Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SUPREME BEING


"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a mildly peculiar position for me.  Upon first glance there is no way that I would’ve ever dreamed that I would say anything like this… okay, sit down…, ready, Black Entertainment Television (BET)—or as I like to refer to it—the Hospice of Hope; just may be the home of the  best show on television.  I know “best” is a very relative term.  Admittedly my euphoria could be tainted by the extremely low exceptional standard the network has proudly propelled to for the last 30 years. Ironically, we cannot even blame this horrendous history of neighborhood programming on “White Flight”— especially when you consider…, since Viacom’s Take Over (in 2001) I could make a case that the network’s programming has demonstrated a marginal improvement. I would have to receive some sort of immunity for that public testimony, though.


Anyway, enough of BET’s counterproductive history of cultural commerce, today I honestly believe that Being Mary Jane, starring the dimpled dyme, Gabrielle Union, is the absolute best show on TV.  I am not even talking about the fact that the show wins the Tuesday night rating’s wars in the advertiser’s dream demo Adults 18-49.  Impressive as it may be, what I find extremely alluring is the witty dialogue; the show’s approach to social issues and the extraordinary dope music.  Of course, to no one’s shock or awe, I will start there. 

The Music
On any given Tuesday you may hear the underground soul music sounds of the Swedish hipsters Little Dragon or you may involuntarily nod your dome to the Brooklyn-bred Stacy Barthe, one night you may even experience the earthy vibes of Emeli Sandé.  Whatever the night’s playlist selection, the music tends to be an unescapably, enthralling treat.   

Though I must admit (at times) the lyrical overtures seems overtly obvious; even somewhat anticipated—especially to the ear of a self-proclaimed supreme musicologists like myself. My delusions of grandeur aside, the fact that many of the artists that are sprinkled throughout the hour-long are mostly obscure to the average ear and the way the music nestled within the drama is really noteworthy.   Last night’s Erykah Badu-theme show almost made me R. Kelly the screen.  

The Plot
On the surface the story line seems fairly typical…, a successful black female fighting a daily battle for the illusive “corner office” in her glass ceiling stroll through the corporate chaos.  If you have been paying close attention, ever since the 1921 Black Holocaust bombing, America has been a constant reminder to the black life limitations of climbing this engulfed ladder. Today the reminders seem less and less subtle and it isn’t limited to the hours of 9-to-five.


Once Mary Jane’s corporate limitations are decidedly difficult to cope with alone, she finds an even tougher battle searching for the black male equivalent to add balance in her equally turbulent personal life. There is a constant theme that MJ’s highly visible position as a popular nighttime news anchor becomes a referendum on financially supporting her immediate family and the ‘hood champion aspirational carrot.  What uppity black clan has not had that conversation?

My preconceived notion of this “blah, blah, blah” storyline turned out to be beyond refreshing.  The current feel and the wonderful execution of characters is actually worth setting the DVR.  The cast is nothing of short of magnificent.  The Union-led team polishes the screen as a fresh, relevant and authentic day in a black life—unlike say…, ABC’s Black-ish, which has many noteworthy storylines, but comes off as a minor league Modern Family.

I am fairly confident BET has tried their darnedest to fumble this wonderful triangular blend of social, moral and corporate conundrums, but even their counterproductive Wharton Wannabes are having a hard time turning this into a Jailhouse Girl’s Rock!

Being Mary Jane has been inked for another season—it’s third—which will give the dynamic duo of Mara Brock Akil and (hubby) Salim Akil more than enough time to continue to entertain, educate and enlightened  the landscape of America on the Mary Jane in all of us.  

1 love, 
Ray Lewis

Friday, January 23, 2015

HIP HOP vs RAP

'You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

--Ray Bradbury


Hip Hop -- This is an art form that is deeply rooted in an inner city, cultural fusion that was designed to embrace and enhance (said) culture which is typically ignored by those with no real VESTED interest (i.e. popular culture). The focus of Hip Hop music is generally (but not limited to) political accountability, social imbalance, street justice and it tends to be more intellectual in its lyrical content and wit. The artists are most often referred to as emcees, which is a rhyme skill that NOT every person that is standing on stage, rhyming into a microphone possesses.   



The quizzical nature of this subgenre is layered in utter complexity and cultural conundrums which is precisely why it’s not heard on the radio (anymore).  More plotting Hip Hop is not just limited to music.  The other aspects of the art form includes: graffiti artists, unique fashion, aftermarket car accessories, and most especially language, which all play a HUGE part in this art. Its cataclysm is often misunderstood by those with no desire to understand its origin since these loosely-termed analysts or pundits don’t live in or understand the environment that breeds a great emcee.

So, in short, Hip Hop music is much harder to marginalize using the magnifying glass of capitalism. 


Rap Music - This is an art form that is rooted in mainstream, popular culture and designed for MASS CONSUMPTION--similar to that of fast food and paper towels. Rap music was made, designed and sold strictly for entertainment purposes with little (if any) socially-redemptive value and/or shelf life, which makes it a gold mine for record label executives.  Most rap music is gimmicky in nature and unlike “the emcee” most rap artists sound and act similar which (naturally) makes them very interchangeable.  




There is no real substantive goal or allegiance to any particular culture…, as long as the listener is willing to consume its message or lack thereof, this art will always be there to take advantage of that their apathy—especially when you consider that rap music is the opposite of cerebral and is faddish in nature.  The typical rap artists’ goal is to make music for the radio and/or the adult night clubs; and in doing so propel and prorogate images that confirm the stereotypical mainstream exploitative aspirations.

In short, rap music is the epitome of capitalism.

Below are 50 alphabetical listed examples of both:


HIP HOP
RAP


2 Pac
2 Chainz
Andre 3000 (Outkast)
50 Cent
AZ
8 Ball MJG
Bahamadia
Al Kapone
Big Daddy Kane
Big Sean
Big L
Bobby Shmurda
Big Pun
Chief Keef
Black Thought
Childish Gambino
Busta Rhymes*
Da Brat
Canibus
Dolla
Chuck D (Public Enemy)
Drake
CL Smooth (Pete Rock)
Fat Joe
Common*
French Montana
Del La Soul
Future
DMX
Gangsta Boo
Doug E. Fresh
Gucci Mane
Elzhi
Iggy Azalea
Eminem*
Jay-Z*
Goodie Mob
Jazze Pha
Grand Master Caz
Juicy J
Grand Puba
Juvenile 
Heavy D.
Kanye West*
Immortal Technique
Kid Ink
Invincible
Lil John
Jadakiss
Lil Scrappy
Jay Electronica
Lil Wayne
Jay-Z*
Ludacris
Jean Grae
Mannie Fresh
Keith Murray
Master P
Kendrick Lamar
Meek Mill
Kool G. Rap
Missy Elliot
Kool Moe Dee
Mystikal
KRS-One
Nicki Minaj
Lauryn Hill
Puffy
Lupe Fiasco
Rich Homie Quan
MC Lyte
Rick Ross
Mele Mel
Sir Mix-a-Lot
Method Man (Wu Tang)
Snoop Dogg
Mos Def
T.I.
Nas
The Dream
Notorious B.I.G
T-Pain
Pharoahe Monch
Trina 
Phife (Tribe Called Quest)
Trinidad James
Raekwon
Waka Flocka Flame
Rakim
Wale
Royce Da 5’9
Wil I Am
Run DMC
Ying Yang Twins
Scarface
Yo Gotti
Styles P.
Young Jeezy
Talib Kweli
Young Joc

* Denotes artists that are MORE comfortable living in both spaces.  

Then there are artists that have made a clearer distinction where they are MOST comfortable, but their plight deserves further context (see below):

·        Jay-Z:  Shawn Carter is the poster child for this duplicity.  He began his music career with one Hip Hop’s best LPs ever, Reasonable Doubt.  His pathway was paved with great aspirations.  The debut CD is full of rhyme twists and complexities that made it to most every Hip Hop fan’s collection.  


Jay-Z is one of the more witty emcees ever. His duets with Mary J. & Biggie underscored his charm, wit and charisma.  However, since his street credible classic, commerce has been Jay-Z’s goal and he I becoming less and less apologetic to his original fan base.  In fact some have embraced it.  His stance on social issues are muffled or compromise by his associations with corporations that clearly demonstrate an antithetical agenda to the culture.  While Jay-Z sometimes shows signs of cultural commitment (Open Letter) don’t be surprise if a war between corporate and culture erupted which side he would lend the knife to and which part of your back it landed.

·        Common:  Just like Jay-Z, Common began his Hip Hop career spitting out one classic after another.  His single “I Used to Love Her” is probably the single-best metaphor for the love and complexity under the umbrella of Hip Hop.  That single was also the catalyst to one of the best movies (Brown Sugar) in the history of Hip Hop. Then the Chi-town native decided to shred his cultural consciousness to appeal to wider array of "fans" that are more comfortable being called B’s and H’s versus queens and princesses.  What’s more troubling is…., his newfound fans are his loudest defenders AND actually the people he denigrates most often.

·        Ice Cube:  It is simply hard to imagine that a man that once (lyrically) threatened to burn down Hollywood for its lack of cultural support is now their box office meal ticket.  Ice Cube has cut his ties to South Central and comfortably moved up to Beverly Hills.  Only he knows how well that view helps him to rest at night.

·        Joe Budden:  Only Royce Da 5’9 tops the New Jersey native’s lyrical wit in their Detroit-stationed group (Slaughterhouse). Joe’s lyrical prowess is unquestionable.  However his reoccurring appearances on the cultural tidy bowl reality show, Love and Hip Hop makes it tough to defend or pledge his allegiance. 
       
·        Eminem:  He just may be the best freestyle rapper in Hip Hop history.  Once dubbed an irritating, commercial Midwestern with a boy-band look, Em has emerged as one of the best emcees the genre has ever spun.  He simply slayed Jay-Z on Carter’s “Renegade”.  He is the architect of Slaughterhouse Group and the mastermind behind 50’s In the Club.  At this stage one could argue he is MORE relevant in the Hip Hop game than Brooklyn’s own Jay-Z—which is another example of the ironic twists this culture continues to unleash.  



1 Love, 
Ray Lewis 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

EMPIRE STRIKES BLACK

“Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”
Allen Ginsberg






I have a few thoughts on the Fox season premiere of Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. 

For starters, I am really happy that scripted series (in general) have seemingly taken back the reigns from Reality TV.  After all, there are few things in life further from reality than Realty TV.  I challenge you to find any love or Hip Hop in Love and Hip Hop. Naturally, there is room for it all, but in recent years it seems like the tomfoolery is running unopposed.  It’s clear (to me) that the Writers Guild of America strike (in 2007-’08) probably had the greatest impact on American television since the launch of cable TV.  Nothing like a good boycott to bring a reality check to a plastic entity.




Here’s the Half Full Side

For the most part it’s always good to see people of color working in this industry—especially when you consider most of America is more Des Moines than New York, L.A., Detroit, Chicago or Atlanta.  So having a predominately black cast on broadcast television in prime time is certainly worth noting, no matter how low a bar.  Now we know Empire won’t have the television impact of (say… a.. Cosby Show, but…, hey, unless you are one of Bill’s attorneys you probably wouldn't want that type of association anyway.
  
Here’s the Half Empty Side:

Did we really need a TV version of Hustle and Flow, meets Baby Boy in South Central?   Granted this series has a more plausible plot than the last time Howard and Henson locked lips and glock on TV.  And, a better storyline is saying alittle something since I am about as big of fan of the show’s producer, Lee Daniels as I am of: potholes, red lights and cold toilet seats—I would rather avoid them but I deal with them when I have to. 


The high-profile peek into the record label “empire” has a bit of intrigue, but the storyline seems almost as typical of the cast themselves.  Taraji P. is not-so slowing becoming THAT neck-rolling, gum-poppin' loud-mouth, fast-talking chick that every man dreams of smashing then dashing.  Howard is an above-average talent and his flair shines in this "Belly" of a storyline.
If you like mainstream (Timbaland-induced) RAP music (and I stress rap music), shiny P. Diddy-eqque suits and sitting at the bar, popping bottles in your typical urban filled night spots this will be appointment viewing for you. The rest of us should wait for the book. Now there are some decent acting from Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers and a cool showing from the not-so-newcomer like, Gabourey Sidibe—who isn’t a bad actress.  And, honestly..., what would a black nighttime drama be without Malik Yoba?

Overall, I give it a C- mainly because I like black people FAR more than I like the low standards Hollywood holds us to.
    
1 love,

Ray Lewis

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sterling’s Gold, Adam Silver



“It’s not enough to ride First Class, I have to know that my friends are sitting in coach”.
  • An excerpt from “Flash Boys” Richard Lewis’ book on the corruption of the Wall Street stock brokers.
So America got a sneak peek into the mind of a billionaire racist?  

LA Clipper owner, Donald Sterling

I believe CNN would call that Breaking News, while the actual targets of Sterling’s racist comments would call that a weekday.  I hear all the outrage on social media (a humorous oxymoron) and the indignation coming from the political ivory towers in Washington and the disgust coming from fellow NBA owner, Michael Jordan -- as the oxymoronic satire becomes more amusing by the timeouts.  Jordan is mad at the way black people are treated?  The next sound you hear may be William Shakespeare tumbling.  

There are two ways to get rid of racism:
  1. Get rid of all the people and start over.
  2. Educate the ones that are here.
If option (A) was your choice; there will be no way for us mere mortals to measure how successful that suggestion actually turned out. And, if option (B) was your choice; it should be noted that education probably won’t be a large enough incentive for a person that is already a billionaire.  That would be like telling Jay-Z, “Hey man, the next time you go in the studio I think you should keep it real.” 
The only thing billionaires really care to respond to is what made them a billionaire to begin with. I believe the Wu Tang hook C.R.E.A.M. underscored this artfully.  If the people were outraged, truly outraged at what the Los Angeles Clipper’s owner said on an illegally taped phone conversation, you should read some of his statements [that are on the record] in court.  You should talk to some of the people of color that reside in some of his rental properties.  I also suggest talking to some of his former employees.  In comparison, that illegal wire tap will be about as offensive as a grocery list. 


Wu Tang Clan

“What should we do?” is the question I have been most asked.  Well, I have been a fan of basketball my entire life.  Next to (certain) family members, a good book, music (mainstream ignores) and horizontal aerobics there isn’t more I enjoy than a good game of hoops. That said I have not paid to see a basketball game since the early 80’s (if not longer).  There are a plethora of reasons:
  1. The players are more Kobe Bryant and less Jim Brown.
  2. The regular season competition often feels like pro wrestling.
  3. The cost of attendance is funnier than Jordan’s outrage.
  4. Culturally, the NBA is starting to feel a lot like organized religion…, where the money flows in one direction and rarely (if ever) does it benefit the community where most of the buildings reside.   
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

So you can jump up and down and scream all you want, but the only law that was actually broken was by the other person on the phone [who by the way is black].  If you want to take a team from a racist, cool I’m all for that.  While racism isn’t illegal, it probably should be. But, when the NBA Commissioner moves toward eliminating ignorance, make sure you hold the other owners accountable who may be homophobic, anti-Semites, sexists or xenophobes and who are all seemingly outraged by Sterling’s comments but are still sitting in their glass houses with their pot and goal.
Personally, I cannot wait until the day comes when black and brown people finally get together and only spend money with people that have their best interest at heart.
I bet the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma residents remember even if the media doesn’t. 

 1 love,
Ray Lewis