Sunday, December 19, 2010


Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and four others stand newly indicted by a federal grand jury. The others charged include Kilpatrick’s father Bernard Kilpatrick (currently a local political consultant), ex-official of the Detroit Water Department Victor Mercado, Kilpatrick mayoral aide Derrick Miller and local construction businessman Bobby Ferguson. A six-year investigation preceded the 38 total indictments—some of the charges include extortion, bribery and racketeering. The junior Kilpatrick is already in prison regarding a parole violation earlier this year.

According to articles in the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, Kwame Kilpatrick's entry into ethically questionable practices stretched as far back as his stint in the State of Michigan legislature where he represented Detroit from 1996 to 2001, the year that he was elected as the youngest mayor in the city of Detroit (allegedly there were secret payoffs to allow Kilpatrick to become the Democratic Floor Leader and House Democratic Leader.)

Once elected, the feds allege that Kilpatrick and his camp of advisors, chief among whom would be his father Bernard, regularly tapped local businesspeople for payoffs to get favors in various aspects of city contracts, especially where it concerns construction-and-utility-related projects. A list of alleged payoffs is as follows, totaling in the millions of dollars:

Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta has raised the issue of the Justice Department apparently granting immunity to some parties who may have been the donors in the various alleged kickback schemes:

The rise and fall of this once favored son of Detroit has recently been documented by this author: Kilpatrick's ongoing string of legal misadventures have made national, even international headlines, during the past few years.

Kilpatrick was fond of a form of populism that initially engendered overflowing goodwill from Detroit's predominately African-American constituency. He was fond of mentioning his religious leanings, often mentioning God in speeches and interviews. At the memorial service for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks (who was a longtime resident of Detroit by the time she died) Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan was one of the invited speakers, at the request of Kilpatrick (and possibly to the silent chagrin of some in attendance, including Governor Jennifer Granholm, who looked quite nervous.)

If one accepts the (somewhat broad) premise that if the city of Detroit is 85% African-American, then the tax money that Kilpatrick and his cronies were fooling around with was roughly 85% African-American as well. Juxtapose that notion with the smug defiance and dismissiveness that Kilpatrick showed in the initial months after his secret text-messages were revealed, and you have on display a man that seemingly holds in contempt the people that he is supposed to represent (as well as presumably having an elevated cultural empathy for.)

On the surface Kilpatrick offered a form of genteel Afrocentric solidarity that made him a folk-hero for locals, a more legitimate successor to longtime former mayor Coleman Young (who served 5 terms, 1974 - 1993). Young's personal style was marked by brusque blunt-spokenness, especially concerning racism-- Young took office in the early 70s when racial strife was still seething in the city (divestment by white residents and businesses ratcheted up after the city riots of 1967: Detroit flipped from being roughly 30% black by the mid-60's to being about 80% by the late 70s.) Young had a cooperative relationship with Democratic President Jimmy Carter; much less so with Ronald Reagan and the conservative revolution of the 1980s. Young's immediate successor and Kilpatrick's predecessor Dennis Archer managed to serve two terms (1994 - 2001) but is held in low opinion by many urban locals who felt he was an accommodationist to then-Republican Governor John Engler.

Sidebar: Archer's administration, like a lot of contemporary urban mayors, concentrated on getting downtown redevelopments going, after a decades-long disinvestment that left Downtown Detroit resembling a modern ghost town. Still, this left a lot to be desired for broader neighborhood issues-- Archer's most glaring embarrassment hit in winter of '97 when a tremendous blizzard hit the city, blanketing the city in several feet of snow. Archer was on vacation at the time--
and the initial word from city hall regarding snow cleanup was that no
residential streets would be plowed. The public backlash was palpable, and
within less than a week Archer was back in town his position was changed.

Despite all of this, throughout the initial text-message scandal and the court appearances that followed, Kilpatrick still could count on a loyal, vocal sect of (mostly) African-American supporters. Most typically, the sentiment being raised was that he was a semi-messianic figure who was laid low by a quasi-anonymous conspiracy of political power-players ranging from the near suburbs to state government in Lansing; and whatever his 'crimes' (often, Kilpatrick's extra-marital affair with advisor Christine Beatty is pointed out to be the only 'offense'), they weren't any worse than what various white politicians have presumably gotten away with in other communities.

In fairness, the charges, serious as they are, are just that for now-- charges. In a move that annoys those who are annoyed with the Kilpatricks, both father and son have retained public defenders, claiming personal poverty. RICO statutes were used to put together the case against the accused. It remains to be seen who among these men indicted will be forced to stand trial, and if so, who-- if anyone-- will be convicted. Regardless of the outcome, the present circumstances are another gut-punch to the morale of city residents and the entire metro area. In particular for the city, under the leadership of current mayor Dave Bing, it is trying for the first time to revision a long-term outlook for the city. Pending 2010 Census results will likely put Detroit's population at well under 1 million, a far cry from its mid-20th century peak of about twice that. The Detroit Works Project seeks input from the general public on how to best make the use of the available land in the city--- Detroit has 139 square miles of land, roughly 30% of which is effectively abandoned or otherwise vacant.

Revisioning the city will take being able to somehow get beyond the violations of the past-- both real and perceived. In the case of the "Kilpatrick Enterprise" (as the Feds have dubbed the alleged graft operations) the ongoing woes of the former mayor and his confidantes threatens to derail any progressive outcomes of this ongoing initiative. On one end of the reactionary spectrum are those metro-area suburbanites greater-Michigan residents who tend to feel that all urban (and black/Democratic-aligned) politicians are corrupt by default, Detroit is forever the urban-wasteland of John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" in their eyes and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot (or worse, a liberal). On the other end of the reactionary spectrum are certain African-American residents of the city and vicinity, embittered by contemporary conflicts, who feel that pointing out black corruption is only fair if there is a white counterpart to share an indictment, or that publicly aligning one's self to a Higher Power means that any and all mistakes-- including blatantly criminal choices-- should be forgiven without repercussions.

This week's events should not-- they can not-- define Detroit from now on. The city-- and the country-- deserve much better.

In Detroit Michigan at Second Ebenezer Church there was a community town hall meeting held. The subject was crime prevention in the city of Detroit. Hosting pastor Bishop Edgar Vann was in attendance, as was Detroit city council president Charles Pugh, who served as official moderator of the event. There were about 20 or so individuals on the panel, mostly representing different aspects of law enforcment. Among them were members of: Detroit Police Dept., Detroit Public School Police, Michigan DEA, Michigan ATF, Homeland Security, Michigan Dept. of Corrections, Wayne County Sheriffs, and Michigan State Police. Kym Worthy of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office was present, as was the US Justice Dept.'s Barbara McQuade. John Broad, the Presidnet of anonymous tip-line CrimeStoppers Michigan was there, as was an executive of the Skillman Foundation and representaives from local non-profit social-work agencies/Community Development Coalitions. The event was sparsely attended, though obviously the inclement weather contributed to the low turnout, as Metro Detroit had just experienced a bad winter storm.
Detroit City Councilwoman Brenda Jones was in the audience but not on the panel. Each panelist had roughly two minutes explaining their agency's function and what program(s)/practices are in effect in Detroit that are ongoing.
Questions (written on index cards and read by Pugh) were asked of the panel.. The one that got the most debate was concerning prisoner re-entry. The Dept. of Corrections rep mentioned the programs they had, and made passing mention of Kym Worthy's disagreement with some of their policies. Worthy offered a sharp rebuttal about her concerns of violent offenders being released prematurely and not just non-violent offenders. counter-points were made by both of them for a few minutes before finally moving on.
Other questions raised-- what can schools do about bullying... how can the gang issue be addressed, in light of school consolidations and neighborhood rivals being corralled together.. what is the benefit of testifying regarding crime... is crime-stoppers truly anonymous.. why are there no more police mini-stations in the city.. is it wise to "confront" the known malefactors in the neighborhood..

Monday, December 13, 2010

Artist: Public Enemy
Release: Greatest Sites and Sounds: Bring the Noise, the Hits, Vids and Doc Box
Label: Slam Jamz/Total Box Music

Greatest Sites and Sounds (Bring the Noise, the Hits, Vids and Doc Box) is the first boxed set release from the storied hip-hop band Public Enemy. Subtitled Chapter 2: 1999 – 2009, the collection focuses almost exclusively on the group’s post-Def Jam era of recordings, released through Chuck D’s Slam Jamz label. The set’s content is split up into no less than six parts: three music CDs and three DVDs.

The CDs are loaded with 20 tracks each, featuring ten years worth of singles, album cuts, live performance excerpts and remixes from the six studio albums, remix compilations and solo recordings that the band has collectively logged since the tail end of the Clinton presidency. The core lineup of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and DJ Lord (who replaced Terminator X as the band’s turntable man) stand out on songs like “Do You Wanna Go Our Way???”, “Black is Back”, and “41: 19”. “Fight the Power” and “Can’t Truss It” will be familiar to casual fans but the remainder of material will be functionally new, since radio play has seemed to evade the group since the late 90s. The Bomb Squad continues on in spirit with production by longtime collaborators Gary G-Wiz, Johnny Juice, Griff and C-Doc the Warhammer, among others.

The DVDs include music videos from many of the songs represented here as well as live-in-concert footage and behind-the-scenes documentaries recorded by assorted crew members. The camaraderie of the group’s expanded lineup (including guitarist Khari Wynn, drummer Mike Faulkner, bassist Brian “Hardgroove” Hargrove) is showcased and sheds light on how this band has continued to be an in-demand concert draw years (decades?) after many of their peers and successors have slid into inactivity.

Firings, rehab, early retirement and reality shows of various members have not dulled the band’s musical edge or messages. Public Enemy has embraced international and Internet audiences, surviving the trends and for the progressive hip-hop fan stand far above the self-styled drug barons, emo-kids, and bling-kings of today’s rap scene. Greatest Sites and Sounds is a testament to their relevance and longevity.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Never discount the political schizophrenia of the American electorate. In Michigan, largely self-financed and self-described ‘tough nerd’ GOP candidate Rick Snyder has beaten back Lansing mayor Virg Bernero in the gubernatorial race. Bill Schuette, a former 4th District Michigan Court of Appeals judge, beat Gennessee-County area prosecutor David Leyton in the race for attorney general, and current Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson beat Wayne State law professor Jocelyn Benson in the race for Secretary of State. Snyder is considered by his supporters to be a moderate Republican, and he was the surprise winner in the Republican primary earlier this year, beating out traditional GOP idealogues such as western Michigan congressman Pete Hoekstra, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and current Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Snyder managed to snag votes from the Republican base of right leaners as well as the conservative Independents, and also some centrist Democrats- some of whom considered themselves repulsed by the aggressive populism of Bernero, who beat out the comparably moderate Michigan legislature Speaker of the House Andy Dillon (D-Redford).

By now we all know how things turned out nationwide… I spent the Election Day afternoon at the local NAACP helping with their Voter-Info\Assistance hotline.. The Michigan 13th District’s Hansen Clarke (Clarke claims African-American and Bangladeshi heritage, a statistical first for Congress) is going to be my new U.S. Congressional rep, but since he’ll be a 'freshman' and with the new GOP House majority, he may possibly get stuck on some toothless committee.. it will be a depressing holiday season for me.

Snyder, current venture capitalist and a former founder and executive of Gateway Computers (,_Inc.), is a native of the breakfast-cereal capitol of Battle Creek, Mich., and has resided for many years now in the college town of Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan.

In his victory speech, Snyder pledged that Michigan's urban centers will get their due attention from his administration. Curiously, as of today, Snyder announced that three of his top cabinet members will be veterans of the John Engler Administration —John Engler was the last Republican governor in Michigan, who served from 1991 – 2001. Engler was considered a right-wing idealogue by progressives, and among the more notorious policies he enacted was to drastically cut state funding for public mental health services. The former governor now resides in the state capitol of Lansing, and is touted as a possible advisor. Engler has downplayed speculation that he is eyeing the senate seat of Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who is up for re-election in 2012.

Certainly from the 1980 elections forward, Michigan has been chock full of ‘Reagan Democrats’ ( alongside GOP loyalists. The presence of organized labor has dwindled nationwide over the past 40+ years, and has been less potent of a political power-player, with the possible exception of local political races. To be union-affiliated carries more weight in urban and working-class near-urban areas, but union-culture ambivalence and/or hostility increases in Michigan’s myriad small-town, rural and exurban areas (coincidentally, the racial diversity also drops sharply in these areas as well), especially as one explores further in the state’s northern regions. ‘Detroit run amok’ has long been a scare tactic of various state politicos since the social upheaval of the 1960s.

Disappointingly, but predictably, urban Detroit's voter turnout was relatively low- As far as urban-voter apathy goes, I don’t know what it means long-term except that there is a large demographic of folks who do not see any elected officials/politicians as being relevant to their day-to-day existence/survival, and the challenge is to help them see what are the pragmatic benefits to being engaged and involved that don’t involve running off a bunch of statistics that the layperson doesn’t consider informative. In Detroit, the comfort in which people vent at barber shops, beauty salons and bars tends not to translate into voter action.

Mass incarceration will likely continue as a trend—current governor Jennifer Granholm instituted a program in her second term that started minimum-sentence “early” release for non-violent offenders and others who are not considered a high risk (e.g., elderly, ill/infirmed). This program will possibly get scuttled by the next administration to fit the law-and-order hardliners’ agendas. The current tax-credits program for the film/TV/Video-game industry currently promises a 42% return for productions that are spending $50K or more on a project in Michigan. The program will now face relentless scrutiny, and the tax-credit rate will likely get cut down drastically.

Improved mass-transit is a toss-up. Certainly Snyder will not cop to anything resembling trying to force General Motors and Chrysler to get behind new transit/rail developments in the state. During his campaign he has agreed that better transit is important. However, the fiscal-conservatives and anti-tax hardliners among Republicans/Indies will likely balk at any new developments initiated with public funding. A new rail-line planned for Detroit's Woodward avenue may well end at Eight Mile Road.

An amendment also passed that bans former elected officials who were convicted of felonies involving ‘misrepresenting the public trust’ from running for office for 20 years after their conviction. While this presumably applies to all, it became unofficially known as the Kwame Kilpatrick amendment. Whenever Kilpatrick (and former Detroit city councilwoman Monica Conyers) get out of prison, it may be more feasable for them to get a gigs as talk-radio hosts than to try and get back in public service.

As the new year-- and new state government/Congressional lineup comes in, we'll see what happens. The auto companies got the bailout they wanted, but will the city of Detroit?

Friday, October 22, 2010


This week pioneering hip-hop act the Fat Boys have been profiled on TV-One's documentary series, "Unsung". Think of it as a version of VH-1 Behind the Music, but exclusively focusing on urban music acts. Check the TV One website at to see the entire episode stream online, as well as to see when it will be aired again. In the meanwhile, this author penned a review of the group's greatest hits compilation, originally released in 1997- an updated hits set can be found on Itunes and

Fat Boys

All Meat, No Filler - The Best of the Fat Boys

label- Rhino
As of 2003, despite there being over 20 years of recorded hip-hop and rap music, the genre still has a relative dearth of archival collections. Part of the problem is most rap acts have not sustained careers beyond one or two albums.

Another is that many early rap acts recorded for independent - and now defunct - labels, which make it that much harder to assemble a proper compilation.

Rhino Records' All Meat, No Filler - The Best of the Fat Boys hopes to satisfy hip-hop aficionados with a jones for Reagan-era rap. The disc covers all the bases, from "Jailhouse Rap" to "Falling in Love" and more.

In 1984, Mark Morales, Darren Robinson and Damon Wimbley were all still in high school in Brooklyn, NY, when a local rap talent show was announced.

The contest featured a first prize of a recording contract with the indie label, Sutra. The young trio, calling themselves the Disco Three, joined the competition, but their eyes were on a different prize - second prize was a home stereo.

Morales (Prince Markie Dee) and Wimbley (Kool Rock-Ski) would do the rap vocals, while Robinson (Buffy) did vocal percussion as "The Human Beatbox." They got the top response and the top prize.

Early rap personality Kurtis Blow took them on as a mentor and producer. The trio would soon abandon the Disco Three name when, according to their manager,they ran up a $300 bill in room service at a hotel, prompting him to complain, "You fat boys! You making me broke!"

Produced by Blow, their self-titled 1984 debut sold over 500,000 copies, making it one of the first rap albums to be certified gold. Their follow-up albums, Fat Boys are Back and Big & Beautiful, continued the hit streak.

Despite earning three gold albums in a row, the group left Sutra Records. Subsequently, they signed with Mercury Records, making them one of the first rap acts to sign with a major industry label. The year 1987's Crushin' paired the band with the Beach Boys for the unlikely collaboration, "Wipeout". It was a pop smash, and it propelled the group to double-platinum heights.

"The Disorderlies" was a film comedy built around the Fat Boys, where the industry promoted them as "the Three Stooges of Rap." It didn't do great at the box office that summer, but the soundtrack did feature the Boys' cover of the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man."

1988's Coming Back Hard Again featured hit covers of "The Twist" and "Louie Louie". They would perform at that year's MTV awards with Chubby Checker.

They also did a song for that year's "Nightmare on Elm Street 4" soundtrack, featuring a rap by Robert Englund.

But the Boys had become weary of reworking oldies for material. Rap's street audience had started moving on to heavier stuff, and pop radio was catching on to newer faces like the Fresh Prince and Young MC.

"On N On" in 1989 arrived with little fanfare, and was their least-selling album. By this time, the Boys had launched a lawsuit against Sutra over alleged unpaid royalties, that was finally settled out of court. In a 1990 press conference, they announced plans to take some time off, but essentially, it would be their last group appearance as a trio.

Since then, Wimbley and Robinson recorded an album as a duo, and Morales has recorded two solo albums, working intermittently as a producer for artists like Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey. In 1995, Robinson died from heart-related problems, scuttling tentative reunion plans.

As of 2007, Morales is an on-air personality at a Miami, Florida radio station. The catalog for the Fat Boys has morphed even further since the release of this compilation: In the late 90's, BMG Special Products (now Sony/BMG Special Products) purchased the Buddah/Kama Sutra Recordings catalog, from which their first three LPs belong; also, in the late 90's, Universal Recordings purchased Polygram Entertainment, where the masters of their three albums recorded for Tin Pan Apple/Polydor lie. Rhino Recordings, a subsidiary of Warner Music, apparently allowed this compilation to go out of print.

Any new compilation will have to license the songs from two distinct recording catalogs: Sony/BMG and Universal- never an easy task. Currently, the first three albums from the group have seen limited re-release on CD in Europe. Hopefully, a proper stateside re-release will follow from Sony/BMG, which would include the first three albums and bonus material on each CD, and maybe a bonus DVD with the music videos. Though the Tin Pan Apple recordings are not considered as vital, Universal could do the same, though, at least re-releasing the "Crushin'" and "Coming Back Hard Again" albums.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


On Saturday, August, 28, 2010, a gathering of several thousand participants took place in downtown Detroit, Michigan. Coinciding with the Michigan Democratic Party's nomination convention, the rally was headed up by activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and recently elected United Auto Workers union president Bob King.
The march was held on the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington in 1963. The march and rally were organized by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the United Auto Workers union.
Along the way, the march grew as convention goers and others joined in, culminating in Campus Martius Park downtown, where a stage was set up. Among the other notables who participated in the march were Mayor Dave Bing, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., state Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero, and his running mate Brenda Lawrence.
Conyers, for his part, reminded the audience that a similar march took place in Detroit in 1963 before Dr. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” sermon, and that a form of the speech was delivered in Detroit during that event.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


“Whatever happened to the Gods and the Earths/ They thirst for a pot of gold God worth his birth/ Knowledge is worth more than diamonds/ When the mind is shining, surprise us”
Poor Righteous Teachers, “Gods, Earths and 85-ers”, 1996

So, a group of developers plan to build a house of worship in an urban area. As it so happens, this house of worship—combined with a cultural center and recreation gym (open to anyone)—would be built mere blocks from where a terrible crime was committed. Not necessarily a big deal. Considering that houses of worship are generally considered to positively add to the color and appeal of a community, the furthest thing that building such a center should inspire would be accusations and counter-accusations of hate and intolerance? Right?


In New York City, plans are currently in limbo for an Islamic community center (including dedicated rooms for prayer and religious activities) to be potentially built just a few city blocks from the former location of the World Trade Center, which was laid asunder in the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. If the construction is allowed to take place, it can be a powerful statement to the world about the best of America: its social tolerance and upholding of personal and religious freedoms in particular.

A few months after the controversy first unfolded, President Obama met the controversy head on—inadvertently. At a recent White House dinner acknowledging the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the President stated that Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," according to a White House speech transcript. He went further to state that such liberties include "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property… in accordance with local laws and ordinances." Subsequent comments from the President and White House spokespersons clarified that the President was not endorsing the facility construction, but merely pointing out the legality for it to take place.

The usual suspects among right-wing media pundits—Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and company—offered that allowing such a facility to be built anywhere near ‘Ground Zero’ as tantamount to spitting in the face of patriotic Americans, in particular the family of those people who lost someone in the disaster or in the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ditto for ex-officials like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, in particular, made the bafflingly incendiary comparison of building an Islamic-themed community center to allowing a Nazi-Germany themed facility to be built next to a Jewish synagogue.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) initially balked at commenting, to the consternation of Tea Party flag-wavers. Also, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, an erstwhile Republican who in recent months officially declared himself an Independent, called the President’s comments "clarion defense of the freedom of religion."

“Back in the days of Sherlock Holmes, a man was judged by a clue… Now he’s judged by if he’s Spanish, Black, Italian, or Jew…”
Boogie Down Productions, “Who Protects Us from You?”, 1989

Not that the political right have a lock on taking a really ignorant stance in all of this: While progressives (or "the professional left" as described by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) might be fooled into thinking that Democrats across the board have their back in the debate, they would be dead wrong.

A spokesperson for Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada, who is up for reelection this year) said in a statement, "Senator Reid respects (freedom of religion) but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” This sentiment was echoed by former Vermont senator Dr. Howard Dean, who opined that the mosque should simply be built elsewhere . Well, if Dean still wanted to reach out to the Americans ‘driving around with Confederate flags on their trucks’ as he did during his last presidential bid, he sure did this week.

Florida U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene—a Democrat—jumped into the fray, bashing the President’s statements- "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero… since Islamic terrorists have… celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans”. Greene’s a billionaire, so presumably, having the President visit his state to help fundraise—or at least offer moral support—just wasn’t a priority, so all was clear for Greene to take potshots at the guy he wants to serve under.
Perhaps ironically, a more reasoned statement came from Florida’s Republican Governor Charlie Crist: "I think (Obama’s) right — I mean you know we're a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others…This is a place where you're supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can't." Incidentally, Crist for some time now has already been tagged as being dead weight to the staunch right-wingers of Republican activists for taking occasional moderate stances.


“I’m not a Muslim, but I do support them… My Father in Heaven taught me and taught them…”
Boogie Down Productions, “Ya Know the Rules”, 1990

According to the nonprofit activist group Democracy for America (who broke ranks with co-founder Dean on his stance), there exist current several legal conflicts involving proposed mosques to be built in such locales as Southern California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Illinois, among others. New York City boosters often proudly uplift the city’s cosmopolitan, multi-cultural history, citing it as a classic example of the great American ‘melting pot’ metaphor. Yet, if a facility that connects to Islamic culture can’t be built there, what chance does a similar project have in the less-intensively ethnically diverse Heartland states?

If a drunk driver kills someone while driving a Ford Focus, I doubt if there will be legislation to ban such cars just to appease grieving family and friends. Respectfully, it’s just not realistic.

The reactionaries who hate the idea of a mosque near the Ground Zero site are basically standing by the following premise:
· People who bomb buildings are evil.
· The people who bombed buildings on 9/11 were Muslims.
· Therefore, all Muslims are evil.
This is a classic logical fallacy that anyone who graduated high school should be familiar with.

Then again, maybe being familiar with such things as ‘logical fallacies’ places one in the company of the ‘cultural elitists’ that conservative-culture mouthpieces like to rail against. Too much book-learnin’s a bad thing in some social circles. This may explain why George W. Bush was elected twice in a row to the White House. But I digress.

I wonder would the same vigorous standard be applied, to, say, the site near the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing 0f 1995. Let's say someone wanted to build a Christian Church a few blocks away. The late Timothy McVeigh and his sympathizers in the right-wing Militia movements without fail tend to align themselves with a fundamentalist strain of Protestant Christianity. So would people be up in arms about a church being built there, or instead embrace it as a potential source of healing and proof that an act terror cannot quash the ideals of those of good faith?

But because many Americans are willfully ignorant whenever they feel like being so, because many Americans like to boast of the freedoms and tolerance that our nation is said to offer until something they don't like comes along, now the NIMBY-Americans are openly calling to revive Jim Crow culture concerning houses of worship (again)..

“I bow my head to the east five times a day… I put my face in the dirt every time I pray”
House of Pain, “Pass the Jinn”, 1996

You might be led to think that this is 2001-02 all over again, and legislation like the Patriot Act and most of the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld doctrine gets passed without any resistance at all from Democrats. People like Dean, Reid and likely other conservative-district “Blue Dog” Democrats have shamefully kowtowed to right-wing culture vitriol, if only to potentially score points with moderate Republican loyalists and self-described Independents who tend to skew conservative in their voting habits.

Progressives are being treated by establishment Democrats like the geeky kids in middle/high school who get ditched by their own when one of them gets invited to the Cool Kids’ table by somebody who needs help with their homework (or more to the point, someone to do it for them). It’s temporary, and before long the erstwhile defector is getting beaned in the head with raisins and shoved into lockers again. But hey, they got a taste of the ‘good life’ for a minute, right? Democrats want to dominate the midterm elections so badly that several clearly are willing to sweep their allegedly core values on diversity and tolerance under the rug in order to appease a constituency that will never—and I mean never—waver in their animosity and obstructionism.

So, if New York state governor David Patterson’s 11th hour efforts work to sell state land far from Ground Zero to the mosque developers is ‘successful’ then the facility gets built far from Ground Zero: the patriotic are vindicated that Al-Qaeda USA (TM pending) have been stopped in their tracks from having an obvious training house; visiting tourists and the still-grieving won’t have to glimpse anyone nearby wearing a kufi, turban, or hijab, except maybe for the taxi driver that takes them there and the vendor who sells them a hot pretzel. All the good folk win.

Somehow, I get the feeling that there are kids of the Muslim faith who might not agree.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


“I’ma put it in hard, help these kids…”
Shyne, XXL interview.
Professional wrestling has more in common with hip-hop than most folks are willing to admit. Most popular rappers tend to have some kind of don’t-test-me attitude. They give proud speeches about how they're going to roll over the competition. Ask them whether all of this is 'fake', you might get a verbal beat-down, or worse. If the mainstream press buzzes about a real-life violent incident with a connection to rap (say, a shooting before, during or after a concert), the favorite retort is, "Hey, it's entertainment, don't blame us." Vince McMahon would be proud.
Atlanta native Young Jeezy, interviewed in XXL, maintains that he should be given the crown of authenticity compared to other rappers whose past lifestyles allegedly don’t match up to the themes in their songs.

Native Belizean Shyne was recently released from a 10-year prison bid following a trial involving himself and former mentor Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs—in the aftermath of a nightclub shootout in 1999. For his part, Shyne professes that he acted in self-defense, and stresses that his prison behavior kept pace with ‘street codes’.
Whether or not one concern themselves deeply about this depends one's tolerance level for ‘nignorance’.
Nignorance is when prison and drug-game morals and ethics spill from those subcultures into the general community, and are allowed to creatively and thematically stifle the political depth of hip-hop music. The inane debate over ‘no snitching’ in urban neighborhoods illustrates this.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my people.”
Shyne, XXL interview.
Incarcerated folk catch fits about who is more of a genuine 'street' artist, writing lengthy letters to magazines like XXL, The Source, Don Diva and others. Of course, 'keeping it real' is what lands any number of heads behind bars to begin with. Here’s the breakdown for blacks and Latinos in U.S. prisons: ( ‘Captive audience’, indeed.
Nignorance is rappers concocting (and their hangers-on supporting) elaborate stories about being major drug-gamers before their record deals. It’s accepting the notion that a young black/Latino aged 15 - 25 can have a self-contained million-dollar drug empire, not become a marked man for the Mob and/or police, and not come out the other end of this in jail, dead, or broke. To do so ignores a slew of American realities. This goes for Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and everyone else who has claimed ‘street king’ status in their past.
Nignorance is a prosperous 'street merchant' choosing not to invest their gains in legitimate endeavors like real estate, waste management, credit unions, Laundromats, grocery stores, etc., but instead start chasing down label reps, hawking CDs from their car trunk, competing in open-mic-nights, to ultimately settling for a cash-advance from a record label, then arguing about the deductions from their semi-annual royalty statements.

Rap musicians should know that life is more important than a record, or even their pride. If any of them have a violent demise, can you call it ‘street credibility’ if their childhood street gets renamed for them?

President Obama recently signed legislation that cuts down the disparities in sentencing of those caught with crack-cocaine vs. powdered coke. A great development, though we still have the issue of folks from the underclass who look at dope-trafficking as just another career choice—or a stepping-stone move that will give them credibility as they seek rap fame.

“I think, at the end of the day, it’s just all entertainment. It’s like wrestling.”
Young Jeezy, XXL interview.

Hip-hop needs to get out of the squared circle. Real lives are at stake.

Thursday, August 05, 2010



Detroit City Council recently has had a public hearing about the upcoming television drama Detroit 187 ( The series, due to air on the ABC network this fall, is filmed in and set in Detroit, focusing on a group of police detectives and officials and the crimes they solve. Michigan's nascent tax-incentives for the film industry played a role in the TV show coming to Detroit; the pilot for the show was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia.

Considering how the Law & Order and CSI franchises have long been TV staples, I'm somewhat surprised that it took this long for someone to come out with a Detroit answer to the typically New York-and-Los Angeles-centric police shows. Likely hundreds of people will end up getting direct or indirect jobs as a result of the show's presence. Not only the featured actors and the film production crew benefit, but also local caterers, clothiers, paid extras and various small businesses will get a boost.

As spearheaded by city councilman Kwame Kenyatta, the concern of council concerns the name of the show. '187' is a regional California police-code for murder, which, perhaps ironically, was in this writer's opinion thrust into the public pop-culture lexicon by various hardcore-themed hip-hop music and movies-- who else easily remembers Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg's hook from "Deep Cover"-- ("..and you don't stop, 'cause it's 1-8-7 on an undercover cop...")

I feel that the council have a certain point-- to me, 'Detroit 187' comes across as kind of corny, since, well, '187' really isn't used by local police here. 'Detroit Streets', in comparison, still lets the viewer know that this is likely a gritty show, without appropriating a vaguely misleading term. At the same time, Kenyatta's threatened to play hardball with the producers, floating the idea of withholding city permits to close streets for filming, if the 'demands' aren't met.

It would be reckless of city council to really follow-through on such a threat. Kenyatta and those who agree with him would be side-swiping all of the jobs that were and are being created by the show to make some temporary political points with those who feel that Detroit's rep as a crime-heavy town is completely unfounded. It would set a bad precedent, potentially scaring off other filmmakers (including home-grown ones) on the notion that Council is yet another board of suits who want to dictate art content, and who are prone to shut down anyone who doesn't glibly accede to every 'suggestion'.

Say-- I wonder if the producers of the show could be convinced to take on the costs of blowing up the old Michigan Central Station ( in the season finale. Seriously. Here's the scenario-- a mysterious mad bomber starts targeting abandoned buildings throughout the city, and the countdown is on for stopping him. Several rickety structures will go "ka-boom!" on a recurring basis throughout the season; we only see the culprit in shadow or behind their back.

When the remains of innocent squatters are found in the rubble, the charges are upped from property destruction to murder. Clues eventually reveal that the culprit sees his vandalism as rebellious works of art, and his "piece de resistance" will be detonating the Train Depot. The heroes race down Michigan Avenue, confronting the villain, but he has his hands on the killswitch.. and in the final seconds..3-2-1.. 'baroooooooommm'.....Who is buried alive? Who is just buried? Stay tuned next fall! (Dun-Dun! Or however that Law & Order sound-effect goes...)


The City of Detroit is still embroiled in a public debate on whether to dissolve the currently existing Detroit Public Schools system and reform it under mayoral control-- in this case, current mayor Dave Bing. Most members of Detroit City Council have publicly opposed mayoral control. A ballot initiative was presented to council last month, but council routinely waffled on voting on whether to allow for a ballot initiative to be given to Detroiters this fall that would give citizens the chance to vote on the proposal.
City Council meetings have turned into depressing gripe-fests, with those opposed to mayoral control being the loudest commenters. One commenter compared the idea of mayoral control reverting Detroit Public Schools to almost a slavery-era state of being. Most polarizing is the suggestion that mayoral control would, by default, rob Detroit citizens of voting rights on the composition of a school administration.
I stop short of assuming that the worst-case scenario will happen if Detroit's public school system falls under mayoral control. I have a problem with people who say they 'hate' the current board/system (and the behavior of board members) but mayoral control is automatically a non-starter for them. You either want change or you don't. People act as if DPS didn't have grave problems until emergency financial manager Robert Bobb was appointed by governor Jennifer Granholm.
And let's address the elephant in the room: I also have a problem with the way some local activists and officials have latched on to the existing structure of DPS (as well as Cobo Hall, the Water Department., etc.) as a "black owned business" by cultural default, and so any existing proposition for reform, especially radical reform, is categorized as a power-grab by quasi-anonymous Caucasian power-brokers in Lansing or the Metro suburbs. I hear "They want to" (as in, "they want to take over fill-in-the-blank) so much you would think that "T.H.E.Y., Inc." was a corporation based out of Bloomfield or somewhere. I'm dead sick of it.
Black political leadership has been at the helm of Detroit local government for nearly 40 years now. And here is where we are. Doesn't mean that local leadership is corrupt or inept by default, or that everything that has gone on here is all the fault of Detroit leadership. But Detroit leadership of the past and present must bear some culpability as well for not having the vision to address the things that Detroit faces now.
Too many folks here have come to embrace a certain myopic form of Afrocentrism that automatically assumes the worst of all other ethnic/racial groups while overly romanticizing our own, uncritical to a fault in many cases. Look at all the folks who still see former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as a blameless victim of a (white) plot against a "powerful black man". Same goes for jailed political consultant Sam Riddle.
I'm weary of the political schizophrenia here. To me, it speaks ill of my fellow urban Detroiters when this reflexive nativism that exists just beneath the surface here comes up on every important local issue. Look at the recall campaign already against Bing. Let's say it goes through and Bing is recalled by November 2010-- then what? another go-round of special elections throughout 2011?

In a press conference hosted by Detroit mayor Dave Bing and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the federal government has just this past week authorized a year-long study into the implementation of a light-rail line in the core of urban Detroit. This would be the first major transit development in the city since the mid-1980's unveiling of Detroit's People Mover downtown elevated rail service.

I think that it's about darned time that this project got going. No, it's not what it really needs to be, which is a fully comprehensive transit system for the entire metro area.

I feel that since the US taxpayers are majority owners in General Motors and minority stakeholders in Chrysler, both these companies should be forced to get on board with manufacturing for the transit industry- rail cars, hybrid/electric buses, train tracks, etc. Re-open those factories that were shut down. Open new factories, especially in previously abandoned locales like urban Detroit and elsewhere. I have written letters to officials, appointees and activists from the President on down, but so far this angle has only barely reached public discourse. The whole "quick-wash get-in-get-out" hands-off managing of the auto bailouts has been maddeningly wrongheaded. But at least the American public will get to drive those neat new Chevy Volts, at only $41,000 a pop. Save your pennies.

Progressive tax reform is needed to help keep a more expanded transit system alive. Unfortunately, there are folks in various suburbs who adhere to anti-tax absolutism and barely veiled racial animus, who do things like have their cities opt-out of SMART (the privately owned bus line serving most area suburbs), and thus adding more headaches for anyone who wants to travel to or from said cities for work, school, etc.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, long considered in local politics as an iconic foe of urban Detroit interests, wisely supported the SMART millage renewal, but he is still an obstinate crank when it comes to actually forming a southeast Michigan Transit Authority (which would be a coalition of several city/county local governments.) Even parties within the Bing Administration's Transportation Dept. are likely fearful for their jobs "if" a real Transit Authority gets going, and so they are stonewalling, too.

The grudges of the past may end up derailing this project (pun intended) if the ultra-cynics have their way. I suggest that folks go to the 'TRU' website, and keep up on the developments.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Out goes his hand and I cough, he once stole from me, now I wanna cut it off"
Public Enemy, "Nighttrain", 1991

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced today to do a minimum of 14 months and a maximum of 5 years in state prison, as ordered by Judge David Groner ( The ex-mayor, 39, was the youngest elected mayor of Detroit when he took office in 2002. His youth, flamboyant charisma, snazzy attire, stud earring, and musical tastes led him to be called 'the hip-hop mayor' by many, an unofficial title that he embraced for his first term in office. Kilpatrick cultivated the image of a conscientious, spiritually-grounded family man who was all about spearheading Generation X's leadership role in turning changing the fortunes of a long-embattled city.

However, beginning with his reelection bid in 2005, things began to unravel for the married father of three. Local television and newspaper outlets began citing strange expenditures during his tenure, such as a luxury SUV truck that was officially purchased by the police department but apparently for the use of Kilpatrick's wife Carlita. Other news items around that time period included a series of lavish purchases made with city credit-cards (ostensibly to entice potential investors and developers), and the sustainability of an entourage of police escorts that rivaled the Presidential secret service. After coming in second place during 2005's August primary, Kilpatrick managed to beat his opponent Freman Hendrix in that November's final election.

Subsequently, Kilpatrick's tenure continued to have problems. A police officer claimed to have been verbally chewed-out by Kilpatrick's chief of staff, Christine Beatty, following her being pulled over for a traffic violation. Kilpatrick's original choice for police chief, Jerry Oliver (who was once detained at the Detroit Metro Airport for attempting to bring a gun in his luggage), resigned. His replacement, Ella Bully-Cummings, presided over a department that was under ongoing federal supervision, ongoing community complaints about slow response to emergency calls, as well as complaints of alleged misconduct by officers.

Most portentiously damaging was the whistleblower lawsuit filed by former Detroit police officers Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope. The lawsuit contended that the pair, who were internal-affairs officers, were unfairly fired when their investigation into alleged police overtime-misuse inadvertently led them to evidence of an extramarital affair between the mayor and Beatty. The alleged overtime misuse concerned members of Kilpatrick's mayoral security officers, and the investigation also attempted to discern whether a 'stag party' had taken place at the mayoral residence, the Manoogian Mansion. This long-rumored but never officially-proven party is also core to the murder case of exotic dancer Tamara Greene, who allegedly danced at this party, was assaulted by Kilpatrick's wife on-site, and ultimately was shot dead in a drive-by attack months later: (the city still faces a civil-lawsuit by family members of Greene.)

The civil lawsuit by the ex-cops was handled in a federal court. Sworn testimony was given by Kilpatrick and Beatty, among others. Ultimately, the jury found the city liable in a decision in October of 2007. Kilpatrick publicly balked and vowed to appeal. Several weeks later, however, he apparently changed his mind, and signed documents agreeing to a settlement of $8.4 million for the plaintiffs on behalf of the city. Little, if any, reasons were given for the abrupt turnaround.

However, in early January of 2008, those reasons were laid bare. Text-messages on city-owned cell-phone/pager devices were discovered by the plaintiff's counsel (Mike Stefani), and privately revealed to Kilpatrick and his legal staff, thus leading to the abruptly brokered settlement. Acquired via the Freedom of Information Act, the text messages revealed a litany of quasi-private conversations between Kilpatrick and various other members of his administration: chief among them were the numerous messages between mayor Kilpatrick and Beatty, which directly talked about the firing of Brown and Nelthrope, a charge that was disputed by Kilpatrick and Beatty during their court testimony. The affair between Kilpatrick and Beatty was also revealed: the pair would often send each other amorous, sometimes explicit, messages, and discussed the ways in which they would have secret rendezvous, frequently using city money to buy gifts for each other and rent hotel rooms.

“To sell, to lie, to try, stand up and deny, they are getting everybody high/ high on a cable, cash under the table, currency is how they’re able, to buy the cops and props..”
Boogie Down Productions, “Jack of Spades”, 1989

The revelations about the text-messages and the secret settlement deal hit the city and the Metro area like a hurricane. The scandal became the default watercooler topic for most of the year. The saga had all the trappings of a fictional legal potboiler, only this was soberingly real. Kilpatrick initially balked at claiming ownership of the text-messages: His first addressing of the scandal took place at a Detroit church where cameras broadcast live statements from both mayor Kilpatrick and his wife Carlita. The mayor only admitted to non-specific mistakes, but also vowed to never quit on the city.

At the State of the City speech that followed circa March, 2008, Kilpatrick gave what was otherwise a straightforward speech about progress in addressing Detroit's quality of life (the audience, with the exception of city council members, was hand-picked by the mayor's staff); but toward the end of his hour-long speech, he launched into a tirade against his detractors, alleging internal game-playing within city council and racial bias in the press concerning ongoing coverage of the scandal. Outside of the on-site audience, the rant did not play well with many who were watching; in particular, his mentioning of the N-word (within the context of citing himself as the target of racial taunts) was criticized.

An obscure Michigan law gives the sitting governor the power to remove a city official from office if said official's behavior is considered destructive. Rarely used in the state's history, it nonetheless became a point of contention with those unsatisfied with Kilpatrick's conduct. From the scandal's January onset, various people were opining that the governor should step in and remove Kilpatrick. Initially, governor Jennifer Granholm refused to take the bait, citing the law's rare usage, and stating that Kilpatrick's legal matters should be allowed to play out without interference from the Governor's office in Lansing.

A few months later, Kilpatrick had a bizarre run-in with Sheriff's deputies who were attempting to serve a Kilpatrick family member with court papers. This incident found the mayor initially facing assault charges on top of the perjury charges he was already facing. A few weeks later, Governor Granholm finally relented to a formal request from members of Detroit City Council and initiated a non-judicial hearing presided by herself that would determine whether Kilpatrick's behavior was egregious enough to warrant removal by the governor's office.

Several days of grand-jury style testimony took place-- but before mayor Kilpatrick could be summoned to speak on his behalf, he decided to take a plea agreement with the Wayne County Prosecutor's office. Subsequently, he pled guilty in 36th District Court, was stripped of his law license, and was sentenced to 4 months in prison, as well as a $1 million in restitution to the city. The evening after making the formal plea declaration, Kilpatrick made a 'final' public speech that was televised, again dodging any direct addressing of his behavior other than "mistakes were made". He also seemed to infer that Governor Granholm's inquiry was politically motivated (she was already term-limited and ineligible for reelection), and admonished that his current circumstances "set me up for a comeback."
"I might stumble, but still won't lose; now I'm dressed in the county blues; 'cause I'm the type of brother that's built to last, we had some in the present, some in the past..."
Ice Cube/N.W.A., "Gangsta, Gangsta" (radio version), 1989

Onlookers saw Kilpatrick's political career crash-and-burn while seeing another African-American's political career reach the ultimate height: While in prison, Kilpatrick missed being a delegate to formally nominate Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for US President. He was also in prison for the election and inauguration of Obama. He was released a few months into 2009, and immediately left Michigan for a suburb of Dallas, Texas, where he had a new job as a software salesperson for the Covisint Corporation (owned by Detroit businessman Pete Karmanos). Purportedly, Texas has a state law that prohibits garnishment of wages except for child support cases.
“They'll look you straight into your face/ and tell you that your money's going to a good place/ Like Social Security or Welfare/ But if you go to the Bahamas you'll see them all there..”
Boogie Down Productions, “Who are the Pimps?”, 1992

Despite facing a daunting restitution, Kilpatrick wasted no time in securing a luxurious setting for his new life. His home was in a gated community, and valued at around $1,000,000. Soon, however, Kilpatrick would be claiming that his living expenses only left him with $6 to pay on his restitution. This signed affidavit seemed to prompt the Wayne County Prosecutors' office to be more aggressive in finding out Kilpatrick's exact financial status, leading to a series of court appearances capped off by Tuesday's sentencing.

During these hearings, Kilpatrick seemed to have threadbare knowledge of his current financial status: he claimed to not know whether his wife was employed or not. He claimed that she exclusively handled the family's finances, now. Counsel for the prosecution discovered that following Kilpatrick's release in 2009, several prominent Detroit-area businesspeople (including the aforementioned Karmanos) gave Kilpatrick and/or his wife financial gifts and/or 'loans' totaling in the hundreds of thousands. Also discovered were payments to Kilpatrick's criminal-defense counsel from his political funds, which are considered unethical.
“Show me the work & put it on the scale/ I always hate to see a black man in jail/ If I could tip the scales & talk to Lady Justice/ the cops will be on trial the government be busted”
Pete Rock, “’Til I Retire”, 2008

On several Detroit newspaper websites, a new mugshot of Kilpatrick is now displayed. Removed are his suit, replaced by pale-yellow prison attire. The length of his sentencing demands that he not be remanded to the Wayne County Jail (in Detroit) as his previous stint, but to a state correctional prison, such as the one in largely rural Jackson.
Predictably, the decision has polarized some residents of the metro area. Some feel like the sentencing was fair, given Kilpatrick's seeming "Why me?" stance and defiant adherence to a wealthy lifestyle even in the face of costing city taxpayers millions in the whistleblower settlement. Others-- typically, though not exclusively black Detroiters-- feel that the sentencing was unfair. One Detroit state legislator claimed that the decision reveals that the court system "is without mercy"; a Kilpatrick spokesperson likened the decision to South Africa's now-defunct Apartheid regime.

The case isn't quite yet over. Kilpatrick has the right to appeal, and will likely do so. He is also still considered a person of interest in an ongoing federal investigation into corruption by Metro-area officials-- just today Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle will be reporting to authorities after pleading guilty to bribery and other charges. Kilpatrick's father Bernard, a longtime political consultant, is also under investigation, but to date no federal charges have been filed against he or his son. Meanwhile, Kilpatrick's mother, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, faces re-election this year, and competing for the Democratic nomination with state legislator Hansen Clarke and local televangelist Glenn Plummer. Whenever Kilpatrick leaves prison, he will also have to face paying the remaining tab on his restitution (over $800,000). How he will do so remains to be seen, given that he was fired from Covisint the day of Judge Groner's decision.

In the interest of full disclosure, this author voted for Mr. Kilpatrick twice, because I thought he had better ideas and vision than his opponents. I am not thrilled at seeing an African-American father and husband taken away from his family in handcuffs to spend time in prison. This should not please anyone. I am not pleased at seeing a talented, intelligent man fall so precipitously from grace. However, I am also not pleased at the egregiously transparent attempts by this man to cover-up his questionable choices with more questionable choices, while currying favor of his African-American constituency within the context of Christian forgiveness.

I am not in the camp of fringe, bigoted people who hate urban Detroit on principle and who felt the judge should 'throw the book' at Mr. Kilpatrick. But I stop short of looking at Mr. Kilpatrick as simply a victim. If he is a victim, he must include himself among the obstacles in his path. I hope that urban Detroiters, particularly African-Americans, seek to come together regarding the more pressing issues currently affecting our community, such as the school-education crisis and curbing violent crime.

To conspiracy-theorize and add Mr. Kilpatrick to a list of blameless black martyrs siezed upon by a semi-anonymous cabal of racist conspirators damages our political capital: giving the impression that urban, black Detroiters are generally undemanding of their leadership, politically schizophrenic, and prone to feel that malfeasance when done by blacks is justified because there are whites who "get away with" similar misdeeds.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


On May 22, in downtown Detroit's Hart Plaza, there was a rally organized by a public transit worker's union in support of greater federal help in appropriating funds to develop and bolster improved mass transit opportunities in Detroit and greater Southeast Michigan. Metropolitan Detroit is one of the few major urban centers in America without a comprehensive mass-transit system of high-quality bus service, light rail, and other transit options. If one lives in urban Detroit, they are almost surely paying high-end costs for automobile insurance, let alone the annoying cost of gasoline. Urban Detroiters also face a lack of mainstream-quality grocery options. The city government's belt-tightening has cut back on some bus-line services, as the Bing administration attempts to design a comprehensive plan on how to 'right-size' overall city services to a shrinking population. Despite the federal government-initiated taxpayer bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, little, if any, trickle-down effect has come to ordinary citizens, especially in the geographical backyard of these two corporations (Michigan overall still has unemployment hovering at 14%, and urban Detroit's rate is at least twice that.)

The keynote lecturer was Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stressed that bus-system drivers, train operators, and other public-transit-industry workers represent a green-jobs initiative that is being under-stressed in the public dialogue: "The steel can be made in Gary (Indiana), in Birmingham (Alabama).. the (rail cars & infrastructure) can be made in Detroit", pointing out that during World War II auto-industry related factories converted into producing military vehicles and other materials for the war effort. Other speakers included the US House representatives of Detroit, John Conyers and Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick. Also on hand were two Detroit city councilpersons, local Detroit labor union reps and local transit-improvement activists.

All parties stressed that for Detroit and other urban centers, public transit is a core service that is needed to keep the local community on its feet, providing an affordable means for people to get to work, school, run errands, and to seek recreation. Organizers of the rally plan to follow up with continued community outreach, including another march planned for August 2010, and promise that they will eventually make a formal pitch to the White House with their platform.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Detroit Turning Over a New Leaf?

Looks as if there are potential proposals in the Michigan state legislature that would clear the way for a ballot proposal to legalize possession of marijuana in the city of Detroit (Medical marijuana is already legal in the state, but laws are fuzzy as to who can produce it). Well, we know what Snoop Dogg might say.. Among the disparate array of individuals interviewed in favor of decriminalization or legalization are Democratic state rep Lamar Lemons, former Republican state rep Leon Drolet and prominent Detroit-based businessman Pete Karmanos. The coalition of professionals involved with the proposal, as well as advocacy organizations like the non-profit Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, go against the cliche' of pro-legalization efforts by aging ex-hippie activists like actor Tommy Chong, or even the fallen-academic example of the late Timothy Leary and his "tune in, turn on, drop out" philosophy.

This author believes that all currently illegal substances should be legalized, taxed heavily and regulated. Having a universal set of standards in place would actually cut down on the unpurity that most street-level product has (and its the other stuff that also adds to side-effects for users). There should be age limits for access, say, age 21. Schools and workplaces can still have anti-drug statutes, same as before. Just like you can't drink on the job, you can't get be high on the job, and can still be fired for failing a drug test. You'd still be arrested for driving while high. Feel free to make the penalties harsh with fines. Also, there should only be licensed outlets for sales of said substances, say, pharmacies.
Now, many mainstream pharmacies (Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS) may balk at selling metered doses of 'coca', but, maybe this is where smaller-scale, independent pharmacies can make their niche, and become thriving small businesses again, since so many of them in recent decades have lost ground to the Big-Box pharmacy outlets. It's interesting that journalist Darrell Dawsey interviewed some fellows who 'allegedly' are involved in street trafficking and are opposed to legalization ( This would mean that they would have to go to school and be licensed to sell drugs now to make any real salary. I'm for it. The Tax money can be used for prevention programs, rehab programs, public schools, transit improvement, and more.
However, there would be nearly impossible obstacles to overcome in getting traction for this at the legislative level. No one really wants to hear the logic in the decriminalization argument, let alone the legalization/taxation/regulation argument. Almost literally no mainstream politician looking to get reelected again, Democrat or Republican, will get behind this. The super-patriotic, tough-on-crime absolutists (mostly suburban residents) will insist that society has "waved the white flag" to drug gangs. Some black activists will insist that it is a "white folks thing" trying to get pushed on black Detroit (and potentially, other heavily-minority municipalities). The religious community will harp on this incessantly as an example of "turning away from God" and "embracing hedonism"-- look at Marvin Winans with the Detroit strip-clubs debate. You will have people trying to flip the argument that legalization means you're telling school-aged Johnny and Jane that it's okay to shoot up heroin (No, that's not what the argument is). I find it curious that there are any number of folks who don't mind the "legalized sin" of casinos, and who would throw a fit if alcohol were banned (again), and who get upset at public-smoking restrictions, but they absolutely are against any form of drug legalization because it's a "slippery slope".

Thursday, May 06, 2010

LGBT Activism and the Black Community

On April 30, 2010, the Freedom Institute think tank, led by Rev. Wendell Anthony of the Detroit NAACP organized a town hall meeting as part of the Institute's "Freedom Weekend" string of events leading to the annual Detroit NAACP dinner. During the convention weekend there were seminars focusing on employment and educational opportunities, social assistance agencies, and more. This evening's town hall meeting focused on LGBT activism and urban communities of color, in particular African-Americans: Where do these groups have common ground, where do they differ, what can be mutually learned? Footage from said event can be viewed here:

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On Saturday, May 1, 2010, a multicultural gathering of people from Metro Detroit gathered in the Southwestern district of the city, to participate in a march for workers' rights and a reform of American immigration policy.

The March took several thousand participants down West Vernor street, where they finally coalesced in Clark Park for a rally where speakers exhorted the crowd to push for a repeal of the recently passed legislation in Arizona that places undocumented immigrants under extreme scrutiny, giving local and state law-enforcement broad powers to stop and question anyone who looks suspicious-- they must produce the proper ID and/or paperwork or risk being jailed and ultimately deported.

Speakers at the rally spoke in Spanish and English. Attendees were told to advocate for workers' rights, including union workers, also for a moratorium on home foreclosures.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


hip hop,guru,premier,gangstarr

Rap musician Keith ‘Guru’ Elam has died (born July 17, 1961). Long considered an elder statesman of hip-hop music, Guru was a founding member of the hip-hop group Gang Starr (above right, started in the 1980s), as well as having had a parallel solo career of importance from the 1990s forward. According to a recent article by his brother, Elam was 48 years old, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse who veered into rap music where other family members became attorneys or joined academia.

As a lyricist, Guru joined contemporary ‘street intellectuals’ of hip hop, delivering a mixture of MC battle-aggression on certain songs as well as thoughtful moral observations on the contemporary music industry and social conditions in the inner-cities of America . On his solo albums, Guru eased off of cursing and invited an assortment of veteran and contemporary musicians to collaborate on his Jazzmatazz offerings. Some of the collaborators included Donald Byrd, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Herbie Hancock, and Branford Marsalis.

In recent years, Guru’s life and career took an unfortunate turn for the bizarre: Circa 2004, less than a year after the release of Gang Starr’s last group effort The Ownerz, a press release was distributed indicating that the group had been dissolved, and that Guru would now by default be a solo artist, and starting up his own independent label, 7 Grand Recordings. His new business and musical partner was John Mosher, aka Solar (not to be confused with the Afro-French hip-hopper MC Solaar who contributed to the first Jazzmatazz LP).

Despite Solar seemingly being a newcomer to hip-hop industry insiders, Guru heaped fawning praise on his new partner, declaring this to be his new permanent career path. Guru, who was almost never interviewed outside the company of Solar, was defiantly evasive about the reasons he split from DJ Premier, and would come to be increasingly dismissive of their time together. In certain interviews, Guru went so far to say that he and Premier were ‘never’ friends, and that their collaboration was simply a ‘business arrangement’, and stressed that the concept of Gang Starr went back further than his meeting Premier, and thus Premier’s claims on the Gang Starr legacy were tenuous at best. Guru and Solar would insinuate that others in the Gang Starr extended family of artists and associates were taking advantage of Guru and disrespecting him, prompting his cutting of ties.

Guru delivered three more solo albums in collaboration with Solar. Critical response was positive, but sales were minimal (to be sure, Gang Starr/Guru rarely went gold, even on their most acclaimed albums). By now, urban radio was a closed yard, but Guru managed to maintain his fanbase by touring, especially internationally, headlining select festivals and other events.
Still, questions followed him wherever he went about the separation from Premier, and the possibilities—however remote—of an actual Gang Starr reunion. Anecdotes started popping up on the Internet hip-hop blogospheres, about alleged diva-like behavior on Solar’s part (example- allegedly insisting on being in all fan photos with Guru). Rumors began to circulate, mostly centering around Solar having some kind of Svengali-like influence over Guru— and perhaps the most inflammatory idea being that Guru and Solar were romantically involved.

Tragically, Guru apparently suffered a heart attack in early 2010, and slipped into a coma; accurate information was fleeting concerning his condition, which eventually was revealed to be cancer; some family members claimed that they were blocked from seeing him in the hospital; at one point Solar released a letter allegedly penned or dictated by Guru, that once again trumpeted Solar’s credentials, while managing to take sharp jabs at DJ Premier, allegedly requesting that he not be allowed to participate in any tribute events, and lastly gave mention of a non-profit foundation allegedly started by Guru, where fans could make donations. Ultimately Guru died on April 19 from complications. He left behind a son, K.C., who is 9 years old.

Since the death of Guru, there has been an outpouring of fan sorrow for the rapper and his family, and fan anger (at the mysterious Solar). A recent interview was conducted by with Tasha Denham, a former employee of 7 Grand Records, friend to Guru and, apparently, ex-lover to Solar (she has a child by him). If her statements are to be believed, the bombshell interview reveals a scandalous level of alleged manipulation of Guru’s life by Solar, including verbal and physical abuse. For his part, Solar has given a public interview with MTV personality Sway, effectively denying that there was anything negative or manipulative in his relationship with Guru.

The aftermath of Guru’s death is still an ongoing saga. Some form of a tribute event has been promised by his family members, and DJ Premier has already recorded a free mixtape in tribute to him. Public opinion has largely condemed Solar; it remains to be seen what his next career move will be, but already allegations exist that the nonprofit described in Guru's alleged deathbed letter is formally owned by Solar's ex-wife, and its 501-c-3 status may not be in good standing.

I think the first songs from Gang Starr that I ever heard were from the second album, 1990’s Step Into the Arena; the songs were the singles from those albums, “Just to Get a Rep”, “Love Sick”, and “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?”. I missed out on Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues film that year, and I barely remember seeing the accompanying Gang Starr single/video, “Jazz Thing”. I thought the group was pretty good, and I probably taped the singles as they played on my radio, but I hadn’t been compelled yet to seek out their work in cassette form.

The first Gang Starr album I actually owned was Daily Operation, when it came out in the spring of 1992. I was at the tail end of my first year in college, and “Take it Personal” was the first single, which I thought was banging. I’m thinking I purchased Operation and the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head LPs on cassette the same day. I ended up playing the Operation album on a regular basis throughout the next year. Guru's unique, smoky monotone voice fit in just right with the rhythm tracks by his partner DJ Premier (Christopher Martin). The trend had recently crept into hip hop of using vintage jazz recordings to create breakbeats and samples, and Gang Starr were among the primary pioneers of that style of hip-hop. They always stressed that their love of jazz was genuine, and not just a hipster gimmick to get fleeting attention. Unfortunately, crossover fame seemed to elude the group compared to A Tribe Called Quest and the short-lived US-3 collective, who also made prominent use of jazz backdrops to their recordings.

I never got to see the group (or a solo Guru) play live in concert; I’m not sure how often they visited Detroit, but with them being primarily based out of New York City, my guess is that it wasn’t a standard part of their touring jaunts. I still checked for the songs on urban radio and the cable video shows.

He will be missed.