BOOK REVIEW: “Rap Tees” by DJ Ross One

Rap Tees photo RapTees_cover_zpstydq4wyk.jpg Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999 (powerHouse Books) is a book by DJ Ross One that honors the first era of hip-hop clothing that fans were able to buy not only as souvenirs but to show support for their favorite artists, just as rock fans have been able to for decades. Why is this significant? Because carrying a souvenir of your favorite music artist brings the fan closer to the artist, or at least sporting their logo on your chest makes it feel like a unique level of support even though that uniqueness is shared by anyone who buys a similar shirt.

DJ Ross One explores the many hip-hop T-shirts that have come over time. When it came to heavy metal T-shirts, its origins were rooted from the surfing and skateboarding communities, showing extra support by displaying their logo or a graphic design in reference to an album or logo. The rock T-shirt became a major part of the costume, especially for headbangers along with their denim fests and specific patches. Some of these traditions would be carried over into hip-hop, specifically when Def Jam became one of the first labels to make shirts for their artists and themselves. It seemed odd at first, for “why would anyone want to wear a T-shirt that said Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys? Why would anyone wear a logo in honor of a record company?” It’s the unusual dedication of “artist and record company pride” and once Def Jam’s clothing became a bit of promotion and hype when worn by other artists (Anthrax’s Scott Ian were Def Jam shirts religiously when he and the band went on tour in 1987 in support fo their Among The Living album), associated artists got involved before it began to open up to anyone in hip-hop willing to share their logo.

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DJ Ross One talks about the rise of a hip-hop shirt, whether it’s from through a company catalog or finding an offer in a cassette or 12″ single. Often times, snagging that T-shirt was a one-time thing not because they were thinking of creating limited editions, but because the budget was not big for hip-hop clothing, definitely not for a T-shirt. If you wanted a glow-in-the-dark De La Soul shirt, you had hoped you could get one or lose out. While many artists would have their own line of shirts in the early 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan changed everything when they made a specfic line of clothing with their logos, originally just the yellow W over a black shirt. You had to hunt down those shirts when they weren’t widely available and once they obtained greater distribution, anyone who wanted to honor the power of the Wu could get one at the local mall. To be able to see T-shirts for everyone from Biggie to 2Pac, Digital Underground to Slick Rick, Queen Latifah to Nicki Minaj is interesting, for it also shows the progress of not only entrepreneurial success but the improvements of the designs themselves.

Rap Tees also touches on some of the bootleg T-shirts that were made not only in the late 80’s/early 90’s but in hip-hop for the last 25 years. If finding The Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy bootleg T-shirts became a trend, you may be able to find a bootleg shirt of your favorite artists at a swap meet, flea market, or corner store, even if the printing on the shirt might disappear after five washes.

Regardless, the hip-hop T-shirt managed to live in, not only for fans to buy but for ways to record labels, management, and the artists themselves to add to their means of promotion. Perhaps that means of promotion may have changed, for better or worse, with the rise of the internet and social media but fortunately if you need to find that specific shirt to sport, you may be able to find it on eBay, Etsy, or any other online merchant. Rap Tees shines the spotlight on believing in the hype from nothing more than a T-shirt and a silkscreen.

(NOTE: I was not able to get a hard copy of the book for review, I only received a digital edition. This review is based on that digital edition. You may order Rap Tees below from Amazon.com.)

RECORD CRACK: Panasonic officially ends their Technics division

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It was announced earlier this year that the Tachnics division of Panasonic would be putting an end to their SL-1200 line of turntables, but there was no official statement from Technics, Panasonic, or anyone. Originally it had been thought that the U.S. division of Panasonic would put a stop to it, and that perhaps the turntables would continue to be made in Japan and sold throughout Asia and Australia. However, Panasonic has made an official announcement stating that not only will they stop making the turntables, but Technics as a brand name will be no more.

After more than 35 years as a leading manufacturer of analogue turntables, Panasonic has regretfully taken the decision to leave this market. However, Panasonic will continue to sell headphones under the Technics brand.

Panasonic hopes that retailers and consumers will understand that its product range has to reflect the accelerating transformation of the entire audio market from analogue to digital.

In addition, the number of component suppliers serving the analogue market has dwindled in recent years and the decision to leave the market, rather than risk being unable to fulfil future orders because of a lack of parts, has been brought forward.

Panasonic employees who have been working on the analogue turntable range have been redeployed elsewhere within Panasonic – many of them continuing to work in Panasonic’s Audio Video Business Unit.

When Technics introduced their 1200 line of turntables, it seemed very advanced and space age for the mid-1970’s. It was sleek and thin, unlike the bulky phonographs that dominated the market. While there were sleek and thin turntables, many of which were made by European companies, Technics not only made it look good, but affordable. Up until that point, most people still used record players with spindles. With the Technics turntable, you now had to flip the record over after 15 to 20 minutes. More importantly, not only did it look good, but it sounded incredible.

It was perfect for home listening, but mobile DJ’s would bring those turntables to the clubs for its lightness in weight, making it possible to be more portable (and allowing the DJ to use strength to carry more records. The turntables, designed by the Matsushita company, were made using direct-drive rather than a belt-drive. A belt-drive can often cause more tension and extra turntable noise (“rumble” or “hum”) that can get annoying with age. By it being direct-drive, it was discovered you could move the records with your hands in a way that would manipulate the sound, but go back to the sound being heard with little delay. This would become essential not only for club DJ’s, but hip-hop DJ’s who would use the 1200’s as the bridge between listening to music the old way, and playing with your music the new way. There was a time when our parents didn’t allow us to touch the record player, so young DJ’s “cutting it up on the 1’s and 2’s” was a bit like a middle finger to authority.

Its importance in hip-hop is immeasurable, but the 1200 tonearm became a part of the Def Jam logo, who used it to show their level of quality:
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Of course, with music becoming even more portable and of course more digital, the vinyl market has become more niche than ever. In hip-hop circles, vinyl has been thought of as being more of a DJ tool and not as a serious listening device, whereas in rock, jazz, and other genres, fans appreciate vinyl and turntables for the sound quality. As compact discs and eventually MP3’s became a part of the listening and buying norm, the importance of analog and sound quality became more niche too, to where very few people seem to be concerned about sound quality. If there was one aspect of hip-hop that struggled to remain true to its 1970’s roots, it was what the record player/turntable meant, long before it became a DJ tool and weapon of choice for thousands of sound assassins.

Away from hip-hop, the 1200 series became a model of turntable that other stereo/phonograph companies eliminated to the point of intellectual property theft. Turntable continued to be made by others, but somehow Technics held true throughout the decades. One can say that in 2011, there are people who make it for better and cheaper, so maybe the end of the 1200 is more about nostalgia and saying goodbye to the good ol’ days. Even though vinyl sales are better than they were ten years ago, companies are in it for the money, which means to profit. Panasonic said they found it difficult to maintain the turntables for parts, so rather than deal with declining sales, they are putting a stop to the entire company.

Fortunately there are enough turntables and turntable parts out there to keep people satisfied. If you want to modify your own turntable, there are people to help you out. Even if new Technics models will no longer be made, there are enough companies who still make good tables, if you truly need new. One of the benefits of a Technics 1200 turntable is that whether they were fresh out of the box or one your grandpa played her Anne Murray records on, with proper maintenance, they still played very well and sounded incredible, due to how well it was made and designed.

To Technics, thank you.

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