Saturday, August 20, 2011


Nappy Hair and Other Black Girl Blues is a project four-years-in-the-making that Danielle conceived from experience of momentary (unexplained) hair loss & manifestation to celebratory vanity. “3” is a result of paring down a larger idea built from the former.

She called me in 2007 and blurted the title at me.

“I have an idea for a one woman show called 'Nappy Hair and Other Black Girl Blues.”

“A one woman show that YOU would do?”

“Yeah. It's for me.”

Then she told me the concept.

As the conversation progressed she revealed she wanted my help in constructing it. We bantered for 45 minutes on concept, result, & structure (by “structure I mean we had no idea what we wanted). I loved the idea and became trapped by danger of conversation, philosophy & research. So taken, was I, with the idea – wrapped up in the study rather than creation – I couldnt write it for some time. I could see her shifting from one character to another. I could hear her voice by various pitch & physicality defined by circumstance, but I could not hear the words because I was too caught up in research (J.G. Ballard once said: “...research is the refuge of the unimaginative.”).

I can't pin point why she chose me for this project, though we share a long theatrical history. We got along well enough (seven years of friendship & not one argument, not even artistic clashes during the conception of this project), yet our differences split us like a drunken semi-truck through a corner store glass wall. She carries a healthy optimism while I drag my collected luggage from one part of life to the next. She holds unflinching faith & a healthy relationship with God while I claim “it's complicated.” She carries angelic charm, charisma, magnetism, fortitude, a soundtrack for her melodic aura, streamlined focus (in form of God's predestination), & universal appeal. I carry...the opposite & yet she came to me with her idea & I knew, with her kind of energy, it would be foolish & counter-productive not to go along with her.

I am not the straight laced, well behaved bloke one would expect Danielle to place in her company. Which could be (the more I plow the proverbial fields) the very reason she pulled me in. I've always lived life in a hurry & bound my life by restraints of creative growth – an outwardly irresponsible journey one takes until they hit the speed bump of adult hood & decide to “get serious.”

I never got serious. I think that's what Danielle saw.

The women in “3” (much like the characters throughout the series) represent a lack of spiritual confidence that plagues the larger majority of people. These are women I went to school with, over-heard at bus stops, danced with at night clubs, talked to in passing, dated, drank with & held long term friendships. These are women who cashed in dignity for narcissism. Devoted energy to pain & disloyalty to love. Women who respond to vengeance, rumors, false prophets, pop culture, bad music, fast food, idolatry, street codes & Old Testament existentialism...& I love every single one of them.

Their contradictions frighten me. The refusal to search for inner-self baffles me – & I can't see them any other way. There was no urge to “redeem” their vicious deeds. Nor did I feel compelled to save them for the sake of happy endings. To do any of this was not only false but a dishonor to these women all together. The theater is one of the few expressions (next to the novel) that allows room for absurdist rigamarole – a connection to life circumstance which frustrates the outside party. “3” was my way of stating: “...this does not always make sense because people don't make sense – neither to the outsider nor first person victim. These things just happen.”

When I completed the first draft of “3” in November 2009 (first several drafts of the script, prior to “3”, date back to 2007), Danielle wasn't certain about it.

“I like it, but...” (fill in the blank)

My depression at that time was high & I had no energy to justify the play so I quickly dismissed the segment & figured the series had gone adrift into obscurity. Instead I wrote and published my two novels (both of them failures & now out of print) while time passed before Danielle & I spoke on the topic of Black Girl Blues again. The reappearance of the project unveiled from the same fog that swallowed it a year & a half prior. Upon becoming a Mother she read the script(s) again – “3” in particular – & encouraged me to give it another look. I resisted. I told her:

“These are not likable characters.”

“I know. But I love them.”

She hung up the phone & called back a week later.

“I booked a space,” she said. “The show opens in September.”

“What show?”


“We open in September?”



“Just like that?!”


Then she hung up on me. I read the play. I agreed with her.

Danielle took the wheel and steered us off road into the backwoods with thick trees, wild animals & an instant cliff with a thousand foot drop. She plowed us, face first, on river rocks for our bodies to be devoured by mountain lions & wild shrimp. I laughed with pleasure at this unflinching approach. An approach I knew well but needed reminding by way of crashing land-slides & merciless ice storms. This is one of many times she has roused me from isolation (by way of gentle encouragement & push) to reprise our mission, our purpose while informing me life is hard, now get back to work – discipline I lived by & forgotten over time & tragedy. Danielle took this project as a personal road map towards upward mobility & artistic freedom. She didn't turn to another writer when things got difficult & life took turns. She stuck it out, trusted the message from God, gave me space during my (numerous) psychological episodes & quietly got me back on track. She rekindled my first love & inspired me to strive for a life of full creative freedom.

Which defines the essence of Danielle Mone' Truitt. She motivates one to say “Yes.” It's easy to trust her. Her intentions are pure & she doesn't seek blood nor call upon one to do more than has been properly distributed by God. She's one of the few actors who can be handed anything & give it life by fierce commitment & all the while never makes it look like work. She can turn it on & off & manage not to take it home with her. There's a healthy schizophrenic vein that ignites the truth of a character & dismisses mythology of acting. Her technique – despite understanding of craft – is non-traditional yet patriotic by process. Every role contributes to her distance of range & places her outside common limits, often, put upon Black artists. We're assumed by agencies & directors to lack range in ability since the job of the Black artists (according to the Civil Rights era) is to represent the Black experience, be it relevant by social standards or shallow exploits, which destroys humanity & buries complexity. Yet when complexity in Black art comes to the surface (George C. Wolf's “The Colored Museum” & “Jelly's Last Jam”, Wendell B. Harris Jr.'s “Chameleon Street”, Oscar Micheaux's “The Homesteder”, Ralph Ellison's “Invisible Man”, or Charles Burnett's “Killer of Sheep”) there is an awe of admiration followed by backlash with targets on content. The “shhhh, don't tell no one our secrets unless you're a black comedian” syndrome comes forth & stifles wit & complexity to release in-house perpetuated stereotypes & trivial followings. The unsettling result is a contradiction: we fear complexity because we fear our layers will make us look bad (through America history Black folks have had to prove to whites that we possess angelic purity which lifts the wicked from our actions), & yet we look bad by eschewing layers all together, leaving two voided dimensions & celebrating the minstrel show we call ourselves offended by.

This is not the route Danielle or myself have taken. We have lost the energy to complain & extended effort to make it happen. She has had just as much doubt on this project as I. We knew by undertaking an independent show, engulfed by theatrics, (in the age of short attention span & anti-relevance) meant risk. A large risk. And we have welcomed it with pounding hearts. The aspirations behind this show have been big from the origin & neither of us can see this in any other fashion. We've come this far. We've sparked an interest. At this moment it's all we can be grateful for.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Nightbeats Screening: A Look Back

It's a fair gesture to assume the screening of "Nightbeats" [at the Crest Theater in Sacramento, CA July 29, 2009] a success. It confirms, director, Mike Carroll's trust in, not only the audience but the collected integrity of the film all together. The silence of the room during the screening denotes a firm interest in what was presented; along with the applause during credits, all of us involved felt a sense of relief even in the possibility of splitting the viewers.

Some may not have "understood" the film. Its dense presentation supports the warning sticker "FOR ADULTS ONLY" -- which can be taken as lascivious outer play or tasteless attempts for pornographic rhetoric pawned off as "artistic expression." In truth "FOR ADULTS ONLY" translates the film's demand for maturity; it strips away the ideology of entertainment for its own sake and confesses the utopia of "a thinking person's film."

Carroll, himself, sat biting his nails. In tune with every sound erupted from the viewers. One can imagine the hypersensitivity to his person along with the high shouldered excitement of the cast and crew involved. What made the screening difficult is "Nightbeats" leaves very little room for laughter -- often the saving grace from the perspective of contributors -- which can break the tension for the artist and provide insurance of the audience participation.

Carroll does not let his audience off the hook. He takes us by the collar and places us in the path of emotion and makes us dangle in the presents of all the imperfections that come along with the heart's tolerance. The most uncomfortable moment in the film is the seduction of Galen Howard, as the young solider Harold, and Foxworth; she takes a male position of disabling his innocence for self satisfaction while leaving the exploited Howard in post-climatic machismo that will later destroy his life and cripple his sexuality; this concurs with the rabid vulgarity of Lola -- played by Francesca Natividad -- with the naive Ginger (played beautifully by Julianne Gabert who manages to achieve the much envied power of presence) as well as the heartless rebound of Cece (the wonderful Kelly Nixon) in which Lola yanks her gutter life into the hands of destructive sexual imbalance. Carroll hammers home modern feminine sexuality without exploiting gender gaps. He does not play out male fantasy in shallow circumstances but rather explores his curiosity for female limits by way of philogyny -- a trait shared by filmmakers like Jonathan Demme, David Cronenberg and François Truffaut (and merely imitated by the likes of Lars Von Trier, Quentin Tarantino and Mike Figgis). Nor does Carroll present hope or fabricate his ending with grotesque utopia. Instead he blends the stylization with cause and effect; alludes to forward motions of life while leaving the carnage to blow in the dust. In the final shot of the city at a distance, with the rippling water beneath us and scattered fingers of David Blanchards brilliant musical contribution, the audience is drop jawed to revelations that are vivid enough to conjure denial. The ugly world we live in we often stifle to its positive outlook and eschew our latter-day faults as fractions of an "old self."

The screening's aftermath was equally dense. Carroll, bravely, resisted justification of his film. He allows it to linger. "Nightbeats" penetrates the psyche and populates the gut with crammed discomfort, which erupts curiosity (the kind of curiosity only capable within the loins of ADULTS) and provokes study. He did not want to make a film for the moment. Carroll sought longevity and avoids pop culture. He embraces cinema, down to its bare celluloid, and contributes to the ideology of cinematic purity. This is a rare accomplishment without manipulation; a brave pursuit without pretensions; a gutsy reach that avoids self indulgence. "Nightbeats" stands as one of the proudest moments in my creative life. A moment I will hold close and proudly represent for years to come.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Musicians as Heros (and the dismissal of writers as artist)

All of my true idols are musicians.

This has been a fact I've never been able to escape -- going back as far as my infantile stage where my Father would blare his trumpet through the house shortly before he betrayed my Mother and she left him with me in her arms; or those times in the car with my Mother -- well after abandoning my Father -- as she would blare Marvin Gaye, Sade, and Heart.

This carried over to my discovery of Prince. It didn't take long to fall in the trance of "Little Red Corvette." Nor was it a difficult sale with the likes of "Let's Pretend We're Married", "Something in the Water..." and "Free." This carried on to Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Under the Cherry Moon and the brilliant Sign O' The Times (perhaps the best Prince album until the release of Batman in 1989 and then The Rainbow Children in 2000).

I was grabbed by Tears For Fears, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Terrence Trent D'Arby (Prince had he been a UK native), The Time, Metallica, Pink Floyd, and Richard Marx. I introduced my Mother to NWA's "Fuck Tha Police" and Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype" (my Mother, a woman of social relevance).

I woke up everyday with these folks on my mind (them amongst others) and would ponder the "how to" in the wish of walking in their shoes.

(How could I inherit the energy of Thelonius Monk? )

(What would it take to become a member of New Edition?)

(How long would it take before EPMD took me in as their third member?)

I became intoxicated by the lives they lived. I took the addictions and infidelities as minor problems in comparison to the problems of being ordinary. For who, in their right mind, would want to be like Ken who ran the neighborhood store? Or Prim the barber? Not to mention, who wanted to be like all those in shirt and ties who count the days till Friday and bubble with anticipation for their up coming trips along the coast?

How boring. And unimaginative.

It was the life of the musician that I wanted. As much of a reader and lover of films as I've been, it always turns back to the music.

(How can I create what The Roots create in music and apply it to my writing?)

(In what way can I find the words of Mary J. Blige and convey them as beautifully as she?)

For the writer works in isolation so long we forget the beauty of collaboration. Hence why I worry about the novelist. The novelist is in a room for months/years pounding out the book, before it's passed on to an editor and eventually to the public, where it becomes a best seller; and yet, she hardly gets to enjoy the reaction of the reader, considering the reader reads in as much isolation as the writer writes.

Yet a musician can crank out a song and play it an hour later to a room full of listeners, and can tell, in seconds, how the song plays. If it has achieved the reaction she hoped for...

(oh, what it would be to be a fly on the wall in a recording session with Tori Amos).

It's a gorgeous notion that is full of romance and misguided outbursts. For the writer must wait. The writer must hope (in these times where illiteracy is a fashion) that a reader will respond. That a producer will forgo his usual anti-phonic nature and actually read what's given to her. The writer is pushed to the back burner. Even the long email has it's cut off point. For most receivers will have nothing to do with them. They check the length, close it out and claim they'll come back to it "later." While the musician can post a song and garnish 500 hits in an hour (be it the music great or terrible).

(What was it like when the Skinny Puppys recorded "Cult?" How about Anthony Hamilton with "Since I Seen't You"?)

Oh what it must have been like to be in the studio during the recording of What's Goin' On with Marvin Gaye and The Funk Brothers. What a session that must have been (captured beautifully in a 2000 article of MoJo magazine). A time of unpredictable creation. A time where Gaye was so dead against making love songs for What's Goin' On that when ever the urge to sing "Oh baby" would overtake him, he'd stop the session, retire to the back room where he'd masturbate the "baby" right out of him, and return to the lab before several puzzled faces. How the studio reeked of marijuana and alcohol. How Gaye shed his "pretty boy" look and replaced it with a beard and knit-cap. How Berry Gordy was dead set against the release of What's Goin' On; and in fact shelved the album until Gaye threatened to never recorded for him again. Gordy released the hour later record stores were calling to request more copies...they had already sold out.

(What about Lisa Lisa with "Let The Beat Hit 'Em"?)

To watch an interview with Kwame', twenty years after the release of The Boy Genius, Featuring a New Beginning (an album he recorded, on his own as a demo tape, when he was seventeen years old), and hear how he has not fallen off the music scene; but rather he has taken his producing skills and used them quietly in the background. Or the esoteric Cody ChestnuTT with his double album The Headphone Masterpiece. The prolific and wonderful Phil Collins. The priceless sounds of Faith Evans and Jill Scott. How they cause me envy. How I long to have been that name in the liner notes under "lyrics by." "Produced by". "Executive Produced by"...

The unstoppable Tom Waits, who has managed to make an entire career within underground culture, while not only sneaking his way into the ears of unannounced listeners, but managed to keep his integrity in tact during the process. The Roots (though they've had their little jingles with Volkswagen -- a shocking outcome) who are incapable of releasing an album not worth listening to from beginning to end with each play through. Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions (despite the fact that when she was asked to list her top hundred favorite albums of all times, there was not ONE black artist listed) stands out as a beautiful fusion of country and rock music. Though she refused to acknowledge the influence of black music, Crow's The Globe Sessions stands out in the blues department. Along side Chris Thomas King's ignored (and ridiculed) Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues, Crow managed to grasp a boundary often denied in music -- the simplicity of storytelling verses plot pointing. For Kings beautiful Dirty South...Blues encompasses a complete version of what Crow was going for with The Globe Sessions but couldn't reach; and yet King's album was ignored while Crow's was recognized.

Eagle Eye Cherry's mediocre debut album Desireless, has managed to stand far beyond the fabrications of Ben Harper and Lenny Kravitz; for Desireless (a remake of the song by his father, Don Cherry), despite it's VH-1 friendly attempts, managed to work well based on "Save Tonight." However it's the title song, "Desireless" that deserves the props. Being the last track on the CD one manages to loose their disappointment from what they heard through the previous ten tracks, all for the orgasmic satisfaction of "Desireless" alone. Harper and Kravitz hardly accomplished this -- even with their two best albums (Fight For Your Mind, Harper and Are You Gonna Go My Way, Kravitz) neither of them have been able to live up to the myth they created around themselves. In the overrated documentary Standing In The Shadows of Motown (which did not honor The Funk Brothers the way they deserved) Harper attempts a throaty rendition of Motown music that hardly lives up to his wonderful remake of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" on Live From Mars. While Kravitz has spent more time being an imitation of himself (and the musicians he admires) to ever truly find his "voice" in the world of music, which causes him to be a joke...

("But damn that boy can dress, ca'in't he???!!")

Eagle Eye's sister, Neneh Cherry blessed the world with "Buffalo Stance", which gave me a nostalgia at the time of it's release. I wondered had I heard this song years previous and did I miss the years that passed (only to find out I had, when I realized the sample was from Malcom McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" in 1982...I was six years old). For Neneh was ahead of her time. Yet her presence was hardly appreciated (much like Simple' E & Sistah Soulja ). For at the time of "Buffalo Stance" (1989) we were a long way away from the black girl exploitation and Jezebel worships presented by OakTown's 357, Lil Kim, and Foxxy Brown. At this time we were on the heels of Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte -- three female Emcees who understood the essence of internal sexuality -- not to mention Janet Jackson's pseudo-important Rhythm Nation, 1814, who's "message" was diminished (much like the title of Ice Cube's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted) when the big secret was let out that 1814 came from the "R" as the 18th and "N" the 14th letters of the alphabet; even still, Jackson's album still held together (though she has never matched the perfection she achieved in 1997's The Velvet Rope).

The breakthroughs and breakdowns are all that make the idolization of musicians well worth the fantasy. The myth behind musicians shuns the life of the writer all to hell. We writers are onlookers; whores; limp-dicks at a gang-bang. In comparison, we hardly have the pleasure of disaster the way the musician does. Musicians are examples of "doing" while writers are examples of "talking." We were once honored and envied...and with the exception of poetry (an art form on the tipping point of chaos, yet saved by Saul Williams and Sarah Jones) we are missed in our endeavors; for the poet can easily translate to "song writer." The poet still represents romance. Unlike the novelist or the playwright who are regarded as drunken narcissists who can hardly see past their computer screens. We're boring. We're drug addicts. We're obsessive. are musicians. Which is why we find ourselves "relating" to them. We want to write about them and convey their sound the best we can on paper and convince the reader that what we've written about them -- using terms like "melodic" and "organic" -- is as close to the music as they'll get short of buying the album.

But this is nonsense.

There is no such thing as a music writer. Sure, there are those who have put it out wonderfully (Armond White & Mosi Reeves are the ONLY ones worth their salt when it comes to music writing) and yet the others fall short in not so much the descriptions...but the understanding of music all together. There is no "knowing" with music. There is only being. Hardly does music require one to break down it's meaning; but it does require one to appreciate it as a gift to the world. Music supports mood. Music encourages nostalgia. Music destroys sloth. Music breathes life into dead air. Gives hope to the soul'less and inspires the pessimist. Music represents the voice of God and allows us to embrace our contradictions, our suicidal tendencies and our driftings towards the unknown. We call on music in times of grace and times of slumber. We choose music over the Bible. Over physical love. Over race relations. We need music. Without it, we're dead.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mixed Tapes: featuring R. Kelly & Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski's 1977 charge of underage sex with Samantha Gailey juxtaposed to R. Kelly's recent charge of sex tapes and pissing, is a collision of idiotic ego based on status rather than the act itself. Kelly's unwillingness to admit his crime, verses Polanski's shameless confession (Samantha Gailey was thirteen at the time, and Polanski, when asked how old he thought Gailey was, replied: "I am aware she was thirteen") is a true understanding of artistic merit. We saw Woody Allen suffer bouts of shame for hooking up with his step daughter. We watched OJ Simpson walk free (only to confess his crime in other ways). We watched Kobe Bryant get dismissed and we witnessed Michael Jackson walk his way into the butt of all jokes (a few months ago Jackson "offered" to share a world tour with Prince; to which Prince, politely declined).

And now we have R. Kelly, complete with die hard proof, in the spot light of high profile shame...and he's pissed off about it.

Polanski, Kelly, Bryant, Allen, and Simpson all benefit from their iconic status. One would wonder about the truth behind the operations of the American justice system. One would also wonder how Americans are able to accept some horrific acts (Polanski; Bryant; Kelly) and be shamed by others (Allen; Clinton; Simpson). In our hearts we know the absurdity; not to mention we understand if that were to be us the "trial" would be more like a quick decision of fate.

These acts are almost acceptable (and in some cases, expected) within the creative world. Artists (basketball and football players, by the way, are not artists) are people who live for what they do; and within this way of life, the "rules" of the world don't apply. It's a truthful contradiction that does not excuse the act, but when one digs into the mind of a creative person it, roughly, makes sense. We trace back to Edgar Allen Poe and the marriage to his cousin. Fyodor Dostoevsky and his endless gambling debts and love for hookers. Louis Carroll and his lust for twelve year olds. Marlon Brando and his bouts of womanizing and homosexual experimentation. These few examples are an indication of the artists mind and how it interprets trouble for inspiration. For an artist must be open minded (despite the possible consequences) in order to continue in a creative form. Artists -- in comparison to the civilian world -- are mentally malfunctioned in a way that sets them apart from your average State Worker. For when a State Worker commits an act of pedophilia and infidelity, that State Worker is pegged to be "stupid." Not that we don't say "Michael Jackson's stupid" or "Woody Allen is a pervert." However a State Worker cannot redeem himself through his innovative filing techniques to gain the respect of his peers. But R. Kelly can piss on a girl, go record the horrific "Trapped In The Closet" and suddenly gain the badge of respect from the public. Despite the fact that Kelly's acts have been glorified jokes, most of his fans say, "He's a rapists, but damn that 'Trapped In The Closet' was the shit!"

The artists has the responsibility of being irresponsible while releasing an interpretation to the world. Granted, there are very few, actual, artists left; but those who are true to who they are (Johnny Depp, Ben Folds, D'Angelo, Mel Gibson) find themselves in deep shit more times than they care to admit. If the artist has no room to live in the world, then they, certainly, cannot be expected to communicate the truth. There are those (Neil LaBute, Tim Robbins, and, at one point, David Mamet) who can interpret the world from a distance without getting their hands dirty. There are also those who get their hands dirty in safer ways (Steven Soderbergh, Sam Sheperd) and still manage to convey a relatable essence to our darker encounters in life's journey towards death. However, there are those (Larry Clarke, Harmony Korin, David Bowie, Sean Penn) who allow themselves to feel the suffering, and in fact, beg for it just for the sake of authenticity. Not to mention there are those who, simply, never grew up. Why? For one to commit themselves, fully, to the life of creativity, requires sacrifice in maturity. One cannot plow the depths of humanity and effectively communicate this without a sense of child-like drive. For it is the child within us that allows the true artist to come to the surface. True creative people are rude, sarcastic, self-involved, high, depressed, atheist, cowardly bastard motherfuckers who will take the death of their own Mother as a source of inspiration rather than a loss. They will drown their sorrows in liquor and dark humor, as oppose to tears of sadness and morbid outcries. They will scream out "FUCK THAT SHIT!" and suffer the humiliation of their drunken verbiage, while shamelessly calling old flings and digging the hole of trouble deeper with no regrets, until they sober up. And even in sobriety, the artist will justify their actions as such: "I am an artist. So I have the right."

This is not the case for R. Kelly.

Kelly's journey to artistic suicide, post pissing, does not fit within the same status as Polanski. Polanski fucked up, but he turned around and made Chinatown, The Pianist, Death and the Maiden, and Oliver Twist. In order for Kelly to reach the point of dismissal, he would have to do far better than Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry or Match Point. Or even D'Angelo's Brown Sugar and Voodo combined. But Kelly can't do this because he does not own his shitty nature. He pawns it off as a "misunderstanding" rather than a die hard fact of his perversions. An artist who does not like fucking is an artist who has not connected with his/hers true creativity. So it is not unusual that Kelly would have a lust. But Kelly's disorder in thinking he would actually get away with what he has done without embracing the nature he is allegedly blessed with (an artist who can see the act can also see the consequence) is an easy route to a "fuck you."

Kelly feels his crime is fame, not young girls. As a result of this, Kelly tries to maintain the idea of image while sacrificing his creative integrity. Granted, I am not (and never have been) a fan of Kelly -- along side Usher, his music is an example of a "fuck me" soundtrack, that has no intentions beyond carnal collision. However, an artist is born with contradictions. And if the artist refuses to accept them, their level of creativity will be reduced to nothing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Jill Scott's "The Thickness" and Social Relevance to Black Girl Self-Esteem

My early issues with Jill Scott, back in 2000 when "Who Is Jill Scott: Volume One" came out were rooted in my selfish comparisons to Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, and Eryicka Badu (and to some degree, Angie Stone). I played her first album over and over, and could not get passed how self indulgent I thought the album was. However, at the time, I was experiencing several run in's with bad spoken word, riddled with empty metaphors and man-hating jargon that drove me to adopt a prejudice for anything that resembled spoken word. So for that year Jill Scott fit the bill and was well within range for me to fire my criticism.

But Jill Scott's "The Thickness" (along with "Golden" and her ENTIRE third album) reminded me of her gift. We must not forget, she penned the hook for The Roots "You Got Me" that Erycka Badu sang; not to mention her single "Long Walk" garnished attention (though my favorite from her is "The Way"). Scott's "The Thickness is a harsh insight at the early hormonal development of modern day girls. The quick blossoming of tits and ass, to distort the internal human within, has caused a horrifying exploitation for female advancement. The song is primarily driven by the struggle for Black women, yet it's directed at all women. All women who are exposed to the ass shaking and lip licking that passes by in videos that has "nothing to do with the song." Jill Scott puts it out for us in plain English and does not attempt to bury her message in quasi-metaphors; but rather unleashes the Urban frustration with mind boggling reality that evokes head bobbing, several "Mms" and "Mm-hm's" (to indicate that we're with her) and laughter. She reveals self-hatred at it's core. The type of hatred that begins with popular culture and mis-education. That expands from Urban rhetoric only intended to manipulate rather than motivate. That explodes into several years worth of confusion and curses behind mindless mistakes that eventually causes an apocalyptic life shift and mis-directed hatred that black women often turn inside out (when they become disillusioned of eventual happiness, and settle into pessimism).

Scott's message is "self responsibility." Not so much the Bill Cosby or John McWhorter ideology, but the old method of black folks on the block where all the neighbors were deputized to whoop the ass of any child that was acting out; not to mention a child that was walking her way into self destruction. In other words, Scott encourages self responsibility with a little help from the entire block. For we are designed to teach one another; and by allowing a hands off approach when one sees a girl's self destruction in sight denotes that the voyeur would do well to have inflicted the problem they're selves. Scott tells us that we are responsible. And the problem is NOT an individual problem. But a community problem. The inner separation in Urban life has caused an uproar of Li' Kim's and Foxxy Brown's to swan dive to their untreated psychosis, while allowing themselves to be bitch slapped by societal stereotypes (not to mention the proverbial R. Kelly piss in the face of now allowing themselves to be called a "bitch"; along side "nigga", they are the two most universally used insults to ever lose their meaning). Scott's attempt is to derail the Jezebel before she does too much damage; and if we don't unite and put a stop to it "It is our fault!"

Thank you Jill Scott.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rants Through The Social Distance

Every once in awhile I like to delve into The Social Distance and find random rants that fit the mood. Granted, my moods are not necessarily your moods (often times my moods have NOTHING to do with anyone else); however, the moods push me to give mention to things that please and annoy me at the same time.

The Social Distance is about finding a true individuality. Not the type of individuality that places the square peg perfectly in the square hole; but rather the Social Distance that encourages one to find their own thought process. When it comes to this mission, I am far from it. Shit, I'm almost thirty-two and I'm still in search for the point of view that is completely mine. But I do feel as though I'm close. I've lived long enough to be OK with the solo drum I march to, where the beat is slightly off kilter -- not quite Max Roach and not quite ?uestLove -- but enough that it makes a BANG that can bob heads.

So here's my list for now in the random rant of The Social Distance.

Bill Clinton says: "Chill Out":
and suddenly it becomes a news channel slogan. the term has been in American vocab for more than twenty years, and when Bill Clinton says it the term becomes a staple. it's hard to swallow and annoying to hear. i don't think we have to mention the obvious of how blacks created, whites profit from it; which only encourages us to create more.

The Roots:
can they please make an album that sucks? it's insane, that all they do is get better. as people we look forward to artists making mediocre albums (Common, "Be" & "Finding Forever",Kanye West "Late Registration", Outkast "Stankonia", "Speakerbox /The Love Below"), but The Roots can't seem to find their mediocre side...they just might go down as one of the greatest group of all times. Shit. Who can lie? They already are.

Barak Obama:
there is nothing pointless about his campaign. this may well come off as a dis on Hillary, but she has an annoying motherly approach that would make one feel limited by morals. Obama's morals are everything that we as children always said we would employ if we were to become president. it's a saving grace and almost too good to be true. however i will say that to have a Black president and a Woman vice president would be an ideal and long over due set up for America. this would allow America and the UK to flush the George W. Bush and the Tony Blairs down the sewers of forgotten mistakes.

Sasha Grey:
her world wide fame has caused the haters to reveal themselves and the fans to go over the top. she is about to be the greatest porn star, gone mainstream, since Nina Hartley and Ron Jeremy. it's hard to touch her and it's hard to truly tap into her talent...she's an enigma in her own clarity. yet, when one looks closely it is easy to see a human being with depth that travels beyond our frame of thought for an activist for "Sex Positive" women. one can look at her and see themselves. i'm not just saying this cuz she's a friend of mine. i'm saying this because i've watched porn since childhood; and my list of "great porn stars" is short; and those whom i consider great are only great because they've taken themselves outside the world of pornography (Nina Hartley,Nyrobi Knight, Kaitlyn Ashley, Belladonna, and Houston) and gravitated themselves to the world of humanity. the type of humanity where they don't seem so far fetched. they can easily be your very own girlfriend if you look hard enough. Sasha Grey joins this rank of brilliance.

Tori Amos:
like The Roots (and Nelly Fertado) she continues to push her limits. the outcome is a mind blowing mix of confession and internal vanity, that is presented with pure commitment that one cannot deny. she does not slow herself (as does Fiona Apple -- even in the cosmos of her brilliance); nor does she exploit herself (like Jewel). she grabs hold of her inner-self and shamelessly allows the world to either take it or leave it. not to mention, she's the only singer on earth who could effectively say: "I am an M-I-L-F, don't you forget" and never cause a thinking person to slump with an "oh God!" but rather to hear her say that the response is more like: "Did she just say that? Yes she did! And it works!"

ah, this seems to cause a lot of cocked heads and "huh?(s)" to surface themselves upon mentioning his name. however, Eminem's popularity can be easily shot down for the sake of his outrageous rap method, that seems to have become a cliche for the artist himself. however, when one listens to Eminem -- from "The Slim Shady LP" up to "Encore" (his most introspective album of them all, next to "The Marshall Mathers LP") -- one can see a progression from "My Name Is" to "Mosh." "Mosh" appears to be in the ranks of Rage Against the Machine's bleeding heart revolution; but it's actually closer to the likes of Ice-T's brilliant "Cop Killer."

Alfonso Jackson:
he joins the ranks of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for "The Head Negro Extortioner" clan. and that's all that needs to be said about that.

Lil Bush:
a wonderful satire that puts the condition and mishandling of this country in perfect view. the show has no choice but to go right to the gut of Bush, without appearing to be reaching or out of bounds.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Second Black President

When author Toni Morrison proclaimed Bill Clinton as "our first black President" it was enough to evoke pause, confusion, frustration, and anger. To hear this from the author of The Bluest Eye, Sula, Jazz, and Beloved (some of the most complex books on black culture since Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Alice Walker's The Color Purple), one might need to step back and consider her perspective. Morrison is not an idiot. Her esoteric mind is responsible for the brilliant darkness beneath the surface that infects a small Ohio town in Jazz; for the longing of a black girl to not be who she is (having gone beyond the abuse of Celie in The Color Purple) with The Bluest Eye; the local blacklisting in Sula. So for Morrison to step up and claim Bill Clinton to be "our first black President" is not only a cause for disturbance, but a cause for an outcry of irony because Morrison's point was unbelievably accurate when one takes the statement within context.

Her reference was from the Bill Clinton blow-job, gone public, in that he garnished understanding from black men around the world accompanied with shrugs from men of all colors and praise in rap music (Too $hort used Clinton as the launch pad in the declaration of "Player's Holiday", featuring Mac Dre, Mac Mall, and Ant Banks when saying "The President did what?...awe, that's all good, baby."). Not to mention embraced his loose nature, even within the denial, as a tribute to human error. For in black culture human error is a cause to forgive, while keeping it firmly locked in memory. Not that blacks would turn a blind eye to such an action (while making it the butt of all jokes on Def Comedy Jam), but blacks are more apt to understand a slip up than conservative whites; especially if the slip up comes from someone that blacks relate to.

Morrison states it perfect in her defense for Clinton when she wrote:

"...white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."

She goes further in saying that the backlash he received would have been less extreme had it been an actual "white" president. For infidelity is top priority for men in power (white men especially). Therefor the Clinton scandal created a cause for Clinton to be considered "one of us" while, like most blacks in power, going on to make a bigger fool of himself by creating the newest annoying slogan (twenty years too late and stolen from black culture) with the whole "Chill Out" madness in regards to Hillary (needing) to drop out the race.

But that is neither here nor there.

Barak Obama is a direct contribution to the strange twist American culture has taken over the last ten years. In a time where the golfer to idolize is black, the rapper topping the charts is white, Queen Latifah is doing Jenny Craig commercials and Oliver Stone is making PG-13 movies, it is not an unreasonable bout that we might potentially have our official "first black President" by the end of the race. Despite Morrison's defense of Clinton (along side her claim in his defense of victim-hood) the relevance of Obama tops the Clinton "blackness" for the simple fact that his clean cut approach might be toeing the line, while being much less dangerous than the presences of Clinton. It's interesting how this works, because white people actually feel a calm in Obama's presence instead of worry. Not that this is going to make the "nigger" comments go away; it is more like Obama will be placed in the "safe-Negro" category, along side Will Smith and Denzel Washington, and looked upon as a model for black men to aspire to.

This does not stop the internal racism within black culture who question if Obama is "black enough." The fact that a black candidate is closer to presidency than any one before him is not enough for blacks to smile with a gleam of hope. It is taken that there must be some Uncle Tom buried down there some place, and we should be of the interest of NOT trusting him (as we find the room to shout "WE WAS ROBBED" upon Alfonso Jackson's resignation from HUD after suspicion of special treatment towards friends of his ...then again, Jackson may be thought of as an Uncle Tom solely based on his twenty year friendship with President Bush), just in case he turns out to not play the game the way we always dreamed a black president would.

Strangely enough, the criticism from Obama's blackness came down strong from writer/professor Shelby Steele. Steele states that by going to an all black church which is "intellectually beneath him" he is not only selling himself short by surrounding himself with his own kind, but denying his white mother who raised him. Steele states that who Obama is comes from a direct influence from his white mother, not the black church; and so, essentially, for Obama to attend such a church is more of an attempt to please the black voters at the expense of his heritage.

Steele may have a point, but his claim is not nearly as accurate as Morrison's statement of Clinton as "our first black President." Steele is telling us that by attending a black church and denying his mother (Obama has never, one time, denied his Mother; these were actions done by Fredrick Douglas and August Wilson), Obama is actually deceiving the black community by being a politician rather than a spiritual being. In a sense Steele feels that Obama should not attend the church, surround himself with more "diversity" and claim his white roots along side his black roots, while allowing them to flow through the same vein. Ironically Obama's universality and closeness with a wide range of people is not only an honor to his mother, but a greater fusion with black culture. Obama is proving the theory of "legacy" through action not through coaxing. Not that Steele has missed the point, but Steele's lack of belief in the potentiality of a black president is a let down at the least, and betraying at the most. Steele's pessimism, mistaken for "reality", comes off as self-hating and welcomes the internal limitations within black culture rather than dismissing them (along side Randall Kennedy). To make a claim that Obama does not have a chance at winning the election is NOT living in reality; it's living in oblivion; for Obama's chance to become the second black president becomes more of a clear vision as the days go on.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Coming Soon: The Next Virginia Tech

It's the classic reaction from a filmmaker when viewing such a sight that makes one say: "I never could have directed that."

This poses true on the video below, which shows a killer in the making. The child resembles Huey P. Freeman from Aaron McGruder's "The Boondocks", while also revealing how Huey P. Freeman became so militant; the same reason that Huey P. Freeman will grow up to either make a difference, or snap on society with blazing barrels screaming about "THE CAUSE!!" Freeman's protest is important in youth for the sake of urban expression of anger (channeled through hip-hop, spoken word, and the culture of video games). Though the anger is often buried beneath questions (and a lost mentality in creation of "the thug"), the "fuck you" expression can be a healthy release for future adult bliss.

Not the case, unfortunately, for the child in the video (who must be between the age of 8 and 10). Here the child is told that his Christmas gift is an Xbox -- the very gift he's been wanting all year long. He glows with excitement as he unwraps his Christmas gift; a gift that results in a cause of deception through cruel satire and family guilt. For the child is expected to "understand" the hardships of the working class; and to ask for such a gift, on Christmas, in their eyes, is a call for this child to be taught a lesson; and this lesson cannot be done by verbal communication and luring him to understand; but rather through ablatant act of betrayal that will sever the trust in this child's bones for the rest of his life. What the family is missing is that the child is being a child; to ask for an Xbox is not an act that deserves a cruelty beyond the measures of human tolerance (they would have been better off spanking him), but rather a "No" for the sake of clarity; yet the family feels such an act is not cruelty, but rather an important part of life. In other words:

"You will be let down your entire life. So you might as well get use to it, right here, in your own home."

What makes it worse is that the asshole who not only taped the unwrapping, but posted it on You Tube, will forever move through life without guilt based on the support of his family (who ripples with the "crab" mentality carried by black folks since the late 1800's). Their laughter of the joke turns to anger when the child responds with sadness. A sadness he is forced to keep inside, because if he cries he deserves to be punished further. The family does no clue in on what can come of this. How this child will grow and become vicious. When this happens they will have the nerve to say: "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONGWIT'CHO ?!!" forgetting their satirical backfire that created a monster; a monster that goes beyond Huey P. Freeman, and destroys the potential importance he might contribute to the growth of America.

An act like this answers the questions when one grows to commit horrific crimes. Acts like this answer the "why" when it comes to Columbine and Virginia Tech. The neglect this child feels, while trying to soak up every ounce of hurt he can muster, is an insight to the psyche of American children. The family is a prototypical working class black family (similar to "white trash") with too many people in the house, all of them clawing to one up each other, and elevate themselves bymitigating others. The level of "love" is low based on the surrounding self-esteem, and old world Southern tactics blacks take on their children. Though, this is not limited to the South (it lives in urban areas across America), but one may recall Richard Wright's "Black Boy", and his puzzled responses to the beatings and cruel tactics of black parents in the South. These types of acts spawn hatred, mistrust, and wrath that sits deep enough to wait for the correct moment to react. For one should be prepared to view this video again, the day this child snaps. When/if this happens, the answers to the "why" will be right here in front of us.


- d'juan

Friday, February 15, 2008

Black Music In The Absurd (a remembrance of the 90s)

Black music has had the reputation to inspire, not only through innovative rhythmic break-throughs (not to mention, the ability to adapt American ways and turn it into culture; a culture that would not exist if not for Black influence), but through irony. Songs of pain and hope filled with fictional and outrageous outcomes -- all in pursuit of freedom and acceptance -- makes Black music the cornerstone to Americas musical heritage (much like the Minstrel show is the origin of American Musical Theater). Black music toyed with the absurd, going all the way back to African folklore to slave verse to blues to Rock 'N Roll. The absurdity was ironic (immortalized by the Jews) and carried an inner pain that forced the song writer to exploit his/her most self-indulgent confessions. Leadbelly did this with "John Hardy." Skip James with "Hard Time Floor Killin' me Blues" and "Devil Got My Woman." In later years, Chris Thomas King did this with his album "Dirty Hip-Hop Blues", which was forgotten along side Justin Warfield and Cody ChestnuTT. What modern America forgets is that King, Warfield, and ChestnuTT reminded us of Black absurdity in music which is, all too often, confused for the brainless (think Genuwine; think H-Town; think Teddy Riley -- Black music that corrupted creative conduct, and snuffed out the light in risk and replaced it for capitalism).

However the 90s found room in remembering the Black absurd and gave us songs that were a beautiful reminder that music of the absurd -- both musically and lyrically -- is/was still a possibility. The purpose of the absurd is self-indulgence with limited relatability. In other words, if you get it, you get it; if you don't, you don't. That's all there is to it; and at times one may not get it at all; in fact the song could be laced with so much absurdity that it is not intended to be anything other than the artists inner expression, put to music as best it can (other times it can be a love/hate letter to a certain someone, and we are given the lyrics as an external sketch for internal longing or pain). Think Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man." Male woes lead by complexity, in search for release while embracing the contradictions within:

"I come up hard (baby)
but now I'm cool,
I didn't make it
playin' by the rules.
I come up hard (baby)
but now I'm fine,
I'm takin' trouble,
movin' down the line."

Rarely does male complexity come out in modern music; though D'Angelo succeeded with this in the obscure, yet straight forward "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker" about walking in on a sex-affair between his wife and best friend:

the both'uh yous
buck-ball naked?
the both'uh yous
buck-ball naked?
'M tellin' you what's on my mind,
'm 'bout'tuh go get my nine,
and kill both'uh ya'lls behind."

The singer Joe nailed it with "All The Things (Your Man Won't do)" when he admits his intentions of destroying a boring love affair by charming the woman's vulnerability with his superior (financial) intentions of an infidelic joy-ride through a temporary escape. Joe has no intentions of love (never once does he say "I love you"), but rather intentions of showing the woman a "better life" (a popular topic in 90s music, next to slow wine-dine-love making -- a much more polite notion with male one-track-mindedness):

"I'll put a string of pearls right in your hand
make love on a beach of jet-black sand,
out here in the rain,
we can do it all night.
I'll touch all the places he would not
in zones he never knew
would get you hot.
Nothing is forbidden,
when we touch."

Joe plays into urban life escapism ("One day, we're all gonna be rich"); the same theme that ran through hip-hop in the beginning (think "Rapper's Delight"). The absurdity was the honesty in music that has been forgotten. Joe completely contradicts himself when saying "...make love on a beach of jet-black sand" then immediately follows it with "out here in the rain/we can do it all night." This is a give-away to Joe's absurdity for such a mission. This song is not about him loving her; but rather giving her a release. Other wise, Joe could not care less.

Amerie attempted the absurd with "One Thing", but fell flat on her face with anti-urban expression, by using bourgeoisie over vulnerability (Joe used "bling" not bourgeoisie). In "One Thing" she sings:

I don't really understand
my car keys are jigglin' in my hand,
my high heels are clickin' towards your door."

Amerie is a fashion victim in heels. It's hard to believe she would long for a man. Had she sang about being heartless, one may have been more inclined to buy this notion over her would be vulnerability. Deborah Cox understood vulnerability better than Amerie in her remake of "Just Be Good to Me" alone (next to the wonderful "Sentimental" where the music video featured -- as most did -- Omar Epps as the love/lost). Cox is a woman of vulnerability; Amerie is an Elle Magazine model.

Diddy's "Last Night" with Keysha Cole is a throw back to the early Prince sound of the "Purple Rain" age. Diddy accomplished the absurd with "Last Night" through the orgasmic voice of Keysha Cole. Yet Diddy just couldn't put himself aside long enough to allow the song to be it's own (the Jermaine Dupri syndrome). Instead he ends the song ghetto-fabulous by his profane demands ("Need to pick up the mutha-fuckin' phone!") and kills the personal indulgence the song communicates. The white band Three Days Grace achieves a better absurdity with their pop-crap single "Pain":

and agony,
are better,
than misery.
Trust me,
I've got a plan
when the lights go out
you'll understand.

Without love.
Can't get enough.
I like it rough,
cuz I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all."

Ben Folds caught the absurdity that Diddy missed with his Dr. Dre remake of "Bitches Ain't Shit" (proving Ben Folds as the most soulful white boy on piano). For in the case of Diddy the love for music passed years ago; his beautiful production on Heavy D's b-side track "You Can't See (What I Can See)" up to his work on the brilliant Mary J. Blige "My Life" album capped out Diddy's musical ambitions. Kanye West nailed it (on his inconsistent track of genius) with "Never Let Me Down", "All Falls Down", "Last Call", "Two Words", and the recent "Stronger":

"Lets get lost tonight,
you can be my black Kate Moss,

Yet these are selective. A little too selective. The consistency of Black music in popular culture is no where near where it was in the 90s. Sure, one must consider that music is forever in transition; but one would hope for this experimentation to continue. I came up with fifteen that have always sat close to my heart and reminds us that music of the absurd is not just for the white boys. It must be remembered that Black musicians began this (think, Sly and the Family Stone), and do have the responsibility of continuing this.

1) "Whip Appeal" - Babyface

Though the song was released in '89 from his album "Tender Lover", Babyface hit a nerve with "Whip Appeal." "It's No Crime" was a confession, "Tender Lover" (with Bobby Brown) is about feminine vulnerability. But "Whip Appeal" is personal. Not once does he disclose the secret behind the "Whip Appeal"; he keeps that "way to communicate" between himself and the love of his life. It's a wonderful absurdity and a great exercises in self-indulgence.

2) "It Never Rains (In Southern California)" - Tony, Toni, Tone'

Tony, Toni, Tone' has always been obscure by their own right. The fact that their album "The Revival" was even given the name blurs the line between self discovery and Holy outreach. "It Never Rains..." is mythical and plays into distant love. Virtually the title does not make sense, and yet we accept it because a rainless California is what we're told is a reality (Tony, Toni, Tone' being California natives is a dead give away). Yet the magic in the fact that it never rains (while in the video upon coming together it DOES in fact rain) translates their personal attachments to love. Whereas the song "Whatever You Want" is about possessions in exchange for empty promises, "It Never Rains..." removes the need for material and replaces it with folklore.

3) "Gotta Love" - Jodeci

Where does one start with Jodeci? The "Forever My Lady" album broke boundaries by introducing a new type of a man to the world; the man in hopes of building a family instead of avoiding the responsibility, while never severing the "freak" inside. Lead by the innovative DeVante Swing, "Gotta Love" (much like "Playthang" and "Let's Go Through the Motions") is a raw sex song that revels in irresponsible intimacy, without the doggish "fuck a ho" that H-Town misguided us with (not to mention the stolen Jodeci harmony done badly). For what audiences missed about Jodeci is that though DeVante's ghetto-fabulous persona, dipped in hip-hop, held a hard exterior the very notion of "Gotta Love" comes from the Keith Sweat beggary that we all made fun of. Difference is DeVante made the begging ok for our generation, whereas Keith Sweat made it (damn near) pathetic.

Yet it's unfair to bound Jodeci's absurdity to just one song. "Let's Go Through The Motions" is a song about dry humping, which is about as absurd amateurish, and High School one can get; and yet the song holds a sexy tone that is shameless in it's request (in a sense, it's a song about "safe sex") and explores the emotional immaturity of grown folks. For we all get caught up in the moment of sexual desires yet rarely do we truly put to words the actions that took place. For one to report back "We dry humped" can cause a freeze up in the room; but Jodeci is brave enough to say "Let's Go Through the Motions", simply for the sake of movement and the image of sexual pleasure.

4) "Sympin'" - Boyz II Men

The translation of sympin' is "begging." Nothing more. They said it plain:

"Sympin' ain't easy,
get on your hands and knees
and lift your eye brows.
Sympin' ain't easy,
if you wanna get in,
then you gotta be willin',
to cry and beg and plead,
if you need."

As if "Motownphilly" wasn't enough to confuse listeners, "Sympin'" relayed to selected few. The song having been pushed deep into the "Cooly High..." album, so as to be missed or ignored, was one thing; but the release of "Sympin'" ("White Men Can't Jump" soundtrack) as a single made the "alright guys" come out in listeners, while screaming for them to SPEAK ENGLISH!!! But "Sympin'" is an achievement for Boyz II Men. They proved their will to play into the absurd was not only genuine, but a cause for a thinking audience.

5) "Pink Cookies In a Plastic Bag...Gettin' Crushed by Buildings" - L.L. Cool J

By the time "Pink Cookies..." came out, most of Cool J's loyal followers had pretty much tuned out. Already confused, but accepting of "Mama Said Knock You Out", "Pink Cookies..." threw everyone for a loop. It's a song about making love. That's all it least, that's what Cool J tells us it is. Upon the songs opening he speaks it:

"The act of making love...
pink cookies in a plastic bag,
gettin' crushed by buildin's"

But then he really throws us with the opening line of the first verse:

"I take thirty electric chairs,
and put 'em in a class room,
that's thirty MCs
I set free from their doom."

WHAT??? As if this wasn't enough, he makes the entire song a metaphor based in hip-hop titles and references:

"Rub you down with warm Ice T,
make you feel Brand Nubian,
Boogie Down and check this Production,
gimme them lips they look good for suction."

It's a brilliant metaphor for love making -- the pink cookie as the vagina, the buildings as the penis -- though it is based more in male dominance than anything. However, Cool J can get away with this. Most women WANT to be dominated by him. He's just that imposing type of figure. However, Cool J could have easily stuck to his same style (like Kool Moe Dee) and watched his career crumble (like Moe Dee); instead Cool J tested himself with not only "Pink Cookies..." but the beautiful "Six Minutes of Pleasure", "Boomin' System", "Loungin'", and "Hey Lover." There has not been an element that Cool J hasn't touched; and he sums up the reality of his existence to us all when he says:

"L.L. Cool J, nigga,
greatest of all times!"

6) "Misunderstanding" - Al B. Sure

The title defines the absurdity. Al B Sure has had a knack for digging love out the cracks of chaos, dating back to the release of "Nite and Day." His song "Oooh (This Love)" showcases a tone rather than his meanings; and "Misunderstanding" is of that same tone. "Misunderstanding" is simply about the refusal to be walked over, as a person wearing his heart on his sleeve. Being rich, famous, and sexy Sure is telling us that there is still a human being beneath the surface (way beneath the surface). Though Al B Sure made a short lived career as a performer, with mostly mediocre music, his small few that caught us were those that made the least amount of sense. "Right Now" was the worst Al B Sure song next to his unnecessary remake of The Eagle's "Hotel California"; but "Misunderstanding" was Al B at his peek.

7) "No Brothas Allowed" - No Face

Spawned by the already obscure Digital Underground, No Face's short lived limited exposure was for true West Coast hip-hop listeners. No Face was no where close to the essence of Digital Underground; but "No Brothas Allowed" revealed racial hatred on a seemingly surfaced level. For one hardly took Digital Underground serious, especially after "Humpty Dance" (the most over played song of the 90s); but No Face, with Shock G on the track, collected the obscured sound of "The Underground" and produced an echo of a song with "No Brothas Allowed."

8) "I Love Your Smile" - Shanice

Straight out the diary of a little girl, "I Love Your Smile" is a crush that ripples with self indulgence. It's a crush that no one but Shanice can understand (the mixed blood pretty boy in the video was a bad representation to the reality of her crush). One would imagine this being aimed at the man who is not good looking by standards of cliche'. But good looking in the eyes of Shanice in her school girl innocence. "I Love Your Smile" achieved the absurd by taking corny and giving it bump. This allows forgiveness on the part of the listener for a song that would, other wise, be written off as pop crap and expected to be remade by Brittany Spears.

9) "Slow Love" - Doc Box & B. Fresh

The ultimate one hit wander that was played on "The Box" almost as much as "The Humpty Dance." "Slow Love" crept into the psyche of urban black girls across the nation, and encouraged brothas to take notes if they wanted to achieve big. For Doc Box & B. Fresh were aware of their blatant rip off from Cool J's "I Need Love" (the first hip-hop ballad ever), and yet "Slow Love" stands on it's own. Not since "I Need Love" had a rap song been so mood perfect. With the opening words ("Bus' it!") dance floors in High School gyms across the world would erupt in squeals and cause droves of young'stas to dance close and sexual in urban fantasia in hopes of finding the climax that "Slow Love" promised.

10) "BBD (I Thought It Was Me)" - Bell Biv DeVoe

The song is almost too on the nose. Yet what makes "I Thought It Was Me" so wonderfully absurd is that it is a man's worst fear of rejection. Ricky Bell guides us in plain text in this tornado of confusion:

"(I thought it was me)
I thought it was me that made the girl this way,
(I thought it was me)
Came to find out she's like that everyday.
(I thought it was me)
I thought it was me,
that made that girl so wild.
(I thought it was me)
I found out she's like that with all the guys."

Is she a ho? Not in a literal since. But they are describing a woman who is exercising her selective freedom. Ricky Bell finds that his status and celebrity are not enough to impress this girl. More so it takes a bit of charisma to grab her focus. Is she like that with "all the guys?" Or is it simply the fact that she ain't interested? Either way, Ricky Bell is forced to swallow his ego and back off.

11) "Minds Playin' Tricks On Me" - The Geto Boyz

An instant classic upon it's first play on the radio. "Minds Playin' Tricks On Me" was not only an urban breakthrough, but a confession to addiction. It's a cocaine trip in it's most open form, without saying, straight out "I snort coke!" Scarface does give it away on his second verse with:

"Day by day it's more impossible to cope...
...I feel like I'm the one who's doin' dope.
Can't keep a steady head, cuz I'm nervous
Every Sunday mornin' I'm in service.
Prayin' for forgiveness...
...and tryin' to find an exit out the business."

The absurdity is in the hallucination. For urban life is based in escapism's and even the most clean and sober urban-liver fears that their mind is playin' tricks on 'em, while constantly seeking for a way to calm the stress.

12) "Body & Soul" - Anita Baker

Who would ever expect Anita Baker to be in Black music of the absurd with such a beautiful tune like "Body & Soul?" I include this one based on the off beat melody and the evasive piano bangs that lace the song. Baker has given herself away to the possibility of love unjustified. She's too classy to fall for anything so undisciplined, yet the Billie Holiday in her boils to the surface with the tone of "Strange Fruit" to her vocals. Baker is the most distinctive black woman singer out there, next to Pattie LaBelle, Tina Turner, T-Boz, and Aretha Franklin. The song is all about letting go of an internal longing; and it is with "Body & Soul" that Baker gathers the self-indulgence and releases the tension.

13) "Baby, Baby, Baby" - TLC

Perhaps the most original anti-woman group of the 90s. They moved to their own truth and stood as an influence to a new direction of femininity. "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" gave a bravery to female sexual longing, while "Baby, Baby, Baby" pondered individuality and personal freedom. In other words, TLC was "new age" without being pushy about it. They in sighted fear in men, in that, they introduced a breed of women who were not likely to fall for the thug and shallow; but rather the internal and introspective (a contradiction to their real lives). The absurdity in "Baby, Baby, Baby" is not only in the title, but the content:

"But you gotta be down
a nickel gotta be true.
Cuz other wise this B ain't got no
time for you."

14) "Boyz II Men (The Sequel)" - MC Brains

The short lived joke of a career of rapper MC Brains conceived, in my opinion, one of the most laughable moments in 90s Black music history. His first performance and introduction to the world on Show Time At the Apollo gave way to a hack in the making, when he came out rapping "Oochie Coochie" and delivered the laimest contribution to rap music since Hi-C sang "Leave My Curl Alone." Brains was a pretty boy caught up in his appearance, and put no effort into his music; except for "Boyz II Men (The Sequel)" which featured Boyz II Men along with him. Brains sang (badly) instead of rapped on this song, and conveyed the only moment of honesty his entire career held. He sang of love for his parents, and the hardships of growing up (the concept of it being a "sequel" comes from the original "Boys to Men" sang by New Edition on the "Heartbreak" album in '88). The fantastically slow beat and nasally singing by Brains communicated a true innocence to his plight. For Brains was seventeen when he released "Oochie Coochie", and could not possibly understand the hardships of manhood. Yet it spoke to our generation, and marked a spot for Brains in music history.

15) "Jazzy Belle" - Outkast

These guys were strange from the release of "Playas Ball" in '94; and to return, in '96 with "Jazzy Belle" (taken from the pejorative "Jezebel" which translates to a black woman with a huge sexual appetite) -- which calls out a message for the loose nature of black women to get it together -- was a realization that we were not experiencing a fluke of a first album; but rather a group in search of new heights with each project. The remix features Babyface singing the hook:

"If you really want to be my star
maybe we can mend a broken heart
(Jazzy Belle)
If you really wanna be my boo,
straighten up yo' shit!
I'll be wit' you."

"Jazzy Belle" enclosed urban frustration not into love, but the possibility of love if a major attitude adjustment is put into play. They were brave to take this approach, and did so without shaming black women, but rather putting out a warning.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reality Lies

Paddy Chayefsky was years ahead of himself when he wrote the film Network in predicting the superficiality of television that would later morph into, so called, “Reality Television” – advertisement snuff that preys on low self-esteem, constructed beauty and anorexia as the acceptable norm. In the film Peter Finch stood before the network during a live news feed and announced his upcoming death before millions of viewers, which – to no surprise by today’s standards -- caused the ratings to go up higher than they had ever been and wide-eyed America awaited the promise of live death that was to come their way; and that is exactly what they got.

Spike Lee attempted this same premonition with his film Bamboozled when he tackled the New Millennium Minstrel Show, where Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson shame(ful)lessly put on black face make up before a live studio audience to portray the dramatist personas of Sleep and Eat, and do a throw back to the old black face entertainers (at a time where black performers could only work if they were willing to make their already black faces blacker). Though Lee’s Bamboozled is an amateurish attempt at his own version of Network (including the worst screen performance of the decade by Damion Waynes), both Chayefsky and Lee’s points were clear in the direction they felt American entertainment and advertising was destined to go: the rise of “Reality Television.”

Technically Reality Television can be taken back to the talented (and sociopathic) Chuck Barris, with his creation of The Gong Show, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game – all based on the concept to use “real” people for viewer relatability. Barris knew people would flock at the chance to be on television no matter the risk for humiliation, since the satisfaction was not for the sake of upward mobility but plain old fashion bragging rights of one being able to say, “I was on T.V.” This concept is alive and well, more than thirty years later, in the era where reality television commands a large population of the air waves; one would think that Barris should be considered, some what, a hero in the eyes of the executives to embrace the strategy of using “real” people as oppose to actors, since you don’t have to pay these “real” people as much money as an actor because the “real” people have no union to protect them. Not to mention the concept passes the message to the young viewers that to be “ordinary” is to be ashamed of one’s self. For Reality Television preys upon the viewer’s insecurities; and in the case of young viewers these insecurities are heightened, since they have no tangible comparison to who they truly are. Young minds are a cotton field for advertising executives, causing the young viewer to serve as their own slave, picking the cotton in the hot sun, for the profit of the slave masters, and being whipped for stepping out of line; translation for today’s symbolic slavery: they are made to feel shame for not responding to the trends of popular culture and risk being left behind and unacceptable amongst their peers; and this serves as the bread and butter for today’s networks.

“Sex sells” -- so goes s the cliché in advertising and entertainment -- and there is no better example than America’s Next Top Model -- which advertises sex and beauty as a selling point (much like conservatives advertise God as a weapon) and discredits all the inner workings of an individual’s personal stamina, and promotes beauty as a physical prerequisite in the lives of young girls. “Sexy” is the stamp of approval to exist before the public eye (or in the case of young viewers, the school campus). For, without this stamp, one is “less than” and required to stand clear and sit on the bench, while the approved “beautiful ones” roam the field and live off the proverbial “free pass” because who can argue with a person of beauty? “Sexy” not only sells the product, but plays into the arousal of the male audience (the ultimate goal) which translates into the approval of the consensus, which then becomes the “universal” opinion for what “sexy” is (hence, the “free pass”) and therefore, becomes law in the book of popular culture (God help the child who breaks this law). This creates the image of what women are suppose to look like and plays into the insecurity of the average fourteen year old who will vomit herself fifty pounds lighter to be seen as “pretty” and risk her health and psyche in the interest of what we are told “beauty” is. Never mind that beauty comes from within. Never mind that it leads young girls to have sex for the sake of acceptance (nothing at all to do with the natural flow of their sexuality, but the ongoing approval from men.). The ratings are up! And for a network to take responsibility for the product that is peddled and force fed so often down our throats that we take it in as part of our daily lives, would just be asking too much.

American Idol not only serves as the type of trash TV that supports Top Model, but stands as the “New Millennium Minstrel Show.” The Minstrel show thrived on entertainment at the expense of humanity; popularity over craft; laughter over content; and while American Idol appears to be a showcase for talent, it serves as the ultimate cesspool for insecurity; and not only this, people go about the show feeling like the judges are just “being honest” (in a time of Myspace and text messaging where honesty no longer exists), and yet the credibility and behavior of the judges must be left to question. We have a pill popping, burnt out, untalented singer (Paula), a second rate producer (Randy), and a cynical Brit’ who has never played an instrument, well, in his life (the infamous, Simon). And yet, these are the opinions that America listens to? The answer is, “absolutely yes.” The reason? “Sex sells” but only second to “insecurities” and it shows we learned nothing from the popularity of teen suicide in the 1980s (the movie Heathers beautifully communicates this). Popular Culture creates a standard. And when one does not live by this standard, one is ex-communicated and left for isolation (which are motivating factors in the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech). Not to say this is the complete fault of Popular Culture; nor would I ever take a stance of censorship for television or any medium of communication and entertainment. However when advertisement insists that one “be apart of or get the hell out”, this insists on pressure for acceptance and paints individuality as taboo, whereas individuality should be encouraged. American Idol, in their search for the next “idol” does not seek the individual as themselves; but the individual as they would fit in the created shadows of what popularity is. There is a self-proclaimed stamp of knowing what is popular and what isn’t (Simon). Yet to know what will be popular is for one to fool themselves, since popularity is generated from a mood that, often times, viewers and consumers have no idea they are feeling, until the product or song or film is placed in front of them; then suddenly they find the connection and the potential of popularity grows from that. Yet to state what “sexy” is, what “beauty” is, what “will be popular” is a pompous point of view that thrives on arrogance, rather than knowledge (Barry Gordy refused to release Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On album, based on his prediction that the album would not be popular; and yet, when the album was released it became the fastest selling album in history; and to this day, What’s Goin’ On is deemed the best soul album of all times). The film Napoleon Dynamite found a “cult following” because it immortalized the angst of the outcast, which resonated to the mood of the viewer. Yet it is Will Farrell who holds the crown in popular comedy because Farrell is an acceptable figure in the tradition of self-humiliation for the sake of entertainment. Hallie Berry has been deemed one of the most beautiful women in America; and though I think Lilli Taylor and Kerry Washington are beautiful women (more so than Berry, based on personal choice), they are not yet excepted figures of beauty because America has no comparable figure to place them against; therefore, they sit on the outskirts. All of this is based on what we are told, through advertisement, of what we are supposed to feel about these figures leaving no room for individual input. It’s baffling, it’s barbaric, it’s bullshit. Popularity is based on mood, not dictation. Sexy is based on personal choice, not industry standard. It confirms Chayefsky and Lee’s point, in that television tells us what to think, and we may rest in comfort from not having to take the responsibility for ourselves. Yet the comfort creates a discomfort; and the discomfort creates low self-esteem; and it is the low self-esteem that has filled the pocket books of many Americans, without consequence through the genre of Reality Television.

About Me

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writer, actor, & producer in training. in 2005, along side my partner in film and best friend since childhood, we produced and executed 3 films. to this day i am still working in "the business" to the best of my abilities and moving forward to the "next level." currently i am producing a film project, co-writing another, awaiting word on a stage play for New York, and pursuing my next one-person show. i'm also in school pursuing my Ph.D in Social Science.