Sign of the Times — Medium


“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” — Audre Lorde

My consciousness is not arranged in such a way that I view any good person’s life as inherently more valuable than any other good person’s life. We all have value. We are all inherently valuable. The unjust arrangement of this world is premised on the notion that some humans are more human than others and therefore inherently more valuable. As I observe the posts, statuses, remembrances, reflections, tributes and energy devoted to ensuring Prince’s safe passage to the next realm. I am reminded that while no one life has more inherent value than another, a single life can be profoundly meaningful in its impact and influence. That is to say, one life can be so robust with meaning that it elevates the inherent value not of themselves but of humanity.

We are society very accustomed to biting on the style of an icon and leaving all the substance on the bone. Prince the man, the artist, the visionary, the philanthropist, the quiet activist are inextricably powerful in their meaningfulness because they all emanated from genius anchored in primordial excellence, a sense purpose and passion, ancient wisdom and an understanding that surpassed the colonization of knowing, all fused with a fierce sense of self determination, which like Harriet Tubman, was informed with a get free or die trying spiritness. You can’t get free, if you are too afraid to even acknowledge you are in bondage. Prince was/is clear.

Behind the iconic purple rain was an Oya like tornadic force powered by a prodigious work ethic, mastery of craft, a sense of excellence and a will to be good rather than to simply look good — that he was able to do both is part of his virtuosity too. In an age in which we aspire to be seen without having done anything worth looking at, in which one aspires to be stylistically robust but substantively bereft, in an era where we seem to have forgotten that subtly, allusion and refinement are demonstrations of genius in control of itself, its will and intent, fully aware of its prodigious fertility, conscious of what it is trying to birth. Prince stands as a reminder, a road map, a flashlight on a darkened path that being true to oneself, pursuing your purpose, your destiny may not make you famous, may not make you rich but it damn sure make you profoundly powerful.

What Prince possessed was not the manic individualism that is so characteristic of the ethos of American society but rather an ancient African ethos which speaks to a kind of expressive individualism rooted in a sociology of personhood, that asks us to improvise — speak our own special truth — within a shared cultural mosaic in such a way as to transcend and transform — improve — it without changing its fundamental essence. In many ways, Prince’s life was jazz personified, which is to say Black life set to a funky syncopated rhythm.

Few artist in my lifetime — ok, none — simultaneously embodied the times and presaged them the way Prince did. From the gender flexibility to the provocative dress to the saturation of sex to the empowering of sexuality as an element of spirituality to the narcissism to defining oneself on ones terms to understanding the sign of the times to the necessity of owning ones labor and ones worth. Prince stood firmly within a Black (African) tradition of artist as activist and philanthropist, in this regard Prince was/is closer to Harry Belafonte than Jimi Hendrix.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so too does print and television media, there is air and space to fill, so there will lots of hot air filling space from a media, fascinated by Black life but inured to the point of indifference about Black suffering, mostly about Prince’s art and it/his impact and likely be very little about the man — the Black man — the activist and the philanthropist. This is unfortunate because here there is much to be gleaned from Prince’s life, his work as well as his approach to life, to love, to liberation, and much to teach us about how to convert a life that was inherently valuable just because into a life that was so meaningful that it imbued humanity with additional value.

The image for which Prince became best known for is a stylized Ankh. The ankh is symbol that derives from KMT (the ancient African Nile Valley civilization best known as Egypt). The symbol represents that creative synthesis of complementary parts in fertile harmony; it represented the life giving power of masculine and feminine energy invested in creating eternal possibility, in generating life eternally. The eminent African psychologist Wade Nobles has noted that much of what is useful in African (American) culture is either overlooked or misunderstood due to our inability to understand the role and function of symbolism in African (American) culture. Even when he wasn’t using his name Prince was always speaking truth to power.

The prescient African novelist Ayi Kwei Armah rightly notes in his memoir, The Eloquence of the Scribes that: “ …Connections is a constant motif in all autonomous African culture, it comes from an ethos that says death cannot be the end; that beyond death remain connection, between those here and now, those who were once here but are now elsewhere, and those who, though not yet here, are destined to come some day….Bodies may connect visibly in the here and now; souls are connectors across the present with past and future time.”

Put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed it merely changes forms. A profoundly meaningful Black man, a comrade in the struggle for a just, egalitarian and verdant world has departed: Next Woman, Next Man up. As Ella Baker, the Civil Rights activist said: “The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.” They always do — Will it be you?

Maa Kheru Prince, you did your work on the earthly realm; we look forward what your genius in collaboration with the other ancestors will provide us in the ancestral realm and in ours.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life…

Live. Love. Create Fully,


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    Àdisà Àjàmú

    Pan-Africanist. Doma. Healer. Scribe. Humanist. Force Multiplier. Path Clearer. Crossroads Guardian. A lit candle in a dark room.

  • Source: Sign of the Times — Medium

    Teen Girls’ Slam Poetry φ Bustle Video

    Teen Girls’ Slam Poetry On ‘The Queen Latifah Show’ Is The Powerful Thing You Need To Hear Today — VIDEO

    Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, an


    Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen recited a jaw-dropping poem called “Somewhere in America” on the since-canceled The Queen Latifah Show. The young women, part of the LA-based nonprofit Get Lit, called to attention the information passed along unintentionally in this country’s classrooms. Spoiler alert: it gets pretty real.

    The trio of teenage girls start the poem ominously: “The greatest lessons you will ever teach us, you won’t even remember.” From there, they jump into fairly controversial, dark topics like rape, race, gun control, socioeconomics, and censorship. Emotions rage so hard in the three-and-a-half-minute piece, occasionally you can spot a small vocal crack in the performance, but that just lends more validation to the truth they kept spouting. ”Somewhere in America,” ushers in the hard-to-hear stuff,  ”Women are killed for rejecting dates, but God forbid I bring my girlfriend to prom.” Another: “The preppy kids go thrifting because they think it sounds fun. But we go ‘cause that’s all we’ve got money for.”

    The episode, also guest featuring feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, was meant to highlight female empowerment. However, the young voices seemed to lend strength and raise serious questions across the board, regardless of gender identity. Get Lit says they hope to “change the world, one word at a time.” We believe, given this performance, that’s entirely possible.

    Escobedo, McGavin, and Allen have performed their poem in front of thousands of people, including a coveted opening slot for a sold-out John Legend concert at the Hollywood Bowl last fall. They cite real-life, personal experiences and Jay Z’s social commentary as inspiration for the piece. “I think poetry is the best way to express emotions…” McGavin says, “It’s an amazing way to help people, especially teens.” Hear hear.

    Image: The Queen Latifah Show

    When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

    Sister of the Yam


    When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds


    For lack of a better reference, the moment felt like Lauryn Hill circa 2000: Kanye West spitting his characteristically impulsive but nod-worthy truths–my favorite that night was his deft critique of “rap beef” –riddled by the painfully familiar feeling that what we were also witnessing was a beautiful mind unraveling.

    Some who watched the Kanye West-Jimmy Kimmel interview this past Thursday, who had been keeping close watch of the many other interviewstweetspaparazzi attacks, and fashion statements that brought Kanye to Kimmel’s desk that night, and who were perhaps also nostalgic for the pre-kilt, pre-Kim, College Dropout Kanye that used to croon about family dinners and the graveshift of dead-end jobs, observed in Kanye a dangerously heightened mix of mania and megalomania; heard a wired, rambling incoherence; and chronicled those twenty plus minutes as exhibit Z that Kanye West is indeed battling some sort of mental health crises.

    Others picked up on a mouth racing to keep up with a mind in constant overdrive; they tuned into Kanye’s fearless, biting critique; and cheered along the self-proclaimed Genius-Underdog sparring with the lovable Everyman type that always seems to win these kinds of debates.

    Both interpretations of that night–that Kanye was emitting his last fumes before meltdown or that he is deep beyond reproach–are freighted with their own particular dangers. On one hand, we risk participating in a rich tradition of silencing and managing rightfully angry people of color who dare to speak up by calling them crazy. On the other hand, fawning hero-worship can doom us to pulling up a chair and whipping out the popcorn to shit shows that could very well be prevented; Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston hang heavy in my mind as the parables for how fatal that kind of spectatorship can truly be.

    Positioning oneself in the gray is often indicia of cowardice, but here I am in this whack limboland of hedge and no answers: neither hypotheses fully work for me.


    That night I saw a man who was wounded. Who never expected his naked struggle for legitimacy would become fodder for late-night mockery or that it would hurt that much–that he, as an adult man with serious indictments against an industry that made and now mangles him, would be infantalized into a whiny, ranting child. I saw a man deeply frustrated by an industry that has smugly siloed bright black and brown men into the white noise of hip-hop so that it can exoticize, imitate, appropriate, and snub them safely from afar. I saw a man who was lonely and misunderstood, who had had been stripped of his support system and now floats about unmoored. I saw a man who thought his creativity and hard word would somehow immunize him from the garden variety isms that topple heroes and unmentionables alike. I saw a man who, like many talented men of color, whether they hide out in Ivy League institutions or behind mics, has never been held accountable for the gaps in his logic and the tangles in his heart strings–for the materialism, misogyny and violence that hobbles his otherwise brave and sophisticated wisdom about race and class in this country. (But that goes for Common, Nas, Tupac and Kendrick Lamar too). I saw a man who wears his vanity like a XXL T-shirt as armor for the much smaller, more vulnerable man underneath. I saw a man who is so transfixed by needing affirmation from White America, so obsessed with his worthiness and seriousness as an artist, an intellectual and a man that he can’t quite calibrate, stake out terms for himself, laugh at the jokes that will surely come, or brave the insults that will never end. And I saw a man who can’t help but still be, many albums and awards later, the creative boy in the back of classrooms, saving up for Gucci loafers, standing up against gangster bullies and inventing those self-survival myths and mechanisms that get you out but never quite set you free.


    Black America is mad at Kanye because he didn’t properly learn the lesson that every person of color must learn to remain sane in an insanely racist world–how not to offer your neck to the guillotine. Quite frankly, we’re confused: did Kanye think his art, his name, his stuff, his women-as-props would exempt him from blackness? Did he think his laying out of dreams, the unbridled honesty and that faux Little Engine That Could confidence could be the brave preemptive moves that would keep him safe? Further, we’re exhausted by his lack of groundedness . Kanye cannot seem to locate himself in a long history of great people doing great things while hearing as many–if not more and more serious–no’s than he. Lack of perspective is a male privilege and also the white privilege Kanye will never have and should never fight for.

    Terrifyingly, Kanye’s sins for White America are much simpler: he dared to call himself great without their permission. For that, he is an asshole.  For that, he is dangerous. For that, he is crazy.


    Deciding what Kanye is–”crazy”, genius, or troubled–is important because this is, of course, much bigger than Kanye. He stands next to Lauryn Hill, Dave Chapelle, and others with beautiful minds and broken spirits. I do not think it is coincidence that all three–Kanye, Lauryn, Dave and we can even throw Michael Jackson in–have been accused of “craziness” at the height of critiquing the ugliness and the isms of the industries and audiences that have propelled them to fame. I think we should understand that “crazy” is the Atomic Bomb of the English language, that it’s a no-return obliteration of personhood and credibility. And we should also remember that ”crazy” has been a way of managing female sexual desirequeer eroticism and political ideology; yesterday’s history is today’s wet paint. As Dave once said, “the worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.”

    I believe in considering Dave’s follow up to that thought: “These people are not crazy. They’re strong people. Maybe their environment is a little sick.”drwdx-pw5_ru-deyv-shapell-aktery-dave-chappelle[1]

    And that–the sick environment–is the one thing that never, ever gets enough play: if, as we speculate, all these beautiful, beautiful minds are breaking, undoing themselves, unfurling like tightly wound string, we owe it to ourselves to at least ask if something drives them to it. Certainly, mental illness is complex and at times turns on with no external switch, but we have testimony from artists we respect and admire, that something is rotten in Hollywood.

    As Lauryn said after her hiatus from music, “When artists experience danger and crises…everyone easily accepts that there was something either dysfunctional or defective with the artist, rather than look at, and fully examine, the system and its means and its policies of exploiting/’doing business’.”

    Over the course of a short decade, so many celebrities have fallen apart before my eyes: shaving their heads, ripping apart cameras, tearing off clothes, eating themselves into bloated existence or not eating themselves into invisible non-existence, drinking and drugging fast lives and slow deaths, basically begging us to listen in the most literal, primal languages possible, and we still keep diagnosing symptoms instead of curing the disease and the whole thing seems wild to me.

    If mental illness is a dialectic between the person and the space,  then its source is not wholly the artist nor Hollywood, but I know that what Kanye and so many others deserve is the clean slate and the fighting chance Kanye kept quoting Richard Pryor to talk about.


    If this past Thursday was only an open-aired breakdown of mental health, then we need better language. Because though we complain mental health in this country and for black folks in particular isn’t talked about, that’s not entirely true: we talk about it all the time; we just talk about it poorly. If finding oneself on the edge deserves a life-sentence of being called “crazy,” of being dismissed, written off, and laughed at, of not being heard, then no wonder the shame and the silence. Particularly for artists, whose whole careers and identities are based on being experienced, interpreted, listened to and gazed upon: mattering.  Truth is, there are those who are dying from, but more curiously living with, mental illness in our midst; they are flying our planes, shaking our hands, watching our kids, loving us, and staring back at us from mirrors. And some of the great mindswe most admire produced art, theories, and inventions despite and because of battles with mental illness. Furthermore, achieving mental health is often a lifetime of strenuously and intentionally maintaining the balance; there is not one discrete day you are sick and one discrete day you are well. Given the enormity, pervasiveness, and constantly looming threat of mental illness, we have to figure out a way for people to matter even if they have not sought or successfully phased out of treatment. We can’t just keep calling people “crazy” as the lever we pull to extradite them into irrelevance. The balance is hard but important: how to hear folks when they need help, how to hear folks even if they need help, how to empower them to seek help, how to be the help they seek, and how to know when we can’t be.

    If this Thursday was also about something bad happening to a beautiful mind and that something bad is, as Lauryn puts it, “a machine that overlook[s] the need to to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society,” then we still need transformation.  We not only need to imagine and create a celebrity culture that does not drive the talented, the strong, and the brave into hiding but we also need to collectively figure out how to survive that heartless, breathless machine in the meantime. For Kanye, the machine is the fashion and the music industries, but for any one of us, it could be the university or the office or the political regime. If we become as angry as we deserve to be, then the isms we fight will rob us of our life joy. We have to somehow figure out how to resist and dissent without allowing that enterprise to swallow us whole and turn us stale and I have faith we can win this war without quotable tweets or serving as the one-person congregation of the Church of our own self-proclaimed Godliness. Kanye once said that he, like Dave Chapelle, has to laugh to keep from crying and I suggest that he works harder on that laugh–not for the Kimmels but for Kanye.

    An Open Letter To Pharrell Williams (Blurred Lines Vol. 3) – Nicholas Payton


    AmeriKKKa: Are You Syrious?Why Hiphop Isn’t Cool Anymore → An Open Letter To Pharrell Williams (Blurred Lines Vol. 3)

    Posted on September 13, 2013 by nicholaspayton

    Well, it’s about time Pharrell Williams has decided to speak on the issue. He was eerily quiet about it all until just recently. And now that’s he’s opened his mouth, I can throw him some of the shade I was generously giving Robin Thicke.

    “I’m a huge fan of Marvin Gaye. He is a genius. He is the patriarch.”

    — Pharrell Williams

    Really, Pharrell? Since when did it become okay to preemptively sue our patriarchal geniuses of Black music after you knowingly stole their songs?

    … Oh, never mind. I remember: Hiphop.

    “If you read music, all you have to do is read the sheet music. It’s completely different.

    — Pharrell Williams

    I read music, do you? And what sheet music are you talking about? From some wack publishing company that did a transcription of Marvin Gaye’s work? Since when do people learn funk tunes from sheet music? Many funk legends can’t even read music. Marvin Gaye couldn’t read or write music, yet he wrote the tune. So what does that say, really?

    Pharrell goes on to say:

    “[Gaye] is the king of all kings, so let’s be clear about that. And we take our hats off to him, but anybody that plays music and reads music, just simply go to the piano and play the two. One’s minor and one’s major. And not even in the same key.”

    Okay, Mr. Williams. You are wrong. Both of the tunes are actually in Major. The difference is that your song is just a major triad “G-B-D over G” and Gaye’s tune is in Dominant Major which means he flatted the 7th degree of the scale (G-C#-E over A), which would explain why y’all’s song sounds like Oktoberfest and Marvin’s song sounds like the Blues. And Marvin’s tune doesn’t go into minor until the bridge. If that monotonous piece of trash you call a song had a bridge, you probably would have stolen it, too. And just because you and Thicke lowered the key a whole step from A to G and removed the Blues doesn’t mean you didn’t steal it. Thicke has already admitted you did.

    “Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.”

    — Robin Thicke


    So, how you have the hubris to pretend you didn’t steal it is jive.

    Let me just explain a couple things to you:

    1.) Sheet music may be the legal reference for copyright in the court systems of America, but it has never been the be-all end-all for Black music. A lot of our music has never been written down, it’s an oral and aural tradition passed down generation-to-generation from master to student.

    2.) Many of our Kings of Kings could not read music themselves, either because they were blind or just never learned to read. Reading music is certainly helpful, but it isn’t necessary to do so to be a great musician. All that is required is that you have ears. And anyone with ears can hear that you clearly stole this song.

    And to those of you who say I know nothing about Hiphop, if “Blurred Lines” is Hiphop, I don’t want to know anything about it. So let me officially go on record now and say that I hate Hiphop. There are certain artists who claim Hiphop that I dig, but Hiphop as a whole is wack. It’s a parasitic culture that preys on real musicians for its livelihood. I may not know anything about Hiphop, but I don’t have to. Without real artists and musicians like me, you’d have nothing to steal. I know enough about it all to know that.

    One of the world’s most renowned producers can’t tell the difference between a minor chord and a Dominant 7th, something that you learn the first week in music theory class. It’s like a doctor not knowing the difference between your ears and your eyes. A musical illiterate has the nerve to tell people they would understand he didn’t steal Marvin’s song if they read music. And we wonder why today’s music is shit?


    — Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

    Hip-Hop, Tolerance and a D.J.’s Bared Soul: He’s Tired of Denial


    Hip-Hop, Tolerance and a D.J.’s Bared Soul: He’s Tired of Denial


    Chad Batka for The New York Times

    Mister Cee of Hot 97 spoke bluntly about his sexual identity.



    Published: September 13, 2013 87 Comments

    It was early Thursday morning and Mister Cee, a D.J. on the hip-hop station Hot 97 and a prominent figure in New York hip-hop history, was in tears. The day before, an audio clip was released in which he appeared to solicit a sexual act from a transgender person, the latest in a string of incidents, including arrests, revolving around Mister Cee’s sexual activities. During his Wednesday afternoon show he had announced his resignation, saying he didn’t want to draw negative attention to his employer and colleagues because of his actions.

    Johnny Nunez/WireImage

    Mister Cee in New York City in 2012.

    So there he was on the air the following morning, getting a loving and concerned third degree from Ebro Darden, the program director for Hot 97 (WQHT 97.1 FM), the station where Mister Cee, 47, has worked for two decades. The sober and wrenching conversation lasted about a half-hour, all of it eye-opening.

    In its detail and bluntness the talk became not just a discussion about one man’s personal struggles but also an intense and public conversation about hip-hop and sexuality.

    “I am tired of trying to do something or be something that I’m not,” Mister Cee said. “I’m tired. I’m tired.”

    He initially insisted that he wasn’t gay, but later, revisiting the subject, said, “Even with me saying that, I know I’m still in denial.”

    Mister Cee’s acknowledgment that he is grappling with his sexual identity comes amid the gradual easing of hip-hop’s internalized homophobia. Over the last couple of years Frank Ocean, the soul singer and affiliate of the hip-hop crew Odd Future, openly discussed his love for a man; ASAP Rocky and Kanye West have loudly disavowed homophobia (though Rocky visibly struggled at the MTV Video Music Awards last month when put on stage next to the openly gay basketball player Jason Collins), and Jay Z voiced his support for marriage equality.

    This reflects a generational shift in attitudes in the culture at large, a slight change in the class positioning of hip-hop’s mainstream, and a broadening of hip-hop’s fan base. Antigay sentiment has long been part of that world — two decades ago there were virtual witch hunts to root out rappers who might be gay — but as hip-hop becomes more central to pop culture, its values are evolving. It’s no longer tenable for hip-hop to be an island.

    Mister Cee, born Calvin Lebrun, treated the interview as a confession and an unburdening, speaking with a frankness essentially unheard-of in the genre. He wept several times. He said that his Caribbean heritage made it even more difficult to come to terms with his sexuality. And he fretted about the future.

    Implicitly, Mister Cee was addressing how he thought these two parts of himself — his sexual identity and his hip-hop celebrity as a radio and club D.J. — couldn’t coexist.

    Some of his concerns were practical: “Am I still going to get bookings? Is the promoter still going to book me if I say, ‘Yeah, occasionally I have fellatio with a transsexual?’ ”

    That question underscored not only the genre’s history of intolerance, but also the fundamental conundrum of hip-hop D.J.’s — they are omnipresent but largely anonymous. That’s true especially of Mister Cee, who for a time was a Zelig figure in New York hip-hop: the D.J. for Big Daddy Kane and an affiliate of the influential 1980s outfit the Juice Crew; the man who reworked the Notorious B.I.G.’s demo tape and helped get it in the hands of Sean Combs; a significant mixtape D.J. in the 1990s; and a steady presence at Hot 97, one of the most important rap stations in the country.

    He is the station’s institutional memory and its living link to history, its one reliable purveyor of hip-hop classics. And he’s the D.J. who takes it upon himself to memorialize the dead. Listen to his mixes celebrating the life of Heavy D, or Big L, or as he did on Friday afternoon’s show, Tupac Shakur — they are things of erudition and love.

    But even with that résumé, Mister Cee feared he could be replaced, that his scandal could become the thing that defined him, and in a flash, undo him.

    “God forgives — I hope y’all do too,” he posted on his Instagram account after resigning.

    A decade ago the conversation between Mister Cee and Mr. Darden would have been unthinkable. But there was Mr. Darden assuring Mister Cee, “There’s nothing wrong with being who you are,” and at one point encouraging him by exclaiming, “You’re free, Cee!”

    Mr. Darden has emerged as a fascinating figure over the last year, a program director who has become something of a moral beacon. He has been a testy combatant in wars of words with personalities from Power 105.1 FM (WWPR), New York’s other hip-hop station; a peacemaker between Nicki Minaj and Peter Rosenberg, the on-air personality who publicly attacked her; and now the blocker clearing a path for Mister Cee’s acceptance.

    By embracing Mister Cee unreservedly, by publicly showing in no uncertain terms that he is worthy of love, and by insisting he belonged on the air, Mr. Darden took an implicit stand on behalf of Hot 97, and maybe by extension, of hip-hop. He answered Mister Cee’s bravery with tolerance, a loud rebuke to those who might prefer to keep hip-hop difference-free.

    A radio station is, generally speaking, neutral territory — songs are played, personalities are a bit bland. But Mr. Darden’s behavior reframed Hot 97 as an ideological institution, not just a musical one. He gave Mister Cee a safe space in which to be all the parts of himself.

    On Thursday afternoon, following the urging of Mr. Darden during the morning interview, Mister Cee had un-resigned. He was back in his noon time slot, playing defiant songs interspersed with grateful ones — Jadakiss’s “The Champ Is Here,” Maino’s “Hi Hater,” AZ’s “I’m Back.” “Let me just live my life/Just leave me alone,” he rapped along with one Cam’ron song. In between songs, he barked out the details of the clubs where he’d be spinning in the coming days.

    “The truth will set you free,” he said. “I know it now.”

    Near the end of his hour, he switched from hip-hop to classic soul. “If you’re down and out, if you’re struggling, if you think you can’t overcome something, maybe this record may lift you up like it lifted me up last night when I listened to it,” he said before playing Sly and the Family Stone’s “You Can Make It if You Try.”

    Following that with that group’s exuberant anthem “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Mister Cee was sending a clear message: He had been supporting others for so long. Now, finally, he was the subject of his own tribute.

    A version of this article appears in print on September 14, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Hip-Hop, Tolerance and a D.J.’s Bared Soul: He’s Tired of Denial.

    Beneath the Spin*Eric L. Wattree l THE MAN


    Beneath the Spin*Eric L. Wattree

    Young and curious, crusin= the street, my partner and I, with life at our feet. Beautiful days of summer=s ilk, and beautiful ladies with legs of silk. Miles on the box with Thelonious in tow, playin’ “Round Midnite”, with nothin=but soul. Miles was moanin=, Thelonious was Monk, our senses were spinnin=- our top in the trunk.
    Down Century Boulevard, past Sportsman Park, North on Crenshaw, Can=t wait til it=s dark. Crenshaw was jammin=, not like today, with cognitive people, who went their own way. Cadillacs gleamin=, prosperity galore, Ladies a struttin=, that gait I adore. The hood left behind, no denial or shame, among my kind of people, who=d mastered the game.
    Dreamin= and crusin=, yet, chained to the hood, but into an element we both understood. Jazz was the thing that had lured our route, and no chain of poverty was keepin= us out! Cause THE MAN was in town, with his mighty ax, and he was jammin= that night at Dynamite Jack=s.
    So anxious to worship THE MAN in the flesh, the first thing that mornin= we started to dress. In our youthful exuberance we saw nothin= wrong, with the hours to kill before HE would go on. Hence, there we were with nothin= to do, THE MAN=S first note at 9, and it was now only 2.
    So we went to a park on Rodeo Road and proceeded to get in our Mack-daddy mode. We needed two women with presence and class, who were progressive, and sexy, and dug modern jazz.
    We lucked-out, no doubt, with Debra and Gwen, two sisters on cruse in their step-father=s Benz. These women were ladies we soon recognized, not only quite lovely but exceedingly wise. We spoke of Dizzy, Dexter, Thelonious and Bird, and all of the monsters of jazz that we=d heard. Then just as our session was starting to end, Gwen mentioned Dolphy, and we were at it again.
    We partook of the bush, we had a few beers, by 8 it was like we=d been partyin= for years. But now it was time to hit Dynamite Jack=s, to hear THE MAN blow, sip Scotch and relax.
    So we followed the ladies up into the hills, to a fabulous pad, must=ve cost a few bills. We dropped off my car, then got in the wind. We split to see HIM, and my journey began.
    Dynamite Jack=s was the place to be, there seemed to be thousands of new things to see. Doctors, lawyers, pimps and Awhoes@, dope fiends with their nostrils froze; Perverts, politicians (one and the same), everyone seemed to have some kind of game.
    At 16 years old I was really impressed, with this flash, this glitz, this flamboyant success. I knew before long, that my turn would come, I=d shoot for the stars, at least, out of the slum.

    Then HE came on stage to a mighty roar, as bustling humanity hung all out the door. A quiet MAN, of knowledge and taste, yet HIS presence sent a chill through the place!
    Then flash became silence, and glitz bled to awe. Pure greatness just glistened from THIS MAN we saw. No posturing, no swagger, no hipster-like Mack, Just unfettered greatness, the essence, in fact….
    On that one precious moment, as I gaped at the stand, my young reckless mind would take hold as a man. That moment estranged from the kid that I=d been. Life’s door was flung wide, and a new man would step in.
    Now, many years later, assessing my life, with the dues of raising two kids with a wife. THE MAN is long gone from this earthly plain, but HIS unflaunting manhood stays etched in my brain.
    A kid on that night gave birth to a plan, that night when I looked up in awe at THE MAN. Revealed was a path that would color my life, that shunned the flamboyance and glitz of the night. To shoot for the stars! That was my plan – the stardom that=s found in just being A MAN!
    I’ve taken two souls, and molded their lives, away from the flash, and the glitz, of the night. Two college age kids now view ME with awe. I now see in their eyes what that night HE saw.
    Greatness is relative, I learned from THE MAN, through the glint in HIS eye, and HIS demeanor on stand. You don’t have to be famous to be someone grand, just pull up your trousers, and stand tall like a man.
    It was KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM that night that I saw; the EXCELLENCE of DISCIPLINE that put awe in awe, of one humble spirit, so sweet and sublime, but a spirit that=ll speak to all man for all time!
    So a droplet of beauty, from this “kid” to mankind; a pearl of wisdom, a wistful rhyme; some insight he gained as he bat away tears; might his essence endure through the unfolding years?
    A journey began, on that faithful night, that moment a young set of eyes saw AFirst Light.@When HE tapped out the rhythm to Africa Brass . . .
    and my dream to see COLTRANE had come true at last.


    Eric L. Wattree
    Citizens Against Reckless Middle-Class Abuse (CARMA)

    Religious bigotry: It’s not that I hate everyone who doesn’t look, think, and act like me – it’s just that God does.

    Is Trinidad James an Artist or a Buffoon? Dr. Chistopher Emdin (OUR COMMON GROUND Voice)with Dr. Boyce Watkins

    Is Trinidad James an Artist or a Buffoon? Dr. Chistopher Emdin discusses

    December 28, 2012 |

    trinidad-chrisDr. Boyce Watkins had a conversation about the impact that hip-hop is having on the youth that listen to it. To add to the conversation, he invited Dr. Christopher Emdin to weigh in on the conversation about what rappers like Trinidad James are actually doing to young people when they release records full of destructive messages.

    The interview is below:

    Dr. Watkins:     Hi.  I’m Dr. Boyce Watkins from  Last week I was in New York City and I stopped by a radio station, in the City, called Power 105.1, which is a hip-hop station.  One of my buddies is one of the hosts on the show called the Breakfast Club.  His name is Charlamagne Tha God.  So, I stopped through to talk to Charlamagne and we were talking about some of this nonsense with BET and whether or not it’s affecting our kids and stuff like that.

    I asked Charlamagne,

    “What do you think about this guy, this new rapper, Trinidad James?”

    Charalamagne said,

    “Oh, yeah.  Trinidad was here right before you got here.”  I said, “I’m so happy I didn’t cross paths with him on my way in the door because I think that might have been my first arrest for assault because I probably would have tried to beat this brother down.  His music just bothers me so much.  But, then again, maybe I’m just a hater because he’s got more money than me.”

    So, to kind of get some perspective on this, I wanted to bring in one of my buddies who is one of the scholars I respect the most in the country, Dr. Christopher Emdin.  He’s not just a Professor of Education at Columbia University, which is impressive enough; but he’s also a very, very good hip-hop artist.  I’ve literally seen him bust freestyle in front of a group of high school kids and at the same time talk to them about how the power of hip-hop can be used to teach them science.  So, I’ve got Dr. Emdin on the line.

    Dr. Boyce:          How are you doing today, brother?

    Dr. Emdin:         I’m doing well, man.  I’m really appreciative that you gave me the opportunity to share some insight on this situation with Trinidad James.  He’s blowing up over night.

    Dr. Boyce:          Yeah.  He really is.  Is it true he’s been rapping for about  8 or 9 months?

    Dr. Emdin:         The interview narrative has been about 8 or 9 months but I think he’s been rapping a little bit longer.  I vividly remember actually being in Atlanta about a year and a half ago and I was talking with some young people.  Some of them were saying, “Yo.  Trinidad James is next.  Trinidad James is the truth.”  So, I think he’s actually been rapping a little bit longer than the narrative that’s being put out to the public.  His fan base has been there for quite a while.

    Dr. Boyce:          Really.  Okay.

    Dr. Emdin:         Yes, sir.

    Dr. Boyce:          So, Trinidad just got a deal with Def Jam Records.  It’s so interesting because I’m kind of, mentally, in that space.  I literally had an hour and a half long meeting yesterday with Russell Simmons talking about bringing in hip-hop artists to support our campaign on mass incarceration.  You’re also in that space because you just finished an extraordinary event with Gza from the Wu Tang Clan on how to use hip-hop to teach science.

    So, what is your take on the legitimacy now – or the perceived legitimacy of this artist who is producing music that many people might call straight coonery and buffoonery?

    Dr. Emdin:         See, this is my take and I want to be very, very clear.  I do not blame Trinidad James for his over-night success.  I don’t blame Trinidad James for the fact that he is on every radio station across the country.  Nor do I blame him for the fact that he has become an over-night phenomena.  What I do blame is a record company that will sign this artist, support this artist, give him money, and continue in this trajectory or piggy back off of this underground success he’s made at the expense of promoting a caricature of blackness.  I don’t blame the brother.

    The black experience has its nuances.  There is somebody who Trinidad James raps to and for.  Just like there’s somebody that Gza raps to and for.  There’s a wide array of that.  There’s intellectual rap.  There’s street rap.  There’s pop and molly rap.  I don’t advocate for the negative but I realize that it exists.

    In my view, my issue is not with the artist himself.  My issue is with a public and with a corporate hip-hop system.  We call it hip-hop.  We call it something — an institution that’s supposed to advocate for our culture only identifying the negative caricature and making sure that that becomes what the picture is of the entire culture.  That’s what I have a problem with.  I have a problem with radio stations choosing to take Trinidad James and put him on their station in New York City or across the globe as what is the newest and hottest artist in the country.  Because they have the power to be able to identify another artist that is much more talented and perhaps has a different robust subject matter, and make that person be the picture of hip-hop.

    So, I don’t blame the man.  The man that’s speaking based on his experiences, or his circumstances, or what he sees in Atlanta everyday, or his

    self-construction, however flawed that may be.  I won’t critique that one publicly.  I would like to have a conversation with him about why that is how he constructs who he is; why it is that he sees the world this way.  I’ve heard interviews with the brother.  He’s actually quite articulate.  So, I’d like to talk to him about, “Why don’t you pull forth more of the complexity of who you are into your music?”  That’s conversation between me and Trinidad James or anybody who loves hip-hop or loves black men and wants to see them be more then what they are portrayed to be.  That’s a conversation between us and Trinidad.

    My critique is not him.  My critique is the system.  My critique is the corporate system that allows us to force-feed this nonsense to our young people.  My critique is of the fact that we are now at a point where we are advocating for these who are spitting nursery school rhymes as if that’s complex hip-hop.  I don’t think Trinidad James is a product of isolation.  He didn’t come out of nowhere.  Trinidad James is the ancestor of Rick Ross.   Rick Ross has a nursery school rhyme and he pauses and says, “uh.”  And then, Trinidad James says, “Hot tamale, I’m sweating, whoo.”  That’s the same cadence.  It’s the basic baseline nursery rhyme cadence.  You know, Trinidad James is the evolution of Rick Ross.  And, there will be many more incarnations of that simplistic rap if we don’t get to the point where we start critiquing it and saying, “Hey, Company, there’s a brother right now, called “X”, who is spitting hip-hop on a consistent basis about every social dynamic of our time.  Every social construction where he talks about black maleness, politics, the media, and corporate entity, he talks about all these things that really affect black men but you’re not going to offer him a deal.  You won’t give him the debility.  He won’t get spins on 105.1 or Hot 97.  Then you blame the audience like the audience is asking for it.  The audience isn’t asking for it.  The audience is asking for complexity and blackness.  You take that as the message you want to show us and then you blame us because we’re the one’s consuming.  We’re consuming because you’re feeding it.”

    And this is why I go back to what a great man once said, “It is that time that we turn off the radio, turn off the BS, and we get to the point where we start supporting artists who speak to and for us.  And when we have those artists that don’t do that, we critique them individually; we critique them personally.  We have a conversation about them because those brothers are hurt.  They’re lonely.  They’re speaking those narratives because they’re still trying to find themselves.  I hear Trinidad James.  I don’t get angry at the brother.  I get angry at the circumstances that allowed him to feel like this is the only way that he can get some visibility.

    So, where we are right now is to really focus on the entities who push these messages upon us. , that take one artist out of Atlanta and put him on a National billboard.  And the question we have to ask ourselves is not why Trinidad James is creating that rap, it’s why is the public and the company and the record label and MTV and Viacom and Clear Channel and 105.1, 97.1, or whatever radio station it is that you’re listening to throughout the country, singling him out as what we should be showing our young people as an example.  That’s who I blame, not the man.

    Dr. Boyce:     I’m in complete agreement with you.  And, I’ll say this: anybody who hasn’t seen Trinidad James’ video has got to check out his song.  The song that made him successful is called “All Gold Everything.”  And, it’s about the biggest caricature of black manhood that you’ve ever seen in your life.  Everybody in the video is pretty much running around with guns and money and drugs. Every buffoonish, ignorant, self-destructive stereotype that is fed to our black men on a regular basis is featured in this video. The next book that I’m releasing is related to what I call the gospel of black-male self-destruction, which is being fed to African American males through this music.  It’s being played out all around us and we see black boys imitating this on a regular basis.  It only leads them to either prison or the morgue.  We’ve got to stop it and we’ve got to deal with it and get it where it stands.

    Now, I want to ask you the last question, Dr. Emdin.  One of the things that bothered me about Trinidad James is…I would have felt more comfortable if somebody had said, “Well, you know, he just doesn’t know what he does.  The poor boy, his IQ is about 80.”  Which is why his lyrics, as you mentioned, sound like kindergarten nursery rhymes.  But, one of the hosts at Power 105 said to me, “You know, he’s actually quite articulate and very intelligent.”  And, I said, “That is a damn shame that an intelligent black man has to be ashamed of his intelligence.  He has to hide his intelligence in order to make a dollar.”  That is pathetic to me.

    So, what is your take on that, Dr. Emdin?  How deep is this anti-intellectualism issue within commercialized hip-hop; within the broader culture?  What is this doing to us as black men?

    Dr. Emdin:         Well, it’s ruining us.  I mean… I’ll just be completely frank.  I’ve listened to a bunch of Trinidad James’ interviews just because I’ve been curious about this man’s psyche.  When I initially saw the video and heard the song, I thought the song was catchy.  I’m not going to front; when I heard it the first time, I said, “Man, it’s a catchy beat.”  I heard the song and I knew the lyrics were trash and I also watched the video. So, I started researching and listening to interviews.  I heard him on 105.1.  And, yes, he is articulate.  Yes, he can form a sentence.  But, the problem is why is it that we should be surprised when a black man can be articulate?  Why does it have to be like, “You know what, he actually is.”  Why can’t the stuff that he presents from the beginning be that articulate and that complex self?  Why does he have to play a character in order for him to be able to be successful?

    But the reality is…my solution and my take on it… and this is not something I’ve created: There’s a bunch of hip-hop scholars and African American scholars that have said this for a very long time.  What I’m saying is we’ve got to reach the point where we start showing people that there is a different narrative.  And the piece of that different narrative I’m talking about is that you can have the hypothesized identity. You can rhyme, speak intelligently through that rhyme, be articulate through that rhyme, be aware of politics in your environment through that rhyme and be validated for it.  You don’t have to be stupid to be accepted.  You don’t have to play stupid to be accepted.  Because, what happens when you’re playing a character?

    Psychologists tell us this all the time that individuals have core identities and they have role-like identities.  The core identity is who you really truly are which expresses your intelligence.  Your role identity is the identity that you have to construct in order to be successful in a social stair.  If you have a role identity that you enact so consistently, what happens is that it begins to rot your core.  You can have a core self and have played a character for so long that you play a game with your mind and you alter your true self by enacting a character for too long.  And so, the big problem here is deeper than just this one artist.  It’s in the fact that this artists creates a narrative that young people start emulating.  And the more that they emulate that narrative, it becomes part of their self-construction.  It impacts their core identity and starts to rot the intelligence that they have within them – that’s the issue.

    Dr. Boyce:     Wow.  That’s really deep- life imitating art.  Anybody who doesn’t believe that the music affects the minds of our kids needs to go to talk to a good psychologist. They will tell you that the repetition of mantra, laced over a smooth continuous repetitive beat, makes your mind open to suggestion and therefore it sinks so deeply into your subconscious that you don’t even know it’s there.  Adolf Hitler said, a long time ago… and people said it before him, that those who control the minds of the people control everything.  So when you look at what our kids are absorbing, you can’t help but feel that we’re in a state of emergency.

    So, I appreciate you, Dr. Emdin, for stepping on the front line to deal with this issue and to provide that voice that so many of us need.  Thank you so much.

    Dr. Emdin:         Thank you, sir.

    Dr. Boyce:     Thank you all for checking us out at  Until we meet again, please, stay strong, be blessed, and be educated.


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