. The fire represents creativity and its impossible location, beneath sea, is a metaphor for the difficulty in producing heartfelt, conscious, high quality music in the current climate of X-Factor and marketing led popular culture.

In reaction to these ideals The Fire Beneath the Sea takes to the streets donned in crazy hats, wigs and fancy dress. Delivering a shock of colour and sound made up of funk, beat boxing and rhymes with a positive message, they draw large crowds, from children to older citizens. Having been present at a number of these impromptu street gigs, they call to mind the original New York park jams of Hip Hop’s early history in the 70s. When I asked them about the importance of street performance, they told me of how they wanted to use their music to bring people together. They went on to say that they want to bring their message of positivity and fun to a larger audience. They view this position as way of broadening Hip Hop’s horizons, particularly in Liverpool, and as a move away from the sometimes-insular nature of the scene.

In reference to collaboration, The Fire Beneath Sea views their work as “an open source project” where anybody is welcome to join and contribute ideas, free from judgement on skill or ability. They say that collaboration is key to what Hip Hop is, but expressed concerns over many peoples’ lack of recognition of this fact or an understanding about the true nature of Hip Hop as opposed to rap. They added that they wanted their music to express diversity, and while they are centred on a Hip Hop ideal, they welcome influences from across the board.

On positivity the members say that they are reacting not only to negative images in Hip Hop but also to those in the wider world. In their words “there is too much negativity in life, when there should only be positivity. Negativity doesn’t solve anything”. On one of our joint adventures I was able to witness this ethos in action.

In late September the British National Party were protesting in Liverpool that their leader, Nick Griffin, was not allowed to take part on a televised political debate, due to his far right rhetoric. The Fire Beneath Sea came out in protest to this, along side the left wing activists in Liverpool. However, rather than simply join the anti rightwing chanting, the group provided a beatbox, rhythmical backing followed by conscious, philosophical acapella rhyming on the subject of racism. I asked group member Jay Taylor about this approach to the protest. He said the he felt that you couldn’t “shout logic at idiots” and that the classical approach to these rallies, fighting negativity with negativity would get us nowhere.  When we were at the rally I was struck by the demographic make up of the anti BNP protesters: they all seemed to be white, middle class people (such as myself), with very few black or Asian people present. Now, I am not going to say that their protest is not valid, any opposition to fascism is good, but why were so many of the BNP’s targets absent from the protest? Is that the styles of the Socialist Workers Party or similar left wing movements have no relevance to their lives? The Fire Beneath the Sea really did bring something different to this protest, an air of creativity and humour that seemed to undercut the tension present. Hearing Jay Taylor’s booming voice deliver his polemic on racism, my mind was cast to the conscious lyrics of MCs such as KRS-One, with Sound of the Police or Abdominal on Cumbersome Trinkets. These songs, like those of the Fire Beneath Sea, show not only that Hip Hop really can be a force for good, through its examination of injustices in society or observations on human nature, but also that these analyses can be couched in a framework of fun and creativity.

As I have got to know the Fire Beneath the Sea better, I have come to see them as embodying many of the ideas I value most in Hip Hop: positivity, creativity, collaboration and fun. I have included a video made by the group of their action against the BNP. I believe that it demonstrates, along with the photos, much of what I have said here.



Hip Hop: A Way of Life: Stok

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In order to widen the scope of my journey into Hip Hop I have recently been in contact with Liverpool based graffiti artist Stok.

Stok is easily the most prolific and recognisable graffiti artist in the city and his images have received wide coverage in the media. Due to the nature of his work, Stok was reluctant for me to photograph his face. This presented a problem, as I didn’t think that I would be able get humanist perspective I am interested in purely with photographs of his work.

Happily, Stok contacted me last week to ask if I would photograph some private commissions he had undertaken. We met at his flat and then spent the afternoon touring Liverpool, visiting kids’ bedrooms that he has decorated. While these image are a move away from the “straight” documentary style I have been using so far, I do feel that convey the message of what Hip Hop is about. Whatever one may think about graffiti in public places, the work Stok has produced here say nothing of violence, greed, misogyny or destruction. I found myself asking what child would not be delighted to return home and find that their room has been individually decorated and in such a personal style.


Hip Hop: A Way of Life: DJ Rasp and the Krip Hop Nation

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At the end of my last post I observed the community spirit of Hip Hoppers and how all their different elements came together to make something Hip Hop. This past weekend has been a busy time for my investigation into Hip Hop. I first went to visit Scratch and Spit resident DJ and turntablist DJ Rasp. I then spent the rest of the weekend with the Krip Hop Nation. From both of these very distinct Hip Hoppers I continued to get this thread of community.

I met Rasp at his home near Warrington, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Rasp and I had met on a couple of occasions, but never in a more personal setting. I too am a scratcher and turntablist so we took the time to jam in his garden shed come studio. This was a pleasure for me as I don’t know too many other scratchers and it was a great opportunity to spend an afternoon talking about technique, kit, the evolution of the art form and digging for records (or lack there of in the digital age). In the spirit of collaboration here is a short video of Rasp and myself scratching (it’s Rasp up first, followed by myself):

It soon became clear to me that Rasp was a very passionate man when it came to Hip Hop: he is a professional DJ, making his living through not only playing sets in nightclubs but also from competing in international DJ competitions and teaching workshops. Furthermore, Rasp is also a key figure in the Liverpool Hip Hop scene, with his production, scratching and raps appearing on numerous records.

Rasp had this to say when I asked him what Hip Hop meant to him: DJ Rasp on Hip Hop

I thought it very interesting that he picked on the Scratch and Spit Weekender as his example of Hip Hop. As can be heard on the audio I too was in agreement; this mini festival incorporated all the elements of what Hip Hop is and by combining them, made an event that was truly Hip Hop. I was also interested to hear that he felt these ideas of collaboration and community were necessary to making something Hip Hop.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with Rasp and it was very kind of him to allow me into his home and meet his wife and daughter. His final quote on where Hip Hop is heading really sums up his attitude towards to the culture: Rasp_ Future of Hip Hop

As part of the Happening Weekend of DaDa Fest 10 International, the DaDa team commissioned the Krip Hop Nation to make a group appearance. The Krip Hop Nation is an international collective of Hip Hoppers with disabilities. The nucleus of the the group is Leroy Moore Jnr, an American, though Krip Hop has members in the UK, Germany and Africa. Over the course of the weekend the collective performed live, conducted DJ workshops, and hosted a social afternoon. I was lucky enough to attend all the Krip Hop activities and I was struck be the level of collaboration within the collective, given that many of them had never met in person. When I asked MC Binkiwoi what he felt about collaboration in Hip Hop he had this to say: Binki Woi

I was very interested to hear Binkiwoi talk of the use of different messages, languages, experiences and culture all united in Hip Hop. I was struck that Hip Hop, something that that the commercial media would have us believe is about negative things, could unite people from across the globe in a creative activity.

During this weekend I also had the chance to interview Leroy. I felt that he represented a very unique view on Hip Hop for two reasons: one was his perspectives on the negative aspects of the culture, given his disability; and secondly that he remembers and was present for the birth of Hip Hop in the late 1970s. When I asked him what Hip Hop meant to him, he had this to say: Leroy Moore What does hip hop mean

What interested me the most about what Leroy said about Hip Hop was the way that he immediately identified community and sharing skills as a key elements in the artform. He was quick to identify the diversity of Hip Hop as being important. What makes this more interesting is that he refers to Hip Hop in its original form, before the commercialisation, something that he himself experienced as young boy in the New York in the 70s. When I spoke the Rasp about this, he too concluded that although Hip Hop has changed and evolved over the past 30 years, he still felt that the ideas of the four elements, the collaboration and community were still fundamental to what Hip Hop is.

I went on to ask Leroy about what he felt about the commercialisation of the culture and whether this was a misrepresentation of the art form: Leroy Moore on the Commercial Image of Hip Hop As can be heard on the audio, he too sees that it is all too easy to gloss over the positive aspects of the culture when one only explores the commercial side. As Rasp too said, “sex and violence sell” and thus this is what we see in the mass media. Following on from this I question I asked Leroy what he thought the positive aspects of the culture were: Leroy Moore on the positive images in Hip Hop I was very pleased to hear that, like me, he felt that knowledge of self was a key message found throughout Hip Hop.

It has been a busy and informative weekend in my exploration of Hip Hop. Though interviewing quite diverse Hip Hoppers, they all returned to the idea of community and collaboration, and that without these, true Hip Hop cannot be made. I am pleased to have met other people who share my passion and beliefs about the culture. Photographically I now want to try and capture this sense of community. But the question is how to do this? I do not want to revert to gig and studio pictures but do want to maintain the humanist element that so interests me. Tomorrow is another instalment of Scratch and Spit, perhaps coming full circle from my last post, with the new information I have will allow me to do this.


Hip Hop: A Way of Life: Scratch and Spit

This weekend in Liverpool saw the Five Elements Festival taking place in Django’s Riff, Liverpool. This was a three day event with live breakdancing, djing, MCing and graffiti.

I went along to meet as many fellow hip hopper as possible, but also to get a flavour of what is happening with the Hip Hop scene in Liverpool. I am glad to say that while small, Hip Hop in Liverpool is quality. Everybody there, as either performers or audience was having an extremely good time and there was not a negative thing to be seen. Even when the breakers were battling it was good hearted and it was clear that all involved knew each other and enjoyed showing off their skills.

In terms of the work I am doing, this festival was an opportunity to show how much fun Hip Hop can be, and also to show that when people are doing their thing they’re all in it together.

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Hip Hop: A Way of Life: Derby

In my original post I said that I felt many people see Hip Hop as a wholly negative art form, focusing on violence, greed and misogyny. In his foreword to That’s The Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader edited by Foreman and Anthony Neal, Hip Hop academic Michael Eric Dyson says that while critics like to focus upon Hip Hop’s obsession with materialism, stereotypes, offensive views and hedonism “… this argument demands little engagement with Hip Hop; these views don’t require much beyond attending to surface symptoms of a culture that offers far more depth and colour when it’s taken seriously…”

This week I went to Derby to meet MC Reggiimental (see picture) and he took me to meet some of the people involved with the Hip Hop scene there. At Baby J Studios I met producer and rapper Rukus. He had this to say when I interviewed him: Rukus on Hip Hop I think his comments on the the different levels of  rap are very interesting. I can think of many MCs such as KRS-One, Nas and Kool G Rap who, while making hardcore records have also made some of the deepest, most philosophical tracks. Nas’s I gave you power and Kool G Rap’s Streets of New York spring to mind. It seems that many critics are quick to jump on the records that portray a negative image, while conveniently ignoring those songs that convey more enlightened observations.

This trip to Derby also gave me the opportunity to begin to get the type of pictures and subject matter I am looking for with this project. Reggiimental was kind enough to invite me into his home, meet his daughter and her mother and cook me dinner. Throughout this whole experience I was struck by his humanity, open-mindedness and generosity. For me this again confirmed my view that Hip Hop is so much more than the its critics would have us believe. No where in my discussions with Reggiimental, or during our tour of Derby, did I hear any indication that he bought into any of the more commercial aspects of the culture. I hope the pictures associated with this blog can begin to convey some of my message, that of humanity among Hip Hoppers.


Hip Hop: A Way of Life: The Starting Point

I’m interested in details. To the informed eye even the smallest details can reveal something about a subject. In ordinary life one may see lots of things and have no idea about the cultures, habits and lifestyles they allude to. Thus it is so with Hip Hop. The Adidas Superstar (or “shell toe”)(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adidas_Superstar) is probably one of the most famous item of Hip Hop fashion. Made famous by 80’s Hip Hop group Run DMC, it is now the choice of B-boys across the world and is so popular that in 2005 Adidas released a 35th anniversary edition, to celebrate this quintessentially Hip Hop shoe. Even if the wearer is not aware of this, the fact remains that by wearing these shoes they are celebrating Hip Hop.

Adidas Superstar and the Far South West of Bolivia

It was this picture that started my on my journey into Hip Hop. As I travelled in the back of a four wheel drive car across the high altitude desert of South Western Bolivia, I realised that this was Hip Hop: there were no rappers, no DJs, no break-dancers or graffiti artists, but the here was the shell toe, thus here was was Hip Hop. This picture also got me thinking about what Hip Hop is. The MC KRS-One said in his song 9 Elements “Rap is something you do, Hip Hop is something you live”. This is really the case with much of Hip Hop: DJing alone is not Hip Hop, but the way in which you do it can be. Soul or Funk music is not Hip Hop, but when played in a certain way it is:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcOC3JS5xXY

In this video DJ Biggie B-Boy Beatmaster B is doubling up funk and soul breaks, making them Hip Hop through his mixing techniques. This method of playing records is at the base of Hip Hop music. Back in the late 70s the godfather of Hip Hop Dj Cool Herc realised that B-Boys (break-dancers) only danced to the instrumental break of a song (the part where there is no singing). He found that if he had two copies of the same record he could extend this break by looping it over and over again, keeping the B-Boys on the dance floor. This looping and sampling is the basis for most Hip Hop music.

I find this idea of making something Hip Hop through actions very interesting, and when I took the picture of the shoe above, I felt it fitted this idea of Hip Hop being something you live: I was rough travelling though South America, but by being me and having the shoes, I was making this experience, at least in some small way, Hip Hop.

Tune to check out for this post: KRS-One 9 Elements from the album Kristyles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGQ0tBfoRVw


Hip Hop: A Way of Life

Rane TTM56 mixerThe purpose of this blog is to provide supporting information, media, thoughts and discoveries on my photographic journey into the culture of Hip Hop.

I have been interested in Hip Hop, at least as a consumer, for about 7 years, though my first introduction to it was as a young teenager by my sister, with the seminal albums Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy and Straight Out of Compton by N.W.A.

What really got my into Hip Hop was djing. I have been a highly enthusiastic DJ for about 10 years and I discovered Hip Hop as I began to loose interest in the repetitive nature of dance music and its (relatively) simplistic mixing techniques. Funk, Soul and Hip Hop music seemed a natural progression in terms of djing and I discovered the joys, challenges and technical skills of Turntablism (scratching and beat juggling).

Though my introduction to Hip Hop was initially through the music, as I became more aware of the culture as a whole, I began to realise that it struck a deeper chord within me. At heart Hip Hop is a movement about creativity, collaboration, understanding, peace and a philosophy that promotes self understanding and expression.

It is this that has ultimately led me to want to explore Hip Hop: many people, when I tell them that I am a fan of Hip Hop, respond in a way that suggests that they think of Hip Hop as some how intellectually invalid, with is public image of violence, misogyny and greed. While I do not deny that these are a part of Hip Hop I feel that they are but a tiny part of the culture and very much a misrepresentation of the art form.

Though I will support this blog with music, video and imagery of my exploration of Hip Hop, the project scope is not so much products of the culture: the music, graffiti, the dancing, but about the people who makes these thing. I want to show that many of the people involved in Hip Hop are intelligent, dedicated and enlightened individuals.

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