Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Prophet

The Prophet

During the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s I saw the signs advertising the shows all over Oakland, but didn’t know who in the hell the groups were:


Being African American I had no idea who those people were, as a matter of fact I really didn’t know where Lagos was.

I started deejaying for a dancehall sound system in the late 90’s. My uncle and friend DJ Ibi Judah recruited me to spin with him. He spun early rockers, ska, rock steady and roots and culture. I spun R&B and hip hop. I had fun doing it too. One night at a bar called the Oasis in downtown Oakland I went into my thing. I broke out the Mary Jane Girls, Rick James and Michael Jackson, stuff we call classics. Anyway, the club was half empty (as usual) except for some brothers from Nigeria. These guys were really diggin’ those records. One brother asked me ‘Hey brudda, ya got any Fela?’

“Fe what, who?”
‘Fela” He said, as if I should know.
“No, what’s that?”

Come to find out Fela was the king of Afro beat, he was to African funk what James Brown is to American funk: the be all to end all.

I made a mental note to keep an eye and ear out for this Fela character.

One night at a club called Island Paradise in Alameda it was Nigerian Independence Day. Let me tell you something about this spot first. At a reggae club other black ethnic groups will come out and drink and soak up the vibe. So of course dancehall/reggae nights the crowd will be predominately West Indian: Jamaican, Barbadian, Trinidadian and African American. If there a lot of Trinidadians and Barbadians in the house you better play some soca.

Now of course Africans come out too Nigerians, Ghanians, Senegalese they come out and soak up the vibes, if there are a lot of Africans in the house, you’d better play some zouk.

Now the funny thing is each of these groups of people will front on the others music if it is played too much. West Indians will suck their teeth “Mi na wanna hear any bumbleclot zouk, mi youth, now gwan an kill dat ya know.”

Let’s put it like this on this particular Nigerian Independence Day, there was a lot of teeth suckin. I went to the club with my Uncle Mark from Belize and my Uncle Ibi. There is a cloud of herb smoke above my head and it is hot and crowded like a slave ship. All of a sudden the deejay puts on a record that didn’t sound African to me. Nor did it sound like any reggae I had ever heard. I turned around to my Uncle Ibi and asked him, ‘Yo what is this?’

“This is Fela”, he said, “In Nigeria he is Malcolm X, Bob Marley and James Brown all wrapped up in one.”

It sounded like James Brown but with more of a jazz influence. The funky chicken like scratch sound of the guitars gave hint of the fact that this was a man that liked American soul music in the 70’s. But the percussion was straight up African.

Ibi, who is from Nigeria, translated every word of a song called ‘Lady’. I was hooked.

I later found plenty of Fela records at Dusty Groove Records. The saddest thing for me as an African American is that I feel like I should’ve been hipped to Fela a long time ago. But I was failed. I was failed by the music and cultural institutions of my community, namely black radio. Black radio virtually ignored the first 5 years of rap music. It’s the same black radio that never gave Bob Marley a break. And is the same institution that never gave Jimi Hendrix any love at all. And is the same institution that damn sure never whispered the name Fela on the radio. They failed the Black community.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

By Mark Skillz

Black on black crime, drug abuse, HIV, promiscuity, materialism, greed and ignorance, what do these things have in common: Hip-hop. Or so they say.

It looks as if the boogieman for the first part of the 21st century will be hip-hop. Why is HIV spreading so fast in the black community? Blame hip-hop. Teen-age pregnancy is out of control…Blame hip-hop. Hurricane Katrina. Blame hip-hop. Those guys are killing each other…Blame hip-hop. You can almost blame hip-hop for anything you want.

Here I have another one: Erectile dysfunction. What? You mean you can blame that on hip-hop too? Sure. Use this as the reason: Because of the proliferation of pornographic based material that draws an indirect and oftentimes direct influence from the hip-hop culture, it is reasonable to presume that the viewing of such material over a period of time can cause the viewer to distort reality and to manipulate his male sex organ more frequently than is recommended by the office of the surgeon general.

Ghetto translation: Son you been wackin off so much to them Trina videos that yo shit won’t move no mo.

It’s a liberating feeling to be able to blame something for our problems. Violence in schools…Goddamn rappers, they did it. Somebody shot up a church. Lawd Jesus help us, look at what the rappers have made our kids do. You can blame hip-hop for almost anything now.

Like this person…

Dear Mark Skillz,
I am writing to you because you are the only person that I feel I can talk to. I am short and was born Black and poor. If it wasn’t for the rappers I feel like I would have had a better life. Maybe I could’ve done something really meaningful with my life if it wasn’t for rap music.

Po and Ugly.

Here’s my response:

Dear Po and Ugly,

Tough break bro.


Your pal,
Mark Skillz

George Bush had
Willie Horton, remember that goddamn nigga? I say it like that because everywhere you went during that election year, every brother was some sort of equivalent of Willie Horton. He was what was wrong with the ‘criminal justice’ system. And as I recall the first George Bush promised to deal with those ‘types’ with a much heavier hand than the previous administration (of which he was a part of). Nowadays every politician and preacher has a new scapegoat: Hip-hop.

My son is on the DL…umm, ummm, ummm. Lord it’s the music these kids listen to. My daughter is a stripper. All them rap videos made your daughter want to be a stripper.

Let’s get real here: Black on black crime – who shot Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba? That was Black on Black crime and there was no hip-hop to blame for that. The reasons brothers are killing each other are a lot bigger than hip-hop. Like: Lack of education, lack of home training, lack of direction, lack of love and respect for self and others, poor job prospects and no motivation to see beyond the block they live on.

Drug abuse: Hmmmm, what were y’all doing in the 60’s and 70’s? I know I know, smoking grass (as you like to call it). Real innocent ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type shit, huh? Nah, y’all weren’t all up in clubs til the break of dawn doing reckless shit, nah, not y’all. Y’all was on some real wholesome, family-friendly Mike Brady type shit back then, right?

HIV: Hmmmm, that shit has been around for twenty-five years.

Promiscuity: What? White folks don’t swap partners, have multiple partners and engage in bi-sexuality? Hmmmm… Men (and not just Black men either) have been sleeping with multiple partners (and enjoying the hell out of it) since that first warm summer breeze first blew across his naked Johnson hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Materialism: Hmmmm…ever watch ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’? What’s that all about?

Greed and ignorance: Hip-hop does not make people ignorant – you either are or you’re not.

Has hip-hop as a culture helped to elevate our civilization? Since we’re keeping it real. No, not really. Like any other movement or culture it’s had its moments of beauty, but as a whole, nah. Is it supposed to? I thought it was music.

If your daughter would rather buy a thong than a book, don’t blame hip-hop: Blame yourself. If your daughter believes her destiny is to be bent over on stage at 3 o’clock in the morning making her ass clap, don’t blame hip-hop: BLAME YOURSELF.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Stalker in the Age of the 24 Hour News Cycle

John Mark Karr is either really guilty or really weird. I'm leaning more so toward the latter - really weird.

Here's a guy who has publicly apologized for the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey, has related an account of the killing and corresponded for 4 years with a journalism professor regarding the case. The professor alarmed at what he was reading contacted the cops. As well he should've. At first they dismissed him and then they changed their minds.

I don't doubt that this guy did something to some child - but I doubt it was Jon Benet.

Ya know in the age of a twenty four hour news cycle weird people will do all kinds of weird shit for attention.

His ex-wife says that on December 25th 1996 he was at home with her - in Georgia. The murder took place in Colorado. He said he drugged her and raped her. There were no signs of drugs found in her body during the autopsy.

On the way back to America, flying business class and sipping champagne all the while under the watchful eye of FBI agents but more importantly the media, Karr posed for pictures and supposedly clinked glasses of champagne with passengers. Homicide experts think the guy is enjoying the attention. I think everyone wants to be famous for something.

Night Falls on the Black Athlete

Jack Johnson is turning in his grave now, and so are Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis. For at least four decades the heavyweight championship had been held by a brother. But not any more.

Oleg Maskaev stopped Hasim Rahman in the 12th round of their rematch Saturday night. Hasim could’ve done better. Could’ve. Should’ve. But didn’t. But hey, really, two big 250 pound dudes slugging it out for 12 rounds - that's some hard shit.

Now all four belts are being held by Eastern Europeans. So, basically, Communists – or should I say former Communists, own the division now. How did this happen? Used to be a time when you could put a pair of gloves on a brother, put him in the ring and say “Go get him…” And a mother fucker was done. But not no mo.
Night has fallen on the Black athlete.

And we can’t blame Don King for the current state of affairs either; one man did not wreck a whole division. Hell, La Cosa Nostra did worse by boxers in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s than Don King ever did. You wanna talk about fight fixing…? Them mother fuckers did some shit!

What we need now is a new energy in the heavyweight division. We need a brother with the speed of Ali, the heart and determination
of Evander Holyfield (when he was much younger), the sheer knockout power of Mike Tyson, who is a gentleman like Joe Louis and Lennox Lewis, has a jab like Larry Holmes (1980 Larry Holmes not that old fat dude that gets in the ring nowadays) but at the same time can a scare a mother fucker like George Foreman (1972 George Foreman not the hamburger salesman now) or Sonny Liston.

So in essence brothers and sister and anyone else reading this: We need a new Black champion.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Executive Playhouse: Revisited

So while I was doing research for my article about the 1977 battle between Kool Herc and Pete Jones, a piece by the way which was about the clash of two mighty titans in the dawn before rap records, no one remembered who owned the club.

I always assumed places like the Hevalo and the Executive Playhouse were formally “social clubs” that were owned by Italian and or Irish residents of those neighborhoods.

Before I go any further, you have to understand that way back in the day; neighborhoods that are now African American/Latino at one time had been strongholds of Italian-Americans or Irish Americans. They rented out little spots and put a jukebox in it, a refrigerator, some tables and chairs to play cards on and called it a social club. Except one thing smack dab on the door or in the window would read a sign: MEMBERS ONLY. Meaning if you weren’t white – you’d better get out of there.

As Blacks and Latinos moved into these neighborhoods ‘white flight’ was in effect. Meaning: Let the niggers have it.

So that’s what I thought those early clubs had been. How wrong I was.

After the article was published a gentleman named Dave contacted me, turns out he had been one of eight guys that owned the Executive Playhouse. Check this out.

So these Eight Executives who were in their mid’ 30’s at the time all worked at the GM plant in New Jersey, all went in on the club, they named after their organization or group and called it the Executive Playhouse.

According to Dave the house capacity was 600 people. They served food and drinks and had bands come out to play for entertainment. One of the bands that performed there was called the New York Players, who would later gain fame as
Cameo – yes, the group that would later do Shake Your Pants, Flirt, Alligator Woman, She’s Strange and the list goes on, yes, they played at the Executive Playhouse. But according to Dave “Running the business like this was costly and profit was at a minimum.”

That was until a gentleman named Kool Herc came by with his loyal following. But before Kool Herc, spun there a guy named the Amazing Dr. Burt was the house deejay. He spun disco and R&B and according to Dave had a system even Kool Herc envied. That must’ve been some sound system.

Anyway Kool Herc pops up and at first the older crowd loved him that was until more of Herc’s crowd started coming around. “Kool Herc rocked the older crowd and they loved him, but on the nights that Herc collected and ran the door the older crowd was not aware and didn't like hanging out with the younger folks. We eventually gave up on Live Entertainment and went completely Disco which the younger people loved, the older crowd loved it also, but when Kool Herc played the older folks were out numbered 5 to 1. That was not a pretty picture. The 25 and above crowd came dressed up and mostly couples, while the 20 and below came as packs of young men and young girls sometimes causing problems.”

Which means we couldn’t have shit back then either.

The biggest name on the deejay scene at that time was Pete DJ Jones; this guys name was on WBLS all the time, he spun at whatever events they had. For the 25 and over crowd Pete DJ Jones was El Negro.

Anyway back to the story…

“We didn't have a dress code at the Playhouse but our crowd for the most part wore Jackets and/or nice shirts from Mel Greens and shoes. No one ever came with their pants below their butts with underwear showing.”

That came later. Much later.

“Pete DJ Jones was well known in the mid town disco's and we always heard his name mentioned on WBLS. We knew it would be a sell out if we could hook these two DJ's up, we did. Kool Herc and Pete decided to split the money made from the door and we would again keep the Bar and Kitchen. Our club held Max Cap was 600; we broke the law that night. This was a night I will never forget.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Five Things I Miss About the Bay Area


Ok so I’m diggin’ the South and all but there are certain things I miss about Oakland and the Bay Area in general:

First: 76 degree temperatures all year round – you really can’t beat that. This is the first time in my adult life that I have ever NEEDED air conditioning.

Second: Downtown Oakland – the skyline, when you come into downtown from off 880 the first big structure you see is the courthouse. I spent a lot of time there for traffic cases. The other place down the street and around the corner is the Alameda County Courthouse that is the place where that legendary picture of the Black Panthers was taken at.

Jack London Square has some good clubs and restaraunts, heading in the other direction is where I worked for many years, places like the Kaiser Center which is right across from Lake Merritt. The SBC buildiing on 14th and Franklin (used to hit up a spot called Pat's after work sometimes - when there wasn't a shootout. The Black Muslim Bakery - Honey Carrot Pie is off the hook. I've taken many people in there who were very skeptical about honey carrot pie, after one taste - they were believers.

Lake Merrit was the place that the Festival at the Lake was held for many years, until folks forgot how to act! Now its the Art and Soul Festival which is held more so downtown near the Federal Buidling.

Thanh Long – I love the South but I sure do miss Vietnamese food. I knew before moving out here that I would be giving up certain things for a more affordable lifestyle, but man, giving up places like Pho 84 and Thanh Long is giving up a lot!

If you have never had Vietnamese food, by all means man, the next time you are in a major city, seek some out. Thanh Long is expensive but it is truly worth every dollar you spend. They are world famous for roasted crab and garlic noodles. Lemme tell you something about this place, it is the only place I have ever been where you can find couples on dates, families, pimps, playas, gangsters and business executives all in one place and ain’t nobody concerned with anybody else. The food is so Goddamn good people go there just to enjoy themselves. For real.

And oh yeah one more thing, they are a family owned business, their recipes are their lifeblood, so they don’t give out any info on that tip. They have two kitchens: one that the waiting staff gets the food from, and the other is where the family prepares the food. Waiters, waitresses, hosts and hostesses are not allowed in the family kitchen!

Fourth: I love the food in South Carolina, but ain’t no barbecue like
Everett and Jones out here. I can safely say that I haven’t come across a barbecue spot yet, that gets down like Everett and Jones – and I’ve looked! I miss Everett and Jones, man.

I'll never forget the time when I worked for the James River Corp on 300 Lakeside Dr, every holiday we'd have food catered it was always Chinese food. One day someone said, "Hey, we're having some Black peoples food this year!" We got a place called 'Soul Brothers Kitchen' to cater our Christmas lunch. Boy, was that funny! White folks will eat Chinese food, Japanese food, Korean food, Italian food, and Greek food but when you put a plate of grits in front of them: HA HA HA HA AH HA, they ain't goin' for it. At least not any white folks in New York and California! Southern Whites are a different story, they will pile their plates UP.

Fifth: Real Hip Hop radio: College and Community radio the Bay Area has plenty of it, like: KZSU – my man and fellow Queens native, Kevvy Kev Cool Breeze has been holding things down at Stanford U since the summer of 1984, thank God for the internet cause I get to listen online sometimes. He has the longest running hip hop show in the known universe and anywhere else! Sundays 6-9 for 22 years…

KPFA: Peja Peja rockin’ reggae late into the twilight, Lawd o Mercy!
Hard Knock Radio: Community issues and world issue from a progressive POV.

And last but not least…
Record Stores: My man Joe Quixx is the hip hop buyer for
Amoeba in Berkeley, whether its crate digging music, independent hip hop, old school, whatever they have it there.
Rasputin Records: Good place to go get up on DVD’s and local acts as well as used records.

Funky Soul Stop: My man Ed digs everywhere for the funk, he used to have a small space in an office building and you had to set an appointment with him to buy records, now he has a full store.

Cue’s: For serious deejays

Groove Yard, Record Man, Record Finder and Groove Merchant: Strictly for serious beat diggers and producers

Friday, August 11, 2006


'The Wire' returns on September 10th - it is by far one of the best dramatic shows ever produced for television. This season they take a look at the way the school system has failed our kids.

My four year old starts pre-Kindergarten next week, as a parent, nothing concerns me more than the quality of my children's education. I can give a damn about my sons wearing brand new Nike's or Sean John or any of that other garbage, I'm concerned about what happens in the classroom and schoolyard.

Earlier this week I took my son TJ to get tested for a pre-K program, one of the little boys (he couldn't have been older than 5) had a gold chain with a Jesus medallion! I sat there and saw that and said to myself: 'Getdafuckouttahere'. What kind of values are being passed down to that child?

Although there were only 20 spots available my son got in. I couldn't be happier. They made the program available to the neediest children: Those on Medicaid, welfare, etc - of which my family does not receive. We got the call today that he will be in one of the best Montessouri programs in the city! I love it - it's FREE. The school has an orchestra from what I understand.

The other day I was thinking about Christmas time: My sons have more toys and DVD's than I ever had. I'm going to buy them musical instruments. One day I took them to Sam Ash with me, they had a field day messing with the drums and keyboards. After twenty years of buying equipment and records guess what? I'm going to buy my sons drums, drum machines, keyboards and if they want them, guitars. They are going to start off with keyboards cause I don't have a room for them to practice drums in. When we buy a house all of their instruments will go in the garage!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Culture Shock: Southern Style

So here I am: Damn near 40 years old and a product of New York and California, now living in the Deep South. Never would’ve thought I would’ve ended up here, but hey, I’m not complaining. It’s been a real cool experience.

Now to be honest with you the biggest shock to my system ain’t the slow pace. Nah, I’m damn near 40 with a wife and kids. What the hell do I look like hanging out every night going to clubs and shit like that? Nah, that ain’t my style no more.

Nightclubs are no big thang on me. But do you wanna know what really shocks me out here? Every time I go to a restaurant or I’m in a hotel or an office building, do you know what I see? I see Black and White people doing menial labor. Yep, uh huh, I sure do. Whether it’s McDonald’s, Burger King, I Hop, Denny’s – you name it, you see Black and White waiters and waitresses. No shit. Bugs me the fuck out every time I see it.

Now you ask, “Why do such things bug you out, Mark?”
Well now, where I do I start?

Before I go there let me take you back to a moment of revelation, if you will. The year was 1992. I was working as a security officer for Pacific Bell (yes, that’s how long ago it was, they were called Pacific Bell and not SBC) in Oakland on 14th and Franklin St. There I was doing my usual thing at work: talking on the phone, sleeping, reading the paper, etc., when the janitorial staff arrived. Now, I had been working there for probably a year by this time. So I’m standing there watching the janitorial staff sign in when it dawns on me to look at the names. Hernandez, Mendez, Gomez and Rodriguez. And that’s when it hit me: ‘Hey what happened to all of the black janitors?”

When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, all of the janitors I ever saw were Black. If you saw a mop and a bucket, you could count on a cat named Roscoe or Jessie or something like that to be the one pushing it. But here it was 1992 and I hadn’t seen a brother with a mop and a bucket in a minute.

So I asked the owner of the janitorial company, ‘Hey, how come you don’t have any brothers working for you?”

“I don’t know”, he said shrugging his shoulders.

It perplexed me that brothers weren’t janitors anymore. You know for the longest time in this country, if a brother was out of a job and he needed a gig, he could always do janitorial work to make ends meet.

But not, no mo.

So fast-forward the tape to 2005, the scene changes this time it’s Columbia, South Carolina. I’m working in a building that houses a janitorial company. All of a sudden I see a large group of White folks enter the building. “Hmmmmm”, I wonder out loud, “What are they doing here?’
“Those are the janitors.”
“The what?”
“The janitors.”
“Say what? Those people are janitors?”
“What’s wrong?’
“They’re White, that’s what’s wrong.”
“And? And White folks aren’t janitors!”

You have to understand something – where I’ve been I have never, ever, not once in damn near 40 years, seen a White janitor. Since 1992 I have seen nothing but Mexicans doing janitorial work. But there they were clear as day: White janitors.

The second thing that shocked the shit outta me was one morning at work, I heard a leaf-blower roaring away. I thought to myself, ok, now I’m gonna see some Mexicans. I was shocked. I had to stand there and stare out the window and watch for myself cause I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a White man with a leaf-blowing machine. I couldn’t believe it.

“Where are the Mexicans?” I asked.
“On the other side of town”, someone shouted from an office.

In California when you go to restaurants, car washes, motels and places like that – odds are that the person that is going to help you will be Latino. I don’t know how it happened.
In California if you go into a McDonald’s, there is a pretty good chance that the person behind the counter doesn’t speak English. It’s happened to me a number of times. Out here ain’t nuttin’ but Whites and Blacks working fast food.

I wonder how long that will last.

Take A Toke

To hell with 'Desperate Housewives' the shit you wanna see is "Weeds".

Here's the story: Widowed suburban soccer mom becomes the Weed Baronness of a fictional Southern California town called Agrestic.

It is hard to not like this show, there's the suburban housewife Celia Hodes: Queen of gossip, cancer survivor and bitch you don't want for a mother; Andy Botwin: Slacker brother in-law with nowhere else to go; Conrad and Halia: Halia is Conrad's aunt (and like my aunt) is the loud mouth, gotta have the last word, always be right and gotta let a nigga know it too type. They are the suppliers (and also the only Black people on the show).

Since there ain't sugar, honey, ice tea on TV nowadays do yourself a favor and check Weeds out.

The Return of Flavor Flav

Tune into VH1 for an hour of fist-fights, cuss out sessions, booty-clappin' and cat fights - no Jerry Springer hasn't moved to VH1, Flavor of Love is back for its second season and this time they're keepin' it really real. How real you ask? Doo-doo on the floor real, is that real enough for your ass?

Yes, some ugly child named 'Somethin' dropped somethin' out of her ass and onto the floor. Yep, it happened. I don't know about you, but I would've quit the show right then and there, BAM, I'm gone. I would've left the country for good after that and became a preacher of the gospel somewhere in Antigua. It would be my luck that someone would recognize me: 'Hey mon, aren't you da one dat shit pon da floor?"

Within one minute of the new season there was a fight in the mansion - over a bed! Now you all can talk all the shit you want about me for my next statement, but, fuck it: I would've kept that big-titty havin', $800 weave wearin', 54th and Crenshaw hood rat over that skinny White chick! If he wants to get rid of someone start with the 'Wigga'; then get 'Somethin' a free plane ticket back to somewhere and then settle down with 'Deelicious' who has an azz like ....

Oops, I've gotten too far ahead of myself.

This season 20 more girls vie for the affections of the greatest hype man ever. Some of them are good looking girls. But, beware, there are some others that make Broom Hilda look like Janet Jackson. But let's be honest here, Flav is no catch either.

I recently ran into fellow PE alum Professor Griff of Public Enemy, let's just say he isn't exactly pleased with Flavor nowadays. He says Flavor has done a dis-service to the legacy of Public Enemy with his reality show antics, ie; his buffoonery and his extra-cirrucular activities with White women.

I hear where he's coming from, but its as I told him: If it was Chuck or Griff on those shows messing with White women and clowning around and whatnot, I would be shocked. But, it's Flavor, he's always been the class clown.

Here's a guy that showed up to the American Music Awards waaaaaaaaaay back in the day wearing a top hat and tails - everyone else in the group was wearing their FOI uniform. Here's a guy that did a video shoot in a devil costume. Here's guy who has always had a grill, that nigro has been wearing gold teeth for 20 years! We don't expect much from Flav.

Is Flavor Flav a buffoon? Yeah. Is he a sell out? No. Flavor is being himself, he isn't trying to represent himself as something other than what he is: class clown.