Saturday, November 14, 2009

EMERGENCY ROOM THEATER

A 'final' vote on American health care reform may not come by the end of the year. A recent Associated Press article discusses this- http://tinyurl.com/yc6zp4a
Apropos of nothing, yours endearingly has an anecdote to share:

So i have this infrequently recurring condition where a knee and/or foot will swell up, get painful & stiff.. usually it's only moderately annoying, but this time it's laid me out and I had been more or less bedridden for a few days before grudgingly heading out to an emergency room.. ..after check-in, I’m laid out on the gurney, with a hospital gown on. My roughly 6'5" height leaves my exposed feet clearly hanging over the edge (which adds a slight amount of pressure to my already ailing left foot), and it’s chilly; so I’m frequently shifting my legs to get comfortable, and it doesn’t work..

I've got my own 'space' here but it's crowded in the service area, and people are being attended to in hallways. Alternately to my own chagrin, amusement and/or enlightenment, I can't help but overhear any number of conversations: The 82-year-old Arab immigrant, apparently a recent widower, who argues with his adult son alternating between English and their mother tongue on why he won't visit more often; an out-of-town couple, where the 40-ish husband had a mild heart attack while shopping; the insurance-check clerk whose husband has been laid off for a year and the self-paid plans available are prohibitively expensive; the 30-ish female cancer patient discussing coping by faith with the visiting Chaplain, and wishes that she hadn't eaten those darn raisins that make her ill; an elderly woman who recurrently scolds the attending staff as "heathens and devils", and apparently admonishes one to the tune of "you really are a killer" while being given an IV needle..

After spending some 8 hours there, I finally get to be part of the "entertainment" myself; the Orthopedic attendant arrives, and says she needs a fluid sample from my hurting knee.. Only, well, local anesthetic won't do much since she has to go deep.. And so, with grim resignation, I give her the go ahead, the needle goes in, and before I know it, I'm involuntarily howling; it's taking longer than expected to get a sizable sample. Anyone from the Gary/Chicago area who grew up with the Son of Svengoolie TV show and remembers the ‘Ow! Ow! Ow!’ sound effect, amplify it exponentially; actually, the first image that popped in my head while I was enduring this was the scene in “Predator” where the creature is tending its wounds and injects himself with a syringe.. and then I jump to the Carl Weathers death scene…

It only vaguely helped that one of the attending doctors was a young, cute blond... In my head I had one of those "Scrubs" old-guy moments like 'wait a minute, you're out of med school?' While talking with her, I felt vaguely ashamed of myself for briefly seriously wondering if the local economy here hadn’t prompted a phantom program that promoted candy stripers to physicians. I wanted to ask her what she’s doing later on, but hey—I’m in a hospital gown, mussed hair, with a bum knee & foot, with a bum bank balance—and that’s about typical for why I don’t ask out women anyway, but I digress...

So, test results time.. I don't have gout or an infection, but I'd need to check in with a rheumatologist soon.. Ah, can’t forget about the prescription for Vicodin (score!). It sure has helped Eminem write any number of songs. Wonder what it’ll do for me..and now the pain after the pain.. I've been laid off a little over a month now, my health coverage is in nebulous territory.. even with 'Cobra' assistance it would be ex$pensive.. another heavy bill, here I come..

Mr. President and Congress... PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

J. Carter Takes on the Haters

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently said in an interview that the heated animosity directed towards President Barack Obama is largely inspired by racial bigotry:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/16/jimmy-carter-racism-barack-obama

I happen to agree with Mr. Carter's assertions. Some concerns, though:

  • Those folks who reflexively hate Carter don’t care (“rawr! The peanut farmer who let us get punked by Iran?! Whatever!”)
  • Most ‘mainstream’ media pundits (papers, radio, tv)—even in editorials—won’t call it racism for fear of being labeled biased, or even ‘Politically Correct’.
  • Don’t expect Prez Obama to speak on this, except to “respectfully disagree” with Mr. Carter, especially after what happened with the Skip Gates case.
  • I can empathize that the Prez doesn’t want to get caught up constantly discussing racial conflict at every perceived opportunity, and it "is" a distraction; President Obama definitely has serious policy issues to spearhead like health care reform, which I hope is accomplished (and substantive!); but I have to chuckle when the White House has to constantly defuse someone calling out the clowns among neo-con culture..

South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson's "You Lie" outburst was not in a vacuum. There's the relentless equating by pundits of of 'socialism' with 'communism' (ignoring the roots of Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security); the birth-certificate obsessionists; the Tea Party activists who hold up picket signs depicting Obama's face transposed with Adolf Hitler's mustache & Nazi regalia; all of this exposes the coded but barely-veiled racialized animosity that a certain demographic holds for Obama. "Pulling the race card" becomes the de facto response to any public charge of racial bias even if its framed within a logical context. Purely fiscal objections to any Obama policy proposal take a back seat to making sure that the general public is "informed" of alleged ties to radical Islam or Marxian theory.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell expresses grave concerns about contemporary GOP culture, and he gets openly bashed & marginalized by Rush Limbaugh and company; Michael Steele, despite being head GOP cheerleader as the Republican National Committee chairman, is constantly at risk of his official powers being whittled away-- http://rodonline.typepad.com/rodonline/michael-steele/. But of course, nothing racial about it.. just business...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mouse, Meet Spider

http://tinyurl.com/mls974

It took a Jimmy Fallon monologue for me to find out about it. According to recent reports, The Walt Disney Corporation is acquiring Marvel Entertainment for 4 billion dollars (US). This offers new possibilities—and complications—for both media companies. This author's first reaction was one of shock, then denial, then, acceptance.

The buying-out of Marvel makes the latest in a series of entertainment-property acquisitions for the Disney Corporation, spanning the last 20 years or so. In 1990, Disney acquired the Jim Henson Company, home to the Muppets characters and TV shows. Skeptical Muppet fans quickly were turned off, pointing out Disney’s very mainstream (read: boring) output and the satirical edginess (Sesame Street notwithstanding) of the Muppet Show-derived characters. Jim Henson died before the deal was finalized however, and the new corporate relationship soon became contentious as Henson stakeholders fought in court for a separation, which finally happened a few years later. By the early 2000’s, things apparently warmed between the stewards of the Henson empire and Disney, as Disney once again merged with Henson and now controls DVDs and new film projects starring Kermit the Frog and friends.

Also around the year 2000, Disney acquired Saban Entertianment. Beginning in the early 1990s the latter company created a dubbed-dialogue goldmine in the Power Rangers franchise of TV shows and DVDs. Marked by segments of live action featuring Western actors spliced in with battle footage of Japanese action-hero shows, the Power Rangers updated import shows of the 60s, 70s and 80s like Ultraman, Battle of the Planets and Voltron.

Marvel Publishing was sold to Cadence Industries in the early 1970s; by the late 80s Marvel was acquired by New World Entertainment. New World announced a slew of new projects, including an Iron Man live-action film that never happened (the 2008 film is unrelated). Beginning in the early 1990s, Marvel was acquired by Ron Perelman who initiated an unprecedented move to acquire media properties on Marvel’s behalf, including Fleer trading cards, indie publisher Malibu Comics and even Diamond Distributors, a comics distributor. documented in the book "Comic Wars" http://tinyurl.com/6oov9g

For several years now Disney (via its Buena Vista Video arm) has owned Marvel’s catalog of cartoon shows produced before the year 2000. Online fan chatter has been critical, accusing Disney of basically sitting on the properties. Circa 2002, a DVD release of Spider-Man cartoons was met with a lawsuit by Marvel, who at the time alleged it used unauthorized artwork and interfered with the then-new first Spider-Man live-action film (a subsequent release of the entire 1960s Spider-Man cartoon series on DVD soon went out of print, and has become a collector’s item of sorts). In 2009, Disney has been quietly releasing DVD collections of the 1990s X-Men cartoon series.

Starting in 2007, then-Marvel executive Avi Arad gathered private investors to create Marvel Films, an independent studio to produce a new series of live-action films based on Marvel characters: The first to arrive in theaters in 2008 was Iron Man, followed by Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2, Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers are in varying stages of development.

Possible Developments include:

Comics- It remains to be seen what the long term developments will be. Comics sales as a publishing form are way down from an early 90s peak. Industry insiders regularly debate ways to get beyond a now-largely adult male comics buying public. Other issues include pricing and new retail outreach. Paid-digital downloads (including a ‘motion comic’ based on Spider-Woman) are a development too new to gauge but likely worth continuing.

Disney’s financial resources may allow more of a window for Marvel to expand their line of series (again), after a late-90s trend of contraction. Both Disney and Marvel have extensive archives of back issues, most of which are out of print. An aggressive collections initiative could find much of it reprinted—possibly farming out Disney titles under the Marvel Publishing brand. New comics series based on Disney’s characters (including live-action films and TV) could also be published soon under the Marvel masthead. New Disney films may see comics adaptations from Marvel. The ‘Disney Adventures’ magazine may feature material based on Marvel characters.

Some comics fans may be concerned with Marvel’s MAX imprint—where R-rated dialogue and action occur. The Punisher has a long-lived series under the imprint, and Marvel also publishes other mini-series and specials under the brand. The Icon imprint allows creator-owned properties to be published by Marvel, including titles originally published in Europe. Disney is famous for its family-friendly branded entertainment products—and while Disney owns and operates Touchstone Studios for PG-13 and R-rated features, some fans may fear Disney execs may order MAX titles deemphasized or eliminated altogether.

Live action- Starting from the 1980s forward, several Marvel comics franchises have been licensed to other film studios for development. Initially it was to little avail, as most projects announced languished in ‘development hell’ until the first Blade film hit theaters in 1998. 20th Century Fox became the most prolific film partner for Marvel, so far releasing four X-Men films (including 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Daredevil, Elektra, and two Fantastic Four films. Paramount Films currently has first-refusal for distributing Marvel Films movies (Universal was tapped for releasing 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). Sony/Columbia has released a trilogy of Spider-Man films since 2002; a 4th, 5th 6th film are in varying stages of development.

Marvel’s film properties are lucrative endeavors. So—does Disney now own the Marvel Films company by default? If so, what does this mean for live-action films in development? What, if anything, does this mean for Marvel’s plans to open their own brick-and-mortar studio to film various segments for their movies? Will Paramount be out of the picture as a distributor? What will this mean for currently licensed properties at other studios? Will Disney look for those options to be ended as soon as possible? Motions to end these licenses prematurely may be met with lawsuits. A contentious lawsuit over release rights to DC Comics' Watchmen film involved Warner Bros. and Fox and was finally settled shortly before the film came out. Marvel’s flagship character Spider-Man is currently locked into a production deal with Sony for both live-action and animation projects.

Hopefully parties at Disney will treat the Marvel properties with their due respect, and genuinely push for new developments with them in live-action, including television shows. Fans have long clamored online for a Marvel analog to the Smallville series which is based on DC’s Superman comics.

Animation development- Since 2006, Marvel Films has had a partnership with Lions Gate Entertainment for direct-to-video animated films based on their characters. Releases so far have included Ultimate Avengers 1 & 2, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Avengers Next, and Hulk Versus. Marvel has had several animated TV series released to varying episode-counts since 2000, including X-Men Evolution, Spider-Man: The New Adventures, Fantastic Four, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Spectacular Spider-Man. Series currently in the works include Marvel Super-Hero Squad, Mighty Avengers and Thor.

Hopefully Disney will assist in the development of forthcoming animated TV and film projects, including the future direct-to-video films as well as cartoon TV series. Disney has several broadcast outlets on which to air shows and films, including major network ABC. Some of the ‘kiddie’ characters developed by Marvel from the 1980s included Spider-Ham, the X-Babies, Royal Roy, Top Dog and Planet Terry. During the 1940s and 50s, Marvel—then called Timely, later Atlas—published a series of ‘funny animal’ titles as analogs to the Warner Bros. and Disney stables of characters, many of whom had their own comics series for rival publishers at the time. Time will tell whether any of those characters will see attempted revivals in some form.

Several superhero properties exist at Marvel that—as yet—have yet to be featured (beyond the cameo level) in animated form in a series or special: Some of them include Power Man & Iron Fist, Cloak & Dagger, Daredevil, the Defenders, New Mutants, Power Pack, and more. The high-end animation allowed by the Disney-owned Pixar Corporation (Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E) will likely have some fans in high anticipation. There are also Japanese-anime' adaptations already forthcoming based on Wolverine, Iron Man, the X-Men, and Blade, promising to re-interpret the characters with a cultural lean towards the sci-fi settings of Japan's animated shows.

Other licensing: Amusement Park rides (and an assortment of merchandise) based on Marvel characters are currently featured at Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida—a rival to Disney World. Circa 2007, Marvel announced a deal with Middle-Eastern entertainment developers for a Marvel-based theme park in Dubai. Will the Disney seek to scuttle the Middle-Eastern theme park deal? Will the Marvel-based attractions at Universal Studios soon end, with Marvel-based attractions developed for the Disney parks? Will Marvel characters now be walking the concourse at the Disney parks?

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is a Broadway musical starring the Spider-Man characters. The play, featuring original music by members of rock band U2, is scheduled to premiere in 2010 but has been marred by allegations of an out-of-control budget. Disney has backed Broadway adaptations of The Lion King and Beauty & the Beast; Theoretically, Disney could be convinced to offset costs for a trial run.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

DJ Marley’s Magnum Opus
hip-hop,rap,marley marl

In Control Vol. 1, Deluxe Edition is a 2-disc re-release of the first album from pioneering hip-hop musician/DJ Marley Marl. Traffic Entertainment oversees the release, poring from the Cold Chillin’ Recordings catalog. Starting in the mid-1980s, Queens-bred DJ Marley Marl (Marlon Williams) was the primary producer for the indie label Cold Chillin’s roster of rap artists and hosted a rap radio show in New York City, ‘In Control’. He produced a long string of singles (and later albums) for rap artists like Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, and more. In 1987 “He Cuts so Fresh” was credited to Marley on the Uptown is Kickin' It compilation (Uptown/MCA Records, 1987). A full-length followed in 1988 on Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros. Marley’s profile as a producer expanded well into the 90s, working with artists like LL Cool J, TLC and others.

The unfamiliar listener might assume that Marley was a rapper since he gets top billing here. However, he simply calls the production shots here, Quincy Jones-style, with some occasional vocal ad-libs during the songs. His production style reflected then-current trends in hip-hop sampling, with James Brown as the most frequent muse. In Control featured all of the Cold Chillin’ label artists, loosely affiliated as ‘The Juice Crew’. Most of the cuts are solo expositions, like Craig G’s “Droppin’ Science”, the album opener. The then-teenaged Tragedy kicks his ‘Intelligent Hoodlum’ style on “Live Motivator” and Master Ace does well on “Simon Says”. MC Shan gets a nod with “Freedom (remix)”. Roxanne Shante gives a whimsical response to J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic” with “Wack Itt” (a far cry from the ultra-personal disses of contemporary rap).

In stark contrast to today’s hip-hop albums, there are only a couple of multiple-MC collaborations here- first, Biz Markie and Heavy D on “We Write the Songs” where Biz borrows a hook from Barry Manilow of all people. The other is arguably the greatest ‘posse cut’ of all time, "The Symphony". A simple piano riff bolsters the rhythm track, as each MC gives their best battle-rhyme in succession: Master Ace, Craig G., Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane.

This edition features interview interludes from Marley where he reveals some behind-the-scenes information about each original song from the album (allegedly, Shan was a last-minute no-show for the “Symphony” session). The second disc features several alternate takes, remixes, unreleased songs and live-in-concert performances. One minor quibble is that in this multi-media content age, the “Symphony” video (and any other period footage) could have been included in DVD form. A booklet contains extensive liner notes and period photographs (the memorable cover casts Marley as an airline pilot). This set is well worth it for anyone who is passionate or curious for ‘golden age’ hip-hop.

This release also is a welcome alternative to the undercurrent at most major music labels that allows hip-hop/rap music archival recordings to simply languish in obscurity. Seminal releases in hip-hop rarely get the upgraded treatments that exist for the rock/pop, soul, jazz, and country genres.

Monday, July 27, 2009

‘BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS

“Go to the door, get frisked, just in order to get in.. and if you wasn’t from this town, then you couldn’t fight and win…” MC Shan, “The Bridge”, 1986

So, as President Obama made his pitch for health care reform at a White House press conference, a seemingly left-field question asked him to address the recent confrontation between Harvard Professor Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates and members of the Cambridge, Massachusetts police force. What is known is that Professor Gates had recently returned home from a trip overseas. Apparently at the time, there was a call made to local police alleging two black men were trying to break into a local home. The slightly built Dr. Gates had trouble opening his front door, and asked his driver’s help. Shortly after entering his home, police showed up.

“The bridge is over, the bridge is over… biddy-bye-bye.. the bridge is over, the bridge is over, hey-hey…”
Boogie Down Productions, “The Bridge is Over”, 1986

Arrested Developments

From there, the accounts vary on what exactly happens next. Dr. Gates claimed that the police were being hostile and belligerent—refusing to leave after he confirmed that he was a resident of the house and refusing to give him their names and badge numbers. The arresting police officer, Sgt. James Crowley, claims that Dr. Gates was being hostile and belligerent. Dr. Gates was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct—a charge that was dropped as the story went national.

“..The term they apply to us is a n-----; call it what you want ‘cause I’m coming from the corner, same applies with a PH. D.”
Chuck D, “Tales from the Darkside (Endangered Species)”, 1990


President Obama’s initial statement was to say that the police acted “stupidly”, which caused a firestorm of backlash, certainly from conservatives who feel that a President should not be commenting on a private citizen’s legal problem (funny, that wasn’t the case with Terry Schiavo), let alone openly criticize law enforcement authorities. Certain pundits now seek to use this as an example that Obama is out of touch. Plenty of folks are looking at it as just another ‘liberal intellectual elitist’ seeking publicity. “Racial profiling? Pfaw!” Once again, where people fall in this debate depends on their cultural position. For sake of (relative) brevity, I’ll defer to some statements I made in a blog well over a year ago (3/21/08; in italics):

It’s like this. Say I’m minding my own business in my house. Looking out the corner of my eye, I see the neighbor’s kid in their yard; he’s trying to hit a baseball by himself. Suddenly, crash! A window breaks, and I see there’s a baseball. Looking directly out the broken window, I see the neighbor’s kid with the bat, still in his yard, staring right at me. So I walk over, knock on the neighbor’s door, and the kid’s dad answers. I explain to him nicely that apparently his son hit the ball that broke my window. But Dad isn’t trying to hear any of this. “Not my son! He’s too classy!” Incredulous, I still try to nicely explain what I saw with my own eyes and the evidence at hand. Says Dad: “What ball, and what bat?” I’m more than a little flustered, now, but I’m keeping my cool.

Then the son shows up, and I ask him to tell his Dad what happened. The son starts parroting Dad, claiming he was trying to fry ants with a magnifying glass. Then Dad takes it to another level: “How do I know you didn’t break your own window?” Only when I finally blow up and start cursing him out, then I can probably find myself getting labeled as A Troublemaker, and maybe the next day I find myself with a citation for not having my front yard bushes trimmed to some arbitrary figure. Insult upon injury. Your intelligence, your ways of reasoning, your method of interpretation, is always called into question when it contradicts something within white cultural defaults. Your grievances, your concerns, are not addressed, ultimately, because they are not even “real”. This is the burden that black America bears that white America has never truly had to deal with in the aggregate.


It’s Miller Time… ?

Allegedly, the President has attempted to broker a peace meeting between Dr. Gates and the Sgt. Crowley, ostensibly over beer at the White House. I will not attempt to speak for Dr. Gates. I will say on my own behalf that that if I feel that I’ve been deliberately mistreated, I have no interest in trying to settle things by bonding over beer (and not just because I’m not huge into beer). Even if there was unlimited iced tea being served, I would have no interest in invalidating my experience to appease the skepticism of others.

“Siberians no better than Nigerians.. My nationality’s reality; And, yo—a prejudiced man is of a devil mentality…”
Kool G. Rap, “Erace Racism”, 1990


I don’t feel obligated to convince anyone (in particular, law enforcement apologists, or self-described moderates who feel that racism officially ended with Obama’s election) that I’m not the kind of (black) person who constantly looks for any angle to whine or seek victimhood. I am not, for example, someone who finds fault with the fact that most commercially available paper is white (and, apropos of nothing, I would be remiss not to point out that its original form tends to be brown before bleaching makes it just right for our printers). Still, I feel that searching for common ground in situations like this—even as espoused by the President—is quite overrated; especially if the other party feels I have to pass some litmus test just to prove I belong. If someone considers that as ‘burning bridges’ then so be it: Perhaps the toll is too great.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Black Is Back (All In We’re Gonna Win?)
rap,old school,public enemy
“Radio stations, I question their blackness; they call themselves black but we’ll see if they’ll play this”
Public Enemy, “Bring the Noise”, 1987


Longtime U.S. congressional representative John Conyers is promoting a bill (H.R. 848) that would revise practices in American radio stations. Specifically, it would call for royalties to be paid to artists whose songs are played on the air (even if they are not the composer or hold the publishing rights).

Cathy Hughes—who is African-American—is one of the most prominent voices against the bill. She’s CEO of Radio One Network, which in the Detroit area owns WCHB 1200 AM (Gospel & Talk), Hot 102.7 FM (Hip-Hop/R&B) and 105.9 KISS FM (Contemporary/Classic Soul). The ‘Save the Radio’ campaign seeks public support to stifle the bill. The argument is that the implementation of paid royalties for every spin would bankrupt minority-owned and low-power radio operations. The website http://www.saveyourradio.org/ offers a litany of reasons why the bill should be blocked from passage. Such figures as Duke Fakir of the Four Tops has come out in support of the bill. Select politicians and activists (including Al Sharpton) have come out against it.

I have to say that I really don’t feel a heck of a lot of sympathy for these stations who are complaining the loudest. The current state of ‘urban radio’ (decades ago, simply ‘black radio’) could be a hell of a lot better than it is now. As it stands, not much if any stylistic diversity is being given any love on the playlists of these stations. In this current era of heavily corporate-owned-and-managed radio, almost nobody is allowed to break "format" and push anything new that could catch on, so a status-quo of styles is constantly reinforced. A regional program director for a Clear Channel-affiliated station in Detroit may not even have to live in Detroit.

Local up-and-coming artists tend to be barely heard, with scant few exceptions. I went to a Michael Jackson tribute event at downtown Detroit venue Chene Park a few weeks ago, and most of the artists who performed were local; most were pretty good. A few months ago I checked out a concert from a hip-hop group that hails from Senegal. You have to check for these artists’ material on the Web, though; it’s not on terrestrial radio.

My take is that a lot of it has to do with the undercurrent in black America of looking at non-American black cultures as "foreign/weird/backwards", and tacitly if not blatantly assuming that black-American derived artistic contributions are the only "standard" that matters. There’s also the undercurrent of overdependence on radio for information in general.

reggae,marley
"You can fool some people sometimes... but you can't fool all the people all the time"
Bob Marley, "Get Up, Stand Up"

Look at how during Bob Marley's life he wanted to be on black/R&B radio, but it didn't happen. During the 1970s, outside of Caribbean-American neighborhoods, reggae didn’t seem to have much pull in black America, though plenty of white hipsters got into it. It took Stevie Wonder doing a song like "Jammin" (http://tinyurl.com/3wpoo5) to introduce a reggae-style song to the "mainstream" of the black American community (also, Rick James' "Mary Jane" (http://tinyurl.com/5frut8), the main rhythm track, was reggae-derived.) Stevie and Bob were supposed to do a joint tour circa 1980, but Bob's cancer worsened and he died. Going into the 1980s, Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue"(http://tinyurl.com/3awcmd) and Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie" (http://tinyurl.com/3mgm3e) were looked at as novelty hits. It took the eventual rise of hip-hop and its reggae connections to finally get Caribbean-derived songs on urban radio on a regular basis. Even today, no reggae is on the "classic soul" stations.

afrobeat,funk,african pop
Black musical diversity is not really promoted. ‘Classic Soul’ and ‘Smooth Jazz’ stations don’t play anything from the late Fela Kuti. How about some reggae beyond the most obvious hip-hop-dancehall artists? How about some black rockers? Even the exalted Prince doesn’t get the spins that he used to in his 1980s heyday. Lenny Kravitz might as well be from Mars.
rocker,lenny,black

Watching cable TV, I like to check out MTV-Tres. Plenty of the programming features videos from Latin hip-hop and reggaeton artists; songs which would seem to have a welcome home on urban-format stations—but they’re totally absent from 'standard' urban radio. Active middle-aged rappers like Chuck D, KRS-One, even LL Cool J have been shunt into a limbo where they’re apparently not hot enough to be played alongside Soulja Boy but obviously too hip-hop for an ‘adult soul’ station. Where’s the hip-hop equivalent of a classic-rock station?

afrobeat,african pop,youssou
When it comes to AfroBeat-type recordings, like Youssou N’Dour, etc., they have a cult of black American fans (usually well in their 20s or older, or maybe they’re children of African immigrants) who have awareness and who are into this. But these artists are not remotely uplifted compared to others.At minimum, the urban format stations should have an ‘alternatives hour’ every day of the week, showcasing funk/jazz/hip-hop/soul from different parts of the globe. Local artists shouldn’t have to make their name known in New York or Los Angeles before Chicago or Detroit stations give them a chance to be heard.

There is a wealth of interesting music (especially from global artists) that is not getting the exposure it deserves. Conyers’ bill definitely needs to speak to these issues in addition to fairness in royalties.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Health Care Scare

President Barack Obama is defending his initiative to overhaul America’s health care policies this week. He defends his plan from not only Republicans but the so-described ‘blue dog Democrats’ in Congress who are known for being fiscally conservative (or they represent socially conservative districts and they squeaked by in the last election). On the Today Show, the President explained his views further- http://tinyurl.com/l7n3nc

obama,president

"We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care,"- President Obama, at Children's National Medical Center, 2009.

Instituting a national health care plan is important for me because I believe that in the wealthiest country in the world, no one should have to suffer from the lack of health care. It is virtually unconscionable that as of 2009, the United States still does not have a comprehensive national health care plan. In this regard we lag behind Canada, the United Kingdom, India, and several other nations. Seniors and children are among the most vulnerable population who are affected by having either no health coverage or an inefficient plan. Far too many working adults put off seeing doctors or having important medical procedures done because of the prohibitively high costs incurred, and the comparatively minimal benefits from their current health care insurance plan.

“If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”- South Carolina Senator Jim Demint.

governor mark sanford
South Carolina governor Mark Sanford

Even after being busted with his side chick from Argentina, I wonder if South Carolina governor Mark Sanford intends to hold on to his job if only because he knows he’s got a cushy health care plan (I can hear some of his supporters now- ‘stop badgering that man, he’s a Christian!’). Anyway, his salary is just over $106,000 a year; the state employee insurance plan can be found here- http://www.eip.sc.gov/index.aspx. At the risk of being presumptuous, my layman’s point-of-view would classify the good governor and his senatorial confederates (pun intended) as ‘haves’. Those who are our poorest citizens tend to be affected the most regularly by being a ‘have-not’, though everyone is affected by this.

senior medical care

Housing, food and transportation are already major expenditures for most American households. Many seniors and the middle-aged have to declare bankruptcy due in great part to health-care debt (http://tinyurl.com/pm79ol). Younger adults are saddled with debts that inevitably affect their credit rating- affecting the results of trying to rent an apartment, buy a house, get a business loan, or lease a car. The heavy debt that goes along with such things as hospital visits tends to make people ambivalent about seeking proper medical care for themselves.

dental visit

My own health care coverage (through my job) is ‘okay’, as in, better than nothing but hardly all-encompassing. Let’s not forget about dental care, typically considered separate policy coverage altogether, which may have similarly daunting costs incurred. I have been affected by this myself, as high health-care debt makes me recurrently anxious about physician visits. I suspect that I’ve needed braces on my teeth for years, but I can’t afford the steep co-pays. I also remember being ultimately sued by a medical equipment supplier, relating to a doctor’s prescription that they lost and my insurance carrier’s subsequent balking at covering any costs (Appearing at Michigan’s 36th District Court, parties representing the equipment company failed to appear—twice—but they apparently had deep pockets for appeals, which is how yours endearingly finally got zapped in the end. But I suppose judicial system loopholes are a rant for another day.)

A national health care plan should also be looked at as an opportunity to redefine the ‘war on drugs’. Look at California (http://tinyurl.com/n96847): If marijuana alone were legalized across the board, taxed and regulated, it could also become a source of tax revenue. It could partially subsidize the national plan. Social conservatives may blanch, but decades ago, well-meaning but short-sighed teetotalers wielded their influence to give America the 18th Amendment. Alcoholic beverages were rendered illegal. Lasting from 1919 to 1933, those years padded the coffers of assorted gangsters and the like before the law was repealed. Going back even further, American-grown tobacco was—and is—a major cash crop, especially when slave labor was supporting it (whoops, sorry to bring that up, the Senate finally apologized this year.) Both of these substances have since been regulated and taxed.

The national health care plan must be bold enough to include basic health care coverage for all, regardless of race, gender, age, income or national origin. Money can be raised for the plan by raising taxes on well-to-do corporations, cutting back on certain federal spending earmarks (such as two prohibitively costly foreign wars- http://zfacts.com/p/447.html. http://zfacts.com/p/272.html ), and more. As the woes of Chrysler and General Motors came to a head during this past year, one of the prominent issues that both executives and rank-and-file workers had was the status of health care coverage for employees. A national health care plan could arguably take much of the burden away from both big-time companies and smaller firms alike in terms of having a baseline alternative to coverage.

doctor's office visit

The old ways of thinking about health care must be cast aside. Reactionary obstructionism must be overcome with logic and facts. Proponents must point out that the current status quo on health care is no longer sustainable. We must cast aside such politically negative and emotionally misleading terms like ‘socialist’ or ‘welfare’ when talking about a national health care plan. We need to evolve and embrace the 21st century and be a true leader in the developed world on this issue. Nothing less is acceptable.

“All I can say is, this is absolutely important to me, but this is not as important to me as it is to the people who don't have health care.”- President Obama

Monday, July 20, 2009

Comix Reviews for the Month, pt. 1

The Brave and the Bold #24 and 25
DC Comics, 2009
SPOILERS CONTAINED
DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold is an anthology series featuring team-ups with various characters from the publisher’s fantasy universe. #24 allows Static and Black Lightning to meet and team-up for the first time. Teen hero Virgil Hawkins (Static) is resentful that the reputedly corrupt Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning) is the keynote speaker at his high school’s latest commencement (Virgil is still an underclassman). Flame-throwing villain Holocaust shows up to kill Pierce on the assumption that he took a bribe without proper ‘kickback’ (he didn’t, but many villains aren’t known for their deep insight). Since Pierce’s identity as Black Lightning is publicly known, the fracas starts right away—after young Virgil changes into his costume (his identity is secret), Static joins the fray and the pair join their electricity-driven powers.
#25 gives the spotlight to two technology-heavy superheroes: Hardware and Blue Beetle. Both Hardware and Blue Beetle wear high-tech suits of armor which assist them in fighting crime. Their story involves Hardware tracking down shipments of armored battle-suits being sold to gangsters and terrorists. Since the action starts off near the teenaged Blue Beetle’s hometown, he joins the fight, to the sardonic Hardware’s chagrin. The two get off to a rocky start, but start to get used to each other when the Beetle helps Hardware recover from being short-circuited (with literally shocking results).
These issues give welcome attention to ethnic minority heroes: Static, Black Lightning and Hardware are African-American; the current Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, is Latino. Indie publisher Milestone Media recently entered an agreement with DC to integrate (no pun intended) their characters (like Hardware) into the DC canon to fight alongside such longstanding crusaders at Batman and Superman. These are a pair of good done-in-one stories, hopefully leading to more appearances from these characters in the near future.
Punisher #7
Marvel Comics
Writer- Rick Remender
Art- Tang Eng Huat (pencils/inks), Lee Loughridge (colors)

SPOILERS CONTAINED

The latest issue of Punisher continues the second story arc from series author Rick Remender, paired with pencils & inks by Tan Eng Huat. The story involves protagonist vigilante Frank Castle—the Punisher—taking on New York City’s legion of super-criminals, who are largely led by Parker Robbins, a.k.a. the Hood. The Hood’s vast supernatural powers have enabled him to resurrect 18 formerly dead super-criminals, who are then charged with killing the Punisher or returning to the grave. The resurrected villains include a baker’s dozen of ‘Z-list’ crooks like Mirage, Turner D. Century and Birdman who were murdered in a long-running Captain America series subplot in the 1980’s. Most of them are portrayed as simpletons with little but bungled bank robberies in common. Female members Letha and Lascivious step up as de facto leaders within the group. However, Basilisk and Death Adder have already defected, kidnapping former federal agent G.W. Bridge and coercing him into helping them track down the Punisher.

The conceit of the series—so far—is that the Punisher has shifted his focus away from purely human gangsters to super-powered scoundrels. Castle’s chief assistant is Henry, who in this issue starts chafing with his boss’ s monomaniacal focus on killing targets. A brief scuffle is abruptly stopped with an ultimatum by Castle, who means to kill more criminals before the day is over. The issue closes with a look at the Human Fly, an insect-powered villain whose mental faculties have clearly been drastically affected by his mutation. After the Fly makes short work of a group of policemen, the Punisher appears in the last panel, offering himself as a substitute for Spider-Man.

Author Remender has a good handle on Frank Castle, pitting him against costumed criminals on a regular basis. The magic-powered Hood has become as legitimate an adversary for the Punisher to overcome as the various Mob bosses that have come and gone since the Punisher’s adventures first became a regular series in the 1980’s. A subplot involving tension between sidekick Henry and Castle seems to be reaching a boiling point; something to keep a look out for in future issues.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

MEMORIAM FOR MIKE

Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009

Okay, when did I first listen to the Thriller album..I was in the 4th grade.. Mrs. Slamkowski was our teacher at St. Mary's Elementary. I remember it was a big deal that year that we now went to class on the second floor of our school building. I scarcely remembered that Mike had a new album out.. I definitely knew about first singles "Billie Jean" and "The Girl is Mine" which were already on local radio. We didn't have cable at the house, so whether MTV or BET was playing any Mike videos was a non-issue, really.One afternoon I came home from school, Mom had apparently bought the "Thriller" LP vinyl for me, from K-Mart.

I was.. Thrilled! I really didn't own much pop music "of my own" at that age, mostly just an assortment of kiddie records/story records, among them the Chipmunk Punk album where they covered "My Sharona" and Billy Joel. My oldest siblings were already high school-aged, and they did the neighborhood DJ thing, so they had a lot of the record catalog already, going back to the Motown Jackson 5 era. So that evening I started listening to the record, and enjoying it, trying to dance; but on side B there was a problem. The record was warped... Mike's voice all of a sudden was getting wobbly and slow and, uh, weird in parts.. I was devastated.. Mom took the record back to exchange it for another LP. She brought it home. I put it on the record player. Only this time-- bad lightning struck twice! I forget what song it was, but THIS record was warped, too! Even back then, my personal trend of bad luck was keeping pace.

So, mom takes the record back for another exchange. At last-- Mom decided to opt for a cassette copy. I played it in a portable tape recorder-- this is the era before everybody had a Walkman, of course. Finally, the album played perfectly. Every song. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'. Baby Be Mine. The Girl is Mine. Thriller. Beat It. Billie Jean. Human Nature. Pretty Young Thing. The Lady in My Life.

Needless to say, Mike and his family were hometown heroes to everybody in the Gary region. During Thriller's chart run, I still have dim memories of the Michael-dancing contests, the debates on whether he or Prince was bigger, and classmates openly wondering just how did Mike seem to be singing backup vocals on his own songs (overdubs, of course).

I had the 12-inch doll that had the ‘Grammy Awards 1984’ outfit. Mike made me want to get a jheri curl. Mom said hell no. Thank God for small favors.

In 5th grade, when the now-defunct department chain Zayre’s was having a sidewalk clearance sale, Mom bought me this red shirt/jacket with slight shoulder padding and ostentatious gold buttons which looked like the top Mike wore at the American Music Awards in ’84. I wore it to school on maybe the last day of the second semester-- which was a treat, since we normally had to wear conservative uniforms every day. It was so cool to be me that day, for once. On a side note, I remember Mrs. Slamkowski (who was still teaching 4th grade) remarking to me that I looked like "Sergeant Pepper". It took me some years before I understood just what she was referring to.

I held on to this tape for years. Even as time went on and other music acts became more immediate for me- Run DMC, LL Cool J, Living Colour, Public Enemy—I still occasionally went back to the Thriller tape, and I usually would listen to “Lady in My Life” which, for me, has become the most personally enduring song on the album. I think I may have sold it in a mass-purging of most of my cassette tapes about 10 years ago.. Since then, I've copped the remastered deluxe editions that Sony came out with circa 2001.

I wasn't even born when the Jackson 5 were an up-and-coming group out of Gary. I was too young to have been interested in seeing them when they were at their boy-band peak in the early to mid-1970's. I definitely went out of my way to see him perform on television over the years. During the original chart run of the Thriller album, local Chicago-broadcast TV finally got on the music-video bandwagon and started having music-video shows; I would come home after school and watch WPWR TV-50 's programming, always hoping that a Michael clip would be shown. Mike’s music videos helped make the medium into a genuine subgenre of short films for mass appeal, elevating them from perfunctory lip-synching clips for a presumably limited audience.

I also remember the Motown 25 anniversary show where he "surprisingly" performed "Billie Jean", which we now know was clearly staged. Regrettably, his televised performances were as close as I'd get to seeing him perform live. I remember the Victory tour tickets sold out in hours back in 1984 when that tour was first announced-- and I was too young to realize that Gary was, well, just not on any superstar's touring map once they made it big. During my time growing up in Gary I harbored a fantasy that he'd have some kind of "Homecoming" concert and I'd score a ticket for a good seat (looking back, I don't know where the hell it would have been held-- The creaky Genesis Center? Gilroy Stadium? Ehh... Maybe the Holiday Star..)

I also remember when it became favorable to not be into Mike anymore. It wasn't "hot" to still have a poster of him, or to pick up the latest single (especially going into the alternative-rock & hip-hop-heavy 90s). There was the gradual lightening of his skin, and plastic surgery. The private carnival, zoo, and other exorbitant lifestyle eccentricities. The tabloid stories. The backlash to "They Don't Care About Us". The scandalous allegations which finally erupted in a criminal trial (and acquittal) in the 2000's.

I wish he had lived at least 20 more years-- at the very least, he'd have avoided the cliche' of a celebrity who dies relatively early after a meteoric rise to success early in life. I was intrigued by his recently reported recording sessions with the Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, and other hip-hop personalities. The 'comeback' album was on the way. Maybe even a Jacksons reunion. Still, no one knows when the sand's going to run out of the hourglass.

If Mike's memory is to be uplifted, we can uplift the positive effect his muscal legacy has had on everyone who else who came in his wake. Play one of Mike's records. Whether you have it on vinyl, cassette, CD, or MP3. Play it at home. Play it at work. Play it while driving.


"Looking out, Across the night-time/ The city winks a sleepless eye/ Hear her voice, Shake my window, Sweet seducing sighs/...Get me out , Into the night-time, Four walls wont hold me tonight/If this town, Is just an apple, Then let me take a bite"
Michael Jackson, "Human Nature"

Blessings to Mike and all family & friends!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

GM Needs to be Railroaded

Blessings to all who read this:

Those who live in the state of Michigan bear some of the greatest burdens in light of recent events concerning the automotive industry companies. Indeed, the now-nationwide trend of closing factories and dealerships brings to light just how serious the crisis is. Now that the federal government, via taxpayer money, are majority stakeholders in General Motors, I feel that the engineering and mass-production/assembly resources at GM (and if possible, Chrysler) can and should be used to help design and implement comprehensive mass-transit systems like high speed rail, light rail, and green-friendly alternative-fuel buses for use both regionally and nationwide.

Weren’t the auto factories refitted during World War II to build tanks and such? The American auto industry’s backyard of Michigan would be great to start pilot projects connecting cities with 21st century transit systems. It would be a means of bolstering America’s workforce nationwide and go a long way toward strengthening the economy. In the midst of public debate on what its restructuring means, I feel that there is a potentially missed opportunity not being explored.

Public Transit systems help lessen the overall fuel emissions made by the vehicles we drive. It also helps those who currently can't afford their own vehicle meet family, work and school obligations. Feel free to contact these elected officials about taking better advantage of GM bankruptcy and restructuring plan to directly address the shortcomings in America's transit issues-

Mr. Barack Obama, President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
www.whitehouse.gov

Mr. Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave SE,
Washington, DC 20590

Mr. Matt Welbes
Federal Transit Administration
East Building
1200 New Jersey Ave SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dept. of Transportation website- www.dot.gov

US Senators- www.senate.gov

US House of Represenatives- www.house.gov

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Black and Green

Screenwriter and Author Toni Ann Johnson writes about her efforts to plant trees in her urban Los Angeles neighborhood: http://tinyurl.com/pln75j . It's a very good article, hopefully her efforts will take root (pun intended). There is some movement for similar green-based initiatives in Detroit, including a potential remodeling of the city. It will likely face the same obstacles as Ms. Johnson's efforts faced. Of key interest is the education of an extremely skeptical urban public: http://www.greeningofdetroit.com/, http://tinyurl.com/os8cws, http://tinyurl.com/pnjx7q, http://tinyurl.com/ohfas6

I believe that many people (e.g., racial minorities) who have grown up in starkly urban environs have become socialized to think of our immediate surroundings as the only way things could/should be. We believe that smokestacks and smog equal civilization. The much greener suburbs/exurbs are 'the boondocks' and 'the sticks' at best, Klan-land at the worst. Environmental activism has become synonymous with the "tree-hugger" cliché' of relatively affluent Caucasians who insist on all-organic foods, don't use deodorant and whose toilet paper probably has wood-flakes in it. Dilapidated urban parks have become more known as hang-outs for the homeless or thugs/gangs, and not much is thought of it.

In particular for Detroit, the population has hemorrhaged over the decades to the point where there is less than half the population than the city had in the mid-1950s, and dropping. News reports indicate as much as 30% or more of landspace in the city is vacant. Public schools designed to serve 2,000 students now serve 400. Many neighborhood blocks have half the houses they used to, and not all that remain are even livable due to abandonment. Long-defunct factories, empty warehouses, burnt-out storefronts, and condemned apartment complexes still stand as glaring eyesores, and are also ripe for not just innocuous squatters, but criminal types doing drug business and predators who may take victims there. The gaps in population density make it tougher on having a regular police presence everywhere (in a city of shrinking budgets/deficits). Decaying water mains breaking are a regular occurrence; the rationale against proactive infrastructure reform is that the city tax-base isn't sufficient to cover the costs of a radical overhaul.

If the ongoing crisis for American automakers hasn't sent the message home, the era of being a high school graduate/GED holder (or at one point, even a dropout) and then segueing into a family-supporting career at a steel-refining/vehicle parts/assembly factory is done. It just is. There is no mass-manufacturing movement that attracted black folks (and others) in droves to Detroit and elsewhere. People here have to accept that the population won't ever be what it was. It's way past time to embrace new industries, and seek resources to provide the training for adults and younger people to get involved.

Part of that involves thinking outside the box for creative uses of available land. City schools should have plots of land to work on with students for credit-- push curriculums in schools stressing agriculture, soil science, botany, forestry, urban planning, etc. Why not have fruit & vegetable farms, why not have forest preserves, why not have some bikes-only paths? Unfortunately, once the more cynical, jaded, and uneducated sorts in local leadership/activism get introduced to ideas like urban farming, shutting down depopulated neighborhoods, and "re-greening" in general, the tendency is to start accusations of suburban land-grab, or "They want to turn Detroit into a Plantation" which adds a totally unnecessary racialized spin to redevelopment efforts. Of course, if one is to look at this through the lens of African-American history, agrarian-based skill sets were common to our ancestors but were generationally lost as the industrialization boom manifested. Maybe this needs to be revisited.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

HYPE'S STATE OF DETROIT 2009

The NAACP will have its annual Freedom Weekend workshops by the end of April, 2009. I will be in attendance, and intend in particular to attend the 'Town Hall' meeting(s). I want to ask the panelists what their general views are on encouraging accountability and cultural cooperation internal to the city of Detroit and external.

Even in acknowledgement of the continued presence of racial prejudice, systemic or otherwise, and the fact that there are various individuals who consider themselves adversarial to the city of Detroit and its residents, I feel like Detroit leadership can’t get out of its own way when it comes to rising above the bitter blame games of the past.

Often times it seems that city leaders, activists and others want to stress their pro-black credentials when it comes to election time or if a regional or local community issue comes to a head- The Cobo controversy is just one of many recurring standoffs-- ‘they’ want to take over the water department, , they’ want to take over the school boards; ‘they’ want to take over Belle Isle.. people say ‘they’ so much you would think it’s a corporation based out of Lansing, Rochester or somewhere.

And as much as that kind of rhetoric gets black Detroiters to circle the wagons and support a particular candidate or position, it does little to address substantive reforms in policies that need to take place to improve the quality of life here. It also perpetuates the assumption that there are no people of good will from other cultural groups outside or even inside the city, or the racial landscape of the metro area is the same as it once was in 1965, and it’s just not.
Because Detroit’s population is predominantly African-American, it seems like city leaders adopted the premise that these public city-based institutions are “black owned” by default and therefore free to use as political trump cards just to more or less benefit themselves. I have a problem with that.

African-American leadership has either been at the helm or have held key positions in these institutions for well over the past 30 years, and as of 2009, the state they are in is self-evident., but it seems like such a chore for Detroit residents to get some basic competency and transparency that other communities seem to take for granted. So when it comes to things like city government, city utilities or Detroit Public Schools, it’s like I’m being told “hey brother, we run this, and even if we want to run it into the ground, as long as ‘we’ run it and not ‘them’, then that’s all that matters". What are your thoughts?

Friday, February 27, 2009

VOTE EARLY AND OFTEN!

In 2009, the City of Detroit will have no less than four elections to determine who will be its mayor for (presumably) the next four years. The resignation of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2008 after pleading guilty to perjury and obstruction charges meant that Detroit City Council President Ken Cockrel, Jr. became mayor by default. A clause in the city charter states that any abrupt removal/resignation by a sitting mayor means that a special election must be held within 6 months to determine who will be mayor for the remainder of the term. The primary on February 24 leads to a face-off on May 5 to determine the sitting mayor for the rest of 2009. This being the last year of the current term, another primary was already bound to take place in August, with the final two candidates being placed on a November ballot for a four-year term. Based on the results from the February primary, Cockrel and former Detroit Piston & current steel-magnate Dave Bing will be the candidates to choose from in May. Incidentally, voter turnout was barely 15% of the roughly 650,000 registered voters in the city.

In the interest of full disclosure, this writer voted for Cockrel in the primary-- not that I necessarily think of him as "the ultimate", but for better or worse, I'd rather see him get the chance to "do something" for this remainder of the current term that he took over from Kilpatrick. Based on his state of the city speech, I do like the idea of merging DDOT and SMART bus systems, also the pro-greening/environmental initiatives, but he would have to be a lot more aggressive in this regard, and on other issues. I guess we'll see what happens in May-- of course, then, it's happening all over again in August, with the 'final' election in November.

Just for the sake of getting someone 'completely new' in office, I'm prone to lean toward Bing, but he-- and the other candidates (before the August primary) have to step up in a major way with some clear-cut vision for radical change in the city. Regarding the Cobo Hall controversy (http://www.freep.com/article/20090225/NEWS01/902250310/0/BUSINESS06), I felt it was a bad move for the council members who voted to squash it. Unfortunately, it is reflective of the subculture of territorialism and non-cooperation that has held back the city—and to a great degree, the region— economically, for decades. Regionalism—sharing public resources, sharing public services, is the key to the city & the region's future, not grandstanding.

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009902250307

I am incensed at the city leaders who insist that the state of the city is not as bad as it seems. Downtown redevelopment deals don’t trickle down to the neighborhoods. So there’s a new, expensive hotel that reopened. Hey, that’s nice. Meanwhile, I’m thinking no one who lost their house recently or was evicted from their apartment will get to stay there. Heck, I can't stay there, and I'm working. So Council President Monica Conyers said this vote was in the interest "of Detroiters". Okay. How many people in the city realistically go to Cobo Hall every day if they don’t work there? Or even every week? Every month? To imply that there is some super-windfall of money just waiting to come if Detroit holds onto exclusive control of Cobo is ludicrous. Already the interested parties of the North American Auto Show are talking about Chicago and other cities. Even the premise that Detroiters won't get "preferential" jobs at the facility is flawed. Even if, say, the janitorial contract were awarded to some group headquartered in Roseville, how much you want to bet that at least 50% or more of the people cleaning the bathrooms and buffing the floors will still be black & hispanic? Already, Detroiters are having to find jobs via suburban-based firms. The deal as structured was already giving Detroit board membership & full voting/veto rights; unanimous decisions would be needed to enact internal proposals. I'm not in Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's fan club, but if even he finally got on board with this.. well, anyway...

Detroit is in too desperate a state to continue to rely on the specter of ‘T.H.E.Y., Inc.’ (Terrible Humans Envying You) as the excuse for not enacting substantive changes in governing the city of Detroit. “THEY” want to seize Cobo; “THEY” want to take over the city water department (that recently raised rates on urban residents, hello); “THEY” want to take over downtown; “THEY” want to take over the Detroit Public Schools. But it doesn’t matter if “THEY” allegedly want take over an institution, when said institutions fell into horrendous disrepair and mismanagement under the control of “US” (Unadulterated Stupidity, or Unchecked Simpletons). Anonymous suburban business/political interests are nothing compared to the publicly-known business/political interests in Detroit that are directly making decisions daily that don’t contribute to the improvement of the quality of life in the city. Despite the pockets of redevelopment and moderately successful community initiatives that deserve to be uplifted, the city is still 'dying'. Children are not being educated. Adults who run the system are more concerned with personal perks than passing grades. You can't tell me that a 30% high school graduation rate is okay. You can't tell me that 48% adult illiteracy in the city is okay, or that it doesn't play a role when people try to look for work or maintain a job. You can't! There is no honor in being king, queen or provincial lord of a ghost town. There are no practical benefits in holding onto a proven drain on city resources, but insisting “well at least we control it, and not them!” Guess what? For the folks who want to hold onto 'Chocolate City' idealism, Black people are leaving, too! Local politicians depending on reflexive, divisive rhetoric to get people behind you just isn’t cutting it anymore. Despite what some folks are too willfully ignorant to acknowledge, there are other people besides hardworking black folks who live—and work—in the city, who are of good will, who want to see the city thrive again, and have no problem with fair cooperation. The current structure of city council needs to be totally dissolved. Ideally, the entire city charter should be rewritten (by an independent commission), but just for now I’d settle for a charter revision that requires the city council to have an aldermanic system, separating the city into distinct precincts (perhaps sharing precinct designations with police) and having one individual representing that area who must also live there! remove the power of city council to stonewall on projects like Cobo. Yeah, it's going to be a wild ride until May and beyond. Strap yourselves in... ;)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

THE NIGNORANCE MUST STOP


That was not a typo in the title.

Professional wrestling has more in common with the contemporary hip-hop scene than most within hip-hop are willing to admit. Both the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' tend to have bad attitudes. People give vainglorious speeches touting how they're going to roll over the competition. If asked if all of this is 'fake', you might get a verbal dressing-down, or worse. If the mainstream media comes calling regarding a real-life violent incident, the favorite retort is, "Hey, it's entertainment, don't blame us." Vince McMahon would be proud.

Hip-hop's latest "when the hell did this happen?" beef stewing is between 50 Cent and Rick Ross. Both of these performers have new albums coming out, promised by spring. Of particular interest are questions concerning each artist's much-vaunted street credibility. Last year, Ross (real name: William Leonard Roberts) weathered scrutiny because of leaked photos showing him completing a correctional officer's training course circa 1994. The former Mr. Roberts also based his stage name on the infamous 'Freeway' Ricky Ross of Los Angeles, who loomed large in the 1980's crack epidemic in California. Circa 2003, a DVD hit shelves chronicling the short life of Kelvin Martin, a Queens-NY hoodlum who originated the moniker of '50 Cent', years before street-level crack peddler named Curtis Jackson (also from Queens) decided to adopt the name as he started his career in rap. In interviews posted on YouTube and elsewhere, 50 interviews an ex-girlfriend of Ross (and mother of one of his children), as she dishes about his allegedly meager financial status in the years before he signed a major record deal. Ross, for his part, alleges that this woman was an ex-maid of his (if so, real classy, Rick, screwing the help, literally) and that 50 is just paying her money to make waves. Ross also asserts that 50 is desperate to refurbish his star status after his Curtis LP was eclipsed in sales by Kanye West's Graduation in 2007. Other hip-hoppers like the Game and Fat Joe have made public statements concerning their take on the matter.

And now, as of the night of the Grammy Awards, 2009, hip-hop/soul singer Chris Brown turned himself in to the Los Angeles Police Department where he was booked on aggravated assault charges. Curiously, singer Rihanna (the pair collaborated on her song "Umbrella" and have been rumored to be dating) was supposed to perform at the Grammys, but dropped out abruptly; a spokesperson for Rihanna described bodily injuries as the reason for the no-show. Wonder how that happened? http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/02/rb-singer-chris.html

In this writer's estimation, whether or not one concerns themselves deeply about these type of misadventures depends one's tolerance level for nignorance (what?).

Nignorance is when young people (of whatever background) are made fun of and/or targeted for harassment for sticking with school and avoiding the street life.

Nignorance is when Prison and Drug-game moral and ethical boundaries are allowed to overtake a young person's worldview at an early age, and further are allowed to creatively and thematically stifle the social-poltiical depth of hip-hop music. Straight-up crime-culture magazines like FEDS and others regularly feature articles with and about rappers.

The term "captive audience" has taken on a new life as the mass-incarceration percentage of blacks and hispanics is higher than their percentage in the general U.S. population (http://www.ppic.org/main/pressrelease.asp?i=635). You have people doing hard time catching fits about who is more of a genuine 'street' artist, writing lengthy letters to hip-hop culture mags like The Source, XXL, and others. Never mind that 'keeping it real' is what lands any number of heads behind bars to begin with.

Nignorance is rap artists not being genuine and upfront about about their lifestyles before they became big names ("i had some tough times, did some things i'm not proud of, but music was my ticket out, and i'm trying to elevate"), but instead concocting elaborate backstories about being major drug-game figures before their record deals.

Nignorance is accepting uncritically the notion that a young black man aged 15 - 25 can have a self-contained drug empire pulling in a 6 - 7 figure income annually, not become a marked man for the Mob/Mafia and the police authorities, and not come out of this in jail for life, dead, or broke. To do so ignores a slew of American realities.

Nignorance is a purportedly prosperous 'street merchant' choosing not to divest from crime and invest their gains in otherwise profitable and legitimate endeavors like real estate, construction, waste management, medical/auto/life insurance, starting a credit union, opening other neighborhood businesses like laundromats, grocery stores, etc., but instead they choose to start chasing down record company A&Rs, hawking CDs out the trunk of their car, competing in open-mic-night contests where the grand prize is a bottle of champagne, to ultimately settling for a few hundred-thousand in advance money from a record label, then arguing with them about all the deductions from their semi-annual royalty statement.

Nignorance is these folks choosing to indulge their vices and bad habits with their newfound affluence instead of easing away from those things that led to trouble in their past.

Nignorance is these folks preferring the title of 'hustler', 'gangsta', and 'thug' over 'entertainer', 'artist', or 'musician'.

Sherdavia Jenkins was one of the deceased victims of the recent Miami, Fla. (Ross's hometown backyard) shootout where a street-corner dice game became deadly. The 9-year old Ms. Jenkins was standing on her porch when one of the bullets from an automatic rifle hit her. http://www.miamiherald.com/multimedia/news/sherdavia/index.htm

One only hopes that both 50, Ross, and Brown both know that life is more important than a record, or even their pride. If 50 or Ross end up having an early demise due to violence, I'm sure that somebody out there will probably propose that one of their childhood streets be renamed for them (so can you call that 'street credibility'?). Whatever the legal consequences end up being for Brown, he's young enough to still have a career ahead of him. But would that really be worth it?

EPMD Means Business on Latest

Artist: EPMD
Album: We Mean Business
Label: EP/Fontana

We Mean Business is the seventh studio album from hip-hop veterans EPMD. In the midst of the glaring absence of Golden Age hip-hop personalities, EPMD attempts a bailout for the boom-bap. Erick Sermon and Parish Smith seek to prove that there is still a place for hip-hoppers whose careers date back to the Reagan White House. Nine years since their last effort (1999’s Out of Business) E and P are still issuing smackdowns to sucker MCs, only now it’s under the premise of elder statesmen showing the young guns how it’s done.

Some standout songs include “Bac Stabbers” (where the pair address rumors of falling out with each other) and “Puttin Work In” with Wu-Tang’s Raekwon. On “Actin’ Up”, Sermon and Smith trade lines like “I’m the blueprint for those who can’t lose/ I wrote them checks so I paid them dues.” In keeping with their self-contained tradition, the LP is mostly self-produced by Sermon & Smith, but 9th Wonder avails himself on “Left 4 Dead”, in addition to work by DJ Honda and newcomer JFK. They maintain the group’s East Coast funkateer roots without sounding dated.

Guest rappers are overly ubiquitous on today’s hip-hop albums, but EPMD manage to make the most of their features here, mostly sticking to longtime associates like Redman (“Yo!”), Keith Murray (“They Tell Me”) and Method Man (“Never Defeat ‘Em”). The best guest-appearance is easily “Run It” featuring fellow classic-schooler KRS-One. Here, a chopped-up-and-revised Just-Ice groove provides the backdrop for the Teacher to drop knowledge: “Y’all are young so you need to be gangsters/ while real g’s want to sit home and read the paper/courtside view at the Lakers/ but there’s always some young’un you gotta send to his maker..”

Teddy Riley manages to not be annoying with Auto-Tune crooning on “Listen Up”, but “Jane” seems like a throwaway interlude more than a fully realized song. The duo’s early turntable collaborator K-La-Boss (now called DJ 4our 5ive) returns to add scratches over the rhythm tracks, something that has also been missing from most contemporary hip-hop.

With radio play increasingly rare for any rap act with 10 years or more under their belt, EPMD probably aren’t trying to hook the Plies and Soulja Boy audience. E-Double and the Mic Doctor act as if a day hasn’t gone by since their heyday, and the album is better for it.