Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Creepy Children's Books

Imagine these titles coming out when we were kids lol...

5 Books That Would Have Traumatized Us as Kids
by Caroline Stanley

The Huffington Post has compiled a slideshow of the creepiest children’s books ever, and while many of their picks are only off-putting because of their silly bathroom humor, there are a few that we believe could cause deep psychic trauma in a child. Having a pair of gay uncles? Not creepy — in fact, it sounds rather ideal. Having a pair of gay uncles with no respect for personal space who are leering at your gender indeterminate head from behind a curtain? Suddenly we’ve got the heebie-jeebies.

Hiroshima No Pika – This was written and illustrated by children who survived the Hiroshima attack. Don’t you think that nuclear war is a little heavy for a 5-year-old?

I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much – Reading this would have convinced us that our parents — who have always enjoyed a glass of “medicinal” wine with dinner — were alcoholics, too.

Joined at Birth: The Lives of Conjoined Twins – OK, let’s assume for a second that an elementary school kid has the level of sensitivity needed to read this book and not just point at the cover. And then they decide to do some research only to discover that conjoined twins have a 25% survival rate. Nice.

My Two Uncles – We’ve already said our bit about this one. These uncles make us sad. Also, as a commenter on HuffPo pointed out, how much funnier would it have been if this book was about a mom who sleeps around and the word uncle was in quotation marks?

A Scary Thing Happened – As kids, we found the Challenger disaster incredibly upsetting, even though it had little to do with our everyday lives. We can only imagine if we’d been forced to color in a rendering of the explosion.

Upsetting Jail Playground

One of my friends brought this disturbing image to my attention. It's a playground at the Tompkins Houses in Bedford Stuyvesant that has a play jail. Talk about psychological warfare. This is what the New York City Housing Authority sublimally embeds in our children?


This is one of class Rock and R&B's truly legendary shows. Peep the lineup below.... 

Filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, October 29, 1964, performances include:
Jan & Dean- (Here They Come) From All Over The World
Chuck Berry- Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, Sweet Little Sixteen, Nadine (Is it You?)
Gerry And The Pacemakers- Maybellene, Dont Let The Sun Catch You Crying, Its Gonna Be Alright, How Do You Do It?, I Like It
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles- Thats What Love Is Made Of, You've Really Got a Hold on Me, Mickeys Monkey
Marvin Gaye- Stubborn Kind Of Fellow, Pride And Joy, Can I Get A Witness, Hitch Hike
Lesley Gore- Maybe I Know, You Dont Own Me, You Didnt Look Around, Hey Now, Its My Party, & Judys Turn To Cry
Jan & Dean- The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena) & Sidewalk Surfin
The Beach Boys- Surfin U.S.A., I Get Around, Surfer Girl, & Dance, Dance, Dance
Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas- Little Children, Bad To Me, I'll Keep You Satisfied, & From A Window
The Supremes- When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, Run, Run, Run, Baby Love, & Where Did Our Love Go
The Barbarians- Hey Little Bird
James Brown & The Flames- Out Of Sight, Prisoner Of Love, Please, Please, Please, & Night Train
The Rolling Stones- Around and Around, Off The Hook, Time Is On My Side, It's All Over Now, & I'm All Right
All Performers- Show Close: Lets Get Together

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Tenth Annual National Black Writers' Conference

I was like a kid in a candy store. I attended a panel discussion on Hip-Hop and literature featuring Toure, Felicia Pride, and others. I attended a beautiful conversation on the depiction of war and disaster in Black lit featuring James McBride and a very poetic and intelligent Chris Abani. I chopped it up with Colson Whitehead, I shook Victor LaValle's hand, and I spent over hundred dollars on books. 'Twas memorable!

 Colson Whitehead reading from his novel Sag Harbor.

A reading with Victor LaValle, Dolan Perkins-Valdez, and Maaza Mengiste.

Erykah Badu's Window Seat

In this video, Badu bares her soul and other things...


ALBUM REVIEW: Joe Cuba's El Alcalde Del Barrio

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Joe Cuba
El Alcalde Del Barrio
Fania: 2010

You need not know who Joe Cuba is or had to have been in an uptown barrio to feel the legend drip from this record. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably heard songs like “Bang Bang” or “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia),” but could never place them. Songs, which made you think geez I associated that ditty with a whole culture, not a person .

Culture is exactly what El Alcalde Del Barrio symbolizes. The songs on this two-disc boxed set transcend their 1950’s doo-wop and 1970’s Latin Jazz time span; and the popular tunes from the anointed “Father of Latin Boogaloo” have been co-opted by Hip Hop samples (rewind The Black Eyed Peas’ “Karma” for a morsel of Cuba’s “El Raton”), movies (remember the bodega scene in Spike Lee’s Crooklyn during which the store clerk dances a number with a be-weaved Rupaul?), and even copycats (of course, that would be Pete Rodriquez’s “I Like It Like That”). Joe Cuba’s seductive conga is not just a sound. It’s a sentiment.

Once again, that Boogaloo swing will send you reminiscing, but the doo-wop selections introduce you to that young Cuba who sung ditties under the Spanish Harlem lamplight. These songs represent the springboard behind Cuba’s R&B leanings like the barbershop quintetish “It’s Love,” which channels harmonic backup vocal into a heart-throbbing romance ballad.

Cuba has also thrived off songs with choral refrains like the ruddy “A Las Seis” with Cheo Feliciano and the festive “La Calle Durisima” with Willie Garcia in addition to making a living off the mid-century Soul wave. Even up until to his death in February 2009, Cuba had consistently packed concert halls on tours. El Alcalde Del Barrio really portrays a rare multi-phase artist whose own personal growth has spawned a generation of eclectic music.

-Sidik Fofana

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Bill in Layman's Terms

Still confused about what Obama's signature on the Health Care reform bill really means?

1) You can keep your current insurance or buy state run insurance starting 2014.
2) You get to pay less for drugs and preventative care.
3) Adults can stay on health insurance for three more years. Kids can stay on family insurance until they're 26 years old.
4) You can still be eligible for coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition.
5) You automatically qualify for certain types of insurance based on your income.

Today's Health Care Reform Lesson has been brought to you by the letters "Y", "E", and "S".

The Flight of the Calvin Waters

My friends from collge, Andrew Colom and Arjun Kaul, made this movie!

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It got accepted at the Oxford Film Festival and they got interviewed here...


Madlib in Africa

This beat CD sounds bonkers, for real. It's Madlib digging up gems from the motherland (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, and more) and mashing them up into a 43 track instrumental calabash. Just in case you wanted to know what was in my iPod...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Phife Diggy Got Something to Say.

Phife Diggy Got Something to Say
Posted on 03/16/2010
[Editor’s note: OKP was lucky enough to get a chance to talk with Phife Dawg, hot off the heels of a huge Phife Dawg benefit that went down at Brooklyn’s The Knitting Factory featuring KRS-One, Jay Electronica, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and many more. It was the first time since his transplant that he performed live on stage. The event was to raise awareness about Diabetes, and it was truly epic. Stay tuned for our own Okayplayer TV episode which documents the night.]

In 2008, when Phife Dawg was wheeled into a surgery room for a kidney transplant, he may or may not have had that proverbial moment when his whole life flashed before his eyes. If he did, he might have seen a rough section of Jamaica Queens from which a trio of rappers/DJs known as A Tribe Called Quest would go on to rewrite Hip-Hop history. He might have seen the rise and fall: The Grammys, the world tours, the instinctive travels, the Sprite commercials, the platinum plaques, the feuds, and that album with the white cover that marked the break-up. But Phife had revived himself before that hospital bed. So, the Songs in the Key of Phife LP and the Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest documentary produced by actor Michael Rapaport, to be released, are all products of a reborn Phife. He tells us how he came to that one moment when he decided that it wasn’t over.

atcq_reunionshot.jpgOKP: I wanted to say, just from the stuff I’ve been reading, you’re a real strong dude. I was really glad to see the event that you threw on the 20th at Knitting Factory take place. It was a really special thing to see that you were out there raising awareness for diabetes. Tell us your story.]

Phife: I became diabetic in May of 1990. It’s hereditary. My moms is diabetic but even growing up seeing her having to take insulin shots and things of that nature, I didn’t take heed because I was still waking up to a glass of Quik, you know what I’m saying? Oreo cookies for breakfast, just stupid shit. It didn’t make it any better that we were on the road performing, eating KFC, McDonalds, shit like that and I was going hard when we was younger. I found out I was diabetic the month after the first album came out, so I thought my career was gonna be derailed from then, but I stayed with it. I stayed touring. We did Low End. We did Midnight, Beats, Rhymes, The Love Movement, all of that but I wasn’t always taking care of myself and it finally caught up to me when we broke up.

After we broke up, that’s when everything started to come into play in a negative fashion. I had a bump on the back of my neck and I just thought, you know, it was a regular bump. I went to get it checked because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t cancerous or anything like that. That’s when they [doctors] told me my kidneys was bad due to diabetes. This was like October ‘99. They told me I probably need to start dialysis in like a month or two. I was shook but I didn’t end up starting dialysis until May 2004.

I went for the Super Bowl in Houston. That’s when the whole Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson thing unfolded. That weekend my homeboy called me and said, “Your doctor called the crib and said that you gotta start dialysis next month.” So that made it a bittersweet Super Bowl weekend because I went out there to host a party. Anyway, I go back home, I visit my doctor. My mom slides in, and by the way it took me like a month or two to even reveal this shit to my mom because the one thing I hate is seeing women cry, so it took me a while to tell her. I finally told her and she flew down and went to the appointment with me. They basically told me that I had to go in for the surgery to get a catheter placed in my abdomen.

I started the actual dialysis in April. The procedure is called peritoneal dialysis. That’s when you do the dialysis to yourself at home. I chose that in the beginning because it suited my lifestyle as far as still going on the road doing shows with the group or by myself. I just had to lug all this damn medicine with me and it was ridiculous.

From ’04 to the end of ’06 or early ’07, I was doing it myself, but it wasn’t working out for me. It’s like 3000 milliliters, four bags a day, every four hours, so if I started at 6am, my last bag was at 6pm. I couldn’t really go too many places or too far because I had to worry about going back to do my medicine, so I was staying in the house. I went through a slight depression. Ask anybody on dialysis like that, they just pretty much want their life back. Being that I’m pretty much in the house all day, all night, I was on my own with this shit, not realizing other people go through this shit. I just wanted my life back.

atcq_backintheday.jpgThe procedure was this: I drained and then I filled back up in order to clean my kidneys like it’s the actual machine filtering my kidneys. You’re supposed to drain and then fill. Next session. Drain and then fill. Drain/fill. Drain/fill. That went on for 24 hours. But I was filling more than I was draining, so my feet would be swollen. I wear a size nine. I ended up having to wear a size ten and a half or one of those slip-ons. That could be bad for your heart. It got to the point when it really started affecting my heart. That’s when I really got shook.

I went to the hospital Thanksgiving ’06. It had to be the worst Thanksgiving of my life. I couldn’t even eat because I couldn’t hold down no food. My appetite was rotten. It was just the worst Thanksgiving ever.

I was in the hospital for like two weeks and we just moved from our old house to a new house out here in California. The new house became a blessing in disguise. The old house was the last time I did dialysis on my own in the house and that was what I needed to get away from. That last visit at the hospital, they ended up saying that I was gonna start my hemodialysis which is when you go to the clinic three times a week. My days were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Three days a week and they do it for you. That was the biggest blessing ever. I think that was what actually saved me from things being worse.

Okay so now I’m driving myself to the clinic and getting out of the house a certain amount of hours per day. Initially I didn’t want to be amongst other people having this stuff done, but that ended up being what I needed because they inspired me to get myself right. You got some old people in there and you know the elderly people, they’re the ones with the knowledge and the wisdom that sometimes you need to take heed to, if not all the time. I’m walking in the clinic and they’re looking at me like dude what are you doing here? You’re too young for this, you know what I’m saying? I really sat down and listened to what they had to say and it made a lot of sense.

I was on my grind with it then. I started losing the weight because I’m only 5’3 and my weight was like 190, an unhealthy weight. I can’t even stand looking at my marriage pictures since I was so big because of the medicine. I started losing the weight rapidly, but that’s when Hip Hop Honors had called me and said they wanted to honor Tribe. I didn’t wanna do it because people were gonna be like, “Yo, this nigga Phife. Yo, that’s not a good look.” What they failed to realize was I was feeling much better than what they saw that I looked like, you know what I’m saying? Because even though I looked normal when I was bigger, I felt rotten. I felt horrible and it was the complete opposite.

atcq_vh1hhh.jpgI ended up doing the Hip Hop Honors because of Fab Five Freddy. He really stuck his neck out for us to be there, especially me because he knew that I wasn’t doing well at the time, but he really wanted me to be there to enjoy us being honored. So I couldn’t say no to that and I went. That’s when all the rumors started.

It was all over the place. Wendy Williams talking shit. Other people. My father, my brother, and my moms, they still in New York. They listen to the radio and so they was calling me telling me what was being said. I didn’t really sweat it because I can’t really knock them for what they don’t know. Wendy’s been doing that for years so I didn’t really sweat it like that.

We went on the Rock the Bells Tour in ’08. I’m doing much better and I’m just waiting for my transplant. My wife wanted to get tested, but I was so much bigger than her at the time so the doctors was like that would never work, so she didn’t. My father got tested. He couldn’t do it because he had his own issues. One of my best friends, he was gonna do it. Physically, he was okay and he was a match, but mentally it was a whole new ball game for him because he’s never been under the knife like that before. He was shook, which is understandable, because that’s a normal reaction for somebody who’s never been under the knife. So now I’m worried where am I gonna get this kidney because personally I’m not built to ask anybody for no kidney because I’m looking at it like what if their kids need it.

My wife came home one day and was like, “Boo,” and I was like, “What’s wrong?” and she was like, “I’m a match?” I’m like, “You’re a match? What are you talking about?” She was like, “I got tested and I’m a match.” So there we were in the house bawling like little kids.

OKP: Wow.

Phife: So she ended up giving me her kidney in September ’08, she actually enabled me to do this, you know what I’m saying? To get back in the studio, do what I love to do. Matter fact, I didn’t even wanna rhyme anymore, I just wanted to produce and put artists out and stuff like that. But then I went to New York in June, caught the bug again, came back home started writing like on the Blackberry 24/7 just writing rhymes, getting beats, because I was already making beats and so that’s how I got into it again. I felt like this could really set the table for my artists so that’s why I’m on it again. I had no choice but to do it because I felt like my life was a blessing.

OKP: Damn. That’s crazy, man, like really, really inspirational. I’m on the verge of tears.

Phife: Na, be cool man.

OKP: That shit is crazy like for real man, you’re a soldier. I’m glad you shared this.

Phife: I believe in hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

OKP: Yeah, definitely. So how do you feel presently? You feel strong? You feel good?

atcq_backintheday_2.jpgPhife: Yeah man, I been working hard. I hired a trainer. I’ve been working out, playing basketball like I used to, trying to keep in shape because when I go on this road, I’m going hard. I really can’t complain. I had the best year of my life since the transplant . All of my sports teams did good. Like I never really been through it like that. Aside from the Knicks, all my teams did pretty well. Right now my Tarheels are getting their ass beat like crazy. They’ll be all right because they got a nice little class coming next year, but it’s crazy right now, but the Yankees did their thing, the Jets almost made the Super Bowl, the Tarheels won, the Lakers won. I can’t complain. I was happy all year.

By the way I’m working on my own sports talk show, sports/music talk show, working on a pilot for that and I think Imma call it “The Fanalyst”. I’m also working on a clothing line - well I’m in a partnership for this clothing line called King Duce and it’s also a record label that I’m partnering with. I’m gonna be head of urban music as well of head of urban wear.

I’m still basketball recruiting for a prep school in Connecticut and I coach an AAU team out here in Oakland. They just started back so I’m about to start going to practice when I get back from overseas the end of next month.

OKP: When is Songs in the Key of Phife coming out?

Phife: I’m not sure because I been out of the game for at least eight, nine years now. I wanted to record the whole album and then go shop it. I wanna go in there with at least five full songs and maybe five snippets. I’m still in the process of recording right now. I got like at least forty, fifty songs but now I just want to pick the top fifteen and throw in three bonus cuts. In a perfect world like Keri Hilson would say, I wouldn’t mind it coming out sometime between August and November.

OKP: Who’s doing the production for the most part?

Phife: Well I have my production company. It’s called Riddim Kids. It’s myself, it’s DJ Rasta Roots and it’s my man Stat Box. He’s about to be 22 tomorrow. He’s from out here in San Jose, California, and he’s a beast on the beats. I’m not just talking Hip-Hop. I’m talking alternative. He can do a beat for Lady Ga-Ga, a beat for Pink, and then come back and bless Ghostface and myself with a track. He’s well rounded, he’s young, he’s hungry, and I’m letting him get his grind on so he can learn his business. So he did about six, seven tracks. My man in Toronto, he did about six tracks. I did about three. I got a track from this kid named Oh No, banging track. Ali Shaheed gave me one and my man Illmind gave me one. So far we doing it big.

OKP: That’s a diverse palette right there.

Phife: Yeah, I’m still waiting for a track from DJ Scratch and Rico Wade and a couple of other people, but if they don’t make the album, I’m about to start the next one as well as a compilation with all my artists.

OKP: Wow, that sounds like it’s coming from all directions. Do you have any major artist collaborations that we should look out for?

Phife: Well actually we’re doing this one track that I’m trying to get Big Boi from Outkast on as well as Cee-lo on the hook. He can do a verse for me as well because he’s a beast on both ends of the spectrum as you know. I’m looking forward to this track with KRS-One as well. So far so good. Imma also holla at some dude named Q-tip see what’s good and we gonna get it poppin like that.

OKP: You have any idea what you gonna put out as a first single?

Phife: Yeah I do. I do have an idea. It’s this one joint called “Sole Men” and it features one of my artists. He’s actually the same person we call Stat Box. Stat Box is his production name. He did the track and he’s featured. It’s basically our ode to loving sneakers.

OKP: You mentioned Q-tip. You’re probably tired of this question, but is there ever gonna be another Tribe album? People who have grown up on a Tribe always want that update every now and then. They wanna hear from the horse’s mouth.

Phife: It’s not that I’m tired of that question being asked because you have to expect that when people have grown up on you, I’m tired of it not being answered. Just real talk. I don’t know how to answer it, so I’ll answer it from a Phife Dawg perspective. I would love to do a Tribe album. I think it would be dope. I think the climate’s right, but I honestly don’t think it’s gonna pop off, you know what I’m saying? But maybe it will because we do have a documentary coming out which is being filmed by Michael Rapaport, executive produced by Nas Escobar so maybe we can piggy back off of that and get some things done. I think with the documentary coming out, the demand might be kind of high for us to come out with something brand new. But I’m not sure that’s gonna happen. Just getting all three together in one place, you’re better off pulling out your own teeth. You never know though. Knock on wood, keep your fingers crossed, whatever you wanna do, we’ll see what happens.

OKP: I hear you on that. The documentary is exciting. Is it gonna be a whole timeline of the Tribe’s history? Did you have new interviews?

Phife: It’s a little bit of everything. The good, the bad, the ugly. It’s gonna be some things that you’re looking forward to seeing. It’s gonna be some things where you’re gonna be like, “Word it went down like that?” It’s just bugged out, man. I couldn’t even look at the trailer when Rapaport was showing it to me because when I was going in for my surgery, Rapaport was right there filming. I couldn’t even watch that part of it. It’s on y’all. Y’all tell me what y’all see. But it’s crazy. There’s some good times. There’s some bad times. You’re gonna see it all.

- Sidik Fofana

OKAYPLAYER REVIEW: Bei Bei & Shawn Lee's Into the Wind

This piece I wrote debuted on OKP a few days ago... 

Bei Bei & Shawn Lee
Into The Wind
Ubiquity : 2010 

A guzheng is a stringed Chinese instrument made with a pluck half-tube zither and movable bridges. It can have up to 25 steel strings and is the parent instrument of the Japanese koto. Sounds like something somebody would write a pictureless book about, right?

Now take that imposing hunk of wood and metal and place a foxy twenty-something in front of it. Then saturate the guzheng’s sound with bubbles of jazz, soul, electronica, funk and even Hip-Hop. Voila, Into the Wind, a balloon sculpture of genres is born.

As deduced, Bei Bei is that voluptuous cutie holding down the guzheng and Shawn Lee is that multi-instrumentalist, genre-twisting contortionist. The LP takes on the personality of both, but Bei Bei’s oriental aesthetic takes on the dominant trait. The remake of Billy Paul’s “East” comes to mind with its rapid-fire arpeggios that convert an originally tripped-out soul piece that would normally sound like East of New York City to one that sounds East of Hong Kong. “Make Me Stronger,” on the other hand, displays a more understated guzheng, barely audible over Georgia Anne Muldrow’s gypsy-like vocals.

At times, it’s hard to tell if Bei Bei and Shawn Lee are a band or are merely soundtrack producers. For instance, Into The Wind ’s title track screams martial arts flick theme song while pieces like “The Ambush” could easily blend in at a Blue Note showcase. However intentional the sonic range, the album performs some whirls that listeners may not be prepared for.

For a project that sparked from online file sharing, Into The Wind breaks a new seal in genre mixing. It doesn’t sound forced or overly ambitious. Clearly, East has met West, and though music often does not do well with blind dates, this particular hook-up has found chemistry.

-Sidik Fofana

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Report Card Money

Report Card Money
by Sidik Fofana

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There was a time when quality of education depended only on the school teacher and his or her class room. This could have been pre Civil War. It could have been in the days of the colonies. It could have even been before Christ. It is also very possible that this school room model could just be some romantic notion, a utopian ideal based on no recorded system. The bottom line is that the fate of American education, particularly in urban areas, has long abandoned the days where it is just limited to the classroom.

Since the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, which established national academic standards, the United States Congress in conjunction with the United States Department of Education has been trying to remedy the inequalities in schools across the country. The fact remains that American education, which operates mainly within the public sector, is based on school districts with varying financial endowments and different benchmarks for scholastic achievement and institutions with a  significant population of minority students have perennially found themselves at the lower end of the spread.

By now the horror stories about inner city education have been quite ubiquitous. Students of color are attending crumbling schools. The achievement gap for between Blacks and White is alarmingly wide. African-Americans don’t have access to the quality of education that could get them in the nation’s top colleges. It is generally recognized that United States’ urban population, especially areas with a high concentration of minority students, suffer the most from this disparity. But acknowledging the inequalities in schools where the student body comprises mostly of children of color means, acknowledging the social factors—teacher quality, student economic background, education of parents, health care, school resources to name a few--that cause these inequalities. It is this end, determining the reasons behind these imbalances, that has fueled debates over the past few years.

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One of the places in which this dialogue on education has reached full throttle is New York City. In the past couple of years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been working hard to follow the national trend of data driven evaluation of school districts which has been met with some resistance. In a New York Times article, in which Bloomberg announced that student test scores may factor in teacher tenure, many educators wrote back expressing their disapproval for proposed policy. One teacher, who found the proposal less than ideal, wrote, “There are many internal and external factors that influence each student’s learning that are beyond the teacher’s control. Factors related to economics, language, home environment, motivation, attitude and aptitude help inspire or discourage learning. It is not as simple as a test score.”Another teacher wrote, “When I taught the highest-performing class, my average reading score jumped about two years; when I taught the most challenging class, it moved about nine months. The effort was the same, but the results were very different. Should I have been granted or denied tenure?”

The United Federation of Teachers agrees with these positions as well. The New York City teacher’s union holds the belief that linking teacher tenure to test scores would prove stifling for those teachers who work in high needs environments. These are the very environments in which New York City traditionally has experienced personnel shortages. “One-third of new teachers leave teaching before ever coming up for tenure,” UFT president, Randi Weingarten, testified to City Council Education Committee. “Among those thousands we lose, there are a lot more people who could have been great teachers had we given them a little more encouragement and support. Rather than focus on how to keep good teachers, the school system is scaring them away.”

In 1990, Wendy Kopp, a senior at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, founded Teach for America, a national non-profit organization which accepts recent graduates from competitive colleges and universities across the country for teaching positions in low-income districts. These young, uncertified teachers go through expedited training and fulfill a two-year requirement with the program. In 2000, New York City addressed its own teacher vacancies with the establishment of the New York City Teaching Fellows, which also recruits recent graduates as well as career changers to teach in the city’s most challenging districts.

Having bright, ambitious individuals teach in areas that many educators have either abandoned or are reluctant to relocate seems like a brilliant initiative on paper, but factor in the inexperience and high turnover rates (many matriculants in TFA and New York City Teaching Fellows leave teaching in less than five years) and many of the issues that these programs sought out to quell are left unresolved. Not only are these teachers dealing with a brand new profession, but they are dealing with scant resources, behavior problems, low skill levels, poor households, and other social ills that are beyond their power.

“Some of these students lack a lot of structure in their home life, and I don't think that teachers are the solution to every problem these kids face,” says Taylor Block, who was trained in the Teaching Fellows Program for three months before teaching in the Bronx.  “Schools need to adopt better more consistent school wide disciplinary protocols and have more counselors on staff.  It would also help to get the community and the parents involved, so the kids have plenty of support.”

The recession of the late 2000s has further complicated things. Instead of providing an influx of capital to underfunded schools, state budgets were forced to make cuts to their education departments. In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg oversaw a $180 million cut to New York City’s department of education, which resulted in school budgets being trimmed down by an average 1.75% or $70,000 per school.

Principals and teachers have felt the pangs of these reductions on several levels. Many after-school programs had to close their doors. Music and arts curricula have become burdensome vestiges. Schools across the country have had to increase their class sizes and lay off teachers. In 2007, the Title I program, America’s largest source of federal aid to low-income school districts received no additional funding for the 2008-2009 school year. Last year, Mayor Bloomberg enacted a hiring freeze on the Department of Education, restricting principals only to hiring within city’s “rubber room”, or Teacher Reassignment Center which houses pool of teachers awaiting hearing for either misconduct or incompetency. On May 27, 2009, Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City public school announced $405  million more budget cuts for the 2010 school year.

As a result of reductions in funding, New York has been suffering from overcrowded schools more than ever. In the last few years, the city made national headlines with its project to address the problem by replacing large failing schools with smaller ones. Currently 42% of public and charter school buildings in New York house more one school. Though this measure has reduced student population, it has not reduced class size since, contractually, New York teachers can be assigned to as much as 34 students in one room.

“No one likes budget cuts, especially me, but these are tough times, and education makes up one third of the City’s budget,” say Joel Klein. “Our goal is to keep cuts away from classrooms as much as possible but we can’t find all the necessary savings outside of our schools.”

Bloomberg has recently proposed putting a one-year limit on the amount of time excessed teachers can remain on the payroll to stop the hemorrhaging $80 million a year the Department of Education spends paying teachers who aren’t teaching.

In addition to district movements, the Obama Administration has also been working hard on a national level to pump funding back into state budgets. The administration’s newest initiative is the Race to the Top Fund, which piggybacks off of No Child Left Behind and offers grants to states which show progress and innovation in education. “And the idea here is simple:  Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.  Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform--,” President Obama remarked during January’s State of the Union address. “Reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city.”

The national competition, spearheaded by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, rewards qualifying states with 4.35 billion dollar incentive for the 2010-2011 school year. States must apply for limited grants and demonstrate success in four reform areas outlined under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which include establishing college and career-ready standards, implementing data systems to plot student progress, making improvements in teacher effectiveness, and providing intensive support for the lowest-performing schools.

Proponents of the act like David Johns, Senior Policy Advisor to the US Senate and former educator, embrace the country’s shift toward data-driven evaluation. “Data is essential to being able to understand how instruction is impacting learning,” says Johns. “As a former teacher, every day I needed to have some tangible way of knowing what I was trying to convey to my students was being received.”

While Johns, who now works for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions under Senator Tom Harkin (D) from Iowa, helped draft and approve the ARRA and Race to the Top, he assures that policy makers have weighed the pros and cons of the government’s increased reliance on data. “There is no way to ignore the factors that contribute to why some students aren’t able to achieve as much as others,” he adds. “The challenge is balancing the practical realities that kids live in with the political realities.”

Race to the Top strict requirements also encourage the creation and nurturing of charter schools, which has found many states, adjusting its standards to gain eligibility. New York City, which caps its number of charter schools at 200, has considered lifting the quota to attain the federal funds,  a move, which for now, remains a point of contention among district politicians.

“The creation of new charter schools is displacing public schools that are already firmly established in communities,” says Congresswoman Yvette Clarke who represents New York’s 11th Congressional District. “I believe that providing funding for school construction, as a companion to educational reforms, will be a necessary component to future educational reforms.”

Joel Packer, executive director for the Committee for Education Funding also makes it clear that although Race to the Top’s monetary boost presents a temporary solution, he eventually looks forward to programs which cater to the whole child. He cites organizations like the Harlem Children Zone in East Harlem, a pioneering non-profit organization which services low-income families through parenting workshops, parenting workshops, and health programs for its students as a successful model of community education.

“Children are facing these other realities and other needs,” Packer adds. “Yes we need we need to make kids have up-to-date access to textbooks and technology, but we also need to make sure that they’re healthy and safe and well fed.”

The United States Student Association, the largest student run organization in America, has taken solution models to another plateau, lobbying for more grant money for minority students in higher education. The organization, led by legislative director, Angela Peoples, recently helped organized a conference which took place in Washington, DC this March where students discussed major breakthroughs in funding for higher education like the Obama administration’s Student Aid Reform. The bill, which proposes taking away money that has traditionally gone to banks and lenders and issuing student loans straight from the federal budget, would save $87 million for the Pell Grant, a program which helps low income families pay for college. The USSA recently participated in a demonstration in March to augment the Grant’s endowment to 87 million.

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“Students are coming together to increase funding for traditionally underrepresented communities,” says Peoples.

With the keys legislative events to take place, the general sentiment in the field of education policy points towards undoing the harms of the recession.

“The Obama administration led the charge for education programs.” assures Packer, “They’re designed to go to states, colleges, school districts to prevent job losses, program cuts, and mitigate tuition increases.”

Grafitti Creator

Graffiti Creator

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The New Alicia Keys?

Are we old enough to see reincarnations? This sixteen year-old chick Karina seems like the new Alicia, NYC piano and all. Thanks to the gf for putting me on.

Liberia Documentary VBS.TV

I know I'm late, but I just discovered You gotta check out this documentary on Liberia. Here's the trailer...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New 9th Wonder Mixtape

Listened to this joint myself. 9th is still sharp, my dudes... 

The Forbes Fictional Fifteen

How's that for alliteration? Was feeling a wee bit capitalist and fantastical we shall say (sike never) and remembered this list.

The Fictional 15

Rank Name Net Worth ($mil) Age Residence Source
1 Claus, Santa
1,651 North Pole Toys, Candy
2 Warbucks, Oliver "Daddy" $27.3 bil 52 New York, N.Y. Defense Industries
3 Rich, Richie $17 bil 10 Richville, U.S.A. Inheritance, Conglomerates
4 Luthor, Lex $10.1 bil 36 Metropolis, U.S.A. Defense, Software, Real Estate
5 Burns, Charles Montgomery $8.4 bil 104 Springfield, U.S.A. Energy
6 McDuck, Scrooge $8.2 bil 80 Duckburg, U.S.A. Mining
7 Clampett, Jed $6.6 bil 51 Beverly Hills, Calif. Oil & Gas, Banking
8 Wayne, Bruce $6.5 bil 32 Gotham City, U.S.A Inheritance; Defense
9 Howell, Thurston III $5.7 bil 60 Private Island, Pacific Ocean Howell Industries
10 Wonka, Willy $2.3 bil 57 Kent, England Candy
11 Bach, Arthur $2 bil 50 New York, N.Y. Inheritance
12 Scrooge, Ebenezer $1.7 bil 63 London, England Banking, Investments
13 Croft, Lara $1 bil 37 Wimbledon, England Inheritance, Antiques
14 De Vil, Cruella $1 bil 65 London, England Inheritance
15 Malfoy, Lucius $900 mil 51 Wiltshire, England Inheritance

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cool White Boy with Soul

Stones Throw is really doing it out here. Should been on Mayer Hawthorne's bandwagon a while ago. Watch this video. Really creative. Google him.

Lamec - Monsters Under The Bed (directed by Kevin Lopez)

One of my buddies from the Teaching Fellows is a professional video director. He's got some pretty high end stuff. This is a joint he did for Harlem artist, Lamec. For more of his work, go to

Soul Train 9 DVD Set

Mark Anthony Neal blogged about this so I thought I would give it a push forward as well. You can pre-order The Best of Soul Train 1971-1979 for just $149.95 at Not convinced? Take a preview...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

REVIEW: D. Black Ali'yah

Here's my latest okayplayer review. Check it out...

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Despite the untrimmed corners of D’Black’s beard in concordance with Leviticus 19:27 and his divinely titled album Ali’yah, Hebrew for “ascent,” the Seattle native’s sophomore LP for the most part sounds secular. With the exception of such songs as “Close to Yah,” and “Yah Have Mercy,” D’Black is indistinguishable from your run-of-mill conscious peace-and-equality preaching emcee. The contemplative Ali’yah does not merely publicize D’Black’s Messianic Hebrew roots, it comments on our imperfect world with a holy confidence.

But how articulate and/or effective is the message? Well, D’Black’s lyrics tend to wobble on the verbal fortitude meter. In a good shuffle, a line from “Bring It Back” like “We’ve all been affected with a virus known as conforming because we all hide us,” will pop out. In a lazy shuffle, one might hear something like this: “The difference between me and you is like the differences between green and blue.”

Throwaway lines aside, Ali’yah tingles with spiritual production. Vitamin D steps in on the polyphonic “Keep it Going,” an uplifting call to humanity. Fellow Seattle dweller Jake One (whose album White Van Music, D’Black can thank for his first national guest spot) cooks up a thumper on “The Return” along with an anonymous in-your-face female refrain. Yet, more than providing a consistent sound, the production on the album shows how much having many voices in unison can really convey spirituality. On tracks like the intro “Alter Call,” and the transcendent “Touch the Stars,” D’Black does not underestimate the power of a seraphic note or three.

Perhaps Ali’yah is aptly named for the Northwestern emcee, who recently inherited part ownership of the Sportn’ Life record label as a birthday gift from his dad. D’Black is continuing his national ascent, fresh off performances at big-time music festivals like Bumbershoot and The Capitol Block Party. As long as his rhyme game ascends as well, this young man seems skyward bound.

-Sidik Fofana

Yay Ms. Thompson!

A fellow teacher at my school, Sabrina Thompson, was featured in Black Enterprise. She has definitely made a name for herself with her jewelry company beanpYe. Her handmade creations have attracted some big name clients. This article appeared in BE's March issue.

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Sabrina Thompson has a long history of putting contrasting things together and somehow making them work. The 32-year-old first began freestyle painting on nails and T-shirt designs when she was 11, inspired by her track idol, Florence Griffith Joyner. “A lot of my pieces are sort of contradicting when it comes to color. I’ll put blue with purple and green and yellow—something that people won’t really expect, but they end up liking it.”

Since 2005, Thompson has been bringing her colorful ideas to life through her line of handcrafted and hand-painted jewelry, named beanpYe ( The designs are inspired by music, her travels, and her love of ethnic fabrics. Earrings, bracelets, and necklaces range from $20 to $120. Thompson also does custom work, which costs more, and her clients include Alicia Keys and India.Arie. Despite the early start, the New Yorker, who is originally from Wilson, North Carolina, never imagined a career in fashion.

After years as a television producer, Thompson now teaches high school, runs Kuu Consulting, a firm that helps lawyers brand themselves for the media, and she co-founded WEEN (Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network;, a nonprofit coalition dedicated to supporting women in entertainment.

“I didn’t really ever see myself as a designer. I liked shopping, but to turn it into a business never occurred to me,” Thompson says. When she got tired of seeing the same bland, boring items in every store, she started making accessories to spice things up. “No one wants to walk into an event and see the same red dress or the same blue sweater. I think that’s the key point to my company, because you’re the only person in the world that’s going to have this. It’s not mass produced; it’s a very exclusive line.”

Thompson knows that her funky pieces might not be for everyone, but she also knows there’s a market for something distinctive. “There are a lot of people who are afraid of color,” she says. “But beanpYe is more for the daring customer, the customer who’s not afraid to push the envelope. This is meant to bring whatever you have inside of you out. If you want to do color, go and do a color. Do what fits your personality.”