Tairrie B: The Best Rapper You’ve Never Heard Of

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I’ve never written a music review before. My taste in music is eclectic enough that I rarely share common ground with others, so it never felt right. Especially as a 20-something nerdy white kid, my love of old-school hip-hop seems unusual to many. Thus, I tend to just keep my music confined to my headphones.

But Tairrie B needs to be written about.


I discovered her music by accident. When I’m at work, hip-hop helps me get through the day. Usually, I have YouTube playing music in the background, and I just let it cycle through entire video playlists. It’s great, because this means I regularly come across tracks I haven’t heard before, and probably never would have heard otherwise (Pro tip: There are lots of awesome, rare hip-hop classics on YouTube. Go listen.).

About a year ago, with my usual assortment of funky beats playing in the background, Tairrie B’s “Foxy Lady” came on. I had never heard of it (or her), but I was immediately hooked. I stopped what I was doing and listened to the whole thing. Then I listened to it again. And again.

The beat was infectious. The samples were dope. I wasn’t listening too close to whatever was playing before, but when Tairrie B came on, my jaw dropped. When I heard the line, “Ren is producing the style I’m introducing,” I thought, “Who is this? There’s no way she is referring to MC Ren.” I had to know more.

Next on YouTube’s lineup was another Tairrie B song, “Murder She Wrote.” Curious, I let it play, and once again, I loved it!
A quick Google search showed me that Tairrie B had released one hip-hop album alongside Eazy-E (!), so I immediately called up my local record store and asked them to find a copy for me. They special-ordered it for me, and I was thrilled to pick up “The Power of a Woman” a few days later. Her website also had a download for a second, unreleased album (“Single White Female”), so I got that as well.

Realizing that these albums were about as old as me, I was surprised when she announced that she would be releasing a new hip-hop album in 2016, a quarter- century after “The Power of a Woman.” I had heard that she had become a metal musician after her initial release, so I had no idea what to expect.


In the meantime, I had fallen in love with her old music. She was quickly becoming one of my favorite artists, with her empowering themes on top of candy beats and awesome samples.

When Tairrie B finally released “Vintage Curses,” I… didn’t initially like it, I’ll be honest. The first time I heard the album, it didn’t do anything for me. I felt like it was an odd blend of styles that didn’t really work together, some weird, witchy fusion of old-school hip hop, metal, and classic rock. There were a few tracks that stood out to me, but on the whole, I was disappointed. But, for whatever reason, I kept listening.

I listened to the whole album multiple times, and began to like what I was hearing. I realized that the album actually succeeded for the very reasons I hadn’t taken to it in the first place: it wasn’t like other music. In so many ways, Tairrie B is an antithesis. She was white in a largely non-white genre. She was a woman in a largely male genre. She makes both hip-hop and heavy metal. She had extremely progressive lyrics and messages from the beginning, and wasn’t afraid to be in-your-face about it, especially at a time when few hip hop artists were vocal about topics like women’s empowerment. Now, she is re-establishing her rap career at an older age. In so many ways, she is, and has always been, the opposite of what you’d expect.

Thus, it feels completely earned when Tairrie says “The Power of a Woman was ahead of its time” (“Spirit Queen”). She’s right, it totally was.

The blending of seemingly unrelated musical styles on her new album works surprisingly well. The album is autobiographical, both lyrically and musically. You hear the influences of both her hip hop roots and her metal career. It is truly unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

It’s interesting to hear Tairrie B address her age. Referring to herself as “The Crone,” and including lines like “My self-expression is progressing with age,” her introspective view of hip hop then and now is revealed. She waxes nostalgic when talking about the old days, but she is not afraid to critique the newer generation of hip hoppers.

With this in mind, “Vintage Curses” is very much in tune with her style. It is challenging, forward-thinking, and it combines her upbringing in the hip-hop world with her career in metal. The more you listen to it, the more organic it feels. As far as Tairrie’s rapping ability, it’s stronger than ever. She absolutely rips it up on “Vintage Curses,” giving shoutouts to the pioneering hip hop acts and re-asserting herself as a dominant force in the current scene.

Tairrie B Playlist:

1. Foxy Lady

2. Wicked Witch of the West Coast

3. Murder She Wrote

4. Pull Up to Tha Bumper

5. Anything You Want

6. Beware the Crone

7. Spirit Queen

8. Respect Yourself

9. Down as Dirt

10. Ruthless Bitch


Action Figures, Soda, and the Time Capsule Theory

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I collect collections. As I have discussed before, collecting is fun and rewarding. If you don’t do it, you should. But I won’t re-hash that post again.

Today, I want to discuss what I call the “Time Capsule Theory.” As San Diego Comic-Con 2014 comes to a close, attendees are preparing to leave, their suitcases chock-full of new collectibles, promotional items, SDCC-exclusive comics, and sweaty cosplay outfits (I am jealous of three of those things). If I know anything about toy collecting, I know that many or most of these SDCC acquisitions will be kept in their boxes forever. Collectors love things in mint condition. Think about it. Stamp collectors want uncirculated stamps. Comic collectors want CGC-graded, hard-cased, pristine comics. Coin collectors want uncirculated proof coins. Toy collectors want mint-in-box toys. And this is all well and good. After all, who can blame someone for preferring a new item to a used item?

However, in many cases, the things that we love to keep in mint condition are, by design, intended to be used and inevitably worn down. If I buy a video game, I probably want to, oh, I don’t know, play it. If I buy a car, I want to, like, drive it and stuff. No one would ever buy a lawn mower and put it in a glass display case, because it is meant to be used for cutting grass. Most things have some specific, intended use. Why, then, do collectors buy and save things like toys, that they will never touch or play with? What is the point of spending money on something, only to never touch it?

If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you have probably seen the episode where Leonard and Sheldon get vintage Star Trek transporter room toys, and are torn between the desire to play with the contents inside and the desire to keep them in mint condition, in their original, unopened state. This is the eternal woe of the toy collector. As a Spider-Man collector, it is hard to resist the urge to open my mint condition action figures and wage an epic battle on my desk.

Toys are meant to be played with, right? Thus, by keeping my 12″ Maximum Carnage toy in the box and never opening it, touching it, or playing with it, am I defeating the purpose of having it in the first place? Recently, I have been studying the collector market for vintage soda (No, I’m not making this up). Believe it or not, there is a vibrant after-market for old, discontinued drinks, limited edition cans, etc. This raises a similar question: sodas are meant to be consumed and enjoyed. If someone keeps an unopened can of Crystal Pepsi until the present day, did they miss the point of having it in the first place? They never got the intended enjoyment out of the product, and now it’s long expired and taking up space. After all, sodas are meant to be drunk and toys are meant to be played with. I feel that collecting is a nostalgia-fueled activity, all about preserving a historical record. Enter, Time Capsule Theory.

I believe that by keeping items like toys, sodas, and cards in their original packaging, it’s like we are keeping a time capsule. In the most romanticized sense, that unopened can of Crystal Pepsi is a tangible connection to the 1980s. Inside, it contains a quintessential, physical record of yesteryear. Seeing it brings to mind memories one might have of buying it in the store, or drinking it while playing Top Gun on original Nintendo. There is something bittersweet about being so close to the past, but so far. Each time you see this Crystal Pepsi, you know that you could open it (though drinking it might kill you), and experience for a moment the long-forgotten feelings and memories associated with it, but it is perhaps better to let it remain untouched, and allow the past to live on inside.

In an equally romanticized view, my unopened 1994 Spider-Man action figures are time capsules. Inside that blister packaging is a physical link to a more innocent time. It would be so easy to open one up and play with it, but I know that if I did, it wouldn’t make me feel the same as it did when I was 5, because I have changed and grown older. However, this transcendental desire to revisit my youth keeps me yearning for what lies inside.

This might sound like a bunch of hooey, since I am literally talking about plastic children’s toys and junk beverages, but this is real to me, and to many collectors. It seems that collectors often disregard the intended use of an item, in favor of preserving it as a piece of history. What is a stamp besides a tiny piece of paper? Stamps were never originally intended to be saved. They were supposed to be licked, stuck on a letter, and thrown away once they served their purpose. To some people, though, stamps represent a physical record of a important era in history. They are symbolic of bygone days, and preserving them provides an avenue to revisit history.

Some people won’t understand these concepts. They might think that toy collectors are just overgrown man-children who can’t let go of the 1980s. I, however, am a proponent of the belief that there is more to it.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” Canon Review (SPOILERS)

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This movie was good. Like, really good. Like, better than the first one. I am writing this immediately after seeing it at an advance screening. This will not be a review of movie; there are plenty of those already floating around the internet. Besides, I already said the film rocked. Instead, this will examine the canonicity and fan service I observed after one viewing of the film.

Firstly, “The Amazing Spider-Man” followed the canon of the source material quite well. I enjoyed how the story involved Peter’s parents, a topic that had yet to be explored in-depth in the Spider-Man film franchise. If you are a not a fan of the comics, you will still enjoy the movie for its pure entertainment value. If you are a fan of the comics, you will appreciate the references to the comics as well as the pure entertainment value.


Regarding fan service, “The Amazing Spider-Man” there were many winks at the comics. Call them Easter eggs, call them whatever you want. Here are just a few that I noticed (I’m sure there are some I missed):

There is a brief shot of Peter Parker wearing a protective rubber suit. This is probably a nod to Amazing Spider-Man #425, where Spidey creates his “Electro-proof” rubber suit.

There is a brief image of the Roosevelt Island tram car. This may be coincidence, but it may be a reference to the first Tobey Maguire movie, where he saves the tram car full of children from the Green Goblin.

In Peter Parker’s room, he has a Ramones poster on his wall. The Ramones famously recorded a cover of the 1967 Spider-Man animated series theme song. (This is like in “The Avengers” when Tony Stark is wearing a Black Sabbath shirt, a clear nod to their hit song “Iron Man.”)

Peter’s cell phone ringtone is the 1967 theme song.

Spider-Man (almost) ruining Peter Parker’s graduation is just like Amazing Spider-Man #185.

In Oscorp’s secret laboratory, there are bits of gear for other Sinister Six members, such as Doctor Octopus’s arms, the Vulture’s wings, the Rhino suit, and what appears to be Mysterio’s helmet.

Ravencroft, the supervillain containment facility (complete with Dr. Kafka), appears, and its counterpart, The Vault, is mentioned in passing.

One of the Oscorp employees is named “Felicia,” likely supposed to be Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. Max Dillon calls another employee “Mr. Smythe,” clearly Spencer Smythe, the creator of the Spider-Slayers (this also makes sense, given that he works at Oscorp).


The iconic death of Gwen Stacy was handled quite elegantly. With such a famous storyline (Amazing Spider-Man #121-122), it had to be done carefully. There are slight deviations from the strictest comic book canon, specifically her death taking place in a clock tower instead of at the George Washington Bridge, and also her death being at the hands of Harry Osborn, not Norman Osborn, but for the purposes of the narrative, I think these artistic choices were just fine. Her death was tragic, just as it should have been.


I did feel like there were a few minor problems with the movie. Firstly, the graduation scene felt similar to the Tobey Maguire films. I think this is a common complaint among lukewarm fans, since they feel like the Maguire films were not far enough in the past to warrant a reboot. As a fanboy, I eat these movies up, but even I still was thinking, “I’ve seen this already.” I know Hollywood has to make this series stand on its own two feet, apart from its predecessor, but I think it’s safe to assume that the average viewer has seen the old films. Thus, when I see the same stuff rehashed, it just makes me want to see something new.

The inclusion of the Rhino felt forced. I love the character of the Rhino, but it seemed like he was just included as a teaser for the next movie and fodder for the movie’s trailer. I get that it was supposed to symbolize that everything had come full-circle in the story, but I think that character could have waited until part 3. At least his costume looked cool.


I thought the new movie developed the characters of both Harry Osborn and Max Dillon sufficiently. I felt pity for Electro. I liked how they made him a nice person who means well. When he first appeared in the middle of city, he was genuinely afraid. Most other villains would start blasting heads off right away. Dillon didn’t want to resort to violence. He was provoked. I enjoyed this tragic, misunderstood Electro character. Harry Osborn, too, was well done. He reminded me of Draco Malfoy, in his slimy-yet-somehow-lovable personality. His character’s slow descent into madness was underplayed, but in a good way. The film didn’t make it too obvious, and I appreciated that.

All in all, this was a very good installment in the “Amazing Spider-Man” series. People were speculating that it would fall victim to the same problem from the third Maguire movie had: too many villains, and not enough character development. And the dance scene. (But I won’t beat a dead horse.)

I feel that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was well-made and enjoyable. It appeals to both longtime fans and to those non-fans who think they might have seen one of the Tobey Maguire films, but they don’t remember which one it is, but they think it was the one with Octopus Man, but they aren’t sure. I certainly recommend giving “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” a watch, wherever you fall on that spectrum.

Fair Use: The 4.5 Factors

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As the world quickly shifts into the Digital Age, the subjects of copyright law and fair use become increasingly more important to discuss and understand. Information is spreading today at historically unmatched rates, so it is critical that the population knows what is and is not appropriate and legal use of copyrighted materials. By nature, copyright and fair use laws have many gray areas, with very few things being known for certain. Thus, I would like to unpack some of the specifics of the fair use doctrine, putting them in layman’s terms.

Situations involving fair use claims, by design, need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, because no two situations will ever be exactly the same. The U.S. Copyright Office outlines what have come to be known as the “Four Factors of Fair Use,” a set of considerations to make when determining if a particular usage of a work is indeed fair use. They are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

  2. The nature of the copyrighted work

  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

To illustrate each of these Factors, I will discuss them a bit more in-depth.

Factor #1: Why is the work is being used? What is the purpose of using it? If I am using a copyrighted work, what is my goal? Consider these two hypothetical situations:

  1. I have decided to write a book. Instead of doing my own research, I explicitly copy someone else’s work and sell it as my own.
  2. I am a college professor. I distribute a short excerpt from a book to my students as assigned reading.

In the former case, one could convincingly argue that the money I made belongs to the original author of the work in question, for the ideas I used are his/hers, not mine. In the latter case, neither I, nor the larger school, would be making any money, but would instead be using the work for the promotion of education and social well-being. The second case would normally protected under the law, but as with all copyright issues, it is never black and white, as we will see.

Suppose that a high school hosted a movie night to raise money for the marching band, selling tickets for $5 each. The administration never got the permission of the film’s copyright holder because they felt that, since it was a school-sponsored event, they didn’t need to because they would be protected under fair use as an educational institution.

Suppose, also, that the film’s copyright holder learned about this event and decided to pursue legal action, because they felt the school was infringing their copyright by not paying due royalties. The copyright holder would have a solid case against the school. The school may be able to claim that, by providing money for the marching band, they are creating educational opportunities for students, but this argument would most likely not hold up in court.

In other words, just because someone borrows the copyrighted work of someone else does not mean that this use is automatically illegal. Similarly, just because a work is being used for an educational purpose does not mean it is automatically protected under the fair use doctrine.

Why is the work being used?

Factor #2: Are the means of expressing the idea(s) unique? What is the level of creativity and originality used in the work? According to copyright law, one cannot copyright facts. If I were writing a paper about the invention of the telephone, I would state that the first telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. This is a known fact. I did not come up with the idea that the telephone was invented in 1876. It just was, and there are only so many ways to express this fact. As such, an author of a similar paper would not be able to claim that he came up with the idea of the telephone being invented in 1876 and that I stole his intellectual property. This fact is not the brainchild of either of us.

However, if this author had a specific means of expressing this idea, more so than simply stating it, this might be protected under copyright.

Perhaps the author wrote a poem about the invention of the telephone or painted a picture of Bell just after the completion of his invention. These methods of expression are unique, and they required a certain level of creativity to create. As a result, they are protected under copyright. To give another example, musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson died in an airplane crash in 1959. Since this is a historical fact, it cannot be copyrighted. However, musician Don McLean wrote the song “American Pie” about the event, and his work is under copyright because it is an original form of expression.

Are the means of expressing the idea(s) unique?

Factor #3: How much of the work is being used? Is it the “heart of the work” that is being used? This Factor is difficult to qualify. What is the “heart” of a certain work? Who gets to decide? If I were to copy the “Harry Potter” series verbatim, but change the name of the main character to “John,” this would clearly be infringement of copyright, because I would not really be changing anything of importance. I would be exactly copying J. K. Rowling’s ideas, and making only a slight cosmetic change that would have no impact on the narrative. However, if I were to write a piece of fanfiction that used the “Harry Potter” characters, but put them in a completely new setting with all new situations and adventures, would this be considered infringement? It is hard to say. I would be using Rowling’s ideas of characters, magic, etc., but one could argue that my work would be “transformative,” in which case it would be protected under fair use.

This factor is especially difficult. The amount and substantiality of the work used is hard to quantify, because each work is different.  One common buzzword phrase surrounding fair use issues is “transformative work.” This is especially relevant here. A transformative work may be inspired by or based on an existing work, but it presents it differently enough that it is considered its own, freestanding work. As a musician, I like to sing songs written by other people. If I were to create a cover of a song and sell it, without the permission of the original artist, I would need to make sure it is unique enough to be considered transformative.

If I were to take an existing recording and make a minor change to it, such as adding one single piano note in Lennon’s “Imagine,” keeping everything else the same (such as Lennon’s voice, guitar riffs, lyrics, etc.), I would probably not be able to call this fair use. The work is still inherently the same, and the “heart” of the work has not been changed. However, if I were to create a cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” playing it as a piano ballad, this would probably be considered transformative. Yes, the lyrics would still be the same, but the song would have a completely different meaning. I would have changed it from a hip-hop song about objectifying women’s posteriors into a comedic love song. In this case, the heart of the work: its nature as a rap song, would be changed, and the work would probably be considered transformative.

How much of the work is being used? Is it the “heart of the work” that is being used?

Factor #4: What is the impact on the market? One of the primary reasons copyright exists is to make sure that creators of content receive due protection and profits for their work. In this day and age, media pirating is a hot topic of discussion. If I buy a CD, burn it, and give a copy to a friend, the artist and label only see the profits of one copy, despite the fact that two people have their product. Admittedly, the loss of revenue of one pirated CD would be next to nothing, but if this happens 10,000 times, there would be a significant market impact. (I know that piracy is a whole other issue, but it does illustrate the notion of market impact quite well.)

Even schools are not exempt from this consideration. Let’s say that a professor requires her class of 100 students to buy a certain textbook. Assuming every student buys the textbook (keep in mind, this is hypothetical), the author of the textbook would receive his share of the profits of 100 copies of his work. However, if this professor were to scan the entire textbook and put the file online for students to download, the author would see none of that profit, and would have essentially lost 100 potential buyers.

What is the impact on the market?

***Factor #5: Stanford University Libraries has an entire webpage devoted to copyright and fair use. They, too, outline the Four Factors, but they provide a “fifth factor,” that I find interesting:

When you review fair use cases, you may find that they sometimes contradict one another or conflict with the rules expressed in this chapter. Fair use involves subjective judgments and [is] often affected by factors such as a judge or jury’s personal sense of right or wrong. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court has indicated that offensiveness is not a fair use factor, you should be aware that a morally offended judge or jury may rationalize its decision against fair use.

While this is not a “real” factor, I felt it deserved a mention, because it gives interesting insight into the more “human” side of fair use, in which people’s personal beliefs may play into their opinions of something being fair use.
Image courtesy of Northeastern University

Image courtesy of Northeastern University

So, we have the four factors (I’m not considering the Stanford addition for this portion of this essay), each with their own unique considerations. To address a fair use claim, one must test out the factors individually. Does only one factor suggest fair use? Do all four of them suggest fair use? From these examinations, one can draw conclusions of if something actually falls under the category of fair use.

The system of fair use is imperfect at best. Each factor is intentionally created to avoid definitive, concrete rules, because each fair use case is unique and must therefore be considered on its own. What makes it even more difficult is that any given fair use case might have multiple, valid arguments for why something is or is not fair use. And what if two of the factors suggest fair use, and the other two do not? What then?

I do not claim to have any answers to these questions. I just hope to stress the importance of keeping them in mind. Fair use is generally a good system, as it both protects creators of content, but also encourages new creation of content.

With all this information, what is the take-away message? If you glean nothing else from reading this, please be aware that fair use, like much of copyright law, is not black and white. Very rarely is anything certain, and each case must be considered individually. In this, the Digital Age, be careful, and consider your usage of other people’s works.

Thank you for reading!

Discussion Questions:

1) What do you think are the major obstacles that prevent the spread of knowledge about fair use law?

2) Do you feel that most high school/college students have at least a rudimentary understanding of fair use? If not, what would help them to?

3) What role do you think libraries/repositories could play in spreading knowledge of fair use law?

To Boldly Explore Why We Love Spock and Data

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What can I say about Star Trek? It is easily one of the most celebrated TV shows in history. Boldly going where no shows had dared to go before, Star Trek tackled real-world issues like racism, death, friendship, loss, love, and just about everything else you can imagine, all under the umbrella of awesome, interstellar adventure. Memorable characters, quotes, and episodes still stick in our minds as significant explorations of what it means to be human, warts and all.

As I have been (re)watching “The Next Generation” on Netflix, I have been thinking about two characters in particular: Mr. Spock, from “The Original Series,” and Mr. Data, from “The Next Generation.” These are two of the most-loved characters from the entire Star Trek Universe. Everyone knows Spock’s customary Vulcan greeting, even if they don’t realize what it’s from.

I recently had an enlightening discussion with my good friend Dominic, perhaps the greatest Trekkie in existence, about the interesting duality of both of these characters. If you’re unfamiliar with their backgrounds, you’re probably on the wrong site, but read on.

Mr. Spock, the Enterprise’s Science Officer, is half human, half Vulcan, an advanced alien race which founds its civilization completely on logic, and is entirely without emotion or feeling (“That is illogical, Captain.”). Mr. Data is an android who serves as a Lieutenant aboard the Enterprise, always having difficulty understanding things like humor or sadness, as they are innately human emotions.



Both these characters face a similar struggle: they are sort of human, but sort of not at the same time. Mr. Spock is always torn between his human and Vulcan sides, one in touch with feelings, emotions, and, to an extent, sans rigid logic. Data tries constantly to learn about humor (even asking a stand-up comedian for help understanding in one episode), but he never seems to fully understand. At his core, he is a machine.

However, with both Spock and Data, we see an interesting shift in the characters throughout their respective shows. Data, for example, is introduced as extremely mechanical, quite literally, but as the show progresses, he develops a human side. He struggles to balance his nature as a machine with his desire to laugh, cry, feel. Spock, too, continually wrestles within himself, trying to rectify just what he is.

Both these characters present questions to the viewer about what exactly it means to be human. And, while Star Trek explores this topic, it never gives any answers. Data and Spock challenge us to look within and find out what makes us who we are. This, I would argue, is why there is such a love for them among fans. When Data grows a beard or dresses up as Sherlock Holmes, we feel for him; we understand what it is like to be searching for yourself, trying to find out who you really are. We as the audience want Data and Spock to be human. We root for them among the rest of the cast, because, in many ways, they are the most human of all. (Let’s be honest, Shatner’s acting is WAY more robotic than Nimoy’s. Let the flame war begin.) They represent a great metaphor for our own internal struggles as people.

Maybe it’s time for you to rewatch some old episodes. Until next time, live long and prosper.


Atari’s E.T., and a Geek History Lesson

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If you’re reading this, you probably have some interest in geek culture. Or you just clicked the wrong link on Google. Either way, welcome. Recently, there has recently been a great resurgence of publicity surrounding the now-infamous “Atari Burial” of 1983. But before I begin, I should probably give a brief nerd history lesson.

A BRIEF NERD HISTORY LESSON: In the early 1980s, video games had officially become a thing, and they generally looked something like this:

"Berzerk" on Atari 2600

“Berzerk” on Atari 2600.

Atari was big business. Its giant library of games dominated the entertainment market, capturing the imaginations of young people everywhere. It seemed like the beginning of an exciting new age of gaming, and fierce competition between the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and the ColecoVision made sure that companies continued producing great games. Then came the crash.

By 1983, many third-party companies had jumped on the video game bandwagon. Realizing there was money to made, they created their own consoles, often imitations of the big three with poorly-designed games, faulty hardware, etc. Consumers grew tired of buying sub-par merchandise, and the market became saturated. Retailers were struggling to sell video games, and it seemed the industry was on the way out.

In a last-ditch effort to save its struggling brand, Atari planned to cash in on the 1982 summer blockbuster, “E.T.,” by making a video game tie-in. In a rush to get the game into stores in time for the Christmas season, Atari gave programmers minimal time to create a quality product. And it suffered from massive suckage. Fans felt that playing the game was slightly worse than swallowing glass, and Atari was left with millions of unsold and returned copies.


A typical reaction to Atari’s “E.T.”

Realizing that warehouse space was too valuable to let millions of these electronic turds sit and collect dust, Atari decided to let them literally sit and collect dust in the Alamogordo, New Mexico desert. Atari dumped most of its remaining stock in the desert landfill and covered it over with concrete. This was supposed to be the end of this tragic story. What Atari couldn’t possibly have anticipated was the internet.

For some 25 years, there was little discussion about the Atari Burial. Your average gamer didn’t even know it had ever happened. Then, with the advent of the internet, people began talking about it again, and interest in it was reborn, a la the Star Wars Holiday Special (look it up). Various gaming webseries reviewed it, and the Angry Video Game Nerd has made it the subject of his upcoming feature film (which, by the way, looks AMAZING). Now, a Canadian film company called Fuel Industries has just made an agreement with the city of Alamogordo to excavate the landfill to rediscover the treasures (and the trash) that lie within.

This begs the question: Why all the hype around what is often considered the worst game ever made? Why are so many people, after so many years, so very excited about the prospect of digging through a landfill in Middle of Nowhere, NM to find something that no one wanted in the first place? Why did this cult phenomenon suddenly achieve newfound fame concurrent with the coming of the internet? Why are filmmakers willing to spend mad money on the very real chance of finding absolutely nothing?

Use your imagination.

Use your imagination.

I would argue that this renewed interest in the ugly roots of video game history comes from an innate desire to understand where we have been, where we are, and where we are going as gamers. Video games are a large part of who we are as a global culture. In the same way that we can learn about a past culture by studying, say, their written manuscripts, we can learn about the history of a past pop culture by studying its “manuscripts.” I am a child of the 90s. Thus, I was not around during what might be called the Golden Age of video games. Having grown up on later consoles, I find it interesting to look back on how gaming got to be where it is today. (Not to mention, it’s fun to watch reviewers make fun of it.) Furthermore, there is a sense of pride in having loved and followed something for its whole existence. Whether it is a filmmaker, a band, a superhero, or the macro video game industry as a whole, nerds take pride in their long-standing passions.

I believe I speak for the majority of gamers in saying that we have a deep nostalgia for the history of electronic entertainment. Why is it that everyone knows the music from Mario 1? Why is it that people still, to this day, play and talk about games that came out over 20 years ago? Yes, I was not alive in 1983. You probably weren’t either. Still, learning about the history of something makes me appreciate it more. The train wreck that was Atari’s “E. T.” can be seen as an outward representation of an inner desire to connect with a foreign past.

Or it might just be that it’s funny to watch the Angry Video Game Nerd take a dump on it.


The Case for Banjo-Tooie

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I may be a cult of one, but I love Banjo-Tooie. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, because the Nintendo 64 was by far my favorite system ever made, but even among N64 enthusiasts, Banjo-Tooie is one that often slips under people’s radars. I love asking people what their “Top 5” list of video games is. You hear many different answers depending on who you’re asking, and it can often lead to some great conversation.

My Top 5 favorite video games are:

1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
2) Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
3) Mario Kart 64 (N64)
4) Super Smash Bros. (N64)
5) Banjo-Tooie (N64)

***Yes, 4 out of 5 of those are N64 titles. Sorry I’m not sorry about it.***

I think most any gamer would have at least one or two of those in his or her Top 5 (I’m looking at you, Ocarina). When I tell people my Top 5, they often say, “Banjo-Tooie? What about Metroid? Mega Man? Castlevania? Mass Effect? Street Fighter 2?”

Yes, I know.

banjotooiecoverAll those are great games in their own right. Taking with a grain of salt that this list is completely objective and opinionated (but if you disagree that Ocarina is the greatest game ever made, you’re just wrong), what is so great about Banjo-Tooie that would make me rank it above all those classics? Where do I begin?

Banjo-Tooie was released in November 2000, the sequel to Banjo-Kazooie. It was published by Rareware, who truly dominated the N64 with memorable titles like Goldeneye, Donkey Kong, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Gemini, and Blast Corps.

The story follows the return of Banjo the bear and Kazooie, his backpack-ridden bird companion as they adventure through all kinds of colorful levels, ultimately leading up to the dramatic return of Gruntilda, the series’ main antagonist. Full of memorable music, silky-smooth controls, clever Easter eggs, and (sometimes not-so) subtle humor, the game is a great experience throughout.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 9.28.05 PM

If only my grades looked like this…

Critical reception of its predecessor was very high, making Banjo-Tooie one of the more highly anticipated sequels on the N64. Rareware delivered. If you’ve played the first game, you know it’s top notch; excellent level designs and graphics that stretched the N64 to its limits. However, there was much left to be desired. What if you could play as Mumbo, Banjo/Kazooie’s skeletal shaman friend? What if you could play as only Kazooie or only Banjo? WHAT IF KAZOOIE BECAME A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON?!

Enter Banjo-Tooie. This game did it all. It was everything players wanted in a sequel. Split-up abilities, playing as Mumbo (and electrocuting the hell out of baddies with his supercharged staff), plenty of unlockables and mini-games,  a whole slew of awesome moves for Banjo, Kazooie, and the two together… it was simply a fresh look at an already great game. And yes, Kazooie becomes (spoilers) a dragon.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the interconnected nature of the worlds. Every world connects to another world. I can’t think of a game that did this before Banjo-Tooie, at least, not on the scale that Banjo-Tooie did it. It’s fun to revisit an earlier world with newly-acquired abilities and get a different experience. It certainly keeps the game interesting and adds to its replayability. And Witchyworld is one of my favorite levels in any game ever, so there’s that.

And then there’s the music. There are a few video game soundtracks that EVERYONE knows (again, looking at you Ocarina). This should be one of them. Composed by Grant Kirkhope (Goldeneye, Donkey Kong, Banjo-Kazooie), the music from Tooie is some of the catchiest, best orchestrated game music ever.

Here are two of my favorites:

Aren’t those great? The actual level Hailfire Peaks has two sides, lava and ice, and when you enter the other side, the music changes to reflect your new surroundings. Rareware did this in many of their games, and it’s little things like this that make them so memorable. When you’re underwater or in a cave, the instrumentation shifts to echo the mood and more fully immerse you in the game.

What about the mini-games? Long story short, they rock. Whether you’re driving bumper cars, flying around as Kazooie popping balloons, playing kickball, minecart-racing a giant canary (who, by the way, is impossible to beat the second time), or flying a carnival spaceship, there is an abundance of mini-games, and they are all awesome. Which brings me to my next point…

You wouldn’t expect the Banjo-Kazooie series to have much to offer in the way of multiplayer options, but Tooie has some of the best multiplayer on the N64. All the minigames are playable on their own, but the ones that really stand out are the Shootout games. As I mentioned before, Rareware developed Goldeneye on N64, arguably the best FPS game ever made. To this day, people still talk about the multiplayer and how many hours (and friendships) they lost because of it. Goldeneye came out in 1997, so Rareware made the ingenious decision to include a re-themed, family-friendly, Goldeneye-style shooter in Banjo-Tooie. Instead of spraying polygon-headed Russian stereotypes with the KF7 Soviet, you’re firing eggs from Kazooie’s mouth. Using the same gameplay engine as Goldeneye, the weapons are comparable (grenade eggs, proximity mine eggs, etc.), and it feels just like Goldeneye.

The voice acting is memorable, although no real words are ever spoken. Banjo and his crew speak a sort of stylized gibberish, which is translated onscreen. It sounds weird, but it works. Check out the opening cutscene:

I feel that Banjo-Tooie really captures the essence of the Nintendo 64. It represents a simpler time in gaming history, one where having a futuristic gun and mowing down zombie Nazis wasn’t necessary for a good game, one where there were more games rated “E” than “M.” Banjo-Tooie really is a gem among the N64 library. Neither it nor its predecessor get enough credit. They are too often overshadowed by their contemporaries like Ocarina, Mario 64, and Goldeneye. I truly believe that Banjo-Tooie stands on its own two paws, and, if you haven’t played it in a while (or ever), it’s well past time to dust off that N64 that’s sitting in your garage and give it a run. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are, well, you’re just wrong.

Afterword: Rareware employees, if you’re reading this, Gruntilda did mention “Banjo-Threeie” in one of her lines of dialogue… Just saying…


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