The W List

W LIST W

VOLUME IV.  5.18.12

We hereby present to you the Wondaland W LIST….a funky gathering of remarkable art i facts and experiences guaranteed to keep you balanced and on the tightrope for at least the next seven days…

(in no particular order, but arrayed in a fashion to make you smile)

1. The Facebook IPO.

Time to crack open the piggy bank for the biggest tech IPO in history. For opening day details and predictions, read here.

2. Donna Summer

The woman who introduced the world to disco passed away this week at the age of 63, a fact that “saddened” even the President.  Digital Underground fans should know there would have been no “Freaks of the Industry” without her. And David Guetta fans should know that she paved the way for dance music on the pop charts.  For more details on her life and legacy, read here.  And celebrate by dancing (or loving) to the classic Donna Summer song below, the original 17-minute album version of “Love to Love You Baby.” Enjoy!

3. Bollywood Dreams by JonathanTogovnik.

A collection of stunning Bollywood photos courtesy of the acclaimed photographer Jonathan Togovnik.  As Slum Millionaire proved to the Academy and the world, the film industry in India is serious, exhilerating and bursting over with great stories, songs and emotions.  Experience all that in this book and more… A $30 ticket to India that you can take again and again.

4. Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York, 1989-92 by Stuart Baker (editor) and Chantal Regnault (photographer).

Speaking of photos and intriguing art scenes, New York continues to stun us again and again.  And over the years, black folks in New York have been steady innovators in music, dance, fashion, you name it.  All of that innovation is on display in this wonderful rush of photos collected by Stuart Baker.  Make no mistake: this is the late 80′s black gay club scene that Madonna (hmmm what’s the kindest word we can use?) appropriated in order to make her worldwide smash single and video for the song “Vogue.” And if you’re wondering where she and her dance descendants (ummmmm Lady Gaga) got their funk from…look no further…(see the photo above)

5. Chuck Brown.

Another funk genius has passed away.  Hailed everywhere as “The Father of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown was  tireless onstage, dancing and playing to the very end.  And we’ll never forget his many funk classics which include the party anthem “Busting Loose” (see below).  Read more on his life and legacy here.

6. Spy: The Secret World of Espionage (Discovery Times Square Exhibit, New York)

Remember watching James Bond when you were young and believing anything was possible? Exploding cigars, collapsible motor scooters, shoes with listening devices embedded in the heel.  Well, thanks to this new exhibit, you can see that reality is a lot like your very fondest childhood fantasies.  It truly is possible to poison your enemies with a coin.  And unlike the rest of the fogies at the exhibit, you’ve known  and believed that since you were five years old. And you were right! For more exhibit details, read here.

7.  Michael Eric Dyson.

We just want to take a moment to salute Michael Eric Dyson who went to war this week with black church conservatives over the Obama gay marriage announcement. You’ve gotta hear Michael preachin to really get the true sound of freedom.  Watch here.

8. John Douglas Thompson.

Who knew the greatest Shakespearean actor alive was black? We sure didn’t.  But according to James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar at Columbia, Thompson is “the best American actor in Shakespeare, hands down.” Find out this and more about Thompson in the revealing New Yorker profile.

9. Aaron Sorkin Signs On to the Steve Jobs Biopic.

That’s all we have to say. Really. We’re excited. And oh yeah, according to Sorkin, it won’t be a standard “cradle to grave” biography.  And double, oh yeah, Steve Wozniak is involved.  That’s a lot to take in, we know. Read more here.

10. Belita Woods

One of the funkiest voices ever has just left for the mothership.  On May 14th, Belita Woods passed on, joining other P-Funk core members back in the pyramids in the sky.  Wow. It’s best to celebrate her life and funky sanging by dancing. And by reading George Clinton’s testimony on her life and legacy here.

 

The W LIST

W LIST W

VOLUME III.  5.11.12

We hereby present to you the Wondaland W LIST….a funky gathering of remarkable art i facts and experiences guaranteed to keep you balanced and on the tightrope for at least the next seven days…

(in no particular order, but arrayed in a fashion to make you smile)

1. Obama and Gay Rights.

Obama gives his assent to gay marriage and steps onto the page of history. Again. Rest assured. His legacy is secure. See the ABC News report here.

2. Marley (for rental on iTunes and in theaters)

The Iron Lion is back and fiercer than ever.  Kevin Macdonald’s documentary provides a vibrant and balanced portrait of the soul rebel and his revolutionary music which changed the world. See the trailer below.

3. The Clayton Christensen profile in the New Yorker.

Recently, Malcolm Gladwell told us that we should check out Clayton Christensen’s seminal business book The Innovator’s Dilemma, and apply its innovative disruptive theories to the music industry.  This wonderful New Yorker profile by  Larissa MacFarquhar illustrates that Clayton Christensen is not only an innovative scholar and change agent, but also a remarkable human being. See Clayton Christensen discussing why some folks are more innovative than others below.

4. iTunes U.

With new classes from Harvard, Stanford and Yale this online experiment in higher education is FREE and keeps getting better and better. See Stanford celebrating its 40 millionth download on iTunes U below.

5. Neil Gaiman Interviews Stephen King.

Recently, two titans of storytelling–Neil Gaiman and Stephen King–had a chat in the UK Sunday Times Magazine.  Neil Gaiman asked the questions. Stephen King answered. And the world listened. Read the full interview at Neil Gaiman’s blog here.

6. Damon Lindelof speaks on the Alien Prequel, Prometheus.

Like the rest of the universe, you’re excited about Ridley Scott’s coming Alien prequel, Prometheus.  Hopefully, this Entertainment Weekly interview with celebrated screenwriter and Lost scribe Damon Lindelof will hold you over.  And enjoy the new Prometheus trailer below.

7. Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter.

The fact that this well researched tome arrives the week of Obama’s historic pro-gay marriage announcement seems serendipitous to say the least.  Streitmatter analyzes the long term love affairs of Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Jasper Johns and several others in an attempt to illustrate how their love lives shaped their work and impacted the world.

8. Maurice Sendak.

The beloved children’s author passed away this week at the age of 83.  Celebrate his life by re-reading Where The Wild Things Are for the millionth time.  Read the New York Times profile of his life. And see him discuss his views on childhood and his work here.

9. MCA of the Beastie Boys.

What a week. Last Friday we lost Adam Yauch, the spiritual center of the Beastie Boys.  Listen to Chris Martin and Coldplay pay tribute to his legacy here.

10. The Scream Sets a Record.

Next time your grandmother or your uncle wants to know what all this finger-painting or graffitti or dark twisted art stuff is gonna be worth proudly show them this article.  That’s right folks. Edvard Munch’s painting is now worth $120 million. At Wondaland we call that a bargain… because art is truly priceless.

 

The W LIST

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VOLUME II.  5.04.12

We hereby present to you the Wondaland W LIST….a funky gathering of remarkable art i facts and experiences guaranteed to keep you balanced and on the tightrope for at least the next seven days…

(in no particular order, but arrayed in a fashion to make you smile)

1. George A. Peters II,  Any1Man (New York, May 17-20)

George A. Peters II is back again with his dynamic one-man show, a passionate elegy to the black man, in which he portrays with grace and power characters ranging from Adam in the Garden of Eden to a homeless man on the streets of an urban jungle. The characters are unforgettable, and the message is needed today more than ever. Performed from May 17th – 20th at the Poets Den Gallery and Theater in Harlem, which Located in East Harlem at 309 E 108th Street (between 1st and 2nd avenues). If you’re in NY Go! Support! Listen! Believe! And if you’re not in NY, please give to assist the production at Any1man.com.  See the trailer below for details.

2. The Avengers (in theatres).

Joss Whedon’s having one of those years. The Whedonverse is definitely in full effect. Last week we highlighted Joss Whedon’s horror hit Cabin in the Woods; this week it’s all about The Avengers, which he wrote and directed.  This Marvel Comics book monster roared to a $185 million opening weekend internationally as well as a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch. Joss don’t hurt em. See the trailer below.

3. Think Like a Man (in theaters)

That said, we do want to acknowledge something extraordinary happening on the black side of town: a black romance doing well at the box office that is NOT a Tyler Perry film. As Gina Prince Bythewood noted in the recent CNN article “Think Like a Man and the Legacy of Love Jones,” perhaps Think Like a Man can finally get Hollywood studios to believe that black love exists. After ten days, Think Like a Man has earned $60.9 million, and it seems destined for a finish near $90 million. Not too shabby for a film that cost Sony just $12 million to produce! Now if Sony would just consider investing some of that profit in  Love Jones 2! See the Think Like a Man trailer below…

4. Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts.

Norah Jones is back, this time crooning over Danger Mouse orchestrations– which is exciting if you remember the remarkable work  they did together recently on Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi’s Rome project (see the song “Black“). Norah’s new single “Happy Pills” pleasantly reminds us of the sultry soul rock of Aimee Mann’s Magnolia work with Jon Brion. And that’s a great thing.

5. Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots (VH1)

As Lord Kelli Andrews noted in her passionate blog on the LA Riots, it’s been twenty years, and just when you thought things had changed…just when you thought this was the land of free now…full of postracial black folks and loving white folks that voted in a black president…out comes the Trayvon Martin tragedy, marches and threats of violence if George Zimmerman isn’t charged and brought to justice…hmmm maybe things haven’t changed at all…Watch this wonderful insightful documentary and remember…because those that forget the past…are doomed to repeat it…(see the trailer below)

6. Tom Morello and Guitarmy

On May 1, Tom Morello led his rebel music movement Guitararmy to the streets as part of the Occupy Wall Street May Day protests. According to Morello, “It’s a celebration about being really pissed off…the ‘Guitarmy’ is the Guitar Army of Occupy Wall Street. If you have a guitar, you’re welcome to join us. If you don’t have a guitar, bring a drum or bring a kazoo. If you don’t have a kazoo, come and sing out of tune. The 99 percent sings with many voices.” Watch Tom Morello’s exclusive interview here.

7.Toni Morrison, Home (In stores May 8, 2012.).

Wow. Little speechless on this one. We know it’s a slim novel. 145 pages. But that doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with someone who uses every word like a hammer of light. We’ve heard it’s the story of a black Korean vet heading home after the war. And that’s all we know. We’ll just hold our breath. We. Cant. Wait. See Toni speaking on the dangers of racism here, and the book jacket above.

8. Santigold, Master of My Make Believe.

The dub princess is back again, redefining what pop and adventurous music should sound like. Additional kudos for the album cover art which includes a stunning Renaissance-style painting by Kehinde Wiley. Watch the video for “Disparate Youth” below.

9. Steve Job’s Lost Tapes (Fast Company).

Read. But even better get the May Fast Company issue on your iPad, so you can actually hear Steve’s voice explain the way he sees the world.

10. The Niggas in Paris French Political Campaign video.

So this is a little unbelievable.  But it’s true. Which makes it even better. Francois  Hollande is on the brink of victory in the French election. And he’s been using Niggas in Paris in his campaign ads. The ad was made by some third party campaign affiliates, but still…it’s on the internet and drumming up a lot of publicity in his Barack Obama-style campaign.Watch the ad below. And read more about the controversy surrounding the ad over at Pitchfork.

An Open Letter to “Please Mr. Postman”

themarvelettes

Dear “Please Mr. Postman”,

I don’t know when you’ll get this letter. I don’t even know if I’ve got the right address. I’m writing you from Vietnam in 2012. Ironic, I know. But being here for the past few weeks got me thinking: If the war that happened here decades ago never happened, do you think you still would’ve been born?

Forgive me if this question catches you at a bad time. I know you’re dealing with way more pressing identity issues right now, what with the rise of the Internet and the state of the U.S. Postal Service. I’m not trying to make light of your current situation. I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t forgotten the impact of your half-century legacy.

Speaking of, how’d it feel to hit the big 5-0? Honestly, did you ever think you’d make it this far? Of course, I wasn’t around back when you came up in Inkster, Mich. But I wish I could’ve seen your first step in 1961 when The Marvelettes (known as The Marvels at the time) showed you off in front of Berry Gordy Jr. and Smokey Robinson at Tamla/Motown.

The label was just two years old. The girls were just teenagers, their whole lives ahead of them. But Gordy saw potential in you, even then. With Gladys Horton singing her heart out–hoping the postman brings a letter from her boyfriend, who’s overseas at war–the simple lyrics struck a chord. And with your catchy background vocals and the Funk Brothers handling instrumentation, including Marvin Gaye on drums, your star power couldn’t be denied: By December 1961, you became Motown’s first official number one hit.

Did you see this quote from Women of Motown by Susan Whitall? “[Please Mr. Postman] was part of the first wave of records by black girl groups that crossed over and totally seduced the white record-buying public. If you were anywhere near a radio in 1961 and heard Please Mr. Postman, you were witnessing, perhaps for the first time, the pop-R&B, uptown-downtown, urban-suburban blend that became Motown’s trademark and was no less than revolutionary at the time. The Marvelettes, like many Motown groups of the time, erased racial lines and created a new sort of omniracial teenage voice.”

Your style laid the foundation for girl groups like The Supremes, The Ronettes and, later, En Vogue and Destiny’s Child. And everybody from The Beatles and The Carpenters to Martin Scorsese, Whoopi Goldberg and Lil Wayne has wanted a piece of you. In 2008, you popped up on Wii Music by Nintendo. One year later, you got a full dubstep makeover, courtesy of UK-based producer Cragga.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is your first time hearing this. I’m betting you’re not a big fan of technology. You probably don’t have a computer. Maybe a transistor radio, but definitely no cell phone. I’m sure you think Twitter is just a misspelling of Twister. Trust me, I understand your Luddite stance. You were born out of America’s “first televised war,” and ever since then, you’ve been in a lopsided battle against the Information Age. The Internet boom exploded in your face.

The Web makes you feel insecure. Email, Skype, Google Voice, e-cards–these online communication tools make you feel obsolete. Through a cyber cafe window, you catch a glimpse of Facebook and you tell yourself you can’t compete. You’ve lost your status. You think nobody likes you. You’re not fast enough. You hear them say “snail mail” with such disdain, turning up their noses like you’re spoiled milk.

And I know it’s hard to stay positive if you read the papers. Since the start of the new millennium, technology has forced the U.S. Postal Service into a financial tailspin. To save billions of operating dollars, the Postal Service has cut thousands of jobs and closed hundreds of mail processing centers. As you probably know, this is devastating to black communities. Saturday deliveries may soon come to an end and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe predicted that within 15 years, mail service will drop to three days a week.

This is not your fault. How could you have seen this coming? How would you know that in five decades, everything you stand for would start trembling under your feet? Your last name has even been seized by the P.C. police, who now prefer the gender-neutral term “mail carrier.” Again, this is not your fault.

It’s just a matter of timing. As Malcolm Gladwell noted in his 2008 bestseller Outliers, birth dates play a major role in one’s success. You’re living proof. But you’re from a bygone era. You shouldn’t take it personally if they say you sound irrelevant. It’s not you, it’s us–the multi-texting, mobile-browsing, one-click ordering generation that hates waiting. There is a self-absorbed anxiousness in your words that the digital crowd can relate to. But when you say stuff like “I’ve been standin’ here waitin’,” all we hear is static. We feel nauseous. We get DMV flashbacks. Because we live in an Immediacracy. We hear “patience” and we think sick people in hospitals. Delays are worse than death.

But I know that waiting is not what you’re really about. At the core, you represent hope. You believe in the grand idea that commitment knows no boundaries of space and time, that love rises above war. I don’t know if you’ve held onto that youthful romanticism over the years, but I thought about you when I heard about a new program in China.

In Beijing, where divorce rates have been skyrocketing, the publicly run postal service is playing cupid. On their wedding days, newlyweds can write each other love letters and mail them to a special postal code. After seven years, the Beijing post office sends the letters to the couples, hoping to reignite flames that may have dimmed. Granted, if the couple has already split up, the mail might magically turn into confetti. But the point is, your classic brand of optimism still exists.

So whenever you get this, where ever you are, think on these things. You’re not obsolete, you’re nostalgic. In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote, “The prime site of nostalgia is always whatever happened, or is thought to have happened, in the decade between forty and fifty years past.” This is your time.

Pay no mind to the naysayers who say you haven’t aged well. Remember where you came from. Remember the ones who made you, those country girls whose musical influence too often gets overshadowed. Don’t stress yourself with questions about why you haven’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You’re more valuable than they know. You made history. And 50 years from now, after snail mail has gone extinct, you’ll still be around. You’re a trooper.

I hope to hear from you soon.

The sooner the better.

Russell

 

 

 

20 Year Anniversary of the LA Riots

LA riots then and now

It is hard to believe it has been 20 years since the LA Riots centered around the beating of Rodney King.  This is a memory I will never forget.  I remember waking up one morning, getting ready to walk to school and asking my parents what were all these particles flying through the air.  I soon found out that these particles  were ashes traveling all the way to our house from Crenshaw Blvd…the infamous Crenshaw Blvd.  Due to all the unrest in the city, my school had closed down for the next several days.

We spent that weekend visiting the ruined, dilapidated buildings on Crenshaw Blvd, cleaning up and creating assembly lines, passing canned goods to help those affected by the riots.

I recall seeing people running out of stores with couches, batteries, groceries, etc.  I also recall seeing national guards with guns the size of my son standing in front of the Crenshaw Mall.  Car jacking was at an all time high in the city.

Much has changed since that day…or has it?  I can still drive down Crenshaw Blvd and see vacant lots, cracked concrete with grass growing through it, where businesses once stood.

We want to say some things have changed, but based on the Zimmerman – Martin issue some of us can beg to differ.  Have we (as African Americans) become accustomed to raising our sons to the reality of knowing that they could be subject to racial profiling, harassment, etc?  Are there similarities on the whole idea that a black person has no presumption of innocence?

On the other hand, I do think that we have a more diverse law enforcement community.

So, I ask again…has much changed in 20 years?

Has race relations gotten better? worse? the same?

Really…I mean, “Can we all just get along?”

What are your memories from the 1992 LA Riots?

 

 

 

 

THE W LIST

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VOLUME I.  4.27.12

We hereby present to you the Wondaland W LIST….a funky gathering of remarkable art i facts and experiences guaranteed to keep you balanced and on the tightrope for at least the next seven days…

(in no particular order, but arrayed in a fashion to make you smile)

1. Obama Slow Jams The News. How do you top a cool ass President who serenades all the young folks in America, promising them greater access to college loans over a lush bed of slow jam music provided by the Roots? You don’t. You just shake your head and enjoy.

2. Jack White’s Bag of Tricks. So Jack White’s gotta lot goin on. His new album Blunderbuss, which our own Charles Joseph called a wonderful “pscycho-freakout.” An amazing Children of the Corn-like video for the jammin song “Sixteen Saltines” (see below).  A helium balloon single release for Record Store Day. And let’s not forget the upcoming Gary Oldman directed live concert simulcast. This guy’s on the run. Catch him if you can.

3. Sigmund iPhone App.

It’s time to program your dreams. No, we’re not kidding. Really. It’s time. Use your Godphone to program your dreams. Right now.

4. Battle Royale (DVD). You’ve seen Hunger Games. Two or three times.  Now it’s time to see the original, um, inspiration… The film directed by  Kinji Fukasaku that  Quentin Tarantino called his favorite film of the last twenty years.  It’s about a futuristic Japanese society in which one Japanese high school class is brought to an island once a year and forced to fight to the death… hmmm sound familiar? It’s brilliant.  Watch it now.

5. Open City by Teju Cole.

In his powerful debut novel, Teju Cole takes us deep into the Nigerian American mind in a poetic page-turning soliloquy about New York side streets, the bedbug epidemic, and all the haunting things: his girlfriend, the past, the present, and his efforts to weave unity and beauty into the world around him. Now in paperback.

6. Chinatown (Blu Ray). “You gotta be rich to kill somebody, anybody, and get away with it. You think you got that kind of dough? You think you got that kind of class?” See Roman Polanski’s dark masterpiece and the best screenplay Robert Towne ever wrote one more time just because it looks better than ever in this new Blu Ray edition. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer:

7. Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Singles Collection Music Box Set.

The Pharcyde’s classic debut album gets the deluxe star treatment with a limited edition box set that comes complete with 7″singles, a Double CD, a poster and a puzzle. Relive the glory days of hip hop and show your little cousin what real hip hop sounds like.

8. Le Coil.

Beautiful black people with amazing natural hair styles and all around sartorial elegance. We are in love with this site, period. Get some inspiration for your natural tresses by Corinne Bailey Ray, Solange, and more of our fabulous friends on this here!

9. Girls Episode One. There’s a magic black homeless man at the end of Episode One. But you’ll have to watch the whole episode to see what he’s going to say. Join the conversation! Watch the episode! Is the show a well written and honest depiction of female millenials in NY? A casting and nepotism nightmare? Or another Judd Apatow produced triumph?

10. Cabin in the Woods (in theaters). For all you Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, as well as the upcoming The Avengers, co-wrote and produced the film with his protégé, Drew Goddard. Into attractive college kids? Into cabins? Into horror? Then this is the movie for you. Watch the trailer below:

YOU TASTE SO INTELLIGENT: How The Pharcyde’s Masterpiece Tells Us the Truth About Zombies & The Clueless In America

bizarre ride II the pharcyde

For an album to be classic, truly classic, it should ALPHA AND OMEGA: It should absolutely stand as the sharp beginning of something new in culture as well as a rupture, the demise of something else.

Unfortunately this story of a classic album also includes the ALPHA and OMEGA of the artists themselves, for like many narratives in the black community nowadays, this story will start with African prodigies and geniuses and end with jail time, empty pockets, dumb beefs, and crack pipes.

One prodigy. Four geniuses. And two crack pipes to be exact.

Crack pipe No. 1 belongs to J-Swift. Musical child prodigy. Primary music producer of this album, one of the greatest albums of all time. Watch him produce this album, produce the “Letitgo (Sherm Stick Edit)” remix for Prince…and then…then off to disappointment, off to jail…off to crack cocaine…

Crack Pipe No. 2 belongs to Fatlip…

Who went out to buy Fat Lip’s 2005 classic opus The Loneliest Punk? No one. Because Fat Lip isn’t a star. His mesmerizing Spike Jonz video “What’s Up Fatlip?” (see the video below) highlights his falling out from the Pharcyde, his search for an illustrious solo career, his descent into crack addiction…it’s one of the most riveting, painful hip hop videos ever made…but you’ve never seen it because it isn’t pop…and he isn’t a star….

Like Slim Kid Tre said, Shit falls quicker than a local hero zero.

I regret to inform you that I’m not a Pharcyde scholar. I don’t know the nature of the many personal contentions and beefs that define the group’s history: why J Swift fell out with the group over credits on their first amazing album, why Fat Lip just had to go (maybe the cocaine had something to do with it), why they couldn’t put the pieces back together.

But I do know that they changed my life, the way all great art should.

It’s ironic that their classic album is now being reissued with a puzzle. Almost makes you want to laugh. It’s as if they want our help, they need all the hands in America to put their souls back together again.

It’s been twenty years since The Pharcyde released Bizarre Ryde II The Pharcyde, Kanye West’s favorite album, and one of the greatest musical recordings ever made.  And it’s been twenty years since the Pharcyde came steamrolling onto the rollercoaster of the music industry, received four mics in The Source, and their song and video “Passin’ Me By” changed the face of hip hop and pop culture forever.

“Passin’ me By” makes everything, all the acclaim, simple to understand.   It’s just simply the most beautiful, innovative hip hop love song ever made.  Musically, the foundation is perfect.  Jimi’s backwards guitar from “Are You Experienced” and the strolling warm ass bass from Quincy’s “Summer in the City,” feeling like a fine ass girl’s legs wrapped around you on a summer day. Then here come the voices, like zany forlorn spirits, crooning and doo wopping and rapping about the dopest ethiopians and after that, you never hear hip hop the same, or see love and the world the same way again…

Wow. That was twenty years ago.  It’s now Record Story day in April 2012, and most of the white indie rock hipsters around me are looking for records that include stained panties or small vials of human blood. Indie rock groups always want to take things to another level: this time the Flaming Lips (God bless em) are releasing a small batch of records that come with vials of actual human blood. Guess you have to find a way to top actual human skulls that come stuffed with USB drives.

Which I guess is all quite fascinating if you’re white and have lots of money and umpteen cool limited releases and bootleg remastered vault box sets to keep up with.

But things are different on the black side of town.  Our greatest, most classic musical moments, are treated like flies.

But that’s another subject, for a rainier day.

Because this is an anomaly, a triumphant occasion, a $80 celebration, A BOX SET ILLUSTRIOUSLY PACKAGED of a 20-year old classic hip hop recording: The Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde: The Singles Collection Music Box.

Wow. PAN from left to right toward the proverbial little boy under the Christmas tree.  ZOOM IN ON EXPANSIVE GAPTOOTHED GRIN. This box set doozy comes complete with limited edition colored “7 inch singles, a double CD of remixes and instrumentals, a poster, a puzzle featuring the classic album cover, unreleased music, liner notes by J-Swift…the box even plays “OH SHIT” when you open it, which is enough to make you say… AWWWWW SHIT!!

So everyone black, everyone white in America, all together now, just nod and say YESsssss. Party over here Party over there There’s a Party right here There’s a party in ya mouth bitch….

Yes. It makes sense to start there.

With the last echoing words on a classic album, doesn’t it?

I get back to Wondaland and rip the packaging off like a speedy robotic auto-unwrapper. Ladies and Gentlement, he has just taken the cellophane off in a world record .7 seconds flat! Amazing! He must be one excited motherfucka! They say this particular auto-unwrapper began his illustrious career under his grandma’s Christmas tree in El Dorado, Arkansas sometime in the 1980’s…

I put the Pharcyde puzzle together, while listening to Slim Kid Tre hang upside down and croon she’s passing me by.  I laugh as OH SHIT plays when I open the box. I open it.  And close it.  And laugh hard every single time like I’m hearing OH SHIT again for the very first time. It’s simply too good to be true.

And I look at the way the sunlight refracts rainbows out of the colored vinyl of each small 7” record before I play it.

It even comes with a puzzle! Time to put the Humpty Dumpty of funk back together again....

 

To put it mildly, I enjoy the lavish Singles Club collection immensely…

Go somewhere, anywhere. And play the Soul Flower instrumental loud enough for the sun to hear it.  And I guarantee it will bloom and change your day.

Overall, the collection bangs, and in general, the instrumentals and remixes make me laugh and scrunch my face, but more than anything, the collection makes me miss the regular Bizarre Ride album: its presentation, its flow and sequencing, the way the hilarious ideas bounce and ricochet off each other, and the way the horns and drums and words tell a story as they move back and forth from speaker to speaker…

As the instrumentals and acapellas of the Singles Collection plays, I feel like I’m listening to an extended trailer, instead of enjoying the full film I love…

And then the revelation suddenly hits me: this album was the apex and the end of the rap group, of genius communalism in hip hop.

 I love Digital Underground, A Tribe Called Quest, the Fugees, Black Sheep, Souls of Mischief, Digable Planets, Das EFX, Public Enemy, Outkast, Wu Tang, the Roots, all the last great hip hop groups of the ’90’s. And now you have Odd Future, and underground collectives from NY to Atlanta to the Bay.

But it’s different now. Now it’s every star for himself.  It’s kinda like we watched the killer bees from the Wu Tang Clan collective fly out of the hive for their own solo releases and never come back.

Now we have cliques, G.O.O.D. Music, Cash Money, etc, but these cliques are just conglomerations of singular stars. Pop stars. Lil Wayne. Drake. Nicki Minaj. All pop stars. They hop on each other’s albums and walk red carpets together, while wearing Japanese streetwear or French shoes.  They croon pop songs, using AutoTune. They’re indistinguishable sometimes from everything else out there thumping on the radio and the dance floor.

Ya mama’s a sellout nigga. Ya mama did a pop tune, nigga.

Outside of the Roots (who seem on a career-long project to keep communal black genius, particularly in its live format alive), collective hip hop is over.

And you can’t tell where Trey Songz or Chris Brown begins and where Drake or Kanye ends. And that’s all by design.

Bizarre Ride was also the end of fun.  Back in the day a great hip hop album had fun songs, songs that made you jump up and dance for dancing’s sake—unmitigated shocks of fun that were frequently dance songs masquerading as epic battle or cartoon dis records.  Pharcyde’s playful dis record “Ya Mama” walks in a continuum of fun dis anthems such as Whodini’s “Big Mouth,” LL Cool J’s “You Can’t Dance,” damn near anything by Fresh Prince from “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” to “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” and who can forget Run DMC’s “You Talk Too Much” (see the video below)? “Ya Mama” was the last perfect dis song of this wildly different era: when black men were still having unmitigated fun at the microphone, throwing language back and forth instead of guns and hos, playing the dozens like dominoes in a day when nobody died, when beef was something you ate, not something you shot somebody over.

And hip hop used to sound like hip hop— but it doesn’t anymore.  It’s dangerous today for it to sound like anything other than pop or what might be loosely described as what’s left of R & B.

(That said, what is the perfect form of hip hop from a musical standpoint? Whole swaths of classic hip hop sound like new wave, heavy metal/hard rock, soul, dub, and disco, not to mention the forays into jazz, JB breakbeats and the P Funk synths and choruses….)

But back in 1992, when Bizarre Ride was released, it was a different,  classic and innovative hip hop era, lyrically, rhythmically, thematically, musically—on almost any level, and under any criteria, that era’s hip hop kicks this era’s ass.  Period.  It was what I call the “BEHOP” era of rap.  I call it that because there was a bebop level of proficiency in terms of the production of the music itself, and there was also a brave understanding of the hip hop collective, the discipline and creativity it took to build a classic hip hop experience in an almost jazz combo sense.  I mean to say that every lyrical voice in the classic behop ensemble was unique, a singular cadence, color, worldview and timbre unto itself.  The voices, like horns, had their own sound. Ice Cube vs. Ren or Dre. Q Tip vs. Phife. Butterfly vs. Doodleug and Ladybug. Andre vs. Big Boi. On back to everybody’s rhythmic lyrical ancestor: Rakim (vs. the world??). That list could go on and on.  And the producers and writers were Ellingtonian jazz conductors, painting with sound.

Here’s how the Pharcyde version of classic behop sounds.  The drums and horns zip around and attack like nervous beasts in a zoo, barely contained.  And every once in a while a beast lunges at the bars, forcing you to jump, forcing you out of yourself, forcing you to bullshit, to party, to chant a thousand chants a minute, nonsensical mantras about jigaboo time, about shooting robbers and getting away with it, about masturbating or unknowingly making out with a transvestite or falling in love with your teacher or about needing zigzags or existential questions like how long can you freak the funk just how long can you freak the funk??

What does this even mean who cares why is my body moving like thissssssssss

I repeat, THE DRUMS ARE BEASTS: they force you do things you would never do like shuddering while sanging

We shot him in the ass on the downstroke we shot him in the ass on the downstroke

It’s a madman’s teaparty, as imagined by Ishmael Reed and Frank Zappa, like a zany opera about a jheri curl possee in the 80’s, all zoned out on speed and Fat Albert animation. Like Cooley High. On crack.

The psychedelic tempo, the uptight drums, the summery rolling upright bass, the Richard Pryor-like acoustic piano skits, and the drums, the drums, kicking like elephants…everything is rising, taking you higher: You shudder as the album cover opens up, and you slip off, you ride the painted rollercoaster off into the sky, into a fanged vagina…

Are those ants all over your hands? Are you masturbating? Are you going up or down? Falling or flying? Funking or fucking? Who cares?

It’s funnnnnnn

You awake to see that the songs are still playing. You’re locked in a nightmare paradise of blackness, full of big cartoon hips that have herpes, and cops that shoot flowers, and fatlipped prophets that doo wop spooky premonitions about a black president fixing the economy.  The scratches are still rocking the room, constant deep slashes of ultra-rhythm, pushing the neverending jokes— they’re the equivalent of Jimmy Nolen’s guitar, stretching the groove, pushing the laughs and the tears blacker and further in dynamic, darker directions. The vocals punch in and out, like jazzy uppercuts, like demented horn players that most likely can’t play a lick off stage, but are ingenious right now, miraculously gathered around this microphone, together.  And the music is a mixture of samples and live instrumentation and drunken melodies that seem to come from everywhere: jazz, metal, folk, funk, psychedelic rock, Broadway musicals: but it’s all thrown in the melting pot and cooked while getting high on shrooms, getting shot at, getting your heart broke not by just girls, but by America.

The homeless voices say it all. Damn. We’re nerds.  We’re black men.  We’re broke. We’re one step away from becoming drug addicts.  Or ending up in caskets. Nothing is what it looks like. Magic’s got AIDs now, and Michael Jordan’s losing his hair. We’re lonely.  We have diseases without names. We’re dancing because the white man has a camera.  We’re dancing and telling jokes because we’re lost and we don’t know which way to go.  We prank call pretty clueless American girls and they scream which is fine because their screams sound great in our slasher film lives. Who left us here? Where are we? Why is our mother so fat? She’s so fat that when she walks she looks like she has no legs she just glides across the floor.  See? We’re laughing now.  We’re high.  We’re feeling better. What’s the officer want? Tell him a joke. See if you can make him laugh. Then maybe he’ll forget to shoot you. Give the lil black boy some weed. Maybe he won’t grow up. Maybe he won’t ever feel like us. We got places to go. We gotta survive. We gotta find home. They say it’s here somewhere. Down this rollecoaster called life.

Can’t you see? There’s a battle going on here.  A battle between zombies and the clueless.  And in this epic album the zombies crawl out the gutters of America and come back to eat the clueless, because they’re white, they’re pretty, they’re virgins, and they have no idea about the evil that they’ve done, about how they are unknowingly complicit in the tragedy of black American life.

But that’s the academic part.  The part that’s genius is that they say all that and you never think about it.  No matter what color you are you’re too busy jammin and laughing and playing the dozens and falling in and outta love like a star falling out of the sky.

Speaking of falling out of the sky, The Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde also stands out as an a dark ALPHA, a ripple of darkness in the sunshine, the beginning of “THE KEEP IT REAL” era of hip hop, an era that left emcees struggling to be “real” to themselves, their entourage, the streets, and their fans, scrambling and shooting at each other in clubs, getting arrested for carrying heat in their bulletproof cars like Tony Montana, smoking and selling real drugs, warring over women, regions, and money like Grecian city states.  Within five years of this album, as previously mentioned, both J-Swift and Fatlip would fall prey to hardcore drug usage, and both Tupac and Biggie would be dead.

Well this is the final chapter…

I’ll take a hammer and start to drill

Your skull, and then I’ll really start

picking your brain cells

Ummmm mmmm mmmm

You taste so intelligent…

Snap to silence.

Cue screams.

We went a little overboard.

Can you believe it? We looked out the window for love and we got this shit. To put it plainly, America’s breaking our fucking hearts.

–c.lightning

Let Them Eat Cake

Makode Linde, a Swedish artist of Afro-Swedish heritage, was commissioned to do an art installation at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm’s MoMA, for the opening of a new FGM exhibit. The video above shows the work: a cake in the form of a Sara Baartman-esque caricature of a Black woman’s body from neck to hips, with Linde’s head in blackface atop the neck. Linde instructed Sweden’s Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, to cut the first slice of cake from the genitals, simulating a clitoridectomy. As she cut, Linde screamed and begged her to stop.

She laughed. Everyone laughed. She fed a piece of the cake to Linde.

They partied/cut more cake/Linde screamed/they laughed/ate cake.

I was immediately reminded of this.

And then I read up a bit on Linde’s work and saw this:

 

In the three days since, outrage has swept the world via social media. Here are some of the reactions I’ve gleaned:

1. This isn’t racist, but it IS offensive to women.

2. This is the most racist shit I’ve ever seen, and they’re all gonna get away with it because the artist is Black.

3. “The minister’s decision to take part in a dubious event with cannibalistic overtones showed her incompetence and lack of judgment.”

4. Art is meant to be provocative! Finally, everyone is talking about racism and thinking about racism. No one can ignore it in this moment.

5. I can’t…I can’t…This is too painful.

6. “They wanted me to cut the cake.” Ultimately, the artist was to blame for any confusion, [Minister of Culture Liljeroth] said, arguing that the situation had been misinterpreted. “He claims that it challenges a romanticised and exoticised view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism,” she said. “Art needs to be provocative.”

Here’s what I said: Yes, Linde thought up a grotesque art installation and presented it to the liberal elite. Yes, Linde invited Liljeroth to cut the cake, starting with the genitals.

She happily agreed/laughed/he screamed/begged her to stop/they laughed/took iPhone videos/cut more/laughed at the screams/ate cake.

Let them eat cake.

**Correction: I state early in this blog that the cake was commissioned for the opening of an FGM exhibit at the Moderna Museet. This cake was actually commissioned for a celebration of the establishment of a Swedish organization for the arts; it is a birthday party of sorts for the arts in Sweden, so Swedish artists were invited to design birthday cakes. To view video Linde’s explanation of why he chose to create a blackface-and-FGM themed cake, click here.

The Man Who Was undun

the-roots-undun

 

It’s been 12 years since Redford “Red” Stephens was shot to death in Virginia, but he says it feels like it was yesterday.

He remembers every detail of that afternoon in the fall of 1999, from waking up at 11:59 a.m. and running down the stairs when he heard someone in his house to taking his last breath three minutes later, lying on the cold streets as bullets ripped through his 25-year-old body. His murder never exactly made the papers, considering he’s a fictional composite of many young, black men. But the life and death of Redford Stephens is a tragedy that rings true and familiar as the narrative thread for The Roots’ latest and greatest studio album: undun is an existential opus that offers a brief glimpse through the barred windows of a hustler’s soul.

The legendary hip-hop band isn’t pointing the camera at a world that’s never been seen before (most notably in David Simon’s pitch-perfect sprawling HBO series The Wire). And we know these tales typically end the same way, with a bang. But this isn’t the sweeping panoramic profile of a real-life kingpin that was Jay-Z’s blueprint for American Gangster. This isn’t a cautionary parable that personifies The Street and The Game like in Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool.

A masterpiece of minimalism, undun focuses on the ills of America’s inner-city underbelly from a reverse close-up angle. This album is a cracked mirror to society seen backwards through the eyes of a regular black kid trapped by the drug trade. Arranged by the incomparable bandleader, ?uestlove, each track plays as a gray-shaded cinematic clip that bleeds into one another to form a bigger picture of hood noir. As an audio-biography, undun wavers on the fault line between hyper fact and historical fiction in the vein of Prince Paul’s hip-hop classic, A Prince Among Thieves, which came out the same year Stephens was killed.

When I sent out a request for an exclusive post-mortem interview with Stephens, I knew it was a long shot. I pitched the idea that I wanted to do a listening session and get his thoughts track-by-track. I almost didn’t believe it–he got back to me in no time. He said he could give me 40 minutes under three conditions:

1. No questions about life after death.
2. No cameras and no video or audio equipment.
3. No write-ups until after the fact.

I could write about our meeting if I chose to, he said, but for all intents and purposes, “it never happened.” I agreed to the terms, even though I knew few people would believe the story without hard evidence.

A few days later, he texted me some weird directions, which I followed. Somehow, I ended up in a grand library that was bright and empty save for spiraling rows of bookshelves rising higher than I could see. According to the directions, Stephens would meet me on the ground floor by the big window in the Circulation Section.

I found him there, lying on a couch with a book. He looked to be reading it but the pages were blank. He stood up when he heard me approach. Wearing a hoodie and jeans, he looked like he hadn’t aged at all. But something was different. I can’t really explain it except to say it looked like his old eyes had been swapped out for the eyes of an infant.

He put the book down and said he was working on a novel. He shook my hand, told me to call him Red. I tried to speak, but no words came out. He nodded as if to say that’s normal. Then motioned for me to follow him to an elevator, which we took down to the basement level. The doors opened, he switched on a light. We were now in a small studio with couches, speakers, a record player and a table with hoagies and jars of fresh lemonade.

“You can speak now,” Red said, then pointed to the food. “Feel free.”

I cleared my throat and said, “Thank you.”

He went to the record player with undun on vinyl, which I didn’t even know existed. I took a seat on the couch and tried to settle my mind. He lifted the needle, then looked at me. He said he didn’t want to dwell on his death as much as he wanted to examine the fact that he was dying while he was alive. After I nodded, he dropped the needle.

*This interview has been condensed and edited.

1. “Dun” – The instrumental opener sets the tone with a high-pitched ring that resonates like a flatline. In the background, a crying baby gets drowned out by funereal moans, a church organ and the curious case of a heart beating backwards.

RN: I know I don’t have much time, so I’m just gonna get right into it. How’d you feel when you first heard your life story retold on this new album from The Roots?

RED: You know I’m from Philly so I been rockin’ with The Legendary Roots Crew since the early ‘90s. So on one hand, it’s definitely an honor for me to be a part of anything they do. Granted, I wish it could’ve happened under different circumstances. But if the choices I made inspire other cats to make different choices, then I consider that a blessing.

2. “Sleep” – A spare, spooky track with chords that descend like the autumn leaves Aaron Livingston sings about in the chorus. This is the end. Stephens–via straight-spitter Black Thought–watches his life vanish at point blank range: “Oh…there I go from a man to a memory”.

RN: On the classic Illmatic, Nas said “sleep is the cousin of death.” And on this chorus, the singer declares, “I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams.” Not to dwell on what happened that day, but would you say your dreams led to your downfall?

RED: Definitely, yeah I would say that. It’s tough though because when you young, you got all these big ideas. I mean, I was out there stackin’. I was trying to make major moves, man. Open a few businesses. Expand my enterprise. I’m talkin’ upward mobility. But that hustle…it’s like once you pass that point of no return, dreams fade out ‘cause you too busy living the nightmares.

RN: But wasn’t that your choice? If you have the power to dream, don’t you also have the power to wake yourself up, so to speak?

RED: The only problem with that is, most of the time you don’t even realize you sleep till it’s too late, you know what I mean? I’m layin’ puzzle at this point. And lyin’ here, seeing my life flash before my bloodshot eyes, I recognize that it’s all mythological.

RN: What do you mean by that?

RED: Yo, you not wastin’ no time, huh? Okay then, for instance, in Greek mythology, Sleep and Death ain’t cousins–they’re brothers, twins that nobody likes. And then, you see the same motif in the Talmud. You ever read that?

RN: No, I haven’t.

RED: There’s a story in there about the day King David died. It was on the Sabbath, which is the day of rest. The Angel of Death couldn’t slay dude at first ‘cause David was always studying the scriptures and whatnot, focused. But the angel shook up some trees in the garden to throw him off his grind. When David went downstairs to see what was up, he fell down. That was the end. His soul departed. And he was left there lyin’ in sun ‘cause, as Jewish law goes, you ain’t s’posed to touch a corpse on the Sabbath.

RN: What happened to the body then?

RED: His own dogs ate his body, yo. (Shakes his head.) Talk about déjà vu.

3. “Make My” – This track plays like a last confession as Black Thought and Big K.R.I.T. offer intro-retrospective raps over a smooth airborne groove. The end feels right around the corner for Red as K.R.I.T. spits “Addicted to the green if I don’t ball I get the shakes / I’d give it all for a peace of mind for heaven sakes”.

RN: By this time, were you convinced that you were too far gone to turn back?

RED: You ever seen that Swedish movie, The Seventh Seal?

RN: Yeah, yeah, old-school Ingmar Bergman. It’s been a minute since I saw it, though. What you know about that?

RED: Yo, that jawn was the truth. I tried to put my mans up on it, but they used to say, “Reading subtitles defeated the purpose of watching a movie.” But anyway, that’s how I felt every day on the block. Playing chess with Death. One wrong move and it would be a wrap for the kid. But that was the game.

RN: Why keep playing then?

RED: I didn’t see no other options, man. I had to do what made sense to me, you know what I mean? And I was thinkin’ that if I could finish the game, I could walk away from it for good. So I kept playin’. (Pauses.) But real talk, there were times when I felt like I was nothin’ but a pawn in a bigger game.

RN: A bigger game?

RED: Yeah. I thought about that a lot.

RN: How often?

RED: I mean, damn near every morning I woke up thinking my fate was sealed. Like free will was nothin’ but a mirage in the valley of death, you know what I mean? But at the same time, out in the streets, I thought I was the king. In the end, I realized I was only playing myself.

4. “One Time” – Pure aggression in the form of a pounding percussion and penetrating piano stabs that loop under the fire-breathing flows of Phonte, Black Thought and Dice Raw. This is Red on top of his castle built on sand, giving his “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” speech.

RN: This is a tough track right here.

RED: Yeah, this is right after my man got shot. They killed him for no reason. (His voice drops.) He was a stand-up dude. That’s why I kept him in my circle. So yeah, I had to regroup after that.

RN: That’s when you moved down to VA?

RED: It was a strategic move, you know what I mean? Machiavelli said, “a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.” And that was our reality. Everybody was out to get theirs. At the same time, I knew if I retaliated, I’d only be adding to the problem. It was a lose-lose situation, point blank. Or “verse blank,” as Black Thought succinctly put it.

RN: And Black Thought is you.

RED: Every emcee on this album represents a different voice in my head at a different point in my life. But Black Thought is the main me, if that makes sense. The loudest voice. Think of Thought as the ego.

RN: I’ve read that some say Black Thought’s matter-of-fact delivery fails to bring your character to life, quote-unquote…

RED: (Shakes his head.) They don’t know me. You can tell by the word choices. To them, I’m a character. They think I was made to amuse them. They’re fiends for that urban phantasy ‘cause they’re too afraid to confront the shadows in themselves. Like I’m s’posed to sound like the clowns they hear on the radio. That’s not real. That’s role-playin’. And they get off on the minstrel show. But this ain’t that. Grim as it may be, this a true story of a young, black man tryin’ to make sense of this crazy world. Thought is tellin‘ it like it is, straight up. No bells and whistles. No “tale-spinnin’,” like Phonte said. Thought’s delivery works exactly because it is so matter-of-fact. These are facts of life.

5. “Kool On” – A funky, soul-tinged track with ‘70s guitar riffs sampled from D.J. Rogers’ “Where There’s a Will.” Greg Porn and Truck North make lyrical toasts with Black Thought in a celebratory manner reminiscent of Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys”. “Stars are made to shine,” goes the chorus.

RED: Yo, this record takes me back.

RN: Sounds like good times. What’s going on?

RED: I just got a huge connect, basically. So things were lookin’ up. You gotta remember, nobody taught me how to survive. My moms was sick. I didn’t have no father figure to set me down and say, “Son, you need to do this and that.” But I studied hard, laid low. I put 100 percent into everythin’ I did ‘cause I didn’t want to see my peoples suffering. Growing up like I did, you believe the hustle will set you free. So to me, this connect was like that bridge to the promised land, you know what I mean?

RN: So it’s a celebration?

RED: Not exactly. Like Thought says, “I’m never sleeping like I’m on Methamphetamines / Move like my enemy ten steps ahead of me.” It felt good to be comin’ up. But I couldn’t let my guard down. I still had to move in silence, deal in shadows. I was never one of them cats who felt the need to floss all like that. That wasn’t me. Show me the limelight and I’ll show you a laser sight.

6. “The OtherSide” – A hard drum transition melts into a somber piece of gospel rock with Bilal howling on the chorus, “But when I make it to the other side…that’s when we’ll settle up the score.” Here, Red is standing at the crossroads between his desires and his sanity.

RN: Is this that point of no return you spoke about?

RED: I had just turned 21. So, you know, technically I’m a man or whatever. But I ain’t feel that way. I was still in the same one-bedroom spot, pushin’ the same used whip, dealin’ with the same bullshit. I was just tired. I thought I would’ve made it out by now…

RN: I thought you said you were saving up.

RED: I had dough, but not enough. It kept me from starvin’, yeah, but I needed more. I was supposed to be the big businessman. With somethin’ solid to fall back on, you know what I mean? I was tryin’ to be the master of my own image, but yet I felt like a slave to my standards. So I was stuck. All I knew to do was to deal the hand I got dealt…(Sips lemonade.)

RN: That sounds fatalistic to me. Like you’ve already given up the fight. Or at least your will to get beyond your situation. Was that the case?

RED: That ain’t what I meant. I mean, that’s partly true, but I wasn’t aware…how do I put this? There’s a quote by Sun Tzu that goes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” I used to quote those words to everyone in my circle. (Pauses.) It wasn’t until after everythin’ went down that I understood I was my own worst enemy. I didn’t know myself.

7. “Stomp” – Militant drums. Throbbing like an amplified heartbeat. A pounding piano that echoes Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” An electric guitar brings a hard rock edge as Just Blaze hollers like a Baptist preacher, “We gon’ fight till we can’t fight no more.”

RED: The Hitmen murdered this beat. (Smirks.) No pun intended.

RN: It’s got a West Coast feel, don’t it? Where are you here?

RED: Still in the city. About 18, maybe 19. I had my own one-bedroom spot at this point. I was done with school, so I was puttin’ in extra work. Tryin’ to apply all my knowledge, you know what I mean? Nobody was on my level.

RN: On Greg Porn’s verse, he says, “Put the knife in ya back cut down to the red meat / Daddy should’ve let me be a stain on the bedsheets.” What do you say to those people who might call this glorification of violence?

RED: I say those people ain’t really listenin’. I say it’s real easy for somebody to speak on a situation they’ve never been in. Ain’t nothin’ to glorify when you’re tryin’ to get food the only way you know how. Ain’t nothin’ glamourous about survival in a concrete jungle. I’m staring at my reflection in the knife in my hand. I’m askin’, “Who’s the fittest one of all?” I’m lookin’ for a soul behind that “eye of the tiger,” as my man would say.

RN: Did you feel like that “eye of the tiger” was somethin’ you were born with or was it bred into you?

RED: You know, man, that question is why I got into philosophy. I didn’t know my pops so I couldn’t tell you what traits came from him, but I wanted to know what made me who I was. There’s no humanity in a statistic. And the media’s quick to label us this and that. Helps them sleep easy. But how are we s’posed to sleep when this country’s government will sell crack to black communities to pay for a war in Central America? Where can we find rest in this so-called “land of the free” where there’s more black men in prison, on probation or on parole than there were enslaved in 1850? This is that bigger game I was talkin’ ‘bout earlier, but…man, I forgot what your question was.

RN: The eye of the tiger–

RED: Right, right. I said all that to say the born or bred question ain’t so black and white. For instance, it’s like all the kids in the schools who gotta take drugs that deaden their senses ‘cause of this so-called ADHD epidemic. Do they really have short-attention spans or is the standardized test obsolete in the digital age?

RN: I’d say B.

RED: Close. The answer is C, all of the above. Without gettin’ too technical, let me just say somebody got it twisted when they stuck a “versus” between nature vs. nurture. But see, I understood that back when I was a teenager.

RN: How so?

RED: Around this same time, I found out my cousin got robbed. And, you know that’s fam, so we rode out to get at dude. Long story short, I realized we were all cogs of the same crooked machine. We couldn’t change who we came from or where we grew up. Both of these elements influenced who we were. But we can choose to come together and make our environment work for us, rather than being products of it.

8. “Lighthouse” – The melody creeps up on you, slowly, hazily. Dice Raw spits a cynical prologue, then the uptempo beat kicks in. Lyrics of desperation and desolation rise and fall on floating piano notes, high hats and a distorted keyboard loop.

RN: So I wanted to go back and ask you–

RED: Hol’ up. Let this jawn ride for a minute.

(Dice Raw sings the chorus: “And no one’s in the lighthouse / You’re face down in the ocean / And no one’s in the lighthouse / And it seems like you just screamed / It’s no one there to hear the sound / And it may feel like there’s no one there / that cares if you drown / Face down in the ocean”)

RED: A’ight, sorry to interrupt, my man. This track is just so tight to me. It captures exactly what I was going through.

RN: What were you going through?

RED: Man, what wasn’t I going through. The situation at my mom’s house wasn’t workin’ out, so I was out on the streets. In the rain. Sleepin’ on benches. Cooler Ranch Doritos for dinner. I was 16. On my own. (Staring off.) Like, I had peoples I used to roll with, but I never felt like I fit in, you know what I mean? (Black Thought’s verse begins.) On top of that, I caught one of my boys lyin’ to me about some things. Yo, that’s one thing I did not tolerate. ‘Cause I always kept my word. I was straight up with everybody. “By a lie, a man throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a man.” Those are the immortal words of Immanuel Kant. That was my code.

RN: But is that true? I mean, didn’t Nietzsche say, “The lie is a condition of life”?

RED: Yeah, you right. That’s the paradox I was dealin’ with. And then, check this part…(Black Thought rapping.)…you heard that? Thought said, “If I stop thinking and lie / now that’s freedom.” That’s such an ill line.

RN: Lies can go both ways.

RED: Either way, you end up in the same position.

9. “I Remember” – Cascading notes begin this melancholy montage. A snare drum shoulders the beat as the chorus drips with sorrow, courtesy of neo-soul duo Jazzyfatnastees. This is a song about innocence lost, a track haunted by the ghosts of future past.

RED: (His voice drops.) I remember reading about this neurosurgeon from the early 1900s. I forget his name, but he theorized that if you stimulate a certain part of the brain, you could recreate memories artificially.

RN: Penfield, I think.

RED: Right, right. Wilder Penfield. I don’t know much about the hippocampus, but every time I listen to this record, it’s like I’m really reliving my past life. I can see it. Vividly. Like here on this track, this is the day I moved out of my mom’s spot.

RN: Why’d you move out?

RED: I had no choice ‘cause she kept…yo, I just couldn’t stay there. So I’m packin’ up what little stuff I have. My kicks, my Walkman, my Bible, my Qur’an. In the closet, I had a shoebox with my stash and some old pictures. Cats I knew from grade school. Most of them were gone. (Pauses.) It’s a trip ‘cause you always hear people sayin’ they wish they could hold onto memories. I wanted to get rid of mine. Stuff ‘em all up in my shoebox and throw ‘em from the train.

RN: You didn’t have any good memories from childhood?

RED: (After a long pause, he shakes his head.) Not that I can recall.

10. “Tip the Scale” – Nihilism reaches its apex on this bluesy downbeat track. Black Thought and Dice Raw paint a dystopian landscape littered with the walking dead. It’s grim. It’s bleak. And for Red, it’s only the beginning.

RED: Yo, you were gonna ask me somethin’ earlier and I cut you off…

RN: Oh right, I wanted to go back to your Machiavelli quote, about the many who are not virtuous.

RED: Yeah. (Takes a bite of his hoagie.)

RN: Now, from what I understand, Machiavelli believed you had to deceive to win honor.

RED: He called men “wretched creatures.” Of course that word comes up again in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

RN: You told me you stuck to the code of keeping your word. Does that mean you never deceived anyone to get ahead?

RED: (Pauses.) Everybody was out to get theirs, like I said. That’s just what it was. My scope of vision was wider than that. I had to make certain moves to gain leverage, you know what I mean? I know cats used to call me a master manipulator or whatever. But I was puttin’ people on. I was tryin’ to teach them how to think long term. To invest in our futures. To stand for something, like Malcolm X said.

RN: But how can you get people to look past what’s going on in from of them? I mean, how it is even possible to invest in your future if you’re broke in the present?

RED: (Shrugs.) I wish I could tell you. It’s hard to escape a one-track mind when the light at the end of the tunnel is flashing red and blue. But that was the game. And since we all kept playin’, we all stayed losin’.

11. “Redford (For Yia-Yia and Pappou)” – The album draws to a close with a magnificent four-part suite beginning with “Redford,” a stunning piano solo by Sufjan Stevens. The arrangement is both beautiful and heartbreaking, a paradox that truly resonates here at the outset of this young man’s life.

RN: This suite takes the album to a whole ‘nother level. An abridged symphony, so to speak.

RED: My life.

RN: Weren’t you named after this song?

RED: In short, yeah. This is off Stevens’ concept album called Michigan, which dropped in ‘03.

RN: But wait, how were you–

RED: Don’t ask.

RN: I got you.

RED: Let’s just let this one ride.

12. “Possibility (2nd Movement)” – Strings weep beside a mournful piano. The notes are falling and falling, like autumn leaves again, until finally the string quartet arrives back at their own interpretation of “Redford”.

RN: Are these movements all still part of your story?

RED: Yeah and what’s tight to me is that each one is a different interpretation of “Redford”. These are all the different ways I see myself. I’m a young boy at this point. I can choose which route I want to take, you know what I mean? Either I define who I want to be or society will define me, and we all know what happens when that happens. But check this, the word “interpretation” also relates to dreams and our unconscious… (His voice trails off.)

RN: What?

RED: (Staring off.) You asked me earlier if I had any good childhood memories. I just remembered one. I’m about 10 years old here. Livin’ with my aunt. My aunt was the coolest ‘cause she never treated me like a kid. And I remember she took me to see my first R-rated movie: The Terminator.

RN: Classic.

RED: Yeah, but as a boy, that movie had me buggin’ out. I couldn’t sleep that night ‘cause I was thinkin’ about my moms. I was afraid she was gon’ die. And I couldn’t save her. When my aunt came in the room, she didn’t know what to say. But just her being there helped me go to sleep. I don’t know what made me think of that.

13. “Will To Power (3rd Movement)” – The penultimate track puts ?uestlove in the ring with D.D. Jackson, an avant-garde piano player, who terrorizes the keys in an erratic rampage. The track builds and builds on starts-and-stops and crashing cymbals, reaching its zenith, then tumbling down, down, down.

RN: I know you dig the title of this one.

RED: You already know. “I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage.” One of my teachers in high school wrote that on the chalkboard one day and ever since then, I read every word Nietzsche wrote.

RN: Even after they say he went crazy?

RED: Dude didn’t go crazy, per se. He was just misunderstood ‘cause he didn’t fit into the box people tried to put him in.

RN: Didn’t he play piano, too?

RED: (Nodding.) At least 70 known compositions. Nothin’ like this piano here, though. This is somethin’ else. Sounds like deterministic chaos, don’t it?

RN: The butterfly effect? I don’t feel you.

RED: (Smiles.) I been thinkin’ about this idea for a minute. So these instrumentals come at the end, which you could say represents the beginning of my life. And you know how we were just sayin’ each movement offers a different interpretation?

RN: Right.

RED: To me, this movement is all about chaos theory, meaning extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. Because that’s how my life begins, right? I was born into a crazy world. This goes back to nature and nurture, fate and free will and all that. In my case, my life is already predetermined. But this makes me wonder how things can change for cats like me with one small difference introduced early on, you know what I mean? If we took advantage of our environment and used the power we have to influence the youth, yo the possibilities could be infinite.

14. “Finality (4th Movement)” – And then, as the curtain slowly falls in the final movement, we return once again to “Redford” in strings. Then it ends on heavy note. Followed by a 30-second moment of silence.

RED: So this is it.

RN: Kind of reminds me of that final scene in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour.

RED: “This life came so close to never happening.”

RN: Exactly. Except in reverse. Which reminds me, I never asked what you thought about the decision to tell your life story backwards.

RED: (A long pause.) You know what? I know that’s how it looks on the surface, but I don’t see it going just one way. To me, it’s all mythological. This album can be seen spinnin’ forward or backwards. For instance, this track could mark the beginning, me takin’ my first breath in 1974. But it’s called “Finality”. And then, on the opener, called “Dun”, the first sound you hear is a baby crying, which could symbolize birth. So I think undun represents the snake eating its own tail. By that, I mean this is about the ongoing cycle of life and death. And the urgent call for transcendence. (Shrugs.) But who am I to say?

Girls 1, Boys 0: NOW WHAT?

fantasy of working women

Another day, another meme.

The new HBO wundershow Girls has arrived (see the full Episode One here). And with it discussions about what the “new woman” wants.

Well, according to recent studies about manhood and masculinity in America, it’s all over now.

They’re calling it The End of Men, which is a nice way of saying Valerie Solanas was right.

Now I’m not the kind of man to lament such a condition. The way I see it men had roughly two millennia to get our shit correct…and we still haven’t sooo….

Male writers have completely fumbled the ball, from their antiquated or opaque literary depictions of sex to patriarchal art games: it’s been our chess board for so long that we forgot what it’s like not to hold all the pieces. Now it’s the women’s turn. And don’t even get me started on some of my favorite black literary lions such as Ishmael Reed and Charles Johnson and their war with our black female geniuses: Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, etc.

The men I love hate the women I love. And there’s no sense in that. Leave it to Baldwin to float above the fray.

But I digress: this post is about what’s happening right now to women, right now to men, and what we’re all doing about it.

Scholars say that the arrival of the Judd Apatow/Adam Sandler manchild– a particular 21st Century species who bumbles around playing videogames all day and not committing to anything: children (see Knocked Up), marriage (see Wedding Crashers and Failure to Launch), even friendship (see I Love You, Man)– that this inept, impotent being has created a void in America and the world that is being filled by upwardly mobile professional women that are doing their damn thang: outnumbering men in college matriculation and employment rates, raising children, paying bills, building organizations and communities, starting companies and engaging in BIG IDEAS…

while the men play video games (white version)…

or drop out, get shot and go to prison (black version)…

Now here’s where things get even more interesting. According to particular feminists, this vacuum is leading women to want it fasterharderstronger in the bedroom…

According to Katie Roiphe and her head-turning Newsweek cover story “The Fantasy Life of Working Women,” all over America professional women are turning to BDSM and “rape fantasies” in order to compensate for their discomfort with their newly won positions of prestige and power in society.

I think this is ridiculous. If bondage is going mainstream, so be it. So are Brazilian waxes. And a lot of other things, some perhaps good, some perhaps bad.

But this is sex, people.

One woman’s pain is another woman’s pleasure. Ditto for men.

And generations define themselves by how they approach love and sex.

Remember the Victorians? Interesting lot. Underneath all their clothes, there was still a lot of sex and celestial beds going on.

So here we are in the 21st Century where asexuality is on the rise, men are addicted to online porn and faking orgasms, and women want to be tied up and sexually assaulted by a “master” wearing a monster mask.

I always wonder where the black community fits into all these convoluted cultural conversations.

Are black women working at Golman Sachs and then going home wanting to be someone’s slave, dressing up in antebellum garb, and moaning through a rape fantasy?

For some reason, I highly doubt it. But in actuality, if that’s what turns her on, who cares? At least, SHE’S GETTING TURNED ON. Isn’t that her prerogative, her love, her life, her dream that Dr. King said she had a right to have umpteen years ago?

Besides, I think the focus on sexual adventures misses the point entirely for three reasons:

1. It’s the 21st Century. We have holograms now. In fact, hologram Tupac is about to go on tour. And yet we still want to control and vilify women’s sexual fantasies? Their right to not only have sex when and with whom they want, but how they damn want to? (I personally happen to know several women that want to have sex with Tupac’s hologram, but I’m not complaining about that. I just find it interesting.)

2. Women are making gains, but still fighting hard for respect, love and equality in the workplace and beyond. For proof of this, see the recent firestorm caused by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s announcement that she leaves work at 5:30 pm, as well as her seminal TED speech about the lack of women leaders, which has become a rallying cry frequently cited by feminists and women everywhere about the disappointing persistence of gender inequality (see the video below).

3. Don’t feminists have other things to fight over? Try some racial/class solidarity for starters. I’m tired of feeling that feminist arguments are really thinly veiled PRIVILEGED WASP WOMEN ARGUMENTS AND MARCHES (see the womanist vs. feminist fuss over those WOMAN IS THE NIGGER OF THE WORLD signs at the New York Slutwalk for example).  If y’all women could all get on the same page, stop being classist, stop being racist, stop being essentialist, and pull more men and colors into your ranks then more things would get accomplished GUARANTEED.

And for the rest of you (especially us men): Read a damn book. Treat the women in your life right.

And like Sly said, “I’m through man.”

–Chuck Lightning