Before joining Mother Jones, Matt was a local reporter for the dearly departed Washington Examiner. He has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Public Radio, and the Times of Trenton.
Deltron 3030—the hip-hop dream team consisting of rapper Del Tha Funky Homosapien, producer Dan The Automator, and DJ Kid Koala—dropped its first album in 2000. It was a tough act to follow, a dystopian sci-fi concept album that paired social commentary with mech soldiers and a climactic intergalactic rap battle. So they didn't follow it for 13 years. There had been discussions and false starts, sure. But the group wasn't in the right place, Dan told me, until something clicked. "Del calls up one day and says, 'I'm ready to go,'" he says. "It just happened to be years later."
Event II, Deltron's long awaited new releases, is out today. So how does a super-group reconvene and create a follow-up to one of alternative hip-hop's most beloved records? The Automator agreed to walk us through the process, complete with behind-the-scenes videos explaining the creation of Event II's third track, "Pay The Price." Let's begin...
After meetings with the rest of the group to talk about sounds and potential subject matter, Dan The Automator heads to the studio to record the underlying tracks for the album. He lays down somewhere between 30 and 50, and then sends the best of them over to Del, who's soon ready to come in and record his vocals. "When he's on point, he can do it almost on the spot," Dan says. "He's a genius in that way."
But it's not as though there's no preparation involved. While The Automator cuts tracks, Del reads science fiction and researches current events to pin down his storyline. The new record draws from more than a decade of political events, from 9/11 and the war on terror to the economic collapse and Occupy Wall Street. Event II is more political than Deltron's first recording, according to The Automator. "The idea of talking about the future means you have to compare the past," he says. "Right now, some people are on some crazy shit. It's like the Hail Mary for nut jobs." In "Pay The Price," one villain whose idea of equality is "one for you, more for me" pleads for his life by saying, "Please! My offspring voted for the first black president!"
Once the vocals are in, the tracks are reworked. This can be as simple as adding sonic accoutrements—like the carillon sounds below—or as complex as reimagining an entire beat or melody. No matter what the extent, The Automator bases his changes on what he calls "the Deltron feel...I go by feeling," Dan says. "If it's right, it's right. But I leave a lot of space for it to get right."
Additions like the carillon, strings, horns, and choir bits you'll hear on the album, come courtesy of Dan's classical music background—he grew up playing violin. "It's like scoring a movie," he says. "We're trying to make it emotionally as appealing as possible."
So what's the biggest misconception about this part of the process? "People think I do a lot of drugs when I make records," Dan replies. "I don't do any drugs."
The Deltron feel is the result of close collaboration. While plenty of groups send tracks back and forth among members, Deltron 3030 always comes together for the studio work. "If you just take what I do and what they do and put them together, you get a 1+1=2 kind of equation," Dan says. "You have no interaction, no back and forth, push and pull; 1+1 is boring." Between the three men—and guests like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zach de la Rocha, David Cross, and The Lonely Island—a single story and album slowly emerges. "We're not going, 'Is this one a hit? Are kids using these words right now?'" Dan says. "None of that stuff takes place in our world."
Once a track is recorded, all that's left is the mixing. The entire, meticulous process takes four to six months, not counting the 13 years of planning. The end result, Dan says, is "way better" than the first record. "I love the first one, don't get me wrong here," he adds. "I think Del and I and Eric [San (Kid Koala)] are all people who work to keep it moving and not be satisfied with what we have." Still, the basic process itself wasn't all that different. "It was kind of business as usual," Dan says. "I just got to be me and hang out with a lot of my friends."
Nothing rips out a fan's heart quite like seeing a hometown team pack up and move to another city. (Or, as the case may be, not seeing a hometown team pack up and move to another city.) While there may be legitimate reasons for franchises to relocate—bankruptcy, low ticket sales, Jay-Z buying a stake—many recent threats to move have one common factor: stadium funding. If your local government decided against spending $400 million of public money to add a few more luxury boxes to Xtreme Cola Guzzle The Flavor® Memorial Arena, get ready to hear your team's owner talking a lot about the following cities. But which threats will have you back in your seat next season, and which will leave you crying into your Houston Oilers jersey? We've got you covered:
Los Angeles LA has been the NFL's biggest bogeyman ever since the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995. Most recently, in his push for a new stadium, Raiders owner Mark Davis said that Los Angeles is "always" on his mind. Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee raised the specter of relocating Perfectville to LA after Florida opted against giving the team $3 million a year for 30 years for stadium renovations. The City of Angels also looms over teams like the Rams, Jaguars, and Bills, and it served as a believable enough landing place to get Minnesota to agree to a $975 million deal to make sure the Vikings didn't leave. The threats aren't empty, though—LA has two proposed stadium sites that are "shovel ready" along with a massive media market without professional football. With no NFL expansion plans, it seems less a question of if a team will move there and more a question of when. Relocation likelihood: 5/5 moving vans
The Buffalo Bills have played at least one home game in Toronto for the past few seasons, but they were able to convince the state and county to agree to a $271 million stadium renovation deal at the end of last year that comes with a 10-year lease (although the team can opt out relatively cheaply after seven). While the Bills enjoy a relatively large fan base in the area, Toronto officials could look elsewhere in the meantime, with Jacksonville and New Orleans getting special mentions. Whether it's the Bills, Jags, Saints, or another team who likes Scott Pilgrim enough to move, relocating a franchise to Toronto would be a lot easier than moving one to London. Let's just hope everyone on Twitter gets their "Are they gonna punt on third down?" CFL jokes out of the way quickly. Relocation likelihood: 3/5 moving vans
While Londoners prepare for a barn-burning matchup of winless teams, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made no secret of his interest in putting a franchise across the pond. It's a nice bargaining chip for the league and its owners—as the St. Louis Rams tried to get the city to agree to a $700 million stadium deal, the NFL scheduled them for three years of London home games. This year, the Jacksonville Jaguars were scheduled for four straight London games, with the team's owner calling the Jaguars "the home team for London." The league is even pushing a fun club called the Union Jax. Despite these moves, there are plenty of obstacles to putting a franchise in the United Kingdom anytime soon, including huge travel times, players reluctant to move overseas, and the potential for incessant football/football jokes during broadcasts. (Not everyone is so pessimistic.) If a team moves to LA soon, expect London to make a nice new bogeyman. Relocation likelihood: 2/5 moving vans
BONUS NBA/NHL SITE: Seattle
Your favorite football team might be safe, but that doesn't mean your local basketball or hockey team is sticking around. Fans of the SuperSonics came tantalizingly close to regaining a franchise this year, only to see the Sacramento Kings stay put. The NBA, on the other hand, saw an extremely effective strategy for getting local officials to help pay for a $448 million new arena in downtown Sacramento. As teams like Milwaukee negotiate new stadium deals, expect threats to turn the team into the new Sonics to come early and often. Seattle also sits pretty as a large market without an NHL team, making the strategy just as useful for hockey owners. The Edmonton Oilers management team took a scouting trip out to Seattle after negotiations with Edmonton over a new arena got off to a rocky start. Both leagues have also discussed expansion, however, so it's possible the Emerald City could see new franchises without having to poach them. Relocation likelihood: 4/5 moving vans
Video game company Electronic Arts announced Thursday that its popular line of NCAA football games would be discontinued, leaving July's NCAA Football 14 as the seeming last iteration of the series. Cam Weber, EA Sports' GM of American football, posted the death notice on the company's blog:
Today I am sad to announce that we will not be publishing a new college football game next year, and we are evaluating our plan for the future of the franchise. This is as profoundly disappointing to the people who make this game as I expect it will be for the millions who enjoy playing it each year. I'd like to explain a couple of the factors that brought us to this decision.
We have been stuck in the middle of a dispute between the NCAA and student-athletes who seek compensation for playing college football. Just like companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel, we follow rules that are set by the NCAA—but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes. For our part, we are working to settle the lawsuits with the student-athletes. Meanwhile, the NCAA and a number of conferences have withdrawn their support of our game. The ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position—one that challenges our ability to deliver an authentic sports experience, which is the very foundation of EA SPORTS games.
The dispute in question is a far-reaching one that experts say could fundamentally change the way college athletics are run. It began in 2009 with two former college athletes—ex-UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and ex-Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller—filing lawsuits against the NCAA, the Collegiate Licensing Company (which handles trademark licensing for the NCAA and about 200 colleges), and EA. The lawsuits were eventually consolidated and began to snowball, with other athletes joining in or filing suits of their own.
Because college athletes are amateurs, the NCAA forbids them from using their status or fame to profit it any way (taking compensation, the thinking is, would make them professionals). That's what would have prohibited Heisman-winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel from theoretically accepting money in exchange for autographs, and it's what got Ohio State in trouble when players received cash and free tattoos in exchange for rings, jerseys, and other memorabilia. Colleges, similarly, can't monetize the likenesses of current athletes. Texas A&M can sell a No. 2 football jersey, but if that jersey can't say "Manziel" on the back.
While EA can and does license the names and logos of colleges, stadiums, and bowl games, it's forbidden from using the identities of current players in its college football games. In one of the more shameless legal workarounds since man first put a liquor bottle in a brown paper bag, EA gives in-game players nearly identical numbers, positions, physical attributes, and abilities as their real-life counterparts—everything but the names, save for a few dreadlocks.
The loss of NCAA Football 15 (and possibly beyond) is a major development, but hardly the endpoint of the legal trouble facing big-time college athletics. Despite EA's settlement, the NCAA has vowed to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. That's because the O'Bannon-Keller lawsuit hits the NCAA right at its core—television revenue. The NCAA made more than $700 million in television and marketing rights fees from 2011 to 2012, none of which went to players' pockets (since they're amateurs and all).
While the lawsuit focuses on former athletes whose likenesses appear in game rebroadcasts, DVD highlights, and apparel, there's an even larger implication for college games on television. This season's Texas A&M-Alabama matchup drew 21 percent of that night's television viewers. If players are given a cut of the revenues they helped generate, it would require a complete reworking of the way the NCAA does business. Some players are already calling for part of that money to go toward increased scholarship aid and medical coverage.
While that may piss some people off, it's something the college sports world, EA included, is taking very seriously.
Johnny Manziel: Albert Pena/ZUMA; Manziel's right arm: Shutterbug459/Wikimedia Commons; Mirror: Shutterstock; Virtual player faces: Screenshots: NCAA 14; Manziel headshot: Courtesy of Texas A&M; Clowney headshot: Courtesy of South Carolina; Carey headshot: Courtesy of Arizona; Sutton headshot: Courtesy of Arizona State; Watkins headshot: Courtesy of Clemson; Mosley headshot: Courtesy of Alabama
During Saturday's college football games, 28 players at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Northwestern University wore wristbands marked with "APU"—short for All Players United—as part of a movement calling for NCAA reform, including efforts to minimize brain trauma and care for players who sustain brain injuries, as well as more money in scholarship aid for athletes.
This didn't sit well with Iowa State University Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, who is making $900,000 this year thanks in large part to the sacrifices of the Cyclones' student-athletes (that figure factors in a one-time retention payment of $400,000 he got for sticking around for eight years). He went on a Twitter rant yesterday afternoon calling out protesters:
Yet to hear one realistic plan how to pay players without eliminating all other sports. Value of Education versus Arena FB or D League.
Still from the acclaimed game Journey Thatgamecompany
A bunch of us here at MoJo play games, love games, and cringe at the publicity that a few shoot em' up games like Call of Duty receive every time another terrible mass shooting hits the news. Despite three decades of research, we're still far from a definitive answer on whether violent video games are linked to IRL violence, as Erik Kain has noted here before. But like any art form—and yes, video games are art—there's as broad a range of expression in games as the space between Kill Bill and Amelie and well beyond. Games can be emotionally moving, intellectually challenging, deeply political, and straight-up good quirky fun.
Here's our buyers guide to perhaps lesser known but thoroughly excellent titles we think you might love and are almost entirely devoid of physical combat, whether fantastical or realistic. We figured you've already heard of the big sports titles like Madden and the FIFA series, music games like Guitar Hero, and movement games like Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Sports; our list focuses on immersive narratives, physics-based games (think Angry Birds but way better), and "sandbox" games that let you build your own worlds.
Use the comments to yell at us about everything we missed.
If the last time you touched a game controller involved a spastic blue hedgehog, Portal is a great gateway into modern gaming. You're an unwitting subject who's just been mysteriously dropped into the test chambers of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center. You’re not exactly sure why you’re there, but a droll artificial intelligence being named GLaDOS informs you there’s cake at the end of all the lab trials if you make it through. It so happens that you possess a blaster gun that can open portals in walls, and soon enough you're popping out of floors and zooming through ceilings, leaping and hurling yourself around the lab, timing jumps for maximum velocity. It’s mind-bending gameplay that works your puzzle-solving skills and memories of eighth-grade physics, so much so that the sequel, Portal 2, is popular with K-12 physics teachers as a teaching tool.
Available on Windows, Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation 3, $9.99
Frankly, this stunningly beautiful game feels impossible to describe. Take our word for it, or the fact that leading the Gawker gaming site Kotaku named Journey Game of the Year in 2012, it earned a profile from The New Yorker, and has even been likened to a "nondenominational religious experience." The game itself is utterly devoid of dialogue: its characters never utter a single word. So let's wrap this review up with just two: play it.
Available on PlayStation 3
Ever wanted to build your own personal USS Starship Enterprise? A giant terrarium in the shape like R2D2? Landscape your own Westeros from Game of Thrones? The massively popular Minecraft was initially conceived as a straightforward game where players used the game's Lego-like building blocks to build shelters from menacing creatures and so on. But even before the game made it out of its beta version, gamers began working together across multiplayer servers to construct ambitious and elaborate new lands and scenarios. You might build a digital replica of your house, down to the plumbing and light switches, and why not relocate the Arc de Triomph to your backyard while you're at it? Slash your way through zombies and other creepy creatures if you so choose, but violence is mostly avoidable. In Minecraft, you create the world you want to live in.
Available on Windows, Mac, Xbox 360, GNU/Linux, $26.95
Game scholarship (yes, that's a thing) hasn't decided whether this “poetic ghost story" is a bona-fide video game or an interactive film. The workaday gamer doesn’t care—this 90-minute game turned a profit just five and a half hours after being released. You're a shipwrecked man wandering around a beautifully realized island, exploring cliffs, caves, and beach as a narrator reveals bits of letters that eventually coalesce into a haunting story. Some may find the gameplay constraining—our protagonist doesn’t fight anyone or solve puzzles to advance. “Stripped down to its constituent parts, there’s very little game here at all,” PC Gamer’s Chris Thurstenwrites. “But at the same time, it’s a story that only games give us the freedom to hear.”
Available on Windows and Mac computers $9.99
Animal Crossing moves you into a town populated by anthropomorphic raccoons, penguins, and goats, and simply lets you live your new fauna-fabulous life. Make friends with the hippo next door, stitch yourself a new animal-print wardrobe, hang out with a guitar-playing dog named K.K. Slider—it’s all up to you. While the game observes the changing of the seasons and the passing of time, its world is constantly changing, from the species of fish you can catch in its rivers to the goods available in village shops, with plenty of hidden surprises (including classic Nintendo games) to find. Critics have praised the simplicity and addictiveness of the game, even the parts that are essentially chores. “Some of the things you can do in Animal Crossing wouldn't be considered fun at all were they to take place in real life,” IGN’s Peer Schneider wrote. “But that's the beauty of the game.”
Available on Gamecube, Wii, 3DS $30 (New Leaf)
Like Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet is all about creating and sharing your own worlds. You’re a cheery little yarn-knit sackperson attempting to make your way across stylized levels inspired by locations like New York City streetscapes or the African savannah. Get though, and you can fire up the game’s DIY universe-building kit and build new stages and games to your heart's desire. Fans have built everything from a bunny-themed version of Super Mario to a nearly hourlong feature film. You can buy and download extra themes like Toy Story, The Muppets, and Marvel Comics from developer Media Molecule. “Like the most prolific creators in the series' community,” Gamespot reviewer Justin Calvert said about the most recent PS3 edition, it’s “a game that just keeps on giving.”
Available on PS3, PSP, Vita, $20 (LittleBigPlanet 2)
Slender: The Eight Pages
In a mood for a good scare, but don’t care for blood and guts? Slender shares its fear factor with the Blair Witch Project: the scariest monster is the one you can't see. You play from the first-person perspective of a regular person lost in the woods at night. You traipse around with only a flashlight in hand, doing your best to avoid the Slender Man, an loomingly tall, faceless figure who might have crawled out of the deepest recesses of your nightmare. This character was spawned from a real Internet meme in which people Photoshopped a tall man in black into the backgrounds of otherwise unremarkable photos, a sort of creeper photobomb writ large. Among the game's many deliciously eerie elements: there's no music. You hear only the sound of own footfalls snapping twigs, the occasional cricket, your flashlight clicking on and off, and a pulsing, ominous beat that grows louder every time you find one of eight mysterious notebook pages scattered around the woods. This is one to play with headphones on and lights off.
Microsoft, Mac, free download
You are 18-year-old Katie Greenbriar, just returned home from a long trip to Europe. Your family moved homes while you were gone, and you show up at the new address for the first time late one thunderstorm-soaked night only to find your family has disappeared. You slowly piece together what happened to your parents and lovestruck little sister Sam as you search the house, combing for clues in the magazines, ticket stubs, and letters they left behind. What you find is knowingly realistic (the food items in the fridge have ingredients on the back), funny (check your dad’s box of magazines at your own peril), and eventually extremely poignant. The game is heavy on '90s nostalgia, with a soundtrack by riot grrrl-era favorites Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy. With its deeply realized coming-of-age storyline and themes of gender identity and sexuality, this indie game proves you don’t need big bucks to tell a great story. “Even though they weren’t mine, it still evoked the memories of my own time as a teenage riot grrrl with a secret love,” wrote one fan. “That’s something I thought I would never get back.”
Available on PC, Mac, Linux $19.99
The King of the Cosmos got loose one night and knocked all the stars and planets out of the sky. Your job, as the star prince, is to clean up the mess and replace the missing celestial bodies with whatever you can. First stop: Earth. Using a magical sticky ball that rolls up anything in its path, you travel around picking up smaller and then larger and larger objects, from ants to thumbtacks to cities and mountains, lumping them all into a big ball that will be thrown back into the sky. The title loosely translates from the Japanese to "clump spirit," resulting in one wonderfully weird, quirky, and oddly joyful game.
Available on PlayStation 2 (sequels available on PS3), $14.99 (pre-owned)
Another brain-stretcher, this game allows you to rewind time and redo actions, even if your character dies. With some art nods to old school Nintendo games, Wireddescribed its aesthetics as if "Mario's art director had been Van Gogh." But don't let the dreamy palette and the tranquil music lull you, you'll be facing difficult challenges and must collect pieces of different puzzles that will eventually explain the main character's affecting backstory and motivations. This strange and beautiful game will leave you feeling both challenged and haunted.
Available Xbox 360, Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 3, Cloud, $9.99