Jay, Bey, Trappin’ and Me

Several people have asked for my opinions on the most recent developments in hip hop culture, largely Jay Z, Beyoncé and the omnipresent ghetto vortex we call the trap. Here is what I see.

Jay and Bey

  • I like them. I like their music. They’re interesting.
  • I consume their music as art, not life instruction or even a real a report on the state of their union.
  • Lemonade, while culturally acclaimed, was largely seen among lots of black people as venting for “women,” while 4:44, though equally dope, has some people acting like it’s a new directive for all of black humanity.

Atlanta’s Pink Trap House and Trappin’ in General

  • I don’t have a problem with 2Chainz. He was nice when I met him.
  • I have some problems with the messages that he and his peers send through trap culture. Like the Pink Trap House in Atlanta.
  • If you’re happy to be trappin’ and getting white and exotic bitches, you hate yourself. You’re a cannibal. Nothing makes you more complicit with white supremacy than hating your origin in the form of the women who raised you while poisoning your community with cheap drugs. It’s the mass incarceration express and you’re the conductor.

Me

  • If you are a woman who is vocal about gender inequality as you legally try to better yourself through career and education, you’re a “crazy feminist.” If you dare date or marry interracially or even post too many pics admiring Tommy from Power or President Grant from Scandal, you’re a bed wench. If you’re even a big fan of Scandal, you’re a bed wench.
  • I digress.
  • Women speaking up and speaking out is bitching.
  • Men speaking up and speaking out is revelation.

I have always been vocal about problems in hip hop culture because I understand hip hop culture. Since I was a child in the 80s watching boys breakdance in the playground rec center, to being a writer, music conference panelist and weekly hip hop trivia winner, I’ve been an active participant. Through hip hop I’ve found love of the people and the music while gaining professional opportunities.

Still, I must proceed with caution.  Don’t let the conversation become too unflattering. If you do, you are not a cultural critic, you’re a bitch.

Somehow, you cannot, like I do, simultaneously celebrate your colleagues and influences – who are overwhelmingly male – yet criticize the looming presence of misogyny, sexual assault and violence. If so, you have to consciously and subconsciously hate men on some level. For too many members of the hip hop loving public, support means blind allegiance, ego-stroking uplift and ass-kissing deference. You can speak out but carefully contextualize your conversation so as to not appear finger pointing and frequently pepper it with “I know not all men, but…”

The thin line between love and hate shows up in loving the people who make the music while genuinely hating the hell out of the negative shit they either directly or inadvertently perpetuate.

Please. If you’re a male who believes in fidelity, good parenting, self-respect, dignity and generational wealth, speak up. No one wants to listen to bitches like us.

Bitchfest

 

 

Why gold-diggers make terrible friends

Some of the most easily accessible, yet badly distorted images are of the mainstream media concept of hip-hop. We see a mess of drama-filled relationships, catfights and of course good ol’ gold-diggers over a soundtrack of fully disposable beats.

Before you get fired up in the comments section, let me say clearly: this is not an anti-feminist rant. Feminism is about responsibility and the gold-digger chick is anything but. I’m not talking about the women and girls trapped in the horrors of sex trafficking, I’m talking about privileged (or semi-privileged, educated and or gainfully employed) women who make conscious decisions to manipulate men with their beauty and sexuality to acquire more privilege.

If you’ve had a gold-digger in your life, you probably met her through mutual friends, co-workers or other shared contacts. Early on, you likely mistook her laughter and exuberant energy as the signs of a kindred spirit. You hung out with her because she made you feel “special” for opening a window into her unbelievably awesome world. What you didn’t realize is that her life is a series of calculated, grimy, narcissistic, greed-driven pathologies hidden behind an expertly applied mask of high-end cosmetics.

Everyone is a pawn in her game. You’re no different. She’s your friend because you have something she wants: you work with celebrities, you’re in a well-paying, male-dominated career field where you interact frequently with your colleagues, or you have one or more handsome, straight, single male relatives with money. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you hang with her, she’ll keep you on the come up. She’s totally out for self.

If you’re blessed to have real friends in life, you know that the best moments don’t cost much. They happen over casual meals or coffee where you find peace and humor through the biggest issues and challenges.  The gold-digger is not interested in heart-to-heart talks unless she can make it all about her. Or she’ll pretend to listen intently just to find your weaknesses, of which she’ll remind you in a series of conveniently-timed backhanded compliments designed to make you second guess your success, attractiveness or social skills right before your next outing.

And to hell with your indie rock/underground hip-hop/new soul/art gallery/documentary film screenings – she only go if there are men – lots of them; preferably collectors or corporate types who are into the cultural scene. She’d rather go to parties filled with velvet ropes, red carpets and Bentley-driving ballers.

You’re the quintessential friend with benefits – you provide the benefits of accommodating her massive ego until she moves onto the next one. Quiet as kept, she hates you because she ain’t you. You earn a respectful living while she sold her body and soul to get what she’s got.

No new friends? Absolutely not. A vibrant life includes many opportunities for new friendships; just let the gold-diggers dig a ditch for themselves.

One time for your mind. When rappers could call out ratchetness without misogyny.

Episode 22: Remembering Charles

By Fahamu Pecou: one gifted artist’s homage to another.

PASSAGE of RIGHT: A Black Man's Journey

meandcharlesMy friend and fellow artist Charles Huntley Nelson, Jr. died on July 30th. Charles was one of the first artists I met and could go to who was always consistently about his work. I met him when I was a senior in college. He was an adjunct professor teaching painting. Charles stood out for two very poignant reasons; he was one of about 4 professors at the Atlanta College of Art who was black. The second reason was he was barely much older than me. As I soon learned, Charles had recently come to Atlanta after having received his MFA from Howard University and immediately began teaching. He may have been 25 or 26 at the time, so that should give you a clue about the kind of person he was. From the moment I met him he was always full of advice and guidance and always willing to offer…

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S.O.U.L. on ice?

Cool note from Shellton Tremble

Recent programming changes on Clark Atlanta University’s WCLK-FM have longtime listeners worried that the place where hot sounds of traditional-meets-experimental soul and jazz is being cooled to tepid blandness. The station has shifted to a pre-programmed, smooth jazz format in an attempt to attract new membership.

At the center of the issue is the beloved 20-year veteran DJ, Jamal Ahmad. Long before Pandora, he opened ears to new music that local and international listeners were unlikely to hear on other local stations.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, activism is at our fingertips. As a Creative Loafing Atlanta freelancer, I have to shout out my colleagues who were on this from the jump. CL contributor and publisher of Slo*Mo Magazine, Carlton Hargro, set off the protests on Facebook with “WCLK: Save our S.O.U.L.” and a Change.org campaign to make sure WCLK supporters’ demands are heard. Hargro is proposing that WCLK allow Ahmad to direct programming for the entire station.

Staff culture writer, Rodney Carmichael, said this in his August 28 Crib Notes post:

“Between Ahmad’s original WCLK-FM show “S.O.U.L.” (Sounds of Universal Love) – which pumped a weekly diet of UK soul, drum ‘n’ bass and acid jazz from 1995 to 2005 – to his involvement as co-founder of defunct indie label Groovement Collective (which introduced listeners to India.Arie, Donnie, and others), Ahmad is a large part of the reason why Atlanta’s soul scene took over the world stage in the 2000s.”

Clearly, WCLK’s neutered background sound is a serious step in the wrong direction for a number of reasons.  First of all, in the past decade, digital stations have made radio an increasingly democratic space free of marketing boxes. Also, in Atlanta and other major cities, the smooth jazz format is a proven fail – with experts declaring the subgenre itself dead.

Unlike any programmed playlist on or offline, Ahmad combines his repertoire with in-depth cultural context, musical facts, live interviews and all-around broadcasting savvy. He knows what we need and want before we do and makes sure we get it right on time.

Like that Indeep disco jam, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” S.O.U.L. fans can attest to how Jamal Ahmad has saved the day from the weeping and gnashing of teeth known as Atlanta rush hour.  His shows make us feel, think and jam no matter where we are. With every form of liberation, though, we know freedom ain’t free, so if the good folks at WCLK leave well enough alone, we’ll have to back it with increased membership dollars. Period. If we had to lose our S.O.U.L. to find it again we can say it was all worth it.

Image: Shellton Trimble So True Art

Last man (and woman) standing: Why Fabian Willams and Shannon Barbour are the new Jay Z and dream hampton

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About four years ago, I was a regular at a music and art function held every other Wednesday night at the now closed Sambuca Jazz Café on Piedmont Avenue – home of Atlanta’s grown up restaurant/bar scene. From the beginning, I was in my element. The soundscape was dominated by young instrumentalists and vocalists doing funk, soul, jazz and a little hip-hop, or any combination of them all. They jammed alongside several visual artists live painting mostly musical themes on canvasses or nearly nude models.

Fabian Williams was one of them. The event’s hosts introduced me to the talented group. Williams, who always secured a spot near the front left of the stage, looked me squarely in the eye, cocked his head back, grinned and said, “Interview me.” So I did.

Enter Occasional Superstar – Williams’ brand persona and key character. When we first sat down for an interview he was in one of those contemplative moods not unusual for creative and writerly types. Once we dived into the art conversation, he turned up like he had an amp in his back.

When I listen now to the audio of that talk, I think I sounded like a little kid at her first magic show. The unintended oohing and ahhing embarrassed the hell out of me. The cool part, though, is that it reawakened my love for art and taught me a lot of new things. I’m from Pittsburgh, the city of Warhol – one of the coolest cultural districts in the U.S., if not the world. By writing about Fabian, I also realized – and I told him so  – that I was honoring the memory of my high school friend, Javon Thompson, a brilliant young artist and writer who was tragically gunned down during a home invasion in 1994.

By reconnecting with the arts in a new way, I felt powerfully inspired. I can’t draw worth a damn, but just being in the same space with Fabian and his peers was cathartic. I’ve done some of my best writing alongside painters.

I was very shocked to learn that I was the first to write about him. He not only had a house full of paintings, but video, illustrations and a deck of face cards featuring hip-hop stars with two-sided, but different images. After, about forty-five minutes of conversation, almost as an afterthought, he talked about the art battle.

Performance art.  My last experience with performance art was in high school at a warehouse where some kid rode around a dim light on a tricycle, wearing a tin foil mask while reciting a poem. Weird shit.

The World Wide Arts Federation, Williams’ promotion vehicle, was anything but. He took the best of everything – from classic paintings, to video, hip-hop and, yes the Ric Flair days of WWF pro-wrestling -and put it in a crazy, never-done-before kind of mix. Dude sings, he acts, he’s loud and he’s badass, but he has an inner humility that helped him keep it all under wraps until it was buffed, polished and fit for public consumption.

Now with Last Man Standing, the 10th battle, Williams wants the baddest to take home some cash. In the past art battles, like my personal favorites, Paint, Sketch or Draw Blood! and The Art of War of Art, participants “won” crowd favor by virtue of applause. This time, there is a diverse panel of judges, who will see that the last man or woman takes home $1000. If I could draw…

Anyway, if you’ve never been to an art battle, this is the one to watch. Over the years, I’ve written over half a dozen articles about Williams’ work. My editors at Creative Loafing Atlanta chose him as a staff pick for Poets, Artists and Madmen in the 2011 Best of Atlanta issue. They invented the category, “Best Local Art Beef” to describe his brand of painterly mayhem.

Like my favorite music journalist, dream hampton, who introduced hip-hop’s critical thinkers to Jay Z, I wanted to readers to see what Fabian Williams is up to and reach the unanimous decision, that this kind of performance art should be as much anticipated as a new album from a classic MC.

Last Man Standing Takes place at the Stuart McClean Gallery on 684 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, Suite A-1 30312 in the historic old fourth ward.

new jay-z and dream hampton