Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Could you do it?

Like a whole lot of other people that have 're-migrated' to the South, I came here because it is more affordable. And it is. Down here you can really have the home of your dreams, and it won't cost you a million dollars and your first born child. No, down here you can have a nice four bedroom, 3 bathroom, full-sized kitchen, 2 car garage, deck out back and porch up front for 159,000, and have plenty of yard space to go with it.

In the Bay Area - where I'm from, for 159,000, you'll be living way out in the woods somewhere and would have to drive 2 hours PLUS to get to work everyday.

So, anyway, here I was at work today browsing the web looking for houses and look what I came across for 375,000 bucks:

"This home has been in my family for over thirty years. I grew up in it during my teen years. The home is over two hundred years old. The home was built around the late seventeen hundreds to around 1800. It is constructed from the heart of Pine trees. Probably from Pine trees on and near the property. The home is surrounded on ten acres of almost level land. The home is about 4500 square feet. "

Wow, 4500 square feet! In San Leandro I lived in a 850 sq foot apartment. My friends have bought homes that are 2000 sq feet for the same asking price as that house. I now live in a 1450 sq foot townhouse...but 4500 square feet, I can't imagine it. What would I do with 4500 square feet? Ok, living room, dining room, kitchen, family room, study, bathrooms - and now we get to the bedrooms: ok Master bedroom, TJ's room, Malcolm's room, Jarred's room, Aaron's room and guest room. WOW, there is still space left! And the ten acres of land! What to do, what to do? Ok, recording studio, gym...I'm running out of ideas. Damn, I could entertain all kinds of family and friends in a spot like that. But then, I saw something I overlooked:

"It is an old Plantation Home"

I had to step back and do like Black Rob and say: "WHOA!" I don't know. I don't think I could live in a plantation. Even if I did buy it, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. According to the ad it says it was built in the 17 and or 1800's - that means at the peak of our captivity - somebody had slaves working that property. The ad also says: "It is contructed from the heart of Pine trees. Probably from Pine trees on and near the property." Guess who chopped the trees? The same somebodies that dragged the trees and cut them and built the house.

Slavery is our holocaust. Even though no one I know - or ever met, was ever a slave, the effects of it still effect black people 140 years after it was abolished. No I have never picked cotton, tobacco, sugar cane or anything else that comes from the ground - and it's because of the legacy of slavery that I absolutely r-e-f-u-s-e to pick anything now.

Now, we are in a time when Black people - in this country, have more wealth today than ever before. There are more Black professionals today than there were in the 60's when the Civil Rights Bill was passed. Black people own all kinds of black nostalgia ie; the Mamie dolls, Sambo posters etc., etc,...Will the day ever come when we own plantations?

The sentiment behind owning Sambo posters and the like is that, we should own our legacy no matter how painful it is. But a poster or a doll are different from the blood, sweat and tears that went into building plantations.

I couldn't live in one for all the reasons previously mentioned and, because doing so, would alienate me - and my family, from the local Black community. Word of a black person buying a plantation in the South would spread faster than a Tupac mixtape. Black folks would show up out of nowhere in the middle of the day, just to get a 'look' at who bought that damn house.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hip Hop Essentials: Volume Six

The 1980’s were a magical time for hip-hop. The musical gospel was being spread throughout the world by legions of disciples who had either been to the original Bronx parties or were directly influenced by the movement’s prime innovators.

One of the first people to take Kool Herc’s haphazardly spun break-beat formula from blueprint to fine tuned flesh and blood creation was Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler and his MC’s the Furious Five.

On a warm and sunny Oakland afternoon, along side my partners Davey D and Jeff Chang; I interviewed the hip-hop father himself: Kool Herc. As he spoke everyone in the room sat in awe of the man. The stories he told of the parties and of the early players thrilled us all. It was at that point that it dawned on me: Kool Herc is to hip-hop, what the Neanderthal man is to early Homo sapiens. He is the blueprint for the funk genetic code that would later be called hip-hop.

So I asked him, “Mr. Herc, I’m curious”, I said, “who were the first people that you saw rap as we know it today?’

Without a pause he said, “Mele Mel. It was Mele Mel and Kid Creole.” Looking down at his battle scarred hands and then out the window to Lake Merritt he continued, “they was at a boxing gym – as a matter of fact it was the last place that I saw Big Pun alive at. It was over in the Fort Apache area. In the middle of the ring, Mele and Kid Creole – as little as he is, with that big long Jackson Five afro, was in the middle of the ring rappin’ with Flash cuttin’ behind them.” It was at this point that a warm smile enveloped Herc’s face as he recalled watching them from the crowd. “I laughed to myself”, he said, “Cause I knew where they got it from – they got it from me. They took what we were doing to another level. I just laughed to myself. They knew where they got it from. As a matter of fact, Mele Mel saw me in the crowd and nodded at me. I laughed. I wasn’t mad at him”, the hip-hop father said.

Years later Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five would wow audiences all over the globe with records like ‘Freedom’, ‘It’s Nasty’, ‘The Message’ and the unforgettable ‘New York, New York’. On the song ‘New York, New York’ Mele Mel and Duke Bootee got deeper than Bob Dylan and painted a harsher picture of city life than the original rap poet from 125th and Lenox, Gil Scott-Heron ever did. It was at this point in recorded rap history when lyricists – real lyricists who had something truly profound to say, would awaken the minds of a generation to the poverty, desperation and confusion that still holds America in a death grip. The listener is taken on a sonic trip into the underbelly of the inner city where chaos and claustrophobia fuel confusion and rage.

Before Snoop and the Dogg Pound threw down the gauntlet in the so-called “East Coast/West Coast” beef, the real hook went:
“New York, New York big city of dreams, and everything in New York, ain’t always what it seems. You might get fooled if you come from out of town, but I’m down by law and I know my way around. Too much. Too many people. Too much.”

The verses that followed were testimonials to the hardships of dealing day to day with life in the ‘Rotten Apple’ during Reagan’s America. Complete with rock guitar squeals and keyboard sounds that could’ve been in the soundtrack to an 80’s thriller like ‘Escape From New York’, the MC’s take you on a sonic tour through the urban struggle. But in all honesty those verses could’ve applied to any big city in America.

If only I could sleep just ten more minutes,
I might find the strength to make another day.
If I didn’t have to get up and do my thing,
I’d probably sleep my whole life away…
Ran into a pothole,
Got into a car crash,
Should’ve been thinking and tried to fake whiplash.
A crowd gathers ‘round calling me fat,
Who you looking at with a face like that?

Or this…

A man’s on the ledge,
Says he’s gonna jump,
People gather round and say he won’t he’s just a chump.
Cause he lost his job,
Then he got robbed,
His mortgage is due and his marriage is through.
He said he ain’t gonna pay no child support,
Because the bitch left him without a second thought.”

80’s hip-hop artists gave their teen audiences glimpses in to real adult life situations. Anything from the disparity that comes from unemployment to the confusion and desperate decisions made from an unwanted pregnancy – it was all on the table. This was the age when there really was a message in the music.

One of the legendary acts of the early era – in fact he made what was probably the fifth or sixth rap record ever called ‘Spoonin’ Rap’, was a man who always did his own thing: Spoonie Gee. While every other MC was out to cold crush the competition, Spoonie dubbed himself the “Cold Crushing Lover” and kept his rap – as that a ‘rap’ strictly for the ladies. Before Too Short, LL, Kane, Rakim or any other cat ever picked up a mike and tried to spit some smooth shit at a girl, Spoonie was doin’ it. He was also one of the first guys to rap in a laid-back, conversational style.

In the mid 80’s when everyone went political and talked about how hard the streets were – Spoonie talked about a bad girl, a “Street Girl”. After years of being out of the spotlight, Spoonie returned in the late 80’s when his generation was on the wane and only a few were able to hang with the new crop of MC’s, and dropped the Marley Marl produced classic “The Godfather”. Over the frenetic funk of the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown’s ‘Soul Power ‘74’, Spoonie, smoothed- out and laid- back declared in a conversational style:

“Let’s get this straight,
There’s no contest,
So now you people know and don’t have to guess.
I’m not the king of rap,
Not lord not prince,
I was a young kid rappin’
And I been rockin’ ever since….”

Spoonie didn’t have to be the greatest rapper ever – because he was the smoothest rapper ever.

Speaking of the smoothest rapper ever it’s a tie between two other guys: Guru of Gang Starr and Rakim Allah. For me, it’s Rakim – when RUN-DMC and everyone else were screaming their heads off, I’ll never forget Rakim sitting on the stage at the Henry J Kaiser Center rhyming, “I take 7 MC’s and put ‘em in a line, and take 7 more brothers who think they can rhyme. And it a take 7 more before I go for mine – and that is 21 MC’s ate up at the same time.” Those were the best rhymes for at least seven years.

Gang Starr made their debut on a little known label called Wild Pitch Records (before there was Rawkus Records – there was Wild Pitch, get up on it) with the classic “Words I Manifest” sometime around 1989, this was back when baggy jeans and sweatshirts first came into style.

Gang Starr’s first major label single was called “Just to Get a Rep”. This was when there were more guns and crack all over the streets than garbage. You didn’t really wanna bling back then unless you had it like that – cause if you didn’t: Stick up kids were out to tax. Over an obscure break that’s bass line bounced like jazz, but was more eclectic than anything else; Guru detailed the painful costs of street life at the height of the crack era.

The last great single by the Sugar Hill Gang was called “The Lover In You” – it was the first time I heard a rap record on Quiet Storm radio. From the smoothed out beat to the mellow background singing, this was a record earmarked for ‘soft and warm’ formats like Vaughn Harper’s show on WBLS or Leslie Stoval on KBLX. For real hip-hop you had to flip the dial to the left end of the spectrum to hear a song like ‘Funkbox Party’ by the Masterdon Committee.

According to many of his contemporaries, the late great D.J. Masterdon would’ve given Grandmaster Flash a run for his money anytime of the day. He is described as having been a sharp dresser who always kept a cool head, and could rhyme just as good as he deejayed. Like Flash, he was one of the first deejays to utilize the beat box. Master Don called his the ‘Funk Box”. Master P’s biggest single was called “Make ‘Em Say Ugggghhh”, which was taken from “Funk Box Party” a record that captured the soulful singing of group member Gangster Gee and high-powered raps by Keith K.C., Johnny D, Boo-Ski and Pebblee Poo.

Hip Hop Essentials are essential to anyone that calls themselves a true hip-hopper.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Southern Food

You know I tried to be a Muslim once – I really did. I would be one right now, I have no attachment whatsoever to the Christian religion. I dig certain concepts like: Forgiveness, atonement, love your neighbor and all that kind of stuff. Now when it gets to the mythology…that’s where I have the problem.

I like Islam for the discipline – I dig that. The cat at the mosque said, “Brother, if you’re gonna join us you gotta be disciplined”. I said ‘Ok brother, right on.” He said, “No white women.” I said, ‘No problem brother, I have no attachment to them anyway.” He said, “No alcohol or drugs.” ‘I said, “No problem brother, I’m not into that anyway.” And then he crushed my heart, “And no pig brother…”

“Whew”, I thought, “No pig?’ No pork chops, no bacon, no ribs, no sausage, no ham…?”

I tried; I prayed, I ate chicken, fish and lamb for almost a year and a half. And then one late night at Safeway, it happened. A voice called my name. ‘Mark’, the voice said, “Over here”.

“Over where?” I said.
“Over here…follow my voice.”

It lead me straight to the frozen food section, right into a package of pork chops. “Awww man” I thought. I haven’t had a pork chop in a long time. And then it dawned on me. “Hey I can get sick from eating this. I haven’t touched this stuff in over a year. Better start slow – let’s get some bacon.”

And then I was back to eating pig again. No more discipline. I tried all of the mental tricks they give you in the Nation: ‘Brother, do you know what you’re eating? Hey, the pig is a cross between a rat and a dog. You are what you eat!” That didn’t work. And for my Muslim brothers y’all can keep believing that, while I throwdown on some baby back ribs. I know y’all are jealous, you smell that barbecue sauce and want a taste of swine too – don’t front.
Southern Fried Mark

Well I’m new to the South; I know absolutely nothing about Southern culture – beyond some of the food, I know nothing. When I was growing up I think I spent two summers down here – and that was in the eighties. I know nothing man. I don’t know anything about fried gizzards, fried chicken livers – I wouldn’t know a Turnip green from a Mustard green. I thought I stood out in California – boy do I stand out here.

For instance, the English language is a foreign language down here. Yes, ok they speak English down here, but not like you and I speak it. For instance let’s take a word like…Hmmmm, I’ve got one: Christmas. Now you and I say: Chris –t – mas. The ‘mas’ takes on a ‘mus’ sound. The ‘t’ is silent, but never the less, we know it’s there. Well, down here some of – well – a lot of our country brethren say ‘Crimma’. Yes, you are reading it right: ‘Crimma’. There is no ‘s’ and there is most definitely no ‘t’; just ‘Crimma’.

Now being from New York and California, I came up around our people’s re-interpretation of the English language all of my life. Hell, being from New York there are certain words I butcher to death like: Mustard. In New York we say: ‘Musted’. There is no ‘r’ in the word Mustard in New York. As a matter of fact, the ‘r’ gets hacked off of a lot of things in New York, most especially the name York. New Yorkers call it – New Yawk. And that’s alright (by the way, I bet it was in New York that the phrase aiiight was born – no ‘r’ sound) cause around other Easterners we sound normal.

In the West – there is a drawl; if you pay attention a lot of cats in the West don’t have heavy voices, not all, but a whole lot of cats don’t. Believe it or not, a lot of cats actually sound like Too Short and Eazy E – and the exception to the rule: Hammer. It’s true. Now slang is countrified out there – but that is by choice. If you really listen to a cat you can tell that he knows how to put his words together well, he just chooses not to. And that’s okay.

However, in the South, brothers really say ‘Who that is?’ Or ‘What that is?’ Or ‘What name is you?’…Sometimes upon hearing this I have to stop and think to myself: “Damn, now what did that brother say?”

Now in other parts of the country, you know when our folks are just speaking slang – and you go ‘Ok dude is just reppin’ his side of town or whatever’. But down here Ebonics takes on a whole other meaning. It really is another language. It has been passed down for generation upon generation upon generation…until it is what it is now: the norm; in other words, all you know.

What a difference an education can make.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I Laughed ‘Til I Cried

“These two niggas wanted to have a contest to see who had the biggest dicks in the world, right. Now, see they weren’t freaks or nothing they didn’t want everyone looking. So they went looking for somewhere to have their contest. And then they got to the Golden Gate Bridge and one nigga looked at the other nigga and said: ‘Man I got to take a leak.” And the other nigga said, “yeah me too.’

So he pulls out his dick and starts taking a leak and all of a sudden one nigga says: “Goddamn, this waters cold…”

And the other nigga said, ‘yeah and it’s deep too.”

Those words are from the immortal, the irrepressible and perhaps the most important comedian of our time: Richard Pryor. The first time I heard that joke I was eleven years old. I was wearing a pair of headphones because I didn’t want anyone in the house to know what I was listening to. I knew I was listening to something that I shouldn’t have been listening to. But I couldn’t help it. I had to do it. The albums were all over the house. Sitting there playing those records I laughed so hard until I cried. I had never had that experience before.

I memorized dozens and dozens of Richard Pryor routines – I should’ve been a comedian with the way I was obsessed with those records. But learning those records were a vital part of my adolescence. They were an important part of what bonded me to my buddies: Rodney Loche and Mark Standfield. The three of us laughed so much as teenagers – I can hardly remember a time when we didn’t laugh. We all loved Mudbone – a character Richard would bring to life in “Which Way Is Up?”

Mudbone was an old man from ‘Pee-ora, Illinoy’, he was probably an old wino - well, yeah that's what Mudbone was - a wino. He spoke with a Southern drawl and cracked wise about any and every subject you could think of. My favorite Mudbone stories were from the "Bicentennial Nigger" album. Mudbone was the character that talked about a guy named ‘Cockeyed Junior’ (Cockeyed Junior would say: Nigga pick that up…and four or five niggas bend down) my stupid ass – I nicknamed the janitor at our high school (Hayward High School) Cockeyed Junior, because, well, he was cockeyed. Sorry to say, I never learned the janitor’s name – I grew too accustomed to calling him Cockeyed Junior. I remember once me and my friend Mark were in the cafeteria and one of us, I can’t remember who, threw something at the garbage can and missed. Well, here comes the janitor – and guess what he says? Hey pick that up! Well, me and Mark being as silly as we were, we stood there pointing at ourselves and looking at him, trying to figure out who he was talking to, because that eye was looking everywhere but at us.

Richard Pryor’s comedy was kind of like a gateway or a peephole into an adult world that my young mind would’ve had no idea about had it not been for him. His routines about cocaine – while funny, were often scary. They were just scary enough that I never ever ever never touched cocaine in my life. Just by listening to him talk about the pipe calling him from another room, was enough for me to say – nah I don’t want any part of it.

Sex…well that was a different story. His routines about sex were dead on. Like this:
“You ever get with a girl you really been wanting for a long time and your dick don’t move? You be sittin’ there sayin’ to yourself ‘Oh God, not now. Please let it remain heavy if not hard.”

You don’t appreciate a joke like that until that shit really happens to you.

An artist if he is a sincere artist shares his joys, pain and sorrow with the audience. There are very few contemporary artists that do that. Most artists today – especially male artists want to depict themselves as super lovers, super players, super ballers, super thugs all on some souped up nonsense. These guys work day and night trying to live up to the myth of the super black man - when they can’t. If an artist is honest with himself, he understands he – and the world around him, are not a perfect world. We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world, trying to make sense out of the perfect universe that God has created. But God, who is probably the funniest comedian of all, can be compared with an absentee landlord, who leaves you to figure out how to clean up the mess he made. The artists’ job is to paint a picture (with words, sounds, or drawing) of that mess and hold it up to society.

Richard Pryor drew a picture of our society on a canvas in a way that we can all understand. And when he drew those pictures – they made me laugh until I cried.

I’ll miss you…
What a Difference a Chair Makes

Name a great thinker. Go ahead name someone. Anyone. Here I’ll drop a few: Galileo. Martin Luther King. Freud. Now what do they all have in common? This: I bet they were comfortable when they were coming with their great ideas.

Think about it. Galileo had to have a comfortable seat to think in to come up with all of his theories and whatnot. Let’s go back even further to Socrates, that dude probably didn’t have a comfortable seat to sit on, but I bet he had on some comfortable shoes. Most likely they were sandals. It’s good to crack the toe knuckles from time to time when trying to get the best ideas out.

Now you know Dr. King had a comfortable seat in his office. I’ve seen the pictures. Like that black and white photo where he is sitting pensively lost in thought. The impression I get from the picture is that it is early in the morning and Doc King is contemplating on the next level of the struggle. Either that, or he just had grits and bacon for breakfast and the photographer snapped the photo while he was quietly listening for the bathroom to be available.

Now why am I going on and on about chairs?

Well, I just moved to Columbia, South Carolina and even though I packed up damn near everything I own – I sold my couches and chairs – thus I have had nothing to sit on. I haven’t been able to write because I’ve had nothing to write on. Sitting on the floor sucks. How did the Indians and all them other people do it? My back and neck HURT when I sit on the floor. Not to mention my ass as well.

So one day I went to Office Max and what did I see? Chairs. Big comfortable chairs. They ranged in price from 39 bucks to 169 bucks. I tested them all out. I now appreciate the phrase “You get what you pay for”.
I spent 79 bucks on my big brown comfortable chair. My new boss gave me a desk. I’m living in a 3-bedroom townhouse – of which one bedroom is now my office. This is all I need to start to write the classics.
Move Over World...
Well after months of negotiating and late-night prayers, it's final, I've got my first big radio gig. I will be the voice of KJLH in Los Angeles. This is the station that Stevie Wonder has owned since the 70's - and it is the crown jewel of black radio on the West Coast...And for me, it all started with a little pirate radio station in Oakland, Ca: 104.1.

A few years back, my uncle and sometime deejay partner Ibi Judah, got a spot playing reggae music on this little pirate station in Oakland. It was located right behind what used to be one of Oakland's best soul food restaurants: 'Soul Brothers Kitchen'. And in between what once was - and probably still is, one of the hottest dope spots in North Oakland: Keller Plaza - or K.P. for those that knew, was the pirate station that was a constant thorn in the side of the FCC.

The only way to really describe this station is to say that it was truly the people's station. Since it was located in North Oakland off of Telegraph Avenue, which was really close to the Berkeley border, the station had a really heavy 60's radical influence. Homeless people had shifts - hippies would show up with their Grateful Dead records. Local rappers and deejays would get shifts from time to time. And ex- Black Panthers would show up just to rabble rouse. The most interesting thing about the station was when the homeless people would show up for their shifts, they would say things on the air that would make Howard Stern cringe. Things like: "Yeah, I'm homeless because my step-father fucked me..." Or my personal favorite:
"I'm homeless cause I like drugs - you gotta problem with that? Yeah then call me at ... And then we can meet in the parking lot where I'll kick your ass!"

The transmitter was located on top of a garage or a warehouse or something like that. Every few weeks the FCC would roll up there and shut it down. Now mind you this station could only be picked up on the border of Berkeley and as far 98th Ave in East Oakland. If you went beyond Ashby Ave. you could forget about hearing it. They [the FCC] would go in there with the cops and news media and would drag the homeless people and any other radicals out of there.

Since it was in Oakland, there were quite a few Rastafarians around that station. One of them told my uncle ( who is also a Rasta) about it, who then proceeded to get his own shift. Now, unlike the rest of the country, the Bay Area has many radio shows that play reggae music. Now, my uncle wanted an edge over the competition, so he showed up at my house one day and said, 'Hey I want you record somethings for me."

"Like what?' I said.

"Something with the station numbers and my name."

Hmmmmm, I thought to myself. How am I gonna pull this off? As a kid I grew up listening to Frankie Crocker on WBLS and Mr. Magic when he was on WHBI - New York radio folks. One of the the things I really dug about WBLS was that in between every song this really cool, velvet voice would come on and say: "You're listening to the sound of New York's best: The Total Experience in sound W-B-L-S 107.5 in...stereo...stereo...stereo...stereo". I always dug that kind of thing. Mr Magic had his own drops too where he would put a heavy echo on his voice and say: "
This is a Mister Magic's Super Blast!"

So, I reasoned to myself, why don't I do that kind of thing for Ibi - just use reggae music as the drop?

So I did it. And it came out real good too. Ibi got calls at the station from the other jocks and from the listeners asking "Who was that?" I thought to myself, "Damn how can I make some money doing that?"

And then one day and event happened that would change my life. My good friend Davey D got a gig as a programmer at AOL Radio. He was the guy who programmed all of the hip hop stations for America Online radio. Dave being Dave and with the connections he has in the music business went around to all of the top rappers and said: "Hey, I need you to record some station drops for me?"

But they were all busy.

I'm talking about your Chuck D's and many others. Finally, Dave got his good friend, and one of my favorite rappers Def Jeff to agree to do the station drops. But he to was always too busy. So one day Dave says to me, "Hey, I need you to record some drops for me."

I said, "Hell yeah". I owe my new career to Def Jeff.

We went over to KPFA - which ain't too much different from 104.1 ie; the homeless people, the 60's radicals, the Rastas - but these people were legit and have a huge signal. It was there that I met my partner Alex Mejia. Now, I had heard the name Alex Mejia before. He was some guy who was always doing mixes on KMEL - the so called People's Station. So they had me record some drops for the AOL old school hip hop stations. And it took off. My first paid gig voicing stuff.

And from there it was the Chuck D World Wide Hip Countdown. And then the Tupac Station. And so many others that I can't remember right now.

But when Alex called me some months back and said, "Hey KJLH is looking for a black voice - are you interested?" Once again I said, "Hell yeah.' He said KJLH was looking for a new direction they wanted someone that sounded Black - not Bryant Gumble Black - but Black Black. Well, that's me. I can do the Bryant Gumbel thing, but I prefer to just be me.

We recorded the demo and blew Stevie Wonder away. I've been doing this for three years now, and now starting January 1st it will be my voice that you hear on that station. A station - that programming wise is the closest thing to WBLS.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Making of Spyder's Web

So it's been a minute since I updated my blog, I've been really busy and it's hard for me to write when things are hectic. At some point I need to sit down and get back to writing this book. I'm a third of the way through with it, but knowing me like I do, I'll probably re-write it 3 times before i settle on the final version.

Writing is an art like pottery and painting - at least good writing is. I remember when I was a little kid and I would see painters doing their thing and would think to myself: "That looks pretty damn boring." A painter - at least a good one,doesn't start off painting a red house and green grass and all that other shit without first sketching the drawing first and then after that is done he colors in the details. It's the same way with writing: you fashion, form, and shape images with words.

With good writing you should be able to hear the writers voice and see what he's talking about.

When I first started writing Spyder's Web I had no idea as to how I was going to write it. My first thought was to cover the story as a journalist and get long quotes from people and build the story that way, but then it dawned on me: This is an autobiography, it must be from the main characters point of view. My favorite books are told from the main characters point of view: "Pimp: The Story of My Life by Iceberg Slim", "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", "A Taste of Power", "The Coldest Winter Ever" are all told from the main characters point of view. Spyder's story had to be told the same way.

After reading what I had initially wrote, I knew I was in over my head. Especially if I had any hope at all of selling the book. But when in doubt or lost, God sends messages through people to get you back on track.

Let me back up for a minute and really take you back. Before I became a writer I had an idea for two books: one was about a Black politician making a serious run to be President and the other was a hip hop Five Heartbeats kind of story. It was going to be about a group of guys that grew up in Queens, New York in the 70's who formed a rap group and found stardom but later got lost in the perils of the music business. Along the way, the perils of street life and growing up in general become blockades to them being able to stay on top. They all get hooked on drugs and get lost in the 80's and only a couple of them emerge in the mid 90's to resurrect their careers.

Now while I was extremely familiar with the characters and the places and era and all that kind of stuff I had the hardest time writing the story. Well after months of difficulty writing the story, enter: Spyder D.

After reading the article I wrote about him Spyder was impressed enough with me to ask me to write his book, which was originally to be called "So, You Wanna Be a Rapper..."

Spyder was almost dead on the character I had been writing about. I jumped at the chance. His book was supposed to be about the perils of the music business. But after talking with him I sensed a much broader story: Spyder came up in the beginning of recorded rap records and through his hard work and hustle was able to maintain that career through the late 80's. His is the textbook example of what can go wrong when an artist doesn't have the right people or the right timing going for himself. Things should've jumped off better for Spyder. He had the right manager, the right record label, and all the right connections but the timing was never right - it was always late. Spyder was doing what Dr. Dre was doing in the 90's - in the early 80's: he was a producer, record label owner, artist and manager, but rap/hip hop was nowhere near as popular as it is now, then.

In the 80's Black radio was feeling itself for real. Luther Vandross (R.I.P.), Freddy Jackson, Melba Moore, Patti Labelle and many others were the staples of Black radio. If you weren't on smoothed out R&B shit you weren't getting on Black radio - at all. Hip Hop was the bastard stepchild of the unwanted welfare stepchild that folks were seriously wishing would just get up an go away.

Back then there were no "collaborations" between rap cats and R&B cats, that was not going to happen. I wish I could've been a fly on the wall in 1982 when (and if) some A&R guy would've called A&M Records and said: 'Hey, what's happening man, this is Donnie, hey man, I was wondering if, maybe we could get Freddie Jackson together with Kurtis Blow for a duet....hello?...hello?

Wouldn't have happened.

As a matter of fact I'm going to write a scene in this book where Spyder and Sparky (Spyder's girlfriend and artist) go talk to somebody from a major record label, he'll be a guy still stuck in the disco era, with the white suit and all, waiting for the resurrection of Donna Summer's career. He'll call Spyder and Sparky: Spider Man and Spanky. He'll say things like: 'Hey, I know this business, I just got off the phone with Gloria Gaynor an hour ago. So, Spider, can you and Spanky team up with that rap guy, what's his name? He did the Bus, the bus, the broken leg? Uh, The Breaks, yeah that's it, Kurtis Brown!"

That was the kind of willful ignorance that rap cats faced in the 80's. This book is going to have all of that and then some, and be a raw tale as well. Just as soon as get off my lazy ass and start writing it again!

Monday, August 08, 2005

GOLD TEETH. LOTS OF GOLD TEETH: From Satire to Reality
By Almighty Mark Skillz / MARKSKILLZ@AOL.COM
(January 12, 2005)

James Brown once said: “To be a star there are certain qualities you must have: One: Hair. Two: Clothes and the third: Nice teeth.” Of course the Godfather of Soul was talking about nice, straight, pearly white teeth. But I wonder what he would think of gold caps that had spinning rims on them?

A while back photojournalist Ernie Pannicoli made up a fictional story about the rapper Ja Rule having a patented line of spinning gold teeth, he said, “Make your grill say something, tell them you from the hood and down with the hood just by flashing a spinning smile."

Well, what originally was a satire piece about the ridiculous obsession hip hop has with materialism; lo and behold someone has made a line of gold-capped teeth that literally have spinning rims on them.

Shocked, I called the number on the ad and spoke to an Asian gentleman named Singh, who is the owner and designer for a company called I asked him if he really had a line of spinning gold teeth, to which he responded, “Yes, we have a product like that.”

I wanted to break out laughing just like I did 2 months ago when Ernie put his fake news story out. I asked him if he was aware of Ernie’s satire story from a couple of months back, to which he responded “No.” I then asked him where he got the idea for that line of teeth, to which responded, “Oh, we just made it up, we make up designs all the time.” I had to ask him, “So, how long have you been selling this line of teeth?” To which he responded, “Oh I’d say it’s been a little over a month now.”

I then had to get to the most important part, the question that had been burning in all of our minds…

Mark Skillz: So, what makes them spin? Are they battery operated, or do you spin them with you finger first?

Triple X Gold Teeth: Uh, gravity, the way we’ve designed them is so that they spin just from the force of gravity.

Mark Skillz: Oh…so they always spin then?

Triple X Gold Teeth: Yes, pretty much.

Mark Skillz: So…have you gotten any orders for them?

Triple X Gold Teeth: Yes we’ve had quite a few come through in the pastmonth.

So, you know what’s next right? Get ready for some artist to be the first to rock some spinning gold teeth! It’s coming, you know it is, and then some goofball with a sweatband on his forehead and his drawers showing is going to show up at your house, and sit at your table, and say, “Excuse me, does anybody have a few toothpicks? I need to get some meat out of my spinning teeth.”

Ok, while all of this is funny, there really is a sad commentary in all of this. Unfortunately, the gentleman that designed this line of teeth is profiting off of the willful ignorance of the Black and Latino Communities. Any dentist will tell you that gold caps are not good for your teeth. The decay process is accelerated when gold is capped on teeth. Some people wear gold fronts, and have done so for years, but they – if they want to keep their teeth – exercise great care in taking care of the teeth they have.

What’s sadder is that, this guy Singh, probably came to this country within the last 10 years (judging by his accent) and probably learned early in his stay here who’s ignorance to exploit. Kind of like that game “Ghetto Monopoly,” remember that?

We, as black people, bear responsibility for feeding these people these images. At the turn of the last century and the ones that preceded that one, whites were responsible for the ugly caricatures of us back then. Somewhere down the line we were bamboozled into thinking that as long as we profited or we looked good, whatever we were doing was all right.

When I first started writing about hip hop I never would’ve guessed that what I would be chronicling is the decay of a culture. A culture that has turned into a long running joke. A culture so devoid of creativity that cartoonish thugs with Sambo-like tendencies are heroes for a generation. Yes, white and black kids have come together in a lot of cases, under the banner of hip hop’s culture. However, how free are the minds of the youth? Do they, or we as adults see ourselves as freethinking people devoid of the black inferiority complex?

When the Roman civilization was falling, people were being butchered for sport, and people were engaging in all kinds of depraved acts, the Emperor is said to have said, “Panem et circenses” meaning: “Give them bread and circus.” My friends, hip hop is the circus.

This article was first published at ( It is republished here with permission


Here's an article I wrote almost a year ago, the response to it blew my mind, I got all kinds of emails about it, however, there was one response I got from a sixth grader in the South Bronx whose teacher printed the article out and passed it out for his students to read, the students then had to write their thoughts about the article. One young lady emailed me and said: "I read your article about Destiny's Child and I think they can do whatever they want, cause their grown."

I told her she was right, but older ladies have the responsibilty to teach young girls better...

By the All Mighty Mark Skillz

So after a long hiatus the chicks from Destiny’s Child have reunited and this time the album is entitled: “Destiny’s Fulfilled”. But I have to ask, “Are they still children or have they grown up to be women yet? Apparently they are women, but I have to wonder about the depth of their maturity.

On their latest song “Soldier” they talk about wanting a man who’s “status better be hood or I ain’t checking for him, Better be street if he looking at me, I need a soldier that ain’t scared to stand up for me, he gotta know how to get the dough and he better be street.”

Perhaps these sisters have never heard about what happens to chicks that get caught up with these types of characters. I don’t think they’ve heard of the sisters that have caught cases because they were unknowingly holding guns and or drugs for one of these street soldiers. Have they heard the stories of the girls who just wanted a man with money, and didn’t care how he got it? And how these same soldiers have enemies, real enemies, not some pretty boy actor with gold teeth and Roc a Wear gear, but real thugs, who shoot at cars and don’t care who’s driving it.

When I hear this song, it makes me stop and think about a girl I dated a long time back, her name was Sheila, God forgive me but I can’t remember her last name right now. Anyway, it was the 80’s, and crack was all over like garbage on the street. Everywhere you looked you saw: This one on crack, that one selling crack. It was crazy. Girls at that time were crazy about guys that got their money that way. It was hard on a brother if he wasn’t rolling like that back then.

Anyway, one day, this chick comes from out of nowhere, with this big smile on her face and gives me her number. I called her we chit-chatted a bit and then we went out. While I was talking to her I got to know her and the impression I got, was that she had dated a bunch of drug dealers and wanted a different kind of guy. I also found out she had gotten accustomed to that type of lifestyle: the cars, the money, the jewelry, and etc. etc.

I didn’t get down like that. I was raised to disdain drugs and to never corrupt our communities with that garbage. So, as cute as she was, we didn’t see each other anymore like that. It was one of the many times in my young life that I was really contemplating joining the dark side. I thought, hey I could have the money, the girls the whole nine. But God would not let me go down that dark path. It was rough. But I got through it.

My friends who somehow or another knew this girl warned me to leave her alone. I’ll never forget my man Chuck Money telling me, “Mark leave that girl alone. She’s no good.”

I bumped into Sheila one night at a roller skating rink with one of these characters, we spoke, we were friendly. I had seen her man before, I knew who he was. For some reason, all of these years later, the last image I have of her in mind still stands out like the shining glitter ball that shot lights all over the roller rink that night. Her smile, it was so big and innocent for a girl that had been exposed to what she had been doing.

Not too long afterwards while talking with my brother and his girlfriend at the time, I mentioned Sheila’s name to my brothers girl and she said, “Oh, she’s dead”. In shock I said, “No, can’t be her.” She ran down the description and I said “Yeah, that’s her.” To which my brother’s girl said, “Yeah, she got shot in the head while driving her boyfriends car. She got shot and ran off the freeway into a ditch.”

I was in a state of shock for weeks. In disbelief, one night I found her number and fought with myself as to whether I should call her house. I did. Her mother told me “She’s dead” and hung up the phone.

Later I found out it was a case of mistaken identity. Her boyfriends enemies thought he was in the car with her that night, it didn’t matter who was in the car, they knew that car and they had it in for him.

I ran into so many other girls just like Sheila over the years. Girls, who, for whatever reason were attracted to the gangster lifestyle, and in all honesty, were very naïve as to the consequences. The idea that they could do better was as foreign to them, as the Mandarin language. The connection between prisons, funeral homes, cemeteries and visits to Narcotics Anonymous never came together for them.

So, flash forward almost 20 years later, and here we have a platinum selling group of talented young sisters, and what are they feeding to young girls: Poison. Young girls need better guidance from grown women than that. A man, who, as Lil Wayne puts it, “Has a body marked up like a subway in Harlem” more likely than not, is not going to make a woman’s life any better.

There are almost as many veterans incarcerated in prisons around our country than there are soldiers on the streets. If Destiny’s Child has a destiny to be fulfilled, they are a long way off.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Too Many Groupies In Hip Hop Radio

One of the first pieces I ever wrote for the web was for my man Davey D's site it was called "Too Many Groupies on Hip Hop Radio". This was the piece that made my name ring on the web. Let me give you a little background on it.

I got fired from my job as telecom tech in 2003. My life was adrift because I didn't know what in the hell to do with my life. For most of life I had been a MC/DJ/producer all of those things, but by my early 30's I could no longer find the inspiration to rhyme. Rap/hip-hop just didn't feel the same to me. So here I was out of work and with no direction. All of my life my mother told me, "Mark, you can write, why don't you do it?"

"Yeah yeah whatever", I'd say. Writing didn't appeal to me. Rhyming did.

One of my best friends is a guy named Dave Cook a/k/a Davey D, I'll never forget telling him what i was going through. He told me something quite prophetic: "Sometimes God closes one door and opens another. You just have to be wise enough to recognize that door."

Well, what eventually would happen was that I would start doing tags and drops for AOL Radio's hip hop stations. So I went back to school for Mass Comm.

I started listening to the radio a little different. I noticed that hip hop radio was like a step child of regular radio. For one thing the deejays shouted instead of just speaking normally. Intelligent conversation had gone out the door. This disturbed me. I grew up listening to the radio. I remember Mr Magic, Frankie Crocker, Just Allah, Greg Mack, Isaac Stevenson, Kevin Nash and many others; these dudes sounded like intelligent cats. Alot of dudes today just don't sound intelligent anymore. There are certain people ( I know I'm gonna catch flack for this) like: Star and Wendy Williams, who sound like intelligent people - you may not like everything they say ( I don't ) but at least they have intelligent conversation and they're not yelling at you.

Anyway here is the article I hope you enjoy!

Too Many Groupies on the Radio

Have you listened to hip hop radio lately? Or should I say what passes for hip hop radio. Like anything else in our culture the standards for urban radio have been lowered.

Instead of deejays on air being conversational –they shout. The art of one to one conversation style radio is lost in hip hop. Maybe station managers think that blacks and Latinos don’t want to be talked to intelligently. Or does keeping it “real” mean that you have to sound like you perceive your audience to be? For instance, take a station like KMEL, the on-air deejays recently, not only sound like they’re from the street – but also like they are broadcasting live from a street corner.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being from the street, however, in our culture – I’m talking about African-American culture, historically, when a person is given the opportunity to communicate with our people, we’ve always strived to present a positive image. But for some reason, when people think of hip hop they automatically lower the standards of excellence.

Black people are not monolithic beings. We don’t speak with one voice and one mind. Neither are all hip hoppers monolithic beings. We range in age and taste. Some of us prefer Mos Def and Talib Kweli, while others prefer Lil Flip. With preferences in tastes so vast you’d think that the people who market music to us would realize that and would have more than one kind of on air personality talking to us.

When I was coming up, deejays like Frankie Crocker, Nick Harper, Greg Mack, Jeff Fox and many others sounded like intelligent people. They might not have been rocket scientists but never the less, these men sounded intelligent enough to communicate ideas to a mass audience without dumbing down to them. For some reason, people think that being a part of the hip hop culture or even black culture for that matter, means that you have to dumb things down to relate to people.

For instance, on the 70’s sitcom Sanford and Son, whenever the Sanford’s came in contact with the police – it was always Officer Smitty (a brother) and some white cop, the white cop would speak in “cop talk” meaning he would say things like “Hello Mr. Sanford we received a call about a domestic disturbance somewhere on these premises, and we came to ascertain the facts.”

It is at that point that Fred and Lamont would look at each other bewildered, as if they couldn’t understand what the white cop had said. They would then look at Officer Smitty for his interpretation – “Fred we got a call about a fight around here, do you know anything about it?”

Like they were too dumb to understand what the white guy was saying, as if the words were too big for them to know. Now this kind of white-speak-black man-don’t understand kinda thing exists today but on different levels.

What else do I mean by talking down? Well, when a grown man, is talking to teen-agers instead of raising the bar for what and whom they should strive to be like, he communicates with them on their level. Hearing thirty and forty year olds saying “What’s crackalatin’” 20 times a day is embarrassing. It’s the equivalent of that 50 year- old uncle, at the barbecue, trying to talk the latest slang and worse, trying to do the latest dance. That’s what’s happening on radio now.

One night I was listening to KMEL and I happened to turn it on in the middle of an interview, now this interview went on for like 10-15 minutes, and in all that time, never once did this guy say who he was, or who the artist was he was interviewing. However, what he did get across was that this artist had a fat platinum chain on and how much he wanted to have one as well. And also this guy enjoys hanging out with him ‘poppin’ collars’ at the Beehive and checkin’ out “breezies”. Now what the hell does all that mean to a listener?

After 15 minutes of this crap when this artist was walking out the door I finally figured out he was talking to none other than Kanye West. Oh snap! I thought, damn I can think of a bunch of questions I’d like to ask Kanye my damn self like; What was the Chi-town hip hop scene like when you were coming up? What influence did house music have on your style? The Nation of Islam is real strong out there, what influence did they have on you if any? The gang scene out there, how did you avoid that trap, when gang culture goes back 40 years plus out there? Did you start off rapping over house records? What Chi-town radio did you listen to, that influenced you to go the soulful hip hop route?

The art of the interview, the art of conversation, all of that is lost in current hip hop radio. Why is that? It’s because we’ve lost our culture to a bunch of groupies. Not just here in the Bay Area, but all over the country. Radio stations like record companies have people working there who are just happy to be down. They are content with the status quo, if you tell them that there is something wrong with hip hop radio, they look at you like your crazy. As far they’re concerned everything is all good and then some, because they’re going to concerts and they’re chilling backstage with their favorite rap stars.

Greg Mack, the pioneering LA dee-jay that was on KDAY back in the 80’s and 90’s, the man that any-artist-that-wanted-his-record broken in LA had to see. When he interviewed an artist, like, Big Daddy Kane, for instance, he asked Kane questions like; “So Big Daddy, where did you first start performing?” “What year was it?” “Who were some of the people that you looked up to while you were coming up?” “What’s this whole thing with the Juice Crew and BDP, the reason I ask is because you seem to be respected by both sides so, what’s your take on things?” “How do you think it can be resolved?”

See, now that was from a KDAY interview I heard in 1988. Never once did Greg Mack ask him how many hoe’s did he have waiting for him back at the hotel or in the limousine like you hear so often today in hip hop radio.

The groupie culture is one that loves to be seen in the places to be seen and to give the impression that they are down. But really ask yourself, do you care if some idiot on the radio was chillin’ in the club with some football or basketball player? What does the stations event that they are constantly promoting every 15 minutes have to do with your school closing down because the state has no money for teacher’s salaries and books for students?

Let’s really go back, to WBLS and Mr. Magic, the man who was the first person to play rap records on the radio. I used to think that Mr. Magic was a big fan of the Force MC’s, because they were on his show a lot, but to his credit he wasn’t riding their dicks, he asked them good questions like; “So fellas, you just won the battle out in New Jersey, how much rehearsal time did you put in for it?” “Ok, name some of your favorite doo-wop groups.”

In defense of the deejays, I have to say, that they are only carrying out orders from up top. If station management didn’t want that style of presentation they would’ve long since gotten rid of them. These are young brothers and sisters trying to make it, trying to find their way in a very competitive field. Managers are the ones that set the tone, so ultimately they are responsible. You’d think someone older with more experience would want to lead them better – but not so. Don’t get me wrong, there are some talented brothers and sisters on the radio today, and quite a few of them have real potential in the years to come.

So what’s changed? What has changed in urban radio from the Frankie Crocker, Greg Mack era to now? Yes, hip hop music is more dominant today, but what about the quality of talent? Does a hip hop deejay have to sound like he just rolled out of the gutter? To a certain degree I can understand why urban radio programmers want their deejays to sound ‘street’, it makes them more relatable to a ghetto audience. But aren’t they doing the audience they serve a dis-service by going that route? Do the station managers know that they are reinforcing negative racial stereotypes of the inner-city audiences that they are catering to?

Yes, hip hop culture is far more influential today than it was when Frankie Crocker and Mr. Magic ruled the airwaves, but does that mean that radio has to appeal to the lowest common denominator? No.

Black people have always talked slang. As far back as the 50’s, the first black radio jocks were rappers - people like Jocko Henderson and many others. Within that style they entertained and informed the community, later, people like Frankie Crocker took to the airwaves and just talked to people in a conversational style. There was no need to ‘talk jive’ on air anymore.

Do station managers know that by reinforcing these stereotypes that they are helping to keep black and Latino youth forever ignorant?

Why is it I can turn on a rock station, and hear guys on there with a sense of humor and who aren’t talking down to their audience? But mostly I don’t hear anyone yelling on rock radio. Except on the records. Is hip hop that low of a culture that standards have to be lower for us than anybody else?

Hip hop radio is now notorious for being shout out and request radio, instead of being informative as well as entertaining.

Now, the whole shout out style comes from the mix tape scene, which works really well in clubs and car systems, but radio should have a different standard. Don’t get it twisted, I like the mix tape dee-jays, but there needs to be a balance between that and regular radio. I don’t need to hear DJ Clue or Whoo Kidd, or even Kid Capri reading liners and doing interviews – let them rock the party

Because I’m down for positive changes in our culture, here’s what I think station owners can do to help change this situation…Station managers talk with your dee-jays, talk to them about being conversational, talk to them about them being role models in our communities, talk to them about preparing for an interview, you know, stuff like researching the artist, so that you can ask different kinds of questions so that fans and non-fans can walk away with more than…”Damn look at all that ice in that medallion!”

And remember mediocrity is only realized in the presence of excellence.

Ok so today was kind of crazy. Had to take the wife to the hospital - she's pregnant with our third (actually fourth, but in a way the fifth) child. Fifth child you say? Yes. Fifth. Let me break it down for you:

The sixteen year old is her first (my step son Aaron)
The 3 year old is our first - kinda (Thomas John Mark Jr.)
The 2 year old is our second - kinda (Malcolm)
Now there is another one's a boy don't have a name for him yet. Yes, I have nothing but boys. Do I want a girl?

Our first child was a little girl. Her name was Kennedy Malia. I'll never forget the anticipation of waiting on that little girl to be born. I had plans man. She was gonna take karate and ballet at 5, kick boxing at 7 and whatever else she wanted to do after that. Hey forgive me for wanting my little girl to be able to protect herself when daddy's not around. Any way there were complications early on in the pregnancy. First, she'd never sit still long enough for the ultrasound to get a real good picture of her. There was a miscarriage scare, we thought my wife had miscarried - she didn't, the technician at the hospital told us he didn't see the baby while doing an ultrasound. He was wrong.

Three days later when my wife went to see her doctor, what did we see? The little girl swimming around as usual. You now the Stevie Wonder song "Joy inside my tears"? That's how I felt.

Anyway, November 29th 2000 was the due date. My wife called me at work on November 28th and said there was a problem. I rushed over to the hospital. I didn't feel like there was anything wrong. You know how you can just feel it when something is wrong? I didn't feel that.

I get to the hospital and the doctor says: "I'm not hearing a heartbeat." I didn't panic. After all this was a little girl who could never keep still. I thought, "Nah, she's just hiding right now that's all". How wrong I was.

The Ultrasound showed the baby, but she wasn't moving. After we found that out came the most heart-crushing 24 hours of my life. You see the baby had died and now my wife had to deliver the baby just like she would any other.

When you have a problem - especially one of this magnitude, it isn't something you can just walk away from. Nor can you act like it didn't happen. No matter how much it hurts you have to tell people. Especially your family. The hardest part for me was telling my mother that her first grandchild was dead. Broke my heart.

I've always been an optimist. I held out on faith that this was all some mix up or mistake or whatever until the last possible second. When I saw for myself that my little girl wasn't going to be with me. The cord had gotten wrapped around her neck.

It took me a long time to get over that episode. And to be honest: I don't think that I'll ever really "get over it", you know what I mean?

But then on January 9th 2002 God sent me and the wife a present in the form of our son: Thomas John Mark Zuniga- McCord Jr. People that have seen me with him have all remarked how close we are. After losing the little girl, can you blame me? I told my wife that since he's here now I no longer need to celebrate my birthday - because his b-day is 2 days before mine. After 30 plus years of celebrating birthdays - I can step aside and let my little man take over.

And then September 10th 2003 we got another one: Malcolm Alexander Zuniga- McCord.

This latest pregnancy was NOT planned. AT ALL. SHIT HAPPENS you know what I mean? So today the wife gets cramps and starts bleeding, shit started sounding like a rerun you know what i mean? The doctor comes in and says: "Shit ain't looking good" ( my words not hers). "Uh-oh" I thought, "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!"

But nah, everything is looking good thank god. Niggas just gotta be careful you know what I'm sayin'? So I'm gonna have another son...damn a brother can make some boys can't he?

Mark Skillz