Culture

Systems and Stereotypes

David Leonard

Any game that has players choosing among a malt liquor bottle, a basketball, or an Uzi for playing pieces is certainly harmful.

I own Ghettopoly. I'm not proud of it and I'm not comfortable that I made its creator David Chang any richer. But the recent controversy surrounding the board game surprised me. Ghettopoly, a board game that satirizes Monopoly, capitalism, and "black urban" stereotypes, allows players to "buy stolen properties, build crack houses and projects, pay protection fees and get car jacked."

Rather than a sports car or dog as your game piece, Ghettopoly has you picking between a piece of crack or chronic. Instead of buying Park Place or Reading Railroad, players purchase properties like "Tryron's Gun Shop," "Busta Cap Recording," or "Ling Ling's Massage Parlour." Ghettopoly constructs a black world in which "Yo leg [can be hit] by a stray bullet during a drive-by" or elected "Pimp of the Year."

As it's been available for over a year, I have to wonder why Ghettopoly has only recently become the center of a firestorm, following Urban Outfitters' decision to sell it. "It's really sick," Darryl Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg, Florida chapter of the NAACP, told the St. Petersburg Times. "What would be going through a young adult or teenager's mind if they're playing this game to win? The message that's being reinforced in the mind while you're playing, there's nothing good about it, there's nothing humorous about it."

The controversy reflects a contemporary trend in the media and among antiracist activists, focused on putting out discrete fires because they loom so large and hot so quickly. Only in moments of racial rupture, where the dominant paradigm of colorblindness is obviously disturbed, do politicians, pundits, and "activists" respond with condemnations and demands. As with the disruptions ignited by Fuzzy, Newt, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Rush, the outrage focused on Ghettopoly reflects the limitations of social justice movements today.

Consider UCLA Law Professor Kimberle Crenshaw's analysis of the clamor over Rush Limbaugh's racist comments on ESPN: "The elementary 'see no evil, speak no evil' version of racial etiquette that has been assumed in mainstream media effectively whitewashed Limbaugh. The process of normalizing racism as mere conservatism probably does as much to advance the cause of white supremacy as hooded marches, cross burnings and other patently racist activities." In other words, transforming the racial justice movement into a series of stopgap measures reduces our understanding of racism and prevents any sort of structural critique.

The furor over Ghettopoly exemplifies this process. While, as Al Sharpton argues, it surely reduces blackness to "thuggery, drug dealing, and misogyny", so do any number of video games, commercials, films, television shows, and legislative debates. David Chang's game capitalizes on the popularity of Grand Theft Auto III, Dope Wars, and many rap albums. And he has profited from a white desire to consume a demonized blackness, or what scholar S. Craig Watkins calls the "ghettocentric imagination."

However, public condemnations of Chang and Ghettopoly have not sparked reevaluations of the policies or conditions that underpin U.S. ghettos. Denunciations of the game ignore the links between it and ongoing police brutality, the prison industrial complex, deindustrialization, "all children left behind" policies, and globalization.

While Sharpton and other black leaders make their loudest protests over flare-ups like Rush or Michael Jackson, at least they see there is a problem with Ghettopoly. And that's more than might be said for many. The censure by Sharpton and others has also been dismissed as unnecessary, hypersensitive, and "politically correct." An AOL poll found that over 60% of "Americans" feel that Ghettopoly is "harmless fun." Believe me, the game is not fun; it's Monopoly. And it's not harmless. Any game that has players choosing among a malt liquor bottle, a basketball, or an Uzi for playing pieces is certainly harmful. It contributes to widespread stereotypes of black men as drug dealers, pimps, and gangsters. It reifies dominant beliefs that, for instance, more prisons and police are reasonable means to deal with vilified black bodies and spaces associated with them.

Neither critics who see Ghettopoly as an isolated problem, nor those who detach consumption from ideology can see Ghettopoly for what it is, a representative entertainment. Last month's criticism of Ghettopoly, while surely warranted, was misguided. The call to remove the game from store shelves not only led to greater interest and increased sales, but also demonstrated the current trend toward reactive outrage in lieu of sustained organization against racism as a system.

Given the increasing number of African Americans behind bars and the declining presence of blacks on college campuses, we need more than a boycott of Urban Outfitters. The fact that so many dismissed criticism of the game necessitates education and action. We can neither ignore Ghettopoly, nor focus all our attention on sensational moments, given that racist images and attitudes are promoted, tolerated, and consumed every day.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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