Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lauryn Hill "Repercussions"

The inbox of Soul gods have been clogged for about ten years, but I do believe they've got around to answering a few prayers. This one was for a new hot Lauryn Hill track...

Stream: Lauryn Hill, “Repercussions”

The Most Amazing Bookstores In The World

Straight from the Huffington Post...

By Caroline Eisenmann

It's a difficult time for bookstores. Online booksellers offer seductively low prices and the convenience of ordering from home. eBooks are poised to change the business of publishing as we know it, allowing readers to bypass printed material altogether. There are news stories almost every day telling us about another independent bookstore that has shut down, a casualty of the changing book business.
However, we hope that there will always be a place for physical bookstores. Below, we have gathered some of the most amazing bookstores in the world -- the places that would make any reader shut their laptop, put aside their eReader, and go out to buy a book. From New York to Portugal to China, we've picked the most beautiful, impressive, and inspiring. Let us know what you think, and if we missed any incredible bookstores, in the comments section below.

For more amazing book places, check out our slideshows on the most amazing libraries in the world and the best independent bookstores

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Roald Dahl's Matilda Vs. Sapphire's Push (Fofana's Fireside Chats #1)

It’s funny how reading solves problems differently in Matilda and Push.
I don’t know about you but I will always have a special place in my heart for Matilda. For any Roald Dahl book for that matter. This story about a young English girl whose academic gifts free her from the confines of her excruciatingly ordinary family and cruel schoolmaster brings tears to my eyes. It’s a recapitulation of the importance of books and the empowerment they award the beholder.
Having read Matilda as a wee pre-adolescent (Dudley Branch Library, baby! I borrowed Matilda, James & Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The BFG all on the same day…considered stealing The BFG and Matilda, but that’s neither here nor there) and Sapphire’s 1996 Push novel, I can’t help but notice how literacy saves the day in unique ways for both.
See, Matilda is a super intellectual. She is able to rise beyond her dire circumstances because she is so much smarter than the people around her. That’s how she’s able to play those funny pranks on her father. In Push, Claireece Precious Jones, the novel’s obese teenage protagonist, doesn’t even know how to read. Her salvation comes from being introduced to literacy from having no literacy at all making her redemption is a very subtle one.
When Precious meets Ms. Rain, her new teacher at her new alternative school, she is pregnant with her father’s baby. Ms. Rain encourages her to write down her thoughts in a journal. Although her writing is very elementary, writing about her experiences as a young black girl in Harlem and about her unborn son proves to be very cathartic. But this isn’t a catharsis of the Hollywood blend where Precious’s life magically is delivered from ruin. Precious is still academically miles away from getting her GED and on top of that contracts HIV from own father.
Matilda, on the other hand, is not only a genius, but her abilities also extend to the supernatural. Not only does she have a firm grasp of the classics, but she also discovers her uncanny ability to move objects with her mind. This power ultimately helps her escape her underachieving family and liberates her tormented teacher Ms. Honey from the evil Miss. Trunchbull.
Ms. Rain is very similar to Ms. Honey by the way. Encouragers. Surnames of purging liquids. Gotta love teachers. Wink wink.
But of course I have to bring it to race. Why does the Push, the narrative of a black girl, have to be one of pathology and not Matilda? If we really analyze the essence of the these two books, we see that both are the story of the dysfunctional family, except that Matilda is one of neglect (a family that doesn’t cater to their Matilda’s intellectual needs) and Push is one of abuse (physical abuse from the mother, sexual abuse from the father).
Are both of these books doing social damage by reinforcing stereotypes? I don’t know. But the fact that literacy is the divine apparatus that reverses some of these issues prevents me from delving deeper into the issue.

The Top 20 Hip Hop Books of All Time

In Good Will Hunting, that movie about the genius young janitor who studies with a Harvard professor, the professor takes Matt Damon's cynical character Will (the janitor) to all these pyschologists, of which he has read each one's book beforehand. That's me with Hip Hop books. I've read a lot. I've read more than a lot. I've read enough to make a personal list of the best, most insightful works in this genre of Hip Hop scholarship. Here they go. IN particular order...
6. Hip Hop America

If I forget any please let me know so I can expand this to a top 25 and maybe even a top 50...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MINI REVIEW: Rick Ross's Teflon Don

Like my rommate Noah said, success is the best way to win a rap battle. had eyes glued to a certain clip of 50 Cent treating Rick Ross's baby mama to a lavish shopping spree, the ultimate denigration of the Miami rapper's manhood. But guess what? Rick Ross is releasing ish like his fourth studio album Teflon Don while 50 is putting out garbage with an accent on the second "a". On this album, Ross holds his own with the heavyweights, one of whom, by the name of Shawn Charter disavows his connections to the devil in "Free Mason". Teflon Don sounds like a groovy score to a kick ass blaxploitation film, which would make Ross's duet with Ne-Yo "Super High" outta sight.
Hardcore crunkists will be surprised to find Erykah Badu on the extra chill "Maybach Music III", but hey, it's that type of album. For this top to bottom doozy, Rick Ross may find it best to borrow Kanye West's lyrics from "Live Fast, Die Young" : "You can sneeze because I just blessed with my presence".

Donwill: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Donwill: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Whoever up and decides to theme a whole Hip Hop album after the 2000 film High Fidelity has to have a "Laura" in his life. I don’t care what anyone says. After all, Donwill of Tanya Morgan is all but a shoe-in for the backpack version of John Cusack. Both are unapologetic audiophiles and more so, unapologetic romantics.


So Don, like I said, your aptly-named album Don Cusack in High Fidelity is bananas, but I had to be that asshole and ask all those questions about your past stints with love. Why? Because I’m an asshole. I want those women to read this interview, pick up on the context clues, and then hurl bricks into your house or tape your doorbell so that it rings all night.

Just kidding, amigo. You are a gentleman through and through. But it was fun to see you sweat a little.

OKP: So, do you have a real life Laura?

Donwill: I guess I do.

OKP: Who is that?

Donwill: I’m not gonna do that (laughs). In all honesty, the concept of that one perfect woman don’t really exist, but there have been relationships that I feel are substantial enough to become something. Everybody’s had those two or three girlfriends in their life that still to this day could have been the one, so that’s why she’s not really one person. Two or three girls could be her.

OKP: Are there any of those two or three that you still talk to?

Donwill: You’re just trying to get me (laughs).

OKP: It’s Okayplayer, baby!

Donwill: I will say this. I’ve maintained good relationships with every ex-girlfriend except for one woman who chooses not to remain in contact, you know what I’m saying? I’m not one of them dudes.

OKP: Do you have a girlfriend now?

Donwill: Na I’m single.

OKP: And you don’t wanna answer these questions for the girls who might wanna know?

Donwill: I don’t wanna implicate. I don’t wanna put the people who I’m talking about on front street. Bad enough they listen to the album. But yeah Laura is a concept more than a person. She’s definitely not a person.

OKP: In the movie John Cusack has these top five lists and goes back to all these girlfriends, so a lot of these questions will have to do with romance. For instance, let’s see, umm…who was the first girl you ever wrote a rhyme for?

Donwill: Actually the first rhyme I wrote was on some on some ooh baby shit, soft and smooth, silk and sweet, baby doll whatever shit, but I had this rule and I used to tell Ilyas the rule all the time. I don’t really write about real life. For a long time, I wouldn’t write about real people. I would say the first girl that ever I wrote a rhyme for that I could remember was a song on Moonlighting called “I Want You to Want Me.” I wrote it about a girl I was breaking up with at the time, a chick named Alicia. She won’t see this (laughs). If it ain’t Nelly, she don’t give a fuck about it (laughs). She was a big Nelly fan. That was the first girl I remember writing a song about.

OKP: Who was a girl that you wrote something about and showed it to her?

Donwill: Alicia.

OKP: How did she react?

Donwill: Again, she was like, “Oh that’s cool.” Bless her heart. I love her to death, but she was just one of those girls that didn’t get the kind of music I made, if it wasn’t basic rhyme schemes. She was literally like, “Can you explain this to me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

OKP: She was one of those…

Donwill: Yeah, one of them chicks who don’t listen to the same music you listen to so it’s already doomed. I would say another chick I was dating, a girl named “S”, I used to let her hear my music. She would be around me while I was recording the shit. I would let her hear stuff and I would write a little stuff about her sometimes and let her hear it and see what she thought about it. She was interested in my career and my music, so she enjoyed it.

OKP: How do spell her name?

Donwill: (Laughs) I’ll let you wrestle with that.

OKP: We’ll give her an alias or something like that.

Donwill: Ok…we’ll just call her “S.”

OKP: (Laughs). Aight, we’ll call her “S.” Imma put you on the real spot now. Let’s see which ones you can answer. Has there been a girl where you know got her strictly off of being a dope emcee?

Donwill: Honestly, you could spot them, but I didn’t get one. My thing is I’m recently single. A lot of times we’ll be on the road and there’s them chicks that be front row. It’ll be like, “Awesome, I got to get away from you tonight.” Get you in trouble. I definitely became friends with girls after meeting them and shit.

Sometimes after a show you’ll meet a chick, y’all talking and if it wasn’t for you being on stage, they probably wouldn’t talk to you. I mean, I’ve literally done shows where I’ll be in the crowd before the show and a chick’s standing by me, nothing. Then I get off stage and it’s like, “Hey I know you!” and you’re like, “Word, that’s what’s up. That’s what’s you’re into?”

OKP: I feel you.

Donwill: You’re trying to get me killed in these streets.

OKP: (Laughs)

Donwill: This is the stuff they wanna know.

donwill_intv_2.jpgOKP: For sure. What you say on the album is the one of the most autobiographical songs and why?

Donwill: I don’t even know what’s on the album. Shit. I gotta look at the track list. Honestly I don’t even remember what’s on the album.

OKP: I got it on my iPod.

Donwill: You’re asking some crazy shit over here. This nigga is trying to get me arrested.

OKP: That’s what journalists do.

Donwill: Most autobiographical. I would say “Good.”

OKP: Oh really? How so?

Donwill: Just because it’s the joint about fucking with a chick you’re not supposed to be messing with. It’s some real shit where you ‘re like, “You shouldn’t do this. This is not going nowhere.” Like a lot of the songs are about me, a lot of them. I don’t know if the people they’re about know, but chances are they probably do.

OKP: Have you ever written a song about a girl you never got with?

Donwill: I smash ‘em all (laughs). Na, I don’t follow the question.

OKP: Was there one that got away that you could have gotten?

Donwill: Na.

OKP: Okay. Who’s the one girl you would just never forget no matter what? They [Tanya Morgan] probably know the answer. Let’s see if you’re frank about it.

Donwill: You ain’t gonna get me to say no names. I’ll just say. I’m not saying no names. I can’t do that to myself. Fucking suicide.

OKP: How far does it go back?

Donwill: Not that far. You know, when you young, the relationships you have seem important at the time, but once you get a little world experience, you see that you were a child. So I would say the most substantial one, longest relationship I was in, was kinda what helped me write the album.

OKP: I feel you. If you could pick any song or any verse off of High Fidelity to impress a girl with what verse would it be?

Donwill: I would go for “Shake It Easy” for whole sympathy vote. “Ahh he’s so sensitive. Ahhh he’s lonely...” Lonely is not attractive though. Sensitive is attractive.

OKP: Have you ever been chilling late night with a girl and played a song of your own as that red light song?

Donwill: Na, that’s why the last song is a slow song. I felt there was a lack of slow songs that’s not about party shit. I don’t like to be in same room playing my shit for real. I play it by myself, but it’s just kinda weird. If I walk in a chick’s house and she’s playing my shit, it’s weird. That’s a red flag right there like, “Get out, she’s going to kill you.”

OKP: Who are the top five women--it doesn’t have to be romantically involved--who have influenced your music?

Donwill: My mom. All the women in my family because for me I don’t necessarily wanna make anything that my family can’t listen to. I’m not gonna pop that pussy on some song and my mom hears it and goes, “So this is what you do.” That’s kinda lame.

OKP: What does your mom say about your stuff?

Donwill: She like it. She don’t really get what I’m talking about a lot of the time, but she hear the cuss words. That’s the one thing I notice about older people and people who don’t like Hip-Hop. They don’t hear anything but the cuss words because that’s what they get. They don’t understand what you say. They don’t understand the slang. They don’t understand the pace that you’re rapping at. But they’ll hear “fuck, shit, nigga.” That sticks out.

OKP: Did your mom hear High Fidelity ?

Donwill: Yeah

OKP: Does she have a favorite track?

Donwill: She like the whole thing. You know moms, “I like it all. It’s so good. I’m so proud!” I know she don’t like “Pussy Rules The World.” She’s like, “There’s this one song I don’t like…” But again if she could understand what I’m talking about in the song, she would like it. It’s talking about controlling those urges.

OKP: Aight.

Donwill: You’re not gonna trip me up.

OKP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Donwill: This cat is like, “So who’s the girl that you was messing with last night? Who’s the girl you smashed at the show, dissed, and left?”

OKP: (Laughs) Gotta ask those tough questions. If you could get at one female—what’s wrong?

Donwill: I’m laughing because these questions are wild.

donwill_intv_tanyamorgan.jpgOKP: (Laughs) If you could get at one female musician, who would it be?

Donwill: Janelle Monae.

OKP: She’s pretty crazy on stage. Have you met her before?

Donwill: I met her on South by Southwest two years ago and I was like, “Oh shit there goes Janelle Monae. Give me a CD, Imma go walk up to her.” I was like, “Yo what’s up. My name is Don, I’m in a group called Tanya Morgan.” She was like, “I heard of y’all.” I was like, “God, yes!” I gave her a CD and there was a pole behind me and I was like, “It was nice meeting you. Can we take a picture?” I tried to fade away cool and then blao! hit the pole and shit. It was funny because Von [Pea] and Ilyas and them just stood and laughed like this dude just turned into an all out geek real quick over Janelle Monae.

OKP: Besides Janelle Monae any more?

Donwill: Keri Hilson is kinda fine in a weird way. I like strange looking chicks. I don’t like normal looking chicks. I don’t like classically gorgeous women. Keri Hilson has the look. I’m actually still a Brandy fan.

OKP: Oh wow.

Donwill: I was a Monica fan, but her TV show is too boring. Anybody with a life that boring is hiding something. Oh—Chili is looking for a man…Chili is looking for love…she don’t really do music no more do she?

OKP: I don’t think so. I haven’t heard from her in a minute.

Donwill: Chili is looking for love. Chili just be on TV lonely that’s her topic now. I fuck with Chili.

OKP: What’s the silliest thing you or Tanya Morgan has done to sell records?

Donwill: That might be why we don’t get Lady Gaga sales. Like honestly it might sound corny, but we still believe that the music will shine through. To even aid that, we’re quirky. We got a quirky name. We like to do in-depth promo shit, but at the end of the day, we’re not really there for the people that want that one hit song. We ain’t got it. We got an album full of great shit. If you want that one hit song, by all means, look at that iTunes top ten best-selling singles list, but if you want ten great songs, that’s the album we got. Especially in 2010 when labels is folding and you ain’t really making money off records. So as an artist, you can’t really expect to make money off selling record sales unless you burn them on your computer and sell them. After you pay for the artwork, the publicist, pressing, everything, production, mastering, mixing, after you pay for all that shit, what are you making money off of when you selling CDs? It might sound weird but I’m not really tripping off of selling records. I would love it, but I’m not tripping.


ALBUM REVIEW: Chali 2na's Fish Market Part 2

Serving you up some tuna fish...

Chali 2na

Imagine a Hip-Hop version of Star Wars. Think of the film as a musical where every character is an emcee who delivers his lines in rhyming couplets. Cool, right? Now, a slew of rhyme sayers out there could justify their candidacy for Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or maybe even Chewbacca, but only Chali 2Na, with that booming baritone, is a lock for Darth Vader. How ill would that famous Luke scene be with an ominous scratch from Cut Chemist and Chali 2Na rhythmically spitting, “Luke, I am your father”? That would be bugged out.

But enough of the hypotheticals. Let’s talk about 2na’s latest mixtape, Fish Market Part Two . Sifting through audio shoutouts provided by Aceyalone, Brother J of X-Clan, J-Live and others, one can’t help but shudder at how this mixtape craze has even captivated the retroists. One would expect a Jurassic 5 delegate like Chali 2na to be more fancied with vinyls and possibly flashy getups a la Furious Five, not superficial “you’re listening to my man Chali 2na, Fish Market Part 2, holla!” type drops. But then again, what is more retro than mixtapes?

Or Chali 2na’s flow for that matter; which preserves the linguistic ambition of the ‘90s and splatters it like audio jam over a multi-layered croissant. On “Step Yo Game Up,” the 2na gets aggressive, “Shifty eyes, the fish be wise/ Risky lies can lead you to a quick demise/ Get your arms wrapped up like some twisty ties/ Haters are tired from witnessing how quick we rise.” On the Tanya Stephen’s riddim “No Bad Man,” he gets island, “Real shotta make dust kick up well/ ‘Cause we gon bust the gun and dem gon pick up the shell.” And for the Planet Asia assisted “On the Low,” he even gets godly, “From the depths of ghetto, the Gepetto of lyrics/ Giving light to those incoherent/ Apparently here to announce that/ We persevere and will bounce back.”

All shades show a dynamic 2na over a platoon of different accompaniments under the same fishy theme, a theme, which is actually also one of the album’s drawbacks. In a genre where people who stick to a prevailing idea almost have to be extolled (too many slapdash compilations out there), 2na’s Fish Market Part 2 seems over thematic. “Chicken O the Sea” and “Fried 2na” are neither culinary nor audio delicacies. Fortunately, these tracks are just interludes. “Funky 4 You,” however, is just plain ol’ uninspired.

Nitpicks aside, Part Two is quality (play “Hood Report” a few times and it goes from head nodder to head banger). Chali is right at the point where he is serving just the right amount of seafood in the Hip Hop diet.

-Sidik Fofana

Sunday, July 18, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Paule Marshall's Triangular Road

According to Triangular Road, Paule Marshall’s memoir on her experiences as a young writer, the United States Department of State sent her on a month-long cultural tour of Europe in 1965 despite her open condemnation of the government. As a matter of fact, when the author of the classic novel Brown Girl, Brownstones arrives in Washington for a briefing, a dossier which details all of her “anti-American” activity—her involvement with the American Youth for Democracy (an offshoot of the Communist Party), her participation in the first ever joint Civil Rights-Anti-Vietnam war march, and other leftist organizations whose causes she espoused at one point or another—is laying on the desk of a government official.
“I sat puzzling over this as the briefing continued, only to conclude that the government might actually benefit by sending ‘an emissary’ such as myself overseas,” she writes. “The fact that I would be openly critical of its policies could well serve as proof that the country was truly a democracy committed to respecting the First Amendment rights of even its most vocal detractors.”
The United States government was not the only one benefitting from this excursion, however. Paule Marshall clarifies that the bigger honor was being hand selected for the trip by Langston Hughes himself. She eulogizes the Harlem poet for deeming a young author with “only one novel and a collection of short stories to date” significant enough to travel the world discussing African-American literature. Marshall’s memoir is a fond remembrance of the Harlem Renaissance figure as much as it is a recollection of her own quest as a young Black female writer trying to find footing in the White patriarchal field of literature. She pays tribute to the London train off which the two authors smuggled doggie bags of their half eaten steaks and the Copenhagen nights where Hughes recounted the good old Harlem Renaissance days, golden morsels that as a novice that Marshall considers herself lucky to snatch.
The location of the memoir shifts, after a chapter, to Virginia where Marshall’s strong identity as a liberal writer from the North puts her at the dubious end of many racially unresolved moments. For instance, a visit to the historic James River conjures in her mind the Richmond port where Africans once stood in chains waiting to be sold as chattel to southern slave masters. This is why Marshall blankets her stay in Virginia with an austere reverence, explaining her adverse reaction to her Jewish editor who, with a touristic jubilance, looks forward to seeing the famous Tidewater plantation. Marshall writes, “How, I wonder, would she have reacted had I announced that I was on my way to visit Dachau or Buchenwald to my pay respects to the millions who had perished there while doing to the boogaloo and snapping my fingers? Our association ended shortly thereafter.”
Marshall borrows that the title of her memoir from the Atlantic triangular slave trade which transported chattel cargo between Africa, colonies in the Caribbean and America, and Europe. Though she would say the “triangular road” of her life refers to her African ancestry, her Caribbean blood, and her Brooklyn upbringing, the triangular road in her memoir consists of her tour with Hughes, her residency at Virginia Commonwealth, and her retreat to Barbados prior to the release of her first novel.
It’s the last of these three, her journey to Barbados (to clear her head and more crucially revise Brown Girl, Brownstones before publication), that provides the most sincere portrait of Marshall as a young writer. Upon her editor’s suggestion “to take this swollen, overwritten baby tome of yours and to extricate from it the slender, impressive first novel that’s written there”, Marshall embarks on a voyage to the island’s capital, Bridgetown, where a newly rented and built manor-style house awaits her. Here, Marshall both meditates about her lineage and comes up with the inspiration for what would be her second novel, The Chosen Place, The Timeless People.
Throughout the book, there are numerous moments where Marshall is more surprised about her literary achievements than her readers. Those with a strong idea how of Marshall fits into the canon of African-American literature would most likely not find her inclusion in the European tour with Langston Hughes too far-fetched nor her success with whittling down a bloated draft into a tight first novel. Triangular Road portrays a great writer who feels the same anxieties and uncertainties that any professional would encounter in his or her own career. If anything, the humanity and the humility is much appreciated.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Interview with David Banner and 9th Wonder

I spent a marvelous afternoon talking to these cats. If you listen closely, you can hear my corny ass laugh in the background.

For the latest edition of OKPTV, we get caught up with David Banner & 9th Wonder. The two emcee/producers plan on putting out a collabo album, Death of A Pop Star later this summer. Two weeks ago, Peter Rosenberg held a special event (which was open to the public), An Evening With..., to interview the duo, take questions from the fans, and to preview music off the upcoming LP. OKPTV was in the building to cover the event as well as get our own Q&A in. The two speak about how they linked up, their common background in education, some of the things they argue about, and 9th Wonder's criteria for emcees to collaborate with. Shout out to Sidik and Yahya (director &  editor) for putting this together. Look for part 2 coming soon.

Urben and Sidik, Lyrical Revolt

Just like old times. My boy Ben and I at the Lyrical Revolt open mic for the A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition. Listen to Ben's verse. It's a political gem.

How Africa Won the World Cup by Dayo Olopade

How Africa Won the World Cup,” The Washington Post, 11 July 2010.
South Africa’s successful World Cup came not on the field, but in our minds.

JOHANNESBURG — The first African World Cup didn’t belong to Africa, at least not on the soccer field. Of the six African nations that made it to the quadrennial tournament, five fell early — to indiscipline, tough competitors and heartbreaking missed opportunities. The plucky and focused Black Stars from Ghana were a bright spot for the continent, but when Sunday’s final is over, the new FIFA champion will not be African.

Still, winning games isn’t everything. For one month of one South African winter, the tournament brought an international celebration to a continent more widely known for malnourished bodies, grandstanding leaders and the ravages of AIDS. Rather than indigence, the world saw balls sailing into the net, crisp tackles, sweat. Ten gleaming stadiums and the collective warmth of 50 million South Africans offered thousands of football pilgrims the time of their lives.

In a year that marks five decades of independence for 17 African countries, from Somalia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the cup doubled as an anniversary party. “Just the fact that African teams can compete, defeat and be defeated on the world’s stage is wonderful,” Carmen Arendse, a South African psychologist, said while watching Ghana’s quarterfinal match against Uruguay.

There’s an earlier sentiment that still rings true, as well. In a 1960 speech, Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese prime minister, made a remark that fits the occasion: “We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom.”

Even before I had my passport stamped in Lagos late last month, airport ads for telecommunications giant MTN reminded me what the cup means for the continent. With images of star footballers Michael Essien of Ghana, Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon and John Obi Mikel of Nigeria ran the tournament’s slogans: “Let’s go Africa.” “United we score.” “Today is a good day to be African.”
And it was a good month. While the petty crime that is common in Johannesburg didn’t disappear, there were no major incidents of violence at the fan parks or outdoor screening areas. Dignitaries such as former president Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, not to mention Mick Jagger, came to see the beautiful game at the bottom of the world. In every African city I visited, a raucous, family atmosphere prevailed. At game time in Lagos, traffic cleared, strangers crowded around television sets indoors and out, and alongside the news of the world, chatty conversations on the state of play looped constantly on the radio.

In Johannesburg, the “Jabulani” ball, designed specially for the tournament, graced pickup games outside bars and on dirt patches by the highway. In the poor and sprawling township of Khayelitsha, black South Africans live far from the shadow of Cape Town’s shiny new stadium — but during Ghana’s fatal match against Uruguay, several men and even a few women celebrated by sporting jerseys from Brazil, South Africa, Liverpool and beyond.

The World Cup didn’t just feel universal — it was. According to market research company InsideView, some 80 percent of the world’s population has watched “at least some part” of the competition — and 600 million are expected to tune in to Sunday’s battle between Spain and the Netherlands.

The global spotlight also created some unexpected common ground. The Black Stars may have done more for continental solidarity than staunch pan-Africanists such as Kwame Nkrumah, the father of contemporary Ghana. The team was adopted wholesale by South Africans, whose squad had been eliminated, and by millions more Africans on the continent and in the diaspora who hoped for a showing to rival the great footballers of Europe and South America. In Observatory, a student neighborhood in Cape Town, fans like me who normally identify as Nigerian, Kenyan, Congolese or South African chanted, “Up Ghana!”

When the team’s best chance at making history clanged off the crossbar in the closing seconds of its quarterfinal, the upbeat drone of vuvuzelas gave way to groans. “We had the chance,” said one Zimbabwean observer who backed the Ghanaian squad. “We just didn’t execute.”

That is the simplest explanation for the disappointments among the African teams competing this year. And they perhaps mirror the disappointments that have stalled the continent’s political and economic progress. Similar to the lack of strong primary and secondary education systems on the world’s youngest continent, not enough attention has been paid to youth development in soccer. The sub-Saharan teams’ reliance on foreign coaches with little skin in the game echoes the broad mistrust in local leadership and institutions. And the perennial “brain drain” among the smartest African graduates correlates with the flight of top talent to European soccer clubs.

Perhaps fittingly, Ghana’s breakout performance came after its investment in a championship under-20 team and two years of training under its (foreign) coach — and despite being without its star player, Michael Essien of British club Chelsea.

Though athletic victories have eluded African fans, progress has not. In South Africa, many of the 44,000 police officers deployed to watch over the throng of foreign visitors — Argentine and German, British and Brazilian — will stay in their positions, armed with better skills, equipment and federal coordination. The upgrades to the transit and telecommunications infrastructures will last as well. And though the “white elephant” stadiums in less-trafficked towns such as Nelspruitt and Polokwane will be a sorry reminder of FIFA’s misplaced zeal, regional tourism is slated to rise — and South African President Jacob Zuma has declared that “after this, employment will go up.”

While it may be decades before less-wealthy African countries are prepared to host the tournament, the World Cup has been an essential engine for African self-confidence. This is particularly salient in South Africa, whose racial traumas still live in plain sight. As fellow competitors Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon celebrate their half-century of independence (Ghana broke with Britain in 1957, and Algeria with France in 1962), South Africa is catching up in terms of full freedoms. De facto segregation by race and income persists — especially on the scrubbed beaches of Cape Town.
Of course, spending money on elaborate new stadiums doesn’t address the economic disparities that can inflame tension, but the very sight of white Afrikaners rooting for black strikers is a salve of sorts. “Apartheid consciousness for white society is rugby or cricket,” says Gareth Colenbrander, a Western Cape resident who supported the Ghanaian team. “2010 consciousness is football.”

Before Ghana’s Black Stars departed South Africa, they greeted thousands of fans in Soweto and had lunch with former president Nelson Mandela. Though they weren’t leaving as champions, they were leaving as heroes.

For many others I encountered, the official outcome was beside the point. Africa wasn’t just the world’s poorest continent — it could compete. Perhaps the best assessment came from a wistful Ghanaian fan, who passed on a Zulu phrase to carry home: Hamba phambili. Move forward.

Dayo Olopade

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A List of Cases of Police Brutality

Unfortunately, in the end of May, when the country is celebrating Memorial Day and paying respect to the soldiers who have died fighting for our country, it doesn’t recognize the victims of police brutality. Sadly, this drama with the very people who are supposed to protect us is becoming a war in itself. In honor of Oscar Grant, let’s take to time to remember this international list of victims of senseless police cruelty.

1.     Oscar Juliuss Grant III (February 27, 1986 – January 1, 2009) African-American. Shot in the back and killed by a BART police officer in Oakland in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.
2.     Sean Bell (May 18, 1983 – November 25, 2006) African-American. Shot fifty times and killed by plainclothes and undercover NYPD cops during Bell’s bachelor party in Queens, NY.
3.     Jean-Charles de Menezes (January 7, 1978 – July 22, 2005). Brazilian. Shot seven times and killed by London Metropolitan after being mistaken for a fugitive in a failed bombing attempt.
4.     Amadou Diallo (September 2, 1975 – February 4, 1999) Guinean. Shot 41 times and killed in the Bronx by four NYPD officers after he pulled out a wallet that was misidentified as a gun.
5.     Patrick Moses Dorismond (1974-2000). American. Shot and killed by an undercover police officer after being unsuccessfully propositioned for marijuana.
6.     Rodney Glen King (April 2, 1965) African-American. Brutally beaten by several LAPD officers in 1991 after being pulled over.
7.     Abner Louima (1966) Haitian. Brutally beaten and sodomized with a bathroom plunger in 1997 after being arrested and held in a Brooklyn precinct.
8.     Ousmane Zongo (died May 22, 2003) Burkinabe. Shot four times (twice in the back) and killed by NYPD cops during a raid of CD and DVD pirating operation which he was not a part of.
9.     Kathryn Johnston (June 26, 1914 - November 21, 2006). African-American. 92 year-old woman shot six times and killed by undercover officers in Atlanta after a botched raid.
10.  Anthony O'Brien "Dudley" George (March 17, 1957 – September 7, 1995). Native American. Shot and killed by Ontario Provincial Police after protesting Canadian government’s seizure of Indian land.
11.  Anthony Ramon Baez (1965 – 1994) Had a fatal asthmatic attack after being arrested in Bronx for refusing end a pickup football game.
12.  Malice Green (died November 5, 1992). African-American. Beaten to death by police in Detroit after refusing to hand over a vial of crack cocaine.
13.  Arthur McDuffie (c. 1946 - 1979) African-American. Killed by Miami-Dade police officers who cracked his skull after being arrested for traffic violations.
14.  Stephen Bantu Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) South-African. Died from massive head injuries after protesting apartheid and being arrested in Pretoria.
15.  Benno Ohnesorg (October 15, 1940 – June 2, 1967) German. Shot and killed by a plain-clothes officer during a demonstration in West Berlin.
Please help me add anyone I’ve neglected to this list. The world needs to see that police brutality is a dangerous epidemic.

Track by Track Preview: Airtight's Revenge by Bilal

At Gigantic Studios in Manhattan, Bilal’s three year-old son Ramsey is bouncing from lap to lap in pure bliss. "I like 'All Matter'" he says to daddy during his listening party. Gotta give it to the little tike because the jazzy single (there's a Robert Glasper version floating around as well) is a strong candidate for best song on a pretty potent soul album. On Bilal's third LP Airtight's Revenge, a reference to a Donald Goines character, the 30 year old soul singer channels his inner Frank Zappa. He plays in a sparkling puddle of jazz, rock, punk, and soul, driven by his mission "to break away from the neo soul vibe." With the majority of the concepts coming from his home piano, Bilal and his cast of matchstick producers (Steven McKie, Shafiq Husayn, Nottz) are taking revenge on an industry obsessed with categories and OKP is here to follow the footprints track by track. After a private listening session, here's how the album breaks down, song by song.

"Cake And Eat It Too"

An original GarageBand ditty according to Bilal. His voice is smooth on this cut. The track is very Dark-Side-of-the-Moonish and by that I mean horns and strings that could double up as tools and appliances, a guitar that sounds like an alarm clock, and some other instrument that sounds like a soulful cash register.


This track was originally supposed to be called "Failure." Glad this morbid title was changed. As for the track, it has an indie rock sentimentality. Bilal's voice still sounds soulful; it actually sounds like five doo-wop singers trapped in a space machine headed to 2020. Very trippy.

"All Matter"

This is little Ramsey’s favorite song from the intro. Something about this cut is very urgent, almost as if Bilal is singing to get out of jail. It really is that type of desperation, which absolutely works. The drums here are zoological. They have the effect of meaningful raindrops in a sea of consciousness and they echo the song's theme, "it's all matter." The song is bleak but it melts the heart.

"She's Flying"

This Nottz produced song came to fruition on Bilal's piano. "The song leaves on a bad note," he added during the listening party. "I think I need to make a part two." The beat on this song is too basic. The piano contrasts with the drum. Although humorous (he sings, "how do you hang upside on the pole while smoking?"), he may have to write a part two for a different reason.


This joint was done with Shafiq Husayn. Defibrillatingly (I just made up a word) rapid. Disjointed but cool.

"Little One"

Ode to Bilal's two young sons, one who has sickle cell and the other who has autism. The one traditionally soul song on the album, poised with a sentimental bass and lonely guitar riffs. A very watery-eyed ballad.

"Move On"

Bilal said he wrote this when he was fifteen. There’s definitely the ghost of Led Zeppelin here mixed with jazz tonalities. It’s very twangy and even breaks into 80's drum and bass. Bilal compares it to a cut Bunny Sigler would do.


In this very aristocratic cut, Bilal's lyrics comment on how we're all these mechanical beings on the same mission to climb the same undefined ladder. Here, the electric guitar sparks off and is allowed to play in a bubble bath of synthy sounds.

"The Dollar"

The story behind this song goes like this: Bilal and his mom are walking down the street in Philly when they see a bag of crack on the ground. Before either of them could say, "Oh my god, somebody dropped a bag of crack on the ground," somebody swooped in front of them, picked the bag up, and yelled, "Oh my luck day!" That’s the inspiration behind Bilal's 1970s time-warped vocals and the phrase "Oh my lucky day" actually becomes the chorus. Good track despite the discontinued drums and staccato rhythms.

"Who Are You?"

An acoustic guitar plays over raindrops. This song definitely channels the zeitgeist of Classic Rock. It sounds like a song Bilal would sing on his front steps. The breakdown is emotional. "I'm a saint, I'm a sinner… I'm a Muslim, I'm a Christian," he croons before the track drowns out on a Reggae riddim.

"Think It Over"

This one was crafted with 88 Keys/Hezekiah. It’s a breakup song and soulful square dance at the same time. A nice laid-back way to end a solid album.

There it is - Airtight's Revenge. The majority of the album was recorded in Philly where Bilal had been working on the project since 2008. Bilal admits that the leak of his last album Love for Sale affected him for a spell, but since he has signed with Plug Research he has been determined to break away from the neo soul mold and with his new album he has done just that. is definitely more guitar-driven and rocked out, than keyboard driven crooning. Guess we can say goodbye to the cowry shells for now…

-Sidik Fofana

Lebron James Grandmothers Fan Club

A picture tells a thousand words.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chasing Shadows: Why LJ Can Never Be the Next MJ

Watching ESPN’s “The Decision” the other night, I realized how much impact one person could have on an entire sport.
And that one person was Michael Jordan.
Sure, it was LeBron James’ decision. He’s arguably the best player in the game and his free agency should be cause for some hoopla. But watching a three and a half hour (the actual hour long episode plus two and a half hours of blasé commentary analyzing it) segment about LeBron’s choice to join Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat this fall, I couldn’t help but notice how the ghost of “the greatest ever” loomed over the whole scene.
“Like I said before, it’s gonna give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years,” LeBron told Jim Gray last night after he announced his decision.
Really LeBron? I don’t believe you.
See, if you really wanted to win, you would have gone to Chicago. There, you have a complementary supporting cast of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and the newly signed Carlos Boozer who could actually accommodate your insane athletic ability.
Or get this, if you were insistent on winning with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Chicago still would have been the best situation for you guys because they had the salary cap space to welcome you as well as the other puzzle pieces to surround you.
So then, if it was about winning all along, why don’t you have on a windy city jersey on right now? Answer: because it was never about winning. It was about being better than Michael Jordan.
Much like ghost of Banquo scared the shit out of Macbeth, the ghost of Michael Jordan in a Chicago Bulls uniform scares the shit out of LeBron.
See Michael Jordan was a freak of nature: he was an overly-competitive superstar who also had the skill set that helped him prevail over and over again. A bubble of invincibility surrounded him. 6 time NBA Champion. 14 time All Star. 6 time Final MVP.
It’s so extreme now that anybody who is anybody in basketball is almost automatically compared to him. Scratch that, anybody who is anybody in basketball is considered a piece of dung if they don’t live up to Jordan’s impossible legacy.
So somewhere along the line, whether it was we collectively as a society or just through tacit agreement, we came up with the Jordan formula. It goes something like this:
PREMISE: There can be another basketball player to supplant Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever, but in order for someone to reach that plateau, they have to do the following:

1.     Stay with the franchise and lead them to their first championship.

2.     Overcome a conference rival like let’s say the ’89 & ’90 Detroit Pistons.

3.     Never lose in the finals

4.     Play with a star sidekick, but one who is so much of a star that he takes the spotlight.

5.     Win Finals MVP every time your team wins a championship.

6.     Never lose in the finals.

7.     Win more than six championships.
The problem is that when Jordan was inadvertently creating this formula, the process was organic. Nowadays, the process is contrived. For instance, Kobe Bryant demanded a Shaq trade because he felt threatened by rule #4. By trying so desperately to adhere to the formula, he ended up trying too hard and breaking rule #3 in 2008 against the Celtics. LeBron is in the same boat with this formula. Going to Chicago violates rule #1. Staying in Cleveland complies with rule #1 except there’s one problem: there’s no championship season coming to Cleveland anytime soon. Why? Because LeBron is not Michael Jordan and he knows it.
When you’re not Michael Jordan, a cold-blooded roundball killer who would cut a pound of his own flesh to win, you know it early. You can only hide it to the rest of the world. I think even Kobe, a valiant contender for Jordan status, knows he’s not Jordan. That’s why he often hides behind a stacked team of Artest, Odom, Gasol, Bynum, a team that Jordan would have never lost with. And it’s definitely why LeBron decided to join his rivals instead of beat them. Think about it, if Jordan had the opportunity to play Shaq, he wouldn’t force a trade (he maybe would have forced Shaq into a secondary role, but not force him off the team altogether). If Jordan was a free agent with the Cavs and wanted to win so badly, he would have gone to Chicago.
For LeBron, going to Chicago would only show the world what the LeBron himself already knew: he’s not Michael Jordan. It’s like in The Wire when fourteen year-old Namond breaks down crying and admits that he can’t be like Weebay, his major drug-dealing father. Everybody wants him to be the man, even his mother, but he doesn’t have the heart. In Chicago, LeBron would have been under immense pressure to win six titles while not having the competitive spirit to obtain that goal.
What we have here now is an hour long special where the biggest sports star on the planet exposes his even bigger insecurity to the world. Only he disguises it as a thirst for winning. What we saw yesterday was not competitive spirit. We saw a star who indirectly admitted that he couldn’t be the best player of all time. That he needs a tremendous amount of help and is willing to be second fiddle just to obtain a semblance of Michael Jordan’s success.
So what we got was an awkward hour long special filled with time-stalling Jim Gray questions and an awkward announcement like this:
“This fall, I’m gonna be taking my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
Does that sound like something “the greatest player ever” would say? Granted, there’s no other Michael Jordan in basketball, but there are Michael Jordans in other professions like education, medicine, etc. Would the top dog in any of other those professions say something like that. Picture it:
“This fall, I’m gonna be taking my talents to the Boogie Down and teach at PS 51 in the Bronx.”
“This fall, I’m gonna be taking my talents to the H-town and see patients at Hermann Hospital in Houston.”
Doesn’t make sense. What we are seeing is the product of an instant-gratification generation where young people feel like they can flip a switch and the championships come pouring down. All I will say is have fun, LeBron. I hope you guys can figure out who gets the ball and when. If you do and you win a couple of championships, I hope none of you starts getting greedy and wanting more limelight. I’ll be rooting for you to go all the way (what can I say, I’m 27. I’m part of the instant gratification generation, too) and I hope you will be remembered as a winner.
But I think we share something in common.  We’re both okay we with the fact that you will never be the greatest ever.