Archive for the 'Black and Proud' Category

200 Or Less: Flight 187

Fifty flirts with fatalism. Forget flirts, fancies futility. While a reluctant Jay-Z downplays conflict and heralds success, 50 Cent openly contests the value of earthly gains. Curtis Jackson has seen the mountaintop; his G4 jet crashes into it. Most compelling about “Flight 187”: video mural depicting a confused but decidedly ironic multi-millionaire. If celebration and champagne are in vogue, macabre meltdowns are 50’s leverage, his levee stemming the tide.

Drake, the reluctant baller, has purred about the pitfalls of progress. 50 hasn’t pretended as much about his need for riches. Here, the first signs of wealth’s drag on his conscience. Not one for window shopping, he’s indulged even the negative parts of fame, namely feuding and vanity. But the yield has been curious.

“Brought you from the hood/Destination, hell or heaven?”

The floating question mark deranges his song nearly as much as its groaning vocal thump. In one “mm,” there’s baby mama drama, death visions, astuteness. Like Biggie before him, 50’s been ready to die from the inception. Specifically, it’s the imminence of his dream. As he nears the symbolic end, life’s hold tightens inexplicably. Black manhood ultimately corrodes vitality, discarding dreamers in the offing.

I’m a rider.

ManchildInThePromisedLand

Bring Some Soul For My Robot

The internet connection is squeaking again in fits of malcontent. Videos just don’t play like they used to. Need about 10 minutes to check my digital mailbox, another 15 to scroll through the article links friends posted, 20 more to go through the various feeds to publications. Instant information, or at least the semblance of it, is like daily milk for the suckling neurons. For every sensuous byte, there’s an equal fire sparking within, gluing to genetic circuitry and drawing the flesh ever so close to the machine. What of the modern art galleries that feature video stills and metal sculptures? Do they lose the essence of “art” because the forms change with the era? Music flows dually in the currents of art and information. Video killed the radio star by necessity as technology sectored the world of sound. Wax records swallowed up live musicians who couldn’t cross over to vinyl in time. It’s the stuff of science fiction: the Matrix descending on the airwaves first, then into the brain patterns, and on and on.

Both sides of the digital divide have their place, but only the artists whose voices we hear materially captive, confined to cassettes, compact discs, and videos exist for our grandchildren. All the same, cardiovascular rhythm burns off technology’s bulk, leaving traces of the human soul within the filaments. The music with the best chance of survival inside the techno-sphere, then, is the kind that forces its heart into the robot, filling it with lifeblood to make it distinguishable from just another voicebox. Audio recording methods will forever mold how songs are preserved, but the true measure of timelessness is our ability to operate both inside and outside of wiring. Aretha Franklin, Nas and Jimi Hendrix will outlast any disc where their voices are heard partly because of their extensive catalogs and partly because of their infinitely soulful stance.

Now, as before, there are countless tweaks to enhance the vocal register, including the machine we know simply as Auto-tune, which eponymously indicates just how to “automate” a human sound with a robot’s hand. The current music climate welcomes robotic sounds, the metallic hum of a thousand modems. But it can be hard to differentiate the refuse from the jewels. Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It On the Alcohol” exists in the same crowded room with Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex,” shoving one another for space along the same frequency. Foxx wins. Mavado and Vybz Kartel smooth the edges of gangster dancehall with bleats and beeps, while Drake and Lil Wayne observe looking for clues. Which of these robotic voices makes sense to the human ear over decades? Continue reading ‘Bring Some Soul For My Robot’

Josh Howard In “Fear of A Black Athlete”

One of my favorite NBAers, Josh Howard, got into another scrape with the media in a summer of disfavor for him. In a moment of YouTube candor, one that he will not soon forget, Howard jokes about the National Anthem saying “I don’t even celebrate this sh*t. I’m black.” Just as many Blacks understood, and even sympathized with Reverend Jeremiah Wrights curdling invective against American misdeeds, Howard expressed a sentiment perhaps only known as a private complaint among us. Obviously, Howard should be much more aware of how young fans (of all races) perceive his words, avoiding expletives when he can. The real story, however, is the reactionary media’s want to throttle Josh Howard for being himself.

Josh Howard needs some mic control advice

Josh Howard needs some mic control advice

The public neglects athlete opinion because the players have only sport to be concerned with for 98% of their year. But, in doing so, so many sports columnists want to muzzle their sports heroes for fear that they will say or do the same shocking, and frightening things associated with Black manhood. In that sense, Howard has aroused a backlash typical of sporting press: he is too rich to talk about the Black condition. Or, even better, he has no right to speak from his envious position. The presumption here is that wealth somehow eradicates racism, which shows just how little some journalists know about walking a mile in the next man’s high tops. Black athletes are in the fishbowl of criticism, waiting anxiously until their moment of judgment comes. Some handle it well. LeBron James has carefully deflected questions that would lead anyone down the road of personal beliefs. Ray Allen has also been the media’s beloved for his willingness to give the thoughtfully safe answer. Josh Howard, Baron Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson and others have taken the opposite tack. They know how much their privilege puts them in league with the most staunch Republican’s income brackets, but they choose express dissent from the American values that thrash the people who look like they do. The Josh Howard controversy will soon pass but some other Black athlete will have to negotiate the hazard of speaking his mind, and refuting the accusations of being ungrateful and unappreciative. Since those arguments only rehash trite notions of “knowing your place” I have devised a response mechanism for the Josh Howards of the world:

The Black Athlete Response Plan In Free Speech Terms

  • You’re Too Rich to Complain a.k.a. Wealthy Blacks Have It Easy Mike Fisher of the Dallas Morning News writes:

    Josh Howard was blessed by being surrounded by people who loved him. He was blessed with basketball skills that allowed him a four-year education at Wake Forest. He turned that into a professional career that over the course of a decade or so will pay him $10 million a year.
    He has loved ones and he owns fine homes and he owns all the automobiles he could ever dream of buying and he’s been given/earned financial security for his children and their grandchildren and their grandchildren and their grandchildren. And their grandchildren.

    Mike Fisher should have a conversation with Danny Glover, a wealthy renowned black actor who can neither catch a cab, nor find an American studio to produce his Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic. Mike Fisher should talk to the Black men of Sacramento, who are stopped by highway patrols at a much higher rate, despite living in one of the most affluent sections of the Sunshine State. Wealth and opportunity do not change the ugly biases people demonstrate based on skin color. To many a Texan racist, Howard is nothing but a 6-foot-7 black man, who affirms some of their most deep-seated fears with just his physical stature. Fisher means to say that Josh Howard does not count his blessings because he’s willing to question his country’s racial issues, as if the two could not be mutually exclusive. It’s that kind of circular logic that disables dialogue between groups of people. If racism could be bought off, Oprah, Jay-Z, Tiger Woods, Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan would have stakes in its elimination, or at least have looked into it.

    "Dyou look into that yet?"

  • Athletes aren’t prepared to speak on free speech or other important issues
  • Charley Rosen of Fox Sports writes:

    However, racism in America remains a serious and sensitive subject — one that has to be dealt with in a serious and sensitive fashion. It says here that Howard easily could have found a better, more fruitful way to voice his feeling about this.
    As it is, his foul-mouthed rant contributes nothing positive, creates unnecessary antagonisms, obscures the basic issue and demonstrates that he’s sorely in need of a crash course in anger management.

    Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell formed one of the strongest social coalitions imaginable in their quest to balance their privilege with the incredible disparities in human rights they had witnessed. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar was an outspoken athlete, rife with contradictions, poised to articulate his views no matter the cost to his athletic career. Josh Howard and Ron Artest are not as versed in sociopolitical discourse as the aforementioned greats, but you can bet they have been influenced by those conversations that came before them. Charley Rosen is an elder statesman of sporting history himself so he should know that no voice can be shut out of the conversation. For him to define what is “unnecessary antagonism” or supposedly angry is using stubbornness and rigidity to indicate what goes in a conversation about race. The above clip shows that Howard is joking but there is a double meaning. He knows intuitively that the freedom of this country allows him to criticize its still wayward tendencies. He also knows that humor can hide the eminent pain of knowing this paradox. Rosen would do better checking his censorious comments at the door.

  • If you don’t like it, why don’t you just go to another country? This is the most rich argument of all. Rhetorical questions like these needs to be followed with similar rhetorical questions. Here are a few off the top: Is this the same country that jails Michael Vick for his torture and murder of dogs even while defending a slippery definition of torture? Is this the same country that reinforces the concept of liberty while boasting one of the globe’s largest prison systems? Is this the same country that rewards sexual predators with celebrity while publishing sexual offender lists for anyone looking for that information online? Is this the same country where everyone wants to turn a buck with entrepreneurial freedom but no one volunteers to be taxed? Oh yea, it’s that country. Far be it from me to emphasize these contradictions as negative. On the contrary, addressing these contradictions helps to make us better as individuals. Josh Howard is exercising his right to free speech like any man should be able to. In our era, YouTube has made free speech an even more potent (and inadvertent) utility in expanding the conversation about what constitutes a personal belief, and which comments test the boundaries of tolerance. So be it.The media cycle moves too quickly for our senses to grind down what anything means. The circus of responses has “obscured the basic issue,” to use Rosen’s language, nudging us to find an hasty opinion before importing our fellow man’s rationale for examination. Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and a maverick in his own right. He had to answer to his irate ticket-holders and fans when Howard let his words slip out. But instead of fining Howard, or reprimanding him based on his rash behavior, he posted the racist e-mails and angry tirades on his blog to put the mirror back on the same fans who found Howard so irascible in his light-hearted assessment of patriotism. Cuban has since removed the e-mails, but had this to say about making their addresses temporarily public: Cuban said he knew those e-mailers would be receiving “the same level of hate, ignorance and judgment as Josh had and that’s what bothered me all day.”Josh Howard took the stage that so few Black athletes will, and faced the music. Fortunately, his remarks allow the rest of us to question why he would say it, rather than dismissing his mode of expression.
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    I’m A Jamaican in New York

    These few weeks have felt like Prelude to An Historic Speech or America Week. The Election bonanza so fittingly dovetailed the Olympics. The Democrats and Republicans put on a show that showed how disparate and simultaneously ethnocentric America can be. It’s difficult to place myself in the middle of the American spectrum. First, I’m black so I have dealt with pressing “otherness” since I learned that blacks in this country were treated differently through a system of historical treatise. Then, uncoerced, Aime Cesaire showed me that the same system effectively suppressed blacks in the West Indies (of America/Britain) and in Africa.

     

    Obama

    Obama

    Since I was born in Kingston, Jamaica but raised stateside, I always had an allegiance to a place where most of my memories had long dissolved. I was stumped trying to figure out my Blackness, my Jamaican-ness, and my American-ness in the face of this larger diaspora idea, which in itself implies dissonance. Then, this week, as if to tap me on the shoulder, Lamika Young, educator and friend spoke to me over chat about Barack Obama. She asserted that the idea of him being named “Barack Obama,” and in turn his separateness from Black Americans, made him less threatening to the general population. I was willing to acknowledge that his exotic nature and name sets him apart from any generalized description of Black American. In the same huffy breath, I was dismayed that we were getting into a discussion of what makes someone Black American. Was she telling me that Black America had institutionalized Blacker Than Thou tests? Continue reading ‘I’m A Jamaican in New York’

    Dreams of My Father

    Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus last week and all I could think about was how vulnerable he is. Politically, he is a fierce competitor. There’s nothing about him that says “back down” and, even when he was hedging about whether or not he might run in 2005, his fire smoldered. He still strikes me, nevertheless, as a vulnerable man: pliable not in his manner but in his beliefs. Then again, I have a predilection for reading the people deemed “fatherless,” those people who primarily (for whatever reason) were raised by their mothers. This is not a discourse on masculinity by any means. I was raised by my mother and I feel it makes me somehow more masculine. But there’s a quiet sensitivity –perhaps even an air of capitulation — among the half-raised population. Billy Sunday of XXL Mag once wrote a blog about the effects of the fatherless generation of hip-hoppers, positing that the reason for Tupac loyalty was partly that he was an icon of the mothered children. Billy strayed dangerously off course when he insinuated the softness of that contingent. Although I’ll give him his credit for recognizing that children are susceptible to their parental influences, I won’t grant him the license to make sociological conclusions regarding that group. Still, Barack Obama is that representation and more. He employs some of the panache required to be a hip-hop spokesperson as well as the humility of a bruised boy from a Single Parent Home. Like Clinton before him, his origins play less like a sob story than an underdog drive, grind stones and all that. That’s why his campaign has taken an up-tick, surged for the dramatic. Not solely because of his oratory ebullience, but also because his story is that of a million other neglected boys and girls. When the underclass rises, it’s serious news. Continue reading ‘Dreams of My Father’

    New Blood Pt. 2

    Soulja Boy, as I discussed in this post has ideas about digital popularity that are germane to his age set. His song, for what it lacks in permanence, pops in other ways. Screaming, ringtone-obsessed teens can relate to it for a few months so the world, momentarily, pays him attention. But what of the newer rappers with exposure on smaller levels who are oppressed by their older counterparts. Lupe says he wants to quit after his next work, which is hardly credulous but who could blame him? Saigon has also expressed frustration at being wholly ignored by his label: the old heads shunning new talent once more. Joe Budden (along with LL Cool J, Redman, and Method Man) has specifically taken issue with Jay-Z hogging the limelight while his material and that of other newer artists has been neglected.

    Joey in particular, who has chosen to release his Mood Muzik 3 mixtape with Amalgam Digital, is letting it be known that fresh faces would help more than harm. He uses the Jay/Jordan analogy against his boss just as he did it in the “Pump It Up” wars of 2003 saying that all the kids remember about Jordan is him getting crossed by Iverson. Telling indeed. The song expresses some of the unease among younger artists about the stagnation in the game.

    Talk To Me

    Which brings me to The Project…New York’s finest up-and-coming trio to give post-millennial rap some fresh prospects, challenge the pecking order. I know the members of The Project personally but, they have easily some of the best rap on the rise in years. Along with Brooklyn emcee Cavalier, The Project has renewed my sense of metropolitan pride. A few weeks ago, they performed in a star-studded bill with Little Brother and Evidence. I had seen Little Brother in October with Brother Ali, and thought them thoroughly upstaged by the Minnesota albino. This time, in a more intimate venue, they shined and proselytized appropriately with soulful tunes and Phonte’s irrepressible comedy act. The Project opened for Little Brother respectably with tunes to keep the crowd dancing like their soon-to-be hit “Soul Banger.” I had an epiphany about soul rap at that Southpaw show, wondering aloud if boom-bap had lost its soul, preferring to concede to the predictable head nod of whiteboy college fans. Continue reading ‘New Blood Pt. 2’

    Ball-a-Holics

    I never bought the critique levied on Jordan Era black basketball players for too much blind indivualism before. Ballhogging is the inalienable right of anyone looking to make that career-ending, championship-winning shot eleven years after he first strapped up the laces. Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant exemplify Fab Five Shortsthis megalomania with their selfish, 25-shots-a-night entitlements. Lebron James, in his own way, also extends from this guard-centric tradition. James flows more smoothly in an offense but one that is still predicated upon him having the rock by any means. I didn’t buy the naysaying before because in lieu of “playing the right way” we had a storm of hip-hop influenced power players who held the nineties down with baggy shorts and truculent attitudes. At best, they railed against certain hallowed institutions of accepted playing style. The Jordan Clones did not win as often as he did, or even live up to their heir/Air hype machines but they played defense, hustled, passed out of double teams and generally showed a willingness to take the final shot and the blame if they missed.

    But with the baggy shorts came some irascible attitudes, piss-poor rap albums and excessive behaviors. Much more fodder for already rabidly racist sportswriters who looked to lampoon these new styles and new jack players.

    At one end there was Chris Webber, AI and other Hall-of-Fame caliber players in the hip-hop spirit, but at another pole were fool’s gold follies like Stephon Marbury, Jalen Rose and Zach Randolph. All of these players share two traits: selfish play (disregard their assists which stem from impetuous, unfeeling forays into the lane); and their doomed stints with the New York Knicks. Since their last championship run in 1998, the Knicks have shifted from being a “character team” with a prayer circle convening after wins to the epitome of hip-hop selfishness. Of course this comes as a shock to a die-hard like me who kind of expects toughness and hard work from an organization paying its roster nearly two times that of smaller teams. It’s even more shocking in the wake of my subjective allegiance to all things hip-hop. To be fair, hip-hop ballers like Kobe Bryant still drop 81 points in games and regularly win games due to their individualism. Carmelo Anthony (certainly a hip-hop baller) has the most lethal jab step in the league and a paltry assist average to prove his cred. Even so, they make the NBA game exciting because they turn fourth quarters into unpredictable swirls of star power. In spite of it seeming scripted that Kobe Bryant always takes the stare-down, triple-fake three with his team down eight, it is no premeditated act. It’s a function of his presumed superiority.

    “Why not take it if I’m this good?”

    But for the non-Kobes of the world like Stephon Marbury, those same rights to ridiculous shots have been ordained by mythical hip-hop basketball gods. And yet a notch lower, Jamal Crawford, who for all his talents will never be an All-Star, has adopted this mentality. I’m elated when he scores 52 on Detroit while hitting umpteen straight shots but less so when he jacks three straight ill-advised shots during a relatively close game. I’m stunned/amazed when he abuses Denver at their home stadium after being down 15, grabs the game-winning steal and sinks the winning three. Not so much impressed when he throws full-court lob passes to the docile Eddy Curry.

    Must we take the good with the bad? Just as a caricatured gangster act has dominated hip-hop for the past 8 years, the same strange, monolithic act has descended on NBA players who might otherwise be good. It’s not because the gamers have gotten younger either. Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudemire are wholly different beings on the basketball court, the former possessing an altruism that causes us to question his heart, the latter moving by sheer force and insular will. Imagine a league wherein a talent like Garnett gets berated for his team skills. Sounds strange doesn’t it? But here we are, not because of young players but because of premature, precocious players.

    Aaron McGruder is never afraid to turn the mirror on black culture for his scathing satire on “The Boondocks.” This episode calls into question the erosion of skill and the rise of materialism without resorting to the smug analysis of TV sports shows. Charles Barkley will forever believe that a better brand of basketball player existed when he played, which to an extent is true, but he’ll never question the transition (much less implicate his legacy as a cause). McGruder, by contrast, has used Riley Freeman to typify the grandiose buffoonery that exists in Madison Square Garden.

    The BoonDocks Episode – Ball-a-Holics

    The team helmed by a selfish, single-minded point guard from Chicago’s mean streets will now live to doom itself. I can’t believe I’m admitting this even as I write it. Good character — no, winning character — is better for a basketball team than a collection of stars. I thought I would never come out of my affixed belief system; it’s the one the exalts the effects of hip-hop on larger culture for better or worse. Unfortunately, one element in hip-hop has ruined basketball.

    My last visit to the Garden infuriated me on this note. Every single time Zach Randolph caught the ball, with double- and triple-teams swarming, he shot it or threw it away. He didn’t even think to pass. Now, Eddy Curry was once prone to succumb to good double-teams…hell, so was Tim Duncan. But those players suffered more from passing deficiencies than their own selfishness. Randolph allows himself to be the Black Hole on a squad already loaded with Black Holes: the rock goes in but it sure don’t come out.

    Then it occurred to me that these same young men probably sit isolated on the team plane, enveloped by headphones, listening to gangster music. Rolling solo is (supposedly) the mark of a man in headphone world. A few years ago, when Phil Jackson railed against hip-hop style overtaking his Laker team, I shuddered. The counterculture hippie Buddhist pothead was crying foul over my culture. How dare he!

    After some analysis, Phil was not all right but he got pretty damn close with his assessment. Now, that’s not to say Tim Duncan, consummate team player, is not hip-hop. We all know he bumps that in the speakers. Chris Paul, J-Kidd, Deron Williams, Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kenny Smith and a slew of other capable, unselfish players also come in the hip-hop tradition of play. But the worst sores on the league are no doubt influenced by the individuality plague. Perhaps now that 50 Cent has been conquered, the intractable egomania palling black athletes will give way to some less rigid, more holistic ideas of sport. Until then, I’m hoping Ricky Davis scores 65 in a game that I watch on league pass as a tribute to all the selfish homeys out there.