the dolphin effect (or "rinsing it out")

they call him flipper, flipper...

(originally published in ON THE VERGE v1.0 e-mail monthly -November 3, 1999)

at least four months later, i'm still feeling ripple effects from an essay that i wrote for this newsletter. "The Justification for Urban Alternatives" still gets forwarded to folks throughout cyberspace, and except for perhaps one head on Okayplayer ("what if it came out of the suburbs? is that suburban alternative?"), the response was overwhelmingly positive. i remember one person admitting to being "like a dolphin" when it came to listening to music - rising to the surface to see what's happening above ground before submerging themselves within the under again.

there was one constructive critique that has had me deep in thought ever since i received it. quoting from Sheldon Drake, multimedia artist who resides on the Lower East Side:

"I think it's a question of tuning, if you recognize the corporate signal as legitimate and worthy of critique, they've already won half the battle. I'm not good at it, but I prefer to tune out the stuff that bothers me, as much as possible..."

i really took what he said to heart about "recognizing the corporate signal". there was a time that just thinking about Puff Daddy would give me ulcers. there are few who would get as violent as i would in a conversation about Bad Boy. but, Sheldon's right: spending your time hating P-Diddy is still time spent paying attention to him. he wins either way.

thankfully, Sheldon admits that he's not good at blocking out the signal. i'm not sure how many of us are. think about it: when was the last time that you were walking down the street listening to your Walkman and a car pulls up with a boomin' system, making it virtually impossible to enjoy your music, no matter how loud you turned up the volume? now, i don't know about you, but usually i'm bangin' some esoteric styles (be it techno, hip-hop, rock, or pure noise), some straight up off the wall stuff comin' through my headphones. everytime i've been in the previously mentioned situation, the car may be different, but the music is almost always the same: on some playa or thugged out vibe. almost always.

WHY IS IT THAT NEGATIVITY HAS GOT TO BE HEARD OVER A SIX-BLOCK RADIUS??? is the high volume supposed to compensate for a lack of MC skills or real lyrical content? let's be real here: when's the last time you heard someone pump Black Star or Bahamadia that loud in a passing car? i can only count one time that someone drove by blasting something other than the hot joint of the week. a few months ago, a brother pulled up rockin' "Long Island Degrees" by De La Soul. straight up, i wanted to hug that cat. but that's the exception to the rule. usually, i find that i can't escape that new cut that everybody's gotta play, no matter where i go.

then again, at times i have myself so steeped within the under that when i do swim back up to the surface, i'm confronted with artists that everybody else knows but me. Dixie Chicks? who are they? Vitamin what? Christina who? same thing a few years ago: Spice Girls? WHO THE HELL ARE THE SPICE GIRLS??? and if i wanna be your lover, why i gotta get with your friends?? WHAT KIND OF CAMP FREAKY DEAKY ARE YOU RUNNIN' HERE?!?

just an example of what can happen when a person decides that they aren't going to just accept everything that mainstream radio hands them. it's rather frightening how many actually do. granted, i haven't cut myself off from it completely. slivers of above ground offerings do creep in here and there. and the "passing car" factor never fails in keeping me up to date with what the masses are listening to.

and i can't just blanket certain artists or labels above ground anymore and say that i hate everything that they do. for instance, i'm supposed to despise Ruff Ryders and Swizz Beatz. "Ruff Ryders Anthem" makes me wanna wretch. but, i'm feelin' Eve's "What Ya Want." i hate the material that Jay-Z releases, but i do think that he has some skills...i just don't think that he knows how to use his powers for good. same thing with Nas; when he's illmatic, he's all that. it's Nas Escobar that i can't stand.

i like to allow myself that flexibility. i think it saves me a lot of unnecessary strife, particularly when our beloved heroes of the so-called "underground" start making interesting moves. Pharoahe Monch releasing a cut like "Simon Says," Mos Def drops his long-awaited solo debut and the first single's called..."MS. FAT BOOTY"?? WHAT IN THE BLANKETY-BLANK-BLANK IS GOING ON HERE???

"mainstream" on one side, "underground" on the other. the lines that were deeply drawn in the sand have gotten blurry and wafer thin. somewhere along the way, genuine talent became marketable. and that's confusing the hell out of us because it never used to be that way. the lines are blurring because the music is blurring, folding into itself. nothing we haven't seen before. and when it presented itself to us, we tried to define it. only to fail miserably.

"Acid Jazz"? no. "Trip-hop"? HELL NO. "Subterranean Abstract Blues?" "Urban Alternative?" what are you?

you're better off just admitting that it's the Music With No Name. why do we always have to define something in order to FEEL it?

and as much as we can hate on above ground heads for listening to nonsense, the "underground" has its own B.S. to answer for as well. you know, bitching constantly about how nobody knows an artist that we're into and then saying they sold out when they finally get some much-needed exposure, thinking that the best way for a group to prove their artistic integrity is by starving, freaking out everytime we hear techno in a commercial when the advertising executive who used it looks and thinks EXACTLY LIKE know, THAT type of B.S.

less than two months before the year 2000 and scientists still can't tell us how a bumblebee is able to fly. i think it's okay for us to admit that we really don't have as good of a handle on this "underground" thing as we thought. apparently, it isn't just elusive to outsiders. when you think about it, all of this is happening at the right time. since the early nineties, we've been experiencing a vast fusion of global and future musics. sounds come together, mature and transform while we seem to be drifting further apart from each other (due to that as well as numerous racial, social and political factors). at least we know what to continue to expect once 2K arrives, just a lot more severe. get used to it, kids: genrecide will continue to happen whether you want it to or pretend that you do.

float, breathe out, breathe in, submerge, repeat. living in extremes will either leave you really empty or really bitter. in order to avoid these situations, bounce around. remember: corporate companies hate moving targets...they're harder to pigeonhole.

shhh, you hear that? reggae and classical just got into a car crash on the corner of country and western. NOW, WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?

{jason randall smith}

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