Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Boys "My Lucky Charm"

Just reminiscing y'all...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Honor of Guru...

My favorite Gangstarr song, produced and rapped by the legend Guru himself. Rest in peace.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obey Art Piece #2

Out of sheer radness and therefore obligation...

The 75 Greatest Women of All Time

Peep it.

Forbes Fictional 15

This annual list is always very fun....

The Forbes Fictional 15

Michael Noer

Our annual ranking of fiction's richest.

It's a great time to be imaginary.

Global markets are rapidly recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, and so are the fortunes of the fictitious. There are six new characters on the 2010 edition of Fictional 15, our annual ranking of fiction's richest, with an average net worth of $7.3 billion. In aggregate, the nine returning members are worth $79.8 billion, up 9% since we last checked in on them.

Topping the list this year is newcomer Carlisle Cullen, patriarch of the Cullen coven of vampires in the Twilight series of novels. Cullen, age 370, has accumulated a fortune of $34.1 billion--much of it from long-term investments made with the aid of his adopted daughter Alice, who picks stocks based on her ability to see into the future. Low-key and undead, Cullen has spent recent years posing as a mortal doctor in a small town in Washington State.

Chuck Bass, the brooding, manipulative heir to deceased New York real estate legend Bart Bass, makes his Fictional 15 debut this year with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion. The Gossip Girl star and fashion icon (daywear, the three P's: Purple, Plaid and Preppy; nightwear, the three V's: vests, velvet and Valentino) recently sat for a Forbes Fictional Interview.
In Pictures: The Fictional 15
Also new to this year's list: Sir Topham Hatt ($2 billion), the railroad tycoon from television's Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends, Lucille Bluth ($950 million), the matron of the dysfunctional Bluth real estate family from Arrested Development, and the Tooth Fairy ($3.9 billion), who has blown several previous fortunes 50 cents at a time. Jay Gatsby, the shady Long Island dandy from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, returns to the list after an absence of several years with a billion-dollar fortune.

Uncle Sam is the highest profile drop-off this year. The crusty frontiersman and former U.S. Army recruitment officer had the largest net worth swing in Fictional 15 history, from an estimate of "infinite" last year to less than a billion today. Yes, he has the ability to print money--literally--but how much exactly is that money worth? Gordon Gekko, the hero of the forthcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, drops off the list after a stint in federal lock-up. We also mourn the passing of Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars universe. The crime lord was found dead late last year under salacious circumstances.

Fictional 15 perennials Scrooge McDuck ($33.5 billion) and Jed Clampett ($7.2 billion) had banner years, reflecting surging gold and oil prices respectively. Only Richie Rich ($11.5 billion) and Thurston Howell III ($2.1) billion have seen their fortunes decline over the past year...

Read the rest...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Boondocks Season

Yes, it is confirmed. Huey and Riley will be back for season three. According the show's ceator, Aaron McGruder, the show is set to air on May 2nd. I've been scratching neck for a while for this one!

Dave Chappelle at the Laugh Factory

Dave Chappelle talking about man rape. This guy is a legend..."what's particular noteworthy about this rapist..."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Allen Iverson 30 for 30

The personal demons of Tupac with a jumpshot. Watch this 30 for 30 clip that talks about Iverson's legal troubles as a teen. You remember the infamous bowling alley incident, right?

Mayles Cinema in Harlem

They're doing some good things over at Mayles Cinema on Lenox Ave in Harlem. As a matter, they're gonna show Muhammed Ali: The Greatest this Saturday at 4:45 pm. Be there or else...:)

The Maysles Cinema and Maysles Institute are located at
343 Lenox Avenue (Malcolm X Boulevard), New York, NY, 10027
Between 127th and 128th. 2/3, 4,5,6, A,B,C,D to 125th street Diary Day 157

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

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I was pleased to see that the editors at Open Salon chose my Born to Use Mics book review for the home page. Very pleased! Raise those champagne glasses!

You know, I read somewhere that James Baldwin published a book review a week for the leftist publication The New Leader. Though it's damn near sacrilege to try to emulate the great Baldwin, I'm definitely inspired to read and comment on as much quality literature as I can. I see Laura Miller's 1500 word book reviews on Salon and I am wowed at how she's in tune with what authors are trying to do, summarizing complex literary devices with witty catch phrases. She was on film a little while ago breaking down Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke and I thought: reading, writing, and talking about good books as a job and people respect your opinion, how cool is that?

Anyway, slowly and steadily, I'm getting more exposure as a reviewer of literature and sharpening my critical eye. I'm looking forward to that day where I can review top notch fiction from minority writers on bigger platforms. Yum yum.


For more Diary entries, click here

Paul Harding Wins Pulitzer Prize

.... for his novel Tinkers, which means congratulations Bellevue Literary Press and hallelujah to small independent publishing houses! The great gods of letters (the Pulitzer Prize committee) is reading all works big and small  (also see Lydia Millet's "Love in Infant Monkeys" from Soft Skull press which the committee announced as a finalist). I personally thought the prize was going to John Updike (rest in peace) or some literary blockbuster like Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. But it didn't. And the very least I like the gesture.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Born to Use Mics 

In his essay “‘Memory Lane’: On Jazz, Hip-Hop, and Fathers,” Mark Anthony Neal provides context for Nas’s seminal debut, Illmatic, by considering the musical journey of his father Olu Dara. He writes, “Dara’s oldest son, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, was born in the place affectionately known as ‘the Bridge,’ not so ironically, at a time when the ‘gumbo’ that Dara sought in his music was simmering throughout the five boroughs of New York City.” The “Gumbo,” which symbolizes Dara’s Mississippian roots as well as the melting pot of South American, Caribbean and African residents in Queensbridge, New York City’s largest public housing projects, also fits the aim of Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas's Illmatic, in which editors Michael Eric Dyson and Sohail Daulatzai assemble top hip-hop scholars to dissect Illmatic into its cultural, political, literary and global components.

Needless to say, much more than celebrating hip-hop’s most canonized opus, the essayists, which include Mark Anthony Neal, Marc Lamont Hill, Greg Tate, Imani Perry and others, analyze the ars poetica of Illmatic, examining the album through the bifocal lens of music and poetry and deconstructing it like a hybrid between Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Their close reading serves as a springboard into the tangential topics of fatherhood, urban decay, prison and post 9/11 New York City—the very dilemmas that make Illmatic such a stalwart work of social commentary.

Almost none of the scribes in Born to Use Mics, feels reserved about elevating Nas to the level of chief ghetto scholar as evidenced by their intense decomposition of his lyrics. Marc Lamont Hill goes as far as to label Nas a celebrity Gramscian, a term borrowed from Mark Anthony Neal. In his essay, “Critical Pedagogy Comes at Halftime,” Hill writes, “Through his lyrical representations, Nas functions as an informal ethnographer by consistently offering an on-the-ground counternarrative of day-to-day ghetto life.” Hill links Nas’s storytelling rhymes to a stark but necessary kind of grassroots urban journalism.

Though no discussion in this book takes precedence over another, Sohail Daulatzai’s “A Rebel to America: ‘N.Y. State Mind of Mind’ After the Towers Fell” places Illmatic within the most contemporary post 9/11 conversation. In this analysis, Daulatzai equates the first full song on the album with Gill Scott Heron’s “New York City.” Both offer the city as a symbol for the country at large. Daulatzai reiterates the common view of New York City as “the blessing and the curse, the American Eden and the forbidden fruit,” the latter of the two descriptors Nas adopts when he raps, “I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.” The city is also, to bring Nas’s lyric further, the target of anti-imperialists who view New York as the figurehead behind unwarranted expansionism according to Daulatzai.

Perhaps Mark Anthony Neal’s hip-hop “gumbo” can also refer to the triad of social issues (fatherhood, prison, and urban poverty) that surface in this collection. On the topic of prison, Dyson pens “ ‘One Love’ Two Brothers, Three Verses” which doubles as a companion to Nas’s memorable Q-Tip-produced track and a firsthand account of his own brother’s jail-time woes. As for fatherhood and urban poverty, the writers in this book don’t or, rather, can’t limit conversations on these matters to one piece, leaving these issues to be in infused into every piece in some form or another.

Just as Nas creatively played with the cassette tape medium in 1994 when he substituted the A-side and the B-side with the 40th and 41st side, (sections of the Queensbridge projects in which he was raised), Born to Use Mic divides its writing into the 40th side, 41st side, and the remixes. Perhaps the spiciest section, the remixes, includes an original 1994 Rap Pages interview with Nas, who calls out interviewer Bobbito Garcia for passing him up on Def Jam. There is also a testimony of Tupac’s love for Illmatic rendered by Dream Hampton, and a brief exposition on Illmatic’s relevance to the movie “Wild Style” and other emblems of Hip-Hop’s nascent stages by Charlie Ahearn.

This socially poignant compendium of essays transforms its essayists into emcees themselves who use their scholarly quills to tell the story of one of hip-hop’s most enigmatic albums. As Imani Perry writes, “the narrative form is a classic in Hip-Hop.” In Born Use to Mics, both the rapper and the thinkers are the ones dropping knowledge.

Notorious B.I.G. Ebonics Translation

Remember this forwarded mail from your inbox back in the day? This is hilarious...

This paper was turned in by an Oakland High school student who received the highest honors at the school district’s Ebonics translation competition.

Assignment: Please translate the following Rap song lyrics from Ebonics to standard English.
Artist: Notorious B.I.G.
Album: Ready to Die
Song: One more chance (remix)

First things first, I poppa, freaks all the honeys
Dummies - playboy bunnies, those wantin’ money
Those the ones I like ‘cause they don’t get nathan’
But penetration, unless it smells like sanitation
Garbage, I turn like doorknobs
Heart throb, never, black and ugly as ever
However, I stay coochied down to the socks
Rings and watch filled with rocks

As a general rule, I perform deviant sexual acts with women of all kinds, including but not limited to those with limited intellect, nude magazine models, and prostitutes. I particularly enjoy sexual encounters with the latter group as they are generally disappointed in the fact that they only receive penile intercourse and nothing more, unless of course, they douche on a consistent basis. Although I am extremely unattractive, I am able to engage in these types of sexual acts with some regularity. Perhaps my sexuality is somehow related to my fancy and expensive jewelry.

And my jam knock in the Mitsubishi
Girls pee pee when they see me, Nava-hoes creep me in they tee pee
As I lay down laws like I lay carpet
Stop it - if you think your gonna make a profit

I enjoy playing my music loudly on my car stereo. Apparently, women enjoy this also because they become sexually aroused when they see me driving. Oddly enough, when I visit the Native American reservations, some of the more sexually promiscuous Indian women attempt to seduce me in their homes. Their intent is to divest me of my earnings. Such actions are unacceptable.

Don’t see my ones, don’t see my guns - get it
Now tell ya friends Poppa hit it then split it
In two as I flow with the Junior Mafia
I don’t know what the hell’s stoppin’ ya
I’m clockin’ ya - Versace shades watchin’ ya
Once ya grin, I’m in game, begin

Understand this fact: you can have neither my money, nor my weapons. I suggest that you inform your peers that we engaged in violent sexual acts. Currently, I am rapping with my associates, the Junior Mafia. I’m having some difficulty understanding why you refuse to approach me. I am attempting to make eye contact with you through my expensive glasses, and as soon as you respond with a smile, I will approach you.

First I talk about how I dress and this
And diamond necklaces - stretch Lexuses
The sex is just immaculate from the back I get
Deeper and deeper - help ya reach the
Climax that your man can’t make
Call and tell him you’ll be home real late
Let’s sing the break

I prefer to open the conversation with light banter about my wardrobe and jewelry, then I like to discuss my collection of expensive cars. This is more than enough to convince you to have sexual intercourse with me. I am able to insert my penis further into you when I enter you from behind. Furthermore, you will be able to reach orgasm. I understand this to be a problem with your current sexual partner. He needn’t be concerned about your whereabouts. Please phone him and inform him that you won’t be home for a while. By the way, please sing the chorus of the song for me also.

She’s sick of that song on how it’s so long
Thought he worked his until I handled my biz
There I is - major pain like Damon Wayans
Low down dirty even like his brother Keenan
Schemin’ - don’t bring your girl ‘round me
True player for real, ask Puff Daddy

Your current love interest no longer wishes to hear your fabrications about the length of your member. After I had sexual intercourse with your woman, she became enlightened as to the proper way it is supposed to be performed; violently and immorally. It would be in your best interest to keep your woman away from me as my sexual prowess is very strong. If you are unconvinced, ask Puff Daddy.

You - ringin’ bells with bags from Chanel
Baby Benz, traded in your Hyundai Excel
Fully equipped, CD changer with the cell
She beeped me, meet me at twelve

Despite the fact that you attempted to win her at her doorstep with bags full of expensive clothes and a car (the lower end model Mercedes Benz which you financed by signing over your current vehicle) containing an expensive stereo and a cellular phone, your woman has contacted me through my pager indicating that we should rendezvous at midnight.

Where you at? Flippin’ jobs, playin’ car notes?
While I’m swimmin’ in ya women like the breast stroke
Right stroke, left stroke what’s the best stroke
Death stroke - tongue all down her throat
Nuthin’ left to do but send her home to you
I’m through - can ya sing the song for me, boo?

You, on the other hand, jump from job to job, barely able to maintain payments on the Mercedes Benz you purchased for your woman. Meanwhile, I continue to engage in sexual intercourse and commit lewd osculatory acts with your women. My only remaining option is to request that she leave my home and return to you because I have reached orgasm and no longer have a need for her presence.

So, what’s it gonna be? Him or me?
We can cruise the world with pearls
Gator boots for girls
The envy of all women, crushed linen
Cartier wrist-wear with diamonds in ‘em
The finest women I love with a passion
Ya man’s a wimp, I give that ass a good thrashin’

The ultimate decision rests with you. Whom do you choose as your sexual partner. I can take you on cruises around the world. I will dress you in the finest jewelry and footwear. You will be envied by women worldwide in your fine clothes and jewelry. There is a special place in my heart for beautiful women. I will defeat your man in an altercation because he is effeminate.

High fashion - flyin’ into all states.
Sexin’ me while your man masturbates.
Isn’t this great? Your flight leaves at eight.
Her flight lands at nine, my game just rewinds.
Lyrically I’m supposed to represent.
I’m not only the client, I’m the player president

You will be dressed in finest clothes on the runways of Paris. I will fly you to every state to shop for fine clothes and jewelry. You will enjoy sexual intercourse with me and your man will be forced to pleasure himself through manual stimulation. What a life! I’ll return you to LaGuardia in time to catch your 8 o’clock flight. The timing is perfect because I have scheduled a date with a second woman who arrives at the same gate at 9 o’clock. I’ll seduce her in the same way that I seduced you. I rap well and I am a positive reflection of my home town. Not only am I a sexually deviant, misogynistic, immoral, wealthy, male prostitute, but I also sit on the board of directors of the organization that governs others of my kind.

On Her Way

Seree Fofana is an up and coming photographer in the Boston area. Her work deals with documenting urban environments and family relationships. It's very deep. Check it out...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Erykah Badu New Amerykah Part Two Music Bio

As we know Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part Two came out a little while ago. Here's the official music bio I penned for the album courtesy of Universal/Motown records...

In ancient Egypt, the hieroglyphic character of the ankh at the fingertips of a goddess symbolized eternal life. If Erykah Badu’s “cipher keeps moving like a rolling stone,” as she so coquettishly proclaims in the legendary single “On & On” from her dazzling 1997 debut, Baduizm, her latest opus, NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO: RETURN OF THE ANKH, the follow-up to 2008’s critically acclaimed New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War, represents the point in Erykah’s career where she has traveled that cipher’s full 360 degrees and been revitalized. The new album, a warm recital of personal philosophies on love and heartbreak, marries the understated wit of the old Erykah to the sonically venturesome new Erykah. On NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO, structured ballads and airy jam sessions coexist peacefully in the same soulful arena.

Besides the album’s posh synapses and poetic out-of-the-boxness, Badu put her executive producer title to good use, enlisting many of the same producers that made New Amerykah Part One such a rich audio feast. This time around, the cast of usual suspects—9th Wonder, Madlib, James Poyser, Sa-Ra’s Shafiq Husayn, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jah Born, R.C. Williams, Ta’Raach, Karriem Riggins, and the spectral J Dilla—are not so easily identifiable, outdoing themselves with arrangements that step out of their signature realms of production. Take, for instance, NEW AMERYKAH PART TWOs intro track “20 Feet Tall, which finds Badu’s astral “I Can” theme matched with a sparse and uncharacteristic 9th Wonder production interpolated by James Poyser on keys. “Erykah is fantastic at speaking on a woman’s point a view on things,” says 9th Wonder. “She can create that connection between genders, even without the help of the producer.”

If unpredictability doesn’t explain NEW AMERYKAH PART TWOs cohesiveness, then compatibility certainly does. Nothing else could account for the pure harmony on the album’s lead single, “Window Seat, which features Badu’s seasoned vocals over a hypnotic thump and graceful keyboard riff. The mellow groove was co-produced by composer James Poyser with an assist from ?uestlove from The Roots on drums, representing a cache of genius that has been fermenting since Baduizms “Otherside of the Game. Badu’s voice, frank and comfortable, sounds like it’s been privy to the same miles of history tread by R&B greats of yesteryear as she sings, “Can I get a window seat? / Don’t want nobody next to me / I just wanna take it out of town / A look around / And a safe touch down...”

Badu’s maturity, however, does not come at the expense of her wicked sense of humor—or her penchant for throwing sly hip-hop references into the mix on songs like the sprightly “Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY), in which Badu waxes poetic about the power of the almighty dollar while paying homage to the classic Junior M.A.F.I.A. hit “Get Money” as well as Sylvia Striplin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away, which is referenced in both songs.

The Notorious B.I.G.’s influence can also be heard on “Fall In Love. Produced by Karriem Riggins and featuring a recognizable piano loop from Eddie Kendrick’s 1977 classic “Intimate Friends” that listeners will likely recall from Alicia Keys’ 2005 hit “Unbreakable, Badu finds herself lyrically inspired by a track called “Warning” from the late Brooklyn rapper’s phenomenal debut, 1994’s Ready to Die, as she playfully cautions, “You don’t want to fall in love with me / There’s gonna be some slow singing and flower bringing / If my burglar alarm starts ringing.”

But while the hustler’s anthem “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long, which harkens back to Baduizms “Otherside of the Game, is another standout track, the true centerpiece of NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO is “Out My Mind Just In Time, a three-movement ballad reminiscent of “Green Eyes” from 2000’s Mama’s Gun. In it, Badu bashfully admits, “I am a recovering undercover over-lover / Recovering from a love I can’t get over / And now my common law lover thinks he wants another.” The song’s second and third movements, produced by singer-musician Georgia Anne Muldrow, provide a funky perversion of the melancholy track.

“Out My Mind Just In Time” is also the title of the cover art for NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO, which is a collaboration between Erykah Badu and famed artist and poster designer EMEK, who also designed the inspired packaging for New Amerykah Part One. The new album cover depicts an underwater image of Badu wearing a suit of armor that symbolizes the tough exterior she developed to protect herself from the harsh realities of life. The armor is her old shell and now she’s liberating herself from it by climbing out of her own head so that she can be reborn. Her tuning fork is summoning the vibrations of the universe and the purple-colored tree of life and purple sky represent the 7th Chakra—the Crown Chakra right above her third eye shield, which represents peace, wisdom, and spirituality. The numerical theme of three is symbolized by three moons, three hidden babies, three trees, and three ankhs. Closer inspection reveals that Badu’s shoulders are surrounded by many of the same objects that filled her abstract afro on the cover of New Amerykah Part One, including handcuffs, a foreclosed home, fast food, cigarettes, broken chains, and a military tank. Here, those items represent refuse and rubble from which new life grows into a vibrant garden of colorful flowers blossoming all around her.

In keeping with the concept of the cover art, NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO taps into Badu’s emotional side by thematically focusing on romance and relationships. “With Part One, I was standing at an apex, looking at what was going on around me politically, socially, and economically,” Badu explains. “With PART TWO, I’m hovering over me, looking at what’s going on inside of me.”

Indeed, Erykah Badu’s soul is a beautiful, elusive thing. It popped up from the water with three dollars and six dimes. It popped up in the Bag Lady who was gonna miss her bus because she was carrying too much stuff. Some of it told her ole man to call Tyrone to help him come get his shit. A lot of it cried warm salty tears for her green eyes when she discovered love could indeed hurt like this. Throughout her career, Badu has both controllably and uncontrollably given herself to her music. With NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO: RETURN OF THE ANKH, Badu defers to the fickle stew of emotions, laments, aspirations, and rants that strong spirits are made of, the same stew of naked passion that has made her entire body of work such a visceral success.

Erykah Badu New Amerykah Part Two Career Bio

and here's the career bio I did...

Erykah Badu

There is perhaps one story that explains Erykah Badu’s cyclical outlook on her new album, New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh, and it involves a visit to a Santeria priest in Cuba in 1999. Dressed for the occasion, Badu wore an all-white dress and, despite the humid weather, her signature towering head wrap. As she sat on the dusty sidewalk waiting to enter the house of Ifa, a young man who could best be described as curious looking barreled down next to her, popped open a can of beer, lit a cigarette, and began making small talk to another guy who Badu assumed was also waiting for a reading. Soon after, the house door opened and a charming old lady welcomed her; the young man, dressed in white cut-off denim shorts and a faded American sportswear jersey, followed them into the house. Uncertain of his reason for being there, Badu became reserved and uncomfortable with the idea of someone else sitting in on her reading.

And then it dawned on her: This young man was the priest. He came from a long line of respected priests. He didn’t have to wear fancy garments, or signal his faith with outward expressions. He just was. From that moment on, Badu’s head wrap came offboth figuratively and literally.

When Badu says “return of the ankh,” she doesn’t mean she’s returning to wearing the head wrap or any other accessory that evokes 1997’s Baduizm epoch. She means much more. The return of the ankh is the return of a feeling, what makes her creative, what makes her passionate, what makes her Badu.

Born Erica Wright on February 26, 1971 in Dallas, Texas, Erykah Badu inherited a taste for music from her mother Kolleen Wright, who introduced her to multiple genres of music (Joni Mitchell, Parliament-Funkadelic, Pink Floyd, Phoebe Snow, Chaka Khan). At the tender age of four, Badu began singing and dancing in productions at the local Dallas Theatre Centre. It wasn’t until her acting debut in the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center’s musical production of “Really Rosie,” directed by her godmother Gwen Hargrove, that Badu realized she was a natural performer. “I played Alligator,” Badu says, “and at 6 years old, I got my first standing ovation. I knew I wanted to bring people to their feet from that point on.”

Badu stayed true to her artistic leanings and enrolled at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts in the late 80s. Tomboyish and a bit of a class clown, Badu devoted most of her time to perfecting her dance form, studying the techniques of Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham, as well as practicing ballet, tap, and modern dance. Badu also sharpened her Hip-Hop skills, freestyling on the Dallas radio station 90.9 FM KNON under the name Apples the Alchemist until she eventually changed the spelling of her name from “Erica Wright” to “Erykah Badu,” “kah” being Kemetic (Egyptian) for a human’s vital energy or “inner-self” and “ba-du” after her favorite jazz scat-sound. But later, Badu would discover that her chosen name holds a far deeper meaning.

Badu enrolled at Grambling State University, where she majored in theater and minored in Quantum Physics. She left in 1993 to pursue music full-time. During the day, she taught drama and dance at the South Dallas Cultural Center and worked as a coffeehouse waitress. At night, she recorded and performed songs like “Appletree,” produced by her cousin Robert “Free” Bradford. In 1994, her 19-song demo caught the attention of aspiring record executive Kedar Massenburg by way of the SXSW music festival. Massenburg signed her to his upstart label Kedar Entertainment. The company eventually merged with Motown/Universal and Badu started opening for D’Angelo, prepping the world for the massive Neo soul movement to come.

The New York Times described Badu’s groundbreaking debut, 1997’s Baduizm, as “traditional soul vocals, staccato hip-hop rhythms and laid-back jazzy grooves.” Yet, hindsight reveals that Badu’s debut was more than just an album, it was the introduction of a new lifestyle. The music evoked speakeasies, incense, head wraps, and boho coffee shop culture all in one easy breath. Propelled by the lead single “On & On,” the album went multi-platinum, winning her two Grammys for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album. Badu topped Rolling Stone’s Reader’s poll for Best R&B Artist, and Entertainment Weekly named her Best New Female Singer of 1997.

The year yielded more blessings as Badu gave birth to her first child, Seven Sirius, whose father is the legendary Andre Benjamin of OutKast on the same day that her second LP, 1997’s Live, was released in the U.S. Live rode the wave of Baduizm’s success, going double-platinum. On the album, Badu showed that she could not be categorized, as the improvised “Tyrone” became a megahit, peaking at No. 1 for six weeks straight.

In addition to reinforcing her reputation as a dynamic live performer, Badu’s big screen debut as Rose Rose in the 1999 film The Cider House Rules added another credit to her brown bag of artistic miscellany. And in 2000, she opened her trophy cabinet once again to welcome a Grammy award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for her appearance on “You Got Me” by The Roots.

These checkpoints only heightened anticipation for Badu’s second studio album, 2000’s Mama’s Gun. A rich assembly of soul, funk, and organic Hip-Hop textures, Mama’s Gun achieved platinum status and topped the R&B charts for seven weeks bolstered by the album’s lead single “Bag Lady.” The song’s video paid homage to Ntozake Shange’s award-winning play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” with Badu presenting a “choreopoem” performed by herself and four other dancers. The album also marked the beginning of her collaborations with the late J Dilla, who produced “Didn’t Cha Know” and “Kiss Me On My Neck (Hesi),” and to whom Badu pays tribute on a track called “Telephone” from 2008’s New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War. Capped off with the emotional hit “Green Eyes,” Mama’s Gun packed a graceful combination of potent lyrics and stirring melisma, surpassing Baduizm’s first week numbers with more than 190,000 copies sold.

In the three years between Mama’s Gun and Badu’s next release, 2003’s Worldwide Underground, the singer-songwriter went on her affectionately dubbed “The Frustrated Artist” tour to inspire new material for the album. On the CD—which was recorded in Badu’s mobile recording studio on her tour bus and features guest appearances by Lenny Kravitz, Caron Wheeler, and Zap Mama—Badu would also debut her new production team, FREAQuency (Badu, James Poyser, Rashad “Ringo-Tumbling Dice” Smith, and R.C. Williams). By September 2003, Worldwide Underground, an experimental, atmospheric jam session, was ready for release. In keeping with her track record for collaborating with Hip-Hop’s finest, Worldwide Underground found Badu enjoying critical acclaim for the crunk “Danger” and “Love of My Life Worldwide,” which featured femcees du jour Bahamadia, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and soul singer Angie Stone.

Badu also kept busy outside of the lab. In 2003, she founded her non-profit group, B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Incorporated Non-Profit Development), which is geared toward creating social change through economic, artistic, and cultural development. She also transformed the legendary Forest Theater in South Dallas into a headquarters for live shows and charity benefits. “When I came home, I saw the bad condition the building was in,” says Badu. “I felt like it was my job to reestablish music there, to reformat the whole thing and refit it.” Among B.L.I.N.D.’s many accomplishments, the organization has provided arts, crafts, and dance classes to children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

In 2004, Badu gave birth to her daughter Puma Sabti, who she describes as a “mini-me.” In September of that same year, Badu appeared in the Brooklyn-based concert documentary Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, performing an animated set that included the hits “Back in the Day (Puff)” and the Grammy-winning smash “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop).” Along with Queen Latifah and Jill Scott, Badu also founded a successful summer festival tour called Sugar Water. Also in 2004, Badu’s charitable efforts helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the scholarship fund at St. Phillips School and Community Center in Dallas, Texas.

Badu flexed her entrepreneurial muscles with the launch of her own label, Control FreaQ, in 2005. The label, whose mission is to “free the slaves and the slave masters” by allowing signed artists to own their own masters in a 10-year conversion deal, operates primarily as a production house. Control FreaQ’s first project is developing New Orleans-born MC/Lyricist Jay Electronica. The label also produces remixed records and supports Badu’s side projects such as The Cannabinoids, the group she founded with Dallas-based DJs, musicians and beatsmiths, which is an improvisation production akin to a live “remix” set.

In 2008, as the U.S. engaged in the Iraq War and the nation prepared for an historic presidential election, Badu presented her own offering for the evolving times with New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War. Badu’s fourth studio album and the first installment of the two-part New Amerykah series kept Badu’s Hip-Hop spirit kindled. New Amerykah Part One boasts beats from the best soundsmiths in the gameincluding Madlib, 9th Wonder, Shafiq Husayn (for Sa-Ra Creative Partners), Sa-Ra, Karriem Riggins, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots, James Poyser, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Mike “Chav” Chavaria. With the singles “Honey” and “The Healer” generating significant cyberspace buzz, Badu reclaimed her cherished throne as a soul music phenom. New Amerykah Part One debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and Rolling Stone named it one of the year’s best albums.

For the once self-proclaimed “analog girl,” Badu is now pushing the limits of the digital world. On February 1, 2009, Badu and boyfriend Jay Electronica blogged about the birth of their daughter Mars Merkab in real-time on the micro-blogging site Twitter, thus becoming the first celebrity couple to ever Tweet the birth of a child.

In 2010, Badu announced yet another new arrival: New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh. Whereas Part One was social and political in tone, Part Two taps into the more romantic and emotional side of Badu. “It reminds me of the days of Baduizm,” she says. “It’s just about beats and rhymes in a cipher.” 

Indeed, diehard fans of Badu will love New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh and newcomers to Badu’s world will be curiously intrigued by the mystique and authenticity of an artist who is totally comfortable in her own skin. Whether directing a dope music video or exposing her vulnerabilities in rhyme, Badu transcends image. Just like the Santeria priest she met in Cuba, Badu no longer tries to be, she just is.

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Reading at Globe Trippin

Last night, I read my short story "The A-Side" at GlobeTrippin cafe in Harlem with fellow writers Brook Stephenson (see his scintillating blog in my blog roll) and Anthony Calypso, an assistant professor at the New School University. It was delight to read with them and answer questions about my work. By the way, if you want some good world literature and a banging glass of limonata Pellegrino, GlobeTrippin is it!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Maxwell: Two Grammys, Two Cents



Maxwell: Two Grammys, Two Cents

A little over a month after Maxwell was nominated for five Grammys, an earthquake hit his mother’s native country of Haiti resulting in the deaths of over 200,000 people. Although his fourth studio album, Blacksummers’night, went on to win Best R&B Album and Best R&B Vocal Performance (“Pretty Wings”), the suffering of others has bestowed the Brooklyn born soul singer with a more global perspective on his own purpose. Sure, Maxwell loves to talk about music and tour dates and stuff like that, but he also loves talking about health care, the war in Iraq, and charity just as much. So here’s his free forum to do both.

Maxwell on Health Care
“I think everybody should at least have the knowledge that if they’re sick it’s not going to be bankruptcy or foreclosure. There’s no reason it should be like that in America. If somebody goes through something, we should be able to help them without the entire world falling apart. People should feel like if I get sick, if my child gets sick and I can’t afford it, my child doesn’t have to die. I don’t have to take out another mortgage or file for bankruptcy because I had to pay for an operation so my kid could live, my wife could live, I could live. It’s just barbaric to even think that should be normal. That’s why I’m a big supporter of health care reform.”

Maxwell on Iraq
“The war is a complicated onion when you look at all the situations regarding it. I know Barack Obama was talking about how he was gonna get a lot of people out of the war, but I think it’s safe to say that’s it’s way more complicated than just pulling out of Iraq right now. How are you gonna run through somebody’s crib, hold it down, lock it down, and then bounce, and then think that they’re not gonna try to come get you? It’s all messed up that oil has served as an impetus for so many of these interactions that have occurred over the years. I wish we could make a clean gas vehicle that runs on a whole new type of energy, so we wouldn’t even care about this.”


Maxwell on the Next Album
“I try to keep a lot of my [political] opinions on the under because I don’t want to inundate people who are just coming to me for music. But, I definitely care about what’s going on in the world. I think the next album will definitely take much more of a political stance. I think it’s time. I do a lot of charity work, but I really shy away from making it a part of the stage. I think it’s awesome when people promote things and lend their names to foundations and organizations. I don’t fault, judge, or assume that they’ve done anything less than virtuous in their interactions with them, but I have a tendency - I believe that the good you do is between you, God, and the person you’ve helped. It’s a delicate balance but I’m trying strike it on the next thing that comes out. We’ll see how it works.”

Maxwell on the Earthquake
“You gotta understand a week before all this happened or even two days before all this happened, I was on cloud nine. The album hit big and with the support of the Grammys, I just couldn’t believe what a difference a year made. I was sitting on the brink of not knowing what would happen to suddenly having all of this success happening. Then, to see so many people going through something so terrible, I felt really torn and conflicted about how I should even feel about the good that was happening in my life. I saw so many people had lost their lives, had their lives shattered. The sheer chaos of it, the brutality of it, considering the history of Haiti and all that it has experienced.”

Maxwell on Relief Efforts
“Well, once it happened it was like what can I do. I was good friends with Jeffrey Wright who’s an amazing activist and has done great work in Sierra Leone trying to build homes and he got me involved with the Obama Administration, the Clinton Foundation, and a few key people at the White House. Early on before the tragedy, I had been involved with the Red campaign and trying to raise awareness and raise money through Red products. The proceeds from “Help Somebody,” one of the songs on my album go towards the red foundation and other proceeds are funneled through various organizations as well.”

“It was a great meeting that Clinton held in Harlem at his foundation because he’s the special deputy on the board of Haiti and there were a lot of people in the room talking about how to build homes and donate time and resources. I feel like I’m more of a student in these matters so I have a tendency to just keep my silence, take in everything around me, and then try to figure out what I can actually do. I know I could do my best through my work and the money that I raise from concert sales, tickets, albums, songs and publishing. I got to see who I could connect myself with and the people who really had the heart.”


Maxwell on the Tour with Jill Scott
“I mean that first album is a classic. It’s just a hands-down classic. She has such a power to what she does and what she sings about. She’s an incredible performer. I just wanted to celebrate her record in some way while I’m out doing what I’m doing. It seemed like the perfect fit. My manager, who’s a fan of her as well, went to see her way back in the day at the House of Blues when she was just starting out and she just had the audience in the palm of her hand with her vocal and story-telling ability. Her performance is sick and it just felt like if folks in general wanted to have a night out where you hear some soul music and get a musical fit that’s so rare these days out here now, it’s the show. If I wanna take my girl out, I could see this being the perfect show because you got Jill for the ladies and the guys and it just felt right.”

Maxwell on Rappers
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Nas and I think he’s pretty amazing and there’s so many people I like from Jay to Drake to Rakim and the list goes on. There’s a lot of people I would wanna do stuff with. I don’t just want it to be some moneymaking opportunity just because of audiences. I’d like it to be wow, okay, very unlikely that the two would pair and I would like it to make sense in terms of message and what the song’s doing. That’s what really makes things happen for me. It’s not the person really. It’s the purpose.”

-Sidik Fofana

Rest in Peace, David Mills

In honor of the bad ass writer who helped create The Corner, The Wire, Treme, and other legendary TV series, Corner Boy Jazz pays its respects... 

Rock on!

Memphis the Musical Releases CD

This cool album accompanies Memphis the Musical which premiered on Broadway. Lots of songs from Felicia, Delray, and Huey. Came out March 30th...