PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!


CP: Shining a light on local contributions to scientific inquiry and discovery, it’s The Science Issue It’s a diverse crop this go-round, starting with   Autonomous Systems Lab and their pride and joy – Jaemi HUBO, a humanoid robot. Rally behind this diminutive automated creature, folks, because we’re way behind Japan on this. Elsewhere, we have the city’s first-ever Medical Film Symposium, sure to induce more squirming than the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. And there’s already a treasure trove of marine life at the Academy of Natural Science – the collections there are really off the charts – but one researcher isn’t stopping there.

Few summertime shell collectors pause to consider the briny creatures that once lived inside — unless they’re hungry. But that could change, cp_2010-01-21.jpgthanks to new research, done in part by the Academy of Natural Sciences here in Philly, which points to these ocean denizens as sources of new drugs and fuels.

This particular project, an international and interdisciplinary effort, is looking at mollusks in the Philippines, one of the richest areas in the world in terms of biodiversity of aquatic creatures. Known as the Philippine Mollusk Symbiont International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (PMS-ICBG, for sort of short) project, the research has three parts: collecting and identifying the mollusks of the area; looking at mollusks and the bacteria they harbor for natural compounds for pharmaceuticals; and studying symbiotic bacteria living in mollusks for use in biofuels.

Mollusca is the largest marine phylum and includes a diverse range of creatures such as cephalopods like squid and octopi, gastropods like snails and slugs, and bivalves like clams and oysters. “I think they are often overlooked,” says Gary Rosenberg, curator of the Academy’s mollusk collection. “I don’t think people are aware of how much humans interact with mollusks. Fifteen percent of what the world’s fisheries catch is mollusks, not fish.”

The lowly slug finally gets its due — it’s the feel-good story of the year. An even bigger story, though, is one that Brian James Kirk highlights in his humanoid-robot piece: American education in science is at a low ebb, and other countries really are beating us to the punch. Whether it’s life-like robots, digging up mollusks to find the nextbiofuel, or the possibility for a cure for diabetes, something has got to spark the interest and activate the potential of today’s youth. Scientists of the future, start your centrifuges.

PW: Anchoring PW’s Music Issue is a local fixture of whom we can rightly and most definitely be proud. RJD2, for the uninitiated, is not a bleep-bleep-blooping robot from Star Wars. He’s a Philly-based DJ and sound collagist whose exploding career recently begat his own label, RJ’s Electrical Connections. All of his myriad projects – including the licensing of his tracks, which have pumped him into more ears in the last year than ever before – are now under one roof. Michael Alan Goldberg elaborates:

03coverrjd2.jpgFor the first time, he’s overseeing every last detail: The manufacture and distribution of the album. The publicity campaign. Preventing the album from leaking online prior to its January 19 release date (he was remarkably successful at doing so, mostly for not handing out physical advance copies to journalists). And putting together and managing a, well, colossal four-month tour that launches its third leg on March 5 at First Unitarian Church.

But the 33-year-old is up for the work. “I’ve always enjoyed the idea of setting a task for myself, of challenging myself,” he says over lunch at West Philadelphia’s Gold Standard Cafe, just a few blocks from his home and studio. It’s the day prior to the kickoff of the Colossus tour in Washington, D.C., and less than two weeks before the album’s street date. “Right now is probably the worst it’s gonna get, with all the shit hitting the fan these next few days. But most other times I’ve found it quite manageable, and it’s been really rewarding.”

Born in Oregon and raised in Columbus, Ohio, RJ spent much of the ’90s working a string of mainly food-service jobs while struggling to get his fledgling DJ career off the ground. By 1999 he had given up almost entirely, taking a job at a bank, re-enrolling in college and figuring music would be nothing more than a hobby. A year later, though, his tracks found their way into the hands of underground rapper El-P, who signed him to his independent label, Def Jux. RJ relocated to Philadelphia in 2002, around the time Deadringer —a slab of atmospheric, cinematic, instrumental hip-hop thick with soul and funk samples and crackling beats—began to blow up, positioning him as the logical heir to DJ Shadow.

Finally, a music cover story that captures the sound as well as the scene. Recapping album histories and parsing meter changes and samples may have fallen to mp3 blogs in recent years, but the best music journalists still do this, and in such a way that you can hear the music in their prose. Hats off toRJ, MAG and PW.


CP: Start your own bar: Neon sign out front optional. U.S.-Haiti relations, in brief: “Immigration isn’t simple. But isn’t compassion?” Jack Kelly, putting the ‘def’ in defamation. Artblahg: Critiquing cronyism, or just being cranky?

PW: Secondary cover story: Pregnant prisoners unbound. Burning down the house: Top DJ’s. Sorry, Nas: Hip-hop’s not dead, it’s just homeless. Looking for a nice new seafood joint? Go fish.

WINNER: After I noted how little music there was in a music story a couple months back, a reader referred me to Myspace. Point taken. But compare that write-up to MAG’s RJD2 jawn and I think you’ll agree: the sound matters. For putting sound alongside substance, PW takes it this week.

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