Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


Dwight “Heavy D” Myers, 1967 – 2011.

Hip-Hop performer and actor Heavy D died on Tuesday, November 8, 2011, in Los Angeles, California. Another Hip-Hop icon passes away that I never got to see perform live in person. I’m not sure when I first heard his music. Circa 1986 – 87, when his first singles and debut album, Living Large, came out, I was in the eighth grade. I remember a classmate making a passing mention of somebody with a record out called “Mr. Big Stuff”. I didn’t have cable at home, so BET (and, whenever it premiered, Yo! MTV Raps) was out. When it comes to the Chicago radio stations that were my frame of reference for new music, I’m not sure if they were playing the records.

I’m thinking that I finally caught on to 'Hev' with the second LP, Big Tyme. A classmate sold me his cassette of it, and it was one of the first rap albums I managed to pick up in my school years (mainly, I settled for taping songs of the radio with blank cassettes.) By the summer of ’89, staying with family in Detroit, cable was available, so I got to see some of his music videos on Video Jukebox (later The Box) and some stage performances.

Heavy had danceable, funky rhythm tracks, and he was a capable rhymer. His street appeal was credible but he wasn’t all the way hardcore. Unafraid to dance, Heavy had engaging stage shows with his DJ Eddie F and dancers G-Wiz and Trouble T-Roy (the latter of whom died in a tragic stage accident in 1990.) He managed to avoid low-down commentary on women, portraying himself as a plus-sized ladies’ man, aka “The Overweight Lover.”

If it was a gimmick, it was one that worked, as his records made inroads at urban radio and eventually garnered crossover sales. By his zenith in the early 90s, he was already a platinum-selling artist several times over. Even as gangster-rap gained a bigger presence on the radio, Heavy stuck to his non-guns and kept promoting his brand of Hip-Hop with a nod toward adult-contemporary sensibilities.

By the time of his death, Heavy had a journeyman’s career of sorts in acting. In 1989 he had a memorable guest-appearance/performance as himself on the sitcom A Different World. From there, he had a recurring presence on television shows like Roc and Boston Public, and had a featured role in the short-lived Tracy Morgan Show. In film, Heavy enjoyed supporting roles in films like Life, The Cider House Rules, and, ironically, a role in the just-released Tower Heist. By the late 90s he even did a stint on the off-Broadway play Riff Raff with Laurence Fishburne.
Heavy is survived by a daughter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


On Friday, October 14, 2011, protesters from various parts of Metropolitan Detroit and beyond gathered in Downtown Detroit, Michigan for the "Occupy Detroit" event. Speakers began the march at the Spirit of Detroit statue in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit. The event was a parallel of the recent "Occupy Wall Street" events in New York City and similar public demonstrations in cities across America and now even foreign countries like Italy (where demonstrations turned violent.)

The march went up Woodward Avenue to stop at the nearby Grand Circus Park. Some of those camped out in the area (with permits) plan to live there for up to 60 days. With the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park and the Detroit Lions' Ford Field in the background, activists held up signs expressing their displeasure with the events of recent years. Speakers spoke out against bank bailouts, home foreclosures, foreign war, lack of jobs for the public, and more.

Protestors called for the recall of George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy and a reform of financial systems to curb corporate profiteerism.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Miami-based rapper Rick Ross was recently hospitalized twice in the past 24 hours, relating to unreleased health issues. In both cases, Ross suffered from a seizure, which left him temporarily unconscious. much as I have a problem with his overall image and themes, I wish him the best during this crisis.

I also hope it prompts him to take whatever his health situation is more seriously, and take steps to address it. It's definitely missing the point to just write this off as nothing, or just an isolated episode of "exhaustion" or whatever.

Who knows whether he has a health insurance plan. He definitely should have the money to afford one. If he can blow "a million" on strip bars, high-end cars, clothes and jewelry, I really hope he's got some comprehensive coverage..

Medicaid information-

Many low and modest-income folks, particularly in minority communities, avoid going to see health care professionals on a regular basis, and end up going to Emergency Rooms whenever a crisis hits, or just whenever "they feel bad".. There is a particular challenge for black men to see about regular health checkups, and the various health issues that disproportionately affect african-americans, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer, HIV/Aids, and more.

As various citiy, county and state governments are facing revenue shortfalls (hello, Bush tax cuts), one of the programs that typically face cutbacks are public health facilities, including free/low-cost clinics and health departments, which may not provide primary care but do provide other resources including immunizations, disease screening, substance abuse treatment, lead-poisoning prevention/control, and more.

Too bad that more rappers have not been public advocates for health care reform or improved health/wellness resources in urban communities; and I doubt that this incident will compel anyone in the business to do that. But they should.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

“I’m on my way home… I left three days ago, but no one seems to know I’m gone/ home is where the hatred is/ home is filled with pain/ and it might not be such a bad idea if I never… never went home again”
Gil Scott-Heron, “Home is Where the Hatred Is”

I drove down to Northwest Indiana from Detroit early Friday afternoon. My high school graduating class was having a 20th anniversary get-together this weekend, and I was planning on attending, meeting and greeting.

The alumni gathering was split into two events—a football game later Friday evening (ostensibly where folks could bring their families), and an ‘adults-only’ pub gathering Saturday evening, in Chicago: Gary and vicinity is roughly 35 miles from the Chicago city limits; the Chi was and apparently still is often the ‘hip’ nightlife destination for residents of Northwest Indiana (frequently referred to by outstate Hoosier folk as simply “the Region.”)

I make it back to Gary and vicinity on average maybe once a year. Sometimes it has been just to visit and catch up. Other times there has been a distinctly upbeat event at hand—a wedding, a graduation, a baby shower. Still yet others have had decidedly downbeat contexts, i.e., funerals—uncles, aunts, and most hauntingly, my father and a brother.

Gary, compared to my adopted home base of Detroit, is much smaller in terms of land mass and population (current Census figures put Gary at about 85,000 residents, way down from a 1950s-era peak of about 250,000), but there were similarities in their histories of development. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city was carved out of the swamps and sand dunes that largely defined the immediate natural environs at the south end of Lake Michigan. Elbert Gary was a steel magnate who decided to open a factory here, U.S. Steel Works. Other steel industrialists followed, as did the largely unskilled masses needed to fill the ranks of labor for the mills. Executives of the company made pitches in European countries to bring people to work there. Eastern Europeans, Greeks and Scots-Irish folk largely made the overseas journey to settle in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago (the latter town named after its ‘cousin’ in Illinois.)

The burgeoning manufacturing also was attractive to American southerners. In particular this demographic included a high number of African-Americans (including my maternal and paternal grandfathers) who during the Great Migration fled the egregiously brutal Jim Crow south to the industrial north and Midwest, where they could find a modicum of social freedom and expanded employment opportunity. To be sure, both de jure and de facto discrimination was rife in the area, but pockets of non-racism could be found.

With the exception of the Jackson family home, there are no major tourist-attraction museums or similar arts/science venues. No movie theaters in the city limits. Sports culture here is joined at the hip with Chicago teams—Da Bulls (including Saint Jordan), Da Bears (the "Superbowl Shuffle" and Sweetness), the White Sox, the Cubs, and provided you give a damn about hockey, the Blackhawks. A side note on baseball- folks from here are flexible to openly root for both teams, while apparently many Chicagoans have a Northside/Southside split on who they’re down for.

Local television and radio, especially at the time, was near-exclusively Chicago-centric. Nowadays I know there are various examples of this throughout the nation, but it was an odd feeling, at the time, growing up watching TV news or listening to the radio, with scarcely a mention of your home community. There was a sense of invisibility that went along with that.

….I brought a camcorder that I bought maybe a year ago during a January clearance, but never used until now. Of course, the standard-size blank DVD discs I have a spindle of are too big for this, so time to divert to Best Buy for likely more expensive smaller-scale discs. Huzzah, it works!

While at the game I took as much footage as the charged battery would allow: The crowd, students, players on the sidelines, the game itself. Booths were selling food and school merchandise. I tried to notice anything new that wasn’t there back in the days. I saw an expanded soccer practice area. At the stadium, there’s a nominal digital-graphics screen, with messages from sponsors. Pop-music excerpts played during the game included Eminem and Poison, from what I recognized. The visiting team was the same team that, in my senior year, prevented us from taking the Regional title, short-circuiting a state title run that local papers said we were good for. I recalled memories of videotaping assorted events for the school, working with a partner, using a 1980s-era RCA VHS camcorder, either slung over my shoulder or sitting on a tripod. We would talk about the game at hand, or the school play, and girls, not necessarily in that order.

The night air became increasingly cold. I looked to the cheerleaders, at the sidelines during the game, take the field during halftime. None of them seemed to be wearing hosiery. I wondered how they managed. There were maybe 12 girls total, in what I presume was the varsity squad. Among them, there was one clearly brown girl who looked Latina. No black girls. I wondered, as I did back when I was going to school here, did any sisters not "make the cut", or did none even bother to try out because the routines were fixed in a 1965-safe-for-parents-and-the-Catholic Bishop-if-he's-visiting zone that was straight corny to anyone from urban culture. Oh, well.

Looking at the crowd, I noticed one set of parents rooting for an African-American boy on the team. Out of a couple hundred students, maybe less than a dozen were African-American, and other minorities were similarly scattershot. With this suburban town being reportedly about 45% African-American now (a major leap from my childhood), I was expecting more of a presence. But I suppose if I was expecting a Friday night high football game to be reflective of this, I was wrong.

Racial Hysteria, Economic Inertia
Gary, like Detroit and several Rust Belt metropolitan areas, had some form of heavy-industry/manufacturing as a keystone industry that led to its prosperity in the early 20th century. Unlike say, a Pittsburgh or a Chicago, Gary has yet to reinvent itself from the collapse of said industries (in particular, steel manufacturing) that was a major catalyst in their economic decline. The local steel mills currently operate at maybe 30 – 40% of their original capacity. My dad worked as a crane operator for 30 years; I’m not sure that a career arc like that is even remotely standard now, regardless of industry, and especially for the unskilled folk looking for an entry-level leg up. That era is basically over. From the 1960s forward, there has been both drastic and gradual disinvestment, by both larger corporations and smaller businesses, which has economically crippled the city of Gary and made the metropolitan area much less prosperous than in the past.

Gary elected one of the first black mayors in Richard Hatcher in 1968, and the civil-rights social tumult of the times permeated the region. Mama Hype was among a group of black students that integrated one of Gary’s high schools in the 1950s just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and mini-riots were a regular occurrence. Demonstrations led by the NAACP, the Communist Party, and others helped make the region a lightning rod for both activism and reactionaryism. In 1972, Jesse Jackson and other national African-American activists came into town for a convention on a national black agenda:

The town of Merrillville incorporated in 1971 from once-unincorporated rural and semi-rural areas to the immediate south of Gary. By default it was almost exclusively white, as Gary was by now overwhelmingly African-American. The narrative of urban disinvestment, white flight, and industrial collapse now came to define Gary’s story from that point forward. The organized-labor allegiances and its nominal relationship with Chicago led Gary and a few nearby communities to be one of the few, if only Democratic strongholds in Indiana. At the state leadership level, three GOP governors in a row led Indiana between 1969 and 1989. Democratic stints held the office from 1989 – 2005, and GOP standard-bearer Mitch Daniels is now the governor there. Going way back to the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had very real political power over much of the state as avowed members were throughout the state legislature and the governor’s office. Even well into this post-civil rights era, when I was coming up urban heads were wary of getting caught "way out" after evening.

Seeing is Disbelieving
In driving through communities south of Gary such as Merrillville, Crown Point, and Schererville, I see newish strip malls, big-box retail stores, apartment/condo complexes and single-family houses where there were once outright cornfields (indeed, some cornfields still stand, providing a seemingly incongruent visual landscape of rustic farm plots interrupted by Buffalo Wild Wings and Great Clips salons.)

When I drive through Gary, a feeling of deep melancholy overtakes me. I see in most areas worn-out/burnt-out storefronts where there used to be bustling department stores and small-business activity. Family Dollar and the like have replaced Montgomery Ward’s and JC Penney’s for popular shopping in Gary boundaries. My elementary schools are out of business. The hospital I was born in is abandoned, with the exception of one wing, sealed off from the rest, which apparently has become a police station.

In a lot of cases I have seen structures that were abandoned when I was a kid still in the same (worse) shape, with nothing to take its place—in others there are just plain empty lots with weeds, with no “coming soon” sign. In the neighborhoods where I lived, I see a lot of homes now where the entire facades have either been stripped or allowed to crumble, haphazardly reclaimed by nature. Some family is still here, making a go of it, though none have encouraged me to come back. I was the youngest out of my siblings and all my first cousins (and due to my 'unexpected' status, really a generation removed from the rest), and I saw nearly all of them leave for good.

I still remember the young man who was two years behind me in school. His family lived across the street. I caught a bus to school, his parents drove him. They were nice enough folks, in their late 30's at the time, I'm thinking. They gave me a ride once, when I was late to school. They made barbecue dinners in the summer, which they would sell (and give us for free). They also dealt drugs out of their home. An assortment of "strange" visitors coming to their place at all times of the day/evening was a regular occurrence. Some of them would glower if you happened to be in the front yard at the time. My mother warned me not to visit in their place, and I didn't. After I graduated I don't think I was gone a year before there was a violent shootout targeting the house; a molotov cocktail was thrown through a window. The couple's son was killed.

Here’s What they Think About You…

The demographics of my high school were largely kids of upper-middle-class types, mostly Caucasian, and those who attended school lived throughout the county and beyond (during my tenure there were even a couple of students who commuted every day from Chicago.) It was an early introduction to “the real world”, both the good and the bad, I suppose. I participated in a bunch of extracurricular activities by the time my tenure there was over—student council, math club, science club, art club, videotaping school events, quiz-bowls, football, and probably some things I’ve since forgotten.

I remember it was roughly a few months into sophomore year. I had been given a note of some kind to go and see “Father Quint”, who was the financial officer for the school. At first I really had no idea of why I was being sent down there. I only remember sketches of the conversation, but one of the first things that he said to me was “Mr. Hype, do you like going to school here?”

I was puzzled by the question. Was this just rhetorical? Did he really want to hear what complaints I had, if any?

To be on the safe side, I responded with a nervous yes/sure (something along those lines). As the conversation progressed, and his tone became blunter, it became clear to me that this was about tuition. Apparently my parents were on an installment plan for payment, and the balance due was behind to whatever extent.

I walked away with a “notice”, feeling uneasy and embarrassed. Money was, well, tight. I remember when the school held food-drives every fall. All the homerooms had boxes where students could bring in nonperishable food. I’d bring in some cans of food myself. Of course, you’d overhear chatter from some students about folks on welfare, food stamps, boxed milk, trading it for crack, etc. And a week or so after the drive was over, one of the nuns would privately contact me and provide a box of collected food to take home.

Months later, I figured I’d take a swing at being class treasurer for junior year. I was no financial guru at the age of 15, but I knew math, and I figured this was something interesting to be able to interact more with other students on student council.

I prepared a speech, passed out flyers, put up some posters where allowed, and gave a speech my dad helped me out with. I was then elected. It felt good. I started junior year thinking that I’d actually have some work to do. I approached Fr. Quint’s office, and made myself available in whatever capacity to help look after our class’s finances.

In the conversation that took place, I felt that I was being given a very polite brush-off. Whether this was the intent or not, I took it very personally. Statistically, I was the only African-American class officer.

In the weeks and months that followed, I participated in student council meetings, and occasionally did some perfunctory research on ticket prices for different entertainment events that our class would have wanted to organize. But I never got to look at a financial book nor a receipt during my ‘tenure’ in that position. I came to a rather sobering conclusion that this had amounted to some token nonsense.

Concurrent with all the “atmosphere of Christian instruction” at the school, there was a “reality beneath the reality” for a lot of the minority students. Ignorant remarks and behaviors were not unheard of-- some whispered and subtle, others shouted and blatant; some of the generic jackass kind, others of straight cracker intent; the school administrators and certain teachers who came across as unusually smarmy on a recurring basis. School lunch hours, open assemblies and sports games were frequently self-segregated.

We're Goin' Hoppin'...
The school dances—sock hops, as we tended to call them—were solidly reflective of top-40 tastes in the music played, and of course nothing too naughty. Not that anything was inherently wrong with most of it, but as one could imagine, hip-hop or R&B spins at the dances were minimal, pretty much limited to whoever was the breakout crossover artist of that year—Fresh Prince, Tone-Loc, and the like. I lived for Saturday evenings. Not that I had dates or girlfriends, that never happened. But around freshman year the Chicago radio stations had recently begun their hip-hop centric weekend mix shows. In particular I remember 107.5 WGCI’s Ramone-Ski Love and the ‘Rapdown’, and some years before his syndicated show took off, Tom Joyner had a daily show where he showed hip-hop some love (apparently commuting between there and Dallas regularly.) Listening to these shows introduced me to a lot of the golden-age hip-hop I would come to latch onto for entertainment and guidance. It was an emotional escape, an audial oasis of acceptance where I seemed to find little elsewhere.

When it came to student-to-student conflicts, I managed to make it through without any outright brawls (and thus a likely suspension), though, a few months into senior year, I seriously considered doing grievous harm to some people up there. Around that time, another black student, “Eddie”, had a meltdown of sorts.

Eddie and I both played football. I didn’t have any classes with him that morning. He apparently came to school that day with a pistol. I don’t know if it was loaded or not. He muttered to someone that he had a ‘hit list.’ By lunchtime, he had been arrested by Merrillville police—and summarily expelled. For years I wondered what happened to him, though I suppose it wasn’t hard to guess. He made it to the 10-year reunion. We didn’t talk about the incident, but he seemed to be in a good place (we were, coincidentally, the only black men in our class who bothered to come.)

More Long Island Iced Tea, Vicar?
The evening went faster than I expected. I wore an all-black suit and a black, knitted kufi. Despite my full beard, folks seemed to recognize me right away-- then again, many of us have been on Facebook for several years now. For icebreaking purposes, it helped to have a camera to take some impromptu photos, as well as remembering the eccentric cast of teachers: the bearded, rotund priest who served as the Dean of Boys who some guys made regular visits to; the history teacher that had sweat-rings under his arms even in wintertime; the science teacher with a voice like Ben Stein; the art teacher who had a circa-1975 hi-fi stereo in the classroom, exclusively tuned into a classic-rock station, in the background as students created projects. To this day, I still startle some urban-music-only peeps who wonder how the hell I know all these David Bowie and Rod Stewart records.

Aside from renting out part of the bar, arrangements were made for an open bar for the night. As much as I’m sure it was an incentivizing move to arrange for free drinks (sans shots) for the length of the evening, it also may have led to some folks getting flash-inebriated. I don’t think I had a single conversation last longer than two minutes before people abruptly switched partners or groups. My measured, conservative approach seemed ill-suited to the freewheeling interactions going on around me. Whether by deliberate choice or circumstance, I’ve pretty much always been a minimalist when it came to alcohol. Likely due to my anxieties about inviting disaster following a bender, and lack of exposure to keg-parties as a kid have probably honed my quasi-abstinence. I knew I’d be driving later, so I had a light-beer and cut myself off.

"Hype, you fawkin' rawk, man! You've always been my buddy! This is gonna be an awesome night, I'm tellin' ya..."

By 12:30 a.m. or so, a lot of folks had started catching cabs going back to their hotels (or homes, for those who lived in Chicago now.) My classmate ‘Rick’ was already far-gone somewhere around 10 p.m., going on about the after-party he figured was sure to happen, and the female classmate who he apparently went all the way back to sixth grade with that he was sure was hot for him (oddly enough, more than a few girls that I had crushes on back in the days showed up tonight. Not that I had any intention of telling them after all this time.)

Rick came to the event from Dyer, a suburb to the distant southwest of Gary. I never got the details out of him but apparently he caught the South Shore commuter train into Chicago from Indiana, but the service doesn’t operate past 10 p.m., and he hadn’t rented a hotel (I'd been told that downtown Chicago was solidly booked relating to a Northwestern/Wisconsin college football game.) As folks were heading on their respective way, he was stumbling and wandering. I went to grab him, and offered to take him back home. In a few minutes, we were on our way.

Rick had at this point turned into a bobble-head, but I got to seat-belt him in, and headed back to the Dan Ryan expressway and the I-90 toll road back to Indiana. I’m glad I had an empty storage box handy, because he ended up hurling about 20 minutes into our drive. Getting Rick home was a challenge for a while; making a general arc toward Dyer, it was like pulling teeth trying to get a coherent sentence out of him and he was unresponsive to asking for his driver’s license so I could look up his address before finally mumbling it out. Maybe 15 minutes later, he finally had a fleeting moment of clarity when we made a brief stop at a gas station to ask for directions (and ditch the hurl box). Finally we got to his place: a tony, quiet subdivision, where several houses had their garages wide open, including Rick’s. He thanked me for the solid, and made his way—still uneasy—into his garage. In conversations before tonight, he told me he had been laid off from his accounting job for over a year and had gone into house-painting and temp general-labor work, which he had done as a kid.

If there was a universal undercurrent to the conversations I had, whatever careers folks may have embraced- physician, attorney, schoolteacher, engineer, sales.. Everybody’s feeling the pinch of the ongoing recession. I don’t know. Maybe I missed the point by not getting “white-boy wasted” (Gucci!)

While at the get-together, someone pointed out to me my behavior at graduation. I was senior class vice-president, and thus was on the main stage of the auditorium during commencement. Dressed in our caps and gowns, we had been given notice a few weeks before: on stage, we would not be getting our real diplomas, but instead generic rolls of paper sealed with a ribbon. See, everything but our tassels were rentals. We were not to be given our real diplomas until we went into the girls’ gymnasium (much smaller compared to the main gym) where our homeroom teachers were standing by. Two boxes and a table were sitting in front of them—the boxes were for our cap and gown, respectively, and the table had stacks of our diplomas. When the final announcement was made commencing our class (we were not allowed to toss our caps), I apparently made a beeline for the girls’ gym. I was the first student up in there. Family wondered where I had ducked off to, and were slightly disappointed that they didn’t have the chance to take some after-graduation photographs with me wearing the gown.

I was really trying to get the _____ out: Out of this school, out of Gary, out of Indiana period. My homeroom teacher, who was also my English Lit teacher, reminded me my grades had slipped in the last quarter- I had started giving less and less of a damn about being there, and it showed. I had started halfway looking at school graduation as a form of parole. I was on an Amtrak train for Detroit barely two days later (I had to board from Hammond because by then there was no Amtrak stop in Gary—and there still isn’t.) I had already been coming to Detroit almost every summer to visit relatives; it was as good a place as any to start anew.

I only scarcely realized it at the time, but I had become very embittered by then. My depression managed to contribute to an aborted stint at the University of Michigan before personal issues came to a head and I dropped out. It took me some years to work myself out of it (after a fashion), and so when it comes to events like this, I can go and socialize, reminisce, all that with my peers. But when it comes to the stuff we get in the mail about fundraising, become an alumni donor, all that, I can’t go for it. I’ll skim through it, but then I just chuck it.

Aftermath: Enter Hypestyle
In the years that followed since graduation, I gradually developed a philosophical muse that has alternately unnerved and energized me, and brought me to my contemporary news-media career interests: a long way from my freshman-year dreams of being a comic-book artist-writer.

When our Generation X-crew graduated it was near the tail end of George H. W. Bush’s one-term presidency, officially or unofficially a continuation of the eight-year Reagan revolution that has reverberated into the present day. Our first, 10-year reunion was in July of 2001. None of us had yet hit 30, most were unmarried (unto itself a shift from decades past), and it was barely two months before the events of 9/11: the abrupt, violent deaths of thousands, the sharp veer into Wars on Terror, an escalating War on Drugs, economic recession, threadbare job-security, unprecedented home foreclosure, and lost innocence for generations of young people.

This, our second reunion, was late into the first (and preferably not the last) term of Barack Obama (back then, I don't think I could have seen a black president by now), and the heavily mixed-results of attempting to manage/reconfigure the U.S. policy culture of George W. Bush and his ideological kin. Tonight, for all the careers that folks I talked to have segued into since then—physician, attorney, schoolteacher, salesperson, small-business owner, accountant, and more—married, divorced, with kids or without-- one universal thread came up: everybody was feeling the pinch of the lingering economic downturn. Some folks have changed careers, others are trying to, and degreed folks are doing things plainly unrelated to their ‘official’ skill-set. Everyone’s American dream has manifested differently, and for most if not all, the dreaming continues.

Folks are promising to plan smaller get-togethers every other year now, I suppose before crutches and grandkids come into play. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll wear my fire-truck red suit with the gator shoes; I rarely bring it out.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


On this, the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, many people have been pondering the meaning of the attacks and the legacy that they have left the country.

This author has many conflicted feelings about the events of that fateful (and fatal) day. Waking up like any other day, this author saw the spectacle unfold on national television (mostly Good Morning America) before heading to work. Work was at an office building (converted from a defunct small hospital) near downtown Detroit. Everyone in the office was abuzz about what the events meant: the unpredictability, the "prophecy", and whether there would be a local analog to the chaos that was expanding in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania.

This author's college classes were canceled for that day.

This author felt deep anger at those responsible, a coiling frustration at trying to comprehend the depth of depravity that could compel someone to concieve of, let alone execute, the mass-murder of thousands. What yawning abyss lay where there should be a soul?

That the primary progenitor of the attacks has recently joined the ranks of the deceased may bring a sense of closure for many, but the emotional impact of the events on that day will resonate long after all those who were alive to observe it have passed on. The ambitions of madmen frequently leave a poisoned legacy.

In the span of mere hours, thousands of families violently lost members; those same families also gained new members, regardless of blood relation.

This author felt heart-rending shame in observing the seemingly unceasing carnage being wrought and the rescue efforts, knowing that he could do little to pragmatically assist from nearly 1,000 miles away.

This author fretfully pondered the local reactions, considering that this part of the country-- Metro Detroit-- hosts the largest concentration of people of Arabic descent outside of the Middle East. Were there 'sleeper' factions of Al-Qaeda here? If so, when and where would they strike? What will happen to the people who live in Chaldeantown on the near-northeast side of Detroit, or Dearborn to the west?

This author saw American flags conspicuously flown and shown in and around dozens of area homes and businesses-- especially shopkeepers of Middle Eastern descent.

This author saw, read or heard friends, strangers, and family members openly endorse what would ostensibly be considered a suspension of civil rights for the sake of national security. This author also saw, read or heard friends, strangers and family openly endorse unfettered surveillance, open-ended detainment, and mass deportation of people of Arabic descent.

In the years since the events of September 11, 2011, this author has seen both an immediate and gradual rise in reactionary thought and action from both ends of the political spectrum; base jingoism masquerading as patriotism; selfish resource-hoarding, fear-mongering replacing reasoned debate, and political expedience bypassing policy that uplifts the vulnerable among us.

This author has also seen an undercurrent of person-to-person outreach, thoughtful inquiry, volunteerism, community-minded empathy, reasoned analysis, and bravery in the face of daunting opposition and danger. Despite the efforts of the ill-intentioned and the misguided, hope endures.

These trends continue, and this author will continue to document, initiate and respond to them.

Whatever the faith tradition or socio-political worldview (or the lack thereof) of anyone reading this, a revisitation of the Golden Rule seems appropriate, especially in this politically contentious time: Honored readers, please take the time out to read it, ponder it, and apply.

On Monday, September 5, 2011, funk music grandmaster George Clinton brought the latest incarnation of Parliament-Funkadelic to the stage of the 14th Annual Arts, Beats and Eats festival. The festival showcases local and national artisans of various kinds, in conjunction with hip restaurant booths and both local and nationally prominent musicians. Clinton and his original collaborators are rightfully considered godfathers of hip-hop, as many of their records have directly or indirectly influenced the legions of hip-hop MCs and producers in the years following the funk ensemble's heyday. Several of the band's seminal albums were recorded forDetroit-based indie label Westbound Records, and so Detroit usually shows up en masse to see Uncle Jam and company when they perform locally.

The crowd gathered in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak was shoulder-to-shoulder as far as the eye could see by the time the concert got going. The eclectically-dressed multi-piece band, featuring alternating male and female leads, shook things up with P-Funk standards like "Tear the Roof off the Sucker", "Flashlight", "Mothership Connection", "One Nation Under a Groove", "Not Just Knee Deep", "Atomic Dog" and more. Clinton, wearing a blue grand marshal's outfit (and sporting what seemed to be a recent hair-and-beard makeover), held court with his raspy baritone, surrounded by the Funkateers, who were occasionally heckled by the dancer/contortionist who does the Sir Nose routine now (there was also someone dressed with a giant skeleton's head meandering the periphery of the stage, and late into the show a hula-hoop dancer crashed the set.)

The climax of the show was a searing rendition of "Maggot Brain" led by the guitarist, a fitting tribute to storied, late band member Eddie Hazel (who says a funk band can't play rock?) The encore of "We Want the Funk" closed the show and the festival, with the audience still energized for more.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Gucci Gucci, Louis louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada
The basic bi*ches wear that sh*t, So I dont even bother
I put that on my partner, I put that on my family
Oakland city representer, address me as your majesty

Kreayshawn, "Gucci Gucci"

Over the 30+ years of its wax-based recorded history, hip-hop has birthed a number of artists with unusual motifs. Afrika Bambaataa, Digital Underground, and Cee-Lo Green/Gnarls Barkley, come to mind. One of the genre's current stars is Nicki Minaj, whose performance-art/cartoon-inspired outfits and antics easily make her a hip-hop analog to Lady Gaga.

Where it concerns racial and gender diversity, the white female rapper has, surprisingly, been starkly rare stateside. Over the years, several mainstream pop and rock artists have dipped their toes into hip-hop based rhythm tracks for singles (Debbie Harry, Madonna, Paula Cole, Christina Aguilera) and others like Fergie and Ke$ha have integrated occasional rap-lyrics into their overall presentation. but the history of straight-up lady MC's has been minimal. Mostly, they've involved young women who didn't last past their first LP. Icy Blu, Tairrie B, Sarai, we hardly knew ye.

So, enter the White Girl Mob. Claiming Oakland, California as their home base, the central artists in this clique include Kreayshawn, V-Nasty and DJ Lil' Debbie. This group, Kreayshawn in particular, has cultivated a significant underground following with mixtapes and performances, enough to secure a deal with Columbia Records. .

Watching YouTube footage of these women, their cadence is quite salty and ghetto-tastic . They even defend use of the N-word as a neutral term of endearment for friends. I have to wonder: is this schtick? Do they talk like this all the time, like a typical Jerry Springer guest? Offhand, I'm not sure what to make of it, though I'm not remotely prone to defend it like rapper Mistah F.A.B., who apparently is one of their producers/mentors. V-Nasty reportedly was released from prison earlier this summer relating to a robbery. One hopes that this was not just a ploy for street credibility.

In the underrated film Black & White (1999), writer/director James Toback showcases a complicated interconnectedness of various whites and African-Americans in New York City. One of the film's several mini-plots involves Bijou Phillips as an affluent Manhattan-reared teen who makes out with black rappers in between hanging with her fellow white trust-funders and freaking out her parents with her 'hood-chick persona. She has an exchange with a teacher, and openly admits to some of her fetishes and wilding-out, but adds the disclaimer of "I'll grow out of it" someday.

It's interesting. I remember the white girls of my high school were definitely not in the hip-hop chick clique (though i'm sure that some had certain tapes on the low); indeed, rap was only just starting to become an occasional crossover presence on the mainstream charts, far from the fully integrated pop genre of today.

My high school-- suburban and parochial-- had a significant, though statistically modest, minority population. When NWA, Ice-T, Public Enemy, 2 Live Crew and the like first broke, inner-city resident Hype never really considered what it was like in racially homogenous suburbia/small town America-- and their households-- with nearly-or-exclusively white kids interacting with each other and conversing about this music. What lyrical references were foreign to them? What slang was brand-new to them? Did the girls think the guys were sexy? How did they feel about hearing n-words.. How did their parents react to this, versus say, hard-rock, metal or punk?

Back then, I scarcely could have imagined that there would be rappers/groups that would have sustainable movements outside of having a relationship with an urban minority audience.. Which is clearly what Kreayshawn and her colleagues represent. Based on their age (what, early 20s at the most?), I guess they grew up in a post Tupac/Biggie-death era, where posthumous rap releases were the norm, political rap was mostly dormant, George W. Bush was the U.S. President in her teen years and ballers/hustlers were the dominant themes from most rappers to come up.

With the various indie/DIY performers out there, and the democratization of music production via the Internet/ProTools, etc., I'm well aware that not everybody is going to have a 'huge' audience in the way that we normally think of such things. Niche is the cool thing, now. I'd like to think, though that most of these performers have an awareness of the world outside of themselves, though. Insane Clown Posse, as reviled as they are in 'progressive' hip-hop circles, has at least enough sense to avoid co-opting the n-word as just another slang substitute for 'buddy' or whatever. Eminem was forced to come to terms with his casual outburst on that old demo of his that was leaked.

I have to admit, I'm still slightly thrown (though also amused) when walking in a park, shopping mall or wherever and overhearing conversations heavy in hip-hop slang delivered by valley girls and such. So far, though, no n-bombs.

I still think that America is in the early years of of an era of young, white children growing up being assimilated, to varying degrees, by the most contemporary trends in African-American culture via hip-hop. What will be the socio-political outlook of these young people when they grow up, get 'real-world' jobs, and are considered the middle-class stewards of their generation: physicians, attorneys, laborers, teachers, small-business owners, corporate-climbers, and, yes, public officials.

Hopefully they will grow out of latching onto the most egregious cliches of urban culture and will have matured into people with genuine empathy for the underclasses, urban and minority communities, and not holding the broader community of such folks in contempt despite their avowed love for the music, language and fashion. That would be a rebellion worth sustaining.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Currently, Detroit Public Schools are under the control of a governor-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, former General Motors executive Roy Roberts. Plans are underway to merge the lowest performing 5% of statewide schools into a single district, targeting reform until academic standards/graduation rates are raised. Roberts has only been in office since approximately May of 2011, but his tenure has been controversial. Among the complaints against him are a recent announcement of an across-the-board 10% wage cut for teachers in the system, as well as a recent voiding of all contractual based services pending a re-evaluation. Labor interests such as the Detroit Federation of Teachers are promising to fight Roberts' reform efforts in court. This week, controversy struck again, but from a different corridor.

Just the other day, a new federally funded pilot program has been announced for this fall. All children in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) system will be given free lunch. Up until now, reportedly 78% of children in DPS were eligible for free breakfast & lunch, but one challenge in that was the ongoing stigma among children associated with being ‘on the free lunch’, and many opt not to get it to 'save face'; also some parents are neglectful and do not fill out the paperwork for clearance.

"There in school, see? I'm made a fool; with one-and-a-half pair of pants, you ain't cool. But there's no dollars for nothing else; I got beans, rice, and bread on my shelf..."
Boogie Down Productions, "Love's Gonna Get'cha", 1990

Michigan is one of three states participating in this program (also Illinois and Kentucky): If at least 40% of the children in a school district are under the federal poverty line, that district can apply for the district-wide free meals program.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the announcement has come under attack. All over local message boards, people are complaining about “their taxes” being misused by legions of bridge-card (food stamp) users, while the remaining, ultra-law-abiding and completely subsidy-free-since-birth folks are assumedly left to pick up the entire tab. I'm pissed.

Since this is a federal program with an implicit connection to the Obama administration, I can only (vainly) hope that is not one of the reasons behind all the so-called pushback. And for those in the region who don’t live in Detroit, why are they so hung up? Why do they feel so personally aggrieved by this development? Nominally at least, many have been on-board with the top-down school reform efforts as manifested in the appointing of an emergency manager to guide DPS. Do they really think that they’re not going to be able to buy that mink coat or a Corvette or new summer home because a few thousand urban Detroit kids get to eat a hot breakfast & lunch 5 days a week? Do they really think that? Is that really where our region is at? God bless America...

I have yet to hear the outrage from people complaining about the repairs to Michigan public roads that they ‘never’ drive, even though ‘our’ taxes pay for it (‘highway socialism’?) It's almost hilarious.

The intellectual hypocrisy implicit in the arguments of reactionaries is nakedly bare. Bush-era Tax breaks, Unemployment insurance, SSI/Disability, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, going to college on the G.I. Bill, and more.People swearing that they live their lives completely free from any and all forms of "government supplement" are fooling themselves. If you want to live completely tax free, go found your own country.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


On August 8, 2011, radio hosts and political commentators Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West's "Poverty Tour" of the United States came to Detroit, Michigan. The event was hosted at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (Detroit City Hall), in an upper-level auditorium.

In recent years West and Smiley have come under fire for their harsh criticisms of President Barack Obama. Within the past year alone, both men have had on-air arguments with National Action Network president and radio host Rev. Al Sharpton.

There was a contingent of local protesters who came to voice their dissent with West and Smiley as they spoke at the event.

A blog site has uplifted the counter-protest as sensible Detroiters standing up for themselves:

(Incidentally, I really hope their use of 'refudiate' was with ironic intent, since, well, it's not a word)

I'm of the opinion that not all criticisms are created equal. It takes being able to mentally compartmentalize and discern. The flailing canards of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich are in one category. The same goes for right-wing media commentators like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

African-American culture is so used to defending its beloved figures from political attacks from hard-right conservatives, that now when certain criticisms come from black figures, critiques that may have been considered spot-on for a George W. Bush are considered racially treasonous as applied to President Obama.

The summation, for some of those who can't stand Smiley and West, is that they are cynical quasi-intellectuals with little to offer in terms of pragmatic policy changes to help African-American communities. Others are a lot more blunt with it: "They're just haters who want [Obama] to fail."

Statistically, Detroit barely voted 51% in the 2008 Presidential election. Maybe just under 50% in the 2010 election. Many polling spots, voting lines were heaviest by early morning, modest, but not jam-packed, by mid-day and were a trickle by late afternoon. I saw it first hand.

Plenty of people still don't have health care coverage a year after the bill passed. It's still not going to be "cheap", so for adults who don't qualify for Medicare (seniors) or Medicaid (lower-income adults and children), they're out of luck, even now it's illegal for Health care insurance groups to deny based on a pre-existing condition.

Whatever the complaints about Smiley & West, they're not to blame for the horrendous voter turnout that consistently happens in Detroit. Also, it speaks ill for the intellectual discourse of black voters if "all" they do is uncritically accept "anything" that Pres. Obama does based on the notion of "well, it could always be worse". Clearly, it could be. But direct engagement with urban, inner-city, and poor communities in general is needed more than ever by the federal government, and it's not happening. Attacking literally any-and-all criticisms of current White House policy smacks of sycophantism. Why weren't there protests in the Van Jones firing or the Shirley Sherrod case?

African-American journalist George Curry hits the nail on the head about the hyper-sensitivity to critiques of the President.

People can protest Smiley & West all they want. Bravo. But hopefully they're also putting that same energy into making phone calls, emails and letters to their elected officials, including the President, and directly expressing their opinions on what their community needs.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry guest-hosted the Rachel Maddow Show, and featured a segment highlighting the cities of New Orleans and Detroit. She compared the current plight of President Barack Obama to that of African-American mayors in America, particularly focusing on current Detroit mayor Dave Bing. "The Hollow Prize" refers to black mayors being elected to oversee cities that have already slid into economic decline-- which in the case of Detroit, has been ongoing since its first black mayor-- the late Coleman Young-- was elected in 1973. This week Mayor Bing has announced the beginning stages of his administration's "Detroit Works" initiative, where certain specific neighborhoods will be identified for particular attention from city services to maintain their quality of life, while other neighborhoods will get a minimum of police, fire and garbage patrols, but mostly public service attention will amount to blighted structures being demolished. Footage of Harris-Perry's editorial follows.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011


Captain America: The First Avenger is the first major motion picture based on the venerable Marvel Comics superhero character that first debuted in print over 70 years ago. Since then, there have been largely forgettable cross-media interpretations, including a 1940s movie serial and an aborted attempt at a television series in the late 70s that left two telefilms in its wake. With the power of Marvel Studios (now wholly owned by Disney and partnering with Paramount Films for distribution), Marvel attempts to return the luster to its onetime flagship hero that matches his mighty shield.

Here, Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Cellular) plays heroic shrimp Steve Rogers, who in 1942 wants to enlist in the military but is determined to be a 4-F. Still, the little guy has heart, as displayed when he keeps confronting local bully. His gumption impresses military scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and gruff Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). They put him through the paces of boot camp, and finally reveal that he’s the perfect test subject for their ‘super soldier serum’—if it works (this shouldn’t be a spoiler) then Steve’s musculature and reflexes will be boosted to virtual perfection.

Alas, the experiment’s aftermath has a tragic end, which poises newly buff Steve to be the sole super-soldier for the Allied Forces—thus, ‘Captain America’ is born. Soon, he is pitted against the nefarious Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka the Red Skull—an ambitious Nazi scientist who heads up ‘Hydra’, a super-science-weapons division of the Nazi army. Schmidt searches for an ancient artifact of power, called the ‘tesseract’, allegedly giving its wielder the power of the Nordic gods themselves. Heady stuff, this.

The film’s remaining supporting cast is capable, including Sebastian Stan as Cap’s best friend Bucky Barnes and Hayley Atwell as British agent (and nominal love interest) Peggy Carter.
The script, credited to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, features an anti-ironic sensibility here, being fairly straightforward in its depiction of patriotism and earnest heroism as exemplified by Cap. This could have easily diverted into self-satire or camp, but the filmmakers, including director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3, the Rocketeer), wisely avoid this.

Presumably to keep its comic-book-reality bonafides intact, the movie plays fast and loose with the fictional history it represents (the Red Skull’s Hydra troops feature no swastika iconography, and Cap’s Howling Commandos team is racially integrated without a blink.) Still, the period designs are convincing enough, including a nod to Frankenstein with the Super Soldier laboratory.

Captain America is poised to be the first in a franchise of solo adventures as well as the introduction to the character’s featured role in next year’s The Avengers. Time will tell whether Cap regains his former fan-favorite glory: his stalwart shtick may seem quaint compared to brooding avengers like Batman and Wolverine. Still, the film gets enough right to stand out from the crowd and in a time of political contention provides plenty of flag-friendly good will.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


(Photograph) I don't want your /(Photograph) I don't need your /(Photograph) All I've got is a photograph (Photograph) /But it's not enough...
Santana w. Chris Daughtry, “Photograph”, 2010

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-New York City) has for 13 years built up a reputation as a liberal lion of the House of Representatives, frequently offering a staunch counter-point to Republicans on political television during the George W. Bush years. Even as the tenure of Bush ended and the Barack Obama presidency began, Weiner maintained his status as a voice of progressive interest: As policy was developed such as the stimulus packages, health care reform and financial law reform, Weiner warned against premature compromise with Republicans and stumped for such statutes as a public option for health care and stiffer penalties for stock-market manipulators. Hated by the opposition party, and in some circles resented by the centrists of his own, Weiner was unabashed in advocating what he felt were eroding principles that the Democratic Party stood for.

During the past week and a half, Weiner has almost single-handedly derailed his own career. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he didn’t just shoot himself in the foot, he pretty much used a LAW rocket. Perhaps the great karma gods above were not satisfied this time with letting stand revealed the sexual peccadilloes of former California GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (while talking tough on illegal immigration, he was likely visiting detention centers to interview for part-time nannies—but I digress).

Apparently, suggestive photographs were sent by Weiner to one if not several women through the social networking Internet site Twitter. For well over a week after the scandal broke, Weiner ducked directly answering questions on whether the photos were of him, were sent by him, or if he were the victim of a cyber-prank. One wonders if he was also able to duck the items that may have flown from the hand of former Hilary Clinton Aide Huma Abelin, his wife of barely a year. In what amounts to a Herculean display of chutzpah, Weiner says that he will not be resigning, instead leaving his fate in the hands of his district voters, who will choose next year whether to give him another two years in office. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has publicly called for an ethics investigation, which Weiner has, to his, uh, credit, openly welcomed.

In a word (or three), Congressman Weiner: You blew it. Not just for yourself. Not just for your family. But for progressives nationwide. It’s bad enough that the Tea Party express upended the Democratic advantage in the House last year. Your bungling may well have emboldened conservative activists and office-holders alike (i.e., John Boenher, Eric Cantor), who will be relentless in hammering you and every other Democrat that’s even tangentially affiliated with you from now until November of 2012, by which time—theoretically—you will either be re-elected or replaced as the congressional representative of your district.

The progressive wing of the Democrats barely gets enough respect to begin with. Up until this point, you were at least considered much more photogenic than Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich. Of course, being photogenic is exactly what got you in trouble, alas. As for your ambition to be mayor of New York City— much like your photos, that may be another goal of yours that has been shunt into the recycle bin of your political desktop.

I could dream of ways to see you /I could close my eyes to dream /I could fantasize about you...
Taio Cruz, "Dirty Picture", 2010

In closing, let me be frank, Mr. Weiner: For whatever its worth, I’m probably more forgiving than most when it comes to scenarios like this. I can emotionally compartmentalize to a degree: Let’s say you’re doing a bang-up job representing me in Congress, and bringing home plenty of resources to help our community, I probably don’t care that you, say, watch “naughty vids” on your home computer, with or without your wife. But when you start being patently reckless, using your official (i.e., taxpayer subsidized) Internet accounts to facilitate flirtation, frolicking and/or fooling around, well, that’s just meshuggah, friend.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


A group of men and women graduated from Detroit/Wayne County’s 3rd Circuit Court Adult Drug Court program on Monday. The program is a creation of the aforementioned court, and administered by the Salvation Army of Detroit, whose downtown Detroit main headquarters (a converted warehouse) also hosted the commencement ceremony. Eight of the 25 graduates were present for the noontime commencement (others had work commitments), dressed in caps and gowns.
The origins of the program were to offer non-violent substance-addicted offenders an alternative to imprisonment. Entrance into the program is at the discretion of the presiding judges in the defendant’s case. Once accepted into the program, participants are put through an intensive 12-step drug/alcohol rehabilitation, and also including educational instruction/GED, life-skills training, job-readiness training and placement.
R&B singer Kem, a Detroit native, was present at the event as a keynote speaker. He told of his own background with substance abuse and revealed to participants that he also completed the Salvation Army’s program at the same facility: “Because of my own background with substance abuse…anytime I have an opportunity to give back on this level, it’s a good thing,” Kem says he still attends group therapy sessions and claims to have been sober now for 20 years.
Another celebrity of sorts was also in attendance-- Judge Kevin Robbins was among the justices who participated in the graduation ceremony. He says he oversees over 30 individuals a year whose cases he diverts to the Drug Court program. He told the story of a new graduate in attendance whose case he supervised. Curtis Rowe was a basketball player for UCLA in the late 60s and early 70s, where the team won championships in ’69, ’70 and ’71. He was drafted and joined the Pistons team. He played for the Pistons for five years (among his teammates were current mayor Dave Bing) and three years for Boston. Apparently Rowe relocated to Detroit at some point, and somewhere along the way, things went badly enough to get arrested. Robbins went on to say that Rowe was a sports idol of his as a child, and he got to meet him twice in the distant past, and was struck by the irony when Rowe appeared before him as a criminal defendant. Robbins presented Rowe with a photograph of Robbins as a child playing basketball, asking him to keep this image in mind if things get stressful in maintaining his sobriety.
…Rowe says he likes Miami for the NBA finals.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Artist: MC Ren

Release: Kizz My Black Azz

Label: Ruthless/Priority/EMI

Year: 1992

“Kizz My Black Azz” is the first solo EP from former N.W.A. member MC Ren. Quiet as it's kept, Compton, California native Lorenzo "MC Ren" Patterson allegedly signed on to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records as a teenager with the intent of being a solo artist. So the story goes, a fateful opportunity presented itself when N.W.A. founding member Ice Cube took a leave of absence from the group to attend an architectural-drafting vocational college in Arizona. Eazy allegedly asked Ren to contribute to ghostwriting raps for Eazy and making guest-appearances on recordings like “Ruthless Villain”. By the time tech-school grad Ice Cube came back into the fold, Ren was a full-fledged member of the group.

While N.W.A. as a group managed to change hip-hop and pop-culture forever with their groundbreaking and controversial music, unfortunately, Ren’s solo debut was clouded in the aftermath of the group’s disintegration in the early 1990s. By the time of this release, Ice Cube had quit the group and had released two solo albums, and Dr. Dre (along with associate D.O.C.) had recently defected from Ruthless to form what would eventually become Death Row Records. Within N.W.A., Ren had done solo-style cuts before (“If it ain’t Ruff”) but this is effort is clearly driven by Ren’s direction.

“Kizz My Black Azz” finds Ren treading familiar territory, telling tales of wayward young women (“Behind the Scenez”), reckless gangbangers (“The Valley”), post-fame hangers-on (“Hound Dogz”) and bitter rivals (on the title cut).

The production on this release is exclusively handled by DJ Bobcat (see also- Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Tupac), who proves himself to be just as capable as his contemporary Dr. Dre in crafting head-nodding, sample-heavy breakbeats which alternate between uptempo and pre-Chronic G-funk.
The best song on the six-cut effort is the battle-anthem “Final Frontier”—no Star Trek references, but Boogie Down Productions’ “The Bridge is Over” is given a West Coast-revamp.

In retrospect, there are some criticisms to bear here- Ren continues the unabashed sexism of N.W.A. here, and, viewed at face value, “Behind the Scenez” crosses into gratuitous territory (the narrative climaxes with incest and group sex). Also the title cut finds Ren bashing rap acts that involve live musicians in their performance lineup; it proved to be kind of nearsighted in light of the rise of acts like the Roots, Black Eyed Peas, Lauryn Hill and others. Ren gets props for being honest in his opinions, but some of them were clearly off-base.

Ren’s future solo albums would prove to be somewhat uneven production-wise, so this is arguably his most sonically consistent release. For fans of Golden-Age West Coast rap, this is a worthy buy, but for the uninitiated, N.W.A. and Ice Cube’s first LPs should come first.

*Note: The 2003 re-release features the music video to "Final Frontier".

@ Amazon-

Sunday, May 01, 2011

NBC'S MEET THE PRESSNBC's David Gregory and this week's roundtable on national politics; New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg makes an intriguing suggestion about immigration policy and the city of Detroit:

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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

THEATER REVIEW- FORGIVING JOHN LENNON When:Sundays : 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (ends May 22) Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays : 8:30 p.m. (ends May 22) Saturdays : 3 p.m. (ends May 22) Except April 24 Writer: William Missouri Downs The play explores intercultural relations, through a lens of interactions between an American married couple and a Somali national who is of the Muslim faith. The couple, who are both college professors, are both interracial and intercultural themselves-- Joseph (Benjamin Williams) is African-American and Katie (Leah Smith) is Caucasian and England born and raised. Asma (Yolanda Jack), the guest, is a poet who has lived in several countries, and has been brought to America for a performance sponsored by two colleges, including the one that the couple works for- A misunderstanding places her in their care for the evening, and thus begins the narrative. The title is a flip reference to the Vatican's official newsletter, L'Osservatore Romano, effectively pardoning John Lennon for making his meant-to-be-taken-ironically- "we're bigger than Jesus" comments in the late 60s that brought down condemnation from an assortment of parties, including the religious leaders of the time. The play takes place entirely in the living room of the couple's home, and the narrative is completely dialogue-driven. Most of the comedy-- and conflict-- comes from Asma's sharp observations about American culture, and dispelling many of the preconceptions that Joseph and Katie have-- despite being self-described liberal academics, there ends up being a lot they don't know about misunderstood minorities-- and even themselves. Some themes: the play lampoons how political correctness can intellectually and emotionally hobble even the most well-meaning of people, how professors that are supposed to be teaching people to be free thinkers are boxed-in by chasing down the holy grail of tenure status, how it doesn't take much for someone convinced of their open-mindedness and generosity can really be quite conservative and self-serving.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011

DETROIT MEDIA PARTNERSHIP'S IDEAQUEST 2011 The two major Detroit newspapers (Detroit News and Detroit Free Press) are having a free contest on how the newspapers can better serve the Metro Detroit and Michigan communities. They started an online contest where people were given an open-ended solicitation to come up with ideas that both the News and the Free Press can potentially take on as real initiatives or policies. From content delivery to editorial content and coverage to supporting charity initiatives, "the sky's the limit" in the words of the promotion staff. This author came up with a pitch that would involve both newspapers bankrolling a charter school for urban Detroit school-age children, providing a quality education with a lean towards media-skills instruction that would prepare them for an eventual career in that industry. The "Media Academies" pitch can be found here-;topicseen#msg96 The link to Voting (preferably for the "Media Academies" pitch) can be found here-

The top Ten pitches voted on will enable the authors to make a live pitch to the contest's judges, including representatives from the Detroit News, Free Press, and the current Domino's Pizza CEO. The final top winners (one from the public and one employee of the Newspapers) will each receive a $5,000 cash grant and the idea will be formally adopted by the newspapers. Voting can be done once a day for the next two weeks or so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder sat together for a joint interview at WXYZ-TV 7 studios in Southfield (Detroit), Michigan. The live broadcast included questions lifted from emails, a chat-room, and video questions submitted through the Web. This author appears at the 3:15 mark--

Friday, March 11, 2011

Question to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, for a planned live interview with constituent questions, collected by Detroit's WXYZ TV-7.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Playlist: KRS-One” is a compilation album featuring the pioneering hip-hop artist KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions. The 14-track set includes songs from his long tenure on Jive Records during the 1980s and 1990s. KRS and the B.D.P. crew were initially lauded as part of the late 80s new-wave of hip-hop performers, bringing updated musical and lyrical styles-- among other things, KRS is credited with weaving a reggae sensibility into many of his works. In particular with B.D.P., KRS-One alternated between stage personas: One was ‘The Blast-master’, given to relentlessly fierce battle rhymes that sought to energize fans and intimidate his rivals (“I’m Still #1”, “Step Into a World”, “Rappaz R.N. Dainja”); the other was “The Teacher”, incorporating everything from Malcolm X quotes to the Bhagavad Gita in social commentary cuts like “Love’s Gonna Get’cha”, “My Philosophy” and “Black Cop”.

Nearly every Jive album that KRS recorded is represented here, but the selections are not in chronological order. KRS’s heyday was considered the golden-age for remixes, and so the producers of this set wisely included the “Live from Caucus Mountain” 12-inch mix for “You Must Learn”; puzzlingly, they chose the album version of “We In There” over the well-received remix by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed (side note: retroactive sampling issues have damaged updated CD re-releases of various period hip-hop gems.)

Minor issues aside, what’s most disappointing about the compilation is that nothing from KRS-One’s first album Criminal Minded is included. That seminal release was recorded for the now-defunct indie B-Boy Records (and since re-released) and so it falls outside the purview of the Jive/Sony archives; still, it couldn’t have hurt to pay a license fee to include at least one song from that album for context (or include one of the live-in-concert renditions as recorded on the Live Hardcore Worldwide LP, also ignored here.)

Still, for those who have a yearning for ‘the boom-bap’ over the ‘bling-bling’, this best-of set is a can’t miss for the discerning hip-hop fan.

Monday, February 07, 2011


Hip-Hop Culture website HipHopDX.Com interviews "Freeway" Rick Ross, the Los Angeleno who spent years in federal prison on drug-charges, and who became legendary in the 1980s for the cocaine/crack epidemic that hit throughout inner-city America. The interview touches on Ross's experiences, including an ongoing lawsuit against popular rap artist 'Rick Ross' (whose real name is William Roberts). The elder Ross is suing his namesake for undisclosed damages. He is also pursuing the creation of a biographical motion picture based on his life-- claiming to have the acclaimed actor Nick Cassavetes onboard as a screenwriter/producer.

I grew up in the inner-city, but I didn't grow up idolizing the "street dudes" a.k.a. the dope-pushers of the neighborhood, the gang-bang guys, etc. I just had other things on my mind, like school, football, my favorite music, comic books, etc. Back when the gold-ropes and early Air Jordan shoes were popular, I wouldn't have minded having that, but I knew my folks couldn't afford it, and I wasn't interested in going the "hustling" route.

I My hope is that the 'real' Rick Ross is now dedicating his life to helping the inner-city underclass, considering his role in exploiting the underclass years ago. Regardless of whatever the government involvement/connection was, he is not an innocent in the legacy of crack.
I hope he puts whatever money he raises toward scholarships, job-training programs, drug-treatment programs, etc., and that "Freeway Enterprises" isn't just a front for him to be a big baller all over again..

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Regarding the recent U.S. – China leadership summit in Washington, D.C., there are lessons that local leadership can learn from this concerning developing a redevelopment plan for the future. Michigan governor Rick Snyder’s recent comments about attracting immigrants with college degrees to Michigan can play a part in this as well.

An initiative that needs to happen is to seek out and incentivize entrepreneurs and companies from global regions (Africa, China, India, Middle East, South America) to set up shop in Wayne County/Detroit, renovate abandoned buildings and hire locals to work at these new businesses. Our region should be taking the initiative to benefit from globalization and not be left behind by it.

Next, when it comes to getting a rail system going here, Chinese consultation on this could prove invaluable since China already has a vast network of mass-transit trains. Building off that thread, when it comes to the proposed Detroit Riverfront International Crossing (DRIC), I support that project being green-lit.

The DRIC project can go further than currently planned. Designers of the bridge and crossing area should incorporate a light-rail train to go over the bridge, either through the center or along the periphery. Incorporating a light-rail train into the bridge will allow for pedestrians to go from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario and back, whether for work, for business, for school, or recreation and tourism. Having a rail component built into the bridge will lessen the burden on the car and truck traffic that will already be intense once the bridge is completed and available for public use. U.S. Homeland Security and the Canadian equivalent would have full authority for incorporating comprehensive security measures. Having a rail line as a part of the bridge can only increase Michigan’s economic prosperity. Funding can be sought from corporate and individual donations; aggressive outreach should be done for collaborative foreign investment partners, as this bridge would indeed be a beacon of multinational trade.

Southeast Michigan/Detroit needs to be thought of more as an international destination. Immigrants with college degrees could be recruited and incentivized to collaborate in job-training programs in growth industries (partners can include Wayne County Community College District) for local residents, to increase the skill-sets of urban residents to make them more employable and in a better position to start their own small businesses.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Michigan governor Rick Snyder has just delivered his first 'State of the State' address, given at the state Capitol building in Lansing: A transcript of the speech follows-

The speech mostly dealt in generalities, which surprised some political observers who felt that some specifics would be announced on how to handle the state's current $1.5 billion budget deficit.

Some of the parts of the speech I found intriguing were:

  • An office of urban affairs that will deal with the issues confronting several major urban centers in Michigan, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Saginaw.

  • Openly supporting the Detroit Riverfront International Crossing, a project that would create a joint- U.S. and Canada-owned bridge going spanning from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. Currently, a high volume of international trade between the U.S. and Canada goes through the Ambassador Bridge-- despite the lofty name, it is actually a privately owned bridge, owned by local real-estate tycoon Manuel "Matty" Moroun, the CEO of CenTra, Inc. During the Jennifer Granholm administration planning for this second bridge was stalled due to several state politicians (mostly from the GOP) balking, not to mention Moroun's organization steamrolling ahead with trying to build their own second bridge-crossing right next to the Ambassador, despite protests from an assortment of Michigan authorities. Detroit journalist Darrell Dawsey comments on Mr. Moroun's unique status in Southeast Michigan:

  • Snyder also called for Michigan to embrace immigration-- specifically, immigrants with advanced college degrees (and presumably in the science/physics realm), citing immigrant-run startup companies in Silicon Valley. On this particular issue, Snyder received polite applause, but most certainly did not get a standing ovation like virtually every other point he drove during the speech. Likely, the Legislature's Republicans, many of them new to state office (term limits left dozens of politicos as lame ducks last year), and several of them neo-con idealogues, want to keep up the backlash against immigrants in general, especially after reactionary types locally were energized after Arizona initially enacted their law about being caught without proof of citizenship.
  • Snyder also revealed a 'Report Card' style means of measuring the state's major policy/quality of life issues, and he promises to give a graded update to each of his goals with every 'State of the State' speech.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


On January 8, 2011, Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D- 8th District) was one of nineteen victims of the shooting at a Safeway grocery store near Tucson, Arizona where she was meeting publicly with constituents. She was taken into emergency surgery, in critical condition from a gunshot wound to the head. At the time of this writing, after the surgery a physician treating the congresswoman said that he was optimistic about her chances for recovery. The gunman, a Jared Loughner, has been taken into custody.
The nation should rightfully be mourning this tragic incident and be supportive of law-enforcement efforts to bring this investigation to closure. However, there are some issues that can be examined from a policy level that can hopefully curb outbursts of violence such as this.

Mental Health- The 2010 Health Care Act must be defended against repeal efforts by those in opposition to it. In particular any statutes concerning mental health coverage should be scrutinized and bolstered with amendments. Publicly funded mental health facilities in the United States facing drastic budget cutbacks and outright closings has been a quiet, disturbing trend in the past 15 years. Mental-health coverage in self-purchased or employer-paid health insurance through private firms is often modest, at best, with high-co-pays and deductibles. Lack of mental health access has, in part, reputedly led to a spike in homeless populations, particularly in Southeast Michigan.

Gun Control- This ongoing issue in American politics is always contentious and brings out very emotional responses. But if there is going to be any genuine progress in addressing gun proliferation in our country, elected officials must be bold enough to take a stand on enacting new regulations. More stringent background checks are needed to make sure that a person is not of unsound mental health. The trend of self-described collectors owning high-powered weaponry is extremely disturbing. The purchase and ownership of military and paramilitary weaponry by civilians must be analyzed and curbed. The mantra of gun-rights absolutists and lobbyists that any and all firearms are okay for anyone to own should not be allowed to define our culture.

If there is anything to be learned from the recent tragedy, it is that disagreement with others, even drastic disagreement, should not be a justification for violent aggression against our neighbors.