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Lil Nas X in the studio. Photo by DiFronzo [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

As I write this Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” continues to sit atop the Billboard Hot 100. Its removal from the top of Billboard‘s country chart well over a month ago sparked a fierce debate about who has the power to define genre and, inevitably, how genre definitions are inextricably linked with race. The analyses of race and genre in myriad tweets, facebook posts, and articles traced the long history of record companies defining and marketing certain genres to particular audiences. …


A couple of weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from the good folks at Universal Music Group, inviting me to download a sampler from a new 5 CD/8 LP box set that contains all the recordings John Coltrane made for Prestige in 1958. Here’s a screen shot of part of that email:

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Minutes later — literally, it was only a few minutes — I got an email ad from Downbeat selling me the same set:


What the master of science fiction says about being a sex radical, his writing, and caring for ourselves and others

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photo courtesy of David Menestres

This week I had the pleasure of seeing Samuel Delany give the annual Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick lecture at Duke University. Every year the lecture is given by someone who has made important contributions to queer studies/theory. Instead of a lecture, he was interviewed by Duke professor Pete Sigal. In his opening questions, Sigal emphasized Delany’s academic nonfiction book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, which documents and analyzes his experience of cruising for sex in Time Square’s movie houses and…


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MGM women’s jazz band, the Ingenues. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales.

“Still, the male jazz musician accepts and takes for granted that at every step he’ll be dealing with other men — from club owners to booking agents to bandleaders, fellow players, reviewers and writers in the press: a male-dominated profession. The language that describes jazz, and jazz musicians, reflects this reality. . . . The actor in this world of music is with good reason commonly called the ‘jazzman.’” — Linda Dahl, Stormy Weather, ix-x

Like other artistic, cultural, and entertainment endeavors, jazz is having its own #metoo moment. In recent years many woman musicians have spoken out publicly about…


Or . . . When the apocalypse comes, don’t say you weren’t warned

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Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been reading a ton of near-future dystopian speculative fiction. This week I finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s excellent The Water Knife (I hope there’s a movie adaptation of it coming soon) and I am itching to read the second installment of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy. I’ve also recently read Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas, Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, and Octavia Butler’s Parable Series.

While these books have wildly different plots, they all have one thing in common: the future is beyond bleak. In these books the United States, or large portions of it, teeter on…


How the Right’s Fixation on Nathan Phillips’s Drum Reflects White America’s Fear of the Drum

Ever since the video of the group of Covington High School boys surrounding Native American activist Nathan Phillips and — depending on your interpretation — either harassed him or defended themselves (count me among those who understand it to be the former), there has been a massive national conversation addressing numerous issues that speak to our cultural and political zeitgeist.

As a student of American music and culture, one item — which my wife hipped me to — piqued my interest. …


What following Marie Kondo’s advice on keeping books would look like on this book nerd’s shelves

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Just a small section of my book collection.

So Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and her Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is blowing up on my social media feeds lately. Why? Because I am a book person: I own lots of books, I buy lots of books, I read lots of books, I work in book publishing, and I’m trying to write my own book(s), and because Kondo suggests that “ideally,” people should only keep 30 books. For me and a whole lot of people I know…


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Mac Miller, Splash Festival, 2017 Credit: Nicolas Völcker, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

I came to the music of Mac Miller late. Like three days before he died late. I had never heard of him before. And because I live under a rock, I didn’t know he was the dude Ariana Grande was dating before she got with SNL‘s Pete Davidson. My first introduction was his NPR Tiny Desk Concert, and shortly thereafter his final album, Swimming.

Celebrity deaths almost never affect me. Anthony Bourdain’s suicide last year felt like a kick to the gut. So did Robin Williams’s. But I can’t think of any other in recent memory that really got to…


“Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere,
Self care,
I’m treating me right.”
— Mac Miller

As I write this on Christmas Eve, the Dow Jones just closed over 600 points down, hundreds of thousands of government workers are out of a job and going without pay, and the folks in California who lost everything in the fires are spending the holidays anywhere other than their homes.

Let’s face it, by just about any score 2018 was a shit year. Not even counting politics and the exhausting election: where I live in North Carolina got whacked by back to…


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photo of Kendrick Lamar by Batiste Safont [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

It would be hard to find anybody who would call Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly anything but a hip hop album. Notable for its lyrical, musical, technical, and conceptual brilliance, Butterfly is a profound expression of and meditation on the African American experience in the context of a nation plagued by anti-black racism. …

Chris Robinson, PhD

music writer | saxophonist | independent scholar| bylines in Downbeat, Point of Departure, Hobart Pulp, elsewhere @crmusicwriter |robinsonmusicwriter.com

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