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.