So, Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondents dinner! What! Genius. He delivered every punch line with these wide eyes and a bright surprised face. Was the look because he just can’t fathom that “King Joffrey” became president? Or maybe he was just baffled by the current state of affairs in our country, regardless his stage demeanor and delivery made this an enduring performance. He skillfully castigates all the major news networks, gracefully calls Steve Bannon a nazi, blasts MSNBC for its hypocrisy on the prison industrial complex, takes down CNN, lays into Jeff Sessions racism as well as Sean Spicer’s ineptitude. All the while little jokes within jokes that derided various celebrities, U.S. foreign Policy and the media itself.
Minhaj turns the tables on his colleauges when he tells the crowd. “Right now you have to be twice as good” no mistakes, The President does not trust you. So when one of you messes up….. He blames your whole group……. . “Now you know how it feels to be a minority”
This brilliant comparison segued into a portion about the importance of the 1st amendment, the reason they all have a job. Not to mention it is one of this countries most essential principles. He hits on the fact that “Only in America can a 1st generation Indian, Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president” An astute observation that then forces us to consider why we elected a president who does not support the 1st amendment. The man who tweets unfiltered brain refuse whenever he feels like, wouldn’t show up to pay respects to the amendment that allows him to spew hot garbage.
The fact is we do get to say and believe anything we want. This is a very new privilege for humans in the scheme of history, and how we use our words is a big responsibility. The “Choice is Yours. “You can get with this”….. Hasan Minhaj using his talent, knowledge and spirit to make a hilarious statement on the truth about our sanctimonious country. Or “You can get with that….. A president and society that see differing view points as threatening. Threats create fear, and fear keeps us ignorant. What do you do when knowledge, preparation, acceptance and attention to detail are all frowned upon? You speak up for whats right. Use your words for good, language is a dynamic tool. Let’s use it to bring light to the truth, positivity to the world and of course, a bunch of good laughs.
Here is the full set.
“You can get with this….. or you can get with that.”
So Pilar and I watched an episode and a half of the new HBO show Big Little Lies. I had been apprehensive about watching it, I can’t explain why. I’ve only heard good things, but for some reason I didn’t want to see it. Well, last night we dove in, and I liked it. Remember the movie Cruel Intentions? Well I think it’s kind of like that but all the characters are grown up, and Reese Witherspoon is a main character soooo. How is it like Cruel Intentions? You know, malevolent rich people dealing in lies, deceit, murder and such. The plot aside my favorite character and aspect of the show right now Chloe Mackenzie. She is 6 years old, and the daughter of Madeline (played by Witherspoon).
Everywhere she goes (in episode one) she controls the music with her phone. Riding in the car with her parents, while her family eats dinner, while they hang out outside. The kid controls the vibe of the music, and creates a journey well beyond her years. I was blown away by that. Her song choices added tension and complexity to the scenes, plus she was playing some Rock and Roll bangers. I hope I can turn the reigns over to my girls one day, listen to a set, and shed one single tear in pride. Right now…….its all Trolls or Moana! Which I like too.
As we were watching I heard some heavy rock riffs with a burning guitar/keyboard solo over it. That first 10 seconds forced me into having to find out what I was hearing. So today I went back to a point in the show when Chole uses her phone to turn the music down at dinner. As she is adjusting the volume the camera stops on her phone for a split second. I paused it and saw the track info on her screen. King Kong by Babe Ruth. Pretty heavy rock jam that helped me learn more about a group that is truly part of hip hop’s DNA. To hip hop heads Babe Ruth is known for their classic Break record “The Mexican” A break that any b-boy or b-girl could never resist.
King Kong by Babe Ruth
The Mexican by Babe Ruth – A break dance classic. A foundational track of Hip Hop culture.
The next record she chooses is another classic rock record. Her parents are having a moment out in the back yard. They have speakers wired outside, and Chloe plays this song loud, giving depth to the scene and filling her Dad’s heart with pride.
Again the track was by a group I knew, but not a song I recognized. I knew it was Janis Joplin, most likely with Big Brother and the Holding company. So this time I listened to a few lines, googled the lyrics and found.
Call on Me by Big Brother and Holding Company feat Janis Joplin
Would a 6 year old make these kind of selections? We will see, I’ll keep teaching Aaliyah and Lola about quality music of all genres, and how to put sets together. Classic Rock is not a genre taken on by most DJ’s or young kids, so we will see if my girls can mix up Janis with Jimi, and Pink Floyd with the Beatles. Never forgetting that Chuck Berry and Little Richard started the whole thing.
In one scene the family is at dinner arguing, tension is building. At a pause in the argument Chloe asks “Ok, what are we listening to… she chooses Otis Redding. I mean….. that’s a beautiful thing.
Because I work at night, usually only three days a week, I have a lot of time at home. Most of it is spent finding new music, cutting records, playing bass and writing these blog posts. Ok sometimes I watch an entire season of a show in two days! (sorry not sorry) I really try not to watch to much TV though. So my new found love is stand up comedy. Why? because I can put it on, and still clean up the kitchen, prep dinner, straighten up and do other things while it’s on. I just listen and laugh.
Since everyone loves to laugh here are 5 comedy specials that I found hilarious.
Louis C.K. 2017 – (Netflix) Louis C.K. is the best comedian alive today. (my opinion) His jokes have no schtick or gimmick that draw you in or make them funny. He just writes really funny, high quality observational jokes with excellent delivery. No “Black people do this, and white people do this” No lowest common denominator. Sure he does poop jokes sometimes, but in an artistic way, yes artistic poop. He is a polished professional, who can hit on social issues in a way that makes you laugh but also, makes you think. His opening bit about abortion is a classic example. “If you need an abortion……. You better get one, and quick, don’t be fu**ing around, we don’t need more shi*ty people around.” “Some people think abortion is killing a baby. It’s not killing a baby…… Ok it’s a little bit killing a baby, just a little.” He goes into how both sides feel (pro life vs pro choice) but never uses those terms. Just makes hysterical comparisons that will make you laugh. Enjoy it!
2. Dave Chappelle- Deep in the heart of Texas- (Netflix) This is the second special Dave Chappelle released on Netflix this year. After his very long hiatus, one of the kings of comedy is back. A lot of people were offended by these specials, but it’s stand up comedy, I thought it was par for the course. We have to remember he tells “Jokes and Jokes and Jokes and Jokes!” All comedians are just kidding, the entire performance is based on joking.
What I love about this special and his style in general is how he attacks race. He uses stereotypes and current events as fuel to touch on the different ways people live and are treated by society. The opening bit about the 4 white teens that assault him touches on racial hierarchy in an extremely skillful way. He also gets into Ebola and AIDS by saying “Isn’t it funny how all these diseases hate and kill everyone that old white people hate.” He heads right into police killing Black people, Isis decapitating people, Paula Deans racial slurs, and Bill Cosby rapes, making those profane topics so pretty and hilarious. Watch it and laugh, but don’t take yourself too seriously, It’s just jokes.
3. Aziz Ansari- Buried Alive- (Netflix ) He kills this set. So much relatable material delivered with high energy and a lot of great analysis. Millennials, dating, as well as the joys of being and not being a parent are all addressed in extremely remarkable ways. I have seen the act twice and even though I knew what jokes were coming, I still was laughing. Why? Because it’s quality material. He interacts with the audience on topics such as dick pics, meatheads in the club and on line dating. Many times reenacting the scenario while playing two or three different roles. Sorta like Biggie on “Gimmie the Loot“.
The set is on point, highly recommended.
4. Michael Che- Che Matters- (Netflix) Che commands the stage and the audience with ease as he takes on racism, gentrification, catcalling, Donald Trump, terrorism and transgender issues. Che has written these jokes knowing full well his audience and the reactions they will have, and it works to perfection. In one bit on gentrification he asks. “White women, do you know how powerful you are, you are so powerful that the value of land can increase just because of your presence” In his stereotypical white girl voice he says “Brooklyn used to be kind of sketch, but now its pretty chill” a dig a the drastic changes taking place in Brooklyn as we speak.
He continues “You want to stop Isis, send white women. Isis will be the first terrorist group forced out due to rent increase” Funny joke, with a relevant point. As he deftly moves from issue to issue, he repeatedly involves the crowd asking them questions about politics,relationship, religion, porn, not knowing what response he is going to get, then coming up with a joke to fit audience members answer. Either he thought about every answer possible and wrote hundreds of jokes, or he is just an excellent improv comedian, I would say the latter.
My favorite section is about Black lives matter. He starts by saying “Black lives matter, thats a controversial statement, just matters. JUST MATTERS! Not that they are better than you, just matters”It’s a great statement, because it calls out our society in a very raw way. Just saying those three words can bring on a heated argument. Mostly because many people don’t believe that Black live matter. He’s hilarious, watch and laugh.
5. Hannibal Burress- Comedy Comisado- (Nextflix)
We all know who he is now because of his “Bill Cosby is a rapist” set that brought him to fame and Dr. Huxtable’s past into the public eye. As a Ilana Glazer’s ex boyfriend on “Broad City” he plays a laid back dentist, and his stand up comedy is a reflection of that juxtaposition. A Laid back delivery, but a truly professional set. Within this special he gracefully moves from topic to topic with quick hitting punchlines that are written to be the segue to the next joke. This makes the whole act feel totally seamless. I was alone in my apartment laughing out loud as he ripped into the “Maniacs” at Embassy Suites in Downey, California who think he faked his identity to try and check into a 2 star hotel. How Lasik eye surgery may kill or blind you, Unwillingly taking pictures with cops, and don’t judge him for his 70 dollar cleaning service, he tells the audience. “Some of you spend that much on vaporizer accessories easily, so don’t judge me”
He builds jokes with great skill making you wonder, where he is going with this? As it unfolds and tension grows he hits you with a twist. A twist that makes you bust out laughing. The best part about it is you don’t just laugh then. I found myself riding my bike listening to Parliment and thinking back to these jokes…. and laughing again. I think you will too.
Ok its really 7 specials to watch
Wanda Sykes- What happened Ms. Sykes.(Full show is on Youtube) The perspective of the Black female is greatly underrepresented in comedy. Wanda Sykes is on top of her games in this special, using the struggles of People of color and women to make us laugh. She makes great use of the racial dynamics of her own family. She is Black female comedian married to a white French woman and has two “really white” kids. “Sometimes I look around my kitchen table and I get scared. I want to know ……. how did all these white people get in my house”
Wanda gives a woman’s perspective on the latest election, the economy (Nothing good trickles down), women’s rights, equal pay for equal work and gun rights. She is an excellent writer and this set plus POOTIE TANG are excellent examples. Her take on the evolution of Talapia is classic. “I don’t f*** with Talpia, I betcha four years ago talapia had feet. Talapia was walking around, stepped in some gmo’s. His feet shrunk up and he said, I better roll my ass in the ocean”
She is comedy legend and a master of the art form. Be sure to check her out.
Lucas Bros- On Drugs- (Netflix) These twin brothers tell dead pan jokes mostly about the war on drugs and how it has affected them personally. They hate Richard Nixon and they tell you that many times. They drop some great OJ jokes, figure out why Charles Barkley was in Space Jam, and let us know that 77 percent of black happiness comes from white suffering via a pie chart.
The end of the show is kind of like a Ghost of Christmas past cartoon. Richard Nixon takes them back into time and shows what life would I have been like with out the war on drugs. What they found was actually horrifying. With out the war on drugs, money was put into education, healthcare and infrastructure. Poor black and brown people had opportunities and incarceration rates didn’t go through the roof. However with no war on drugs, no crack epidemic, no crack epidemic, no urban decay, no urban decay, no hip hop. No hip hop equals no Biggie! They are presented with Christopher Wallace C.P.A. which I’m sorry to say made me cringe. Biggie brought so much joy to so many. What if Biggie Smalls was the illest….accountant? It is a great show with lots to think about. Watch it and laugh.
I really hope you enjoy these specials as much as I did. There is so much negativity surrounding us right now. It’s nice to sit back and just laugh for an hour.
Jay-Z raps on “Renegade” “You see I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined”
The modern ghetto Jigga raps about is the place where Hip Hop’s stories of gang life, violence, sex, and drug use came from. A ghetto created by policy makers who did not care about poor people of color.
It is important to know this history, so that we can understand the foundations of this culture. If Hip Hop is important to you, and helped to shape you, at some point you will want to share it with your children. As they get older they will be exposed to it anyway. It is up to us as parents to help guide their listening. Unearthing the social context behind the music, and helping them see the lineage of Hip Hop as part the African diaspora. While also giving them the right information to just listen and enjoy the vibes as entertainment.
Hip Hop started out as party music. DJ’s spun break beats (open drum parts of tracks with little instrumentation around them) to get B-Boys and B-Girls to lose themselves in the music and to dance more furiously. From park jams, to the Sugar Hill Gang on to LL.Cool J, The Beastie Boys and RUN DMC, a good time was the main objective.
We then move on to the likes of Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, EPMD and KRS ONE. Party tracks were still filtered in there, however having a message, original style and knocking beats became the objective.
As time moves into the 90’s with N.W.A, Biggie and Pac the street stories became more vivid and more vulgar. Lyrics became highly evolved poems, that painted pictures for the listener. Hip Hop always had a bad rap but, at this point the American government was cracking down on it, trying to censor it and use it as a scapegoat for society’s ills.
Eventually major corporations saw the economic power of hip Hop and began to mass market it. This transition produced the cookie cutter images of gangsters, pimps and hoes we see in hip hop today. These images that reflect almost no diversity within the spectrum of the artists. If you have a message in your music, you will be stuck in the periphery of Hip Hop culture. This should not be the case. We as parents who love Hip Hop should not hide the music we love from our kids. We also should choose wisely how we share this music, and create a foundation for what we think is acceptable.
How do we do this? Well here are 5 steps to sharing hip Hop culture with your kids.
Choose the right artists- You don’t have to jump in with the rawness and try to explain it. Talk about the historical portion a bit and play some fun old school songs like.
Catch The Beat by T-Ski Valley- It samples Heartbeat by Taana Gardner. Start with that, discuss how at first Emcees were rapping over disco records.
King Tim III (personality jock) – By Fatback Band A straight funk jam that shows how early emcees rocked it. I mean it’s a stone groove with old school rapping over it, it’s gonna make you dance, always a good thing with kids.
The Messageby GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five. – This song has an intriguing beat that can capture a young listener from the start. We also hear the first set of lyrics that really dig into social issues experienced by people of color in these ghettos constructed to keep them voiceless. This is a great one to read along with. Lines like
“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under”
“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head”
These lyrics are a great starting point for discussing where hip hop came from and why this expression was so important to these incredibly creative individuals.
Hip Hop Hooray by Naughty by Nature- Kids love songs that have dance moves . Once you start the Hip Hop Hooray Hoooooooo, Haaaaaaaay hands in the air dancing around, its going to fun and memorable.
More examples- Eric B and Rakim – Paid in Full (Song and Album) Jungle Brothers- Straight out of the Jungle, (Album) MC Lyte- Cha Cha Cha, RUN DMC- Peter Piper. Hard Knock Life by Jay-Z
Approach the topic of misogyny and sexism and homophobia with care
Hip Hop culture has always been a boys club, a few women have made it, but not many. As Pilar and I raise up two black girls in this sexist society it is important to let Aaliyah and Lola know a few things. They must know that they are powerful, brilliant, creative, independent and capable of being in charge, not just being a prop for someone else. Hip Hop can be detrimental to a young women of color. Mainstream images of females in Hip Hop are less than flattering. Mostly “sex objects”, or a “boss type bitch” no in between or artistic variety. We must present hip hop to our kids that is made by amazing, diverse, strong women. As well as records that women and give inspiration for growth. Here are some selections.
That Thing- Lauryn Hill – Filled with soulful harmonies and L-boogie at her finest, this is a great record. A nice segway into how relationships work, the good the bad, and what to be careful of. (Really the entire Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album, just listen to it)
Latifah’s Had it up 2 here by Queen Latifah- This is the Queen at her best. Dana Owens letting other emcees know Who is in charge. If you say negative things about me, I will let you know. I’m better than you and never step to the mic when I’m around. If you are trying to build strong leaders, play this record. The double entendre of “Some of these commercial entertainers are commercially a pain to my rhyme and my behind TRYING TO DISS DANA. I love it because her name is Dana, but she enunciates the line so it could be saying DANA or Disdain her.
U.N.I.T.Y. by Queen Latifah- All we have to say about this song is “Who you callin a bitch?”
Keep ya Head Up- 2 Pac– This record takes on domestic violence, reproductive rights, single motherhood and black love all in just the first verse.
Flawless by Beyonce- She is out shining Jay-Z! She does not need a man, or marriage. She is living her artistic vision, she’s in charge and everyone knows it. The poem by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tackles the question: why we ask women to aspire to marriage, and see other women as competition. Great talking points for raising informed women who are aware of their power.
Total Wreck by Bahamadia- Lyrics of fury is all you can say about Bahamadia. She is not very well known, but rips the mic majorly.
Make it Fun and show the artistic diversity.
I know I can very easily take Hip Hop too seriously. My life is dedicated to all of its beautiful intricacies. However to bring kids in, you have to keep it fun. Here are some fun songs that you can dance to, and just have a good time.
Me, Myself and I- De La Soul- An Uptempo track that samples Parliament. The track opens up with a Hip Hop take on Snow White, then the trio let us know its ok to just be yourself. De La is a perfect way to show how Hip Hop can have diverse sounds, imagery and subject matter. The track just feels good, brings nostalgia for parents and is fun to party to. The whole album (Three Feet High and Rising) is kid friendly and a Hip Hop classic.
Tennessee and People Everyday (remix) by Arrested Development- Tennessee, great beat with lots a quotable lyrics that address dealing with the stresses of life. “I challenge you to a game of horseshoes…..A game of HORESHOOOES!”
People Everyday- The Call and Response at the start will hook any one of any age. Play it, dance. Then maybe play Sly Stone Everyday People to bring it full circle. Arrested Development in general is a positive group with true hip hop aesthetic.
Hey Ya by Outkast- All generations love this song, it just makes everyone happy. Count in with Andre 3000 1,2,3 uh and Get up, get into, get involved.
I Can by Nas- Nas gives us a history lesson while simultaneously uplifting the youth. Hard work and perseverance are the main themes within this record. I really like how he says “Nothing is easy, it takes much practice” A lesson that is hard to teach in an age of instant gratification.
Let me clear my throat by DJ Kool- A classic party record that also has a call and response dance section. Try it out, “when I say freeze you just freeze one time, when I say freeze yall stop on a dime, FREEEEZE!
Alphabet Aerobics by Blackalicious. Kids learning the alphabet and new words? Two measures at a time Gift of Gab raps words that all begin with A then b, then c all the way to Z. This takes some close listening but there is a lot to learn about connecting words, and learning words that begin with each letter of the alphabet.
More music- The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
Read along with the lyrics as you listen
An excellent way to see how great an emcee is to try to repeat the lyrics in time with the same cadence and rhythm the rapper used. It’s a fun activity that involves reading and musical timing. Whenever I read lyrics of songs I think I know by heart, I realize I don’t really know it exactly. It’s really challenging so the bloopers are fun. You can gain a real appreciation for the rappers delivery and the message of the song as whole by doing this activity.
Who to read along with? Outkast, Black Thought (Emcee from The Roots), Busta Rhymes, Jean Grae. all of these artists present complex rhyme schemes in extremely musical and creative ways. Try to rap along with them, its tough.
Emphasize that Hip Hop is a culture. A culture with it’s own music, art, dance, fashion, speech and customs
Hip Hop culture consists of DJing (the music) Graffiti (the art) Breaking (the dance) and rapping (speech)
These aspects are rarely discussed in mainstream Hip Hop. If you can show you tube videos of DJ’s cutting breaks, while dancers spin on their heads, kids will be into it. A freestyle battle where emcees are improvising lyrics based on their surroundings, with someone beatboxing is a great way to draw them in. Unfortunately the 5 pointz is gone here in NYC but there are plenty of pieces and murals around to show our children. If you are not in a city with graffiti, hit up the internet. You can find great graffiti art to share. Maybe even work on some bubble lettering together. If you can connect those murals to Hip Hop, they will see that this culture was created to give a voice to young people that society threw away.
I Hope this piece helped to give you some ideas on how to share this beautiful art form with your children. Enjoy the music, dance, have fun, talk, share ideas on life and society. Hip Hop can help us learn more about each other. Helping to shape critical thinkers, listeners, and build an informed citizenry.
“ MF’s say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels, but do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?” Jay-Z (Renegade, Blueprint album)
Think about this question Jay-Z asks. Do we listen to music? Or do we just skim through, hear what we want to hear, and receive only a partial message.
Hip Hop is a true Black American art form that has influenced music, style and economies all over the globe. However because it has been taken over as a corporate commodity, and used to drive sales, hyper-masculinity and huge profits have pushed artists to create a world that some say is filled with violence, misogyny and homophobia.
Tricia Rose writes in “Hip Hop Wars”
“Hip Hop is in a terrible crises. Although its overall fortunes have risen sharply, the most commercially promoted and financially successful hip hop–what has dominated mass-media outlets such as television, film, radio and recording industry for a dozen years or so- has increasingly become a playground for caricatures of black gangstas, pimps and hoes. Hyper-sexism has increased dramatically, homophobia along with distorted, anti-social, self destructive, and violent portraits of black masculinity have become raps calling cards. Relying on an ever-narrowing range of images and themes, this commercial juggernaut has played a central role in the near-depletion of what was once a vibrant, and complex popular genre, wringing it dry by pandering to America’s racist and sexist lowest common denominator.”
I agree with Dr. Rose, not just because I am nostalgic for the Hip Hop of my youth. I agree because if you have eyes and ears that are open you can hear and see that this culture has been swallowe by a corporate entity where lowest common denominator equates to more sales. So if you want to be signed, you portray these images, leaving all the messages and positivity for the underground rappers.
Dr. Rose uses the term lowest common denominator. I like the use of that term because in order to find the lowest common denominator in mathematics one must understand all of the steps it takes to reach the answer. You must know addition, subtraction, multiplication tables, know what a numerator and denominator are. You need to be able to factor and sometimes solve for numbers that are not present based on the given information. Finding the lowest common denominator can be difficult, and if you skip or mess up a step you are done. Finding the LCD and deciphering hip hop culture can be difficult if you don’t have all the tools to find the answers.
Is there beauty in Hip Hop? Yes Beauty. To me it’s like a private beach with a never ending horizon, but there is Hennessy in my Pina Colada and Slum Village bumping to relieve the stress.
Is there ugliness in Hip Hop? Yes, there is ugliness. The stories of people who have been systematically driven into second class citizenship for generations usually have some vulgar elements. T.I. Explains this perfectly on the Daily Show.
Trevor Noah (host)
In Hip Hop people are talking about guns, people are talking about shooting, saying F*** the police. Critics would say, how is this helping the dialogue.
Hip Hop has traditionally been a reflection of the environment the rapper was in before he made it. So if you want to change the content of hip hop music, try changing the environment of the artist and he won’t have so many negative things to say.
One of the crowning jewels of Hip Hop is it’s ability to juxtapose the beautiful with the crude and the brilliant with the boorish. The Pretty and Profane being weaved together to create a culture that fully represents the struggle and the beauty of Black and Brown Americans.
Knowing that Hip Hop employs the pretty and the profane is what makes it so appealing, and what makes it so complex. But as Jay-Z asked us, do we really listen, or do we just skim through it.? Do we know all the steps it takes to solve X? In some cases the question is can we get past the profane to enjoy the pretty?
In 1991 I went to the now defunct Randall Park Mall with my Dad. We walked Through J.C. Penny, past the video arcade (do those still exist b/c I love them) past foot locker and finally it appeared, Sam Goody or Coconuts I can’t remember.
We walked in and I perused the aisles of CD’s in long cardboard boxes that were more than twice as long as the CD itself. I saw posters of album covers for The New Jack City soundtrack (got that already), Bryan Adams (Nope) Paula Abdul, Boyz II Men, Marky Mark, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston.
I liked a lot of those artists and even had some of their albums. However today was my entry into another world. This is would be the first day I heard THE PRETTY AND THE PROFANE in one. This is day Hip Hop shocked me into a love affair. In this world virtuoso wordsmiths were help up by thick 808’s and 12 second of sample time. In this world violence and misogyny live right next door to conscious upliftment, pro-blackness and messages of hope. Filth and elegance top rocking around each other to classic breaks. Completely in tune and on time.
I picked up Apocalypse ‘91 by Public Enemy and O.G. (Original Gangster) by Ice-T.
At this point I was a Hip Hop newbie. I had Raising Hell by RUN DMC and “I’m the rapper he’s the DJ” by The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff”
Not hating on those records.They are both great albums in their own right. But Public Enemy and Ice-T contained two special elements that transformed me.
Beats by the Bomb Squad and the lyrical Shock Value of Chuck D and Ice-T
Beats by the Bomb Squad- The Bomb Squad were a group super producers from Long Island. Hank and Keith Shocklee, Chuck D, Gary “G wiz”, Eric Sadler and Bill Stephney revolutionized the technique of sampling. Before the Bomb Squad Hip Hop producers would use 2-5 samples per song on average. But the Bomb Squad could easily rock out 15-20 samples in one song. Consistently hitting your ears with bits of classic music collaged into a magnificent piece. Bomb Squad beats are a consistent sonic assault. They all employed all the dope melodic and rhythmic elements of black music, right on top of screeches and squeals, sirens and funky scratches- creating a sound palette that forced me to press rewind because they blew my mind. (Redman)
I was in front of my Fischer boombox with the CD player on top. Mouth open, eyes wide, unable to move or fully comprehend what I was hearing. Beats hit so hard, and moved with merciless momentum. So many different sounds and bits of songs I recognized totally reinvented to create something sonically pleasing and dissonant at once. I’m 36 now and still find new things to hear in beats by the Bomb Squad each time I listen. I can’t forget to mention Chuck D dropping the knowledge of the middle passage and cointelpro on me as an 11 year old. A booming voice that demands your full attention. You can listen to beauty of the beats to the lesson or just enjoy the power and grace of the voice over “murderous” beats.
Check out how Chuck helps us visualize the middle passage and slavery. Families being ripped apart, laying in your own feces, being branded, these are all profane actions laid seamlessly with a knocking beat and a powerful delivery. Pretty and Profane.
After I was blown away by the beats next came the Code of the Streets. Ice-T fresh off New Jack City fame gives a brutally honest look at the life of a gangster in Los Angeles. He commits murder, robbery, and kidnapping all within the first 2 songs. On top of Afrika Islam beats that rival the ruggedness of the Bomb Squad. I admired the beauty of the beats and the Lushness of the dark storytelling. The exquisite, trading spaces with the truly offensive. Throughout the album Ice-T delivers hard hitting rhymes about the truth of gang life, while laying the foundations of social constructs that created this reality.
New Jack Hustler verse 3- Ice T – Over a sample of Jasper Country Man by Bobbi Humphrey (Lyrics below)
“I had nothing, and I wanted it,You had everything, and you flaunted it. Turned the needy into the greedy, with cocaine, my success came speedy. Got me twisted, jammed into a paradox. Every dollar I get, another brother drops. Maybe that’s the plan, and I don’t understand,God damn—-you got me sinkin in quicksand. But since I don’t know, and I ain’t never learned, I gotta get paid, I got money to earn. With my posse, out on the ave, Bump my sounds, crack a forty and laugh. Cool out and watch my new Benz gleam, Is this a nightmare? Or the American dream? So think twice if you’re coming down my block, You want to journey through hell? Well shit gets hot. Pregnant teens, children’s screams. Life is weighed on the scales of a triple beam. You don’t come here much, and ya better not. Wrong move (bang), ambulance cot. I gotta get more money than you got, So what, if some muthafucka gets shot? That’s how the game is played, Another brother slayed, the wound is deep BUT they’re givin us a Band Aid. My education’s low but I got long dough, Raised like a pit bull, my heart pumps nitro.Sleep on silk, lie like a politician, My Uzi’s my best friend, cold as a mortician. Lock me up, it’s genocidal catastrophe,
There’ll be another one after me…….a hustler.
In one verse he discusses government involvement in the drug trade, how it has affected the Black community, the “band aids” that don’t fix the problems, materialism and teen pregnancy. We also hear of scared children dealing with the ruthlessness of a place where life is weighed on the scales of triple beam (device used for weighing drugs).
He asks us, is this a nightmare or the American Dream? A valid question since every dollar he make another brother drops.
On the surface this verse contains profanity, murder without regret, and a promotion of gangster lifestyle. However if we listen to the entirety of the verse we see that he is really discussing American social injustice and a fixed system specifically the cycle of poverty leading to crime, and crime to prison. He shows us how even prison doesn’t end the game. “There’ll be another one after me…… a hustler” No matter what, lock up one drug dealer, someone will take their place the next day. A magnificent beat underpinning a lyric that is both polished and polluted. The pretty and profane.
I can’t not give you the original sample. It’s one of my favorites.
Jasper Country Man- Bobbi Humphrey
Now how do we break this down. The pretty and the profane, the gorgeous and the grimey. I remember listening to The Chronic and Doggystyle on my yellow Sony CD player up in my room, on headphones trying to hide it from my parents. Think about Ready to Die. Easy Moe Bee beats bumping, Biggie ripping the track open with so many different rhythmic inflections, adlibs and cadences. Although the album is riddled with profanity, violence and even suicide, I you have the ability to take on the project as a whole , the artistry of the album cannot be denied.
Listen to the opening verse of Unbelievable. Lyrics by Biggie beat by DJ Premier
“Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the livest one
Representing BK to the fullest
Gats I pull it, bastards ducking when Big be bucking
Chickenheads be clucking in my bathroom fucking
It ain’t nothing, they know Big be handling
With the mac in the Ac’ door paneling
Damagin MC’s, oxygen they can’t breathe
Mad tricks up the sleeve, wear boxers so my dick can breathe
Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side, lyrical high
And those that rushes my clutches get put on crutches
Get smoked like dutches from the master
Hate to blast you, but I have to, you see I smoke a lot
Your life is played out like Kwame, and them fucking polka dots
Who rock the spot? Biggie
You know how the weed go, unbelievable.
In this verse Biggie beautifully weaves in and out of pulling guns on people, bathroom sex, Smoking weed, crippling someone and dissing an old school emcee. That is what it seems like on the surface, but when you read along and listen simultaneously to his delivery and the word play, there is a lot more to take in. Biggie masterfully uses the english language to makes it seem like he is just taking part in violent acts and getting high. In reality it’s all metaphor for his UNBELIEVABLE rhyme style. Pretty and profane.
These lyrics are spit over top a super hot beat the the legendary DJ Premier. His rhythmic scratches bring Biggies voice in an out letting us know who is the illest. Not to mention the genius sample of R. Kelly’s “Your body’s calling” Which birthed the title of this track. Speaking of pretty and profane R. Kelly is whole other article. Primo always makes the rawness sound so damn lovely.
So why did I have to hide this music. In retrospect I do not think Ice-T or Biggie would even be considered hardcore today. The lyrics were smart, based in reality, it’s excellent story telling filled with expert use literary device. Why would my parents not want me to hear this? Why would they not want me to hear Snoop or Dre, or Nas, or Jay-Z or Wu- Tang.
Was it the cursing? I don’t think so. I watched movies with cursing in them all time from a young age. Also our parents are the same generation who listened to Richard Pryor records, and Redd Foxx. Talk about saying something foul…. They were the kings.
Was it the Violence? I don’t think so. I saw Robocop when I was 7 years old. Should I have, I don’t know, but I turned out Ok. However it seemed like they were fine with me viewing the material.
Was it the sexual themes and misogyny? Ok even I can admit I didn’t need to hear Biggie have sex in between One more Chance and The What. I just didn’t need to hear that. It was absolutely vulgar, and offensive to many. But the track that follows up the profane interlude (The What feat. Method Man) is so damn pretty. Here we are met with Jay-Z’s question again, do we listen to music or just skim through it. Do we take on projects as a whole, or do we take one part and say this whole album or this whole genre is just trash. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies. However if I only saw the rape and murder scenes, without the rest of the movie would I really be qualified to judge it?
The reason I think I hid it was because of a generational gap. When I was growing up Hip Hop had a bad media image. My own family publicly came out in the media against Hip Hop and it’s lyrical content. In the end most of the critics heard one or two songs and labeled an entire genre as “evil” without ever listening to a full album or inquiring about the diverse group of artists Hip Hop had to offer. There used to be all kinds of Hip Hop music, with many different messages and foci. Now ” However in all honesty ask yourself could your mother make it through the entire Chronic album? Most of the Mom’s of that era I know could not.
Here’s an example. I was at my friend’s house back in highschool. We were listening to “Sucka Nigga” from A Tribe Called Quests Album Midnight Marauders. This song delves into the historical roots of the term “nigger”. A word used to cause pain, and how Hip Hop has taken control of the word, using it as term of endearment. However we got in trouble for listening to Tribe because all her Mom heard was Nigga, Nigga, Nigga, Nigga,Nigga. If we would have sat with her mom, broke down the Freddie Hubbard sample used, and deconstructed the lyrical content to bring the pretty and the profane to the surface, she would have gotten it. But these conversations do not happen.
Sucka Nigga – A Tribe Called Quest
My wife Pilar and I bump classic Hip Hop as a “Daily Operation” (Gangstarr) Loud in the house, sub woofer pumping. Should we be hiding it?
We have two daughters Aaliyah (5) Lola (3) They are incredible in every way. I want to be able to share my love of Hip Hop with them. I want to play the albums I grew up listening to for them. Some of my greatest memories are listening to Motown tapes in my Dad’s car. I know every lyric, every drop, and every key change Motown ever wrote from those car rides and talking about music with my Dad.
Will I be able to impart that kind of history on Aaliyah and Lola?
I think it’s my duty to help Aaliyah and Lola understand the social constructs that created all these stories of violence, and misogyny that glorify the dark parts of this life. It is also my duty to help them see music and art as entire pieces. The ability to understand the project as a whole, not just a bunch of curses and violent acts. It is mine and the duty of other Hip Hop parents to nurture a mature listener.
So how do we raise kids who can understand the social constructs that created these very explicit narratives? Kids who can separate art from reality.
Choose the right artists- May not want to jump right in with rawness. Start off with something like
“The Message by Grand- Master Flash and Furious Five
Paid in Full by Eric B & Rakim
Work your way up to N.W.A, Biggie and Kendrick Lamar
N.W.A – Fuck the Police – A blistering take on police violence
Kendrick Lamar- Blacker the Berry- Ingenious look at how America loves Black culture but hates Black people
If sharing your love of Hip Hop with your kids is important to you I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of differences between say, Biggie, Common, The Roots, School- Boy Q, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Jungle Brothers, and Kendrick Lamar. You can pick songs and albums that you feel comfortable with. If they start to ask questions, look for the teachable moments. They can understand more than we think.
I want my kids to listen to Things Fall Apart, Wu-Tang Forever and Aquemini with fond memories. To love these albums and use them to ask just as many questions as I did.
Approach the topic of sexism and misogyny with care.
“Raps stars and the corporations that distribute their songs get away with and have profited handsomely from highly vulgar and explicit forms of sexism specifically targeting black women. A fact that only encourages other up and coming artists to follow in their misogynist footsteps to get famous and rich. For all the recent and past outcry against the ways that hip hop generally depicts black women, this state of affairs has, for the most part (with just a few major challenges here and there), been allowed to expand and diversify mostly unchecked.” Rose (Hip Hop Wars)
Pilar and I are raising two black girls in 2017 America. This country is not really a forward thinking place anymore. Aaliyah and Lola will undoubtedly face challenges as women of color.
I mean look at this twitter feed to see how Black women are treated in the workplace.
They will have some advantages too, but being a woman of color in America is an uphill battle against, racism, sexism, cronyism, nepotism, and many other isms.
How can I make sure that Aaliyah and Lola know that they are not a rented prop for some man? How can I make sure they know to never accept disrespect, and know they can be in control, powerful, creative and influential, without playing into the stereotypical roles of black women in hip hop. How can I show them this when something I love shows so much of the opposite?
Well, I will choose the right artists to share. I will break down MC Lyte, and Queen Latifah. I will bump that Jean Grae and Bahamadia. Lauryn Hill stays on repeat.
It’s my job to show them the Hip Hop I love, and find modern artists that share the values and aesthetics I want to foster. To show that Hip Hop is a culture with its own, art, music, dance, fashion, speech, and customs.
Andre 3000 raps on Humble Mumble (Stankonia)
“ I met a critic, I made her sh** her drawers. She thought hip hip was only guns and alcohol. I said oh hell naw, but yet it’s that too. You can’t discrimihate cause you done read a book or two. What if I looked at you through a microscope, saw all the dirty organisms living in your closet would I pause it.”
Andre is saying hip hop is bigger than the stereotypes and negativity. And no need to hit pause on just the dirty parts we are so complex.
I am talking about creating responsible active listeners who do not just skim through. Listeners who can break the music down analytically, but also just chill, vibe and enjoy it as helps them grow. They will be able to hear and enjoy the Pretty and the Profane as one. The Bomb Squad will bring them as much pleasure as Mozart, Duke Ellington and Baldwin.
Why is this important? Because Hip Hop is a music that named an entire generation of people. It was a driving force in our formative years, and helped to shape who we are as people. I truly believe that sharing Hip Hop and Hip Hop culture will help my kids know me better, creating lifelong memories.
The beat will always go on, life will bring joy and pain, but hip hop can help you appreciate the pretty and the profane.
Art influences art. One talented performer admires another, analyzes what they have done, then they add their own element to it. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. Especially for Black Music in America. From Work songs, to Spirituals to Blues, Jazz, Rock, Funk, Hip Hop. Each one of these styles was built from the foundation of it’s predecessor. The BEAT GOES ON because it is in the soul of the African to play and perform music and to dance. I know I know it’s a stereotype, but it’s true. It was and still is a part of everyday life. I know I got to have my music right for every occasion. Shower, workout, dinner, long drive, chilling the friends, life has a soundtrack
As I was watching the New Edition Story I couldn’t help but think a few things
1. It’s really good! BET kilt the production of this series, the cast is extremely talented, and the dance steps were TIIIIIIGHHT! I mean they were always in time and together, made the visual nostalgia that much more intense. On point in every way.
2. New Edition grew from the soil of Doo-Wop groups like the Penguins, The Coasters and the Drifters. Motown groups like the Four Tops and Temptations, on to the Jackson 5. You can clearly see and hear the connections between the generations. I have seen The Jackson’s on VH-I 100 times, The Temptations 200 times, The Five Heartbeat. honestly upwards of 1000 times From the outfits, to the dance steps, to the story arch itself. The New Edition Story is a great example of how cultural DNA passes down within Black Music.
3. Industry rule #4080 record people are shady.
A major focus of this website and my work in general is connecting the dots within Black Music. Bruno Mars was quoted in Latina magazine saying
“When you say “Black Music,” understand that you are talking about Rock, Jazz, R&B, Reggae, Funk, Doo-Wop, Hip-Hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even Salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, Black Music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag. I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I’ll never forget. Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.”
I think he just said it all. The continuity of African culture stands strong through generations. He even put New Edition on his list of influences.
Let’s analyze this DNA strand a bit further. Can you name any Black Male R&B groups that tour and record, dance and sing like New Edition?……………………..
Nope, because there aren’t any. There is not one Black Male R&B group currently signed to a major label. Throughout the history of Black Music in America this was one of the most popular group formats. That has changed 100%. Ego’s along with a music industry that is selling fewer albums each year has killed the R&B group as we know it. I really hope there is a group of kids out there that saw the New Edition Story, then immediately got up and started working on their steps. Please, keep the culture alive.
Below is a list of Black Male R&B groups who have influenced each other throughout the generations.
The Platters, The Drifters, The Moonglows The Coasters, The Penguins,
Rhythm and Blues (Jump Blues) –
Louis Jordan, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters
Rock and Roll- Little Richard
Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard
Temptations, Four Tops, Jackson 5, Impressions, Whispers, Kool and the Gang, Ohio Players, Earth Wind and Fire, Isley Brothers, The Gap Band, NEW EDITION, Boyz II Men, Shai, Toni, Tony, Tone,Jodeci, MINT CONDITION, 112, Black Street, BBD, Jagged Edge, Dru Hill, Next, Soul 4 real. Now we have The Weeknd and Bruno Mars holding it down.
I know you all have been out there fighting the good fight. I started a Facebook thread last week about “Favorite Protest Songs” This mix is the product of YOUR suggestions and YOUR willingness to stand up for what is right and virtuous. As I listened back to the this mix on the train yesterday I got goosebumps and my eyes welled up several times. This mix tells a story, and addresses the social issues we are dealing with now head on. I have not felt this creatively satisfied in a while, and I thank everyone who took the time to comment, and share and listen. Seriously THANK YOU!
Ancestor Intro- Speech (Arrested Development)
Make America Great Again- Pussy Riot
April 29th, 1992 (Miami)
They Don’t Really Care About Us- Michael Jackson
Sly Fox- Nas
Killing in the Name Of – Rage Against The Machine
Sound of Da Police- KRS-ONE
Impeach The President- The Honey Drippers
What’s Going On- Marvin Gaye
You Haven’t Done Nothing- Stevie Wonder
Alright- Kendrick Lamar
Ladies First- Queen Latifah ft. Monie Love
When You Gonna Learn?
My Country- Tune-Yards
Arrest the President- Intelligent Hoodlum
Bullet Proof- Ray Mang
Zombie- Fela Kuti
Keep on Pushing- The Impressions
War- Bob Marley
The Warriors- The Gladiators
Ghetto People Song- Everton Blender
Ohio- Isley Brothers
Which Side Are You On?- Ani Difranco
Which Side Are You On?- Talib Kweli (feat Tef Poe and Kendra Ross)
Feat Not of Man- Mos Def
This Land is Our Land
“I think that what I have learned from working on Moonlightis we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves, and what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman. I saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community and taking that opportunity to uplift him and tell him that he mattered, that he was okay, and accept him. And I hope that we do a better job of that”
I was moved by this speech last night. Mahershala Ali while accepting is SAG award for best supporting actor spoke to our humanity and emotions while holding back tears of his own. Clearly a shot at #45, but classy one. Mahershala asked us to not “get caught up in the MINUTIAE that make us different” Race, class, religion, sexual orientation, all minutiae. I’m loving that word right now. Minutiae. We are letting our tiny differences create giant divisions. Divisions that give hate and fear the ability to huff and puff, and eventually you know what happens. Religion almost took him away from his Mother. But love won out, not the name of their respective God.
Ernie Hines- Our Generation
With the March for Equal rights last Saturday, then all the immigration protests that went down this past weekend. It seems that a lot of people believe in the ideals America claims to hold dear. You know, all are created equal, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses and all that.
Big ups to Mahershala Ali on a your SAG award, and for helping us sift through the MINUTIAE…… one more time
MINUTIAE (great word)
Also go see MOONLIGHT! Tells a story we do not usually talk about. A population of people folded in on themselves.
My family heading out to the march. Aaliyah, Lola and Pilar (left to right)
I did not wake up yesterday thinking…. I’m about to be a part of history. But I was. Actually it wasn’t me. It was me, my family and friends, along with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. We were joined by those in Atlanta, Chicago, Nairobi, Helsinki and Buenos Aires even Antartica held it down yesterday. I had no idea this was going to be global “Jumpoff.”
Listen to these girls. They are the future. “It is my body, so it is my choice” Marches popped off all over the world.
The Women’s Rights march showed the power of the people. Millions of people all over came out to “Get Up, Stand Up” There were signs for Women’s rights, Black Lives matter, Dump Trump, We can’t Comb over racism, LGBTQ rights, everyone got a little love today.
My mind is blown by the number of people that came out. It is very easy to feel like we are too small to make a difference. Yesterday I saw many small groups of people turn into a massive force. I feel inspired, I want to do more, get more involved. I’m sure I’m not alone.
To think that folks in Georgia (the country) came out to protest Trump and what he stands for gives me hope. There is a quote going around now that goes something like, “There are more of us than there are of him” Meaning
WE THE PEOPLE can stand up as one, and fight for equal rights. Equality for everyone. Every time I heard that quote before yesterday, my cynical side sighed and rolled its eyes. However today I feel hopeful. Today I feel like human beings actually care about one another. I know that the entire world feels that we are living in “Tryin times”(Roberta Flack) and that we’re willing to hit the pavement and “Bring the Noise” (Public Enemy). Man, that what’s up.
Is this march going to save the Affordable Care Act? I wish that it could. Is this march going to make our new Attorney General not racist? No, but it did spark the spirits of the people. If we the people form a closed fist, we can knockout the hatred. We saw today how many people care, now lets keep the momentum going!
This journey of equal rights is a strange one. It’s centuries old, but it stays fresh and never loses its strength. Like my President Barack Obama said, “Democracy is not the buildings. It’s not the monuments. It’s you. Being able to work together to make things better and being able to listen to each other.”
Thanks to; Pilar, Aaliyah, Lola, Amy, Nick, Nina, Sara, George, Zora, Yuen, Brian, Morris, Iyla, Meno, Latoya, Clementine, Alex, Meg, and Sabrina. Sharing this experience with you was inspiring.
Now check out the Mix that accompanies this piece. I know you gonna dig this.
Stand Up Jamrock by Bob Marley
Hip Hop Dreams by DJ Alias, Kanye, Game
Come Together by The Beatles
The Revolution Will Not be Televised by Gil- Scot Heron