Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Vibe Is Gone


The void that the closing of Vibe leaves is immense. I don’t believe any other media is equipped or even remotely interested in taking up the space that Vibe has.

After speaking with my man Rob Kenner, and Twittering the hell out of my grief and anger over this, I’m coming to this realization:

The only upside of this depression is that many of us no longer have a side hustle to distract us from the incredible art we gotta make.

RIP VIBE. RIP “Urban Magazines”.

posted by @ 12:20 pm | 3 Comments

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Michael Jackson :: Morning’s End


Long before anyone could read into Michael Jackson’s cubist, etiolated face a work of performance art, the wounds of internalized racism, or the excess of boredom and wealth, all those things that would make us either look away or gawk, there was his voice.

The thing that Berry Gordy heard from the 10-year old boy was “knowingness”, he said, “feeling, inspiration, and pain”. There was an early protest song, “The Young Folks”, that now seems telling. But as time went on, Gordy and his songwriters gave Michael songs in which loss loomed large, the better to exploit that glorious instrument of his. And for that voice, he lost his childhood.

Or more precisely, he gave it to us. Many of his most affecting performances were about distance and displacement, the desire to be somewhere else, the inability to return to a lost past. Think of the songs that the hip-hop generation adored so much: “I’ll Be There”, “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, “Who’s Loving You”, “Maybe Tomorrow”, “All I Do Is Think Of You”, “Ready Or Not”. On these songs, Michael’s “knowingness” sounds more like fragility. (On the other hand, but hardly balancing the scale, is the joyous Bronx summer break of “It’s Great To Be Here”.)

If you want to wonder how ambivalent this boy-dream, this incarnation of all our notions about youth and beauty, felt about the limelight and wanting to be “normal”, listen to him sing “Got To Be There”. When he sees the girl of his desire walk into the morning light, it’s as if he has transferred the shine away from himself to her, imagining a perfect love above the blood and grind of the daily celebrity-making machine. When he hits that high “me” (matched later by the word “home”), he has given all of it up to all of us.

But as an audience, we were insatiable and ruthless. Years later, after the satisfaction and ease of his 20s, after he had been broken by self-mutilation and bizarre scandal in his 30s, Michael Jackson would reveal a tragic, bathetic emptiness, pleading, “Have you seen my childhood?” By then, many of us had either turned away or turned on him. The transaction was done.

In the end, he lost even his voice, autotuned first by lawyers and other keepers of his dissipating wealth, consumed by Mickey Mouse-sounding paid-TV defenses and overproduced songs, before finally going silent forever. Time will restore the greatness of Michael Jackson’s artistry. May it also cause us some revulsion at our complicity in his fall as well.

posted by @ 12:34 am | 36 Comments

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Justice For Alex Sanchez


Yesterday morning, Sanchez was indicted by the Feds for allegedly conspiring to assassinate a MS-13 leader in El Salvador. Don’t believe the damn hype.

Those of you who have read Can’t Stop Won’t Stop already know of the story of Alex Sanchez, the ex-MS-13 turned gang peacemaker who ran afoul of the notoriously corrupt LAPD Rampart Division.

(This Division was the one whose street task force officers colluded with gang leaders to sell drugs on the streets. One of them, David Mack, was on Suge Knight’s payroll and has been fingered as a possible suspect in the murder of Biggie Smalls. He was finally convicted for his role in a bank heist masterminded amongst Rampart cops.)

Because Sanchez was trying to stop gang warfare in the area and get gang members to get out of the life, he was harrassed by both the Feds and the LAPD. He was held in an immigration jail for months while he was threatened to be deported. After a massive grass-roots campaign, Alex won his freedom back and was granted political asylum.

Authorities are still trying to exact a high price on Sanchez for his work on human rights and gang peace. (more…)

posted by @ 9:35 am | 5 Comments

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Benefit For Ras-Cue :: Health Care For Hip-Hop


When adversity strikes, you often see the best of your community coming out.

My man Frank “Ras-Cue” Quattlebaum has been holding down the Bay Area hip-hop scene for over 15 years now, one of the most generous, caring individuals you could ever meet.

Two years ago, he was admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure. The doctors told him that he was close to kidney failure as well. Since that time, he has changed his lifestyle dramatically. “These diseases are affected by what you’re doing to your life,” he says. “I was affected by high blood pressure.”

His heart is healthy now. But his kidneys are slowly failing him again.

Ras Cue is dealing with it the only way he can. He’s on intensive dialysis treatment at least 3 times a week. He is now on a kidney transplant list.

He has learned that the transplant list could take 5 to 7 years to get around to him.

His part-time work and Medi-Cal cover his dialysis costs, but they’re not making a dent in the bills for the tests he had to undergo. He has also learned that even if he is able to get a transplant–which won’t be covered entirely by Medi-Cal–he may be paying up to $2000/month in medication afterwards.

When artists get sick, there is rarely a safety net for them. When they get really sick, they rely on their community to be their safety net. Hip-hop has been this and will continue to be this. But it’s why many of us get hardcore when we talk about health care. We take it personal.

This is not meant to be a dis, but if all of my fam wearing Dilla tees now had been pushing health care for artists–hell, health care for all–back then, well who knows what this world might sound like now…

For Ras Cue’s part, he has become an activist for awareness around organ donations. “When they ask you on your driver’s license about donating your organs, think about it. You could be saving someone’s life,” he says.

The National Kidney Foundation will be part of this benefit and that’s huge. Ras Cue says, “This is about bringing awareness to our community. This is much bigger than me.”

If you’re in the Bay, come to the benefit. You can find more info at the Urban Umpires website. If you can’t make it, try to send what you can to:

590 Bowden Way #1
Oakland, CA 94610

Stand up for one of our own. And then stand up for all of us.

posted by @ 3:43 pm | 0 Comments

Friday, June 19th, 2009

THE BREAK/S Opens Tonight In Seattle!

I’ve been hyping our man Marc Bamuthi Joseph‘s play “the break/s” to def from its opening last year at the Walker (for which the vid above was made) not just because it’s been part of a powerfully inspiring artistic dialogue he and I have been having over the years, one spanning books and plays and essays and events, but because many of us just think it’s the joint.

Now you lucky folks in Seattle get a chance to see Bamuthi’s acclaimed piece in a run at the ACT Contemporary Theatre that starts tonight and runs through July 12th. Don’t miss it!

Tickets are available here.

Some affirmation?

“All of “The Break/s” is uncommonly good. No false notes. No easy answers. It’s as complicated and powerful as the best hip-hop can be.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“This one-man show isn’t just one man’s show; it’s a thunderous, expansive and deeply felt wrestling match with being an American in the 21st century.”
Washington Post

Seattle, show your love. Check it out. Come back and let us know what you thought.

posted by @ 3:27 pm | 0 Comments

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

RIP Iz The Wiz


Sad news today from KET: the great IZ THE WIZ has passed.

Here’s a moving excerpt from KET’s blog post:

For many of you that do not know, IZ TMB, was a subway god. From his beginnings in the early 70s he painted like there was no tomorrow and came up with one of the most iconic and recognized throw ups in subway writing history. It was by sheer will and determination that he became a true king of New York City. He was king of the lines and not only did throw ups but also whole cars and insides.

While many people count IN TOP as the throw up king of all time, in actuality that title belongs to IZ who out painted and out lasted IN and mostly every other writer in the history on New York’s movement. (more…)

posted by @ 9:43 am | 8 Comments

Monday, June 15th, 2009

White House Briefing On Arts Policy

The strangest delegation of folks to be invited to the White House in recent memory. (…Yes that’s our man Wendell “Bunk” Pierce!)

As some of yall know, I was part of a delegation of social justice-oriented artists, arts activists and advocates invited to meet last month with Obama administration staff to be briefed on their efforts around arts policy. It was an amazing group, an amazing briefing, and an amazing day.

What seems important to say first is that hip-hop and a breathtaking front of other underdog arts movements got all of us there. And they let us in the front door.

The delegation included so many luminaries and s/heroes it’s impossible to do the group justice without coming off like a name-dropping Hollywood agent, albeit a very cool one. Check the pic above if you don’t believe… (more…)

posted by @ 11:51 am | 0 Comments

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Still (De)Buggin’ From The Roots Picnic, Etc.

Here’s a warmup return post, eaaasing back into the thing instead of going full hog.

We’re still working out some bugs in the program here, but other than that, are gratified with all the love yall have been showering on us. Thank you too for the suggestions. We’re gonna keep working…

So I was out last week to NYC and Philly for a bunch of work, and got to spend some of that time following The Roots around, culminating of course in the mother of all picnics. (Roker’s got some photos here.)

The thing to say about the Roots organization is that everyone works ridiculously hard. On Friday alone, they taped two Fallon shows, and had a third rehearsal for the Picnic. Not to mention locking details for the picnic. And finishing the mix for their album coming this fall. All just hours after a rehearsal with Antibalas, Chuck D, and Griff that had ended stupidly late the night before (and featured Griff singing random Kenny Nolan-type songs). Plus, most of the crew still comes up to NYC in the morning on the bus from Philly, and goes home the same night.

Richard Nichols, the manager/studio genius/overall savant, really just call him the godfather, simply had to chuckle and shake his head when I asked him how the idea for the PE “It Takes A Nation Of Millions” set came about. As if there hadn’t been enough work to do already…

(BTW some of the intriguing ideas left on the table–a full performance of “Do You Want More?!?”, a Native Tongues reunion…)

What began as a homegrown affair in 2008 turned into a monster in 2009; it could be remembered as one of the live events of the year. (Check my old tweets for the play-by-play.)

All in a week’s work for the hardest working band in show biz…

posted by @ 3:41 pm | 1 Comment

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