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 I’m still talking about A3C

I don’t know about you, but I can remember when hip-hop was unwelcome in many public spaces. Surely there are places in the world where this remains. When I was growing up, authority figures –particularly teachers and principals—discouraged rappers and their supporters from congregating. Even rap music itself was locked in cases at record stores because, you know, “those people” steal.

The ninth year of A3C made me realize just how far we’d come. The Meliá hotel in Midtown Atlanta was a central meeting place; the site of most of interview sessions and panel discussions. We, and when I say we, I mean all of us – the media, the artists, the producers and the fans from the most buttoned-up plain folks to the gold-grilled, tatted up, peacocking standouts – were not only welcomed, but with open arms. And no it wasn’t the money; hip-hop has always had money. The global cultural force is simply undeniable.

It’s the only event where an inexperienced MC can have his or her name appear in the same program as an international mogul.

To paraphrase the First Lady, this was one of the few times in my adult life where I can say I’m proud of hip-hop. I was proud to see so many different kinds of people come together not only peacefully, but productively while having a great time.

Here is the breakdown of highlights from all five days:

October 2

I headed to the Quad downtown to check out the Dunk X Change after party headlined by Too $hort.

Nappy Roots dropped in as a pleasant surprise with amped up renditions of “Po’ Folks” “Aw Naw.”

Too $hort ran through the most popular of his long catalogue of hits, “Gettin’ It,” “Freaky Tales” and “Don’t Fight the Feelin.’” Back in the day, I snuck and listened to Too $hort.  As a good kid in a protective household, this felt very rebellious, like Richard Pryor set to a beat. As a grown-ass woman, his nasty rap shtick is useless, misogynist tripe that has no place in my life. The crowd must have agreed because they mostly dipped out well before his set was finished.

The real gem of this showcase was Tom P, whose concise stage set ended in a super-fast flow veering into Twista territory. More on this guy, coming up.

October 3

The A3C Film Series presented Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records at the Plaza Theater. Attendees were treated to the very first ever showing of the film’s final cut. The story of the iconic label was told through rare photos and video clips of Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf along with commentary from Questlove, Kanye West, Common and more. Both director Jeff Broadway and Wolf were in attendance. Wolf is a rare label magnate who stands up for his artists, no matter how different or commercially viable they are.

Once again A3C enjoyed some Wu Tang representation, this year in the form of a headlining Ghostface Killah at Variety Playhouse. Also on the bill were the grossly underrated Jean Grae and Phoroahe Monch who performed with an energy usually reserved for new artists. I hate to say it, but Ghostface was a little disappointing. He rocked alongside former Lox member, Sheek Louch. The two traded bars in a series of their popular group and solo tracks. Unfortunately Ghost’s late start resulted in an abbreviated show.  Instead of hearing verses from his first hit, “Daytona 500,” the instrumental played as background music to the audience’s exit.

October 4

In a live interview session with Big Rock of Heltah Skeltah, Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch, the three veteran MCs broke down the meanings and madness of their upcoming projects.

Grae literally completed Gotham Down in her hotel room after the show and dropped it exclusively on her site, jeangrae.com.

“Mine comes with orphans, kittens and free crack. I just try to push envelope; not for anyone else but myself,” said Grae, exhausted but still funny.

“Three months behind on my rent and car payments. I need people to support. No,” Pharoahe Monch said only half-joking.

“It’s a follow up to the last project I did called W.A.R. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, deals with health issues mental issues in the sense of being an independent artist… Just like the W.A.R. which stands for We Are Renegades, this talks about the reality of the situation.”

“I’ve been in the game in the long time, but I’m essentially a new artist with this solo release. I’ve written my whole life to this moment. It’s easy to write things that rhyme, but things that rhyme ain’t always the truth. I can’t help that I’m intense,” Big Rock added.

On the panel front, engineer, DJ and producer,Young Guru held it down with A3C founder, Brian Knott during “The Evolution of Production from a Music and Event Perspective.”

“You gotta change your mind on what success is and what you want. You have access to the world now,” said Guru on gaining traction through international outreach.

Later at Old Fourth Ward’s, Space 2, the Man Bites Dog Records session jammed with performances from J-Live, Copywrite and Boog Brown – who generated the most lively crowd response. Rasyrious and Yamin Semali laid down the sounds through the evening.

October 5

Veteran lyricist Talib Kweli paired with influential A&R Dante Ross for “How Technology Has Affected Artist Branding.” Kweli talked about releasing independent music and his unique relationship with MC Hammer. He went from dissing: “f*ck Hammer” to “thank you” after forming a business friendship.

“[As] an artist who’s a lyrical, miracle, spiritual – you need to pay attention to what’s happening in your industry whether you like their music or not,”  said Kweli in dispelling “conscious rapper” myths.  Kweli dropped lots of quotables. I could listen to that guy talk all day.

That evening Schoolboy Q  was entertaining, but overall underwhelming on Old Fourth Ward stage in a headlining show, performing “Hands on the Wheel” and “Collard Greens” along with a new track from his upcoming Oxymoron.

A few streets over, the Stuart McClean Gallery housed The Art of War of Art 2: Talk Panels of Death, Fabian Williams’ visual art trash-talking smackdown as part of the A3C lineup for the first time. Featured artists included P.S. I’m Dope, who garnered attention at earlier events with her powerful renderings of hip-hop artists. CP the Artist Palmer created what could be described as the Best Visual Art Depiction of a Hip-Hop Metaphor when he presented a pre-painted “cheat piece” of a battered and hospitalized Williams while quoting Notorious B.I.G.’s “beef is when I see you, guaranteed to be in ICU.”

Saturday night went well into overtime as East Atlanta was home to a series of late night performances as iNDEED and Scotty ATL packed 529 with DJ Burn One mixing it up between sets.

October 6

Because A3C cares, there were two awesome events free and open to the public.

The one and only Questlove stopped by Criminal Records for a quick signing of his memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, The World According to Questlove. I snapped a quick phone pic with the funky drummer.

He (and I) then hightailed it to the Fourth Ward Stage on Edgewood Avenue for The Best Block Party Ever. It really was the Best.Block. Party. Ever.

Questo jammed in a crowd-pleasing, time-traveling, mutli-genre set before the heavy rain forced everyone to take cover.

20131005_164439CP OS ICU DisA3C 2013 logo

The festival wrapped with DJ Premier at Space 2 as an appropriate finale to an excellent week in hip-hop.

Images: Big Rock, Pharoahe Monch, I and Jean Grae

CP The Artist’s Art of War of Art 2 “cheat piece.”

A3C 2013 logo

A3C and the Secret Life music roundup

A3C 2013 logo

A3C is here! It’s what I call hip-hop Christmas or Raptoberfest. For five days, Atlanta will host some of the finest, MCs, DJs, filmmakers, dancers, writers, journalists, commentators, panelists – all dedicated to celebrating one of the world’s most incredible art forms.

I plan to take it all in and tell you about it.

Among all the many superstars set to light up the fest, I’m checking for:

Boog Brown, StaHHr, Schoolboy Q, Talib Kweli, DJ Red Alert and the incomparable Questlove of the legendary Roots crew.

Yes!

See the full schedule here.

Also, last weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on publicity for the International Music Conference.

I lead an interesting discussion on the challenges of covering the music biz with journalists Maurice Garland, Jonathan Landrum, Yinka Adegoke and publicist, Tresa Sanders

See the highlight photos here.

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

Linking up with 2 Chainz

2chainz

I first met 2 Chainz, then Tity Boi, in October 2009 after the BET Hip-Hop Awards. I was watching performers exit and chatting with fans and anyone else who wanted to talk. He introduced himself and gave me his cell phone number.

We did not talk again until this interview from fall 2011.

At the time, the artist formerly known as Tity Boy talked collabos, codeine and what he really thinks about hair weaves. This all went down before the release of his Grammy-nominated album,  Based on a T.R.U. Story, and his part as a major component to radio rap singles – “The Birthday Song,” and “Mercy,” – with Kanye West, “I Love Dem Strippers,” with Nicki Minaj, the Juicy J and Lil Wayne banger, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” “I’m Different,” and the A$AP Rocky, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar posse cut, “F*ckin’ Problems” –  in a flurry of releases of the past year.

Well-spoken and polite, he’s different, yeah he’s different – very much so than his strip-club and round-rumped birthday gift loving video persona. A lot has changed since my phone conversation to the College Park, Ga. native, born Tauheed Epps. Tity Boy was no more and he was busy re-introducing himself.

“My fans understand me as an artist. I believe in prosperity so I grow with every project. I know each one is better than the last one,” he says. “Everyone has to be better than the last one.”

His previous mixtapes, Codeine Cowboy and T.R.U. REALigion generated only moderate buzz. In 2011, he was promoting his now shelved mixtape, Hair Weave Killa. Instead of breaking down the song content, he made a point to tell me that he doesn’t have a problem with women’s hairstyle choices.

“Hair Weave Killa is just another a.k.a. My whole take is pulling hair whether in the bedroom or partying hard, just sweating it out,” he says, laughing.

As for his “Tity Boi,” moniker, the true meaning has nothing to do with mammary objectification. “It’s a country name,” he explained. “It’s nothing derogatory towards women. It comes from my family. It has to do with being spoiled, being an only child.”

He continues, “My name has always been 2 Chainz. I had them on in my 8th grade yearbook picture. It just kinda happened one day.”

His unceremonious name change came after the release of Playaz Circle’s 2007 album Supply and Demand while on Ludacris’ Disturbing The Peace imprint.  The single “Duffle Bag Boy,” featuring Lil Wayne, was their biggest hit. Chainz is still grateful for Wayne’s contribution.

“Not as many people would know me if it wasn’t for Dwayne Carter. I’ve known him for a decade,” he says, “Shouts out to Young Money.”

His connection to Weezy and their shared passion for “purple drank” also had a major influence on Chainz’s mixtape, Me Against the World 2: Codeine Withdrawal. Followers of southern hip hop are intimately familiar with several artists’ love for the sweet but dangerous stuff – Texans DJ Screw and Pimp C are among the drug’s best known casualties.

“If you do too much of anything, it’s bad for you,” 2 Chainz warns. “[Codeine] is prescribed by doctors to help, not abuse.” (At the time of the interview, I was battling a cold and cough. He he said that I could use codeine cough syrup. I stuck to Mucinex).

Whether he’s still sippin’ on sizzurp or not, he’s focused and been since he hit the scene through DTP with childhood friend Earl Conyers a.k.a. Dolla Boy. They chose the name as an acronym of Playaz (Preparing Legal Assets from Years A-Z) to let fans know that they planned to be around for the long haul.

“We had the same common denominator, talking about hustling and making money,” 2 Chainz says about his now long defunct duo.

The two met up with Ludacris through a mutual friend when they lived in the same apartment complex near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. While he and Luda have known each other for more than a dozen years, online rumors circulated that their friendship was strained at the time of the eventual departure. Ludacris cleared the air in a June 2012 interview on New York’s Hot 97, stating that “I still call him Tit. That’s the homie man, that’s family…I’m extremely proud of him.”

At the time of our interview, 2 Chainz offered no details on his relationship with Luda.

As the conversation moved deeper into his past, he was reluctant to talk – particularly about the violence and incarceration of his Playaz Circle rhyme partner that stalled his career. “Where I come from we call that puberty; we consider that part of adolescence. I don’t even want to elaborate on that,” his becoming seriousness. “People get shot.”

Nowadays, 2 Chainz  is mostly concerned with shooting videos. When we talked, there was nothing anything unique or unusual happening, nor was there anything indicating that he was on the brink of new success.

Despite the protest of parents, women and proponents of lyrically meaningful hip-hop, his star continues to rise.

His new single is set for debut at the Hot 97 Summer  Jam in New York City.

Robin Thicke has blurred the lines between sexy and sleazy

I don’t know where to begin with Robin Thicke’s new video, “Blurred Lines.” The song itself, featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I., is a funky, soulful slide reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.”

The lyrics and juxtaposition of nearly nude women with farm animals are where the problems lie. Thicke wanted to convey an image of women free from restrictive relationships with, “OK now he was close/tried to domesticate you/But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature/Just let me liberate you.”

Liberate? With three men in suits next to topless women? Where is the liberation in that?  Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. Even the unrated version of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” has quite a few mammary flashes.

The biggest difference is attitude. The Adam Levine-led vid has a much stronger air of self-assurance among everyone involved. The women in “Blurred Lines,” when not rhythmlessly prancing around a bale of hay, riding a stationary bike, or cuddling baby goats, appear visibly uncomfortable. One model practically shrinks away as T.I. brushes her hair during his raunchy verse, “Yeah, had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you.” Really T.I.? To whom are you referring? Not your wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris.

Which leads to another curious point. Thicke supposedly asked his actress wife, Paula Patton, for “permission” to launch this video, but there so far have been no reports of T.I. talking with Tiny or Pharrell conferring with his fiancée, Helen Lasichanh, on the content . Does that indicate that they are simply lesser participants in Thicke’s vision, or that it is weak for black men to consult the women in their lives on professional matters, particularly those involving the inevitably sexually charged art in R&B and hip-hop?

Unfortunately, the ends, or rear ends, don’t justify the means. Instead of a sexy career revival, (especially for Williams and Thicke), the trio comes across like dirty old men trying to push up on barely legal college girls. Thicke almost looks like he’s trying to up-sex his oft-compared, blue-eyed soul contemporary, Justin Timberlake, who spent a few months in media purgatory in the aftermath of the 04’ Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” incident with Janet Jackson – who suffered even worse, but that’s another story.

I don’t know where to end with this either, except to say that people like uncut videos, but Thicke could have done better. A lot better.

Take a look for yourself. This is clip is NSFW, so check it out before you go to sleep, not when you get to the office.