Here’s A Perplexing Pothole Press Release Pundown

At the end of last week, the communications team for the Chicago Department of Transportation was tasked with making citizens aware of the campaign to report potholes in need of repair. Getting people to care about and be proactive potholes is not always easy, and although it is important to make those who can fix the potholes aware of the problem, it’s not always the most fun or engaging topic to write about. So the PR person for CDOT did what any normal communications professional needing to spice up a topic would do: ride the heels of a more popular Chicago event (Lollapalooza, whose lineup had just been announced) and lay on the band name puns as thick as possible. The result? The most ridiculous press release we’ve seen in a while.

"Tired of Drivin ‘N Cryin’ in Traffic over the Minor Threat of potholes in the Pavement?  Ready to see nothing but The White Stripes on the roadway and not worry about The Cars swerving to avoid potholes?

This weekend, if you are motorist or a Motörhead, participate in the first-ever “Potholepalooza,”  the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) call to Chicagoans to report as many street potholes as possible.  Then watch the show next week as CDOT has The Cure for your Moody Blues and fills all of the potholes reported from Friday, April 5 through Sunday April 6 so that your car doesn’t do the Harlem Shake and give you Divine Fits."

Wow. As a lover of bad wordplay, this is a goldmine. But I feel like by working with mostly only band names, even if there are some truly masterful stretches ("Men At Work gave Blood, Sweat and Tears"), the writer really missed out on some quality references. Like, you’re really going to do a music reference-packed press release about potholes and not include a nod to De La Soul’s classic, "Potholes In My Lawn?" Or maybe the writer knew that’s what people who pay too much attention to things like this were expecting and decided to deviate.

Maybe this could become a series for CDOT. Maybe the next one will be all covert references to the raunchiest tracks in the writer’s iTunes catalog. "When you’re on the road and feel a little ‘Bump ‘n’ Grind’ in your tires, be sure to let us know." "Be careful with potholes, or whiplash may have you screaming ‘My Neck, My Back!’" It would certainly get people talking about the important issue of local infrastructure. 

Call Yasiin! De La Soul Are Now Pop Life and Deen, Record ‘First Serve’ Live

David Bowie had The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Who had Tommy. Now De La Soul’s Posdenous (Plug 1) and Dave (Plug 2) have De La Soul’s Plug 1 & 2 Present First Serve, their new concept album released under their alter egos Jacob "Pop Life" Barrow and Deen Whitter, who make up First Serve. Their Behind The Music-themed First Serve debut offers an intimate and hilarious look into the musical ambitions and evolving friendship of these two new Queens MCs’ hunger for success. Pos and Dave have enthusiastically stepped back into the role of aspiring artists with First Serve, a position they haven’t played since 1988.

So what inspired them to adopt these new personas? Two French DJs: Chokolate and Khalid. The dance and house music production team approached Posdenous and Dave with an idea to record a live hip hop album. Not only did Chokolate and Khalid set out to expand their own musical repertoire with this project, but they also sought to heighten their collaborative experience with De La Soul by suggesting the album have a running narrative—a thread that would play out like a movie. A very funny and dramatic movie musical.

Never ones to fear pushing the creative envelope or to turn down a challenge, they jumped at the chance to develop the story of best friends Pop Life and Deen. Pop Life, played by Pos, is, as his name indicates, a lover of the high life and expensive things, although his moniker comes from his childhood fascination with bubble wrap. Deen Witter, played by Dave, is a mama’s boy with a conscience and a drinking problem. For their part in this fictional musical, Chokolate and Khalid’s alter-egos are Producers 2&4, who happen to spot Deen and Pop Life freestyling on the streets of Paris.

In just three weeks, First Serve wrote and recorded the 12-song album in Paris that chronicles the duo’s rise from recording demos in Deen’s mom’s basement to ripping shows. The MCs’ lyrically dense, quirky rhymes are at home over a medley of influences—soul, funk, disco and ’90s hip-hop, supplied by 2&4. The result makes for an album that feels both modern and nostalgic as it borrows its energy from hip hop’s past when an MC could be funny and goofy as much as a lyrical beast to be reckoned with.

Pop Life and Deen, with ample nuance and satire, touch on the range of emotions one goes through when chasing a big dream with a friend. On “Small Disasters,” the guys doubt their talents on the mic over a melancholic synth; they celebrate their record deal with Goon Time Records on the funk-infused “We Made It”; their different approaches to handling new-found fame finds First Serve growing apart in “Book of Life” before breaking up on the vicious “Clash Symphony.” It doesn’t take long before our protagonists realize that the magic behind First Serve comes from their unique collaboration. In “Tennis,” they reconcile and profess their love and respect for one another and their music, with a back-and-forth that easily exhibits their cleverness on the mic. Tying this entire journey on wax together are a number of laugh-out-loud skits and narration from Pop Life and Deen.

While First Serve’s wacky conceptual album is sure to draw in De La Soul fans for obvious reasons, it’s important to remember that Pop Life and Deen are not De La Soul. Sure, like many other hip hop artists, First Serve look up to De La Soul, but that’s where the connection ends. In addition to a detailed and colorful back story, the First Serve MCs don respective costumes to get and stay into character. Pop Life, described as a wannabe Kanye West, likes to don bow ties, tweed vests, and a faux-hawk, while Deen sports a unruly beard, lives in Timberland boots, and almost always travels with his own bottle of liquor and plastic cup. Producers 2&4 look more like futuristic secret service men, albeit with a bit more swagger, in black suits and face masks.

For some die-hard De La Soul fans, this serving of hip-hop cinema may not completely satisfy their eight-year wait for the trio’s eighth studio album, but First Serve is more than just filler. It’s an amusing healthy portion of imaginative hip-hop that will stand on its own long after the main dish has been served.

Check out the video for the First Serve’s "Must B the Music" below:

De Le Soul and Nike Just Do It

Once upon a time — about 20-plus years ago to be a bit more precise — two heavyweights were introduced to the burgeoning world of hip hop: De La Soul and Nike. One a rap group, the other a corporation, both wielding powerful influence on the evolution of a then young hip hop culture. De La Soul injected the sea of gangsta rap with forward-thinking rhymes and colorful beats, while Nike introduced equally colorful and progressive sneakers that became staples in every hip hop-a-holic’s wardrobe. After a few successful and well-suited collaborations between the two powerhouses in the past few years, De La Soul has debuted their latest, the fifth album in the Nike+ Original Run Series, titled Are You In? and available exclusively on iTunes. The 45-minute track, a collaboration with mashup duo Flosstradamus, is designed to flow with the pace of a seasoned runner. De La Soul’s Kelvin Mercer (a.k.a. Posdunous) talks sneakers, music, and the creative freedom of working with Nike as the group celebrates the 20th anniversary of their debut LP, 3 Feet High and Rising.

Nike is a brand that’s been affiliated with hip-hop from the beginning. What does it represent to you? What are your memories of Nike growing up? Nike was always a brand that was represented through those normal symbols you would see in childhood — from it being plastered in the Bronx when I was young, to just getting into hip-hop and seeing my brothers wearing it, and begging my mother to buy it. So it’s been a part of me, and I always knew it was something that you just needed to have. You could see the brand was always about being innovative. Outside of just being a gigantic corporation, they allow artists — whether they knew how to construct sneakers or paint — to be a part of the brand and bring that freshness.

You’ve already collaborated with Nike on two pairs of Dunks. Designing a sneaker for Nike is probably every hip hop kid’s dream. How excited were you to design for them? It was overwhelming. We were so stoked to do it, and then to have Chris Reed at Nike tell us that we could do anything. It was funny because normally, even in the studio with each other, somebody will make a joke and say, “We should do this,” and the reply would be, “Yeah, lets do it!” So it was similar to that, like “We should put our faces on the sneakers,” and the response would be, “Yo, lets do that!” Chris Reed allowed our minds to go where they needed to go.

How did you get involved with the Nike+ series from there? Just from doing the Dunk and meeting people who worked for Nike in different branches. They reached out to us to be a part of the One Hit Series, where we would perform at the finish line of the marathons that were going on with Digital Underground, Vanilla Ice, and other artists. You could run your marathon and pause to see a performance if you wanted, but we were the last group who would do a 45-minute set at the finish line. So I think from there our names went into this basket of options for the first vocalists who would be a part of the Original Run. They had already put together four different CDs, with just DJs or instrumental producers, and they wanted to step it up to get an actual group. I guess our name was at the top of the list, because I assume people appreciated what we did and we had already done several shows with Nike.

How is the 45-minute Nike track different from a purely De La Soul project? Honestly, it really wasn’t too different, because we’ve always been a group that made albums that connected as a whole. We never looked at a song as an individual song. When we took on the challenge it was like, whoa, we’ve got to make an album that runs only up to 45 minutes, and has all these peaks and valleys, which was cool to do. We had to make it flow with an actual workout, the way a runner would run. But we realized that normally people move to music that they like, so we didn’t see that there was that much difficulty — because when people want to be inspired, they usually run and get motivated by music they’re playing.

So the continuous 45-minute format wasn’t an issue at all during the recording process? No, because Nike allowed us to be De La. They told us to do what we needed do, put our normal creativity into it, and when we came back with a bunch of tracks, they had runners run to it and pick out the tracks they really felt motivated them, and were good for them to cool down to. We used those as core tracks, and then started building all the bridges around the tracks to create a great journey.

Last year you performed at Guerilla Union’s Rock The Bells tour. Was that your first big tour in a long time, and why’d you decide to perform at that point? Unfortunately, for a lot of people, when they don’t really hear from us or see us on the normal mediums like MTV or VH1, they really think we’ve been away from a long time. But what’s factual for De La Soul and a group like The Roots, is that we stay on the road more than any hip hop group, so doing the thing with Guerilla Union was nothing. We do gigantic festivals overseas in Australia, Asia, etc. Even right now, we’re getting ready to go on tour for a month. We stay on the road, so shows are nothing, they’re like the back of our hand. But we were really cool with Guerilla Union from the beginning, so we finally decided to commit to a summer and do Rock The Bells, because they really wanted us.

In addition to Nike+, what else are you working on this year? Can we expect a third pair of De La sneakers in the next few months? Before we were blessed to begin this project, we were working on our own album called You’re Welcome, and we’re looking to put that out later this year, because we don’t want to interrupt the Nike album. We’re also doing a 21-year anniversary tour, because this year is actually the anniversary of 3 Feet High and Rising, while last year was just our 20 years of being together as a group.