Touré vs. Stanley Crouch…And the Winner is!

After last years overflow of televised debates about rap (BET’s Hip Hop vs. America series and Oprah’s townhall meeting, etc.) I can say I’m pretty tired of the back-and-forth about rap’s pros and , uhem, cons… Though I’m always drawn back in by a little jousting via the pen. So, last week, I was definitely sucked into the essay battle over at The Daily Beast between writers Touré and Stanley Crouch about the merits—or lack thereof—of rap music. Crouch, hearing about Jay-Z and other hip-hoppers possibly being a part of Barack’s inauguration, rehashed his almost 20 year argument that the music is nothing but minstrelsy and a criminal influence that needs to be done away with, going so far as to give his own statement that “hip-hop is dead” saying:

“We are approaching a time of no mo hos. No mo bitches. No mo black nigger motherfuckers. The denigrated appear to be losing a taste for the hatred, the pornography, the violence.”

While Touré, in response, made the argument that, once again, black boomers, in their one-sized criticism of hip-hop music and it generation, refuse to see the more constructive and complex hip-hop music that is out there saying:

"It’s easy to point at a segment of any culture, especially the basest part, and represent all young white women any more than the buffoons Crouch points at represent all of hip-hop.”

Between the two arguments, I would have to say Touré won (if there were a winner to pick). His point that, while rap is filled with ill behavior and lyrics, there is currently—I’d even say more so than in a long time— a lot of “mature and classy” hip-hop not being observed by hip-hop hatin’ boomers like Crouch. Though Touré’s final point that hip-hop and its generation is a certain way because the older generation wasn’t there is kind of a cop out, an argument I’ve heard numerous times before and have taken with a grain salt. On the one hand, I do believe certain dysfunctional behavior, especially when it comes to violence and treatment of the opposite sex, is a result of no guidance from the elders. Black music that celebrates violence and misogyny is only the result of ignorance, laziness, greed, and no will to bite the hand that feeds. And that’s not a lack of common sense. That’s just a denial of it.

Anarchist of the Month: The Lockers

Inspired by my video post for Thelonious Monk, I had to bring my choice for December’s “Anarchist of the Month” a little closer to the age of, well, pre-hip-hop. And so I chose the pioneering street dance troupe the Lockers, who innovated and popularized locking. The group’s founder, Don Campbell, invented the dance in 1970 while trying to overcome a shyness for dancing, locking his body into various poses in between moves. In the process, he created a new street dance revolution that—especially after he formed his crew—became the boogie emblem of post-black power urban America, stylin’ and on the move. I know I’m not the only one who sat stiff and glued to the TV watching the Lockers on Soul Train or What’s Happening (Rerun was a member) and feeling an immense sense of pride. Here was a ghetto dance posse who, more than doing the latest dance, rocked a new dance vocabulary, one that supremely showcased the confidence of young people of color. And, moreover, had impacted everyone from the Jackson 5 to Dick Van Dyke, and influenced future street dance movements from electric boogaloo to voguing. Not to mention the stars the Lockers became (appearances on Saturday Night Live and the Grammys) and the superstars some of its members (Fred Berry, Toni Basil, and Shabba-Doo) would become. Below is a video of the Lockers rocking the Train. Enjoy.

Governor Paterson and Saturday Night Live: Ya Blind Baby! Ya Blind to the Fact…

In the world of TV comedy there are a few signs of desperation (and a time to pack it in), one of them being an extremely poor joke. Recently, Saturday Night Live’s came in the form of that ill-scripted and ill-executed skit making fun of New York Governor David Paterson. SNL player Fred Armisen, playing Paterson, made the governor appear as if he was a blind, bumbling fool, incapable of running the state. Then came the flack from the Gov and the blind community. But my problem with the skit wasn’t with it’s skewering of blind people or the handicapped (though Governor’s Paterson’s point about making blind people look incapable of doing important jobs was valid). God knows pop culture has produced too many honest chuckles at their expense; one of them being Damon Wayan’s character Handi-Man.

My problem with the SNL bit was how much it proves that this 33-year-old sketch comedy institution is over and should be laid to rest. For the weeks leading up to the presidential election, Saturday Night Live heavily relied on it’s players doing impressions of the candidates, most of which have been sorry one or two-note jokes (much like the Gov. Paterson skit). They briefly hit pay dirt—and scored some ratings—by bringing Tina Fey back to do Sarah Palin and adding a special Thursday night political special before the election. I give them credit, 33 years is a long wait before “jumping the shark.” But when your show has not been must-see, late-night funny TV for six years, which SNL hasn’t been, really, since Will Ferrell left in 2002, it’s time to, maybe, think about calling it quits.

As a fan of SNL, like so many, I’ve heard people sound the death knell a few times before. There was the brief period in 1980 before the arrival of Eddie Murphy and after Eddie left in 1984. The ’85-’86 year was a particularly dry season. Some even sounded Taps with the ascension of Chris Farley and his fat frat boy humor. Only, those comedic droughts, at most, lasted a year or two. Following the departure of SNL’s last breakout star, Will Ferrell, the show has not been able to find that one anchor to make the cast gel or shine. Nor has it been able to fully recover with consistent breakout material, save for the few film shorts/videos like “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Dick in a Box.” And the only ticket they have to stay relevant are the politicians. But, even with our political figures, they seem unable to push the envelope for any real, gut-busting humor (say, a Gov. Paterson not being too blind to see America’s greatest city about to sink into a fiscal toilet). So SNL, in my eyes, continues to look like the bumbling fool, stumbling on like a blind man looking for the joke it lost some time ago.

Jamie Foxx Callin' Out Terrence Howard

Oh, I had to post Jamie Foxx on Big Boy's radio show responding to Terrence Howard dissing his music. Hilarious! I've often wondered if movie stardom would slow Foxx's comedic skill. Nope. In fact, he says he's going on the road.

Funny Warning on the Obama Name Craze:

Below is a hilarious email I received warning, well, creative-name-loving black people to, ah shoot, just read...



Please don't start naming your children after the President…Obamanesha , Obamalaya, Obamaria, Barakesha, Barakyah, etc. Don't start that mess! PLEASE!!


Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Wow, I don’t think a louder political statement has been made with clothing items since feminists supposedly burned bras in Atlantic City. Of all the insults and expletives hurdled at President Bush, especially over his war in Iraq, I’m sure none hit home like the shoes being hurdled at him by that Iraqi journalist. By now Bush knows the cultural insult implied by the attempted assault with footwear (the same ending Saddam’s statue met when it fell). It means you are the lowest of the low. But I wonder if it dawned on him, finally, how despised and vulnerable, he has become. And, when I say vulnerable, I don’t just mean the 7 seconds or so it took for Secret Service to respond (guess they were also distracted reading My Pet Goat), but how REALLY much of a prisoner to bad history and global ill-will he’s going to become. Well, since we can’t ascertain this from what he says—joking afterwards—let’s see if he gets it from the look on his face during and after the shoes whizzed by….

The Cure For Black Youth: Raise Them Like Sasha and Malia! Stop the "Magic Negro" Ride (Finale)

For my final thought on the faith we’re putting into the Obama example, I’d like to discuss the children (cue Marvin Gaye’s “Save the Children”). This one was inspired by Juleyka Lantigua’s essay “Let’s Raise More Healthy and Happy Black Girls, like the Obama Daughters” in The Progressive.

Using the wholesome and well-nurtured models of Sasha and Malia, Lantigua pleads the case for improving the lives of black children who are poor, come from broken homes, and are over weight. Her solution for such problems—“providing a stable and nurturing home”—is an obvious one. Though what black families may achieve—“then we may relish seeing more adorable kids like Malia and Sasha Obama”—is a bit overstated. Like you’ll create a master race of clean black children who’ll all exemplify the supreme examples. Now don’t get me wrong. I totally understand advocating on behalf of African-American child locked in the cycle of poverty and lack of stability. And Lantigua does acknowledge that many black children don’t have the resources of the first family. But why should folks get stuck on Malia and Sasha as the ones to be like. Is there only one way to look or be a black Beaver kid? What? Kids who are poor and from single parent or foster homes can’t be adorable, well-mannered, and in shape?

In the end, I know——as a journalist myself—-stories have to be written and timely subjects have to make them relevant. Only, looking to the Obama phenomenon as the cure for what ails Black America, just keeps folks in the pathological cycle of wishful thinking that only yields, well, no damn results.

Could Obama Have an Effect on Publishing? Stop the “Magic Negro” Ride—I Want to Get Off (Part 2)

Of all the thoughts on what an Obama presidency could change for black America, I found the most humorous one on opportunities for black authors. A couple of weeks ago, my homegirl Lori L. Tharps wrote a piece for titled “The Obama Effect on Publishing” where she discussed the idea of a black president possibly easing the rough road of black authors in the white world of mainstream book publishing. You know the issues: the limited ideas on what black stories should be told and limiting black books to only being marketed to black people. Granted, a number of the people Tharps spoke to, like literary agent Marie Brown, were skeptical that such a change would occur. But there were folks, like author Bernice McFadden, cited as examples of optimism, McFadden going so far as to pose the question on her blog: "Will a black president help me, a black writer?"

Mind you, as an author, I immediately thought about the same effect, though I only thought in terms of negro authors writing on President-elect Obama. I know the media industry only thinks in trends. (Please, you don’t think CNN was thinking black prez when they greenlit D.L. Hugley’s show?) But that’s as far as it goes. Because—and let’s be clear—if a slew of blacks winning Oscars and black films opening number 1 at the box office hasn’t opened the floodgates for black Hollywood and those three black doctors from Newark hasn’t caused African Americans, en masse, to rush the academy wishing for medical degrees and a black race car driver hasn’t changed the many narrow minds of NASCAR…You see where I’m going with this? What helps change things for blacks in the market (being we used to be items in the marketplace) is what it’s always been: demand. (I’m totally with my man Ta-Nehisi Coates over at The Atlantic: the belief we’re putting in Obama’s win is scary.) So, unless you’re writing an Obama book (which I’m sure many of us are), don’t look for the doors to magically open wider…And don’t look for those shelves of street lit at Borders—the ones overrunning the African-American Lit section—to disappear. And don’t think the “NOs” white publishers have been hitting you with are going to turn to “YES” when it comes to deals, ideas, and marketing. Come January 20, 2009 all over America, it will be business as usual. So Black authors, you voted for change in the Washington. If you’re looking for change in the publishing house, that ticket you still have got to continue writing yourself.

Stop the “Magic Negro” Ride—I Want to Get Off (Part I): Crouch and the Black Nationalist

The first few weeks of speculations about “what the black president-elect means for black America” was fine in the euphoria of the election. But after spending a little over a month reading articles and essays—mostly by black conservatives or striving black Gen Xers— on the topic, I have to officially step off the elation of November 4th and start questioning the faith and power pundits and writers are putting into Barack’s win. (As much as black people argue we are not a monolith, we sound like we’re backsliding with these sweeping reactions we expect to occur within black America.)

For this part, I have to start with Stanley Crouch’s essay “The End of Bad Boy Thinking” for The Daily Beast, where he argues that an Obama win dispels the words, philosophy and work of black nationalist leaders/thinkers of the last 50 years. I was particularly drawn to his word on how Barack’s win redeems Martin Luther King against attacks by Malcolm X and his ilk. On them, Crouch writes, “Living or dead it is now time that they be seen for the fools, frauds, defeatist demagogues, and saber-rattling charlatans that they have always been. Such people had accused King of being hopelessly optimistic about an America that would never accept more than certain kinds of black "tokens." But, in the context of the presidential election (as it was during the hey days of civil rights), that is still exactly the case when it comes to power and politics for black people. Black or white, America understood Obama had to fit the profile (non-threatening, unencumbered by history and racial politics, and—let’s be honest—yellow) to get as far as he did. Granted, America has come a long way with this election, but the rules of getting the figurative keys to the executive suite have not changed: the clean, upstanding negro gets them and the angry, downtrodden negro, when denied, has to take them. And while Barack ran one of the best races in presidential history (sidestepping racial bombs with the grace of OJ in his prime) he had to come in the token package. Besides, had the economy not been in the toilet would we be sitting here euphoric over a black prez. I think not, which puts some validity into the nationalist rhetoric that’s been spewed and “hustled” over the last half century. Stay tuned for Part II.