MEDIA ROOTS– An age-old question among activists and the media is how to grab an audience’s attention and hold it. In a society accustomed to twitter feeds, blog hosting, sound bites and news that serves to either placate viewers with entertainment or alarm them beyond reason, knowing how to engage people on serious issues can be quite the challenge.
In order to reach a culture that is over saturated with sensationalism and new technology, one thing though, is for sure– you have to be creative.
Many people would rather be mindlessly entertained than learn about depressing news. So why not use entertainment to inform the masses? Inspired to combine music and news-room journalism, two European expatriates living in Australia combined their powers of lyrically creative brilliance, comical acting and historical and political knowledge to form the eccentric character Robert Foster– host of Rap News.
From the initial looks of it, Rap News appears to be a one-man show with a series of goofy wigs and costume changes that turn Hugo Farrant from anchorman Robert Foster into multiple other entertaining characters featured in each episode. Yet, upon closer listening, the creativity of the report’s content and lyrics reveal the wit and intellect of Giordano Nanni, the composer, editor, director and researcher who co-writes the episodes with Hugo.
As a team, Hugo and Giordano take on important issues facing the world and critically frame them with ingenious, cutting lyrical verse, all the while using humor to relay their message. For example, their latest episode Rap News vs. News World Order, in which Wikileaks’s Julian Assange made a live debut, Robert Foster wrapped up the show with these words-
It seems, journalism’s become a dangerous profession
Risking ostracism, extradition
To provide a clear picture of the world we live in
But without truth, history will certainly repeat.
The same wars, in this time of universal deceit,
Telling the truth has become a revolutionary act
So I salute those who disclose the necessary facts.
Some of our other favorite Rap News lyrics are from Obama Wins the Nobel ‘War is Peace’ Prize–
Any serious examination leads to the raw truth
This isn’t a prize for Obama, it’s a prize for George Bush
Nobel’s message seems to be War is Peace and it’s all well
When all is war, and
didn’t we read that in Orwell?
Well, From the depths of doublethink and newspeak
This is Robert Foster, for Juice Media
Have a double plus good week.
Julian Assange thinks these guys have got it right and so do we. Inspired by the duo, Media Roots reached out to the minds behind Rap News to learn how they started, what inspires them and what the future has in store for Robert Foster.
MR: Who are you both? What are your backgrounds?
Hugo: I’m an exile from the UK who left to find greener pastures, both creatively and socially, here in Australia. My background is in teaching, but my passion is rhyme writing and performance.
Giordano: I’m an exile from Italy who came to Melbourne about 8 years ago. My background is history—having studied and written on colonial history—but my various projects and activities embrace music, theatre, indy-journalism and film-making, etc.
MR: What caused your political awakening? What led you both to Australia and ultimately to finding each other?
Hugo: I wouldn’t describe myself as politically awakened. More politically curious, but lacking in discipline, and someone like Giordano has the requisite knowledge to satisfy my curiosity. I was always into bands like Rage Against the Machine back in the day, so I was aware of the potential of music to deliver political messages.
I was keen to participate in that style of art, but absolutely didn’t want to be another rapper complaining about things without the academic clout to back up the arguments. Giordano and I found each other through a mutual rock musician friend, and immediately bonded over shared interests in media, movies, music, conspiracy theories and Medieval Italian poetry.
Giordano: I think one of my first ‘political’ awakenings occurred when I was 18 or so; one of the (few) great teachers I had at University suggested I read Hidden Agendas by John Pilger. It shocked and blew me away at the time. It was one of the first books which sparked my awareness of what was happening in the world, and which alerted me to the vital importance of journalism therein.
But the awakenings have been ongoing since then. Relatively recently, during the 2008 presidential campaign I discovered Ralph Nader—thanks to the Internet and YouTube—not thanks to TV, interestingly enough. Hearing him speak was a real awakening, in the sense that I had long since given up placing any faith in the political process. Nader has taught me that politics can be a noble profession; it’s not that all politicians are bastards, but rather that most Americans seem to vote for the bastards rather than honest ones!
MR: I agree about Nader. How did Rap News come into fruition and why did you choose this approach?
Giordano: Rap News was born in late 2009 but its roots go back a bit further.
Hugo: It came about through resurrecting a ‘music journalism’ project, which Giordano had previously worked on—an audio precursor to Rap News. I heard about this and liked the idea, and asked if I might get involved. Once we sat down and planned, and decided that I would rap all the characters, it became clear that trying to be serious while wearing so many stupid wigs was probably unrealistic, so the comedy element came to the fore.
Giordano: Yeah, as George Bernard Shaw said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you”.
The news-room has become such a powerful and globally recognized icon of knowledge and information: everything is offered daily, to millions of viewers, as ‘the truth’. Rap News appropriated this device but tries to shine a little light on some of the unspoken premises that prop up the cultural fictions regurgitated daily by the mainstream news networks. Back in the days when I still bothered watching TV news, I often felt an irresistible urge to shout back at TV set in frustration. Now Robert Foster provides a channel for that outlet! I guess this also inspired our approach to delivering the news.
MR: Hugo is an extremely good rapper and the rhymes in Rap News are incredibly informative, intelligent and cutting. Have you always used hip-hop as a form of poetic expression and when did you begin incorporating political commentary into your rapping? How long have you been performing publicly?
Hugo: Thanks for your feedback! The informative and intelligent nature of the rhymes comes from Giordano. He provides the ‘juice’ of the dialogue, the research to back it up, and is responsible for all the most cutting elements of each episode. Rumsfeld saying, ‘We’ll write the history books’ as a prime example.
My job is to make the thing rhyme and flow, and put in a bit of puerile humor, as well as over-act! My own rap persona is much less popular than Rap News, but yes, I do perform at festivals and venues in Australia, both with Treats—an excellent DJ—and with the rising live band ‘Dub The Magic Dragon’, touring India, March 2011.
My stage name is Hugo, but political listeners will not find much juice there—now that I am involved with Rap News, I prefer to wax philosophical, comical and spiritual in my solo work, and leave the political content to a properly researched forum such Rap News.
Giordano: Hugo is being characteristically modest: He is in fact very well known, and highly appreciated, in Melbourne, for rocking audiences and making a real impact on people’s lives through his art.
MR: Your two latest videos seem to have a more professional production than your first couple—the lower third text scroll, the Fox news graphics, etc. Are more people offering to help or are you just refining your skills together?
Giordano: Ever since we launched Rap News, people have offered to help us by offering to donate their talent and skills to the show. Probably one of most rewarding results has been witnessing all this willingness to contribute. As suggested to me by someone who truly understands this—Julian Assange—this willingness to contribute is one of the benefits of promoting a shared value. People want to lend their skills and play a part in it.
Ironically, however, we’ve never been too concerned with trying to look pro: the bedroom-studio-feel being a faithful reflection of the means and time at our disposal—a reminder that anyone can potentially do this.
We started off simply by borrowing cameras and making do with what we had at hand. Our backdrops were bed sheets and the lighting rig comprised an array of six, tenuously balanced desk-lamps. We incorporated new stuff gradually—like the green-screen background—and I am slowly getting a lot better and faster at editing, even though I’m really still just hacking it.
But to answer your question: we decided to call upon reinforcements for the latest News World Order episode because we really needed to replicate that familiar ‘official newsroom’ environment—saturated with useless information, artificially enhanced by fancy graphics, logos and slogans which distract and sedate and constantly blur the line between fact and fiction, information and entertainment. Such visual mayhem couldn’t have come about without the help of some skilled artists: Melbourne-based artist, Zoe Tame, in particular, worked hard to create all the images, replica logos and overlays; while others helped with tickertapes, animations and advice.
Oh and Zoe also designed the kick-ass website: www.TheJuiceMedia.com. So yeah, Hugo and I still do the vast majority of the work, but we’ve also benefitted immensely from the help of other people.
MR: What does the creation process of rap news look like? How long does it take to produce one video—from the idea to the lyrics to the costumes, editing and graphics? How many people are involved in the production and what are their roles?
Hugo: A realistic minimum length of production is two weeks. That includes initial meetings and brainstorming, about 24 hours of writing—spread over a few days, and with several drafts winging back and forth between me and Giordano—recording is generally done in two sessions, we source the costumes from fancy dress shops, and the most fun day, as far as I’m concerned, is filming day, when we get to bring the audio to life on screen, and horse around. Then the real work begins in Giordano’s lab, where it all gets edited and tweaked until it’s ready to be unleashed.
MR: Are your videos getting viral just because they kick so much ass or are you getting some outside help with promotion and coverage?
Hugo: We try to keep the ass-kicking level to the highest degree.
We’re not affiliated with YouTube’s partner program, and so we never get ‘featured video’ status. We are regularly offered the opportunity to opt in for ‘revenue-sharing’, i.e. advertizing, but the prospect of earning a bit of money this way is outweighed by the desire to keep the Juice Media Rap News channel free of ads for our viewers
Having said that, we have managed to attract many excellent fans to the show, and they, along with some great contacts in the indy-media world, are responsible for spreading the clips far and wide. We really do feel very grateful to everyone who watches, comments, gets in touch, shares the link, and of course to the numerous people who have donated through the website since episodes 4 and 5 hit the sites.
MR: You incorporate many facts that are under reported by the mainstream, like the 1,000,000 dead Iraqis figure, and Obama’s continuation of Bush-era policies. Where do you guys go to for your information—what media outlets and organizations out there do you think are doing it right? I am assuming Democracy Now is one of them—with the product placement and all.
Giordano: There are many indy-news outlets which do a fantastic job—Media Roots being a good case in point—but there are very few large news organizations which I know about, that are doing it right.
As you’ve deduced so perceptively from Robert Foster’s choice of coffee mug, Democracy Now is definitely one of them. After years of following this show, I am still thrilled about what it does. I really feel a sense of responsibility for how much (and how little) I know about the world around me; so I really value this portal of information. For the past 2 years I’ve had them as my computer home page.
Amid the wasteland of mainstream journalism, Amy Goodman and the DN crew have set a proper standard for how ‘news’ ought to be delivered and debated. It’s an hour-long show, with in-depth interviews that truly elucidate subjects, which are not given anywhere near the attention that is due to them in the mainstream media. And, above all, they don’t waste broadcast time reporting on sports!! They are not entertainers and media hacks; and, most importantly, they are independently funded. I can trust them.
Other than this, I rely on links to website, articles by indy-journalists, and random bits of information that come my way.
MR: I couldn’t help but notice the play on the phrase “New World Order”. A lot of people think that the New World Order is an elite group of globalists embarking to take over every aspect of life on this planet. Others think it is simply a powerhouse of ideas and groups of people for the purpose of control and profit maximization. What do you guys think the New World Order is and why did you choose to portray O’Reilly/Fox as part of it?
Giordano: It’s a good question Abby.
We tend to think that many popular understandings of the ‘NWO’ are falsely premised on an externalized source of power. This is appealing, since it evokes that basic paradigm of good versus evil—and sure enough, we always identify as the goodies.
But let’s look at it this way: The two descriptions you provided for the NWO—‘a group of globalists embarking to take over every aspect of life on this planet’ and ‘a powerhouse of ideas and groups of people for the purpose of control and profit maximization’—could well apply to the general behavior of western/westernized society over the past six hundred years—some sections of that society of course benefitting more than others!
In this sense we are virtually all beneficiaries and patrons of the ‘NWO’ in one way or another; which makes the prospect of defeating it somewhat paradoxical—or hypocritical. It’s a fascinating issue and it goes to the very heart of what we’re trying to say. We’re actually planning an episode, which will focus precisely on this subject; hopefully it will make more sense expressed in rhyme! But it’s probably not going to be what most people expect to hear.
MR: I love the Wikileaks endorsement of Rap News. Did Assange reach out to you after seeing your work? How did you get him in the flesh for your recent video?
Giordano: Julian really loved the first Rap News episode we did on Wikileaks, Wikileaks v. The Pentagon, in which Hugo impersonated Assange as a quirky, matrix-like trickster.
Subsequently, ahead of Wikileaks’ latest historic disclosure of 400,000 documents relating to the Iraq war, Julian made contact with us and invited us to take a sneak peak at some of the Iraq War Logs in view of informing the content of a new episode.
Of course, we jumped at the opportunity and were aboard planes within a fortnight. We arrived in London only two weeks prior to the scheduled launch of the Iraq War Logs, on October 23, which meant that we faced the absurd and terrific challenge of writing, recording and filming an entire episode in under 4 days—a stunt we pulled thanks to the invaluable help of two awesome Wikileaks crew-members, and thanks to our friend and supporter back in Melbourne, Asher—aka Mama Wolf.
As for the cameo, we asked Julian straight up, thinking that his appearance might be a historic and comedic event—not just for Wikileaks and Rap News, but for that demographic of the internet community which has been so avidly following what’s going on with Wikileaks. Despite a couple of initial raised eyebrows, Julian was totally up for it. We didn’t pull any punches on the gags, either. Thankfully the man has a great sense of humor.
MR: Awesome! What issues today are of greatest concern to you both?
Giordano: I wouldn’t know where to start; all the seemingly separate issues, which I could list, are really interconnected. I am deeply concerned about environmental issues, but I don’t think it’s just about energy use.
If I had to choose one central issue, I’d point to the ongoing treatment of, and attitude towards, ‘Indigenous’ cultures on this planet, which represents an ongoing war on alternative philosophies of life. I think there’s a strong correlation between this war and the multiple problems we face today—especially the devastation of our environment.
Hugo: For my part, modern humanity’s general belief in separateness is probably my over-arching concern. We have spent centuries alienating ourselves from the planet, which gave birth to us, and separating ourselves from each other, along barely relevant racial and cultural lines. We now face the dramatic, inevitable consequences of our desire for separateness. But if reading philosophy has brought me any concrete conclusion at all, it is that ultimately, and in a very real sense, as Neil deGrasse Tyson asserts, ‘we are all connected’. By perceiving our connectedness, even to the aspects of life we judge as negative, I strongly believe that true lasting evolution can take place. Rejecting and excluding those aspects only leads to their perpetuation.
MR: What are some of your biggest musical, poetic and political inspirations?
Hugo: Too numerous to mention, but in terms of comedy, certainly the great, great Bill Hicks, the guys behind South Park and Team America, Chris Morris for his incredible work on Brass Eye and The Day Today, and of course, the 90’s BBC comedy The League of Gentlemen—if we could get access to their make-up department, I’d be one happy over-actor.
As for hip hop, my top inspiration is now-defunct but never surpassed French outfit Saian Supa Crew, and from Australia, close friends and personal heroes, DJ Treats, Julez, Mantra and Elf Tranzporter.
And as far as literature goes, it’s all about Dante Alighieri and Jonathan Swift. Gulliver’s Travels is a satire broader than any before or since, and is the benchmark against which all such work must be measured.
Giordano: My mind has been blown, and my soul nourished, by many more powerful and precious sources of musical and poetic inspiration than I can even mention—from William Blake and Leopardi, to Pink Floyd, Roger Waters in particular, to Rage Against the Machine; from comedians Bill Hicks and George Carlin—who saved my life by revealing the comedy of it all—to writers like George Orwell, Jorge Louis Borges and Herman Hesse, who have been guiding lights.
As for political inspiration, I listen carefully to what Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader have to say these days, while they’re still with us.
MR: Do you hope to team up or collaborate with any other political or media players in the future?
Hugo: The beauty of the project is that we don’t really need to. If we want someone in the show, like Donald Rumsfeld, we can just come up with a poor impersonation of him and get some laughs out of the hokiness of it. Nevertheless, we’re always open to offers, and when the possibility of that episode 5 cameo was mooted, we jumped at it. So the answer is, ‘definitely’; but in the meantime, we’ll just keep doing the bad wig, bad accent, bad hand gestures thing.
MR: What else is in store for Juice Media and Rap News? Are you planning any other projects or just focusing on these segments for now?
Hugo & Giordano: We’re really going with the flow here, working during the glitches of our less-adventurous lives. TheJuiceMedia will continue it’s less glamorous but highly valuable purpose of broadcasting Indigenous, Aboriginal Australian voices to a wider local and international audience. We’ll keep developing Rap News, exploring the vastness of topics and narratives, which are out there begging to be translated into rhyme and reason. We hope that Robert Foster’s voice might one day become an important one. Stay tuned.
Rap News vs News World Order ( Wikileaks and the War on Journalism)
Rap News: Obama Wins Nobel War is Peace Prize
Written by Abby Martin and Alicia Roldan