Grown Up


I mean, am I actually,
Really competent at anything?
How does it feel to be a grown up?
To know, I mean really know,
That you’re not bluffing,
That you have a handle,
That you know how to read the map the right way round?
To navigate the maze and treat
All things in the proper way they deserve–
Tell me–will I ever master anything?
I keep hearing about potential,
But what good is it if it’s never realised?
Is authority–the right to speak and have others listen–
Just on the other side of that door?
I mean, I fear the floundering,
The floating through the world and
Doing nothing hitherto undone,
And of being content with that.
I’ve only got a couple dozen thousand days
To become someone!
But who am I becoming?
How am I becoming?
Through what means will I become this
Man you say I am?
I want it.
I don’t want to bluff.
I can’t afford to.
Maybe the world can’t afford me to.
I’m just sick of being pretty good at most things
And above average in others–
I want to excel.
I want to grow up.

10 April 2015

Book Review, Theology

Nick Page, ‘A Nearly Infallible History of Christianity’ (Review)


When I first thumbed through my Christmas-gifted copy of Nick Page’s book (2013, available here), I wondered what perspective the writer was coming from. It wasn’t immediately obvious whether he was a skeptic aiming to debunk Christianity based on the sins of the church, or whether it was a tongue-in-cheek, in-house reckoning of Christian history with the goal of bringing it a bit more down to earth. It turns out, I think, to be somewhat of a mix, as indeed the subtitle indicates: “a history of 2000 years of Saints, Sinners, Idiots and Divinely-inspired Troublemakers.” In an engaging and often hilarious style, Page writes from within the church, but certainly attempts to pen a sobering exposé of the church’s failures, bringing figures to light that have enjoyed too little recognition for their contributions to “true Christianity.” He also aims to form a picture of a simple faith that endures in the unsung, heroic masses despite the frequent moral corruption of the upper echelons of Church leadership.

Covering the period from the Resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem to the events of September 11th 2001 in New York City, Page undertakes what would be a mammoth task for any historian in trying to cover the incredibly long and diverse history of an incredibly varied and global movement. However, in order to focus somewhat, Page limits himself to the history of Christianity in the Mediterranean world and, largely, the Western European church. Spanning 429 pages, there is an impressive amount of material, offering a broad sketch that aims to deal with each period relatively equally rather than zooming in on typically emphasised issues and figures.

Page’s humorous style is the most attractive facet of the work. It’s not often I physically laugh out loud while reading works of history. The muted, dry tone of delivery leads to innumerable quote-worthy passages, such as this one about attitudes to sex:

“By the Middle Ages, there was hardly any legitimate opportunity for a bit of ‘it’. Around 585 the church rules that there should be neither rumpy nor pumpy for the forty day before Christmas. Nor for forty days before Easter. Nor the eight days after Pentecost. Nor on the nights before the great feast days of the church. Nor on Sundays. Or Wednesdays. Or Fridays. And not for thirty days after your wife gave birth to a boy, or forty days if she gave birth to a girl. Nor five days before Communion. By my calculations that means Christians of this period were allowed sex on second Thursdays in October.”

But although Page makes you laugh, the history he presents is coherent and brings to life the interconnectedness of traditions, events and beliefs. It is a fascinating read, making entertaining and enlightening work out of a genre that is often too dense except for serious study. By adopting a no-nonsense approach that refuses to explain away former evils, the author deftly straddles two audiences. Skeptics will learn that though the saints are indeed sinful, their faith and contributions to modern values highlight a robust underlying bedrock of truth at the core of Christianity. Committed Christians, on the other hand, will see that those same saints are more human and sinful than often portrayed and certainly unworthy as objects of hagiographic worship. But for either reader, what stands out is the simplicity and strength of Christ-centred faith that shines through the shortcomings. For Page, the Church was deeply corrupted by gaining its “official” status and joining hands with power. But Christ stands against the wiles of earthly power politics and rules a kingdom of the heart. The Church has often coerced the weak and excluded the undesirable. But Christ stands with the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. The Church has too often trusted in dead rituals and decaying relics. But Christ is the living presence behind the charade.

I sympathise with Page’s outlook and goals in this book. When I was thrown into a crisis of faith studying colonial history at UCL and learning of the many horrors committed in Christ’s name, it was only the purity and centrality of Jesus Christ that drew me back. If a person’s faith is in anything but Christ, whether the Church, or leaders, or virtue, it is to be pitied. So hopefully, for many readers, this work can help knock down the whitewashed edifices that often vie for our worship, and expose the true rock that faith must be founded on.

But I do think there are some shortcomings here that deserve attention. Firstly, it is tantalising to have absolutely no indication of sources or biographical information on the author. It left me as a reader not knowing how much stock to place in some of the conclusions that were put forward on topics that I know to be controversial. What qualifies Page to make the strong statements that he does? What does he base them on? It’s hard to know and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to glean such information. This is a main gripe for me on this book.

Secondly, while I appreciate that a work of this kind cannot be as detailed as might be desired at points, I wonder whether an excessive zeal for debunking the myth of “Great Men” has at times led Page into some questionable portrayals of key figures. While it is true that all giants have clay feet, and we should beware of glossing over our heroes’ humanity, I can’t help but feel that Page takes relish in knocking influential leaders down a peg or three, thus leading him at times to verge on misinterpretation and blithe dismissal of their ideas. While notable throughout the book, this is particularly true of Reformation figures. John Calvin, for instance, he characterises as a “fundamentally…unlikeable and cold human being” (p. 321).  Luther was a “foul-mouthed, anti-Semitic bigot who would dissemble for the cause and who fell out with virtually all his friends” (p.323).

As a corollary to this, it seems Page falls somewhat into the post-modern trap of assuming that all orthodox theology, like history, is just the beliefs of the ‘winners.’ Heretics, therefore, seem to be portrayed simply as just misunderstood, left-field thinkers. While there is much to be said for the sincerity and good intentions of many that came to be known as heretics, and it was evil that some of these went to the stake (McGrath’s Heresy is good on this), Page does not sufficiently deal with why their beliefs were condemned. While some disputes were trivial and needlessly divisive, many others that Page glides over were fundamental to the nature of the gospel and do not deserve to be portrayed as unimportant or subjective. The way that ancient polemicist wrote about those condemned is undoubtedly harsh, especially to modern ears. But it is important to highlight that the early Church only condemned such beliefs after realising that their implications ended up denying the core of the gospel, most often the divinity and humanity of Christ.

Lastly, although Page’s praise of the simple faith of the unnamed masses is commendable, to some extent his decision to focus, quite traditionally, on European ecclesiastical history threatens to undermine his point. It is a nice notion, and the only one left when all the heroes have been torn down, but there is not much information about such people in this work. I would love to read a follow-up work from Page on a history of non-European Christianity, which could perhaps provide a better picture of this using a more social history approach.

In conclusion, I laughed and learned a lot from this “nearly infallible” work. Page’s history follows the example of the Bible in that it certainly does not gloss over the flaws in any of its central figures. God in Jesus Christ is the only true hero of the Bible and calls for our undivided trust and devotion. But the balance sometimes lacking here is that heroes of the faith do in fact exist (Hebrews 11) and the Bible is unabashed in reminding us to follow them. But only as they follow Christ. Despite the flaws and failures, from Abraham to Peter, the Bible shows that it is God’s grace in these lives that causes them to be exemplary. It is God’s ability to “draw straight lines with crooked sticks” that brings him greatest glory. This is the value of Christian history.


Bereaved of My Own Grandeur


That moment your holy laughter rose,
When I recognised the sound,
When I knew it was that old mirth.
It was that same bellow of joy
That once stirred.
It was the laughter that broke the sadness,
It was the laughter that lifted the cloak
That lifted the sadness and inhabited.
It’s back.
A voice I longed to hear but
Whose sweet tones I had almost forgotten.
Too soft, too subtle, too strong.
Unshakeable, gentle steel.
You’re welcome.
I’ll take my shoes off.
I wouldn’t want to traipse the mud and dust in.
I am nothing, nothing.
What can I clasp to in such a presence?
How could I endure?
What use is my mask?
My pretension? My make-believe?
When the light penetrates.
Unhidden. Laid bare.
Bereaved of my own grandeur
For I stand before yours.

22 January 2016


Dim Sprite


Dim sprite.
But living,
Breathing and bloody,
Hearty and brave with wide eyes.
A clearing in the rough
Captured with the heart’s eye.
Dismembered in the next instant.
Softly faded.
Drowned with a smothering spell.
Did he really say?
Fragments of an image only momentarily beheld.
Slithering voices,
Some friend, some foe,
But none quickly named.
In the deafening twilight,
How can the image be restored?
Who has gathered the pieces?
Where are they stored?
By what method can one light the fire of sight?
With wickedness in heart,
Spare a seed imperishable,
I languish for the flame
That only the sun provides.
But the flicker is my warmth.
I hold my breath,
I pray, don’t blow it out.
Instruct me in how to burn.
Point me to the fuel.

21 September 2015


Fanning the Fragile Flame


A spark is an incomparably fragile thing. The wick is real, tangible, bound. But a spark glimmers so quickly that even though you’re sure you saw it, you can’t describe what it looked like apart from simply calling it a spark. It’s the perfect image of what inspiration is like, a flawlessly matched metaphor. Inspiration comes and lights on the surface of your heart, just brushing up against it, strongly enough to be felt, but gently enough to always evade capture. Just as the slightest chill or breath will quench the spark, the purity of inspiration cannot abide bitterness or worrying distraction.

The experience of inspiration, which I know when I’ve felt, but struggle to verbalise and so often and so quickly lose, helps me understand the leading of the Holy Spirit. God himself is a consuming flame, yet his Spirit leads in whispers and visits us as a dove. The sight and sound of him is unmistakable, but when I try to condense the sparks into communicable, intelligible language, they slip through my fingers. I can’t contain him, words prove too porous. But more than this, that familiar glimmer is crowded out easily with competing voices. As soon as the mind stops to consider any fear or worry or anger, the Dove takes flight. His holiness cannot abide my faithlessness for long.

But graciously, he doesn’t give up. The spark returns, if briefly, and continues to give glimpses of something pure and untaintable. The question is, how can I turn the sparks into a flame? The Bible talks about “rekindling the flame of the gift of God”, meaning both his Spirit and what the Spirit gives, in 2 Timothy 1:6. What can be done to welcome the Dove’s gift, to guard the spark, to protect the still, small voice that speaks so gently inside? It’s not as easy as looking for the spark, because my heart is turned by the times he finds me rather than the other way around. I can’t conjure it or manufacture it, the fire comes from him. So what can I do to feed and fuel the spark once it comes?

Just as any artist knows that inspiration is a gift for which they can take no credit, the Spirit is God’s gift-giving gift to his children. For the artist, the only way to bring the gifted spark into flame is to immediately put it to work. It must hurriedly be applied to paper if it is to have any chance of survival. It’s the same as any gift, which inevitably withers and fades when not put to use. But how could one put the gift of the Spirit to use? Not by manipulating the Dove to our bidding, but by letting him do his work and applying his gift with discipline and trust. Just as the artist continues to ply away at his work based on that initial inspiration, even long after the warmth of the spark seems to have abated, so I have to exercise trust in the spark of the Holy Spirit and practice trusting him during the times when his voice is drowned out.

The gift is something I have and it is also someone I have. It is therefore both practical and relational. My trust in the person is shown by actions I take which depend on his word being trustworthy. If my inspiration, the stroke of the Dove’s presence, is so easily interrupted, then what areas of my life need to be actively rekindled into a flame of trusting faith? Where, when and how am I relying on him? If actions which demonstrate trust breed intimacy, then perhaps this is the way to invite and retain the spark and fan it, be it ever so slightly, into a slow-burning fire which lights the immediate path and warms the heart for the journey.


Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Your Greatest Weakness as His Greatest Strength (Part III)


“Come and have breakfast.”
John 21: 4-12

Picture Peter in particular the day after that Friday. Three moments were unbearably tormenting him, swirling round and round in his head. In one instant his mind was flashing to Thursday night when he had boldly declared to his friend and master, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” In the next he felt a stab in his heart, picturing himself just hours later by the charcoal fire, cow-heartedly answering the slave girl, “I am not his disciple…I am not his disciple…I am not his disciple.” And then, immediately after in the early hours of the next morning, the moment when his friend and hero had caught his glance and the caustic tears had begun to flow irrepressibly. Peter knew then that he was a failure.

On Saturday, the day when it seemed all had failed and all that was left were the questions, the disciples needed to wrestle and trust God based on his promises and his proven character.

But the most beautiful thing about this story is that Jesus stays with us even when we fail to do this. Think again on Peter and his story. He and the rest of the disciples really did fail. It wasn’t imagined. They really had betrayed Jesus and let him down. But on Sunday morning when Jesus returns, he isn’t out to get Peter. You would think he would be. No, Jesus knew his frailty and he had prayed for him just as he had promised (Luke 22:31-32). He said that somehow this would work for good, somehow Peter would be able to come out of this experience and encourage others. Jesus was going to take that moment of utmost failure and turn it into the moment of His utmost victory.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore… When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea… When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them…“Come and have breakfast.” (John 21: 4-12)

Jesus comes once again as a friend, right back to the place where they had first met–at the shore. Peter’s response is to dive into the water. Not proud, not hiding, but running to his Master. At this point, Jesus had already appeared to the disciples twice, but there was still a deeper work to be done in Peter’s heart. Jesus needed to go back to that moment of deepest betrayal, to the very same charcoal fire where he had denied their intimacy. Jesus is specific–in fact this type of fire is only mentioned twice in the entire scriptures: Peter’s betrayal and Peter’s restoration.

Peter had gone back to fishing, his old job. Jesus encounters him right back at the same place where they had met, as if to say, “Peter, it hasn’t all been worthless.” He had seen his very worst moment, but now he invites him to a barbecue on the beach. Where three times Peter had denied their bond, Jesus three times extends his hand in love and draws the words from Peter’s heart, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus takes Peter back to his greatest failure, heals it, and says once again the first words he ever spoke to him, “Follow me.” All was made new.

Through the Saturday Experience, Jesus turned Peter’s greatest weakness into his greatest strength. When Peter ran to him again, Jesus redeemed him and strengthened him so that he could in turn strengthen his brothers. It was after this full restoration that Peter would follow and never again deny him. His previous words about being willing to die, which seemed so hollow on Saturday, were ultimately proven true when Peter himself was later crucified for his Lord.

We may live in the Saturday time, we feel like everything has failed, us, God, the plan, and all we are left with are the questions. But cherish the questions, they are the tool that God will use to deepen your relationship with him. On your Saturday, think deeply about the truth: who God is and what he has promised. Trust him–it’s the only thing that makes sense. Remember that Jesus is with you, he is praying for your by name. If you will run to him, he will turn even your moments of deepest failure into a victory, using you to encourage others and build his church.

On your Saturday, thank him for what he did on Friday and trust him for what he will do on Sunday.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Finding Peace in the In-Between (Part II)


On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment…
Luke 23:56

The day after the terror of ‘Good’ Friday, all we are told about the disciples is that they rested. But clearly their rest was far from peaceful. The truth is that Saturday, the day when it seems all has failed and God is absent, is the only pathway to Sunday. But how can we find peace in the midst of the questions?

It is here that the Christian faith differs from all relaxation techniques and methods of peace-finding. As Tim Keller points out, the standard mantra is that one finds peace in the midst of turmoil by thinking less, by escaping to your happy place and getting your mind off the troubling questions. Relaxation spas all over the world are filled with little Buddhas precisely because his system holds that suffering is but another illusion. But Christianity says that in order to find peace on Saturday, the disciples of Jesus shouldn’t have forced themselves to think less, they should have been intent on thinking more about what they believed.

On Saturday a Christian finds peace by fixing his whole mind on two unchanging truths: God’s promises and God’s character.

For the disciples to have peace they needed to think on the promises of God’s word, and especially what the Word in the flesh, Jesus, had told them. Not only had the prophets predicted everything about Jesus, but he himself had predicted what was going to happen. They knew he had prophesied that he would be raised on the third day. He had said it over and over again. This wasn’t something they could have missed. They certainly knew, because Matthew tells us even the Pharisees knew full well about this prophecy. It was mentioned at Jesus’ trial. This is why they put the guards at the tomb, because everyone knew about the prophecy. They just didn’t think it would actually happen. The disciples needed to remember Jesus’ words to them, even though the words didn’t seem to make sense at the time.

The first source of peace on Saturday comes through the promises of God spoken to us corporately through his Word and personally by his Spirit. I need to remember who God says I am, the promises he has made, his prophetic word. This is what God has said to us. We also have God’s written word with promises addressed to us, and we have God’s Spirit speaking to us personally.

On Saturday, we must fix our attention on who God is.

Secondly, not only are promises enough to sustain us, but if we would only think clearly about the truth of who God is we will have a tremendous resource for inner peace. Think about who God is: the all-powerful creator of heaven and earth, he holds time in his hands, he knows the beginning from the end, he is the same yesterday, today and forever, he knew you from your mother’s womb. God is all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing, and says he not only loves but is love. When you add these truths together, along with God’s promises that he works “all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to him purposes”, what possible reason could there be to fear?

On your Saturday, think more about what you believe. Lack of peace doesn’t come from thinking too much, it comes from not thinking enough about the truth.

But once we know these things, we have to actively trust him. This is faith: trusting God’s promises on the basis of who He is and what He has done. Faith is trusting God, not just blindly, for no reason, but on the basis of his character, proven by his actions. What he has done proves to us who he is–that what he has said is worth trusting. Absolute confidence is the only logical response. Not just the best response, but the only response which makes sense. This is what Jesus had and the disciples needed. Jesus knew the word and what needed to happen, then the promises strengthened him for the moment and allowed him to trust his father even when felt most abandoned.

On Saturday we must turn to the truth that will sustain us. We can trust God’s promises because of who he is, and who he is has been proven by what he has done for us.

Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Cherish the Questions (Part I)


On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment…
Luke 23:56

What must the disciples have felt like on Saturday?

They were a failure. The probably blamed themselves personally, wondering what they could have done, regretting haven fallen asleep at such a key moment. They locked themselves away, huddled together in fear. They were so dejected they didn’t even stay for Jesus’ burial. Only the women did. The men must have felt so unmanly and worthless they didn’t even feel worthy to watch the burial. It felt like everything had been lost. Everything they had placed their trust in, worked for, and staked their lives and reputations on was lost. Their fearless leader had been killed, their friend, and in his moment of greatest need they had all abandoned him.

Not only was the cause lost, but all that they thought they had achieved in their own characters was lost. Peter, along with all of Jesus’ closest friends and students, had completely turned his back on him when he needed him most. Betrayal. Imagine your best friend, the one you’ve gone through thick and thin with, had hundreds of meals with, travelled with, lived with, who swore he always had your back and would even die for you if it came to it, at the moment you need him most, denies that he even knows you. He completely stabs you in the back. Peter must have been absolutely inconsolable. Judas’ was a sin of commission, but Peter’s was a sin of omission: failing to do what he should have done. And sins of omission are the ones that people often regret most after someone dies: “I wish I had told her I loved more often”, “I wish I had spent more time with him.”

But come Saturday, it wasn’t only the disciples that had failed, but it seemed God himself had failed also. How could Jesus die? How could the Messiah, the Son of God, the chosen one die? The disciples are in a very unsure place. They are in the ‘in-between time’. The time where they have no idea what God is doing. They are put in the position where they are forced either to trust him, or abandon hope altogether.

This is the Saturday experience. The time in between the horror of the Crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection where God’s plan is a complete mystery.

It was a Sabbath, the day when they were commanded to rest and acknowledge their lack of control. They are forced to not try to make things right, but just rest. They are powerless.They are in the place where they have to wrestle, and what they are wrestling with are the tough questions. Both their own questions and the questions the accuser is throwing at them. Who was this man? Was he the one, or were they duped? Were they wrong? What do they do now? The disciples seem to be left alone with these haunting questions.

But they were used to questions. Jesus had been a man of deep questions. This was his usual way of teaching, not by spoon-feeding easy, understandable answers, but cutting to the heart with difficult, uncomfortable questions. Sitting and reading the questions of Jesus is a penetrating exercise. On the other hand, of the 183 questions that others ask Jesus in the Gospels, he only directly answers three. Clearly his job is not to give us neat little answers that will satisfy and put all our queries to rest. On the contrary, he wants us to cherish the questions, to wrestle with them and learn their value. This has been God’s way since he struggled with Jacob in the process of making him Israel. By asking he makes us search our own hearts and realise the answers for ourselves. We have to fight for it, but the effect is a change in our character. This is excellent teaching. As good teachers know, by coming to the realisation yourself the lesson sticks with you more profoundly, changing not only your knowledge but your being.

Cherish the questions.

God puts us in the Saturday experience so that we are forced to turn to him. To know him. To have relationship with him. To really rely on him. This is part of the essence of relationship. If every conversation were simply Q and A, there would be no back and forth, no personal communication and fellowship. We would get our answer and say, “OK thanks, bye.” Information could be shared, of course, but not intimacy.

Ultimately, Jesus leaves us to wrestle with the questions so that we can learn that he is the answer.

To get to Sunday we must go through Saturday. On the Saturday in between, the extent to which we will become like him is measured by our willingness to wrestle with the questions and yet still decide to trust him.


Book Review, Hip Hop

Joseph G. Schloss, ‘Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop’ (Review)


When I spotted this book on Amazon I could hardly contain my excitement. Someone had bothered to write a book on that one thing which has formed half of my lonely act of creativity since age twelve. And it was a quality academic work! Needless to say, the Matrix was in full, warp-speed binary swing in adding this to my Christmas wish-list. Then, lo and behold, the Fat One brought it on his sled and into the world of my reading possibilities–Geek.

The attention of the academy, as we know, is swayed by a number of factors, not least being the criterion that the object be ‘worthy’ of study. Over the past twenty years, since the powers that be have begun to realise that hip-hop is not a passing urban fad, but a multifaceted culture of global proportions, various disciplines have slowly started to deem the topic sufficiently non-inconsequential so as to write on it. Unfortunately, as the majority of scholars approaching the field do so as ‘outsiders’ looking in, such studies have often been rife with bad analyses based on faulty cultural assumptions. In a realm as obsessed with authenticity, or at least the appearance of it, as hip-hop, it was necessary for scholarly ‘insiders’ to produce works which resonated more with the culture as experienced by its contributors. This is exactly the kind of work presented in Joseph Schloss’ Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop, the first work to explore the musical process and internal culture of hip-hop as music.

Hip-hop culture has four primary creative expressions: b-boying (dance), emceeing (rap), deejaying (music) and graffiti writing (visual art). Most studies on the music have tended to focus on rap, largely overlooking the work of ‘producers’, their methods, goals and values. Joseph Schloss, himself a hip-hopper, compiled his study from ten years of research among hip-hop producers from 1992-2002 . The outcome is a wide-reaching book which covers a diverse and unexpected range of topics from a perspective which feels faithful to its material. Although in many ways hip-hop production has since been transformed by technology and societal shift, facts which are acknowledged in the second edition’s new foreword and afterword, the book distils several key cultural outlooks which continue to exert influence in hip-hop and offers important criticisms of reigning academic assumptions.

After an introduction outlining methodological approaches and concerns, Schloss begins his study by outlining the history of how hip-hop production came to be defined by the use of ‘samples’ of other music. The producers’ explanation is that hip-hop’s sound was born out of a particular method of deejaying invented by South Bronx pioneer DJ Kool Herc, which looped the most rhythmic sections (breaks) of songs at parties and prized the challenge of finding rare, unknown vinyl to use in sets. Once the digital sampler was invented, it is held, it was thus a natural step to emulate this sound through the use of samples. While Schloss challenges this simple picture by pointing out that in the early years of hip-hop live bands had often been used and might also have become the norm, he acknowledges that the choice to sample is not pragmatic, but aesthetic. In other words, hip-hop producers sample not because it is convenient, as many scholars have assumed, but because it is beautiful.

Chapter four discusses the tradition of ‘digging in the crates’, hip-hop producer’s near obsessive collecting and searching for rare vinyl which serves a multivalent purpose as a show of dedication and skill, a pedagogical tool to apprentice young producers and as an inspiration for music creation. Following from this Schloss delves into the ethics of sampling from a producer’s point of view. In contrast to other studies, this is not concerned with the legality and ethics of sampling as a general practice–a method taken for granted as it forms the base of the hip-hop aesthetic–but the code by which producers abide in how they sample. What this reveals is that sampling is not the ethical free-for-all that is often assumed by outsiders, but subjected to a strict set of rules that exalt creativity and originality above all. Finally, Schloss considers the process of composition and the way in which producers actually build their beats, before ending with a look at the relationship between beat-makers and the various circles they must engage with, including emcees, record labels, and listeners, to get their music heard. In conclusion, the author highlights the importance of gaining the insider perspective because “no matter how significant the pressures applied by base and superstructure, nationalism, capitalism, and ethnicity”–the most common focusses in the field of hip-hop studies–”it is still individual human beings (and their friends) who must navigate this course.”

Although the data in this book reflects a largely bygone era, a long way away from today’s iPad beat-making software and digital ‘crate digging’ on Spotify, I believe its deeper message holds value beyond mere historical documentation. At the time of writing, Schloss’ study represented a gentle but firm rebuke against much of the detached academic theorizing about hip-hop. Often this was, and continues often to be, expressed in assumptions about what hip-hop means to the people that are involved in it, or about its implications and history, which under closer examination are at best laughable, and at worst demeaning. The problem is that they largely pay no attention to the views and motivations of the culture’s contributors themselves and judge hip-hop’s value by alien aesthetic standards. As Schloss shows, constant discussion of hip-hop as being the product of inner-city disadvantage and survivalism sounds praiseworthy, but if left at that ignores important facts and removes all creative agency from hip-hoppers. For instance, hip-hop production could simply not have arisen out of mere poverty-driven convenience and opportunism since the equipment necessary to create the music, including turntables, sound systems, vast record collections, and later digital samplers, until very recently cost huge sums of money to acquire. What emerges from his study, therefore, is a refreshing  look at hip-hop which takes it status and value as music for granted because–for once–it values the views of the people who love it and recognises their individual creative agency over and against environmental determinism and external expectations.




On an argument.

A child, an impudent child,
Mad at not getting my way,
Or a hurt,
Or I don’t know what.
In truth, my real offence evades me,
Spiralling, I’ve lost the thread
That was tethered to righteous indignation.
I can’t be sure it was ever tied.
I once had a right,
Now I can’t even remember.
I want to feel like I have a right to be me,
But do I?
Did I give that away in my vow
To be one with you?
My mind and heart know that this is already conferred,
So why do I take up arms?
Why insist on taking offence from one who
Unfailingly means me well?
But look at me, look at me,
Haven’t I been unselfish?
Haven’t I been putting you first?
Why don’t you do the same?
Was it all a rouse?
Was I quietly and piously manipulating?
I don’t think, or at least I hope earnestly, not,
And yet, how pure, clear and unsullied can I
Ever prove my motives to be?
I should give and expect nothing in return,
If it is unrequited, what is that to me?
You, do your duty son,
And remember your own wisdom appears
Much less virtuous from up here.
Remember me, remember in the midst,
Bring me there and let me in,
Stop wishing your destruction,
Let me be the strength and let me
Take the offence.
That’s the kind of rock I am.

28 January 2015