Music

Deep Thinkers: Necks Move

Dan Nishimoto

One gets deep. The other just thinks. Unequal halves. Will the disparity be reconciled?"


Deep Thinkers

Necks Move

Label: Coup de Grace
US Release Date: 2005-03-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Kansas City hip-hop veterans Brother of Moses and Leonard D make a bid for wider undie cred on their debut, Necks Move. Indeed, the record lives up to its name with fascinating beat collages ideal for the canned soundtrack of the omphaloskeptic. However, the literalism of the title also gives away the album's weakness: lack of depth. While the sound of Necks is woven with great intricacy and skill, the final pattern is confused and unclear. Composed of party-line underground rhetoric -- self-empowerment, loyalty, communal pride, f--- The Man -- with little imagination or creativity, well-meaning thoughts hardly gel and subsequently lose effectiveness. Necks is a frustrating listen because talent is apparent, but delivers inconsistently.

Much of the appeal and lack thereof are immediately apparent. Opener "Building" harkens back "to the Aboriginal nature" over quiet storm pianos that offer sustained harmonics, while occasional chromatic koto-type flourishes accent the track. The sound is lush and the production shows noteworthy attention. BoM gets high like Zion I-like tones, but when he starts on a thought about sacrifice, "Leave our homes / But the children they're alone / We're building", the familiar Stone Age, hunter-gatherer mode of male thought rears its ugly head. Even Kanye claims to be for the kiiids, leaving the line several notches shy of the Handle Yo' Business bar. Similarly, "Rock the Beat" attempts to rock weak MCs over a beat box loop and MPC-style drums, but again buckles under weak generalizations like, "Support the underground / Humble sounds / Ain't no braggin'." While the thought applies to BoM's admirable sense of humility, the same cannot be said of his peers, let alone an entire genre. Although these are admitted details, they are also lead lines in their respective verses. Placing thoughts with little backing in such an open space only invites the criticism.

Generalizations and clichés tank much of the flavorful style SoM exhibits. "War of Words" attempts to spearhead the left to action, but becomes a meandering conspiracy theory track: "Every momma in the hood has a lost son"; "One hundred foot hurdles they place in front of us"; "Want the white and the rich to live comfortably"; "Equality through mind control." Certainly, each point interconnects, just not as a stream of consciousness laundry list. Good intentions also become misguided, such as on "Suggestions", a track dedicated to the "ladies that are victims of domestic abuse." While the topic is rarely, if ever, broached in pop music, SoM chooses a questionable portrait; he opens with, "Marry a rich man / Is what your momma said." If art speaks principally through representations, then how does golddigging (nurtured, not nature, of course) help the case for a sex already beleagured with said reputation? Ultimately, the same generalizations perpetrated by the media to help reduce art into digestible movements and instances have cycled back to the art-making process for Deep Thinkers. In their one-sheets, BoM continues in the line of hip hop as a Black CNN by likening himself to a "news reporter", a statement made with a degree of accuracy considering his observational prowess on "Here We Are." "They chillin' in the castle / While we get harassed still", he spits, inadvertently yet artfully drawing parallels between the ghettos of the world; even KC has its Fort Knox. However, for every pointed observation comes a "Cop is a cop / A cop is a pig" line. To further trim the weight from BoM's verses, he rushes raps over some smooth jazz loops, stuttering kicks, and rolling snares, sounding especially awkward over the chorus where he rushes to squeeze in lines over the peaks of the beats; words get mushed together to the point where the lines are difficult to decipher. In each of these instances, verses cover trodden ground. And with soil so compacted and dehydrated, a far stronger dig, a comprehensive expedition must be planned in order to reveal new findings.

Necks perks up when the focus is placed completely on the consistent production. Lenny D cuts loose on instrumental tracks like "Sideshow", spackling 6/8 vibe runs with a scratch'n paste composition filled with breaks and cuts over classic lines from the Beasties, Rakim, etc. In contrast to the bold b-boy stance of DJ/producers in Deep Concentration, the track creepy crawls in the Disneyland Haunted House sense, making it more fun than fearsome. Nevertheless, Lenny D gives nods aplenty to the greats, Premier (scratch 'choruses') and Shadow (re-cuts harp lines to recreate Giorgio's "Tears"). "Kiss the Sky" steeps the album further in yesterday's junglist tapes, stuttering and skittering drums like a Squarepusher track. Although the track speeds away, Lenny D chooses flurry over fury, infusing Greek folk and snippets of Meth, KRS, and ODB over the two-step style track. His signature sensitivity again comes to the fore as soft strings waft over each bar like velvet. Admittedly, the closing "Search and Destroy" sounds like a lost track from a Nineties R.A.W. tape by baring the most teeth, but little else, thus supporting the contention that Lenny D's strength on Necks is not the hardcore, but the heartcore.

Although Necks lags with inconsistency, the group still enjoys the strength of a strong local reputation (the album was previously released locally on Datura) and a timely eclectic aesthetic. In other words, the album does contain its marketable aspects and will subsequently appeal in the way Zion I made a splash several years back. Once again, as the press release suggests, this could be one of those records that "even the saddest emo kid (hipsters unite!), the most amped up raver (the kids dragging their duffle-bag pant legs through the corn fields), the most pissed off punk (the hip undie, ah yes), and the most down (re: underground) hip-hop head (re: white kid with money) can vibe with." Market demands aside, the duo exhibits strength and talent that will hopefully shape and grow. Like a slow nod, say yes y'all.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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