January 31, 2007

There is NOTHING wrong with Hip-Hop

Let me repeat that:


Now, I'm sure there are many of you, particularly fans of hip-hop, who might take issue with that statement. So many folks from my generation, who came of age in the era of the Native Tongues and Digable Planets and Brand Nubians and Boogie Down Productions, have, quite frankly, been crying for over a decade about how bad hip-hop has gotten. About how it's so much more misogynist and violent and materialistic.

And, yet, we all seem to forget that, at the same time we were grooving to Guru's "Jazzmatazz", someone just down the domitory hall was jamming to Apache's "Gangsta Bitch", or AMG's "Bitch Betta Have My Money", or Digital Underground's "Freaks of the Industry", or Paris's "Bush Killa", or Ice Cube's "No Vaseline".

Like with most things we fondly remember from our youth, our memory is quite selective. For every X-Clan, there was a Poison Clan, even back during the glory days of conscious hip-hop.

What's the difference between then and now?

It's the same thing that happened to that little song "Cadillac Car" in the movie "Dreamgirls" - somebody figured they could make money if they took a little piece of what the original artists had done and repackaged it. Or, as my man Lil' Louis said back in the day:
"They used to laugh at me. But I saw the future. Record company recession. Dancehall boredom. And copy machines spit out song after song."

As with anything popular in the pop culture, there's a gold rush, and tons of knock offs are generated.

What's happened is that the hip-hop fans have forgotten what real hip-hop looks like, and so they get angry when corporate pop, dressed up to look like hip-hop, seems to dominate the airwaves.

And, because they've forgotten, they don't realize that the real hip-hop has never gone anywhere.

The conscience of hip-hop that lived among the Native Tongue click got all Five Percent and took a left turn into Shaolin Island during the mid '90's before it was reincarnated in a version of its original form at the turn of the century as Rawkus Records. And, now that Rawkus has gone the way of the do-do, the new epicenter of thoughful, collaborative, innovative hip-hop is, oddly enough, not far from my old neighborhood of Los Feliz right here in the City of Angels.

I'm speaking, of course, of Stones Throw Records.

Stones Throw kind of came in under the radar for me a few years ago when my buddy, who's a bit of a hip-hop evangelist, slid me a few albums by Yesterday's New Quintet, one of many aliases from the artist known as Madlib. They've been gradually creeping up on me, until the last 2 months where I had a virtual Stones Throw explosion.

Not only is Stones Throw the home for Madlib and other blazingly good artists like MF Doom and Peanut Butter Wolf,

Not only do they also have a sub-label called Now-Again Records which specializes in unearthing and re-releasing classic local funk, soul, and R&B music from the 60's and '70's,

Not only are they coming up with some of the most creative musical collaborations, like they're growing relationships with Adult Swim and KidRobot,

But, over the last month, these cats have started just straight GIVING AWAY entire albums on the internet.

I kid you not.

On New Year's Day, they released an album called "Liberation" - a collaboration between Madlib and Talib Kweli - in its entirely, online, for download, FOR FREE, for, like, a week.

And, yes, it's banging.

Now, they're doing it again.

In the link in the title of this blog post, Stones Throw is releasing one of their compilation albums, "Chrome Children", also for free download in it's entirety on their website (albeit, only for a few more days).

Between these two, plus two other collabo albums, "Madvillainy" (Madlib & MF Doom) and "Danger Doom" (MF Doom and Danger Mouse), I have been positively jamming in my car like it's 1993 all over again.

And let's not even get into acts like Dead Prez, Black Star, Common, and all of the other people who've been holding it down all these years. Or the new guys like Little Brother or Foreign Exchange or Slum Village.

So, again, hip-hop fans - the good stuff is out there. Don't let the crap mascarading as hip-hop get you down. Like the Bible says, "let the dead bury the dead". Let's just keep sending our love to the stuff we DO like, that is positive and uplifting and conscious and skillful and creative

January 19, 2007

The Devil Made Them Do It

Mel Gibson. Michael Richards. Isaiah Washington.

What do these three men have in common?

Well, according to them, whatever it is that you all THINK that they did, they didn't actually do. When confronted with their various acts of bigotry, each one was quick to point out that it wasn't the REAL them that did it. It was something else. Something that was paradoxically both outside of their identities, yet was somehow unleashed from within them in a moment of weakness.

In fact, if I'm not mistaken, when personally confronted, they all said something to the effect of "come on, guys! You KNOW me! You know I'm not a racist."

As if being a bigot requires some sort of quota-based certification - "if you're caught using racial epiphets FIVE times, you're a bigot, but the first four are freebies".

I was particularly amused by some of the reactions I saw from some random dudes on MySpace to Michael Richards - one dude proclaimed empathy with Kramer because he, too, felt like he was, and I quote, "tired of walking on eggshells around Black people".

So, time for a Jeff Foxworthy-style point of clarification - if you find it difficult to keep yourself from calling some black person the N word to their face, you just might, possibly, conceivably, be a racist.

It's as if the very word "racist" has been so demonized that, even when someone commits a racist act, something that, by sheer definition, makes them, in at least that moment, a racist, they have somehow deluded themselves into thinking that they're actually not racist.

Yes, it's a very good thing that people feel shame when they act in a bigoted manner. But I think it's really dangerous when it becomes SO shameful that we can't even have a discussion about what may or may not constitute bigotry anymore.

The Isaiah Washington issue is uniquely interesting to me, especially as I listen to him trying (and failing miserably) to defend himself at the Golden Globes. I'm reminded of Matt Dillon's line in "There's Something About Mary" - "Yeah, I love the retards." As I ride around my neighborhood down here in Crenshaw/Leimert Park, I've noticed a handful of billboards promoting HIV testing for gay black men entitled "Bruthas love Bruthas".

Ebonic absurdity aside, there is a really peculiar relationship between the general African-American community and it's own homosexual subculture. I can remember a guy who sang on my church choir when I was a kid who was CLEARLY gay - it's almost a cliche now: the overweight, flamboyantly gay brother - and who seemed to be generally accepted by the congregation. Yet, at the same time that these guys are almost taken for granted, there is damn-near hysteria among the 20 to 30ish single sisters about the so-called "DL" brothers: brothers who are, in fact, secretly homosexuals pretending to be straight, but, like the previously mentioned racists, are so shamed by it that they can't even own the word. And this is only complicated by the large number of would-be hardcore thugs who go to jail to prove how manly they are, only to engage in and be victims of homosexual assault once they go inside.

And the Donnie McClurkins of the world, who can't tell the difference between a homosexual and a pedophile, certainly aren't helping.

Of course, the larger point is that so many brothers are so totally confused as to what actually IS a man that they're only left with excessive displays of sexual prowess to define their gender.

I was recently trying to figure out why black men in drag has been the proverbial well that never runs dry for Black comedians (so far, I think Chappelle & Chris Rock are the only ones who haven't done it) - when it occurred to me that, for some brothers, the only people they've seen exhibit any kind of power in their lives have been older black women. In some ways, I'm sure the Medeas and Big Mommas of the world are an attempt for some brothers to hold positions of respect and authority that they simply have never seen as something they could eventually just grow into as young black boys.

I'm reminded of "Eddie Murphy: Delirious", where he mimicks his step-father, getting drunk and laying claim to everything in his house - "This is my house! And if you don't like it, you can get the FUCK out! I pay the bills in this motherfucker! I pay the motherfucking taxes! And if you don't like it, you can kiss my ass!"

Think about that for a second - here was a black man who owned a home and supported a family of 4 as the foreman at an Ice Cream plant.

Ah, good old union jobs.

Or, as they said in "Bulworth", when Warren Beatty asks Halle Berry why aren't there any more black leaders, she begins by saying "I think it started with the destruction of the manufacturing base in the cities..."

When Daddy can't pay the bills, Mommy stops thinking of Daddy as a man. So Daddy steals to feed the babies. Daddy goes to jail. Sons grow up without examples of solid manhood. Some start to try to prove it with the only proof they think they have, namely their penises. Daughters grow up without the uniquely unconditional love of a father. Some start to try to acquire it with the only thing that they think they can trade for it, namely their vaginas. Babies are born too soon. And the new Daddy & Mommy are still babies, leaving Big Mommy to pick up the pieces.... if she can.

I know - it's a long winded, rambling chain of thought.

Point being, given how "Grey's Anatomy" is a show created and produced by a black woman that is publicly lauded as a beacon of multicultural acceptance, Isaiah Washington's meetings with the folks from GLAAD could create an interesting opportunity for the Black community as a whole to start unpacking it's own irrational fears about sex, which, in turn, could create even more interesting opportunities for the community as a whole.

January 18, 2007

People of the Sun

I love science fiction. I love director Danny Boyle's work (Trainspotting, The Beach, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, Millions). So this one is a no-brainer for me.