The Iron Fist Dilemma

On March 17, 2017, Netflix will premiere its latest Marvel show, Iron Fist.  Much like its predecessors, Daredevil , Jessica Jones , and Luke Cage , the show will follow closely to its comic book source material, including its protagonist, orphaned billionaire martial artist Danny Rand, who became a martial arts prodigy after a plane crash landed him in the mythical land of K’un L’un. During his training, he obtains the ability to concentrate his chi (spiritual energy) into his fists, rendering them like iron, hence his moniker. The supposed controversy is that the show’s lead is white, rather than casting an Asian lead for this martial arts show. However, anyone who has read any iteration of Iron Fist’s comics in the past 4 decades knows that Danny Rand is white in the comics as well.

The dilemma is that white lead characters have been the leads in movies focusing on Asian cultures, from Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, to Matt Damon in The Great Wall. Even Scarlet Johansson was cast as the lead in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, sparking a debate on whether her lead character was “white-washed” or not even before it debuted in theaters. Where Iron Fist differs is that it’s actually following it’s source material, potentially nullifying any claim of white-washing.

The issue that should be in focus is not the ethnicity of an established character that follows the source material, but why an established character that can fit the criteria for inclusion hasn’t been utilized yet. A prime example is another martial arts hero from Marvel, Shang-Chi. Not only does he have a similar cult following to Iron Fist, but he gives Marvel a chance to put an Asian superhero at the forefront. In fact, Shang-Chi is part of the same Heroes For Hire circle that Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight inhabit, making him an easy chatacter to bring into the fold.

As casting trends have shown, inclusion and representation are beginning to matter more than ever. However, reassigning ethnicity may not always be the best solution. Sometimes, it’s about bringing an overlooked hero into the forefront.

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Thanksgiving Reflections

As I’m at the tail end of my work shift as a direct care counselor, having stemmed the tide of residents cursing staff out at random and a slew of dirty grown-man diapers and clean wipes, I do wish I were with my family this day. On the other hand, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. In spite of working a job that pushes the limits of my patience and sanity, and in spite of a socio-political climate that’s pushed most of us in the states at wit’s end, I’m finding myself taking moments to reflect on the small things that can actually say I’m blessed to have.

I’m thankful that even though my job as a direct care counselor is difficult, and the employer that I work for is frustrating, it allows me to have something to pay the bills, keep me fed, and able to be self-sufficient to a fault.

I’m thankful that even though I still live at home with my parents, I still have a roof over my head, and I can contribute to their well-being financially. 

I’m thankful that I don’t have a gym membership yet. I’ve trained harder in the comfort of my own bedroom than I ever could in a Planet Fitness or some other gym chain.

I’m thankful for being in a city with options. Even with the dividing line between the haves and have-nots widening in New York, I’m finding more opportunities to take advantage of now than I did 10 years ago.

I’m thankful for being single. Although the loneliness can get to me at times, it’s allowed me a lot more time to understand myself and what I need, and it’s given me more time to pursue my interests than being in a relationship would.

I’m thankful that at 34, even though I’m seen as “too old” for some things, I’m young enough for a fresh start.

And I’m thankful to be alive, most of all.

Starting From Scratch

The past few months have been almost like a breaking of a creative plateau for me with music. I had been dabbling with producing EDM/house music for some time, but now I’ve gone from dabbling to actually making legit compositions. What’s funny is that I’m doing it with the bare minimum of equipment: a refurbished laptop I purchased for $200, a budget tablet I purchased for $40, and software that didn’t even put a dent in my wallet.

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A shot of part of a composition I’m working on using Caustic.

For over a decade, I’ve been doing hip-hop instrumentals on my laptop. For copyright reasons, I never released them for commercial purposes. My beats were sample-based, and I’ve heard about the high price tags of sample clearance in recent years. However, along with the hip-hop instrumentals, I had started dabbling in dance music, most notably trance and house. I was able to use the same production program on my laptop that I used for producing hip-hop beats, Linux MultiMedia Studio, or LMMS for short. Using the program’s stock instrument sounds, and even importing drum and instrument wav files of my own, I was able to churn out a few rough drafts to upload to my SoundCloud profile. It got some positive feedback. Yet I felt I could do much better. Also, I could only spend so much time on my laptop at time.

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Using the PCMSynth plugin on Caustic.

My luck turned around when I purchased my first tablet a year ago, an iRulu X7 tablet, for $45. (I also purchased a compatible case with built-in keyboard for $7.99.)  Being that the tablet was an Android tablet, running on the KitKat OS, I had access to Google Play and all of it’s apps. Finding the right production app was a trial-by-error process. I went through drum machine apps that were garbage that I ended up deleting. I tried G-Stomper, but the interface was too hard to learn. In the end, I settled on a popular production app that would not only help me make music, but challenge me as a composer and musician:
Caustic.

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Using the soundboard.

What first caught my eye was the keyboard interface. I was teaching myself piano, so I gravitated towards playing different chords on Caustic rather than just programming them. It was like playing a portable piano on my tablet. Once I started importing different sounds through Google Play, that’s when I truly began to experiment, using different sounds and filters, playing harmonies before I programmed them, and combining them with drums. I was finally making the music I was aching to create.

The past three months was a prime time for me. Being that my 7 inch tablet and case are as portable as can be, I’m able to work on my music anywhere. And I mean ANYWHERE. I’m able to touch up drum patterns coming home from work. I’m able to play melodies on my lunch break at work. I even took my tablet with me on Thanksgiving weekend to show my cousins what I’d been working on. On top of that, I went from having four rough drafts on my SoundCloud account to having an album’s worth of material that I’m ready to master and copyright.

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Putting the final touches on a project in Magix Music Studio.

I’m sharing this not to brag, but to let people know that you don’t need to bleed your pocket to make good music, and even if your options are limited, you can do some damn good work. Along with my laptop and tablet being on the cheap side, the programs I’ve used cost a fraction of what most expensive music programs cost. My mastering program, Magix Music Studio, only cost me $60 on sale at a Best Buy before tax. Caustic on my tablet only cost me $10 on Google Play, if I remember correctly. And the first program I used, LMMS? That program was FREE. And no, it’s not pirated. It was made as a free Linux-based alternative to FL Studio (aka Fruity Loops). So whenever a peer told me that I needed a more expensive program that cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up, I’d look them dead in the eye and tell them, “What for? I’m making magic with the stuff I’m using now!”

So, if you’re aching to make music, but you’re on a tight budget, take heart, and remember my story. If I can do it, you can do it. As for my album, after I finish mastering all of my tracks, I’ll be ready to distribute my first album. If you’re curious about my work thus far, come check out my SoundCloud profile.

https://m.soundcloud.com/5g-the-elemental

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai, Traveling Without Moving

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Okay, this was a long time coming. Hurdles aside, reviewing this album was actually easier than the others, being that this album has a feel of being composed and produced with a commercial intent, but stays true to the band’s roots in spite of its mainstream aim. As with a lot of Jamiroquai fans, this album was the first one I ever bought, and this album remains the band’s most famous and remembered. This is Traveling Without Moving.

Kicking off the album is the band’s most famous song, “Virtual Insanity”. The song is a smooth commentary about society’s obsession with technological advancement and the side effects that come with it (i.e., isolation, tampering with nature, etc.). Nineteen years after this song debuted, the lyrics are as relevant as ever, and the music is still catchy as ever. It’s no wonder the song and it’s accompanying video won so many accolades in it’s day.

The rest of the album is a must for the years. While “Cosmic Girl” and “Alright” are standard dance fair, “Use The Force” is a catchy, upbeat motivational track, an anthem for believing in yourself. “Everyday” is a slow groove, very reminiscent of The Isley Brothers’ slow jams, from it’s smooth bass lines to the violins in the background.

As the album progresses, Jamiroquai manages to merge their preachy side with their disco side with “High Times”, a narrative of how a disco junkie, both in the dance sense and the drugs sense, is so immersed in the high life that it’s killing her.

One especially catchy track is Jay Kay’s dabbling in reggae with the easy going “Drifting Along”. It’s the perfect song for a lazy afternoon, laying wherever you’re laying. The title track is a brief, but catchy and upbeat groove that stays with you. Something else that stands out with this Jamiroquai album compared to their others is the presence of not one, but two Didgeridoo instrumentals, with “Didjerama” and “Didjital Vibrations”. This can easily solidify the comparison between Jamiroquai’s use of the Didgeridoo, and Earth, Wind, & Fire’s use of the Kalimba, in that both bands are fond of using exotic and traditional instruments to enhance the respective bands’ modern sounds; the didgeridoo originating from Australia’s Aboriginal tribes, and the Kalimba originating from Africa.

Overall, Traveling Without Moving is an album that hasn’t aged one bit since 1996, and is an easy pick for any music lover. Anyone looking to get into Jamiroquai will have no trouble enjoying this album.

Some High Rise Fun

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During a trip to midtown Manhattan, I stepped out onto 57th Street and 8th Avenue, looking up in awe. I had been away from Manhattan so long, I almost forgot the visual appeal of skyscrapers and high rises. The onlookers must have thought I was a tourist, the way I was in awe as I snapped these photos. I’m just a sucker for good architecture.

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