NAMM 2017: Highlights

Although I have never been to the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show, I have always followed the news that talks about the new products that are featured in it. Music product companies use NAMM to showcase their upcoming product lines, and 2017 looks promising indeed. Here are some of my favorite picks:

Elektron Digitakt

This is an awesome blend of old-school interfaces and sounds, and new-school technology. The Digitakt is a standalone sampler and sequencer, and can be hooked up to a computer or workstation for further processing. It features 8 audio and 8 MIDI tracks, has a powerful sequencer and FX processing, a 1 GB hard drive and 64 MB sample memory, and an OLED display screen. It is scheduled for release on April 2017, and should retail for $650.

ARP Odyssey

If the ARP Odyssey sounds familiar, that’s because the original synthesizers have been featured on countless songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now, Korg owns the rights to the name, and they have faithfully recreated the original ARP Odyssey, complete with analog sound along with sliding faders and controls. It has 37 keys, and should retail for $1,599.

Fusion Guitar

Now, here is an interesting product. There have been guitars that interface with MIDI (Line 6 was the first to release one), but this actually has a dock for your iPhone 6, 6S, or 7 to interface with your phone. There are thousands of apps that can be potentially used, in order to record, use effects, or even play along to instructional videos. The guitar itself has an integrated speaker, and will even charge your phone if it is connected to an amp! Unfortunately, there isn’t any model that will work with Android phones…yet. The Fusion Guitar should retail for $1,200.

Gibson M2 guitar

This is another interesting idea. As you might be aware, Gibson is considered a high end guitar brand, and Epiphone is the lower end guitar brand that is owned by Gibson. Now you can buy a Gibson for the price of an Epiphone! This may sound redundant, but I don’t believe this will dilute the Gibson brand. They look sharp, and if you swap the pickups out, you can have a beast of a guitar for a very reasonable price. They should retail for $399.

Jackson Misha Mansoor HT6 signature guitar

I’ve never been a big fan of Jackson guitars, but this one might change my mind. This is the new signature guitar for Misha Mansoor of Periphery, and it is a nice looking guitar that is built for heavy riffing, shredding, and palm muting. And it will be at a reasonable price: $799.

Digitech Freqout guitar pedal

Now here is a conundrum: a pedal that creates feedback, with true bypass! It may sound ridiculous and impossible, but to me it sounds great in theory. Instead of uncontrolled feedback, you can control and create your own, and have easier ways of playing harmonics. In fact, there are 7 harmonic modes. I look forward to the release on this one.

AKAI Professional MPC Live sampler/sequencer

Akai has been at the forefront of standalone samplers ever since the MPC 60 back in the late 1980’s. The 16 pad square layout is incredibly intuitive and has proved to be highly influential, since this layout has since been used on many products. The new MPC has that same intuition and ease of use, but is now even more powerful. It is completely portable with its battery power capabilities, or it can be AC powered. It features 16 GB of storage, and even comes with a 10 GB sample library.

Vox MV50 guitar amplifier

A class D guitar tube amplifier with 50 watts…for only $199? That’s what you see here. With the Class D circuitry, the MV50 is versatile and energy efficient, and the 50 watts should give you enough power to play any club gig. 

No Limit Records: gold albums in the golden era

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The “golden era” for rap music is generally considered to be the late 1980’s to late 1990’s. There were countless classic records from West Coast and East Coast rappers (plus many from Midwest rappers, especially in Detroit, Flint, and Chicago). Down south, however, Percy “Master P” Miller had designs of his own, having started his No Limit Records after making a name for himself in California with such albums as 99 Ways To Die and TRU’s “True”.

Anybody who remembers the rap scene back then, will certainly remember how No Limit took over the rap game from 1997 to 1999. I was a teenager then, and it seemed as if No Limit released an album every damn week. They released dozens of albums, from stars such as Snoop Dogg, Master P, and Mystikal…to the forgotten, such as Steady Mobb’N, Lil Soldiers, and Magic…to the hood favorites, such as Kane And Abel, Fiend, Soulja Slim, and C-Murder (who is Master P’s brother).

On Master P’s Ghetto Dope, he infamously sampled Eric B and Rakim’s “Eric B For President”, flipping the “make rap like this” into “make crack like this”, while rapping step by step instructions on how to cook crack cocaine up. P literally equated selling records to selling dope.

And, like every successful dopeman, Master P flooded the market with a consistent product that sold heavily. No Limit albums were easily recognizable, with the ridiculous Pen And Pixel covers (which crosstown rivals Cash Money Records would take to an even gaudier level), the different colored plastic jewel cases, the repetitive song titles and lyrics (how many No Limit songs had “Get Em” in the title? A LOT).

Good thing the music stood out, which was predominantly from the criminally underappreciated Beats By The Pound (yep, another drug/music analogy). Considering they produced THOUSANDS of songs in a relatively short time span, the beats on No Limit albums were rarely repetitive, and were like musical drugs for us teenagers cruising around listening to them. My favorite No Limit beats: “Break Em Off Something” from Master P (RIP Pimp C from UGK), Young Bleed’s “How U Do Dat”, and “No Limit Soldiers” off of TRU’s True To The Game. The Roland 808 drum machine’s closed high hat sample is one of my favorite musical sounds…it sounds almost as good as playing guitar power chords while the active guitar pickup is getting distorted to hell through a Mesa Boogie amplifier. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with southern rap music: that high hat.

And Beats By The Pound were the best southern rap producers, with the arguable exceptions of DJ Paul and Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia, and Mannie Fresh. In a golden era focused on lyricism, Beats By The Pound proved music could trump lyrics. I knew a few people who would buy damn near every No Limit record: they may have never heard, or even heard of, the artist or group on the album…but they knew that the beats would be hard as hell. And they usually were. Which is a strong testament to how good BBTP were as producers, and how good No Limit marketed themselves.

No Limit Records was a pioneering independent music label, and they had plenty of gold and platinum albums to back it up. Sure, most of them are probably best forgotten…but the TRU albums, the Down South Hustlers comp, and Master P’s Ice Cream Man, Ghetto D, and MP Da Last Don had some classics on them. Go check em out on YouTube, cause that’s what I’m about to do…

HUD: Hypocrisy Under Donald

Ben Carson is reportedly in line to join Donald Trump’s cabinet, as HUD (Housing and Urban Development) secretary. In fact, Trump said just as much on his Twitter page, which is the only consistent form of communication from the president-elect thus far.

This, despite Carson saying just a week ago that he wouldn’t join Trump’s cabinet because he felt that he didn’t have the experience needed for it. Of course, Carson obviously felt he had enough experience to run for president earlier this year. But, hey, who needs political experience to become president, anyway? Not Donald Trump, who had never worked in politics in any capacity before getting elected as president.

If Carson, as an African American, does actually become HUD secretary, it would be interesting. The only qualification for this job — which would predominantly consist of overseeing federally subsidized housing for low income people — that Trump seemingly sees in Carson, is his race. Why would Trump want Carson as Housing and Urban Development secretary? There is only one logical reason: attempting to redeem himself for discriminating against African-Americans and other minorities at his rental properties in the 1970’s.

Back in 1973, Trump was actually sued by the Department Of Justice for discriminating against minority tenants. 

This wasn’t a one time thing, but a systematic and blatant discrimination that went on for a few years, against hundreds of potential tenants. Back then, Trump was still working with his father Fred, who was infamously arrested at a KKK rally in the 1920’s, and whose money and credit lines were the sole reason that “self-made” Donald Trump was able to start his real estate career.

Donald Trump settled with the DOJ in 1975, but he was charged again in 1978 for non-compliance of the DOJ terms imposed on him. After millions of dollars in fines and years of federal oversight, Trump would decide to get out of the low income housing rental market for good and start making his way into Manhattan, where he would see much higher profits and notoriety in the 1980’s with his mixed-use office buildings and condos.

As a man who worked in the medical field his entire life, Ben Carson is seemingly unqualified to oversee federally subsidized housing in this country. But, Donald Trump is obviously unqualified to be president, so maybe it will be a perfect match. Hey, it could be worse: at least Carson isn’t being touted to become the Secretary of Education…

MUSIC REVIEW: Metallica, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct”

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Metallica is, and has been, the biggest name in metal music ever since they formed back in 1981. For 35 years, they have stayed consistently heavy, despite some minor detours back in the 1990’s with the hard rock and blues inflected Load albums. With their previous album Death Magnetic, they had some promising moments. The hype for Hardwired, therefore, was massive, especially with the first two singles they put out: “Hardwired” and “Moth Into Flame”, which are both fantastic; “Hardwired” with its unabashedly throwback sound, and “Moth Into Flame” which sounds like it could have been the number #1 single off of their Load-era albums.

The consensus thus far is that Hardwired…To Self Destruct lives up to the hype. I will go one further: not only is it a serious contender for metal album of the year, but it is easily one of Metallica’s top 5 albums. They are firing on all cylinders, and the songwriting is diverse and fantastic.

It opens with the song “Hardwired”, which is about as old school authentic Metallica as one could wish for, with its thrashing guitars and two-step drumming. “Spit Out The Bone” is another thrash masterpiece, which features a similar riff to the one that hardcore punk legends Bad Brains used on their song “Sailin On”. “Moth Into Flame” is a well-written song which is as catchy and melodic as it is inducing to headbanging. “Confusion” is another song that sounds old school, that is reminiscent of Ride The Lightning-era songs, and it is an updated version of the anti-war “One” from And Justice For All. In fact, most of the album has an old school sound to it. If Master Of Puppets is your favorite Metallica album (which it is to most people), then you will not be disappointed, and you will be pleasantly surprised.

There are really no bad songs on Hardwired…To Self Destruct. Everything flows together well, and the album sequencing is perfect. James Hetfield still has the best guitar-picking hand in metal, and he bangs out 8th or 16th note riffs as easily as Kirk Hammett nails amazing leads. Lars Ulrich, for as much backlash as he gets, still has his trademark drumming which is heavy on fills and offbeat cymbal hits. And Robert Trujillo is still holding down the low-end, giving Hardwired a tight rhythm section to anchor the blazing guitar work.

Most Metallica albums (and most albums in general) usually have filler or throwaway songs, if only one or two. Hardwired, on the other hand, has no such moments: every song was obviously considered a potential single, and stands alone on their own merits. Further evidence of this is the fact that Metallica released music videos for EVERY song on the album, which is a genius marketing move that will further the perception of Hardwired… being a great album from beginning to end. The last Metallica album that was 10/10 from start to finish was the “Black Album”, and the only other album that could be considered that would be, obviously, Master Of Puppets.

Hardwired…To Self Destruct is easily the best Metallica album since the “Black Album”. And, if you aren’t a fan of the Black Album, for whatever reason, there’s this: Hardwired… is Metallica’s most thrash metal album since the 30 year old Master Of Puppets. Hardwired is a brilliant album, and will certainly stand among Metallica’s finest musical moments.

Does Donald Trump have a child with ASD?

Barron Trump is a child who has already lived an amazing life in his first 10 years, and his life promises to become even more amazing now that his father and mother will be President and First Lady Of The United States.

There are rumors going around that he may have ASD (autism spectrum disorder). These rumors started about 2 years ago, and resurfaced during Barron’s appearance at one of Donald Trump’s speeches. It is said that he was showing typical ASD behavior, such as twitching, lack of eye contact, and nervousness.

Of course, the more likely explanation is that he WAS nervous! Try to imagine yourself at 10, in front of a massive crowd such as he was.

While there is no definitive proof to these rumors, there are some interesting points to be made:

-Donald Trump has been commenting on his belief in the largely debunked link between autism and vaccines since 2007…or since Barron was an infant. Trump has made these comments on news shows as well as on his personal Twitter webpage. Here is an article that has aggregated screenshots of his comments.

-Although the vaccine link is largely agreed to have been debunked, there is a definite correlation between parental age and risk of ASD. Donald and Melania Trump had the largest possible risk factors as parents, since Donald was almost 60 years old while Melania was 35 when Barron was conceived. It has been stated that older fathers and younger mothers have a higher risk for children with ASD, and in Donald and Melania’s case the risk was 4.4 times higher, with an almost 1:2 chance of developing mental illness in general.

-Trump has also donated to charities that support and try to raise awareness of the largely debunked ASD/vaccine link, in particular the charity of actress Jenny McCarthy, “Generation Rescue”.

Donald Trump wouldn’t seem like the most understanding person when it comes to children with special needs, especially with his disparaging comments of disabled adults in the past. But if Barron was, in fact, a child with ASD, it could do an enormous good for autism awareness in the U.S., and worldwide. It has been said that 1 in approximately 55 children are born “on the spectrum”, which would mean that there are millions of children and adults in the U.S. that have ASD. 

The last president to have a family member with special needs was John F. Kennedy, whose sister Rosemary was institutionalized. She was, by most accounts, an eccentric if basically normal adult who underwent a lobotomy in the 1940’s, which permanently incapacitated her. Whether due to strong familial guilt or a genuine passion for the cause, the Kennedys would thereafter donate money and resources to raise awareness of mental illnesses and disabilities, with Eunice Kennedy founding the Special Olympics in 1968.

Of course, this is all just speculation at this point. Donald Trump wouldn’t release his tax returns, and he wouldn’t even release a legitimate medical record, despite becoming the oldest POTUS (at 70) in history. He probably won’t be commenting on his child’s medical records any time soon.

But, then again, even if Barron does have ASD, he is surely on the high end of the spectrum, since by all accounts he is an intelligent and talented child. I don’t think that more kids have ASD than in the past, but that there has been more testing, and over-testing in some instances. The same kid who might have been “quirky” or “a loner” 50 years ago would probably qualify for an ASD diagnosis nowadays. It would not be surprising if Barron is on the autism spectrum due to his parents’ risk factors and his father’s sudden interest in ASD topics shortly after his birth, especially since Trump rarely comments on any topic that doesn’t affect him directly or indirectly. Although, it would not be surprising at all if Barron wasn’t on the spectrum, either.

Regardless of all the speculation, Barron will be living a once-in-a-lifetime dream of having a presidential Dad, and living in the White House. I genuinely wish him the best of luck, and I hope he gets to play with his toy cars and airplanes in the Oval Office…!

The Trump transition: the first 60 days

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Well, this past week has certainly been crazy. Donald Trump pulled the biggest political coup of the 21st century thus far by winning the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As shocked as you may be about it, keep in mind that no one is more shocked than Trump himself. He initially ran for president just to see how successful he could be in the primaries, with no expectation of actually securing a nomination. Trump was basically in a win-win situation: if he lost the election, which for much of his campaign he expected to, he would still have secured a lot of political capital and he would have leveraged his presidential run into more Trump-related business, such as the so-called Trump TV media venture.

But…here we are, with Donald Trump as commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation of the free world. A man who would randomly grab a woman’s genitals and not think anything of it will now grab onto the presidential suitcase with the nuclear codes in case all hell breaks loose. As much controversy as Trump received over his sexually explicit comments, they are minor compared to the other baggage that he brings into the White House. Here are some of the things that Donald Trump will be concentrating on in the first 60 days, instead of remedial American History and World History 101 lessons:

Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits: The king of business litigation still has 75 pending lawsuits open against him, most prominently the one against his former for-profit college Trump University.¬†This wasn’t a hands-off business venture: Trump owned almost 100% of Trump U, and his likeness figured prominently in the “university” advertising, recruiting literature, and coursework. It is in Trump’s best interest to get this federal lawsuit settled as quickly as possible, and he will.

There is also a New York state investigation of the Trump Foundation. Donald Trump spent a good portion of his campaign railing against what he sees as illicit practices by the Clinton Foundation, but at least the Clinton Foundation actually gives to charitable causes on a regular basis. Out of all of Trump’s despicable acts, one of the most despicable was promising to pay $6 million to veterans charities during a press conference, but not paying any of them until the media pressured him months later. What DOES the Trump Foundation do? Well, besides laundering money, there’s this: in 2007, $10,000 of foundation money was used to buy a painting of Trump, and in 2014, $20,000 of foundation money was used to buy another painting of Trump. This violates IRS rules against using charity money for personal interests.

One lawsuit that evidently went away was the pending civil suit that accused Trump of raping and beating up a 13 year old child. To be clear, this was a lawsuit that had been pending for quite some time, and was scheduled for a status conference in December. For unknown reasons, the plaintiff decided to cancel the lawsuit last week. Trump has been accused of walking into a locker room while teenage beauty contestants were changing clothes, and a recently released video from 1992 shows Trump telling a 10 year old girl that he would be dating her as soon as she became an adult.

Money, money, money: The O’Jays famous song “For The Love Of Money” took on new life as the theme song for Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice. Now, as Trump makes the transition from business owner to U.S. president, there will be lots of money moving around within his family. Trump plans to hand over managerial oversight of the Trump Organization (a conglomerate that controls all of Trump’s various business ventures) to his children Eric, Donald Jr., and Ivanka. The three children will have their hands full: along with handling these business ventures, they are also on Trump’s presidential transition team.

Advisers, yes-men, and cabinet members: One of Donald Trump’s most famous phrases during the election was “Drain The Swamp”, which referred to his intentions of getting rid of political insiders in Washington. This is ironic, because the list of Trump’s proposed candidates for his cabinet is as fetid and disgusting, and as full of political insiders, as any swamp imaginable. Here’s who is on Trump’s shortlist (some names are listed twice, as this is just speculation):

Chief Of Staff: Steve Bannon, of Brietbart.com; Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; Reince Preibus, RNC chairman; Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager

Secretary Of State: John Bolton, former ambassador in the George W. Bush administration; Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House; Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor

Attorney General: Rudy Giuliani; Trey Gowdy, U.S. representative; Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey

Secretary Of The Interior: Newt Gingrich

Secretary Of Health And Human Services: Ben Carson, former 2016 presidential candidate

Secretary Of Energy: Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska

Secretary Of Homeland Security: Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County sheriff, Arizona

Adviser or spokesperson: Omarosa Manigault, reality TV star

Does that list send shivers down your spine as it does mine? If it weren’t so frighteningly real, it would make one hell of a reality show.

It looks like President-elect Trump has a busy few weeks ahead of him. Let’s hope that he can get all of this straightened out so that he can have a smooth transition into the presidency.

Donald Trump: President of the United States

As many Americans anxiously watched the presidential voting results, I went to bed. I figured that Hillary Clinton would win, although it would be extremely close in the popular votes. I woke up this morning and turned on the news, to find out that Donald Trump actually won. So I was right…and wrong.

In a historic election where a female was projected by many to become our first female president, Hillary still lost. I had argued before the election to not underestimate Trump’s support with women, specifically middle-aged white women. I never would think that women would vote for Hillary primarily because she was a woman, although some surely did. However, Hillary was and is an unlikeable candidate in many ways, and it is a strong statement when many women vote for a man who has had dozens of sexual assault lawsuits and accusations (before the election, and at least one involving a child), rather than a woman who has done a lot for woman’s and children’s rights in this country.

What does this mean for us? For better or for worse, things are not going to fundamentally change no matter who is president. There are too many checks and balances between Congress, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court to allow any form of a dictatorship to take effect. Sure, there are presidential vetos and executive orders, but we would have a political insurrection or impeachment before that ever got out of hand.

Donald Trump is, above all, a negotiator. He looks out for himself and the people who take care of him first. He isn’t going to fundamentally change things, because his interests are the same as any president or leading politician. The working class that helped to put him into office would be the first to suffer, due to his proposed tax reforms. The Republican Party’s most brilliant accomplishment was to make working class people somehow think that rich politicians and businessmen would be the only people that would be able to take care of them. Unfortunately for the GOP, as they’ve already realized, Trump is a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and he will switch loyalties if it will benefit him. It happened before, and it will happen again.

The thing I am most concerned about is the prospect of civil war. That will happen before a World War 3, I guarantee it. For all of the NRA and gun lobby rhetoric, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump eventually attempted to place restrictions on firearm ownership. If there is ever a point where rioting and protesting becomes dangerous to the establishment, private gun ownership will be the first thing to go. There is so much racial and class division in this country that a civil war could eventually happen. 

I voted third party in this election out of principle. Until we get to a point where third-party candidates can be invited to presidential debates and be treated like legitimate candidates, we will more or less only have two-party elections. We need better options than “Dumb And Dumber”, and we need better third party candidates as well. Hopefully in my lifetime, we will.

Donald Trump is aware, and you should be too, that being the U.S. President is basically being in a figurehead type of position. Trump had an astounding lack of knowledge when it came to basic domestic and foreign policies, and he couldn’t have learned too much during this election since he spent more time on Twitter than anything else. He will rely on his advisers probably more than any previous president. With that being said, the more relevant question would be who he appoints as his advisers and members of his Cabinet. If he sticks with people like Rudy Giuliani, Ben Carson, and Chris Christie, then there is good reason to be pessimistic. 

Trump won the election in large part by doing things his way, but he will quickly learn that such independence won’t work as president. He will largely defer to his vice president Mike Pence, who has a considerable amount of political experience, most recently as governor of Indiana. Trump may represent our country, but he will not unilaterally run it, although he will probably attempt to do it at times. It will be an interesting next few months, though…