Friday, December 30, 2011

Cultural Pride, Equality, And The Need For Voices

Context is an amazing thing. The most amazing thing about context is how few people actually understand it. This hit me as I watched Elon James White get assaulted on Twitter for his comment that black GOPers who say things like “liberal plantation” or “Democrat Masters” have already lost their argument. I chuckled when I saw it, and then went about my day. Hours later, Elon was STILL debating people in his mentions. For those who don’t know, Elon James White is a comedian and political commentator. He has a podcast called Blacking It Up and does a YouTube show called This Week in Blackness. At some point, someone called Elon racist. Their argument? They felt that Elon would say it was racist to have a show called This Week in Whiteness, so by association, This Week in Blackness must be racist.

When I saw that, I had to take a second, because I have some very militant thoughts from time to time. No scratch that, I have some very Afrocentric thoughts from time to time, to be more precise. You see, my entire life, I’ve been struggling to accept who I am. I’ve always felt as if I didn’t truly fit in. Some of that comes from being bullied, and some of that comes from the way I was raised, as well as having some body image issues, etc. But some of that can be attributed to being black. I was told growing up that being black meant that I would be harassed, that police, authority figures, and society in general would look at me differently. My first reaction was to deny that. Why would they? Why would anyone be derisive of me because of my skin color? I’m a good-looking, well-spoken and respectful young man. Surely, here in America, I would be judged not by my appearance but by the content of my character, right? Time has proven me wrong in that regard, very wrong. As a young black man growing up in the South, I have learned that no matter what I say, what I accomplish, I will forever be “the black guy” to some people.

But that doesn’t mean I should reject who I am. I AM a black man. I can’t nor do I want to ever change that. Being black has given me a perspective of this nation that few of us truly get the chance to have. Standpoint theory argues that those who are in the minority from a power standpoint have a better understanding of the world of minorities than those who are of the majority. In other words, as a black man, I understand being black more than someone who isn’t. Even if someone were to pull a Jane Goodall and live among the black people as they did, adopt their mannerisms and way of life for years, at the end of the day, their knowledge, nay their perception, would still be lacking compared to a standard black person. I personally agree with this, since I have seen what oppression looks like. I know what it feels like to have someone look at me with eyes full of hatred. Not only do I know that feeling, I embrace that as part of being Black. Do I hope the world changes one day? Of course I do. I want peace and harmony as much as the next man. But at the same time, those experiences have helped shape my perception, and have helped form the lenses at which I look at the world. I am black. And I’m okay with that.

Part of being black entails understanding that as a minority, your personal culture and history isn’t protected by the majority. They say that the victors write the history books, and they (who I imagine must have been victors, since we still know this quote) were definitely correct. I’m not accusing the majority of trying to erase the minority’s history, but as I stated, their perception of reality differs greatly from that of someone who is a minority. So the complete history of what shaped and continues to shape blackness in America may be cleaned up. Take Martin Luther King, Jr. versus Malcolm X for instance. Both men were great leaders and visionaries, who gave their lives willingly for what they believed in. One has his own day and recently had a statue erected to him. The other? Where is his statue? Where is his day? Malcolm X played a great role in influencing what shaped black culture, as did the Nation of Islam. But that role has been minimized and swept into the back page in history. Were it not for black people trying to keep that history alive, (Spike Lee, Chuck D, etc) where would it be? There needs to be a voice for the minorities, otherwise their history would be erased. Who better to provide that voice than the minorities themselves? As I’ve mentioned, minorities understand their plot far better than a majority looking in, no matter how great.

Does this “voice” mean that black people who are proud of themselves and their heritage hate everything non-black? No, of course not, no more than Scottish or Irish-Americans wearing kilts does, or Italian Americans or German Americans or Chinese=Americans embracing their culture does. In short, my being proud of who I am doesn’t make me less of an American, nor does it make me hate you for not being me. That’s ridiculous. However, as a Black American, when I see something that I can clearly tell is racism, (and remember standpoint theory? I have a clearer perception of that particular reality) yes, I WILL point it out as such. Now, I’m willing to admit that a lot of things are decried as racist that shouldn’t be, but by the same token, racism still exists. And until we as a society no longer tolerate discrimination of any sort, racism is going to be around. Racism doesn’t stand apart from the spectrum of discriminatory hate, on the contrary, its part of it.
Having said that, White America, if you want to start a show called “This Week In Whiteness” go right ahead. I should warn you, though, that it might not do very well. You see, the market for news and history shows about White America is flooded. For instance, we all know how white men rushed overseas in World War II to stave off evil. The “greatest generation” they’ve been called. However, this is the same generation that casually forgets to mention the black soldiers and what they had to endure. Soldiers like the Tuskegee Airmen, who had to be exceptional just to get a chance to fight. Soldiers like my grandfather, who was injured in World War II but never received a commendation for it because his commanding officer was white. Soldiers who could risk their lives for their country, but couldn’t get food from the front of a restaurant when they got back. History somehow forgets to mention these soldiers. And while we’re at it, what about the first and second generation Asian Americans who were rounded up and put into American concentration camps after Pearl Harbor? How many of these stories were in the news in the 1940’s? My point? White America gets enough press. It doesn’t NEED more voices, though if you wish to join the chorus, please feel free. However, minorities in America? We need all the voices we can get. The alternative is to forever be forgotten. I owe more than that to my future children.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Launch Me Bro!"

Every rock concert I've been to, inevitably, a small white girl, or a small white guy, will ask me to "launch" them. For those who are unaware what "launching" is, it's how one begins to crowd surf. You find a strapping young man, and you ask him to physically throw you above his head onto the surging crowd. Now as a person who has a bit of a sadistic streak, I will not refuse a small white guy's request to be "launched". Four hundred years of oppression and racism demands that I throw him. I generally pick a spot that has one or two people in it, and then after yelling "fore", I launch the hapless fool straight at that spot. There've been times when I have actually felt/heard the sound that the "launchee" made as they came in contact with the ground, and I have to say, it is a brand of satisfying that can only be experienced, not told. In the case of the small white girl, I don't do this. Because I'm pretty sure throwing small white girls into the air is what got Rodney King beaten up the second time.

I say all of this to make a specific point: every so often, you meet someone who has that look in their eyes. You can tell that they are about to ask you to launch them. For years (and in some cases, all of their lives) they have dreamed about this moment, and they are so close they can taste the glory and splendor that is their goal. They WANT it, and dare I say, they even CRAVE it. That hunger can be seen in their eyes. And all you can do, really, is, well, launch them. Throw them out into that void and wait and see what happens. Sometimes, the crowd rushes underneath them, and then holds them up to the sky, and for that brief two or three minutes before security pulls them down and then throws them out of the concert, they get to live like rockstars. Of course, other times, they plummet to the earth in a painful and ironic commentary on what it really means to be alive.

I used to think that it was just a lot of crazy white kids looking for thrills because their own lives weren't exciting enough, but after some real thought, I've realized that all of us want to be "launched". We want to have the courage to "throw" ourselves after our dreams. We may fail, and even if we attain our goals, they may be short-lived moments of glory. But don't you want to be able to say that you leaped? That you boldly went forth where few others have gone? Really isn't having the courage to leap a success in itself? I think so. So...launch me bro!

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Herman Cain Almost Became President

Herman Cain is no longer a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. I have mixed feelings about this personally. First, as a normal, rational human being and a man of my word, I’m relatively thankful. I pledged some time ago that if Herman Cain got into office, I was going to immediately emigrate to some other nation. I even went so far as to say that being jobless and homeless in some other first world country would be equal to or greater than living here with a job under Herman Cain’s steady guidance. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that statement is. Let’s not dwell on that, or on how myopic that really makes me look. Instead, let’s attempt to answer a question that no doubt many of us have asked ourselves over and over again: how did Herman Cain get so popular?
First and foremost, let’s address the fact that Herman Cain is indeed a black man. His conservative stances don’t negate that, despite what some commenters on various blogs would have you believe. I’m pretty sure when “they” are out lynching black people, “they” don’t stop to ask the lynchee’s opinion on the government’s fiscal responsibility, or whether or not a woman has the right to an abortion. (For the record “they” is the unnamed force which apparently still exists and lynches people. Ask Clarence Thomas for more details. I think I’m being sarcastic with that, it’s getting hard to tell) At any rate, the main demographic that Herman Cain had to cater to might have seen their parents or uncles or even older siblings spit on or speak derisively of Herman Cain and “his” kind (again to clarify, I’m talking about black people) at some point in time. So how did he suddenly manage to get them all to rally their support around him, even after the first and second allegations of sexual harassment emerged?

I have a theory, and of course, I’ll be sharing it here.
What’s the best part of waking up? Most of you can finish that sentence by saying it’s “Folgers in your cup”. What spells relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S. Tyson’s feeding you, like family, especially if you feel like Chicken tonight. Otherwise, you may find yourself eating a bowl of Nut-N-Honey. These are all slogans that stick with us, even years after the products themselves disappear. You can’t even buy a bowl of Nut-N-Honey, I looked. All I got were really strange looks and one weird offer from a guy in van behind the supermarket. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the generation that Herman Cain targeted grew up even more inundated with slogans than my generation. Our mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts all grew up with slogans. Slogans that may not have really told you anything about the product (what exactly are Folger’s flavor crystals) but either because of saturation or just sheer catchiness, kept those products in the front of your mind when it came time to make a purchasing decision.

Fast forward to Herman Cain and his 9-9-9 plan. How many of us really understood what that was about at first? Did he even bother to explain it in detail? Only after I sat down and did a thorough internet search did I find a legitimate analysis of the dangers of the 9-9-9 plan and what it would do to the poor and middle class in our country. Even then, there were people speaking up about the plan, but the general attack on Herman Cain was never his financial plan to save America from its debt crisis, or his COMPLETE lack of inexperience. Why? Because no one ever looked into his plan. It was a slogan. A jingle. Is the best part of waking up really Folger’s in your cup? Does Tyson really feed you like family? Do you feel like Chicken Tonight? No. In each of the slogan’s cases, we never really question the assertions made by ads, simply because they’re ads. Herman Cain was almost magically able to hide his ineptitude behind an ad, behind his slogan that was simple and easy for everyone to remember. The other plans were complicated and involved taxing this percentile this percentage unless they were this and that and the other. Herman Cain’s simple and easily remembered plan rang true with a lot of the core demographic of the GOP, and so they hopped on board. And for several glorious months, Herm could do no wrong. It was amazing. One of the most ill-conceived campaign advertisements I have ever seen was released (one that I personally think Herman Cain released to derail his own campaign) and people loved it. He and his advisors chose one of the cheapest Casio produced songs I have ever seen as his campaign music, full of synths and slow patriotic style singing and still the older constituency of the GOP rolled with it. And why? I theorize it was because he had a slogan, and his slogan was catchy and it was simple.

As we move deeper in the 21st century the role that adverts and jingles played has greatly diminished thanks to DVR, TiVo and streaming digital media. Now we watch our television largely commercial free, and we enjoy our music in much the same way. The generation growing up now will never know the magic that is a good jingle. Which may actually be a good thing.

And for those who think the 9-9-9 plan wasn’t all bad, I would like to point out this one fact. Herman Cain thought that to best way to shield the impoverished from his plan was to create “zones” where impoverished people who lived there would exempt from the income tax. Essentially, he wanted to group all the poor people together in an area, and then make it financially impossible for them to leave that zone or area unless they substantially increased their income. Thanks, Herm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Communication Really Is An Art

I thought I'd take a few seconds to give a little friendly advice to all the guys out there. First I should point out, that I am by no means a relationship expert. In fact, I am far from that. I have NEVER had a successful relationship. I wish I could say that every failure wasn't my fault, but I'm contractually obligated not to cast blame on any of my ex-girlfriends. However, I do consider myself a pretty reasonable man, who has an amazing success rates at first and second dates. First impressions? I got that. First date? I can succeed at what should be a first date killer (the movies). I'm not saying that I'm a master by any means, I'm just proficient. Here's an interesting link. In it a man sends a 1600+ word letter to a woman who doesn't respond to his voicemails and texts after their first date. My personal favorite part of this entire letter is the request for an apology for because she sent him "mixed signals". His definition of mixed signals? She said yes to a date with him, during which she "played with her hair".

I can't sit idly by while this happens. I can't. I now understand how Batman feels when he witnesses a crime. Because a crime has definitely been committed. Where should I start? Let's start with what I'll call the Hitch paradox. In the movie Hitch, Will Smith states that once a girl accepts a date, it's the guy's responsibility to not mess that up. This is somewhat of a fallacy. A first date is a lot like a job interview. We've all heard that, right? Well, there's some truth to this statement. We all go on job interviews. How many of us have gone on job interviews even though we didn't want the job? I think most of us have our hands raised right? "Oh wait...I get what he's saying." Exactly. So maybe she's on the date because she's actually into charity. Maybe she's trying to prove to herself she's not as shallow as she thinks she is. Who really knows? Well, other than her. And we can't figure out what she thinks for sure. Even if you ask her, there's a good chance that you're not going to make it. I say all of this to make this point: with communication, nothing is universal. Maybe she accepted the date because you looked really good, or you were funny, or you intrigued her. Who knows? But she did accept the date, and didn't tell you no, which coincidentally, was the entire point that was being made on Hitch. I think the fact that so many men missed that point serves to further illustrate my point.

As far as mixed signals go, I think it's safe to say that I've made my point, but let me continue to beat a dead horse. What does it mean when a girl "plays with her hair"? Well, what does it mean when a girl plays with her hair in the mirror? Should we assume she's flirting with her reflection? Of course not. See how that works? Depending on what's going on, the meaning behind her actions changes. I know what you're thinking, "but this was on a date". And I agree with you on that. It was on a date. But the context and the action together are not an equation to a specific meaning. Which brings me to the overarching point of this entire blog piece/article/what-have-you. Communication is NOT a science. It's an art. And like an art, it is open to interpretation. More importantly, no matter how WE individually interpret it, there's no way we can be 100% sure that the meaning we interpreted was the correct one.

Finally, to this guy, who apparently is frustrated with the way his date went, I say this: everyone isn't going to like you. It's just the way of the world. Babe Ruth struck out. Michael Jordan lost games. Even the most philandering of men probably got rejected. And you know what? It's okay. I know it seems like NO woman wants you (especially after this letter went viral) but no worries. Eventually, there'll be a woman out there who'll twirl her hair on a date with you and actually be flirting with him. Until that happens, chin up.

Oh and side note: I'm not for "changing" for someone. Trying to figure out what you "did wrong" isn't a good idea. Just be yourself. Someone is bound to like you for you. And isn't that what you want?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kenneth Burke theorized that rhetoric was a way to make human unity possible. One of the key terms to his theory of rhetoric is identification, or persuading a man by “identifying your ways with his”. In speaking to an audience, one is able to identify with it by his gestures, tonality, word choice, order, image, attitude, or ideas. “Identification is affirmed with earnestness,” Burke states, “precisely because there is division.” To identify with your audience is to you unite your audience to your cause or at the very least to understand your system of beliefs. Burke went on to theorize that “rhetoric was the use of symbols to shape and change human beings and their contexts”.

In other words, humans use rhetoric to motivate other humans to take an action of some sort. According to Herrick, Burke often summed up this central action of rhetoric as symbolic inducement. By means of symbolic inducement and identification, a speaker is able to make a powerful argument, and even to motivate his/her audience to act according to the speaker’s overall message.
One such example of this is a music video created and produced by the hip-hop group Public Enemy. It was in response to the noticeable divide in Black culture in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The unity and solidarity of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s had all but dissipated by the mid to late 80’s and black people, though traditionally poorer than other races, were beginning to divide among themselves. Much of this division was reflected in the youth, and their formation of gangs centered around geographic locales. The early formation of hip-hop culture reflected this, in its movement to encourage competition resolution in a non-violent way. As DJ’s, break dancers, and emcee’s “battled” to bring honor and respect back to their respective neighborhoods, there was a much more realistic war occurring in the urban areas that each of these young men were from. From this stemmed a movement to unite the black community through hip-hop and what eventually became known as its flagship, rap.

In 1989, a rap group named Public Enemy released a single entitled Fight the Power, in which rapper Chuck D called for unity. In this rap, Chuck D used hip-hop as a culture, its language, its mannerisms, and even its visual medium of choice, the music video to bring a positive message to a generation of Black youth that were increasingly becoming lost to a violent life of illegal activities. The single was accompanied by a music video which was shot and directed by Spike Lee in conjunction with his movie Do The Right Thing. But what was the motivation behind this, if any? Some would argue that Public Enemy and Chuck D’s only concern was sales. Others argue that the imagery behind the video and the lyrics in the song were simply just a black man repeated what he had seen, without any real understanding of what the imagery he was invoking meant. Was this an attempt at simple manipulation for money? Or was the motivation behind the song and subsequent video as altruistic as its lyrics and message would imply?

The video consisted of imagery that some viewers found to be threatening. But if the song and accompanying music video performance were to be viewed critically, what would result is a better understanding of what on the surface may have appeared threatening or even derisive to some. Some have criticized the video and song as being a call to arms, inciting racial violence on the part of black Americans. Was that the case? What motivated Public Enemy in their creation of Fight the Power?
In the video, there is a crowd of black people gathered at what appears to be a public political rally that centers around a Public Enemy concert. The concert is staged in the streets of Brooklyn. Interspersed in the crowd are young black men wearing black berets, sunglasses and black military style uniforms, as well as young black men wearing black framed glasses, dress shirts, suits and bowties. Both represent different affiliations, the former with the Black Panther party, and the latter with nation of Islam. On the stage, there is a picture of Civil Rights leader Malcolm X, as well as a black silhouette in a gun target’s crosshairs. It is in this scene that Chuck D, the frontman of Fight the Power, begins to speak.
The purpose of this song and video, as stated by Chuck D in later interviews, and within the lyrics of the song, is to promote unity amongst young inner-city Black Americans in their fight against the various abuses of power against them. In fact as we examine the context of the video we can clearly see from exactly who Public Enemy is trying to reach. While it should be noted that this entire video is wholly contrived and all of the people in it were paid and acting as they had been instructed to, there are points that we can take away from it, points which allow us to understand the intended audience of the rhetor, who in this case is Chuck D, the frontman for Public Enemy. This video isn’t shot on a soundstage, but in Brooklyn, at the very heart of both the hip-hop cultures movement, and the sudden turn to gang warfare and violence. Factor in that the video is essentially a promotion for a rap song, then it becomes clear that the audience that is trying to be reached are younger black urban youth who were being engulfed by urban sprawl, poverty, crime and increasing violence. Truthfully, for many of the black youth who watched this video, it wasn’t a disturbing sight. In fact the atmosphere depicted was no different than a large block party or concert. This is supported by the interspersing images of Chuck D walking with people in the crowd and also performing on stage with a DJ.

Throughout the video there are several different symbols. First, we see pictures of the civil rights leader Malcolm X are shown. Also seen in the video are young black men dressed in two different ways, standing out from the general mass of people. Some of the young black men are wearing bow ties, black plastic framed glasses and suits. This identifies them with the Nation of Islam. The other young men that are singled out are wearing black berets, black shades and military costumes; which clearly distinguishes them as being members of the Black Panther Party. In both cases, these are organizations that were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. It is interesting to note that in each of these cases we can see that each of these young men are stepping, or dancing, in time to the music being played. This is clearly showing their support, approval and is an example of an attempt at identification. Many young Black Americans considered these organizations to be relics of the past, but by showing young members interacting and dancing to this rap song, it establishes that these young members of each organization are not very different from their counterparts outside of their respective organizations. These symbols, and the imagery behind this video are powerful. Chuck D could have very well shot a video of himself giving a speech about the need to stand up to those who would abuse their power, to be willing to fight for one’s rights, but instead, he chose to this medium to convey his message. This conscious choice helps to support the assumption that Public Enemy was targeting young black Americans, particularly those who were closer to the hip-hop culture’s birthplace in New York, and hoping to reach them with their message and motivate them.

Another insight into the motives behind this rhetorical act is the person who is speaking at the forefront of it. Chuck D, in this video, is a 29 year-old-black man, who grew up in Queens, New York. Unlike many of his peers, Chuck D was able to attend college, and undoubtedly that additional education resulted in his interest in political movements. If you look at his stated purpose and compare it to the video that he and his group have created, clearly he’s trying to motivate young black people to embrace their shared heritage. In his rap, he starts off addressing his audience as “brothers and sisters”. The lead up to the repeated “hook” or chorus is “we got to fight the powers that be”, not “I” or “you”. This is an appeal to unite, to stand up for freedoms that are denied by abuse of power. Chuck D even goes on to encourage this stance when he says that “our freedom of speech is freedom or death”, and again when he points out that “we need awareness, we can’t get careless”. Chuck D’s purpose is clearly to unite his audience. Many of his intended audience had shown a willingness to die over their “territory” or block, and Chuck D’s purpose is very much to get them to show that same willingness to die for a “good” or “right” cause. This is emphasized by his words several times, but most notably when he says “What counts is that the rhymes/Designed to fill your mind/ Now that you've realized the prides arrived/We got to pump the stuff to make us tough/from the heart/ It's a start, a work of art/To revolutionize make a change”. Even at the start of the video, while Chuck D speaks dismissively of the Civil Rights era marches on Washington, his purpose is still made abundantly clear that he is looking to inspire unity, unity of the same kind shown during the 1960’s Civil Rights Era, unity that can be leveraged to bring about revolution and of course, change. It can be well argued that the motivation behind this rhetorical situation stems from one man’s desire to unite his race, after seeing what had befallen them, and having seen what could be accomplished by the means of unity.

More light is shed when we examine the means used to deliver this rhetorical act. As highlighted before, Public Enemy, led by frontman Chuck D, effectively used rap as a means of delivering a message. The power of music lies in more than just its ability to reach a large and diverse audience. Music, particularly rap, is able to gain compliance by means of symbolic inducement. Rap, itself, is a symbol that can result in a bridge of a divide between the speaker and his audience. In the era of “popular music”, those who have success as singers, song-writers, rappers or musicians are envied and idolized by those who support their music. The shortening of fanatic to the term fan was in direct correlation with the effort to describe the reactions of supporters who unflinchingly supported their favorite musicians, bands or organizations. Rap stemmed from the culture of hip-hop, and those who were rappers undoubtedly shared a connection to those who were within that culture, just as break dancers, graffiti artists and DJs would as well. Those within the culture, as with any culture, spoke a particular language and for a speaker to truly reach and motivate them, even with a message that was largely for their benefit, the speaker had to demonstrate that he spoke their language, or that he was one of them. But the relationship went deeper than that. Chuck D was a member of the audience that he sought to reach. He was a young Black American who had grown up in the inner-city. He had witnessed the Civil Rights movement as a child, and as a teenager and young adult seen the unity that formed from that era slowly slip away and turn into territorial violence and gang warfare. Chuck D chose rap as his method to reach youth who were like him, and by using rap, he was able to demonstrate that he could relate to his audience because he was part of them. This was clearly the use of identification to motivate his audience to act.

Was Public Enemy inciting its audience to violence against all authority figures or encouraging anarchy? As we look at each of the points examined in this critique, the argument can be effectively made that wasn’t the purpose or the message behind Fight the Power. In fact, when we look at Chuck D and his choice of rap as the means to deliver his message, as well as the setting he chose to deliver that message in, we can see that his motivation wasn’t to mobilize an army. The video never depicts imagery of an angry Black army assaulting white police officers or politicians, and Chuck D’s choice of rap wasn’t motivated by the need to hide angry inflammatory speech, but to reach a very specific audience. For those who heard Fight the Power and were motivated to take action, the greatest motivating factor can be seen in the power of music and being able to relate to the people in the video, as well as Public Enemy’s frontman, Chuck D.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Take Care by Drake comes out November 15th. I got a review copy *cough* here's my listen-thru/critique.

They say the first track sets the mood of the album you're listening to right? Truth be told, this first track is MAD soft. I'm talking slow piano chords, distant drums, and a high pitched man/woman singing a echo-y hook. I'll say this for it, though. It works. I can't hate on it because its soft. That'd be like me being mad at Charmin. It's supposed to be soft. I don't think rap has to be hard all the time. And apparently neither does Drake. The song's sufficiently complex, and has a real strong "layer" effect with the way the sound hits. Drake's rapping is...well...Drake's rapping. Highlight of the track: Drake singing "Oh you wanna be a funny guy?" Then rapping "Don't make me break your Kevin Hart." I'm feeling the semi-breakdown at the end as well.

The next track, Shot For Me is baby skin. Pure and simple. Completely soft. This track STARTS off with Drake singing. I'm starting to notice something about Drake. And take this how you want to, but I've noticed that Drake's singing in itself isn't horrible. What kills it for me is the "flourish" he adds in between. Like if you can't sing, don't try to be impressive with it. Autotune doesn't make up for your lack of natural singing abilities. You're not Adele, Christina Aguilera, or even just some fat black chick in the church choir. Chill with all that oooohing and aaahing. That's completely unnecessary. It literally kills this whole song. I do like the 80's style synths and the breakdown, although I could live without Drake's DMX spoken prayer, or whatever that was supposed to be at the end.

Headlines starts off with the dopest synth of all time. I love the synth in this song. It feels ripped straight from 80's. Drake of course is rapping/singing but he's doing it relatively well. I'm not mad at him for this song. I could however, live without him singing "they know they know they know" at EVERY opportunity on this hook. Double props to his verses on this. Drake sounds like HIM. I wanna dap him up for doing his own thing and not trying to ape someone else's style. But then I hear the DMX ape-ing at the end of this song, and I immmediately change my mind.

Crew Love. My initial reaction to this is frustration with the drum hits and NO actual drums. Where are the drums at? And of course, the Weeknd is here, singing in an echo chamber of dreams. But seriously, can I get some drums please? On a side note, the Weeknd's lyrics are mad hard for someone to be singing. I mean...for real? The drums hit when Drake starts rapping. Completely alleviates my frustration. The best part of this song is how well it all FITS together. It's like a really good ambient trance/trip-hop mashup with the Weeknd singing "they loving the crew" over and over again. Which by the way, is right on the threshold of annoying. So is this repeating the drum/cymbal hit. But it never goes over the threshold. That song felt a little too short though. I would have liked a breakdown.

And here's the first song I can't co-sign. Take Care with Rihanna is just too house for me. This whole dancehall beat with a house piano riff echoing all hauntingly ain't for me AT all. Couple that with Drake singing more than Rihanna and I'm ready to check out completely. Shout out to the bass line for being at least 20 years old. Same to the four on the floor beat they're trying to disguise with syncopated drums. I'm struggling to get past the music of this album. And this breakdown is a crime against all humanity. What R&B song just got bastardized/sodomized? Rihanna says she's loved and she's lost in this song. I don't know who she loved, but she's definitely lost with this one.

Marvin's Room/Buried Alive. What can I say that hasn't already been said about this joint? This is not a good song. Drake has never seen a relationship where the woman DIDN'T walk out. Also Drake, even if a woman is with a dude that's AMAZING, I'm pretty sure he's not going to tell her she can do better than him. I mean, unless he has some issues with self-esteem. Then she probably CAN do better. I don't know how I feel about Drake's homewrecking skills. If you lose your woman to Drake, she would've left you for a self-warming Snuggy. Even the Snuggle bear might have given you a run for your money.

Underground Kings starts off with a super dope guitar sample. When the drums drop in and Drake starts rapping, I'm sold. However, I need Drake to rap about something OTHER than hitting on girls with and without boyfriends. I mean, Drake may never have been part of the struggle, but life ain't all just ladies and more ladies right? The most he ever says that makes you think he cares about anything other than women is...uh...well...yeah I got nothing. I'm not crazy impressed with WHAT he's saying, but flow, beat, samples, and all the other things necessary for this to play well in the car is present. The UGK sample is an excellent tip of the hat.

This next track starts off kinda ambient til the drums drop, which is getting to be a trend with this album. But when the drums drop, LAWD. We'll Be Fine goes hard...for this album. But without fail, Drake sings his way back to soft. Though I don't hate this distorted autotuned hook, in fact, I'm curious as to what filter he used to get it there. Add in what I swear is ambient noise barely audible in the background, and this track feels kind of amazing. Drake is still doing his rap/sing thizzle, and yes, he's still talking about the ladies. So apparently, that's Drake's world. The layering of the sounds on this is mad complex though. I can't even pick out all the samples populating the hook. It turns into a rich tapestry...what? I've been listening to Drake.

Can I admit that despite all her ghetto craziness, I like Nikki Minaj for more than her "assets"? This track Make Me Proud with her starts off kinda uninspired, but as it keeps rolling, the ongoing ambient background saves a pretty standard drum beat. And then Nikki comes in with a rap after which she does her Drake impression and starts singing the hook or whatever this is supposed to be. I was listening thinking, that she wasn't doing the hashtag line thing (that's when you say something, and then to make it clever you say something else, like, My shots'll make you jump man, Jordan) but then she dropped the Dolly Parton line in parting (HA!), and much for that. Also I want to point out that Drake is still just talking about women on this one.

Oh this choir feels SO Rick Ross, and that is not a diss. This choir sample is getting it done for me, especially when they start running it through a couple filters, and I swear I hear a familiar piano sample (shout out to Kanye and Common's The Food). Rick Ross grunts like six times before his verse even hits. Is he just sitting in the studio watching Drake spit and cosigning him with the grunt? I can't hate though because this song is the hardest track so far. I don't know how I feel about the track almost overpowering Drake on parts. I mean, I love the music on this track, but when Rick Ross starts spitting, the track eases back so we can hear every word. Is that what it means to be the boss? (UNNHH!) All joking aside, this song is mad enjoyable, even the synth solo at the end. It feels like a Kanye beat that someone bought from the Chinese vendors on the corner. Like this beat has Kayne on the logo.(unless this is an actual beat from Kanye. Then this make sense) But again, that's not me dissing it.

Drake is back to talking about the ladies on Cameras, and how he's into them, and monogamy, unless someone else is dating her. Then forget that dude, he ain't telling you that you could do better. The hook is literally a re-purposed R&B song. If I hadn't just heard that previous track, I would be prepared for this. But I got caught up in the sheer gangsta that was the last track. And now I can't reconcile this track. I mean, you can't show me a flash of legitimate manliness and then go back to talking about "mail me my ring back". Oh and Drake, you ain't getting that ring back, playa.

I love Stevie Wonder, I saw him open up for Jay-Z in 2010, and I gotta be real, that moment will show up every time my life flashes before my eyes. When I saw Doing it Wrong ft. Stevie Wonder on the track list, I got kind of hyped. But then I started listening to the song. This feels like an attempt to do what the early songs did right. This is too ambient, and these monotonous background chords that are supposed to pull the song together ain't working. Add in Drake talking about the ladies and relationships YET again and it really ain't cutting it. And you get Stevie on a track and all he does is play harmonica? Please tell me he at least played the synth a little? And this harmonica solo? Its SAD. Not that it's not well played, I'm talking sad as in, I should be crying in the shower listening to this song. Actually if this were the background track of a movie scene where a guy just got dumped, found out his dog died, and is homeless, this song would be perfect as the lead up to the dude just collapsing in tears from sheer helplessness and despair.

Next is the Real Her featuring Lil Wayne and Andre 3000. We're still crying about chicks apparently. The beat doesn't hide the softness. At all. What is Drake even talking about? Did he get his heart broke again? Does he not learn? And this Lil Wayne verse? Why did the drums drop out, change, and then come back to the first pattern? You can tell that threw Wayne off. They tried to throw Andre off the same way, but that dude can actually spit, so they couldn't shake him with this track. He redeems this entirely. Because without his rap, this whole song is sunk. Also is Andre trying to give Adele a baby? Did I hear that right? No?

This next track is better. Thank you for stopping with the sadness. HYFR could be harder, though. Also that piano chord that sounds like a phone that's been left off the hook (you super young cats won't get that) has me feeling like hanging up on this song. Drake redeems this with his flow. Lil Wayne too. He's actually kinda shining on this track. I kinda hate when he start double-timing his flow, though. Just doesn't match his voice. Add that to his breath control trying to maintain it being just a bit below par, and that equals meh. But overall this track is decent. I don't think I'ma write home about it or nothing.

Another muted piano starting off Look What You've Done? Really Drake? What is this? I'm feeling the flow over the piano by itself, but on this album? I'm literally tired. I just want to lay down and give up. I wasn't sure if that was lay or lie, and I didn't even bother looking it up. Oh wait, I see what you did there. You bring in the drums when you're NOT rapping this time. That's mad different, Drake. What are you talking about in this rap again? What's that? A woman who loved you so that you could love yourself? Sigh. At least I can't say this album doesn't have a theme.

Last track of the album is Practice, and I couldn't be more ready. This track has to bang right? I mean, is it too much to ask that it be the hardest track Drake has ever done, or at least the hardest on this album? It starts off with a really familiar sample...something I've heard before...and I can't that...NO that's not...yeah that's a Juvenile track slowed down. And then the hook hits. And Drake actually raps the verse from Back That Thang Up. Ever heard a dude try to sound like he's from somewhere he's not? No? Then listen to this track. How did you take the most misogynistic club track in recent memory and make it this soft? Drake took this track from the club to the chapel. Oh and Drake? No one's going to "drop it" to this quiet storm remix. This whole track feels like a throwaway. I could live without it. Though shout out to the super-quiet guitar solo, and the 80's synth hiding behind the sample.

Overall this album has a couple of hits on it, and when it's right, it's REALLY right. But when it misses, it's horrible. Overall I'd say this album is decent though. I feel like this wasn't made for me. Like the ladies will love it, and as long as you got your hand near the skip button, you can come to appreciate it. If you really want to impress your lady, throw this in a bag with some flowers and chocolate and watch her be amazed at how sensitive you are.'s that kind of album.

I give this three and a quarter of whatever symbol you prefer outta five.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I have had several run ins with the police. I am not a criminal. I am not involved in illegal activities. I am a black man who lives in Alabama, and in a series of unfortunate events, that seems to be a crime within itself. I have been cuffed, frisked, and threatened, as well as spoken to in an unprofessional manner, though, I have never been arrested, or formally charged with any crime. My entire life, I have strived to be a law abiding citizen by paying my taxes on time, obeying traffic laws and ordinances and not partaking in illegal drug use of any kind. My entire life I have been told to be respectful of authority, particularly police officers, since the power they yield could be used to my detriment. I don’t expect a perfect world. I never have, nor do I even believe that to be possible. But recent events and conversations have caused me to view law enforcement in an entirely different manner. Recently, I had an officer, who while frisking me, brusquely asked if I had anything on me that could hurt him or piss him off. Instead of replying, “No sir,” as I knew I should have, I found myself saying, “I don’t know. I’m black with some college education and ambition. How do I know if that pisses you off?” I don’t know why I said this, but the officer’s response pushed me to a place where mentally, I had never been before. He began to lecture me about my attitude and how I “couldn’t assume that he was racist”. This struck me as ironic, since he had assumed since I was young black man, that I was some sort of threat. He had assumed that because I swerved ONE time while texting that surely I must be drunk. He had even gone so far as to assume that I had made the assumption that he was racist. He asked me why I was so jumpy, if I had something to hide. I responded, that two strangers with guns are standing in front me, who wouldn’t be jumpy. I didn’t say, two white men, two racists, or anything of that nature, yet again, the assumption was made that I was alluding to them being racist or corrupt. His response was that I had no right to be jumpy, especially since I could see his badge. I ask you, has a police officer ever opened fire on an innocent man, black or white, and gunned them down in cold blood? How would one identify such an officer? Would they not be dressed just as any other officer? Wouldn’t their attitude, the way they approached you, what they said to you, wouldn’t that be your first clue that this officer is apparently bent on using his power in less of a capacity to protect and serve than his brethren? After he finished lecturing me, I turned to him, I asked him if I needed to take a breathalyzer to proof my sobriety, or was he going to continue to detain me without good reason. He gave me a look of sheer anger, as if he could not stand that fact that he wasn’t taking me to jail and let me go on my way.

In this case, what did I say wrong? What did I do that should have incurred the wrath of upholder of the law? Did I curse the officer? No. Even my choice of words, though spoken clearly and with conviction, were not disrespectful. The police officer asked me a question, and I answered his questions freely and truthfully. Should I have “played the nigga” in fear? Fear that he may assault me unjustly? Fear that he may even take my life? I refuse to yield to such fear. I refuse to relinquish my rights for my life. I’m not saying take up arms against the police, nor am I supporting the murder of those who choose to serve their community in this way. Nor am I saying we should treat officers of the law with a minimal amount of respect. What I am saying is demand your rights. We are free men and women and we are equal citizens. No one would be allowed to tell us otherwise, so why would we allow someone to treat us otherwise? There are legal recourses available to each of us, should we find ourselves in a situation where someone who is supposed to protect and serve decides to overstep his boundaries. Often I have heard people say that reporting an officer doesn’t work, or that you’ll be marked as a rabble rouser, or as someone who can look forward to further harassment. That is fear. That is a system of control that those who would corruptly wield their power benefit from. Do not be afraid to stand up for what you know to be right. Do not yield simply because you are afraid of some sort of retaliation. You are a citizen. There is no distinction between us when it comes to our rights. Don’t let anyone treat as if there were.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A New Era?

Jerry Sloan has resigned and presumably retired. I hate to say this but it took me some time to process this. Jerry Sloan has been coaching since I was five years old. I've seen him weather the hurricanes that were Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, the Lake shows, the Detroit Pistons (both iterations) and while he has never won a championship, he's 400+ wins above .500. That's right, he's got 1200+ wins and only 800+ losses over the course of 23 years. He's had John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Carlos Boozer. That's it. Look at Phil Jackson. He's had Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Dennis Rodman, amongst others and he won championships. I can't help but think that if Michael Jordan had been good at baseball, Utah might have won a championship. But now, after that run, he has come to the end of his era. Why? His young franchise point guard was frustrated. Maybe Derron Williams really did feel like he wasn't "properly prepared" to face off against the Bulls and Derek Rose (though really, how much film do you need to watch to know that Derek Rose is freaky like a lady pyramid fast? Even Ken Jeong recognizes it). Maybe he felt that the coaching staff wasn't pushing hard enough. But how many professional coaches has Derron Williams had? How much responsibility does Williams take for his own failures to win a championship or to properly prepare for games? As has been mentioned before, Sloan and Williams had some prior issues. They never seemed to meet on the same playing field. You see, Sloan believed in leaving it all on the floor as a player and preached that to his players. For the younger class of player, that type of hard nosed, "you'll never be good enough" style of coaching doesn't fly. The generation that Williams belongs to, the millennials, don't do tough love. This is a generation that doesn't respond well to being told they're not good enough. Everything has catered to this new generation from birth, and if they excel, its hard to tell one that they still have goals they need to accomplish. Of course this is all speculation on my part. There's a solid chance that Jerry Sloan and his coaching staff didn't spoon feed footage on opposing teams to their players. He may have left that to his players to search out on their own, or at least to take the initiative to ask for it. I don't know that. All I know is that a great coach, a future HOFer with an amazing record of success and guiding his team to wins, has been forced into resigning because the team doesn't want to lose its star point guard. No matter how the media paints it, that's what it falls down to. If Utah had shipped out Derron Williams or backed Jerry Sloan, maybe he would've stayed. But that's not how this generation works. We are now in the generation of the player. Should it always be that way? I suppose the Utah Jazz feel that way.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tron: Legacy

Before I begin, I feel the need to say that I actually liked the first Tron. Granted I was one when it was first released, but, after I grew up a bit and watched it, I found it to still be visionary, as well as visually ambitious, particularly for it's time. So when I heard of the sequel featuring Jeff Bridges, I was pretty excited. Granted, that excitement was dampened a bit by the critical reviews it receoeved, but I decided to draw my own conclusions.

First thing I noticed, is there are sections in the 3D viewing which are decidely 2D. In fact there is a notice saying that there are indeed 2D scenes and were filmed to be viewed as such. Which is a hassle. Viewing them through your 3D glasses, or at least for me, tired my eyes far more quickly than watching them without, but throwing them on at the first sign of double lines was annoying.

But anyway, the story starts off with the shocking visual of a young Jeff Bridges (accomplished pretty obviously through the use of CGI) talking to his motherless son before he goes to spend the night at the office. Needless to say, he never comes back. Flash forward 27 years, and we're introduced to the now grown, incredibly technically savvy and apparent extreme athlete Sam Flynn. First, I get that since his father was a computer whiz so too should he be, but motorcycle racing? Base jumping? Complete with a utter disregard for authority since he never had a parent. He does everything cliche, including rip off a corporation that is obviously corrupt. No one tells us how this young man came to possess the skills and attitude he has, we're simply expected to accept it and move on. Which ironically enough is the theme of this entire movie. Don't ask questions.

Later after Sam is digitized, scanned, and sent to fight in the "games" (question we shouldn't ask: are users so similar to programs that they scan exact same?) we see him defeat programs which presumably have been at it longer than he has. (The question we shouldn't ask is how can a novice human outdo expert programs?) After the inevitable meeting of father and son, there's some stilted dialogue and exposition which only serves to open even more plot holes which never get filled. There's the continued theme of unexplained phenomena (how is Flynn alive? Where'd all the food they eat come from? How'd he get books inside, particularly without Internet, how has he not died since time digitally is infinitely faster than analog, do programs poop? etc etc etc) which is compounded even more by the arrival of a new breed of program called an ISO, which "appeared" and weren't created, were the hope of all mankind and coincidentally were wiped out completely by CLUE, Kevin Flynn's partner in creating a digital utopia.

In all, this movie has gotten great reviews for visuals, and they don't necessarily disappoint. But without the story to back them, they are simply pretty lights blinking above a pit filled with rusty nails and barbwire. To see them up close, you will have endure a truly painful experience.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Who's The Man (or Woman)?

In today's world, gender roles are becoming far less traditional. The concepts of "man" and "woman" have changed drastically and continue to change. Even ten years ago, the idea of what a "man" should do, how he should act, and how he interacts in a relationship was different than today. We've struggled to come up with terms and adjectives to get to some type of understanding of what constitutes a man. There's been the birth of the metrosexual and even the ubersexual. And its not just the traditional male role that's changing. Women are now extolling the values of having a career over being a "homemaker" (so much so that women who choose to be homemakers are sometimes looked down on as being "bacwards") and feel that they don't "need" a man to support them financially or emotionally, but they simply choose to have a man.

All of these changes are naturally occuring social evolutions and as man continues to grow, we can expect these roles to continue to change as we adapt to each other. The problem this change causes is that increasingly, the roles of each gender are becoming more and more confusing. If a woman doesn't need a man to support her financially, does that mean that she expects him to be able to? At what point does a man being more open with his emotions and vulnerabilities cross the line from being desirable to undesirable to the opposite sex? Not knowing the boundaries or having some set and established guidelines is leading to frustration on the part of both parties. Thus, many have the mentality of "all men are dogs" or "women don't know what they want". Neither of these stereotypical allegations has any really merit to them, though the emotions and frustrations behind them do warrant a closer look into what causes them.

So what is it that's causing the frustration? Why aren't we getting along? Essentially there's a few problems, but first let's focus internally. Do you know what you want and/or expect from a potential relationship prospect? Most people will answer yes. Which is a good start. Now, ask yourself, do you know what you are willing to offer? Once again, this seems basic and simple, and it should, because it really is. After this assessment, you're ready to find someone else. So go out and find that other person. And once you find them, if they're not what you want, or if you aren't what they want, stop pursuing a relationship with them. No matter how "good" they may be, no matter how much physical attraction there may be between the two of you, if you are struggling to be something you are not to be with them, or if they're clearly not who you want them to be, WALK AWAY. It seems so simple doesn't it? And it is simple. But its not easy.

Many times the problem simply lies in our unwillingness to walk away. Maybe its a lack of patience. Or maybe its that we want something so badly, we don't take our time in making sure that the relationship we're contemplating is the relationship that we actually want. Either way, remember, if you're not happy with the way things are, or the way a person is, all you can do is walk away. That's it. And trust me, there will be other people.

As far as the gender roles go, as to who should ask who out first, who should be the breadwinner, etc., I'm sure that right now, each of you have firmly held beliefs on the subject. And somewhere out there, there is a person who has that same belief and is of the oppposite sex. Go out there and find that person. I bet y'all will have beautiful babies and be relatively happy together.