A 20-year-old Nas released Illmatic on this day in 1994

Today marks the 24th anniversary of Illmatic, considered one of the greatest rap albums of all-time. It saw 20-year-old Queens-bred Nas pair up with New York producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and Large Professor. Below is the promo video introducing the release.


The Streets Disciple

“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” – Nas, “NY State of Mind”

Nas went on to become one of the greatest lyricists. In 2013, Harvard University established the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship to provide scholars with creative opportunities in the arts. In 2017, Nas sat down with Harvard poetry professor Elisa New to discuss his track “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” from the Illmatic album.

Nasty Nas made his recorded debut on Main Source’s Live at the Barbeque album as an 18-year-old. He wrote the verse when he was 16. Check out the live clip below:

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A trip through New York City, 1911

In 1911, Swedish film company Svenska Biografteatern recorded its trip to New York.

Fortunately, the footage survived and most recently was speed-corrected and reproduced with added street sounds of car horns, horses, and police whistles to give us a sense of the environment back then.

Some observations:

  • Notice all the people wearing hats
  • The streets look a bit empty compared to today’s zoo
  • Cable powered trolleys
  • The kids go nuts when the camera is on them. Nothing’s changed!

What’s your favorite scene?

 

Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan

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Japanese art flooded Western Europe when in 1854, America forced Japan to open its borders to trade.

Some of the prints of Japanese woodcuts made it all the way to Vincent Van Gogh in Paris. He grew obsessed with ukyio-e, or “pictures of the world,” joyful elements he copied into his own art.


‘Seeing with Japanese eye’

Van Gogh amassed a collection of Japanese wood prints in his Paris studio. It was there he started emulating the bright and exotic images of Japanese art, an influence he called Japonaiserie.

“My studio’s quite tolerable, mainly because I’ve pinned a set of Japanese prints on the walls that I find very diverting. You know, those little female figures in gardens or on the shore, horsemen, flowers, gnarled thorn branches.

According to the exhibition of Van Gogh & Japan at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, the artist adopted the ‘bold, flat areas of color, bold contour lines, and prominent diagonals.’ He even cropped subjects at the edges of pictures and used the Japanese unique play on foreground/background spatial effects.

Van Gogh’s Japanese obsession permeated his work. “All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,” he told his brother Theo.

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Courtesan (after Eisen) by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

Find out more about the Van Gogh’s love affair with Japan at the Exhibition Van Gogh & Japan.

‘Water is itself the obstacle to water’

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Leonardo da Vinci obsessed with water more than any of his multidisciplinary interests: architecture, science, painting, and sculpture.

For Leonardo da Vinci, the current represented that perfect chaos that separated air from water. In his Book on Waters, he wrote:

Nothing shares a surface with something and something shares a surface with nothingness. And the surface of something is not part of that thing, whence it follows that the surface of nothingness is part of nothingness, whence it follows that a single surface is the limit between two things that are in contact. Since the surface of water is not part of the water, and hence is not part of the air or of other bodies placed between them, what is it then that divides the air from the water?

Below is one of Leonardo’s sketches on the movement of water from 1508. It demonstrates the paradox of water in, around, and again itself.

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Leonardo, da Vinci, 1508-09 (Paris MS. F)

Writes art historian Irving Lavin, Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institue of Advanced Study:

…water in percussion: that is, water is itself the obstacle to water, and in this case the contrast is between the resulting currents on the surface, under the surface, and surging upward carrying bubbles of entrapped air. The relationship between air and water, both in combination and as analogous media, was also a subject that greatly preoccupied Leonardo and played a critical role in the development of his thought that concerns me here.

The structure of a stream lies within its anti-structure. There’s the unpredictable and disruptive movement of its flow. Yet freshwater slithers over rocks, persisting unperturbed all the way into the mouth of the river.

The chaos of running water seems to be why it works.

Read Leonardo’s Watery Chaos

The evolution of the price tag

Can you imagine having to haggle over everything you bought in a store?

But as businesses got bigger in the 1870s, shopkeepers needed a way to streamline pricing for both sales clerks and customers alike. Two department stores helped pioneer the price tag: Macy’s in New York and Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia.

They adopted the Quaker’s concept of one price on all items, no questions asked. Price tags thus removed the hassle for both stores and the customers.

The price is right, usually

Dynamic pricing still exists though. Whether it’s an Uber surge or last-minute airline tickets to Tahiti, we churn across the internet looking for the best price.

 

Neanderthals were great hunters but poor artists

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An early human painting of a lion from the Chauvet Cave in Southern France

Neanderthals were great hunters but poor artists.

According to a study done by professor Richard Coss, their inability to draw could’ve been due to the fact that they didn’t have to plan as hard as Homo Sapiens to hunt down prey in their native Eurasia.

Homo Sapiens, on the other hand, chased hard to get game in the open grasslands of Africa. They developed superior hand-eye coordination as a result of drawing out their prey on cave walls. Such artistry not only made them better visualizers and hunters, it also helped them develop smarter brains.

Survival of the fittest

Historian and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari also argued that while Neanderthals might have had larger brains than and an even superior tools to fellow Homo Sapiens, they lacked communication and shared stories, concepts that emerged from rounder skulls.

Why there are three types of chopsticks

People have been eating with chopsticks since the 4th century BC. In the below video, historian Edward Wang explains why the chopsticks in China, Japan, and Korea are all unique:

To summarize:

  • The Chinese developed longer chopsticks in the 10th century to share food. Sitting around tables, they needed an extended utensil to reach dishes further away.
  • The Japanese used smaller chopsticks because they believed in maintaining a spiritual cleanliness. Japan’s chopsticks are also pointier because they eat more fish which allows for easier removal of bones.
  • Koreans have been using metal utensils since the 7th century; historically, to avoid arsenic poisoning from perceived enemies. The chopsticks are also flatter and more durable, which saves material and makes them tougher for Korean BBQ.

The word salt ‘was the origin of the world salary’ 💰

salt“The first of the great Roman roads, the Via Salaria, Salt Road, was built to bring this salt not only to Rome but across the interior of the peninsula. This worked well in the Roman part of the Italian peninsula. But as Rome expanded, transporting salt longer distances by road became too costly. Not only did Rome want salt to be affordable for the people, but, more importantly as the Romans became ambitious empire builders, they needed it to be available for the army. The Roman army required salt for its soldiers and for its horses and livestock. At times soldiers were even paid in salt, which was the origin of the word salary and the expression “worth his salt” or “earning his salt.” In fact, the Latin word sal became the French word solde, meaning pay, which is the origin of the word, soldier.”

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

The Yin and Yang of Basketball 🏀

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It started in 1891 when James Naismith, a PE teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts needed to keep his students entertained inside during the winter. He put up two hoops at either end and used a soccer ball for shooting. Dribbling became the only way to move forward. Fouling led to brawls. Naismith called the game “Basketball.” 🏀

Below are some of the key milestones outlined in this fascinating podcast on the origins of basketball from 99% Invisible.

1891: The first basketball game. Naismith makes an arbitrary decision to make the hoop 10 feet.

1936: The first slam dunk in an organized basketball game. Big men or “goons” dominate the game.

1945: Goaltending gets banned.

1966: NCAA Texas Western beats Kentucky. The Texas Western plays were all black, Kentucky all white. Pat Riley played for Kentucky.

1967: The game gets political. The dunk becomes “the black power manifest.” NCAA bans the dunk for 10 years, a racist decision. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in disbelief. Without the dunk, basketball becomes boring.

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1970s: The ABA introduces the three-point shot, an egalitarian shift that gave smaller players new opportunities.

1976: The ABA merges with the NBA.

Flash forward through the years of Bird, Magic, the Bad Boys, Jordan, Shaq/Kobe….

And Steph Curry, a skinny guard at 6’3, dominates the league today by shooting lights out. The young generation wants to play like Steph Curry. The NBA game becomes about quickness and traditionalists (e.g. Greg Popovic) fear the game is getting out of control. What’s next: a 4-point shot?

Whatever happens to the dunk or the 3-point (or 4-point), there will always be the layup.

Listen: 99% Invisible: 199- The Yin and Yang of Basketball