Friday, December 29, 2006

There Will Never Be Another

From what I’ve heard from those that knew him: he was mean, ornery, arrogant, stubborn, nasty-tempered, competitive and strong-willed, but most everyone agrees that the man was a genius.

Now that the GFOS (that’s Godfather of Soul to you) has left us we can say good-bye not just to a man, but to a tradition of musicians, whose talents and contributions will never be equaled again.

Quincy Jones said it best: “There will never be another Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Parliament-Funkadelic all of those great talents, once they’re gone we’ll never see anything like it again.”

And he’s right.

But before I talk about why Mr. Jones is right let’s first take a look at James Brown.

Mr. Brown (as he liked to be called) was the first Black musician to not only demand his independence, but goddamn it the brother emancipated his damn self! He pressed up his own records and dictated to Syd Nathan (owner of King Records) what his singles were going to be.

This was in the 50’s and 60’s; this was at a time when Black men didn’t tell White men anything. From what I hear, Syd Nathan was no one to fuck with either. He was the kind of guy who, well, if he wanted your legs broken he didn’t need to ask twice.

We talk about the evils of payola today, in Mr. Brown’s day it was just the way things were done. When he gave a deejay money to play his songs he did it with the understanding that you were going to always play his songs and like Don Corleone when he asked for a favor you were not going to refuse him.

Before James Brown we were Colored or Negro – after “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” we became Black and Afro American. That’s deep cause, from what I hear, in the 50’s if you called somebody Black – you had to fight. It was the equivalent of talking about someone’s mother.

According to Fred Wesley and many others Mr. Brown was very hard to work for. “He’d come walking up to me humming something – it made no sense at all – and would say, ‘Ya hear that?’ I’d say “What’s that Mr. Brown?” “That’s the new tune we’re gonna cut”, he’d say. Now what he would be humming would make no musical sense. He’d holler out chords and keys that would just be wrong, and I’d tell him “Mr. Brown, you can’t do it like this.” And he would say very adamantly “It will work if I say it will work.”

That was James Brown. Many of his classic recordings came together just like that. He was a genius.

Now here’s why Mr. Quincy Jones is right. Record companies today will not allow a genius like a James Brown or a Ray Charles or a Billy Joel, or a Barry White to fully blossom under their rosters. You see record companies and radio stations are run by corporations who have hundreds of investors who are there for the bottom line. Not for art. Record companies will not let an artist make a thirteen minute song like “I Can’t Stand It” or a nine minute jam like ‘Poppa Don’t Take No Mess’. Because radio won’t play a song that ebbs and flows and builds up and breaks down, nah, nah, nah the machine ain’t going for it! Three minutes: hook, verse, hook, verse, hook, verse and that’s it. We’ve been conditioned for: 30 commercials and three minute songs – that’s because of our dwindling attention spans.

So take one good last look at the genius who inspired disco, soul, rap and funk. Take a look at the genius who captivated not one but five generations of people around the world. Take a look at the genius who on one hand made us proud to be Black and stood firmly behind the Civil Rights Movement but also embraced Republicans like Nixon, Ford and Strom Thurmond and sang patriotic songs like “America is my Home’ and ‘Living in America’ and owned his own radio stations. Take a look at the man who bought a city a night of peace at the height of some of the ugliest racial tensions this country has known. Take a look at the man who changed music.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Support Your Favorite Rapper - No Matter How Old He Is

So ok you’ve noticed that I haven’t been bloggin’ much, please believe that it isn’t because I’ve had nothing to say – on the contrary, I’ve got all kinds of stuff to talk about.

My time is being taken up by home, work and research for an upcoming article. This is the first time in my career as a writer that I am having a hard time to get people to sit down and talk to me. But it’s alright, Mark Skillz is a warrior ‘No matter how hard you try you can’t stop me now…”

Check this out I found it online just the other day. I wasn’t shocked I’ve been saying stuff like that for years.

The first part of the problem is that record companies have to get behind those projects and promote them just like any other act. While it is surprising to hear that Public Enemy’s landmark classic “It Takes a Nation of Millions…” has only sold 400 copies this year and that RUN-DMC’s groundbreaking album ‘Raising Hell” only sold 100 copies, is sadly only mere evidence of the dismal state affairs in not just hip-hop but I bet in R&B as well. I wonder what sales are like for Keith Sweat, New Edition, GUY and other 80’s R&B singers.

In defense of that twenty-two year old who knows nothing about Whodini or Kurtis Blow, I can say this. When I was twenty years old I had no idea that Marvin Gaye had material before “What’s Going On?” After all, it was the first thing I had ever heard from the man, and I had no reason to believe that he had done anything before it. Shit, that stuff was made before I was born. How would I know?

Now, once I learned about ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’, ‘Stubborn Kind of Fella’, ‘Hitchhike’ and others I took upon myself to get up on that material. You all should do the same as far as learning your hip hop history. With all of the information available online there is no reason for cats to be calling Big Daddy Kane and Rakim ‘pioneers’. That is physically and mathematically impossible. A pioneer is: One who ventures into unknown or unclaimed territory to settle. Therefore it is impossible for people like Kane, G Rap, LL or KRS to be pioneers because the trail had already been blazed many years before they started by the Funky Four, the Cold Crush, the Treacherous Three, Spoonie Gee and many others!

Some years back I went to a Fresh Fest reunion concert RUN-DMC, Whodini, Kurtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang were there. The amphitheatre was virtually all black when Whodini, Kurtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang were there, but out of nowhere the immigration floodgates opened once RUN-DMC came on. I swear I don’t know where all of those white folks came from! Most white folks back in the day weren’t hip to Whodini by the way. And oh yeah, did you know that it was Whodini who have the distinction of having the first gold rap album – even before Run and them. No shit…and look folks don’t support them today!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Everyone Loves A Gangster

Everyone loves an outlaw and 1.6 million people proved it when they tuned into BET’s premiere episode of ‘American Gangster’.

Just like the upcoming movie with the same
name the series highlights the careers of the truly infamous: Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams, Freeway Ricky Ross, Nicky Barnes, Frank Lucas and the Chamber Brothers.

Now you’re probably saying to yourself: “Why does everything about Black people have to be about gangs and drugs?”

I dunno. But I can say this: if white people get to romanticize Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid. And Italians (and everyone else) get to make heroes out of Al Capone, John Gotti and movies like “The Godfather” and the TV show ‘The Sopranos”, then African Americans can tell stories about gangsters (real gangsters – not studio made, record company inspired wanna be’s) from our neighborhoods.

There is a common mis-perception that there were never any major Black gangsters. White people don’t know about them, because no one outside of the Black community has really written about these people. Until now.

Hopefully we’ll see stories about racketeers like Casper Holstein the brother that created the numbers game as we know it today. The Jones Brothers of Chicago, Eddie Jones was so rich and stayed freshly dipped everyday. They owned one of the biggest furniture stores on the Southside of Chicago ‘Jones Brothers Furniture’; they literally owned the town as far as the numbers game went.

Ellsworth ‘Bumpy’ Johnson was called ‘The Godfather of Harlem’.

Frank Matthews, one time East Coast drug lord had spots in Brooklyn, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ohio and all parts in between, was also somehow connected with the French Connection case. He is one of the most successful bail jumpers ever, he split town in 1973 after posting $325, 000 to get out of jail and then disappeared like a wisp of smoke with more than 25 million dollars. For many years it was believed that the Mob rubbed him out, but the DEA and ATF don’t believe that, in fact, he was spotted a few years back in Philly. For the record Matthews was from North Carolina.

All of these stories deserve to be told in the same way we talk about white gangsters. If you don’t like those kinds of stories, don’t blame writers and producers – blame society for creating the conditions that gave birth to these kinds of people.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Reverend Al versus Colonel Sanders

Lord help a rich Black man with too much time on his hands. And by all means, Lord, don’t strike Reverend Al Sharpton down for what he’s doing now. I never thought I’d see the day when a rich, fat, Black preacher would lead the boycott against Kentucky Fried Chicken.

You know you’ve seen it all when a fat Black man starts crying over the cruelty done to chickens!

And just think about all of those Sunday dinners and lunches he’s had over the years where he devoured big pieces of chicken wings, and breastes and thighs…Lawdy lawdy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Good Writing

I don't rememeber having a favorite book when I was growing up... although I read alot, there wasn't anything that stood out. In all honesty it wasn't until I was a teenager when I got my hands on three books that I found something that I really liked. The first one was called "Bloods" by Wallace Terry, and the other was 'Pimp: The Story of my Life by Iceberg Slim", and of course "The Autobiography of Malcolm X".

Other than that I read magazines.

I'll never forget my journalism teacher Bill Parks telling us "If your going to write, you gotta read, and read the good stuff..."

That is a statement that has perplexed me for years.

What is the good stuff?

I've tried to read all kinds of different authors, but in the end you know what, I can't get into it, because to me, it's just layers and layers of language that doesn't speak to me. Maybe it's a cultural thing. I remember this guy I used to work with a long time ago named William Lo, I used to go on and on about Malcolm X's books, one day I showed it to him, and after one page he said, "This is garbage, this is awful."

I couldn't understand how he could say such a thing. After all, it was the best thing I had ever read.

He pulled out one of his favorite books - don't ask me what it was, I can't remember, but he read a little bit of it out loud. I couldn't understand what in the hell the writer was saying. It was English, but he went into too many descriptions and poetic like language that it didn't appeal to me.

I use that example because I believe that writing - like music, is an art, what is trash to me may possibly be beautiful to you. I like Fela Ransom Kuti, you might like Justin Timberlake. My God may be your devil. I was clearly over 25 years old before I could appreciate Jimi Hendrix, hell I'm damn near 40 now and don't have the slightest bit of appreciation for Bob Dylan. I hate his voice.

All that to say if you like what you read then it's good writing. If it speaks to you and resonates with you - it's good.

The Real World

This season of HBO's ground breaking series“The Wire” was good but slower than usual. Don’t get me wrong though I’m still a fan of the show, but they took too long building the story up this year.

For instance, the Major Crimes Unit, which is the crew of cops that bug the drug dealers and all that other stuff, was just re-instated, and this is the second to last episode of the season! That’s too long, that’s what…15 episodes to sit through before the shit hits the fan. I love the show, but I can see why people with short attention spans don’t.

But pushing my gripes aside, it is one of the best written shows out there. The things that happen to these kids are truly sad. I’m not sure whose story is sadder, but the one that stands out with me is the kid Namon, whose father Wee Bey was in the first season of ‘The Wire”, as one of Avon Barksdale’s soldiers. Bey was a cold-hearted killer – loyal to the end, but was a stone cold soldier. This season his wife is trying to push their 14 year old son to follow in his fathers footsteps, but there’s one problem: The kid ain’t cut out for the game like that. He doesn’t have that kind of heart, which would be a good thing in a different environment. In a better setting he’d have access to more positive role models so that a kid like that could possibly blossom.

After being busted for drug possession his mother tells him, “Motherfucker you mean to tell me, you ain’t got the heart for Baby Lock up? Nigga, I’ve kept your ass in NIKE since you was a baby. You gonna get out there and push that package…”

That is a shocking thing to see and hear on television. But not in the Baltimore of “The Wire”.

It’s a place where kids who snitch pay the price, drug addicted parents sell their groceries for a hit, drug addicted families steal each others clothes – and sell them, school systems warehouse kids who can’t read and do math, crooked cops steal, lie and harass citizens, city hall is over wrought with corrupt politicians who are more interested in protecting their own interests versus those of their constituents, teachers are forced to teach the path test versus real meaningful lessons and drug dealers employ neighbor kids who feel they have no other options.

That’s the world of “The Wire” the real world.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Do You Remember OJ?

Of all of the most popular cases of the last thirty to forty years the Manson family trial, Rodney King, the Menendez Brothers and Paula Jones vs. President Bill Clinton, there was nothing that could surpass one case: The OJ Simpson murder trial. It was truly the trial of the century.

To a person of 17 or 18 years old today, the significance of the case, but more so the verdict probably has no meaning to them. I can dare say that like that day in November of 1963, very few Americans can forget where they were the day of the OJ Simpson verdict.

I know I won’t.

Word came out that the verdict was going to be announced at 10:00 am. This was a case that some of everyone had an opinion about. I remember being on a bus when I asked a chick “So what do you think of the OJ trial so far?” The next thing I knew everybody on the bus had an opinion, it was the damnest thing I had ever seen.

If you wanted to see two people argue in the mid 90’s all you had to do was invoke the name of OJ Simpson and then kick back and watch the battles begin. I worked at the James River Corp. and every morning these two guys named Charlie and Ted would go toe to toe over the case.

But what was the big deal about OJ?

In his heyday Orenthal James Simpson was one of the most recognizable figures of his era. He was a football star, a movie star, a sportscaster and if you didn’t know him for all of those things then you probably saw him on TV commercials running through airports for Hertz Rent a car.

He was the first black athlete to truly transcend race. He was polished, intelligent, articulate, good looking and knew how to present himself. He was accepted into circles that the average black athlete couldn’t get into.

And he had his pick of white women.

So here it is 1994 Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson Brown were found dead in her walkway.

The media reports said, “OJ Simpson’s ex-wife and her friend have been found murdered.” No one suspected OJ of anything at that point. But as the days went by, media speculation began to grow as to who could’ve committed these murders. And then slowly, very slowly you started to hear OJ’s name mentioned one too many times. And then all fingers started pointing directly his way.

Everybody had a theory as to how and why OJ would kill his wife and her friend. One guy said, "Hey man, I hear he was paying thousands of dollars a month in child support. That alone would be reason enough for me to kill her." Another guy said, "OJ saw Nicole having sex with one of his home boys...hell I'd wanna kill her too!"

And I can't forget the infamous scuba diving suit that OJ was supposed to have worn during the murders. Like someone is gonna miss a big black guy in a scuba diving suit?

Yeah right.

When the announcement was made that OJ Simpson was a fugitive the world went into shock. Because after all, if you run, you must be guilty, right? Hours later TV cameras picked up OJ in the infamous white Bronco in the slow speed chase down the 405 freeway. Every station in America tuned into that slow speed chase! Hell, they interrupted the NBA finals to follow the chase.

As the months went by speculation went back and forth as to whether Simpson was innocent or guilty.

But there was one day in the trial that will always stand out with me. From the very beginning I thought he was guilty, but when he tried that glove on…hmmmm…it doesn’t fit.

The late Johnny Cochran said it best: “If it doesn’t fit – you must acquit!”

That resonated with me, because that was the only physical evidence they really had, the bloody glove and the drops of blood in the Bronco.

So there it was October 3rd 1995 at 10:00. The TV cameras were zeroed in on the courtroom clock. I worked on the third floor at 300 Lakeside Dr. There was a TV in my break area. I had no idea until that day as to how many people in that building knew that there was a TV in my break area. Everyone came running in.

Judge Lance Ito took the stand and had the jurors led into the court. Turns out the jurors had only deliberated for three hours the day before. There was a sense that if the verdict went the wrong way that the shit was going to hit the fan.

OJ was asked to stand and fact the jury before the verdict was read. I bet he could’ve shit in his pants at that moment.

The counts were read: Not guilty on all counts.

There was shock all over the country

Damn near everyone in my break room cheered. Those that didn’t cheer were upset.

The same scene was played out all over the country.

For years the debate would rage: How did OJ get off?

Now OJ is releasing a book called “If I Did it…” in which he doesn’t admit guilt but he says, “Nobody knows this case like I do. I’m going to tell you a story that you’ve never heard before.”

His publisher Judith Regan considers this book a confession.

What on Earth would make this man who has denied any knowledge or involvement in those murders write something like this now? Maybe he’s toying with us. Or maybe he really did do it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Good Man Ain't Too Hard To Find

With all of the talk about disintegrating Black families I figured that I'd drop my two cents in.

Ok, it is apparent that Black men are missing in action, hell, Stevie Wonder can see that. There are some statistics that say 1 in every 4 is in jail and there are others that say something like 1 in every 4 is on the 'dl' or just out right gay. I don't know if I believe those statistics or not. For the sake of this article - I don't.

Statistics aside, let's cut to the chase, these statistics are bought up whenever the subject of single Black women is raised. Black women say they can't find a good brother because way too many of us are either in jail, on the dl, out of work, or with a white woman.

Hmmmmm...there are 24 million African Americans in this country, for arguments sake let's just say there are something like 12 million Black men. Okay, there are somewhere near 2 million people incarcerated in some kind of penal institution; last I heard there were something like 400-600 thousand brothers doing time. Big number but not a nail in the coffin.

So that leaves something over 11 million Black men. Ok, now for the gay thing...If we believe the whole 1 in every 4 thing that means go walk to the corner, pick out 4 brothers and tell them your conducting a test. Tell them to be honest, ask them the following questions: Are you a homosexual? Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual? Have you ever engaged in sexual activity with another man?

Without a doubt there are a whole lot of dudes out there sneaking around with other dudes. I don't know the number but let's just say there are somewhere near a million brothers who are engaging in either bi-sexual or homosexual relations.

That leaves 10 million men may be more, may be less.

Now, brothers with white women...I can't front about that one, a whole lot of my boys are with white girls. I think just about every dude I came up with is married to either a white woman or someone who isn't Black.

I don't know how it happened.

All I can tell you is that my wife is Black. I wanted someone who shared the same culture that I do. Alot of these cats notice the difference on holidays when there is something not exactly right about their cornbread. They ask for sweet potato pie and get - well, it's close. Collard greens? Oh no, them niggas ain't gettin' the collards cooked in fatback or like my wife does with smoked turkey. And Charles Brown and King Pleasure are not playing in the background when they go visit in-laws.

So no number will be given let's just say it's alot.

All of this to say there are about 8 to 9 million available black men - and if you tally in the statistics of Black women in jail (which is high and getting higher, but not as high as brothers) and bi-sexual/lesbian women (my money says the numbers would be about the same) the numbers of available black women and available black men are somewhere near each other. Now what tips the scale is inter-racial dating/marriage.

But still. My bone of contention with the 'I can't find a good Black man' crowd is with all of the available brothers left, you all have your asses on your shoulders. Alot of women have their eyes glued to Essence magazine and have soap opera like fantasies of what romance and relationships should be like. If their honest, a whole lot of sisters are buying into the 'Essence Magazine/Shemar Moore ideal image of Black men, that when a good man does come along they turn him away because 'he isn't what I'm looking for.'

And when you ask them what they are looking for they say things that are so off the wall, you have to wonder what planet their from. "I want somebody that makes a hundred grand a year, and drives this kind of car, and vacations here, and can cook, and will massage my back and is buffed and blah, blah, blah..." And let's just say they do come across a brother like that, well, unless your ass is off the hook and you too are balling out of control like he is - you ain't nuttin' but another ass to tap.

The funny thing is is that there is often another brother who occasionally calls and asks her out, he's a nice guy but she don't want him cause he doesn't fit that soap opera conceived image in her head. She shits on him and puts him off and puts him off, meanwhile in the loneliness of her house she's griping about how she can't find anybody...

Wow. Like Flavor Flav would say: 'Woooooooow!'

Alot of women under 40 will not give a brother in the post office a shot. Nor a bus driver. Or a sanitiation worker. Or anyone else who isn't 'on their level'. And it's a shame because these dudes may know how to make them happy - in and out of bed. But nope they want that twisted fantasy in their minds. Shame. Damn shame.

See what happens is once they get to 40 they start looking around and getting desperate - and its then that they want a regular dude because they don't want to be lonely. They see that they ain't got it goin' on like they did when they were 25.


All that time they spent chasing losers and now they want a good man. I feel you. I guess you wake up and learn when you do right?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vote Republican and Die

Anyone who believes that voting Republican will make them safer is a fool.

Believe it or not, we are in more danger now than at any time prior to September 11th 2001. With the recent verdict to hang Sadaam Hussein and all, please believe, in the end, it spells trouble for us. Not only that, but killing Sadaam further infuriates the Sunni’s, and it will not help to bring that country closer together.

In fact it will drive them further apart.

Just last week a report came out that said ‘Iraq is on the brink of chaos’. When translated into plain English, it means: We can’t handle this shit anymore.

In all honesty though, and this is from a guy who is against the war, we have to stay there and finish the job. What does that mean finish the job? I dunno. But I know it means we are going to be there a long ass time. I mean real long. Like Korea long. In case you don’t know long that is, let’s put it like this. We fought the Korean War way back in the 50’s and we still have troops over there now; 50 years later!

Before we invaded Iraq Colin Powell warned President Retard, ‘If you break it; you own it.’

President Retard and the
Evil Sith Lord said, “No problem, not a problem, we’ll be done over there in …what…90 days, ya think?’

Look where we are now.

I remember when the
Evil Sith Lord went on Larry King and said, “the Iraqi’s can’t wait for us to get there. They will be dancing in the streets, singing songs and throwing chocolates at the feet of our soldiers.” I guess the words ‘chocolates’ and ‘bombs’ got twisted in translation somehow….ooops!

And oh yeah, he said we’d be looked at as ‘liberators’. Hmmmm…then why are we called ‘infidels’ and ‘invaders’? I guess those words got lost in translation too.

We have to stay there because there are terrorists there now – they weren’t there before, but they are there now. Those guys that are fighting against us over there are getting some of the best kind of training – on the job training. And you can’t beat on the job training. Instruction goes something like this: ‘Hey Bashid, go blow up that tank of Americans with that empty soda can.’

The terrorists are more Westernized than you think. Don’t be surprised if they come up with books that are packaged with special mix tapes and DVD’s like “How to Rid Your Country of Fat, Lazy Americans in Four Years (I Did it and So Can You)’ and ‘Ridding the World of Infidels One American at a Time’. They will be able to write guerilla warfare manuals pretty soon. And what do you think they are going to do with all of that on the job training, huh?

They are going to bring their asses over here that’s what. They don’t fight wars and shit like we do. They have their own timetable and shit; those dudes may hang out here for a few years before they do anything.

Anyone who falls for Karl Rove’s election year distraction plan deserves what they get. What is Rove’s distraction plan you ask? The one that says to harp on issues like gay marriage and family values.

Ok, ok, ok you’ve read my blog, you know I ain’t for gay marriage, but let’s be real here. What do gay marriages have to do with what’s currently going on now? Na da. Not a got damn thing. It is a distraction from the real issues: a fucked up foreign policy, a stagnant economy, a dismal education agenda, their idiotic fumbling of Hurricane Katrina and a war we can’t win.

I’ll tell you what, if gay guys want the same misery as married straight guys, go ahead. It’s your sanity. You’re stupid if you do it, look at all of the straight divorce rates…and you want that kind of misery too? Well, may God help ya.

I’m no presidential historian, but I can safely say that, at least in my lifetime (when I got here Nixon was boss) George Bush, Jr. is the absolute worse president this nation has ever seen. Clinton was the smartest; Bush One (his dad) knew how to corral the troops; Ford – hell he wasn’t around long enough to matter – he was like a caretaker or something while the real president was away; Carter was the most caring; Nixon was the toughest – and the scariest, while Reagan was a really skilled politician.

This guy we have now. Ok let’s see, he is shrewd and strong-willed, however on top of that is retarded. He sees nothing but what he sees and knows nothing beyond what he learned 25 years ago. There is a saying: “God protects fools and babies…” Well, may God help any idiot that votes Republican.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

“...Why not you?”
-Wallace McCoy

Willie Dixon’s Uptown Bar and Grill has been a neighborhood mainstay for as long as anyone can remember. It’s been said that the Dixon family has owned it for at least 4 generations. People come and go in the neighborhood, but Willie’s remains.

On Tuesday nights they have an all you can eat crab feed that could knock your socks off with well drinks starting at $1.50. Wednesday and Thursday nights are cards and darts. If you’re lucky, you can catch old man Willie on the rare occasion when he comes out of retirement and kicks asses in a fierce game of Bid Whisk. The fried chicken and catfish are so good that if you get there after nine o’clock – you’re shit out of luck. Fridays and Saturdays are for karaoke. Locals line the walls and fill the bar stools waiting to watch friends and family entertain, and in some cases make total fools of themselves. But it’s all right if they do, because everybody knows everybody and knows things far worse about each other than who can or can’t sing.

It was on one of these Friday nights that the lives of two men would cross one another again and would forever seal the fates of both of them.

It was on this night that the crowd was entranced by the voice of a middle-aged light-skinned man with salt and pepper hair. Slight in build and short on teeth, the man sang in one of the smoothest falsettos anyone had heard in those parts in a long time. No one had sung like that in their neighborhood since LJ Reynolds of the Dramatics had dropped by in 1975 and sang Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones’ to a star-struck crowd. The man on stage this night sang a rendition of Eddie Holman’s 1960’s classic “Hey There Lonely Girl”. Note for note it was dead on the original.

At the end of the song the bar patrons dropped their drinks and gave the man a standing ovation. Humbled, the man silently nodded in thanks to the crowd. With a raspy voice stained with a shot of Hennessy and scarred by cigarette smoke the man thanked the crowd, “Thank you brothers and sisters. You make me feel so good inside, the Lord has blessed me this evening to be able to spend time with you, I hope you don’t mind if I sing another song for you. Do you mind if I take you back in time again?”

Enthusiastically the crowd yelled back ‘Yeah’ as the man turned to the deejay to request his next song. Just then the familiar drum roll of the Motown classic ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ by Smokey Robinson exploded through the speakers. Everyone was smiling as the man closed his eyes while slipping into his smooth falsetto. Everyone but one troubled man seated at the bar.

The Hennessy-stained voice sounded so eerily familiar to the man at the bar, that immediately upon hearing it he was jolted from his seat like it had been shook by an earthquake. Slowly he rose up from his bar stool to get a better look at the face of the owner of the Hennessy-stained voice. Bobbing and weaving side to side he was able to see his way through the crowd of heads while getting a better look at the man. Half way to the front he was stopped dead in his tracks by the man’s face. His heart sped up to a full gallop.

At that instant his body was overcome by feelings of shock and anger. He knew exactly who that man was. As he looked in the bar mirror at his own face and remembered how smooth his youthful and boyish- looking face had been some 22 years before, his fingers ran along the scar that stretched from his left eyebrow, to the bridge of his nose, under his right eye, across his high cheekbone to his right ear.

Somberly he recalled the events to himself that had disfigured him in his youth. His wounds had healed; yes, but some wounds never go away. Like the one in your heart from missing your best friend because you know he isn’t coming back. The warmth of a lonely tear caressed his cheek and dripped into his mouth, where the salt from the teardrop dissolved onto his tongue.

He knew the man as McCoy – McCoy Wallace, but at that time McCoy had been an angry Vietnam veteran home from the war with an axe to grind with the world. He was an alcoholic. A drug addict. An abusive father and husband, and was known to rob drug dealers.

He, Deon McLove, was an aspiring teen-aged rapper at the time that was on his way to becoming a neighborhood hero. Word back then was that Bobby Robinson from Enjoy Records wanted to sign him. His slim build and boyish face caught the attention of many girls in the area. He had a reputation for being a ‘pretty boy’, this, would help to earn him the wrath of the many jealous ‘hard rocks’ in the area, if not for his best friend Vincent Sotolongo.

Vincent or Vicente` as his mother liked to call him, was a stocky kid with a gap-toothed smile, and fists that were big and battle scarred. He always made it a point to rock a baseball hat slightly tilted to the side to show off his wavy hair. The two of them had been best friends since elementary school and were hard to separate.

The ghostly image across the room awakened a skeleton that had been hiding in the darkest closet of his mind for far too long.

As Deon became the top rapper in his neighborhood, Vincent would be his protection from the crab-asses around the way.

On a cool October night in 1982 they went to check Busy Bee out at the neighborhood Boys and Girls Club. Every rap crew and wannabe knucklehead from within a 15- block radius was there as well. When they got to the jam, the air in the gym was thick and filled with the smell of underarm funk and the pungent aroma of weed smoke. The room was dark except for the lone light that came from the little lamp on the deejay table.

Making their way through the crowd Deon and Vincent headed to the stage. Massive crews of steely-eyed 5 Percenters encircled the gym floor like competing warriors. Stepping through the crowd Deon accidentally bumped into a 5 Percenter wearing a dark hat with big white bold letters that read ‘B GOD’. As the man slowly exhaled the cigarette he was smoking, the cloud of smoke mushroomed above the gym floor. As B God turned to confront him, Vincent stepped between the two to counteract any hostility. Once they approached the ropes they checked out the Bronx’s best, Chief Rocker Busy Bee, who was rocking the crowd while his man, Kool DJ AJ was cutting “Cavern, Cavern” on the wheels of steel.

“Come on shout it out…shout it out, come on 1, 2, 3 uhhh, ya go bom with the bom da bang da bang boogie boogie then you shake your booty to the bang bang boogie. And then ya bom with the bom da bang da bang boogie boogie then ya shake ya booty to the bang bang boogie. I want y’all to say this with me, come on…I’m DJ Bust-a-nut where? (The crowd yelled) In your face and in your butt! At the Alps we work out, at the Alps we work out…

As AJ kept the beat going he would backspin on the thunderous cymbal crash repeating it over and over. Crash…and then cut into the beat using the cymbal c-c-c-c-c-c Crash! The low end of the bass-line vibrated the gym windows and sent the b-boys into a sweat-drenched frenzy.

Stepping out of the hot and funk-filled gym into the cool October night the two laughed about some of the girls they had seen that night. Feeling hungry they headed in the direction of a local liquor store for some snacks and a couple of bottles of Wild Irish Rose. On their way up the block they ran into a local drug dealer named Stevie Dash. Dash, was a brown- skinned skinny guy with a neck full of gold chains and a Caesar haircut. He wasn’t an especially dangerous guy for someone of his trade, but his nervous disposition kind of kept people at bay.

“Yo what it be like fellas?” Dash said as he greeted them both. The two young men explained to him that they were on the way to get a drink and then would be calling it a night. Dash told the pair that he had a tape of a jam that Deon had done two weeks before and that he’d give it to him. The two followed Dash to one his ‘spots’. Uneasy about going to a known drug spot, Deon and Vincent said that they would catch up with him the next day.

“Yo y’all dudes buggin’, ain’t nuttin’ gonna happen to y’all out here. I’ll be right back; all y’all gotta do is stand here just like this.” Dash said as he mockingly folded his arms into a b-boy stance. “Ain’t nobody gonna mess with y’all if y’all just standing here in a b-boy stance.” Dash convinced them.

Clearly uncomfortable about being out of their neighborhood and in front of a known dope spot, Vincent yelled out to Dash. “Yo hurry up in there! I don’t want to be out here all night mother fucker!”

As Dash ran up the stoop into the house he dismissively said, “Yo ski boss, I’ll be right back just chill, goddamnit!”

“Yo man, this nigga here is buggin’,” Deon said as he sucked his teeth and folded his arms. “I mean, I want my tape and shit, but damn, look what a nigga gotta go through for this shit. Standing in front of dope houses and shit…yo wasn’t this one of them spots Frank Matthews or somebody like that had back in the day?”
“Yo shut the fuck up man, you don’t know who’s listening out here.”
“I’m just sayin’ yo man, look at all this shit though.”

Out the corner of his eye he could see a dark figure lurking in the shadows. The figure would peek out periodically from behind a lamppost and then wander over to a house on the corner. Deon wasn’t sure of what he was seeing but he didn’t want to over-react either. The two men continued their conversation all the while Deon kept a lookout for the shadowy figure.

As he sat back down on the stoop Deon adjusted his hat and rubbed his head, when he remembered a new tape he copped, “Hey, I was checking out the Force MC’s the other night at Broadway International right, and they got this new kid on the cut for them named Dr. Shock. Word up man, this kid was nice.”

‘Yo I seen them kids at the Parrot they was all right.”

Just then both men saw the tiny amber glow of a cigarette drop in the dark. Jumping off of the stoop and on to their feet the men were prepared for whatever came their way. The figure that stepped out of the dark was a slim black man in his late 30’s. He wouldn’t have been worth the passing thought if not for the fact that he was wearing dark sunglasses in the middle of the night and an Army fatigue jacket and blue jeans that had seen better days.

The men instantly recognized him as McCoy Wallace a known stick up man and dope-fiend. In a Hennessy and cigarette-smoke stained voice McCoy asked them, “So what y’all doin’ out here?”

Both men shrugged their shoulders and nodded their heads as if to say nothing, but McCoy was having none of that.

“Come on what y’all got for me?” McCoy said while looking at both men with a steely gaze.

“Yo check this out man, we ain’t got nothing to do with nothing you looking for”, said Deon.

“Bullshit, y’all niggas wouldn’t be out here for nothing. Where’s that mother fucker Dash at?”

“Yo man we just hanging out here, why don’t you just move on, you fucking dope-fiend,” said Vincent.

This earned the consternation of the older man. Suddenly he pulled a banana knife out of his jacket pocket and stuck it up to Vincent’s face. “Y’all some suckers, give me the dope AND your money,” yelled the sweating dope fiend.

Deon pleaded with the man to stop, “Ay we got nothing to do with none of this shit, for real, we’re just out here waiting on my man.”

“Empty your pockets, turn them mother fuckers inside out”, commanded McCoy.

Both men emptied the contents of their pockets onto the street: they had a total of $45 between them, two packs of Newport’s and a pair of dice.

“So where y’all hiding the dope?” McCoy quizzed them with the knife still pointed at Vincent’s face.

Scared the two young men protested that they had nothing to do with drugs and that they wanted to leave.

McCoy looked both men in their eyes and with glassy eyes said, “Y’all niggas think ya fooling somebody, but that ain’t working here. Not tonight. See, I seen y’all out here before and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t belong here.”

A feeling of desperation rushed over the two men; instinctively they lunged at the man going for the hand with the knife. McCoy, a former combat veteran stepped back and kicked at Deon and caught Vincent in the throat as he continued to lunge forward. A gush of blood leaped out of Vincent’s neck splashing all over McCoy and Deon. Stunned, Deon paused to look at his friend; it was at that second that McCoy swung the blade in Deon’s direction slashing the young man across the left eyebrow to his right ear.

Crashing to the ground with a deep burning sensation across his face Deon let out a scream that could’ve awakened the dead. Suddenly, a resident across the street started to go for her window. McCoy hearing the stirring around him kicked Deon in the ribs with the force of a bucking horse.

Between the stinging of the cut on his face and the throbbing pain in his ribs he gasped, “Damn man, what the fuck, why me?”

McCoy dropped down to one knee droplets of blood were dripping from the blade on to the concrete like slow running water from a faucet, looking him dead in the face with rose-colored blood shot eyes and with that gravely voice as low as a whisper he said, “Why not you?”

And with that he walked into the cool midnight and disappeared like a shadow on the sun.

The morning headlines in the New York Post read:


Queens, NY – One man was killed and another slashed in a violent attack near a known drug spot on 178th and Jackson Ave.

Vincent Sotolongo, 19 of Flushing, was found dead in a puddle of blood, the apparent victim of a throat slashing. Also found at the scene was Deon McLove, also 19 and of Flushing, was found a few feet away with a severe slash to the face. Though his injuries are serious he is expected to survive.

A witness who chooses to remain anonymous gave police a description of the alleged perpetrator and an arrest is imminent.

Residents reported hearing an argument at about 1:30 a.m. and then heard a loud scuffle ensue before they heard the sound of “loud footsteps running away from the scene.”

The Sotolongo killing stayed in the papers for the next few weeks.



No member of the McCoy family was present at the trial. His wife of 9 years released this statement through her pastor:

To the Sotolongo and McLove families,

My family and I deeply regret your loss. The man that committed these acts was not the same man I knew before the war. The man I knew before the war was kind and loving and cared about humanity. The man that came home from the war is distant, abusive – both physically and verbally. I hardly know the man that came home from Vietnam, as he would not open up to me, my pastor or any other member of our family.

Once again I deeply regret your loss, my family and I deeply grieve for you.

Yours truly,
Ellen Wallace

The judge handed down a sentence of 10 to 20 years to be served at the Danemora Correctional Facility. To the astonishment of the Sotolongo family he could be paroled in 15 years.

Adjusting to prison life was not hard for McCoy Wallace as he had done two tours of duty in Vietnam and had been a guest at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the notorious prison camp in Vietnam that broke the soul of many American soldiers.

What was difficult for Wallace to adjust to was not seeing his kid’s everyday. Though, emotionally distant from them, there was still a part of him, the loving, caring father buried somewhere deep inside of him that needed to see his children. The first few years of his incarceration he cried himself to sleep at night.

Seven years into his sentence Wallace decided to make peace with his inner-demons and Vietnam. He joined a Christians Men Group in Danemora and became an active participant in the group.

As he came to grips with his inner struggle; the images of the atrocities in Vietnam, the images of the faces of Sotolongo and McLove that fateful night, Wallace McCoy got down on his knees daily and begged the Lord for forgiveness.

Very often he would hold pep talks in his cell for other recovering addicts and vets; as he had become an encouraging force to both groups. He continually advised them to stay away from drugs and all other forms of foolishness that they could engage in behind bars. He constantly told them, “Look man, if you shuffle…you deal.”

He would accompany many of them to the prison psychiatrist’s office to discuss their problems. It was during one of these visits that the psychiatrist asked to see Wallace privately. Closing the door and taking a seat the psychiatrist looked at Wallace and said, “So McCoy how long have you been here?”

“I’d say it’s been 15 years now, sir.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about you, and your progress and I want you to know that I have noticed how far you have come. I wanted to tell you to your face that when it’s time for you to go before the board, I’m going to recommend your release. Now, you better not disappoint me McCoy, I don’t believe you belong here anymore. I find it highly unlikely that you’ll re-offend again. Do you understand?”

In shock McCoy said he understood.

The doctor continued, “McCoy when you leave here I want you to do me one favor.”

“What’s that?” McCoy answered.

“McCoy I want you to promise me that you’ll never come back to this place or any other places like this again. Okay?”

McCoy still in shock nodded in agreement and shook the doctor’s hand. Upon exiting the doctor’s office the euphoria of the moment was swept away when the faces of Sotolongo and McLove flashed in his head. Leaning against the wall to catch his balance, he quietly said a prayer to himself begging the Lord to forgive him for his sins.

When the prison gates were opened the beaming sun blinded him. It was the first time in years that he had smelled air that didn’t have a hint of prison funk. No one greeted him as he left the institution and entered into a new world.

Life for Deon McLove hadn’t fared well. As a youth he was known as a nice kid, but because of his pretty boy looks he was known to be arrogant and cocky. The slash across his face that McCoy had made left both a physical and emotional scar on his psyche. Whereas he was once good-looking and cocky, he was now disfigured and extremely insecure. The rap career he had worked hard to attain disintegrated before his eyes like dust in the wind. He worked two dead-end jobs 6 days a week that barely kept his head above water. Friends and family over the years silently remarked among one another about how much Deon drank. His insecurity about his looks made approaching women very difficult for him so he would often seek the company of prostitutes.

On this night at Willie’s just as he had recognized McCoy Wallace, one of his favorite companions came walking through the door. Her name was Exxxtacy Love; a hustler by trade, she was a stripper, a hair-stylist, massage therapist, mixtape distributor, internet model and escort. Caramel brown and stunningly sexy with arched eyebrows and full lips she carried herself with the confidant demeanor that only a pro could have. With carefully color co-ordinated manicured fingernails and toes, there wasn’t anything about her that was out of place. The tattoos on her arms made the loudest statements about her. On her left arm in big bold letters was her name ‘EXXXTACY LOVE’. On the right shoulder it said ‘Shut Up Bitch’. Inscribed on her neck: ‘The Path I’ve Chosen’.

Walking up on him and planting a light kiss on his cheek, she greeted him with a honey-inflected “Hey baby what’s up?” as she gently maneuvered his arm in the direction of the bar. As she seated herself on the bar stool she opened up her purse to at once drop her cell phone in and take a small mirror out. Looking at herself in the mirror and primping her hair and lips without looking in his direction she said, “Baby, buy me drink.”

Throwing five dollars on the bar he told her to get whatever she wanted as he re-located McCoy in the bar mirror. Grabbing his hat off the counter he pulled it down real low to hide his face.

“So where are we going tonight, baby?” Exxxtacy asked.

Briefly distracted from stalking his prey he said, “I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere.”

Exxxtacy let it all hang out, “Well why not? Shit, I had a lot to do tonight, there was other shit I could’ve been doing instead of coming out here to see your drunk ass.”

“Hey not right now, I got something else to do at the moment,” Deon said as he focused back in on his prey.

Without missing a beat Exxxtacy whirled around on the bar stool and snatched her cell phone out of her purse, flipping it open while walking away saying, “Yeah girl this mark-ass, trick-ass bitch think I got time for games and shit…”

Deon dismissed Exxxtacy and focused in on McCoy. He watched him as he laughed it up with his buddies. Drinking. Laughing. It looked like he had been living well. While Vincent was a decomposed lump of bones 6 feet in the ground.

The jukebox was serenading the crowd with the sweet sounds of R Kelly’s hit ‘Happy People’. Couples young and old danced in the small area, spinning and twirling each other around. He eyed Wallace at a table with a group of friends eating fish and telling loud stories. He decided to wait for him outside. He grabbed an empty bottle of MGD off the bar and headed into the night air. Once outside his heart raced around his chest. He looked around the corner to see if anyone was looking. No one was there. He silently waited in the shadows for McCoy to come outside. Hours passed by before McCoy would leave. In the shadows he wrestled with his conscious. He had never done anything like this before.

When McCoy stepped in to the night air after a night of merriment he had no idea of the fate that awaited him. Smiling to himself while looking for his keys he looked up the block for his car. Walking in the direction of a lone Honda Civic parked under a tree, Deon followed McCoy in the shadows.

When McCoy made it to within feet of his car he heard the loud music from a passing car, and a voice say, “There goes that mother fucker right there, bitch stop the fuckin’ car!”

Turning in the direction of the voice he saw a short, caramel- skinned woman jump out of a shiny black Toyota Camry that came to a screeching halt in the middle of the street. He vaguely recognized the young woman from earlier in the evening. Had it not been for the fact that she was walking really fast and in his general direction, he would’ve dismissed her and minded his own business, but he sensed some type of threat was about to occur.

“Every mother fuckin’ time I see your ass, it’s always some bullshit!” Exxxtacy shouted.

In a panic Deon frantically reached down to his ankle for his holstered .45 caliber gun. As he lifted the gun out of its holster and straightened his body up to take aim, Wallace saw the shadow of the young man that the loud mouth woman was shouting at.

“Ay yo!” The figure said stepping out of the shadow and into the light.

Squinting at first to focus in on the person, McCoy didn’t easily recognize the young man until he got a little closer and saw the scar across his face.

“Oh no!” he said as he was caught in the bulls eye of the barrel.

Throwing himself over the car Wallace slid across the hood as the first shot cracked through the silence of the midnight air. The first shot grazed his back, the second shot missed; the third shot hit him in the ankle. There was a second of silence and then a fourth shot rang out.

Desperately he crawled to the rear passenger tire in an effort to somehow shield himself from the bullets. Looking in the direction of the shooter from underneath the car he saw the young man sprawled out on the asphalt. Somebody shot him.

With his heart pumping a ferocious mix of fear and anger, Deon reached for the gun he dropped after being blasted by one of the people in the car. Fumbling around for his weapon he noticed a bloody faced Exxxtacy Love. One of his shots missed Wallace and hit Exxxtacy in the face. Somebody in the car fired at Deon striking him in the shoulder.

The street was a mass of mayhem. The screeching tires of the shiny black Toyota couldn’t muffle the screams of the injured young woman.

Slowly limping his way to Deon, Wallace scrambled for the gun angrily kicking it away from him. By the laws he learned in the street and his tours in Vietnam, he had every reason to blast this punk’s head all over the sidewalk. Reaching for the gun he felt the cold steel in his sweaty palms. Raising the gun up he had Deon’s face in the crosshair. Every instinct told him to pull the trigger, to end this here and now on this street corner, and disappear to some foreign country somewhere. But regret kicked in. The memory of what he had done before and the promise he made to himself to never cross that line again took precedence over anything he learned on the street. Looking from side to side he took a couple of steps and dropped the gun into the sewer. With his back turned he said, “If you know what’s best for you young blood, you better get in the wind.”

He stared back over his shoulder at the angry young man whose eyes were a blaze of fire while remembering that night. “I’ll never be able to undo the wrong I did to you, and we’ll never be even…but…”

His words were broken by the distant sound of the oncoming police cars.

“Fuck you you fuckin’ piece of shit!”

“Listen to me”, McCoy said quietly while looking in the direction of the sirens, ‘you can spend the rest of your life being mad at me if you wanna. But if you want what’s left of your life to be spent with even an iota of peace – at some point, get the fuck off your ass and into the wind, like I’m about to do.”

As the seconds went by the sirens went from being distant sounds to being a matter of seconds away.

When the patrol cars pulled up the corner was empty. The officers knew they were at the right place because there were puddles of blood all over the asphalt.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

VH1 Does It Again

Last years show has a slight edge over this years, the stand out performance for me was the Afrika Bambaataa tribute. Erykah Badu, Fat Joe, Q Tip, The Roots, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins all paid tribute to Afrika Bam and that shit was funky! My only problem with the Bam tribute was the absence of the Soul Sonic Force. Yes, Bam was the visionary of the group, but, ah, the lyrics were written by GLOBE, Pow Wow and Biggs, who were the actual MC's on the records. I gotta reach out to GLOBE and find out what happened.

Speaking of which, what the fuck happened to Tracy Morgan? Did you see duke on stage last night? How in the hell did that shit happen? That dude looked fruitier than a box of Fruit Loops. He walked out on stage looking extremely gay... Did you see that shit?

And Lil Kim what the fuck happened to her? She used to be a real cute girl. Somebody give her her nose back!

The Rakim tribute was hot.

On a different note why is it that the Beastie Boys not only look old but rhyme the same exact way after all of these years and no one not a one person says anything about them sounding old school?

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Sons of Sly

Anyone who came of age in the 80’s will tell you that the music that pre-dominated Black radio back then was funk. Hearing a rap record on the radio at that time was a treat. And you best believe that everyone from the on air personality to the program director detested the airing of the song.

In the 1980's Michael Jackson was the most popular thing in music. His fame eclipsed that of Elvis and the Beatles. He was like a 500 ton elephant sitting on the recording industry.

But the world of funk was dominated by two forces: Rick James and Prince. Both men were undisputedly funky and although they were rivals, their common influence was
Sly and the Family Stone.

Prince Rogers Nelson had his own sound.
He took a whole heaping of Sly, a fistful of James Brown, a chunk of Parliament-Funkadelic and a dash of Jimi Hendrix and created what can only be called the ‘Minneapolis’ sound. With his androgynous looks and all around eccentricity he started a movement whose true believers included: The Time, Vanity 6 (later to be called Appollonia 6), Sheena Easton, Sheila E, Ready for the World and many others.

Artistically the man was on island all to himself. Though most of his albums stayed on the charts his commercial endeavors were mostly enjoyed by his die-hard fans.

In the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ the question is asked: “Are you a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan?” It’s a straight forward question, because depending on which group you liked or identified with it said something about who you were. But you couldn’t be both; you were either one or the other.

The 80’s equivalent of that argument (before hip hop took over) was you were either a Rick James fan or a Prince fan. You could love them both, and many did and still do, but more than likely you were feeling one more than the other.

From my own personal observations Prince fans tended to be just as eccentric as he was. This was the era where it was pretty common to see dudes wearing long Jheri Curls, eye liner and rocking long leather boots. I couldn’t get down like that. I liked some of his records but I wasn’t about to be walking around looking like that.

So I dug the other guys music more…

Born the son of a numbers running, Mob connected mother James Ambrose Johnson, Jr. was born in Buffalo, NY in 1948. According to published reports as a teenager he was shy and reserved. But young James’ quietness shielded a burning determination that would drive him to the top of the charts. But it was a long, hard windy road to the pinnacle of fame whose heights he’d bask in before falling off into a pit of drug abuse and a five year stretch in prison.

According to published reports when young James Johnson popped up in Toronto, Canada sometime in the mid 1960’s his name was Ricky James Matthews, how he came up with that name is not known, but a good guess would be that it was probably to keep the law off his tracks. You see, young Ricky was a wanted man; he was wanted by the FBI for being AWOL from the Navy. Friends and colleagues from that time say that James was a talented and charismatic performer who was heavily influenced by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

In the mid 70’s Ricky James Matthews changed his name to Rick James and single handedly saved Motown from the brink of extinction. It was also at Motown that James, whose influences were rock, jazz, salsa and funk – but more so rock, was introduced to a young white female singer who loved the hell out of Rhythm and Blues. It is said that they were an odd pairing, but a good pairing. Her name was Teena Marie.

Being a young New Yorker transplanted to the West Coast I was enthralled with the emerging sound from the NY streets: Hip-hop. I had neither the auditory attention nor musical taste for anything that didn’t match the break-beat style that predominated New York rap at that time.

That was until I fully got to dig Rick James.

“Standing on the Top”, “Mary Jane’, ‘Cold Blooded’, ‘Dance with Me’, ‘17’, ‘Pimp Simp’, ‘Ghetto Life’ and many others captured my imagination.

The first concert I ever went to was at the now gone Circle Star Theatre in San Mateo, Ca. I had to beg and plead with my mother for 2 weeks to allow me to go.
“Mark, do you know what kind of people go to Rick James concerts?”
“Nah, what?”
“Pimps, prostitutes and gangsters!”
“So”, I said, ‘they ain’t gonna bother me!”
“Well, who are you gonna go with cause I’m not taking you?”

There was no doubt about that, because there was no way on God’s green Earth or in the hell below, that I was going to go see Rick James with my moms, that was out of the question. I wanted to go with my home boys: Mark and Rodney.

“What, the three of you at a Rick James concert?” My mother yelled.
“Yeah, well, Damina’s going too.” I said.
“Oh hell no!” she said, ‘you’re right the pimps and gangsters won’t want you guys – they’ll want her!”

She had a point there.

Damina, my home boy Mark’s older sister, who was 19 years old at the time, had men all over the Bay Area falling over each other trying to get with her. Gangsters included. But to her credit she didn’t let any of them dudes play her out.

We sat in the front row at the Circle Star Theatre that night. I don’t know how Rodney’s mother pulled that one off, but she did. After the Mary Jane Girls did their set, the Stone City Band did theirs.

At the end of their set the lights were dimmed and Rick James was introduced. Rick came strolling down the aisle in a white outfit sporting a captain’s hat, wearing dark shades while holding his guitar in one hand and smoking a joint with the other. Rick was cool.

I felt Rick’s brand of funk more than I could Prince’s. Rick, if you close your eyes and listen to his songs comes off like a p-i-m-p in a lot of his records. From the sound of things he smoked a lot of good herb, snorted the best cocaine and regularly took 4 or 5 girls to bed a night. To my teenage ears… that dude was God.

On the other hand I could hardly understand what in the hell Prince was talking about in most of his songs. I knew the dude was deep but…sleeping with your sister? Come on hops, you gots to come better than that. And all of these years later I still don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about on “When Doves Cry”, which is one of my favorite recordings from the man, that and “Lady Cab Driver”, but I don’t know what in the hell he’s singing about.

Rick James was much more straight forward: ‘Give it to me Baby”, ‘Super Freak’, ‘I Love you 69 Times’ – real pimp shit. And that's pimp spelled the way Black folks say it 'p-e-e-i-i-i-m-p'.

Speaking of pimps, yes, their were plenty of pimps, prostitutes, players, gangsters and all kinds of other underworld types at the Circle Star that night. The pungent smell of marijuana hung over the theatre like a rain cloud.

Damina bought her best friend Perdita with her that night and we ended up trailing the groups back to some hotel somewhere in San Mateo. We were hoping to meet Rick, instead we met Monty of the Stone City Band, who just so happened to be hanging out at Denny’s.

Rick James’ bodyguard and brother, a short, bald- headed dude with a red rag tied around his head threatened to beat anyone down who went near Rick. Let’s put it like this: We must’ve gotten pretty close that night, because as I turned a corner down a lone corridor in the hotel, the bodyguard jumped to attention and yelled: ‘Hey lil nigga!”

I took off running down the hall yelling “Yo, the big dude is coming, the big dude is coming!"

Nowadays Rick James has been become notorious for a phrase, one which I think will live on just as long as his music: "I'm Rick James, bitch!"

Monday, October 02, 2006


Movies impact us in different ways. They make us cry, they make us think and they make us cheer. Every once in a while a movie will come along and it will capture current attitudes and energies in a way that, more or less, crystallizes a movement so to speak.

There have been thousands of films made about the lives and souls of Black folks. There have been stories told about brothers in everything from the slave ships to rocket ships.

I remember when I was a little boy in the early 70’s and Kung Fu movies were the rage. I recall looking at the screen and seeing a bunch of Chinese folks practicing moves in Shaolin temples. Seeing images like that made me (and many others) think that all Chinese people knew Kung Fu. As a little boy I used to walk up to Chinese people on the street and yell ‘Hiiiii-ya!’ As I was jumping in the air doing a karate kick.

That was the power of films like ‘Master Killer’ and the ‘Five Deadly Venoms.’ I bet I wasn’t the only young brother at that time who took up karate because he wanted to learn how to defy gravity like the “Kid With the Golden Arms.”

I don’t believe that art makes anyone do anything, be it a rap song, rock song, book, movie or whatever. But art does articulate certain energies that awaken people to things going on around them, and entice them to want to join in.

For instance, when I was a little boy there was a movie called ‘Super Fly’ which starred the late
Ron O’Neil. From what I understand, before ‘Super Fly’ came out brothers were into the civil rights movement and were about getting their acts together. That was until O’Neil popped up on screen as the ‘Mac-a-lack drivin’, coke- sniffin’, fine white woman-fuckin’, fur coat wearin’, big time money makin’, cocaine dealer Priest.

“Brothers weren’t the same after that”; my pops and his friends tell me.

‘Super Fly’ wasn’t the only movie to have that kind of effect; there have been others in more recent times.

But back to ‘Super Fly’; let’s start there.

Tale of a Pusher Man: Super Fly

According to published reports and interviews Ron O’Neil was a classically trained stage actor. He had all of the chops to make it as a first-class artist. But the trouble was - work wasn’t plentiful.

And then he was offered the role that would change his life.

What should’ve been his shining moment soon dissolved into a curse. You see the character he was portraying was a cocaine dealer named Priest who wanted to get out of the game. He wanted to do one last number (as he called it) and then retire young and rich with a million dollars under the mattress.

Only one problem for our hero: Very few drug dealers ever see retirement. His partner Eddie, played by the late actor Carl Lee, didn’t share the same dreams.

“Nigga, what you gonna do besides what you doin’ now, besides pimp, and to be honest with you I don’t think you got the heart for that…” Somewhere in that same monologue Eddie would say the words that would be echoed by New Jack crack dealers some twenty years later …”Why do you think they call it dope?”

Our hero’s problems aside Ron O’Neil had some bigger problems knocking on his door: the NAACP. They wanted to boycott his ass.

Before crack, heroin and the people that dealt it was the scourge of the Black community. Needles were everywhere as were junkies with arms that looked like railroad tracks. So a movie about a Black drug dealer in Harlem was not going to be a good look.

In his own defense O’Neil countered: “The heroin pusher is the scourge of the black community. But we’re talking about coke, which is basically a white drug. Since coke is not physically addictive, people do not steal and rob to get it. There are no coke junkies.”

That’s what they didn’t know back then.

So back to the Civil Rights movement, folks had been protesting and getting hit upside the head for equal access into the society for so long that they couldn’t take it anymore. On the film front, Black folks wanted to see images that truthfully portrayed us. No one wanted to see Sambo, Rochester and brothers with mops and buckets any more. They wanted to see some real brothers.

Melvin Van Peebles. ‘Sweet Sweetback and his Baaaadaaaassss Song’ premiered in 1971. So many people were elated to see a film where a brother not only got to kick some ass but got to get some ass on film too.

Say what you want about the movie but it is a pivotal point in Black cinema.

Super Fly’ opened and was heralded by brothers on street corners, nightclubs and pool halls as being the equivalent of the return of Sweet Daddy Grace. Brothers flocked to get long fur coats with hats to match, and had Rolls Royce grills installed on the front of their cars. I bet more than a few went out and got themselves a white woman too.

According to the civil rights crowd, brothers forgot about the movement. They threw away their dashikis for sharkskin suits and multi-colored shirts and jump suits. And of course, white women.

Many a brother whose hair is more salt than pepper now, looks back on that moment in time as an event that changed our culture. Never mind the fact that drug dealers and pimps had been dressing the same way for years in Black communities all over the country. Frank Lucas, Frank Matthews, Nicky Barnes and many others were ghetto celebs at a time when the phrase wasn’t popular.

The World is Yours: Scarface

There is nothing new about cocaine it has been around for a long time. The 70’s and early 80’s have been called the ‘champagne and cocaine’ era. Only the ‘beautiful people’ did it.

When the film
‘Scarface’ debuted in 1983 it was a blockbuster. Some of everybody loved it. Here’s the story: Cuban immigrant lands on these shores in search of the mythical American dream. The criminal past he seems to have had back in his homeland has been bought here with him. He wants to be rich like a Rockefeller. His ‘balls- out- go- for- mine’ attitude and determination elicits ‘Amen brother-like’ responses from brothers from all the way in New York to LA.

Monologues like: “…I only got two things in this world: my balls and my word, and I don’t break them for nobody, man…” Or this one: “Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who. Who do I trust? Who do I trust? Me, that’s who…” Were recited on street corners in Black neighborhoods everywhere. There was something about the protagonists ‘fuck you I’m a get mine’ that resonated with brothers all over. It was the perfect primer for the oncoming plague called crack.

Long established rules of the street were thrown by the wayside when crack hit the scene. At one time cocaine dealers weren’t known for violence; after all they catered to a more upstanding clientele. Crack cocaine was made cheap, no longer did you have to be a member of the beautiful one’s to get high. For 20 dollars or less, you could get as high as apple pie in the sky.

But with it being cheap came the violence.

Crack also made people paranoid. No one trusted anyone anymore. Unlike heroin or cocaine dealers, crack was dealt by people as young as 15. So there it was 1985, 1986 when crack hit the streets, BMW’s, Ferrari’s and Benz’s were all over and being driven by teenagers. Teens, who by the way had wholeheartedly absorbed the Tony Montana mantra: Fuck you the world is mine.

As a result semi-automatic weapons and drive by shootings became more and more the norm.

Psychopaths on the Warpath: Colors

Crips and Bloods originated in Los Angeles in the early 70’s. The only other big city that had a gang problem that matched LA’s was Chicago.

That was until the late 80’s.

Crack and the crime that came with it was in every city throughout the country by 1987. At the same time gang violence in LA was at an all time high. It was like a mini-Vietnam.

One of the fathers of the crack movement was an ill literate tennis pro named Freeway Ricky Ross. He supplied cocaine to dealers all over LA. At some point he got into his head that he needed to expand his business and set up shop in other states.

Taking a page from the ‘Freeway Rick’ book gang members did the same thing: they expanded their turfs to other states. Later DJ Quik would remark in his classic recording “Just Like Compton” about how Bloods and Crips were in places like Denver and have “never even seen the ‘Shaw.”

At the same time that that was happening a movie called ‘Colors’ hit the big screen. ‘Colors’ told the story that the rest of America had only seen in: 30 news clips. After it came out, Crips and Bloods were everywhere. They were turning up in cities that up to that point hadn’t had a gang problem.

When Are You Too Old To Be A B-Boy?

I got the biggest kick out of watching everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure ‘The Flavor of Love” this weekend.

I won’t lie I am of that small minority of people who thinks that Ms. New York a/k/a
Tiffany Patterson is a cute girl. For real she is. At least last season she was. Granted her attitude makes her unattractive.

Now me, personally, I don’t like anybody to over talk me in conversation. And as far as talkin’ about people’s moms and shit -- that ain't cool.

But you know, other than that, ya boy would slide her the bozack real quick. She would get it and so would Deelishis, Beautiful and Bootz, oh, please believe that ya man would be on some Lex Steele type shit.

The thing that I found interesting was the relationship between Flav-zell and New York’s Moms who is a total MIWWF (Mom I Wouldn’t Wanna Fuck). If they do end up hookin’ up, somebody should keep a camera crew on hand for weekends and holidays. Dust will fly, clocks will get smashed and weaves/wigs will get burnt up.

To tell the truth, I felt for both Flav and New York’s Moms. I felt for Flav because I’ve kind of been in his shoes before.

When you get to be over 30 years of age people look at hip-hoppers real funny. Questions are asked like: “When are you going to stop wearing baggy pants?” “Why are you still saying “Yo” at your age?” “When are you going to stop wearing your hat like that?” “Why do you still walk that way?” In other words folks are looking for you to act and look more like a ‘grown up’.

Nothing disturbs me more than those types of questions. Never mind the fact that I have been on my own since I was 19. Never mind the fact that I have never done drugs or have seen the inside of a jail cell. Never mind the fact that for all of my adult life I have always held down a job.

What happens when you get to be an over- 30 hip-hopper is you get locked into a little box, a stereotype: Only listens to rap music, only drinks malt liquor or Hennessey and has no education or skills beyond hip-hop.

Tell you what, I ain’t called Mark ‘Skillz’ for nuttin’. And as far as my musical tastes go they run a wide range from rock (the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Living Color, Hendrix, the Police) to soft rock (Elton John, Andy Gibb, Billy Joel) to jazz (Coltrane, Donald Byrd and the Crusaders) to reggae, afro beat and a whole lot of other stuff. And just for the record: Henny and any type of Malt Liquor repulse me, give me a glass of red wine and I’m straight. Besides hard liquor will make you look 10 years older than you really are.

The responses you get once people get to really know you is something like, “Oh, you’re different”, to “no way”. Like a hip hop cat couldn't possibly know anything beyond hip-hop and the hood.

Gimme a break.

A while back I was watching “Waiting to Exhale”, I sat there looking at the characters that the actors were portraying and said to myself, ‘Damn, how come I can’t be like them?”

Don’t get it twisted I like who I am, but I sat there wondering to myself about how the life decisions I made a very long time ago affected my life today. I’ve never been comfortable wearing a suit and tie everyday.

A long time ago my dad taught me that a Black man has to know how to walk both sides of Black culture: the street and work. You talk one way at work and another on the street. I’m glad he taught me that because it’s been key to my survival for the last 20 years. I’ve never had the ambition to be in corporate management, that shit is not in my DNA. And more importantly, I have never been comfortable in corporate settings. That's just not who I am.

Which brings to me what New York’s moms was talking about: “When is he going to start acting like a man? Who wants to be seen in public with a man wearing a big clock?” Show me the man…”

In her defense, I can say that I would be a little concerned about my 26 year-old daughter dating a 47 year- old man like Flavor. But I don’t have any daughters (thank God), I have nuttin’ but sons. Come to think about it, Flav is probably her mother’s age.

By 47 years of age there are certain things that are expected of you: mastery of professional type talk, success and a more mature presentation. Of which Flavor only has one of the criteria met. But don’t get it twisted, home chick and her daughter are on some gold-diggin’ shit for real.

“Tiffany”, her moms said to her with concern, ‘You want a man that’s wealthy and successful and who loves Jesus and knows how to treat a woman.”

Let’s start with this: As a parent I can feel where she’s coming from because you want the best for your children. But on the real, once your kids are grown there ain’t but so much you can really do but protest. But why is her moms so repulsed by the very sight of Flavor?

Believe it or not, it ain't so much about the way he looks.

I can tell you for my own personal experience that Flavor Flav is one of the coolest cats, and he is more mature than he lets on. What you see on screen is him, but what gets lost or not seen at all is the sensitive, thoughtful, insightful guy that William Drayton really is. Yes, he is a class clown, no doubt or argument about that from me. But to have such a reaction to him (for those that don’t know Flav and NY’s Moms almost came to blows) isn’t called for.

I suspect that Moms has been with quite a few Flav-esqe type characters in her life. And judging by the way she treats her man, Alex (I dunno about you but furniture would’ve been moving if she would’ve come at me like she did him) she’s been in quite a few physically abusive relationships. I say that because usually, women of that age get to a point where they want to be the controlling/manipulative one in a relationship and they know that they can’t do it with an Ike Turner type, so they get a dude who’s basically glad to be fuckin’.

But back to Flavor, I think he spoke for all of us old school hip-hop cats when he said to NY’s moms: “If you give me a chance, I’ll show you something else [other than the clock-wearin’, ‘Yeaaaah boyeeeee’ yellin’ immature thug that you perceive me to be].

Friday, September 29, 2006

What's Your Name?

Sept. 21, 2006 — Studies of resumes have found that people with 'black-sounding' names are less likely to get callbacks.

"20/20" put 22 pairs of names to the test, posting identical resumes except for the names at the top.

The resumes with the 'white-sounding' names were actually downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters than the resumes with 'black-sounding' names.

What are some of those names?

Here's a list from the book "Freakonomics," by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, showing the top 20 whitest- and blackest-sounding girl and boy names.

20 "Whitest" Girl Names:

Molly, Amy, Claire, Emily, Katie, Madeline, Katelyn, Emma, Abigail, Carly, Jenna, Heather, Katherine, Caitlin, Kaitlin, Holly, Allison, Kaitlyn, Hannah, Kathryn

For the record they forgot: Susie, Jill, Julie, Colleen and Sara

20 "Blackest" Girl Names:

Imani, Ebony, Shanice, Aaliyah, Precious, Nia, Deja, Diamond, Asia, Aliyah, Jada, Tierra, Tiara, Kiara, Jazmine, Jasmin, Jazmin, Jasmine, Alexus, Raven

For the record: Raven is not a 'Black sounding' name. I bugged the fuck out one day when I met a white chick named Shanice, that shit blew my mind. And oh yes, can't forget the name Nicole which is usually reserved for girls who are mixed with black and white.

20 "Whitest" Boy Names

For the record these are with the exception of the names Scott, Jacob and Garrett undoubtedly, unquestionably the most 'whitest sounding' names in this country, hit it:

Jake, Connor, Tanner, Wyatt, Cody, Dustin, Luke, Jack, Scott, Logan, Cole, Lucas, Bradley, Jacob, Garrett, Dylan, Maxwell, Hunter, Brett, Colin

20 "Blackest" Boy Names

For the record these are with the exception of Willie and Reginald undoubtedly, unquestionably the 'Blackest sounding' names in this country, there is no doubt whatsoever about these names, hit it:

DeShawn, DeAndre, Marquis, Darnell, Terrell, Malik, Trevon, Tyrone, Willie, Dominique, Demetrius, Reginald, Jamal, Maurice, Jalen, Darius, Xavier, Terrance, Andre, Darryl

Now depending on where you live I have to add the following names: Shameek, Melquan, Bilal, Jovani - you get the picture.