Wednesday, April 29, 2020

50 Cent, Rakim, and Questlove write hip-hop self-help books without the cliches

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 1:00 AM

A surprisingly readable self-help book opens a new chapter for rapper 50 Cent.
  • A surprisingly readable self-help book opens a new chapter for rapper 50 Cent.

‘It’s very easy to run through a million in this country,” writes Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in his newly published self-help book Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter.

And he would know. 50 Cent is, after all, the only rapper to have been named one of Forbes’ “Five Wealthiest Hip-Hop Artists” — with combined assets of $155 million — and then filed for bankruptcy three months later. But while 50 Cents’ finances have had their share of seismic ups and downs, there’s no questioning his talent as an artist and entrepreneur.

Jackson has a long history when it comes to the art of the deal. A New York City crack-dealer’s son, he was arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer while still in high school, and earned his GED while serving six months in boot camp. Afterward, he redirected his energies toward rapping, chose the stage name 50 Cent as a metaphor for change, and — after mentoring from Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay, Eminem and Dr. Dre — found international fame thanks to No. 1 singles like “In Da Club” and “21 Questions.”

With his intelligence and charisma, Jackson also presents well under a wide range of circumstances, from multimillion-dollar vitamin-water endorsements to swapping chairs with Stephen Colbert and proving himself a worthy candidate for hosting his own late-night TV show.

All that said, Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter ranks among Jackson’s most unexpected accomplishments to date. Published earlier this week by HarperCollins’ multicultural Amistad Press, it’s an eminently readable compendium of life lessons that will have use-value even for those of us who haven’t been shot nine times at point-blank range or been described by Mike Tyson as scary.

Over the course of 304 pages, 50 Cent emerges as a study in contradictions, which is something he routinely uses to his advantage, particularly in the public arena. He’s become legendary for his high-profile fights with other rappers, who are, in some cases, secretly grateful for the publicity.

Some of those battles have been lighthearted: Jackson uploaded a video of himself being taken to the hospital and almost dying after getting “noise poisoning” from Fat Joe’s album. In another post, he said he bought 200 tickets to a Ja Rule concert, for no other purpose than to keep the seats empty.

But other 50 Cent feuds, including one with Vanderpump Rules’ Lala Kent and her producer/fiancé Randall Emmett, have gotten downright vicious.

So it may come as a surprise to find 50 Cent giving advice about how to control a room simply by speaking softly. It’s a trick he picked up from actor Bruce Willis during a cigar break while filming The Setup, a heist movie the rap impresario produced back in 2011. “As we smoked,” writes Jackson, “I asked him about what I’d observed [in meetings]. ‘Say, man,’ I said, ‘How come every time someone asks you something at dinner, you answer in damn near a whisper? You’re not talking like that now.’”

Willis told him that when you’re around a lot of people where everyone’s trying to be heard, the trick is to speak as softly as possible. “When someone speaks like that,” said the actor, “our natural reaction is to lean in to them as close as possible. We don’t realize it, but when we do that, we’re transferring all our power to them.”

Jackson was soon taking that approach in his own negotiations. “Executives always respond to nonverbal cues when they’re talking to a room,” he explains. “If they make a point, they expect something from you in return. It could be a laugh, a slight nod, a raised eyebrow, or even just a shift in your seat. Something that communicates to them, ‘Yes, important person. I’m receiving your information.’ Even if we’re not conscious of it, we usually give them that affirmation that they’re looking for.”

For Jackson, whose celebrity status put him on a fairly level playing field with the network execs, it was easy to do otherwise.

“When they looked to me for that affirmation, I’d just sit there stone-faced. No nod. No laugh. I would not offer them anything. It would completely throw them off. They became very flustered. Once I had them off their game, it was much easier to assert my agenda and move the conversation in a direction that was beneficial to me. I was hustling harder, but literally without moving a muscle.”

At the same time, the rapper emphasizes the importance of maintaining eye contact, to show that you’re listening, as well as holding up your own end of the bargain afterward.

That’s something Jackson manages to do throughout Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, providing a wealth of clear insights, colorful anecdotes and realistic strategies for reaching those elusive goals — overcoming fear, recognizing your value, being assertive — that have spawned countless self-help books. Better still, he does it from a perspective that’s far removed from the world of motivational speakers, moonlighting psychiatrists and terrible writers.
For another perspective, self-help seekers can turn to Rakim, the supremely poetic hip-hop artist who has been justifiably described as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” Released last September, his Sweat the Technique: Revelations on Creativity from the Lyrical Genius was also published by HarperCollins’ Amistad. And like 50 Cent, Rakim combines autobiographical anecdotes with plenty of useful advice, although his focus is more on artistic creativity than business acumen.

Rakim structures his advice around what he calls the Five Pillars of Creativity: purpose, intention, spirituality, consciousness and energy.

“I draw from my knowledge and add the tricks of my technique to slip in messages that range from subtle to unavoidable,” he writes. “I wrap around wordplay and push boundaries of form. I stay focused on my intentions. Make something original. Outdo what I’ve already done. Write something to force the conscious listener to think, the music lover to clap, and every other rapper to turn their head and say, ‘Damn.’ I want to build monuments of monologue that stand the test of time.”

No small feat, to be sure, but Rakim took on that challenge straight out of the gate with Eric B & Rakim singles like “Paid in Full” (check out the Coldcut remix with Yemenite singer Ofra Haza, if you haven’t already) as well as a trio of stellar solo albums.

Questlove and Rakim’s books focus more on creativity than business acumen. - A KATZ / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • a katz /
  • Questlove and Rakim’s books focus more on creativity than business acumen.

Another essential entry in the hip-hop self-help genre is Questlove’s Creative Quest. The 2018 book finds the Roots co-founder exploring the creative process in the context of an industry that makes the bottom line its top priority. While much of his advice is practical, Questlove doesn’t hesitate to weave in a mix of eclectic concepts, ranging from Maimonide’s negative theology and Shelley Carson’s cognitive disinhibition to Einstein’s cigarette butts and that age-old question: “If a train leaves Georgia at midnight, how many Pips are on it?”

While all three hip-hop artists come at their subject matter from different directions, none of them fall back on the “If I did it, so can you” approach that permeates shallower attempts at the celebrity self-help genre, including rapper/producer Russ’ It’s All in Your Head. Whether driven by good intentions or false modesty, such claims are the self-help equivalent of millionaires insisting that the poor have no money simply because they don’t work hard enough to earn it.
Questlove, Rakim and 50 Cent’s books, by contrast, offer something much better, including the prospect that, given the opportunity, we can do the same.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gifted or not, you can still lend your voice to the World-Wide Tuning Meditation

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 1:00 AM

World-Wide Tuning Meditation, Saturday, April 25, 3:50 p.m., Your computer or phone, for Zoom meeting link and password, see -
  • World-Wide Tuning Meditation, Saturday, April 25, 3:50 p.m., Your computer or phone, for Zoom meeting link and password, see

Back in 2007, when more than 85 percent of Americans still had operational landlines, Pauline Oliveros was already envisioning a world in which music and technology would help foster a sense of community during a time of extreme social isolation.

“Musicians are leading the way to global development with a conscious way of connecting non-violently,” the electronic music pioneer wrote in From Telephone to High Speed Internet: A Brief History of My Tele-Musical Performances. “As the technology improves exponentially and ubiquitously, then eventually there will be no reason not to perform music at a distance. Globalization gives us more reason. Making music together makes friends.”

Since you’ll probably be at home this coming Saturday afternoon, you can prove Oliveros right by participating in the upcoming World-Wide Tuning Meditation. Regardless of your experience or ability, the Zoom-driven “interactive sound-along” event will give us the opportunity to come together online with participants from around the world in a live performance of Oliveros’ influential “Tuning Meditation” composition.

The work has been performed each Saturday in April as part of the Music on the Rebound festival, an ongoing initiative that’s designed to help support musicians during the current pandemic. The first event drew 600 quarantined participants, all singing single notes into their computers together in real time.

“As a composer, performer and electronic music pioneer, Pauline understood the fundamental ways in which technology could be used to bring people together,” says UCCS music professor Jane Rigler, who is currently in Ireland on a Fulbright scholarship. “In the World-Wide Tuning Meditation, we connect at a distance through the simple act of projecting, on the exhale, a single tone. We send a tone. We receive a tone. There’s no need to judge any tone, each one arrives just as it is, unique and pure-hearted. And by joining in, even if it’s only to listen, our presence is an act of giving.”

Oliveros first recorded her piece “Tuning Mediation” in 1988 under much different circumstances. She and her Deep Listening band traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, where they recorded it in a huge underground cistern with natural reverb that took a full 45 seconds to fade away.
Three years later, Oliveros organized her first livestreaming performance, a six-city improvisation in which she used a video-telephone bridge to connect musicians in Oakland, New York City, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles and Kingston, New York. In the decades leading up to her death in 2016, Oliveros continued to utilize new technologies to push the boundaries of long-distance artistic collaboration.

Along the way, she also created a celebrated legacy as a composer. Oliveros is, and forever shall be, the only artist whose compositions have been performed by both John Cage and Sonic Youth. She collaborated with Morton Subotnick and DJ Spooky. She pioneered ambient electronic techniques that would be adopted by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp a decade later. In 2012, the electronic label Important Records released a 12-CD set of her early recordings, Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music 1961-1970, to commemorate her 80th birthday.

Oliveros also has a Colorado Springs connection. Back in 2013, Rigler and her colleagues in the Peak FreQuency Creative Arts Collective persuaded her to come to UCCS for a series of teaching seminars and performances. Rigler, who is one of the few certified instructors in Oliveros’ “deep listening” practices, is certain that the composer would be delighted with the current use of her philosophy and techniques at a time when our computers have become one of our sole bridges to the outside world.

“We’re also listening to the technology itself, the way that it alters our voices and transforms the ways in which we interact,” says Rigler of the World-Wide Tuning Meditation experience. “As a participant, I’ve found myself wondering how we can use this time — being separated and yet connected — to become more acutely conscious beings.”
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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Artists who’ve come down with COV-19 speak their minds

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Ellis Marsalis and John Prine’s music will still be with us as long as there’s some way to hear it.
  • Ellis Marsalis and John Prine’s music will still be with us as long as there’s some way to hear it.

On the final afternoon of the 2019 Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, the pianist Ellis Marsalis joined his son Delfeayo’s Uptown Jazz Orchestra onstage in the cool shade of a crowded festival tent. Together, they played “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” a bittersweet song once performed by Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong that had become all the more moving in the years since Hurricane Katrina. Never in my life had I seen so many people smiling and crying together at the same time.

And it’s happening again now, just not all in the same place. On the first evening of April, the patriarch of the Marsalis family passed away due to complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The news spread rapidly throughout social media, as people from around the world shared their memories, grieved his passing and celebrated his music. That same day, the pandemic also claimed the lives of Fountains of Wayne co-founder Adam Schlesinger and swing guitarist John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli.

April 1 was also the day that Asleep at the Wheel bandleader Ray Benson announced that he’d finally been diagnosed with COVID-19 after three weeks of suffering headaches, fever and dizziness. His doctor had ruled out other flu viruses, but told him that no coronavirus tests were available. It would be another 10 days, during which time his condition worsened, before the musician was brought back in for bloodwork and additional testing. “It took basically testing for everything else,” said Benson, “to acquire a COVID-19 test.” The good news is that the musician posted a video update on Facebook on April 7, saying that he was feeling a lot better and sending his best wishes to everyone watching: “I hope that y’all will be well, help those around you that you can, and we’ll be back playing some music as soon as this blows over.”

On April 3, Pink took to Instagram to share her own story. She and her 3-year-old son Jameson had begun showing symptoms of the virus two weeks earlier. Both tested positive, continued to shelter at home, and subsequently tested negative. The pop singer-songwriter, whose mom worked in a hospital for 18 years, then donated $1 million to support emergency health care professionals on the front lines.

“It is an absolute travesty and failure of our government to not make testing more widely accessible,” wrote Pink, nearly a month after President Trump falsely claimed that anyone who wants a test can simply go out and get one. “This illness is serious and real.”

On Tuesday, April 7, John Prine passed away from double-pneumonia, after fighting the coronavirus for two weeks in the ICU at a hospital in his hometown of Nashville. “We have no words to describe the grief our family is experiencing at this time,” wrote Fiona Whelan Prine of her husband, whom Bonnie Raitt once compared to Mark Twain. “John will be so missed, but he will continue to comfort us with his words and music and the gifts of kindness, humor and love he left for all of us to share.”

This past December, Prine received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an appropriate recognition for a singer-songwriter who’d earned a Best New Artist nomination with early songs like “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Slade,” and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”

While it’s a shame we’ll never hear what John Prine, Ellis Marsalis and others might have said about our current pandemic, it’s still comforting to know that their music will be with us as long as there’s still some way to hear it. Prine’s classic “Hello in There,” which went viral on social media in the aftermath of his death, ends with some advice that may serve us well in the near future: “if you’re walking down the street sometime/ And spot some hollow ancient eyes / Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare/ As if you didn’t care / Say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’”

Like much of the music that continues to bring us together, that final verse can serve as a reminder that, just under the surface, we have more in common than we once thought.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

From Dartmouth to deadmau5, a guide to online music courses

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 1:00 AM

  • Rob Marmion /

Back in my days of working low-paying office jobs, I hit upon the idea of taking some evening music classes at the local community college. At the time, it seemed like an ideal way to get away from the tedious routines of the corporate underclass, and maybe even learn something. Soon, I was making my way through rush-hour traffic four evenings a week to attend two-hour classes in music theory and keyboard technique. Meanwhile, I got to reacquaint myself with the forgotten art of homework, showing up late for class, and falling so far behind that you can never catch up.

But that was then, and this is now. With virtually all of America under some level of quarantine, many of us have a lot more time on our hands and a lot less to fill it with.

The good news today is that, especially for those who live and breathe music, there’s a world of educational opportunities just waiting for us online. Even Ivy League universities are currently offering classes for free, and you don’t even have to come from a good family to take them. Before long, you’ll be starting every other sentence with “Back when I was studying at Harvard” (or Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, etc.), and people will love you for it!

Two of the easiest ways to shop for your Ivy League education is through one-stop-shop search sites like and, where you’ll find all sorts of tuition-free courses in music theory, practice and appreciation.

As you may have guessed, the more high-brow schools go heavy on classical music and opera. Harvard, for instance, has its First Night series of “modules” that range from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots.

And while we’re on the subject of riots, you may also want to pay a virtual visit to Yale, where you can check out its Music and Social Action course. While the syllabus doesn’t specifically advocate musicians taking to the streets — something you wouldn’t want to do at the moment, anyway — it does cover several artists who, over the past century, have shown their commitment to political and social issues, as well as government initiatives like the WPA’s Federal Music Project and the various ways in which our artistic outlook can change the way we see the world.

Also for do-gooders, there’s the University of Florida’s Healing with the Arts and the University of Melbourne’s How Music Can Change Your Life, both of which explore the values and practices of music therapy.
Meanwhile, have you ever wanted to deconstruct music through the lens of European philosophers like Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor Adorno and Jacques Attali? Of course you have! Which is why the University of the Arts The Hague offers its course in The Importance of Music and Power in Our Society. There, you’ll find classes devoted to topics like music and the state, music and subversion, affective tonality, fetish character in music, and the regression of listening.

For those who prefer more depressing subjects, West Virginia University is now offering a multi-part course called Today’s Music Industry, which includes classes on concert promotion, music publishing and record contracts.

Or maybe you actually want to make music. Many people do. To help out with that, the Berklee College of Music — whose graduates range from Levon Helm to St. Vincent — offers online students a broad spectrum of specializations that include DIY Music, Electronic Music Production, Developing Your Musicianship, and the Business of Music Production. You can also take classes taught by award-winning musicians on subjects ranging from musical improvisation to funk-rock and R&B guitar soloing.

Along the way, you’ll also find no shortage of opportunities to spend money. does offer some 250 music instruction classes, ranging from beginner to intermediate levels, that you can take for free. But for those who want to dig deeper, there are a few thousand more priced from $19.99 to $199.

Of course, if you take any of those courses — or maybe even just think about taking one — expect to find deeply discounted, limited-time-only offers showing up in your Facebook feed for the remainder of your natural-born life. (Not lying: Within hours of scrolling through their catalog to write this, Udemy sent me a sponsored Facebook ad offering 90 percent off on their $199 beginner’s piano course.)

Or you could just fall under the spell of those beautifully lit ads in which celebrity icons like Neil Gaiman, David Lynch and Steph Curry promise to tell you the secrets of success in everything there is to succeed at. Most of those come from, where musicians can seek out words of wisdom from Timbaland, Reba McEntire, Itzhak Perlman, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, composers Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, EDM artist deadmau5 and Armin van Buuren, with more to come.

And finally, of course, there’s an ever-growing array of musical instruction apps (Yousician, Fender Play, Simply Piano, Tunefox), live music tutors (Lessonface, LiveMusicTutor, Musika), and countless video lessons on YouTube and Vimeo.

Whatever route you take, there may be no better time than this to change the way you play, hear and think about music, and to eventually share it in the company of others.
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