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Bucking the Force

nouveau tech vs. raheem's gargantuan original

Why this Black Girl is Ipodless

“I’m asking if y’all feel me and the crowd left me stranded.” – Talib Kweli, “Respiration” (Blackstar)

I recently had a discussion with a good friend of mine. She’s a smart, funny, African American law school student and she’s admittedly part of the force. A newly transformed Bostonian, she marches with the beat of the urban intelligentsia, tuning in daily. She’s on it jogging, walking to class, waiting for the T train. Together, she, with the legions of sporting metal rectangles and earbuds, with the click of a finger, beams up her inner Scottie. Her method of choice: the Apple I pod portable music device.

As sure as there are bourgeois black folks up in Fort Greene, as sure as Amy Ruth can put her foot in some chicken and waffles up on 116th and Lenox Ave., the “I force”, the legions of folks with the metallic machines, are in every city. The energetic young man tucks it into his messenger bag briskly walking to his Midtown Manhattan office. The daddy’s depositing my allowance into my account trust fund baby cloaks hers with pink jewels from Sunset Blvd. And the upwardly mobile children of minority baby boomers display theirs with their keeping-up-appearances to uplift the race Louis Vuitton book bags in DC and the ATL.

When I see them on the subway in the Apple, they’re often looking into space, lost in an Ipod induced haze. Fiddling with my lesser CD player, I imagine that they smirk at me. In reality, it is only the blank looks on their face that signify something real. As one magazine put it, we pod, therefore we are. The unwritten subtext being: and you are not.

I was asked by this same friend, on a recent visit to Boston, would I consider getting one? Looking up from my computer, I answered, almost if on reflex, “Heck naw”. Why, she wondered? To paraphrase Lauryn Hill, “‘Scuse me if I get too deep” but the whole idea seems to run counter to music. The first “beats, rhymes and life” were organic, created by primitive people who meted out their stories with no more high tech tools than their calloused feet and hands. Music told a story/ gave a warning/ worked the healing. Literally, it sprung from the earth.

Fast-forward to now and we seem to think that how we hear our music is a symbol of entitlement, not of shared entertainment. It’s an object to own instead of one to enlighten the masses, a measure of privacy, not one of bombastic playfulness (see: Radio Raheem of “Do The Right Thing” lore). To me, it’s a sign of the times. By allowing us to retreat into our separate corners, we brush the communal “dirt off our shoulders,” like Jay Z says. For, we think, the Ipod haze becomes us and we are one with the machine. And, lest you think I’m speechifying, I’ll be the first one to admit that my portable CD player is linked to my dome. I do understand the need to be alone with your tunes, playing the off-the-cuff notes that only you might need to hear. You know -- that secret playlist with a little latter day Keith Sweat sprinkled with Another Bad Creation's B sides and Positive K (the one hit wonder of “I Got a Man” fame)? LOL

It’s just that all of this uniformity makes me want to try to question the current we’re moving in. Getting a daily look at those white earbuds just makes me miss the time when music meant community, openness, an exchange of energy, not solely commercial goods. I’d love to see people “clap their hands just a little bit louder!” like little Stevie Wonder asked a live audience to do in “Fingertips Pt.2”. And when I’m walking down the city streets, it might be nice for old time’s sake, to see a high top faded-brother break out the shoulder top radio, or nod intently, as LL Cool J said, to the bass of a “booming system” as cars ride by. If only to nod to Public Enemy and fight the tiny metallic powers that be...


At May 08, 2005 9:28 AM , Blogger Will said...

*clapping wildly* I feel you on this, M dot. I, too, refuse to give in to the "pod" people. LOL

I lubbbb my music (LOL@Positive K)and every time I go to the *cough* other *cough* Amy Ruth's on 116th, I carry my CD player with me.

That is all. Great post!!!!

At May 08, 2005 10:39 AM , Blogger Brother OMi said...

as a taker of public transpo (did i say that right), i gave up the walkman almost 8 years ago. I now carry books and rather carry conversation with folks.

i meet some of the most wonderful people on the bus.. its so dope.

i hate that oftentimes we rather be on the cell phone with someone onthe other side of the country then speak to the person next to us.

but love the topic. i might bite

At May 09, 2005 3:04 PM , Blogger nai' said...

This is Cee,
signing in for the "pod" people. I believe that the music that originally created the bond that you speak of made way for the music that now bombards the airwaves. Most of it, is watered down versions of watered down versions. And somewhere in that mix, I needed to be able to hear EXCLUSIVELY, the music that made me love this music. So, I purchased an Ipod. So that I could have all 100 of my albums stored on there- playing joints that I would not listen to regularly had I still been using my CD player. Songs like "Strange Fruit" and "Leviticus Faggot", songs like "Step Into A World" and Mr. Wendell. Songs that I can't hear when my ears aren't plugged up. I just wanted to remember the songs that made me love this thing. And everything comes at some expense. I miss the days of people carrying the boom boxes with the quality joints blazing. But I wonder if I'd be so happy with the joints that would be blaring from the boomboxes of brothers walking down the streets today. I want a myriad of music. Call me spoiled or whatever, but walking around with a CD case with 100 cds in it was started to make my right arm longer than the left. Nevertheless, I love this post.


At May 09, 2005 3:46 PM , Blogger Dr. Strangejazz said...

I'm with Cee on this one. I bought an iPod so that I could have access to my entire music library. I have diverse taste in music so having an iPod is helpful for when I want to switch moods.

And now a cool NY moment story:
Couple of weeks ago I was our with some friends in the lower east side and we ended up at a bar in where the DJ was using iPods to DJ with. I had a request but he didn't have the song in his iPods so I decided to let him hold on to mine for a minute. He ended up DJing with my iPod until we left the place.

At May 09, 2005 3:55 PM , Blogger Dee said...

great post!!! 1st time here!
I got the i-pod "shuffle...it's as small as a pack of gum and Itake it to the gym.. It randomly shuffles 240 songs to keep me "pumped-up" at the gym.....

At May 09, 2005 4:31 PM , Anonymous Devon said...

I bought my first iPod in March of 2003. At that time it was still relatively new. Geeks and nerds knew about it, but the general street corner thug or Abercrombie Zombie wasn't hip to it, yet.

I am a music lover first and foremost. I bought the iPod because of its convenience and its ease of use. You can store thousands of songs and you don't scratch up your favorite CDs (many of which are imports or rare titles that I purchase off of eBay, so I like to keep them scratchless).

The way I listen to music changed when the iPod came around. I re-discovered many of my favorite albums or songs of the past because I didn't have the gumption to lug around 75 CDs in a huge CD folder. The iPod just makes sense. It's chic and fashionable, but that's just an added bonus. It's not what makes up the entire machine. I will still enjoy the iPod even after the novelty of it wears off because it's allows me to jam, daily.

At May 10, 2005 12:11 PM , Anonymous Golden said...

I with the Pro Ipod peeps. LOL. No really I think Cee summed it up pretty good. I've got Cd's that I haven't listened to in years but since I've gotten my Ipod and stored them in there I listen to them all the time.

I don't think it has taken away it's meaning of "community, openness, and exchange of energy" and a perfect example is strangejazz's comment.

C'mon! Get one! LOL Kiddin. I must admit that the other day I didn't have a certain song and I said to myself dang if I had my cd case and cd player I wouldn't have this problem.

But in the end - it's all about comfort and less baggage. I love my Mini!

At May 10, 2005 1:57 PM , Blogger Mahogany Elle said...

First, thanks to you all for your comments :) Cee, Dr. Strangejazz, Devon, Golden -- Good points (Geez...I luv a good discussion!) I'm not saying that Ipod users are da debil, y'all (LOL). But just I think the devices represent the commercialization of music and the listening of music in general. In my parents' day, groups of people huddled around a record player, now it's like everyone is sort of their own world with their tunes. (And like I said, I don't exempt myself from that because I take my portable CD player everywhere.) I also know, like Dr. S notes, that Ipods can in some instances be used to promote music sharing, which is cool. But what I'm talking about is that strong marketing voice that whispers you HAVE to have one to truly share in the music experience, that's what I'm challenging. I say bring back Raheem and the old skool tunes :)

Best to all of you.

At May 11, 2005 6:35 PM , Blogger The Humanity Critic said...

Stay strong sister, don't let the ipod folks bring you down.

At May 20, 2005 10:19 AM , Blogger Sid said...

Just think of how much fun it is to be able to listen to Raheem and Positive K and Another Bad, and on and on, on a playlist you made, literally, waiting to cross the street at a light.

I'm a podwhore, up front and in the open, and it has literally changed my life. It has kept me going to the gym when I otherwise would have quit, it has enabled me to rediscover songs I'd forgotten I loved, it has taken me through at least three boroughs on long, random scavenger hunts for this n' that, when/if ever I start writing professionally again I'll be able to carry one piece of equipment to record my interviews (one smaller than a tape recorder, more reliable than a minirecorder), and listen to soothing tunes and play games to relax my pre-interview jitters...

I agree the marketing is heavy handed, but as the other iPod defenders here not, it truly is a fabulous piece of equipment. And THAT, above and beyond the marketing, is why it has become so ubiquitous. Because you can market the heck out of a pile of poop, but people will catch on, nahmean?

So don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

C'mon, just get yourself a shuffle...start light! LOL! I love this post, and the one after, and if you don't mind, you are so linked!


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