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.