Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Favorite Old Thing #1: Mcrophone Check

Like dating someone new, the sense of a new thing's awesomeness is quite acute; you are often compelled to tell any and everyone about it.   It really should be everyone's favorite thing.  At some point, however, you realize it's no more than your own private Idaho.   There's no shame in that, but it's a little dull to act as if it's for everyone.   That's the danger of touting the new thing:  by the time I sit down to speak on it, its "favoriteness" has invariably faded.  So, instead I'm going to tout media, culture, music, art, etc., which have stood the test of time (for me)  but still does not enjoy, I believe, the audience it deserves.  Call it: my favorite "old" things.

So, favorite old thing #1:  NPR Microphone Check with ATCQ's Ali Shaheed Muhammad and veteran music journalist Frannie Kelley. 

Microphone Check is true and golden.  A hip hop history, but served up with the very grounded wisdom of Ali Shaheed, and a certain earnest, not too shy existence on Kelley's part.  You could go straight to their episodes with Pete Rock, D-Nice or Hank Shocklee of P.E., but can just as easily get served up something profound in the interview of a much lesser known (and much younger) artist.  So the link here is to Terrace Martin, a hip hop [music!] producer and horn player in the Los Angeles crew that includes Kamasi Washington and Thundercat.  Enjoy.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

HHGF #4 - "U.N.I.T.Y.," Queen Latifah - Unity?

In barbershops across the country a perennially strong candidate for platitude of the year for the best path towards black empowerment is... unity: Black people can't really get to where we need to go until we are united.  Folks will harken back to the days of segregation, where, for example, sharing space and not merely circumstance fostered a collective mindset that facilitated our working together.  And integration is posed in opposition, as it necessarily fragmented black communities, parsed experience and plucked and peeled off talent.  

Ironically, this exhortation almost never considers the treatment of black women within the community, and what a unity that fully respects black women might look like, a unity that stigmatizes acts of physical, psychological or verbal abuse and microaggressions against women.

It'd be great to say, hip hop to the rescue!  But the fact is that for too many years you could it has condoned this state of affairs.  Many argue hip hop’s actually promoted it.  Enter Queen Latifah's U.N.I.T.Y.  Here, she moves for an end.  In the first verse her target is the name calling, of "bitch or ho" and unsolicited groping.  In the second, it's the domestic violence, both physically and spiritually.  Her man has a bad day at work and gets rough, taking it out on her.   She should know better than to tolerate her man getting "rough" after having a bad day, but she "so deep in love" she became dependent and too scared to let him go.  Black men are targeted in our society, yet that suffering cannot be a license to displace our pain onto those closest to us.

I used to think this song was exclusively directed to black women, and a call for closing ranks against abuse of all stripes.  Like, “Sistahs, let 'em know!”  And while it definitely aims to embolden women to resist disrespect (and, disretrospect)* it's directed at the brothers in the barbershops and everywhere.  "You say I'm nothing without ya, but I'm nothing with ya."  It's a shame on all men when a woman can legitimately respond in this way.  A shame.  We need to make 1+1=3, not 1+1=1.

This week, pay special attention to your relationships with members of the opposite sex. Don't contribute to their belittlement.  Better yet, militate against it.  We can in fact be uplifted through unity, but only if each person, each part contributing  to the whole is itself already whole.

* see MC Lyte

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

My New Favorite Thing #1

Ok, in all honesty, I have had several new New Favorite Things in the recent weeks since this first New Favorite Thing. And I know many of you done been up on this long before I even knew it was legal to karaoke in your car. (Imaginary you's right now, I figure, because I wonder how many of those page views on my data page are actually just, umm, me).  Or before I knew it possible to teleport a new passenger in without even stopping...   

That said, in honor of its awesome favoriteness-ness, I'm nonetheless using it to launch My New Favorite Thing Series.  

(Hey, did you see how I'm trying to do that whole Amy Cuddy/William James/somatic feedback/ smile first and then you'll feel happy sort of thing?  I mean, doesn't just suggesting favorite any-thing make you happy-(er)?  Ok,or at least not sad(der)? Ok?)* 
                     Carpool Karaoke with                          MICHELLE OBAMA!!!!!!

*Very, very old old and, yeah, ill-advised favorite thing: parentheses.  (-:  :-)

Monday, August 1, 2016

HHGF #3: "Me Myself and I" - Black Expansionism

“Style is surely our own thing, not the false disguise of showbiz."- De La Soul, “Me, Myself & I” on 3 Feet High and Rising, (1989)

There was a time when De La Soul was considered black hippies.  Paisley, daisies and all that.*  

Be yourself, be unique.  It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this song is about individuality.  In the late 80’s De La Soul was asserting  the legitimacy of a certain post-soul black identity.  Or maybe even more pointedly, the illegitimacy of limits on what black people could be.   I’m going to call De La and other Post-soul** culture producers who are unmistakably rooted in black culture to be expansionists.   Again and again we must remember that racism is, greatly, the denial of another group’s humanity.  And a hard kernel of this denial is refusing to recognize the individuality of its members.  

But I also love the jiu-jitsu here.   In stressing people respect individuality, Posdunous also finds shelter in commonality: my third favorite verse is when he says, “People think they dis my person by stating I'm darkly pack / I know this so I point at Q-Tip and he states, 'Black is Black'”  All of black can be beautiful: more black expansionism.

Posdunous here demands that you – the industry, the media, the consumer recognize and respect his singularity. “Please oh-please let Plug 2 be himself, not what you read or write.”  Speaking for themselves, check the expanding circles:  in demanding recognition of his individuality, he pushes same for group member, and thus for all black individuals, which surely holds for all people.  

I don’t want to forget the context of this song.  And I don’t want to drown in its particulars.  This week, strive to express your individuality, but as you do so strive equally to recognize the particularity of any people you have been prone to have “read” or “written” of in broad strokes.
*Yeah, all yat.  At the very end of the video De La defines daisy - “Da inner sound y’all.”
** Mark Anthony Neal has alot to say about “post-soul”.  We can take up Toure’s “post-racial” assertion another day.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

HHGF #2 - "Letter to My Countrymen," Brother Ali

"The situation of oppressed people
Shows what we feel it means to be a human being.What does it mean to be American?
I think the struggle to be free is our inheritance."

In “Letter to My Countrymen” Brother Ali flows quietly, earnestly, as he calls upon all of us, his fellow countrymen (and women, I’m sure) to awaken to the responsibility we bear for making our country a better place.  He also specifically entreats white folks to acknowledge white supremacy, the privilege and advantage they enjoy by virtue of color, and then choose to be a partner in fulfilling the advertised mission of our country, which is to be free.   
We all bear the burden of responsibility to action.   Though only some people benefit from white supremacy, everyone is diminished by it – spiritually if not also materially.  Black folks, of course; also Latinos, Asians, native Americans, Europeans and white folks too.*   This sentiment is reflected in many other rap songs, and by hip hop’s spiritual and intellectual forebears.   I can’t help but hear Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours” when I listen to this song, though the choices framed by Brother Ali are so much more fundamental.  Why would anyone who does have privilege and advantage voluntarily cede it (“getting with that”) to “fight” in the freedom movement (“getting with this”)?   A top 5 MLK line is that  injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and Dr. Cornel West, who riffs as the track concludes, repeats this maxim often.  And on Outkast’s “13th Floor” Andre 3000 said the same thing.**   
Still, I like how Brother Ali goes farther.  What he seems to be suggesting is that fully embracing the responsibility of carrying out America’s promise may enable us to transcend our human habits limitations, rewrite our future, so to speak.   Opportunity, not just duty.    It’s not an easy thing, for sure, but “the struggle to be free is our inheritance.”  It’s our birthright, he asserts gently but with insistence.
You may agree that no one is free while others are oppressed, and you may agree that being an American, or having access to some particular form of privilege, wherever you are, requires you to be active in the freeing (liberation) of others.  I certainly hope so.  This week, identify some form of privilege which you most certainly possess, reject the entitlement, and do one thing to benefit those on the opposite end of your privilege.  In this summer of 2016, whether you’re retweeting the all lives matter/blue lives matter meme rebuttal or engaging in civil disobedience or just educating your wonderful and old and miseducated and, yes, again, wonderful but racially ignorant grandmother, you can take part in the struggle to make America more free.
*Not a new idea, obviously, but to be specific people of European descent processed by the U.S. racial order to occupy the identity of white person.   

** “We ain’t gon’ stop until we hit the big screen. Sike! ‘Cause no one is free when others are oppressed.”  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Melania Trump and Plagiarism - Gross Incompetence or Something More Suspect?

Apparently Melania Trump's GOP Convention speech plagiarized Michelle Obama's.  You might consider this simply another example of the campaign's gross incompetence, and draw a line between this and the inevitable incompetency of a Trump presidency.   But I think The HRC campaign would  be smart to shrug and move on.   Two reasons why Democrats and the liberal leaning media should not take the bait:

 One, we've seen this movie before.  Sympathetic non-politicians flubbing their lines and bumpkin-relatives trapped in a time warp, better to look the other way than grant them the sympathy vote.  Remember Clint Eastwood "empty chair" at the 2012 GOP Convention.  He seemed senile, and was undeniably old, the Dems were smart to keep the snickering to a minimum, lest they turn the GOP's lemon into lemon-aid.  Deny Trump, courtesy Melania, the sympathy vote. 

Two, besides granting Melania the sympathy vote Dems run the risk of reprising their role as the PC police.  I can see a surrogate  now: "Plagiarism? Which part?  Did Michelle Obama also become a citizen on June  28, 2006??  (Then sideways wink). Do we really want to get started on the citizenship of her husband??  Anyways, this is another phony issue brought to you by the PC Police.  Mr. Trump will never be distracted by trivial issues like this when America is burning.  While ISIS is beheading babies.  While thugs, yes thugs, are gunning down cops."  Let it go.


I also think there's an extenuating reason why a Trump speehwriter could write or approve such obvious plagiarism: they don't give damn. You could call it a species of white supremacy. Dismissively, their underlying sentiment is: We're taking back EVERYTHING.  This is all our stuff, even the words you claim as your own. 

Perhaps I'm overreacting, but the dismissiveness here reminds me of the very first case we covered in Property class when I was in law school, Johnson v. M'Intosh. It establishes the legal justification for  expropriation of Native American land.  Yep, manifest destiny. When it came to establishing who possessed this land we call America first, John Marshall, that paragon of what, judicial craftiness, was pretty direct, uncrafty, unabashed.   Just like Melania Trump's plagiarism.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

HHGF #1 - "Don't Take Days Off - Dubb ft. Nipsey Hussle

Few would look at hip hop as a source of boundless wisdom.  And most who would are likely to limit this recognition to the “conscious rapper.”  But of all people, members of the hip hop nation (lapsed or active) should know to look beyond labels and costumes.  So though many of my exemplars of hip hop’s grandfatherly wisdom are likely to spring from well-known and revered hip hop OG’s like KRS-ONE, ATCQ,  Ice Cube and even Dead Prez, I insist we acknowledge that it can also come from, well, Young G’s1.  So the first H2GF installment will be from, well, a relative newborn duo of rappers, Dubb and Nipsey Hussle.

Like a boomerang, I’ll begin with a digression.  The other day I was listening to legendary MC Eiht  discussing with DJ Vlad Tupac’s regression to gangster.  MC Eiht’s main point was that Tupac didn’t have to be gangster: when compared to the options MC Eiht’s native Compton set before him, Tupac’s choice of the lifestyle was gratuitous.  Eiht straight up shrugged his shoulders and said, “I hate to say this, but he brought it upon himself.”  Harsh.

As MC Eiht detailed the basic facts behind what really happened to Tupac (like a hip hop Reza Aslan???), pointing to guys whose names rhyme with leaf and kane2,, it struck me just how mundane Tupac’s demise was.  So, floating above the almost apotheosization of Tupac is a higher truth.  His passing simply reflects humans refusal to accept the basic facts of life - you get what you pay for.  It applies to greatest rapper3 (many candidates, but he wins by a plurality), and it applies to the “least” of us.

So, same coin, flip side is if you pay, something good might come your way.   That’s the basic message of “Don’t Take Days Off.”   The chorus repeats “Won’t take no loss.  Won’t take days off.  We go so hard.  Until we fall.”  Nothing’s guaranteed - and hey, there’s no requirement to hustle - but if we don’t “go for it”, “it” -- whatever it is - won’t come to us. And be smart about it too.  If you grow up in the ghetto you know this.  Like Dubb raps, “It’s just a playground full of mood swings.  Die for the color of your shoe strings.”    And though the ghetto’s a little different from the meadow, the burbs, the hustle is imperative there, too.  And while we’re at it, well, neither New Orleans’s 9th Ward or even Chicago (Chiraaq) is the worst of it.  After all, they are still is worlds apart from  let’s say, Homs, Syria.  Regardless of who you are or where you are, you can’t take these breaths for granted.  You can’t take any days off.  And if you take for granted your relative advantage, it’s like you taking whole years off.

Thank you Dubb and Nipsey for painting so starkly yet beautifully the fundamental proposition of our human condition when it comes to action.   So, a final thought to start this week:  Recognize your gifts and ability.  Your debts and liabilities too.  And don’t take one day off.  Go hard.

It reminds me of one of my flows:
So easy to forget tho,
cause I got debts and
seems like liabilities,
my ability to belie
my power, minimize its bounty,
basket over my bushel
oh, what an ability
I don’t want to have,
cause it aint nothing for my soul
It aint no salve,
just an excuse
to abdicate responsibility,
like saying, “Sorry sista’
my pockets, they empty,”
But you still got pants,
not to mention
We are  --
I am –
So blind, sometimes...

 1 Yeah, the YG pun/insinuation is intended.  YG also drops some gems.  Even if...
2  DJ Vlad interview with MC Eiht
3 Many, many candidates, but, c'mon, how does Tupac not win the plurality?