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.