Monday, August 30, 2010

Savion Glover: Past, Present, Future

By Sidik Fofana

The search for a Dalai Lama is an exacting task. In the event that this highest of Buddhist leaders dies, the High Lamas search far and wide for a young boy who they believe to be Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. This boy must pass several tests—one of which involves correctly choosing the late Dalai Lama’s belongings out of series of similar artifacts—to confirm that he is indeed the Dalai Lama reborn.

The more remarkable feat, however, is how reverently these chosen ones comport themselves. All fourteen of these historical Tibetan figureheads have taken sacred novice vows where among ten basic precepts they refrain from wearing perfumes or garlands and taking food in the afternoon. At a young age, these spiritual chiefs, are reared for one reason: to spread Tibetan Buddhism throughout the world.

Now, for the moment of inevitable sacrilege. Savion Glover is the Dalai Lama of tap dance. Just like the Dalai Lama, Glover’s uniqueness was recognized at a young age, 12 to be exact, when he made his Broadway debut in the Tap Dance Kid. Just like the Dalai Lama, Savion Glover has dedicated his life to rigorous training and mental channeling. Just like the Dalai Lama, Savion Glover follows a line of anointed legends.

“I go through situations where I mention not just the son of sound, but the son of the pioneers of this world, not only tap dancers,” Glover reflects in the green room of Manhattan’s Joyce Theater where he has just brought the house down for his SoLE PoWER show, a whirling dervish of virtuosic hoofing featuring young dancers from GALxc9 and The Diva Patrol. The show rolls into a solo by the maestro himself, as Glover seizes the mic to invoke tap’s forefathers. “I’m basically reminding us what we all are. It could be the son of sound. It could be the son of Maya Angelou. It could be the son of John Coltrane,” explains Glover. “For dancers, it’s basically to remind us of the pioneers of every art form that has been created.”

For the legacy of tap dancing, it is especially crucial to honor the storied art’s practitioners. Tap dancing is a creative field that tends only to place a heavy spotlight on a few torchbearers. Think about the tap dancers you can name of the top of your head. For most people, it would be one or two. For the baby boomers, it’s Sammy Davis Jr. For the free-lovers of the 1960’s, it’s Gregory Hines. After the great Hines transitioned in 2003, there was only one logical choice for Dalai Lama, Glover, the man Hines himself called the “greatest tap dancer alive”. It’s a title that oozes with honor, responsibility…burden.


“People were saying all the time, ‘Oh you’re the savior of tap,’ but I guess that was in my earlier years. Now, I just feel a part of it,” Glover says of the “tap spokesperson” pressure or the lack there of. “I feel like I’m not as much responsible. There’s too many players in this thing we know as tap dance.”

Glover is right. There are too many players to be forgotten. Like the West African slaves who participated in Juba, a complex dance comprised of percussive feet shuffling and leg slaps. Many recognize these displaced African souls as the first tap dancers. They made music with their feet and hands because they did not have instruments. Too many players like Jimmy Slyde, the King of Slides a tap dancing juggernaut in his own right, whose name falls lifeless among most ears unaffiliated with the genre.

Circumstances like this—where tap has become a musical endangered species—elevate Glover beyond the mere title of “dancer”. Arguably the single most important representative of the art form, Glover’s every step embodies tap’s creative boundaries. Considering that the direction of a whole genre is at stake, Savion handles the autonomy well. During a SoLE PoWER solo at the Joyce, Glover redefines tap dance virtuosity. His heels sound like a pair of angelic jackhammers as he toys with the relationship between movement and sound.

Here’s one way to describe it: if you’ve ever played in the outfield during a baseball game and had a smoldering fly ball hit towards you, you may have noticed that you see the ball come towards you before you hear the sound of the hit. In the brief period between your reaction and your consideration of physical science (light travels faster than sound), you may have asked yourself, “Where is that sound coming from?”

It’s the same question you might ask at a Savion Glover show. As his mesmerizing shuffling and stylistic skids weave into smokescreens of polyrhythmic sputter, one can’t help but wonder when and how this movement corresponds to the sound. What is even more astounding is how, with a few calculated taps, Glover summons an international musical palette. A few taps here and all of sudden a salsa rhythm appears out of thin air. A few taps there, a Congo drum pattern. Did you know that even southern Crunk music has a tap dance rhythm? Savion does, and he finds great joy out of further testing his craft’s threshold.

“I try to keep my spectrum wide. I can go from Latin grooves to funk grooves to all types of grooves just to let the people know that this dance is music,” he says patiently. “It’s not just about the visual. It’s about the ear.”

If it is indeed about the ear, it’s also about listening up for the future in addition to the past. When Glover performs with his company of junior hoofers, the importance of this youthful invigoration shines. In one segment, the youngsters have him dressed in leather shorts and a trench coat bare-chested, with gold gloves and a pair of pointed yellow sunglasses in a ditty that feels like a collision between Rent and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. With this multi-national troop of young men and women, everything from Doo Wop classics to steel black chair props is fair play. How’s that for a fountain of youth?

But only a small percent of Glover’s reinvention comes from the inspiration of others. As of late, the 36 year old has embarked on a personal journey of self-cleansing. He stopped smoking weed, showing a marked effort to focus on the important things in life like touring and teaching kids tap dance at an afterschool program in Newark.

“As I continue to shed these things behind, I’m getting more strength and becoming more powerful as a man,” Glover reflects. “So I feel like I’m only getting better or have yet to peak.” Top that. Or tap it, rather.

Camp Hope for Chilean Miners

Came across this article from the UK Telegraph. It's about the makeshift camp set up by the families of the trapped Chilean miners. It's really informative because it breaks the rescue plan and how officials are able to send them food and communicate with them.

Camp Hope families wait in Chile's Atacama Desert for trapped miners

By Philip Sherwell at Camp Hope in the Atacama desert

Camp Hope families wait in Chile's Atacama Desert for trapped miners
Relatives of the 33 miners that are trapped inside the SAn Jose mine Photo: LORENZO MOSCIA
The roaring fires fend off the bitter winter cold that each dusk envelops Camp Hope, a tent community spread across the sands above the gold and copper lodes of the Atacama desert of northern Chile.
As the driest place on the planet, inhospitable and remote, it is not an obvious location for an encampment under canvas.
But this wilderness is also now the scene of an epic tale of survival and a remarkable operation to keep alive 33 men trapped in the bowels of the earth. And around those campfires, their families are sharing stories of endurance, resilience and relief.

Fears for the worst turned to tears of joy when contact was established last Sunday via a narrow borehole with the lost men of the San Jose mine as they huddled in an emergency shelter nearly half a mile underground - 17 agonising days after they were cut off from the world by a rockfall on Aug 5.
Relatives could be at Camp Hope, as they christened the site, until Christmas, when rescuers hope to get the miners out.

Across a ridge where 33 flags - 32 Chilean and one Bolivian - flutter in the wind, one for each of the trapped men, the drilling operation to rescue them was due to begin today.

The goal is to bore a shaft 26 inches in diameter - the size of a bicycle tyre - and 2,300 feet deep so that the men can be painstakingly lifted to freedom by a harness. Industry experts estimate that it could take three to four months to cut through the rock.

Deep underground, the miners and mechanics are preparing to survive an ordeal longer that survived by any human - already they have been trapped in the subterreanean warren longer than any other survivors of similar disasters.

They are connected to the outside world by two narrow holes, each barely nine inches in diameter. A third is being drilled.

These umbilical cords are being used to supply them with everything from basic supplies of water, food and medicines to telephone lines, mini-video projectors and games - plus of course a two-way traffic in letters between the men and their family and friends.

They rely on what miners call "doves", long thin cargo capsules which were being lowered into the ground by winch for the 25 minute descent last week, from the windswept desert plateau between the Andes and the Pacific.

Judging from the grainy video sent back to the surface most have adjusted to this existence with fortitude and humour, even setting up a "casino" where they play with hand-made dominoes. In the video they described life underground, signing off with a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
But not all of them were in it.

"Five of the miners are isolated, are not eating well and do not want to appear on camera," said Jaime Manalich, the health minister, who said the five showed signs of depression.

At the surface, an hour's drive through a landscape of towering sand-dunes and dry river-beds from the nearest town of Copiapo, remarkable stories abound - perhaps none more so than the experience of Raul Bustos, 40, a hydraulic machinery mechanic.

He has endured what is, by any standards, a year of calamities. First, he and his family survived the February earthquake that devastated his home town in southern Chile - only for the subsequent tsunami to deprive him of his livelihood when it battered the shipbuilding firm where he worked.

So he left his parents, wife and children behind and headed north to the lunar landscape of Atacama in search of employment in the mines. That work should not normally have taken him underground - but on the fateful day, a mechanical fault required his technical skills.

"Unlucky? Not at all. Raul is the luckiest man alive to have survived both these disasters," his mother Rosa told The Sunday Telegraph at Camp Hope, pulling from her shirt the two images that she carries next to her heart - a picture of her son and an image of Jesus.

His wife Carola Narvaez - women in Latin America do not normally take their husband's surnames - was just as positive.

"In the earthquake we just had to keep on living, we had our lives," she said. "This is the same. It is producing much anguish, isolation, fear. But we're alive. My husband is alive down in that mine and we will have another happy ending."

The letters now transported daily up and down by the "doves" describe the miners' surreal existence. Mr Bustos sleeps in the seat of pick-up truck which had ferried some of the team down through the 4.3 mile corkscrew network of large tunnels, and he is deploying his sporting prowess as a footballer and ping-pong champion to keep the men fit.

And his is by no means the only personal drama playing out above and below the desert at Camp Hope where two miners' wives are suddenly going through their pregnancies alone.

Ariel Ticona left his house before dawn on Aug 5 for his shift at the San Jose mine. Just after 7am, as he prepared to entry the shaft, he phoned his wife, Elizabeth Segovia - who was almost eight months pregnant - to tell her it was time to wake up and take their six-year-old son to school.

"After four or five days the children started to ask what time their daddy would come home," she recalled. "Until three days ago, the oldest still cried at night. The youngest, who is three, said that he was going to go up there to dig through the rocks so he could get to his dad."

Mr Ticona will miss the birth of his third child. But his wife is determined he will catch up on the experience. "We want to film the birth so that Ariel can see afterwards," she said.

Unless the rescue operation goes badly wrong, his fellow miner Victor Zamora should be back at the surface to see his wife Jessica, who is nine weeks pregnant, give birth to their second child. But she still plans to sends him the image of the embryo's first scan when it is taken next month.

Esteban Rojas has promised his wife Jessica a church wedding, 25 years after they were married in a low-key civil ceremony. "When I get out, we'll buy a wedding dress and get married in the Church," he wrote in one letter.

She has told friends that she will be setting up a gift registry soon. "As you know, I need a stove and refrigerator," she joked.

The story looked as though it was going to have a very different conclusion for the first two weeks after the cave-in. Rescuers knew that if the men survived the initial collapse, they would have sought refuge in the emergency shelter at 2,300 ft and started drilling relief holes in an attempt to make contact.

But they were equipped with out-of-date and inaccurate mine maps and several holes drifted off-target, said Alejandro Olave, a supervisor working on the operation with Comprobe, a company that measures underground deviations in drilling.

With time passing, prospects were fading fast. In mining rescues across the world, it is rare for a happy ending after more than 10 days.

“We never lost hope that we’d find the men but he drawings had not been updated so it was really a miracle when we broke through in the right place,” said Mr Olave, who was working with the team that made the successful breakthrough.

And on Aug 22, a scrawled note emerged from the depths that caused jubilation across Chile and made headlines around the world. It read simply: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

What is so striking is how the women at the surface and the men beneath it are dealing with this crisis with spirit and determination. Even before last weekend’s “miracle at the mine”, the trapped workers were deploying their skills and ingenuity to stay alive.

They eked out two days emergency rations of peaches and tuna for more than two weeks, collected the water which runs down the rock face for drinking, and charged their helmet batteries from vehicles in the mine for light. Plenty of air reaches them through natural crevices and man-made shafts.

"You are not dealing with normal people here," said Commander Andreas Llarena, a navy physician deployed to the scene because of his specialism in submarine and diving medicine.

"They are not a bunch of tourists trapped in a cave. They are miners used to working underground, they know how the earth operates, this environment is not a mystery to them. They are trapped in the equivalent of their office. That's not a good situation, but it is a huge advantage."

Rescue chiefs are turning not just to the deep seas but to outer space for know-how. The US space agency NASA is sending experts in human confinement to Copiapo this week to share their know-how in a field where understanding is still limited.

Disaster relief psychiatrists and medics are also putting together plans to use lights to mimic light and day and personalised exercise routines and diets in an effort to minimise damage to natural body rhythms, mental health, physical condition and eyesight - all at risk from the prolonged underground imprisonment.

It was decided soon after they were located that it could take until Christmas to rescue them. so that they had realistic expectations of how long their ordeal might last - the news was broken to them on Wednesday by the health minister.

Several of the miners must lose enough weight to fit into the harnesses that will inch them to safety when the shaft is completed. Nobody with a waist measurement of more than 34 inches will make it through the escape shaft.

Back above ground at Camp Hope, most relatives are still simply delighted that the men are alive and well.

Next to an image of the Virgin Mary, a note to one of the men assures him that on his escape he will be "bigger than Elvis" - a reference to his musical hero. The miners below ground have responded in similar style.

As one noted in a letter to his father: "Tell Mum I'm fine and coming back soon. This shift is a bit longer than normal. " The humour is reassuring psychiatrists. But they know there will be tough times ahead.

"We are in uncharted territory here," acknowledged Dr Rodrigo Figueroa, an emergency mental health specialist. "Nobody has ever had to go through what these men are experiencing."

REVIEW: Lyfe Jenning's I Still Believe

He's still kicking six years post-inmate number. On his latest release I Still BelieveLyfe Jennings goes right for the sweet spot. “Captain America can’t slow dance/ Hawk can’t make a boy feel like a man,” he sings on “Hero”. “…Aquaman can’t work a job with two kids/ Iceman can’t cook soup when I’m sick.” And just like that, a slew of “mmm hmmms” from single Black ladies across America decorate the air. Lyfe wants to be that “good man” and delivers every cut on his fourth album like he is singing it onto a lonely girl’s voicemail.

Jennings stays at the hub of his life lessons approach to R&B. Statistics —the first single—breaks down just how rare those men are. Among all the lying and unfaithful men, Lyfe croons about the righteous ten percent waiting to be claimed; and offers ladies sound advice on being the person they want to find (“Don’t be a nickel out here looking for a dime”).  Whether she uses it to seek real guidance or decides to bask in her own self-pity, it works.

If anything, he does prove his legit vocal range on songs like “Love” (minus the trite “beautiful/cuticle” line) and the very chord-striking “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, a just-in-case farewell to love ones to the tune of a soft piano.

Though the tone of the album fringes on didacticism, I Still Believe reminds us who we fell in love with on 2004’s “Must Be Nice”. For that, he goes from one in ten to one in a million. 

-Sidik Fofana

Cee-Lo Green is The Lady Killer

Dang, Cee-Lo told whoever that was off on that song. The former Goodie Mob Hip-Hop soul musician is cursing ever so soulfully on his new single,F**k Youand that “sentiment” brings good tidings of a long awaited third solo project. The album, tentatively titled Cee-Lo Green is The Lady Killer—due October 4th— will feature Cee-Lo’s profane hit as well as “No One’s Gonna Love You” and the summer jam “I Want You”. Get ready for a calabash of Funk, R&B, and Hip-Hop from the multi-talented performer. If the project is like anything we expect from Cee-Lo, it will be the unexpected.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Maiysha Goes Live with “You Don’t Know”

“Oh shoot, she flipped a Barry White sample”. That’s what I said when I heard Maiysha’sYou Don’t Know”. The single off her live album UnderCover comes fresh from the Blue Note Jazz Club in Manhattan, where she goes tit for tat with funky live guitars and vibrant drums. This diva has just now been getting in people’s periphery despite earning a 2008 Grammy nomination (for her album This Much is True) and stealing hearts on tour as Shug Avery (The Color Purple: The Musical—look that up).  She sings, “I’m not trying to complicate you/ I’m not trying to make you change, baby.” But she could if she so pleased.—Sidik Fofana

MAIYSHA "You Don't Know" LIVE from Centric TV on Vimeo.

REVIEW: Fantasia's Back to Me

Don’t worry lovebirds, testifiers, and loyal gals with no-good men, Fantasia’s got plenty of soul to go around. Back to Me, the 26 year old singer’s third studio album, says “you are not alone” like no other and reminds us that for the great ones, the i in sing becomes an a.

A teary batch of songs that could easily play in the background of a roller coaster relationship, the album drips with feeling. On the album’s lead single “Bittersweet”, Fantasia sings about ending a romance like a carafe that cannot be drained, like someone who wells up every performance and secretly says to herself there’s more where that came from.

And Midi Mafia, the R&B production duo responsible for most of Back to Me’s sway, know not to steal the show. Apart from a tinge of reggae acoustic on “Teach Me” and some synthetic blasts here and there, they let Ms. Barrino do her thing knowing full well home-girl could hum her way past the pearly gates acapella if she wanted to. On “Collard Greens & Cornbread”, which borrows the same bass riff from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Your Precious Love”, Fantasia almost has the nerve to say that her new love  is better than her mother’s cooking. The funnier thing is that those angelic notes of hers make us believe her.

Minus the quasi-gospel moment or two, Back to Me showcases a stand-up vocalist who isn’t too Hollywood–or Broadway–to give out goose bumps. For the greater part of her career, she has remained true to this bread and butter, so in a sense, she’s really going forward to herself.

—Sidik Fofana

R. Kelly to Release ‘Epic’ Album

If you think about it, R. Kelly has released and recorded some incredibly legendary songs. “World’s Greatest”, “Turn Back the Hands of Time”, and the all time choir/graduation favorite “I Believe I Can Fly”. So maybe Kells’ highly anticipated album Epic deserves its title. The first of a trio of albums (the other two being Love Letter and Zodiac), Epic features many of his past inspirational hits including this year’s official FIFA 2010 World Cup anthem “Sign of a Victory” as well as four new tracks. Check the track listing and look  out for the album’s international release on September 21st .

1. Heal It (Prelude)
2. Sign of a Victory
3. I Believe
4. World’s Greatest
5. Victory
6. Peace
7. Turn Back The Hands Of Time
8. Fireworks
9. Spirit
10. I’m Your Angel
11. Can You Feel It
12. I Believe I Can Fly

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why We Fight, Need Love, and Make Decisions That Don't Matter

This trilogy of philosophy books come from Simon Van Booy, a young British who has caused a stir as a short story. The books, Why We Need Love, Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, and Why We Fight (Harper Perennial), collect some of literature's most canonical passages to shed light on life's most essential questions. Don't be surprised to come across Blake's natural poetry or a character analysis of Hamlet. As a matter fact, these series of edited excerpts touch almost major literary pole from biblical (the story Cain and Abel) to classical (Antigone) to existential (Camus' L'Etranger). They make the perfect companion for that cocktail party brush-up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sonia Sotomayor Memoir in the Works

It's coming soon and it's definitely a drop everything and read. Sotomayor recently signed a contract with Knopf making it official. Here's the press release... 

The memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will be published by Alfred A. Knopf, it was announced today by Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

The book, as yet untitled, will be a coming-of-age memoir by an American daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants. Sotomayor will write about growing up in the South Bronx; her relationship with her mother and the loss of her father when she was nine years old; her inspiration as a young girl to become a lawyer; her journey to Princeton University (on a full scholarship) and later to Yale Law School; and finally, to a life in the law, culminating with her appointment to the federal bench. “Sonia Sotomayor has lived a remarkable life and her achievements will prove an inspiration to readers around the world,” said Mr. Mehta. “Hers is a triumph of the Latino experience in America.”

“I am honored to be working with the distinguished publishing house of Alfred A. Knopf on the publication of my memoir,” said Justice Sotomayor.

The book will be edited by George Andreou, Vice-President and Senior Editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Drake Source Review

Can you believe it? I got to mic a Drake album for the Source! That's an important album...good looks, MC!

Sunday, August 15, 2010 Diary Day 280

Follow Sidik Fofana on his quest to land a freelancing job at the prestigious publication,

 The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Been a while since I gave it the old college try, so I sent this to the associate editor to remind him of my writing goals. I guess it doesn't hurt to nudge the bigwigs every now and then to see if they're still listening. I'll keep you abreast if I get a response.

Hey Mr. Rogers,

It’s been a little while since you made my day with that email inviting me to Open Salon. Since then, I’ve dutifully blogging away, hoping to build a readership and catch the eye of a Salon editor or two.
I’m writing because I hope you will still consider me in the near future as a book reviewer of fiction by minority writers.  

I feel like I get better everyday as a writer (as a music writer because I read the Best Music Writing from cover to cover every year; as a book reviewer because I read Salon religiously) and it would be a dream come true to get the chance grow with your staff. 

My long time goal is still to contribute the book section at and I consider blogging on Open Salon as a unofficial internship in a way. I hope you guys continue to look out for me and know that I’m really serious about someday being a writer, however lofty that dream seems.

Thanks again for reading!


PS. Interesting interview with “The Great Typo Hunt” guy. Personally, I think typos arre like insignificant misdemeanors when it comes to communication.

PS. That “arre” typo was on purpose. Lol.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nas's Nigger Tape and the Obama Complex

An old essay that I never got a chance to publish.

Nas’s Nigger Tape and the Obama Complex
By Sidik Fofana

We now know white people own the word “nigger” and that it costs $84 million.  When Nas announced the release of his tenth studio album, we had a strong feeling that the controversial title would never live to its first breath of shelf life. Somehow we just knew that the same investors  and corporate executives who love to hear the word “nigger” in song titles and all over wax, don’t want to see the word in headlines.  So as we predicted, like jaded magicians, they stepped into that magical illusion of freedom speech, and snatched the most unalienable right from one of the greatest linguists of our time.  
              Yep, the same rhymesayer who once had the power to catch government phone taps, was put on timeout and for making a “foolish decision for publicity. Mayor Thomas Napoli threaten to withdraw $84 million dollars in investments. That’s where the figure comes from, and now that I think about it, we, the people who are darker than blue, have never owned it.

            But even though corporate America has devoured every opportunity for profit, there’s own thing it has failed to own: the underground. We’ve seen movements spiral to the mainstream only to be snatched by the invisible hand of capitalist America. Intifada flags, sacrosanct symbols of the Palestinian struggle in Israel were stripped and commoditized into trendy H&M scarves, wore by youth all over of America, some of whom even couldn’t point to the word Jerusalem in a holy text. Streetball players have been plucked from the tars of the Rucker Park and West Fourth Street, and burned on to high definition DVD’s for the home entertainment centers of white boys from Frankfurt to French Lick. Hip-hop has gone from cardboard, linoleum and Bronx grass to the glass ceilings of Midtown Manhattan. But one thing was never stolen from the beginning and that was very bullhorn that expressed these movements in the first place .

            That’s why there’s The Nigger Tape comes into play.  As much as the doctor doom that is mainstream has plucked every burgeoning movement from the bosom of the very proletariat which created it, it has never been sophisticated enough to hear those movements’ first palpitations. In other words, DJ Green Lantern is Nas’s first amendment; all the words that get a censoring dash in the liner notes, blare out his speakers loud, seething….unadulterated.

            The Nigger Tape is everything Untitled wasn’t allowed to be. In the mixtape, Nas plays the role of the exploited outclassing the exploiter. Nas represents the average rap star on Sucker Free unable to see their record deal from Dubois’s dual consciousness. Although he portrays them as slaves to the market, he urges them to be “The Slave and the Master,” advising them at the very least to be aware of their own plight. For instance, if your boss is telling you to put more twinkies, pimp juice, bitches, and “niggas” in the track, channel that hypersexual drive to the extreme and call the whole project Nigger. Then see how nervously the swivel chair turns.

            That was the original intention for Nigger, conscious minstrelsy.  If media outlets really want to make a buck out of African-American roles, let’s talk about the fear of the Black dick and white America’s other most visceral fears. It’s the same fear that compel white women to scream rape, that had post-Civil War lynch mobs sniffing for its scent, and that has today’s negro still only smudging corporate America’s glass ceiling. Nas is telling his sponsors simply, “You want ignorant, I’ll give you ignorant…but this time I’m in control.” 

            It’s kinda like the film Idiocracy, which is based on the premise that human society has only grown stupider with time. A restaurant’s title goes from Flood Ruckers goes to Mud Ruckers, to Blood Ruckers, to Butt Fuckers. The point is that society will transform from a subtle infusion of sex, violence, and drugs in their culture to downright blatant references.

It’s the same thing with Nas. Hip-Hop has gone from the Wild Style days of Double Trouble rocking the stage with toy Gatling guns, to the seven words you can’t say on wax, to pickets, misogyny, and now niggers and black dick.
            So which one makes the grander statement Untitled or The Nigger Tape? Does post civil rights self righteousness triumph over satire, (essentially modern day black face or should we say black voice?). That’s where the Obama complex comes into play. It’s the moment when we really question ourselves as listeners and think if we ever realistically thought Nas was going pull off this Nigger fiasco. At the end of day, it’s all but inevitable that Nas would play the black militant, taking
over the government and not the more romantic role of rogue lampoonist, righting our nation through acrimonious and searing life sketches.

            The definition of the Obama Complex is simple: anyone of color who feels a sudden obligation to lead. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Decision 2008 has very little to do with actual politics. When people talk about Obama being an inspiration to black people, they are not necessarily talking about his policies, they literally mean that people are trying to be like him. Think about it, since Barack began his campaign for the democratic nomination in 2006, how much did the number increase of black men running for senate, governor, local office, ceo position, High school principal, fuck it kwik-e-mart manager? Everybody and they mama thinks they can win an election or give a positive speech. It wouldn’t be fair to say it started with Barack Obama. Before Obama, there was Patrick Duvall first black governor of Massachusetts, nowadays it’s Kevin Powell running for Congress in Brooklyn, Ben Jealous  just become new president of the NAACP. Everybody has an Obama Complex, even Nas.
              Untitled is Nas’s political platform. 

In addition to blasting the disfigured prism of the n-word, Nas tackles conservative television in “Sly Fox,” the northern unfair caste system in “America,” and the everyday citizen’s invasion of privacy in “We’re Not Alone.” Untitled and the Nigger Tape do not represent Nas the rapper more than they represent Nas the spokesman, with every rap intended to be as potent as a Barack Obama acceptance speech.
            The Barack Obama complex is a blessing. All those rappers and athletes who swore up and down that they were not role models, who said they were only funhouse mirrors reflecting the angst of society. It’s telling them that leadership is cool. 

            Nas says that he is not upset that he had to change the title of his album because “everybody knows what the album’s real title is,” but he couldn’t be any more wrong. “Nigger” is a word that has to be said in order to reach full effect. Just its mere utterance is a revolution; it’s the only racial slur to exist that even make the oppressor uncomfortable when the oppressed says it. The Nigger album would have been a milestone in Hip-Hop. It would have been nerve racking for white boys at the local vinyl spot to request the Nigger album and say the full title out loud. It would have been a statement for all commercial rappers. By having this suburban fan base buying these degrading and misogynist content, they’re literally paying rappers to be niggers. They’re saying, “Here’s my ten dollars, act like a nigger on wax.”

            Nas has identified the exploitation. They fooled him once with “Oochie Wally” and he’s saying if you want me to exploit myself, I’m going to at least let you know that I’m aware of it.  Illmatic was a classic. It Was Written was profound. But the Nigger Tape and Untitled, even though they do not quite represent a return to form, do something more powerful.  They weigh down the seesaw and exploit the exploiters. Conscious rap doesn’t mean black power, couplets about racism, and ditties against war. Conscious is what these Sucker free rappers lack, one’s awareness of one’s self. In this sense, Untitled is ultra conscious.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wyclef, Why Not?

On an episode of the Chappelle Show years back, Wyclef Jean delivered a chord-striking ballad on acoustic guitar in which he sang, “If I was president/I’d get elected on Friday/Assassinated on Saturday/Buried on Sunday.” With Clef on the verge of campaigning for the Haitian presidency, those lyrics seem have a bit more relevance.
Were those lyrics a hypothetical about Haiti? Were they veiled jousts at Haiti’s unstable government, predicting that any man elected to office would gain power only to lose it along with his life in a violent overthrow? Or maybe it was subtle commentary on the nature of politics itself? “I run and my supporters elect me. My enemies get the best of me. I become an afterthought.”
Should Wyclef run for president? Why the hell not? If the United States can elect a Hollywood actor for president (Reagan), then why can’t Haiti elect a musician?
Besides look at it this way. Haiti ain’t getting’ no better anytime soon.
Ever since bad-ass Toussaint L’Overture stormed into Saint-Domingue and freed the slaves, making Haiti basically the first entirely black-led country in the world, the country has been wrought with instability and corruption. Upon L’Overture’s death in 1803, Jacque Dessaline became self-proclaimed emperor in 1804 and then what happened? He was assassinated in coup d’etat started by his two chief advisors.
That’s not all. A toilet paper history of political leaders in Haiti goes as follows:
  • Petion and Christophe (the two advisors) became leaders of the North and South Haiti respectively. They started beefing over territorial politics. Petion starts calling himself “President for Life”. He died shortly after.
  • Christophe declared himself king. Uh-Oh coup d’etat is unfolding. Shot himself in 1820.
  • Jean Pierre Boyer took over. Overthrown in 1843.
  • Fast forward to 1911. Before 1915, six presidents were assassinated or driven away.
  • Then came the Docs. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Or the “dics” I should called them. For “dictators” and of course puppets to the United States.
You get the picture.
The point is Wyclef has nothing to lose. Except for his life in a coup d’etat, but that’s beside the point. When that 7.0 hit Port-au-Prince, Wyclef did the most of all celebrity Haitians to raise dollars and awareness to the half-a-million or so devastated by the earthquake. He loves his country with a fever.
Pras, ‘Clef’s former bandmate, made it clear he was not supporting Wyclef for presidency. He said to the Associated Press, “Just because he has the prominence doesn’t mean he has the experience. Things as simple his team. I saw him the other day and I didn’t get a sense of what was the real plan for Haiti.”
At this point, nobody truly has the experience to deal with a torn country like Haiti, so we might as well give Wyclef a shot. I think Toussaint L’Overture would rather see a diehard countrymen get the post than a puppet or a corrupt dictator.
It’s hard to take chances when your country has a stable government, but more feasible when a country has been devastated by a janky political infrastructure. At the very worse, ‘Clef will do exactly what Haitians leaders before him have done. Let’s just pray, his prophetic lyrics don’t come true. 

Chunk, The Book of Joshua

My homeboy Chunk just dropped a mixtape and it's doper than contraband. He's the shining prince of Washington Heights. He got this track "Dear Me" which is my favorite on the opus. Check it out:

"Dear Me" by Chunk

Kanyee Tweets Under New Yorker Cartoons

I guess someone thought that Kanye's updates on twitter would make funny captions for New Yorker cartoons. I thought so too. Here are my favorites:


  • Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Greenest Places in Brooklyn

    This caught my eye on Twitter. Sponsored by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

    2010 Residential Category Winners

    Greenest Block In Brooklyn Residential Finalist Vanderveer Place Between Flatbush Avenue and East 23rd Street in Flatbush.

    1st Place

    Vanderveer Place Block Association

    Vanderveer Place between Flatbush Avenue and East 23rd Street

    Bainbridge Homeowners & Tenants Association

    2nd Place Tie

    Bainbridge Homeowners & Tenants Association

    Bainbridge Street Between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue

    300 East 25th Street Block Association

    2nd Place Tie

    300 East 25th Street Block Association

    East 25th Street between Clarendon Road and Avenue D

    400 State Block Association

    3rd Place

    400 State Block Association

    State Street between Nevins Street and Third Avenue
    Boerum Hill

    'Fest For the Kids


    Announcement: Good morning, kids. This is your principal here at Okayplayer Academy. Your poetry teacher, Mr. Che Smith affectionately known as Rhymefest, is moving to Houston and will no longer be working in Chicago. I know you're all sad, but we all gotta move on at some point, right? Anyway, as a special homework assignment, I want you to listen to Mr. Smith's sophomore album El Che, especially, the mellifluous "Say Wassup," "Truth on You" with the dope 3D video, or the hard-hitting "Talk My Shit" (it's all right to curse just this once) and analyze the craft of true lyricism. Meanwhile, as a tribute to Mr. Smith, we will have a Q&A in which our beloved Rhymefest tells us why the kids are so important.

    rhymefest-image2-585.jpgOKP: Why are you moving to Houston?

    Rhymefest: Because I love the city. I grew up in Chicago, but it's time for me to move on, man. Chicago is averaging one murder a day. My son is eleven years old. I gotta be able to allow him to go and explore the community, ride his bike, make friends, you know? A black eye is one thing, but when you come home with a bullet wound, that’s a whole other thing. I have to do what I have to do to protect my family. I got people down in Texas and I been out there a few times. It’s a beautiful community. DJs are out there and they got a burgeoning Hip Hop scene. I wanna be a part of it.

    OKP: Since when had you been thinking about the move?

    Rhymefest: Basically, I went out there on tour. I did this thing called the "Motorcycle Diaries" where I stayed with different fans at every state that I toured. They basically took me to their hood, to their community. I got to deal with their families. The best experience I had was in Houston, Texas where I got to stay with two different sets of fans. I had such a wonderful time. Bun B was standing right there cheering me on while I was performing. Slaughterhouse was like C’mon Bun, C’mon ‘Fest, let’s go do this and that. I personally met Sheila Jackson Lee. She’s the Congresswoman out there and her and I are real cool. I’m like this will be the perfect place to come and start a business. Open up a chicken shack, you know what I’m saying? Rap, and do my thing. You got dead prez in Texas. You got Erykah Badu in Texas. You got my man S-1 from the Strangefruit Project in Texas.

    OKP: Oh yeah, that’s right.

    Rhymefest: I think Texas is like the black man’s California.

    OKP: Oh wow. You sold me on that. What is your next favorite thing to do besides rhyming?

    Rhymefest: Oh man, so many things. I love comics. I love community activism. I love riding motorcycles. I love traveling. There’s so many things in this world to learn and to do. I mean I guess if I didn’t rap, I would probably be a teacher.

    OKP: Wow, that’s funny because during the day that’s what I do. I’m a high school teacher.

    Rhymefest: What level do you teach?

    OKP: I teach 9th, 10th, and 11th grade.

    Rhymefest: Wow, that’s crazy. That’s really crazy.

    OKP: It’s like a roller coaster. There’s some high moments and there’s some low moments.

    Rhymefest: Let me ask you, where do you teach? Do you teach in New York?

    OKP: Yeah, in Brownsville.

    Rhymefest: What is your assessment about the future of the youth in America? Is there a pattern that you’re seeing in young children today?

    OKP: Hmmm, I definitely see a pattern. I think with today’s youth, the pattern is what I like to call "microwave society." With this particular generation, because we have internet and we have YouTube where you can instantly see someone’s success, kids feel they’re entitled to that. You’ll ask any of the kids in my school what they wanna be, they wanna be an MC like you. They wanna be a ball player. A significant chunk of my school feels that way.

    rhymefest-image3_585.jpgRhymefest: Is your school black?

    OKP: Yeah. All African-American kids and sometimes I wish somebody like you would speak to them and be like, "Look this is the hustle and this takes time." I ask them, "How are you gonna get on?" "Oh I’m gonna post a YouTube video like Soulja Boy and I’m gonna get millions of views." Like these are real answers that kids give me.

    Rhymefest: Well, why don't they do it now?

    OKP: I try to tell them that. There's a couple of them who really put in the work, but most of them feel fame and success is this magical world that they'll automatically be a part of in ten years. I'm like, "You gotta do that stuff now," but they’re like, "All right, okay." That’s what I noticed. It’s this microwave society.

    Rhymefest: I think that’s because they really don’t believe what they’re saying. I talk to children. I go into high schools and I speak to kids. I don't do auditorium lectures because I don’t believe that's helpful. They become disruptive because they're not being dealt with in a smaller setting, so you can't have artists come through and speak to children in group settings. You have to have them come through to the actual classroom and speak to them in the class and have the artists go from class to class because they'll get more from the speaker.

    I was in one classroom and one of the dudes was like, "I rap."

    I was like, "Ooh you rap?"

    He’s like, "You gonna get my mixtape?"

    I was like, "Cool why don’t you come here and do your thing, show me what you got."

    "Na, na, na."

    I was like, "You wanna get put on? I’m about to hook you up. We about to be in the studio. Let’s get it."

    "Na, na."

    The class was like, "Go ahead rap."

    He was like, "My raps got a lot of curses in them."

    I was like, "So what, come up here and bleep them out. Man, I'm about to rap right now and my raps have a lot curses, but I'm about to show you how I can bleep the cursing out of my rap real quick."

    So I did it. Then I was like, "Come up here and do it."

    He was like, "Man, na, na."
    I was like, "You just missed your opportunity right here right now," and he let it go by.

    A few days later, the teacher from the classroom told me, "You know that boy? He told me he want me to give you his mixtape when he’s done."

    I said, "You wanna know why he wants to give me his mixtape? Because he felt like what he had to say didn’t matter. He needed to hide it behind a beat."

    If he had a beat, that’s preferable. If he would have got up in front of the classroom, he knew ain’t nobody was gonna feel that crap. He knew it. They know it.

    OKP: That’s a crazy ass anecdote, for real. That’s a story that really encapsulates everything in terms of people who rhyme for microwave production and people who really put time into lyrics. If you had an audience of more kids, how would you tell them to make their words stand out without music?

    Rhymefest: What I would say is learn how to tell a story. Learn how to say something without saying it directly. Learn how to imply. When you listen to the greatest singers and the greatest lyricists and the greatest poets in the world, there was always an implication. I always ask the kids, "What is the shortest poem ever written?" "I don’t know," they say. I say, "The shortest poem ever written is 'Me, we!'" That could mean one hundred different things. I say, "You know who wrote that? Mohammed Ali," and they be like, "Wow!" You know what I’m saying? It's a simple anecdote, but it tells you something about lyrics. It don’t gotta be complicated, but they gotta be multi-versed. It don’t gotta be complicated, but they gotta be sophisticated and fun. Me, we! That’s fun, it's two words and it has so many different meanings.

    OKP: Right, right. Taking time to talk to the youth. That goes along with the theme of El Che because that's activism right there. It doesn’t get anymore grassroots than talking to the kids of low income families, talking to the future. What other ways have you been an activist?

    Rhymefest: Well I've been active in trying to bring grocery stores to the city of Chicago. There's a lot of people who are getting their groceries from the local gas station, so fresh fruits and vegetables are not being sold in our community. They have to drive way out to find them, so there's a real push for that. I've been working with Congress on Proposition 848 for artists' rights. You gotta put both feet into it. You gotta get in that water, so that what I've been doing.

    rhymefest-el_che1_albumcover.jpgOKP: True indeed. On the cover of El Che, you're reading Invisible Man and you like comics right?

    Rhymefest: Right. When you called I was on Twitter talking comics. I was talking about black comic books. When I talk to the children, I ask, "If you had a superpower what superpower would it be?" Some kids say, "If I had a superpower I would fly" and then I say, "You could be the best pilot ever." "If I had a superpower, I would be able to heal." "Then you can be the best doctor ever." Any superpower you name, you can actually make it come into fruition. Some people say, "What if I wanna read minds?" I say, "Become a psychiatrist." They say, "What if I want to be invisible?" "Become a spy." You know what I'm saying? These kids got to know that they can. Somebody got to tell them that they can be it.

    OKP: That’s what’s up.

    Rhymefest: Self-esteem is a muscle like the muscles in your body. You exercise the muscles in your body, make them stronger, and they keep you young. Self-esteem is something you can't exercise yourself. It's something that other people gotta help you with. They have to spot you. Someone says, "I love you." Someone says, "You're smart" "You're great." Do you know how long some of these kids go without anybody saying that to them? It's not only kids, women, people, men. Men grow without fathers. You know how long some of us as grown men go before somebody says "Good job, brother"?

    OKP: Interesting food for thought. So ideally what's the goal for El Che?

    Rhymefest: My goal for this album is piss a little bit of everybody off. You know how they say, "Man I gotta have that song for the club?" You want everybody to like you?

    OKP: Yeah.

    Rhymefest: I want a little bit of everybody to be pissed off because my goal for this album is a personal goal. One of the goals was to put the album out. That's been a challenge for the last three years. So, now that that goal is done, the next goal is to inspire independent thought and help people get away from group thought. Group thought is one of the things that's killing our people because we all think as a group and we're brainwashed as a group. I wanna be one of the catalysts for the opposite way of thinking.

    OKP: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate what you said about the children and that anecdote that you told about that kid because that shit is just true in general.

    Rhymefest: What Imma say with that is as people we know. We know what our problems are. We know what's wrong with us. We know that our raps are wack. We're like, "Man, just wait 'til I get back to a beat." They think the beat is gonna camouflage it. My thing is I don't deal with trying to convince people of things that I know that they already know. What I do is try to get them to come to grips with it.

    -Sidik Fofana

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    The Dangerous Negro

    Look at these shirts made by Dangerous Negro a company started by seven recent college grads in 2006. 100% Black owned, brotha. Here's my personal cache of shirts to cop.

    Huey P
    That's right. I don't think I'm Big Meech or Larry Hoover...

    Intellectual Warfare
    Imma read every book on this t-shirt if I haven't already :)

    Illegal Aliens [brothers] 
     Straight to the point.

    YGB [brothers] 
     I'm 27. I write. My skin is coco.

    YGA [brothers]
     I'm 27. I write. I'm Sierra Leonean.

    British Petroleum for Dummies

    Mommy, mommy, I made a spill.
    --Clean that shit up.
    What are you waiting for, son? This whole BP fiasco is causing me a gigantic migraine. It’s a loud lesson in how big corporate systems do one stupid thing and then that one stupid thing multiplies into a thousand stupid things.
    But of course, before the stupid thing, there’s that huge exploitative thing. For British Petroleum that goes back to Iran 1908 when the British government, navigated by tycoon William Know D’arcy, thought it would be a brilliant idea to hoodwink the Iranian government for some oil.

    Somehow (actually we know how: the bribery of three high ranking Iranian officials, faulty bookkeeping, and just the good ol’ European colonial spirit), the British made out with a deal that would only grant Iran 16% of the British’s oil profits from Iran mines.*
    (* = remember the faulty bookkeeping? So it was more like under 10%)
    Fast forward. The 2000s. BP execs say, “Let’s go green. Everybody else is doing it, so let’s do it, too. Let’s show everyone we can be environmental, too.”
    Then the oil spills. Anywhere from 5,000 to 80,000 barrels a day (sounds like the overgeneralized description of an African-American perp…anywhere from 4’11’’ to 7’3’’ anyway). The company had 62 violations at its Ohio refinery alone this past March. Doesn’t take Nostradamus to forsee dark horizons.
    But look on the bright side. There goes BP’s green logo: a cute seagull covered with slimy oil.
    Then BP promises to pay. Meanwhile stocks are dropping $8 dollars a share and 60 million of those shares are being traded. So how that payment comes, I don’t know.
    Then one bumbling fool steps down for another bumbling fool (am I being too harsh?). Stephen Colbert said it best, “Fox News has confirmed BP. C.E.O. Tony Hayward will step down. That’s right. Tony Hayward has been resigned. He’s looking forward to spending more time saying insensitive things to his family.”
    I hope the new CEO Robert Dudley of BP gets it right for the sake of the environment, but at the same time it’s hard to root for a company that started off with the old fashion Western pillage.