On the Anniversary of President Obama's Win

SNL delivers a hefty chuckle moment (a rare instance these days...Ha!) with this send-up of Fox News assessment of Obama's year in the White House. While we're all waiting for the Health Care Plan to hopefully pass the Senate, we can all have a laugh in between time.

Why Jay-Z Defies Ageism in Hip-Hop Music

The buzz and controversy surrounding Jay-Z’s single “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune) ” this past summer, while putting the 39-year-year MC in the position of wrathful daddy against a new generation of rap artists—some reliant upon the voice gadget for relevance and sales—once again broached the issue of ageism within hip-hop music. Whether it was the Game’s swipe at the rap mega-star, leading European audiences in anti-Jay-Z chants of  “Old a-- n-----!”  Or T-Pain’s tirade against Jigga on stage at a Las Vegas nightclub (“Jay-Z is 59 years old. I don't think he has the right to say what's good and what's not…”).  The expiration date on a rap star’s career, particularly Jay’s, was the hot topic of blogs and barbershops. But unlike many a rap star who hit the age/time limits of the genre and slowly fade into history, Jay-Z continues to defy the rules of the aged rapper. Sitting atop the Billboard 200 for the past 3 weeks, headlining the much-lauded 9/11 benefit at Madison Square Garden, and interviews with Oprah and Bill Maher are undeniable proof that Jay’s iconic stature continues to expand where, under different circumstances, it would recede. How has he managed to stave off irrelevance while turning 40. What the heck does Jay have, besides money, that still makes him an exciting part of the genre. I’ve been waiting for someone to give some definite reasons, but since none have materialized I thought I’d give it a shot.

5). Duh. Jay-Z Has Mastered the Art of Satisfying both Hardcore Fans and the Mainstream.
I know. I know. That's a given. That’s why this one is last. But there have been his missteps in trying to adapt to a changing hip-hop landscape (most noted has always been the video for “Sunshine”).  But for the most part, Hov has been a master at making music that walks the fine line between hardcore and pop. (An easy task when considering that hardcore and gangsta has been pop for over a decade.) Not to mention that having marketing tools like radio, magazines and MT…oh, hell, let’s just say Viacom, in your pocket helps as well.

4). Growing His Image as a Corporate Player Has Been A Major Part of Building his Longevity.
Unlike, say, Master P, who built the bulk of his pop image as a mogul who played the industry (celebrity that faded with the fall of P’s No Limit label) Jay-Z used his growing corporate power as a way to void his expiration date. First he was the hot rapper. Then he was the hottest rapper. Next, he was the hottest rapper and co-owner of the freshest label and clothing/sneaker line. Finally, he retires (kicking that off with a platinum disc), ditches his label to head Def Jam and remains an industry player, signing the next generation of rap and pop music icons. During the two year hiatus he gets even more mainstream press and buzz from the street and…you get where this is going. In being the former drug dealer who maneuvered his way into the boardroom to become legit plays into Jay’s allure and mystique, an image that titillates both Hollywood and corner folk.

3).  The Rap Industry Still Follows the Book of Hova.
Where Jay was birthed by the architects of rap’s golden era—artists like Rakim, Kane and KRS, the current school of hip popper was inspired by rap’s golden age of money (1998-2000), which was heavily shaped by Jay-Z (helped, in part. by the departure of Biggie). Whether it’s Lil Wayne or Young Jeezy or Souljah Boy or any upstart looking to be the next rap street messiah, Hova ‘s “blueprint” for building and sustaining a loyal fan base has been (and is still being) borrowed.

2). Miraculously, He Maintains a Certain Power to Dictate What is (and What's Not) Cool.
Not long ago, we can remember Jay-Z influencing rap’s laundry list for the materialistic, injecting dreams of “ice” (and all the cold descriptions for diamonds) and Bentleys. Or, better yet, how Hov shut down the throwback jersey craze with the line, “I don't wear jerseys, I'm thirty plus. Give me a crisp pair of jeans, nigga button up.”  Well, given the uproar over “D.O.A.” and the challenges from younger artists defending their use of Auto Tunes, shows Jay still has the power to quickly upend the status quo. Besides, he has the money, influence and word-skill that none of the young’uns can match, which brings us to the top reason Jay defies ageism.

1). With the Dumbing-Down of Rap, Jay-Z Maybe Old but His Style Ain’t.
Used to be when a rapper was tagged “old” or washed up, folks were referring to the MC’s rhyme style and beats. Eventually, said rhymer was eclipsed by a young punk with innovation in her/his rhythmic poetry. Much the way Kool Mo Dee ‘s word-centered style ushered in the bygone days of crowd-focused MCs like Busy Bee.  Or Run-DMC’s hardcore minimalism erased the era of Bronx pioneers like the Furious 5. Or N.W.A’s gut-busting realism took the shine from the pioneers of rap’s golden era.  Being  dethroned meant your style was obsolete. But the genre no longer spins on an axis of creativity and style….and Jay-Z knows this, man. So it’s easy for him not only to uphold his status as the “Greatest Rapper Alive” (though President Obama maybe taking his spot…), but to write pop lyrics… or spank any upstart who wants to battle him, but has nothing in his arsenal other than the insult that Jay-Z is old.

If you disagree or have other reasons, speak your piece…

Blog Theatre: Maestro—Larry Levan & Early DJ Culture

While fiending for new soulful house music and club tunes I haven't heard in years, I came across this documentary, a thorough and entertaining dissection of disco/club's foundation on the dance floor and on wax. Being the former Zanzibar and Choice head that I am, I had to throw this up for the faithful, old and new. I will post in parts. Here's the first four. So if you have time to watch, click on and enjoy!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Throwing Brick City: A Conversation With Newark, NJ City Council Candidate Ras Baraka

Ras Baraka was not among the figures dubbed the “new black political leadership” by pundits last year. But, to some, he could be considered a precursor. Well over a decade before Obama electrified the American presidency with black youthfulness or Adrian M. Fenty became Washington DC’s youngest mayor, Baraka gave Newark, NJ’s 1994 mayor race a youthful shot when he announced his candidacy at age 24. Although he lost to incumbent Sharpe James, Ras’s gumption, progressive platform and persuasion (winning close to 10,000 votes) clearly announced that a post-civil rights generation of politicians were on their way to the forefront. Like many in the late 1980’s, the poet, writer and community activist had been politicized by rap music’s pro-black conversion. (And he just happened to be the son of poet and Black Arts Movement leader Amiri Baraka.) Since his inspirational run for office, Ras, who his the principal of Newark’s Central High School, has served as deputy mayor and ran unsuccessfully for councilman-at-large. Recently, he has set his sights on Newark’s South Ward council seat, which he plans to run for next year. I sat down with Ras to talk about Newark politics, the city’s rising murder rate, his platform for tackling crime and the current mayor’s handling of violence in the city.

Activists who run for office can be naïve about the rough sport of city politics. What have you learned over the last 15 years about running for office?
Ras Baraka: Well, there’s the amount of money needed to run a campaign. The amount of concern people may have that you may not be familiar with. Like sometimes, as activists, we may think we know what the people are concerned with, but we don’t have the kind of relationship with the people in that community we need in order to be clear on what their concerns are. That’s because we don’t go to the PTA meetings, the block association meetings, the city council meetings. When you’re running for office and you go those meetings you begin to understand the real issues people deal with every day. Then you have to tie those into the bigger issues that you want to talk about as an activist. But you can’t reach the people until you go where they are.

You ran for Mayor in Newark in 1994. Then you ran a couple of times for Councilman-at-Large. Was refocusing your sights apart of that learning process?
Yeah. I ran for mayor because we had some concerns and issues we wanted to raise on the ballot. It was more like an activist trying to agitate and get the word out, organize the people around something they thought couldn’t be done. When I ran for council, it was about a more pragmatic approach of us trying to really win a seat, mapping out how we could do it and get a real voice in city hall to begin to organize the resources in the city to do the things that we needed to do in the community. So we really tried to win those times. And each time we actually came close. We’d win in the general election and lose in the run-off.

Now you’re running for South Ward Council in 2010. What power would you have as a councilman?
The council body is a legislative body just like the Congress is, but on a local level. And any political office can be used as a bully pulpit to represent the people’s issues and concerns on a political level. This is so you can broker resources for some kind of power for your district or your ward. It’s what any member of Congress or the Senate would do.

One of the issues you want to deal with is crime. Over the summer there’s been a rash of murders hitting the city, and the news seems to point to gang activity. As an activist would you say most of the murders in Newark have been gang-related?
No. Some of it is gang-related and some it is not. It’s about problems and other issues. I mean, a lady was shot and killed on Elizabeth Avenue and Meeker because two dudes were having an argument and one came back with a gun, started shooting and she happened to come down stairs at the wrong time. Our people have conflicts and other issues, and they resolve them with guns.

Usually the political answer for crime is more police and prisons…
And now there’s curfews and cameras (laughs) which is a completely ridiculous response. And it’s bankrupt because now people in Newark are getting killed in the afternoon. So the curfews are worthless. Just recently, a guy was killed in broad daylight, stabbed to death in downtown Newark, with cameras stationed around and before the curfew. So none of that stuff even matters. Using police and prisons as the answer, that sounds good and makes people believe you have some kind of plan. But most of these politicians don’t have a comprehensive plan to deal with crime because the premise of what they believe is the root cause of crime is different. If you believe crime is a result of people being wild and savage then, of course, your response would be cameras and curfews and more law enforcement. But if you understand crime to be the result of a social ailment, a public health issue, then you’ll address it as such. Deal with mental health issues, broken families, unemployment, poor education, drop-out rates, etc. Target it like a doctor would a disease.

Within your campaign platform you say you’d like to do studies on violence and then implement programs to fight the issues of crime. For voters looking for immediate results and a problem that needs immediate attention don’t you think that would be moving too slow?
It may be, but there’s been nobody that’s been able to deal with the crime that’s going on in these communities. Like some people get lucky and they have a good year, and then they take credit for a year of low crime that they really had nothing to with. It’s not deliberate. It’s not conscious. They make it up and they go and say they had something to do with it. But the only people really addressing crime are community activists, people in these neighborhoods trying to deal with folk’s pain. I think once we get it started there will be immediate effects, not long term. People know we need a coordinated solution.

The research and study is there to validate what we’re trying to do. To give an example, the Kerner Commission did a report on why there were rebellions in the neighborhoods. People already knew why there were rebellions, and politicians could have addressed it. But what the Kerner Commission did was validate what you already know and allow you to get the resources and the money to support the things you think should happen. So my commission on violence would do the same thing: identify the causes and the ailments and the problems that exist—that we already know—and prove it scientifically so we can get resources to fix the problem. This will help people to not just look at it as a political move that you make, but look at it as more from a scientific approach to fighting crime.

How do you feel Mayor Cory Booker is handling this summer’s murder streak in Newark?
I think he was completely caught off guard because his diagnosis was wrong from the beginning. He thought crime existed in Newark because the police department was understaffed, the mayor was corrupt and people were incompetent. He didn’t know we had some systemic problems in our communities. That’s because he’s not from these communities. He’s from Harrington Park, NJ. And there’s very serious and very obvious class difference between the mayor and the people of this town. So he’s not clear on why these issues take place. When the crime went down for a short time, he credited that to his ingenuity rather than realize he was just lucky. But when his luck ran out this summer, it exposed the fact that he had no real strategy. So he gets on Twitter and says this won’t happen in our town. Now he’s had about 15 or 20 press conferences saying these things won’t happen. But they keep happening, and he doesn’t know how to address it.

Even though you’re running for Councilman in 2010, do you think you’d like to run for mayor again?
Man, I’m just being the principal of Central High School, and I’m going to run for South Ward Councilman because I think it needs to be done. I think someone needs to have a strong voice in city hall that’s going to oppose the direction in which this city is going. I don’t agree with the direction we’re headed. And I think the only way to address it or expose it is to have a voice down there. That’s the only reason why I’m running. As far as mayor, I’m supporting Clifford Minor, who is a former prosecutor and judge and Newark police officer, in the next mayoral race. Right now my plate is full.

RIP Michael

Still can't believe it. But since we're walking down memory lane, I'm remembering Michael's robot during Dance Machine. Always stopped me in my tracks as a kid. Rest in Peace.

Los Angeles Bound

On the last leg of paperback promotion of Somebody Scream. And this leg will be in Los Angeles. I will be reading at Book Soup on June 11 at 7PM. Store is located at 8818 Sunset Blvd. So to all my L.A. people or folks in town during that week: ya'll need to stop by and join the dialogue.

Will Be Back Soon!

Hey folks and dear readers, sorry I haven't been keeping up with the speed of light on the blog posts. But have been hard at work on projects and promotion for the paperback edition of Somebody Scream. But I will be back up and running soon...LOL. As if you cared, anyway...

The Deal With Steele!

For a week, I was as obsessed about the Steele/Limbaugh battle as folks are about the Chris Brown/Rihanna beatdown drama. What dragged me in, besides Steele being the head of the RNC, was that I wanted to see the sham behind the Republican Party's assertion that a person of color could really have power within the party. Then Steele apologized, and SNL did this hilarious bit. Kudos to Keenan Thompson for nailing it...

Well, I'll Be a Monkey's Uncle...

Here we go again: struggling publications using unspoken racist images to boost profile and sales. By now, most of you have seen the cartoon in the New York Post, the take-off of the chimp attack in Connecticut. Of course Al Sharpton has begun to speak out, and I've heard the anger from friends and colleagues across the Web. I can't say I'm surprised that a cartoon like that was drawn, though I can say I was shocked that a mainstream New York paper like the Post (a conservative rag, I know) would print it. I am only used to their racially-insensitive headlines and coverage. And, wow, the image of cops standing over the dead chimp who's supposed to be Pres. Obama. No doubt, it was enough to get the blood hot. Then I read a response on Rightpundits.com in response to the hoopla over the cartoon, and I had to go hmm. Particularly this argument:
Is the monkey Obama? That is probably what Sean Delonas intended but the beauty of good editorial cartoons is you do not get a road-map.

The next question is should the left by so vehemently outraged by identifying our president as a chimp. One suspects there are short memories at work here and tiresome partisan shouting. A frequent pastime of our liberal friends was to call Bush “chimp.” What is the difference? None. Is the New York Post cartoon racist?

What do you think? Can we say a double standard is being laid out about Bush being portrayed as a chimp and President Obama being referred to as a chimp?

Revolutionary Lessons in De-Feet: A Conversation with Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones

For most people, the name Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones is synonymous with the film Breakin’ and its lead character Ozone. But for street dance enthusiasts the world over, Shabba-Doo, 53, is the link between street dance as art and street dance as big business, between the rise of soul dancing and the explosion of b-boying/girling across the world. First as a member of the pioneering dance troupe, the Lockers in the early to late ‘70s. Then as a solo artists, taking his brand of locking to the Broadway stage to major network television to film. In the late 70’s, as a kid growing up in Newark, NJ, I was used to hearing the name Shabba-Doo tagged to any light-skinned cat who could rock a dance floor with unconventional moves. I recently caught up with him to have a conversation about his journey.

Anarchist Graffiti: When and how did you get into locking and street-style dancing, in general?
Shabba-Doo: I started, professionally, circa 1971. It was a sort of happenstance meeting between me and Campbell Lock Jr. (No relation to Don Campbell, who pioneered lock dancing) at what was called the BSU or the Black Student Union at Fullerton College in Fullerton California. I’d just moved out from Chicago. Me, my two sisters and my mom came to stay with my cousin, who was a staff sergeant. And one night, my sister, Fawn, saw there was a dance contest at the BSU and suggested we get into it. So, to be blunt about it, we stole my mother’s car and drove to the dance contest. We took second place and Campbell Lock Jr. took first. He was an original member of the Lockers, and he told us how good of dancers we were. And he brought us on the show Soul Train. Me and my sister became one of the original Soul Train gang. That was the beginning.

Actually, when the Lockers were formed by Toni Basil, as a professional dance troupe, my sister was an early member. Before Toni, the Lockers weren’t formally a dance group by name. It was just by association until Toni—being a choreographer for the Roberta Flack Television Special, produced by Dick Clark—hired my sister, along with eight to ten other (lock) dancers, which included Campbell Lock Jr. and Don Campbell. Afterwards, it was such a smash that Toni realized that she should form a group. That became the Lockers.

What year was this?
It was around 1972. The Campbell Lockers were formed in ’72 as a professional dance troupe. That was Toni’s idea. That wasn’t really Don Campbell’s idea. So—and it must be told—there would be no Lockers, as we know it, and there wouldn’t be a Shabba-Doo, if there wasn’t a Toni Basil.

When did you join the Lockers, and how did you get into the group?
I joined in ’72. When Toni formed the group, I was made a member.

How did you get the name, Shabba-Doo?
I originally had the name Sir Lance-a-Lock, which was giving to me by Campbell Lock Jr. Eventually I would change it because of an inspiration I got from the R&B band Bloodstone. I grew up in a time when bands were playing clubs. There was no such thing as DJs. The only time they would play records was in between the band’s set so they could rest. But you danced to a live band. Well, during Bloodstone’s set, the band would say, “Shabba dabba doo bop! Shabba dabba doo!” So, I thought my name should be Shabba Dabba Doo Bop. There was another gentleman by the name of Scooby-Doo. And Campbell Lock Jr. said to me, “You should call your self Shabba-Doo.” He thought the other name was bit too long, and I agreed.

Most people either don't remember or don't know how huge you and the Lockers became in the mid to late 1970's. How fast was that journey upward, and how did the popularity/success grow?
Well, the popularity was instantaneous. We were literally stars over night. I’ve often been asked in conversations, if the Lockers were starting off today, and they were at the top there popularity, how big were they? What would you compare their success to? And I would say that the group was on the level of any popular boy band (laughs). You probably could say, pound for pound, we were on the level of a New Edition. And, keep in mind, we were doing this without record sales. It was purely on our dancing ability. No hit movies. No television series. Just on dancing ability alone. It was pretty remarkable that we could demand the kind of salaries we were getting.

Also, the kind of marquee value we had with our performances. Opening for Frank Sinatra, Bill Cosby, John Davidson, all at the MGM’s main show room, on title marquee out front. In Las Vegas. You would drive down the main strip and see, on the main marquee—not in the lounge, not in the hallway (laughs), not dancing out front or in the court by the restaurant—that in the main show room you were going to see Dean Martin and the Lockers.

Our first gig, formally as the Lockers or the Campbell Lock Dancers—as we were also called— was The Carol Burnett Show. It just snowballed after that. We blew up like…like…like Jiffy Pop Popcorn (laughs).

When did you leave the Lockers and why?
People started leaving the group to pursue their individual goals. First it happened with Rerun (from the TV show What’s Happening!!) or Fred Berry, who we used to call “Mr. Penguin.” After he left the group, Toni left shortly thereafter to pursue getting a recording contract, which was a dream of hers. She eventually had the hit “Mickey.” I started going back and forth between working with the Lockers and working with Toni as her choreography assistant and starring in her shows. By the time she’d had left the Lockers, I had grown up in the ranks and was now the leader of the group. When I joined the group I was 16, the little guy amongst men. I was the little Michael Jackson of the group. And they were the older guys.

But while working with Toni, I’d learned some valuable skills. And it was Campbell Lock Jr.’s idea. He’d approached Don Campbell and the rest of the guys during rehearsals at my house and said, Shabba-Doo should manage and lead the group. His argument was that I’d been doing all the management work since Toni left. Anyway, this didn’t sit well with Don Campbell. Don and I were polar opposite members of the group, the epitome of old school vs. new school. Don led the group with an iron fist. He wasn’t a nice person, per se. Very intimidating. Very scary guy, especially from a 16-year-old’s perspective. Well, he said he should be leader, and the rest of the group said no, Shabba should. Then one thing lead to another, and he was like, “F---- you and f---- this, and Shabba, you should go form your own f----in group. This is my group.” He said, “You should call them the Shabba-Doos.”

And a light bulb went off. I said, “I think your right.” By then I was like 22 or on the verge being 22. At that time we were rehearsing for The Dick Van Dyke Show. When we did the show, that was our closing moment on a fantastic, almost magical time in my life, and in all of our lives. That was in 1977.

After you left The Lockers, how was your transition into a solo career? What did you do afterwards?
My son, Vashawn, was just born. It was a very trying time for me. Again, I love the Lockers, and I loved the camaraderie of the guys. What we were able to achieve, as a group, was pretty intoxicating. Then, suddenly, to be without them, I found it to be very sobering and not a very pleasant experience as a soloist, initially. I quickly found out that I was just a guy who used to be in an incredible group, as most soloist find out when they leave groups. So I had to reinvent Shabba-Doo. I often thank Don, though a bit facetiously, for encouraging me to form my own group and be my own man.

After I left the group, I became a professional dance contestant. I would go all over the United States or wherever, and dance against who ever for money. So I won a bunch of really high profile championships in Los Angeles and Orange County. By then I had encountered what I considered the sister act to the break dance movement. This was happening with the whole locker, Soul Train thing. And it was in the gay community. I came across it when I was in a dance contest. I had to go up against this kid name Andrew, who was doing a really flamboyant dance called Garbo.

He came in first. I took second. It was the first time I’d ever been beaten in my own club (laughs). And I was like, what is this dance? This guy beat me in full drag and make-up and platform shoes, and he was fearless enough to be in this hardcore, pimp, gang member kind of joint. And you know in the ‘70s folks weren’t really too friendly to gay people. He was brave to come in there. And to flaunt his sexuality…And for these hardcore people to recognize that he could dance. It was testimony to this kid’s ability. Anyway, he told me about the dance. Then he and his friends taught me how to do the dance called Garboing, which eventually became known, the world over, as wacking. Not voguing. Wacking.

I then took this Garbo dance and infused it with locking. And where, in the gay dance community, it was about imitating a famous female—Greta Garbo—or whatever the case may be. My idea, since I grew up watching silent films or older films, was to be like Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn or Zorro. So my style of wacking took a more swashbuckler approach. It’s what you would call debonair or like a player attitude. And that became the Shabba-Doo style. And that’s the style I popularized in films like Breakin’ or in music videos like Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.”

So now you’d re-established yourself on the dance scene. When did work in the media begin to pick up again?
Once I gained a lot of popularity on the grassroots level, then I received a phone call one night from Kenny Ortega. He was choreographing a show for Bette Midler, and he called me up for the show. Midler was actually on the phone with him. He asked how much I charged, and I quoted him some astronomical price.

I didn’t know who Bette Midler was, and I think she’d just finished filming The Rose He said let me call you back. He called back and said, “She (Midler) wants to know why are you that electrifying that you can ask for that kind of money.” And I said: “You tell that broad (laughs) this and this and that.” So she’s on the phone and she says, “motherfucker, come down then.” I went down to meet her, and I don’t know what she looks like. I’m waiting around and waiting around. Finally, I get impatient. I’m dressed in a full zoot suit. I say I’m about to go. Then Kenny tells me she’s here, and points. And here’s this little white lady sitting there with these big Gazelle-like glasses. I’m not impressed. She slams her book down, stops everybody from doing what they’re doing, and says let’s all see what Shabba-Doo is doing. I dance for her, and she’s like, “that was fantastic. When can we start work?” I say whenever. She asked could I start that day, and I said yes. I rolled up my sleeves and started that day. That show, Bette Midler’s Divine Madness, was my first job as a solo dancer after the Lockers.

Did that lead to other work?
During one of the performances, Brandon Tartikoff, the president of NBC at the time, was in the audience and cast me in their his program called The Big Show, which was skits and performances. Aside from starring on the show, I was in charge of putting together the huge production numbers every week, choreographing them, envisioning them, and starring in them.

The way my name began to get out into the public was from a skit I did when Flip Wilson was a guest. I did a dance/song number with his character Geraldine where she rapped a song called “Do the Shabba-Doo.” Gerladine would ask, “Can I call you Shabba?” And I said, “Doo!”

What did you think when you began to see street-dance, in the form of b-boying and electric boogeying, blowing up in the form of hip-hop in the mid-80s?
Actually, we knew about it a little bit earlier. During my time with the Lockers, we were in New York opening for Frank Sinatra at Carnegie Hall. One night we went out to a club, and we encountered, I felt, the east coast version of the Lockers. But they had their own style. The group was called the Brooklyn Rockers. This was 1974, before the Rock Steady Crew. This crew was doing a style of dance called "applejacking.” It was less ground moves and more footwork and uprocking—what they used to call boyoinging. They would bounce down and touch the ground, do a couple of moves then bounce back up. But they were wearing applejack caps, baggy pants with vests and t-shirts. The whole baggy suit thing.

So here we were with the knickers and the striped socks with a west coast look. And we went head-up against the Brooklyn Rockers. It was a non-threatening, non-malicious kind of one-upsmanship sort of competition that happened in the moment.

Who won?
In my opinion, it was a draw. I didn’t feel like the Lockers beat them or they beat us. I felt we both put it down.

So you weren’t surprised when you saw b-boying blowing up in the 1980’s?
No, I was surprised when I saw b-boying. I wasn’t able to connect the two until later. I mean, again, we encountered these east coast counterparts putting it down. And we didn’t think anything of it. Then some years go by, and now we’re in the ‘80s. And I see this super version of what we saw in ’74. I couldn’t connect the two. It just looked like a whole new dance in the way they were doing it. They were dancing on their heads. I had never seen that before (laughs), spinning on their heads or on their back like a top. That was pretty unique. I couldn’t liken that to anything.

As you know, street dance is all about the battle, and you're recognized as a pioneer. Did you have to battle any young-guns back then?
Before b-boying came about, I came up in a different mindset in the 1970’s. It was a different in Los Angeles during that time than what was to come out of New York later. The mine set in LA, back then, was more about love, peace, and Soul Train. We certainly engaged in friendly competition. But the New York dancers brought a bit more aggressiveness, in terms of anger. That wasn’t prevalent on the Los Angeles side. We weren’t angry like that. We’d actually dance and hug each other. New Yorkers dance and act like they’re hitting each other in the mouth. When LA dancers encountered the first New York invasion, if you will, it was like a bunch of thugs showed up. We were acting like a bunch of Hari Krishnas (laughs), and they were acting like a bunch of gangsters when it came to dancing.

How did you become a part of the movie Breakin’? Did you have any say in pickin' the dancers? Did you have any say in the story?
Well, I’d done the Lionel Richie stuff and the tours and…I actually wasn’t supposed to be in Breakin’. It was, again, a series of happenstances. One was I that I was pegged to do this other movie for New World Pictures called Body Rock. But I was taken off that picture because they wanted a guy the girls would like, a heartthrob—that’s what they told me. So they hired Lorenzo Lamas for the role.

Then my agent told me they needed a choreographer for this new movie at Cannon Films called Breakin’. So I went over there to meet with them about choreographing the movie. And while I was there, I was dressed with a bone earring in my ear—kind of like I was in the movie. And Menahem Golan, one of the producers, looks at me and says, “Uh, can you act?” And I replied, “I’m from Chicago.” Don’t know why I said that, but I did. And he says, “OK, Shabba-Doo, from Chicago. Can you go over to the casting persons office.” So I went over there, and I had the hat on and the whole thing. Got there, smoked a cigarette, and stood there until someone said, “You can start now.” And all I had to say was one line. Some one asked, “Who’s next?” And I said, “Ozone. Street Dancer!” Then it got quiet in the room. Well, after I left, I got about two or three blocks in my car when I got a phone call. (Laughs) It was on one of those big old car phones that look like suit cases. And they told me they wanted me for the part of Ozone.

At that time, I was about 30 years old, and I was gonna play an 18-year-old in the movie (laughs). I guess I looked young for my age.

But for people who knew of Shabba-Doo before the media explosion of b-boying or hip-hop, you were the reason a lot of us, on the east coast, saw the film. As an OG, so to speak, you lent the film credibility.
Yeah, and the producers knew that after the fact. They had to eventually realize that. Recently, I was meeting with the writers—because they’re talking to me about doing a Breakin’ 3—and the writer for the film said to me: “You know how that whole thing came down? Although we thought you had a presence and real leadership qualities for the film, you know we had to ask Ice-T what he thought. We’d actually thought about Ice-T being Ozone.” Then the writer said that Ice-T told them that the role should go to Shabba-Doo. They asked why, and Ice said because he IS that role. And that’s how they gave me the part.

Did you have any say in picking the dancers for the film?
Yeah, of course. After that, I got to pick almost all of them. Ana Sanchez. Pop N’ Taco. Poppin’ Pete. All of these guys were a part of my dance crew at that time.

After Breakin’ you parleyed your dancing career into a pretty hefty career as a choreographer. What were some of the huge tours and videos and shows you worked on or choreographed?
I started touring with everybody. Whodini. The Fat Boys. Lionel Richie. Madonna. I danced for Madonna and choreographed for her world tour and her videos. I also did fashion videos for designers—cutting edge stuff—like Norma Kamali.

What do you think of the 21st Century's version of street-style dancing (locking, b-boying, Electric boogeying, etc.)?
Hmm. Let me see. Well, I’ll first ask you this question: Are you aware that fruits and vegetables, today, lack the nutritional value they had 60 years ago?

Nope, was not aware of that.
It’s due to how messed up the oxygen in the air is, and that air is not oxygenating the soil properly. So while you can go out and eat lots of fruits and vegetables, you’re still going to lack those nutrients. So you’re going to need supplements. And what we’re also doing is “super growing” or trying to feed lots of people in a short amount of time. And not I’m saying this to give a science lesson, but to make a point.

We do have some dancers, today, that are doing some pretty spectacular things. You look and think, wow, look at that guy fly. Or, wow, that guy can do 50 head spins as opposed to the little Puerto Rican guy who could only do three back in the day. The big difference is the guy doing 50 head spins lacks the nutritional value. And that nutritional value can only come with time. We’re not allowing the soil time enough to repair itself, organically. If you have people who are viewing dance steps on YouTube so readily and quickly. What you have is people just copying from one another. Just copying, copying, copying. And we never get a sense of your own neighborhood.

That’s what I talked about earlier. Back then, you had east coast going on and you had the west coast going on. We didn’t know what you guys were doing.You’d seen some of the stuff we were doing because we were on TV, we had Soul Train. But we had time to let it settle and sink in. That’s no longer the case now. Now you got YouTube, which is a big problem. True art needs time to reflect. It needs time for these feelings and thoughts to inculcate themselves in our minds and our bodies. With technology, there’s no way for art to grow properly. Arts needs to be allowed to mature and enrich itself. Life can only be reflected in art if it has time to grow.

So that’s what you have out there: a lot of junk, a lot of cotton candy. And YouTube is the McDonald’s of art and culture. Anybody with a camera can put anything they want on there, and it doesn’t have to be tested.

It’s like break dancing now. You don’t have break dancing. You have break flying. What made it beautiful back then was that they were bringing their experiences and those frustrations from the boroughs to the dance. Not the high flying stuff. It was organic, rich, my-momma’s-whooping-my-ass- I’mma-go-out-in-the-street-and-let-out-this-frustration kind of dancing. All that other stuff, based on tricks and flips, is Olympic dancing.

What stuff are you working on now?
Now I have my House of Shway. Basically, Shway is short for Shabba-Doo’s way. In it is my urban workshop and performance workshop program that I market all over the world.

Nostalgic after "Notorious"....

Just saw Notorious and, besides loving the film, it made me feel crazy nostalgic for more than just Biggie, but that whole era which surrounded his rise and his success. The early to mid-'90s, as a journalist covering the urban explosion, was a funny and exciting time looking back. But I won't bore you with the memories. I just wanted an excuse to throw up this video of my favorite Biggie freestyle.

A Shoe and a Boo!

During Bush's second term I often wondered, with such dissatisfaction among most Americans about his policies, why wasn't there a massive display—done by ordinary Americans—of that sentiment. I had more of an angry demonstration in mind, something a bit more, hm, anarchistic....lol. Then, yesterday, I heard (and I know Bush heard) 2 million people, of all different races and backgrounds booing as he was about to leave office, and I thought: Wow, what simple, sweet justice. For a president who'd been so insulated—both politically and mentally—from how people felt (telling the prez poll numbers does not have the impact), the swell of boos from that little nation waiting below him was a powerful way of breaking that bubble. I couldn't have painted a better ending....

Yes He Did.....

Have spent the whole day glued to the TV...And am so happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Because It's King Day....

I had to put up one of my favorite speeches—King's talk against the Vietnam War in 1967. Though it's the least celebrated speech, it so speaks to America today. As most of you out there, I'm so looking forward to the inauguration...

The Year of the Anarchist: Welcome to 2009!

Happy '09 my fellow Anarchists. Last year was an amazin' and an eventful year, to say the least. The nation got a F'ed -up economy and responded by electing a black prez . And I got a baby, a book and, oh, a black prez...lol. Again, I'd like to everyone who supported Somebody Scream and who gave great feedback—both positive and negative. (Now, I'm gearing up for the coming of the paperback edition in March and another trek on the book promo grind).

2009 will also mark the start of this blogging venture, one that has, surprisingly, proven to be both enlightening and fulfilling. On the one hand, I got to vent about events in the news (like alot of damn bloggers), big-up my favorite pop culture phenoms, as well as promote my book and book events (also like alot of damn bloggers). Not to mention cutting a deal to share my content with Blackpower.com. But on the other hand, I got to witness how far-reaching (with much impact) this blogging thing can be. Shout-out to my readers from Cali to Russia! So with that, I've thought to make some changes and implement some focus within Anarchist Graffiti. The first being a cut back on commentary. While I love my politics and my rants, there are a zillion bloggers raging against the machine, and I just want to see what's the deal with the new administration—and how society and the media reacts. What I will do more of is interviews. After the great response I received from the Adam Bradley post, I got the idea to get back to my journalism digs and bring readers the conversations they want to hear, with figures I think they might want to hear from. Setting up my wish list now, so stay tuned.

Hip-Hop as New Dead Poets Society: A Discussion with Adam Bradley

When it comes to publicly discussing the lyrics of many a rap tune now-a-days, most hip-hop enthusiasts take the position of comedian Chris Rock when he says: “I love rap music, but I’m tired of defending it.” Though most who groove to the crude words of an MC as much as the social conscious ones will tell you: it’s not what the artist is saying but how he/she says it. The rhythm of the words. The use of metaphors and similes as well as a host of rhyme styles. The impact of the stories. Thus, you enter another level of discussing hip-hop lyrics—rap as poetry—that never makes it into the national discussion. But literary scholar Adam Bradley is looking to help folks focus on the literary power of rap music with his new book Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop. I recently sat down with Bradley to discuss this link between rap music and the often-misunderstood world of classic poetry.

Rap has been recognized as urban poetry since the beginning. What inspired you to finally put this idea in a book?

I wrote this book because I felt that for all the ways that hip-hop has shaped our culture over the past thirty years, we often overlook the transformative influence it’s had on the language arts. You have major media outlets like CNN asking “Hip-hop: Art or Poison?” as if it’s an open question. I mean, the level of ignorance is staggering. So part of my motivation was to help illuminate the art of MC-ing for a wide audience.

At the same time, I wanted to challenge the hip-hop community to become a more conscious and sophisticated audience of rap’s poetry. Over the years, we’ve developed ways of judging good and bad performances, yet most of us tend to express these judgments in the limited vocabulary of “dope” and “wack” and so forth. Book of Rhymes provides hip-hop heads with a common vocabulary for debating what makes one performance excellent and another run-of-the-mill. It calls for a revolution in consciousness so that rap fans will become more acutely aware of their own aesthetic values, and consequently, of the poetic richness that rap has to offer.

What was your process of picking which artists/songs as the best examples of poetry?

I’m always listening to music so the examples undoubtedly reflect what was on my ears at the moment. I’d be driving down the freeway blasting Biggie or Rakim or Pac and I’d hear a hot line I’d long forgotten about, or I’d be at the gym listening to Weezy or the Clipse or UGK and something would catch my attention. Of course, I also strove for a balance of old school and new school, underground and aboveground, different geographies and styles. The goal was to draw a representative sample of hip-hop’s poetry, broad enough to suggest the range and complexity of the art form. In the end, the book isn’t really about my examples at all, though, but about the points I’m using the examples to illustrate. I encourage anyone who reads Book of Rhymes to apply the knowledge within to the music that matters most to them.

Who’s your favorite literary figure of rap music? Why?

It has to be Jay-Z. He’s one of the most compelling figures in hip-hop poetics to me; his influence on culture has been so profound. One of my teachers once said that you’ll know you’ve been influence by an artist when you realize they’ve taken up residence in your mind—that their distinctive voice has seeped into your consciousness, that they speak to you. That’s happened for me with Jay-Z. His rhymes affect the way I see the world. I’ll think of this line: “Nigga, please, like short sleeves I bear arms.” Or these: “Blame Reagan for making me into a monster / Blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra / I ran contraband that they sponsored. . .” He helps me to see the complexity in language and in life.

Who would you say is the most important poet/literary figure of rap music? What makes them important?

Man, it’s tough to pick just one. . . I suppose as far as influence on the craft of MC-ing, you could say Melle Mel. After all, he pretty much codified the basic elements of rhyming. And then, of course, there’s Rakim whose style influenced a generation of artists to follow. But when it comes to reading their words on the page, I’d have to go with Nas. He does more innovative things with poetic forms than any other artist out there. He’s not afraid to play with space and time like he does on “Rewind” or “Blaze a 50,” narrating his stories in reverse. He’ll spit verses from different points of view, like when he raps from the perspective of a gun on “I Gave You Power.” He’ll even play with the tone and timbre of his voice like he does on “One Mic.” Hate him or love him, Nas is the ideal artist to study if you want to understand rap’s poetics.

What hip-hop era would you say best exemplifies rap as poetry?

Right now. There are more MCs doing interesting and sophisticated things poetically today than at any other time in rap’s history. This is a little hard for me to admit, though, because I’m a golden age guy. I’m just about the same age as hip-hop, so the music I was listening to when I was a teenager in the late-1980s, early-1990s holds special significance—Rakim, Tribe, De La, PE, Black Moon, all of those acts. But, for me, rap’s greatest period is always going to be the present. Part of this, of course, is a direct result of all that’s come before. Think about it in literature: You couldn’t have Toni Morrison without Zora Neale Hurston and you couldn’t have Hurston without Phyllis Wheatley. It’s the same in rap. You couldn’t have Lil Wayne without Jay-Z and you couldn’t have Jay-Z without Rakim and so forth. It’s not that the artists today are better than those of the past, but rather that rap as an art form has evolved and expanded. This is what we call tradition. Rap’s poetry is at a place right now that is at once perilous and promising. The best art often emerges out of such moments of crisis.

Book of Rhymes delves deeply into rap music’s use of literary techniques and devices, a subject more so studied in college classes than on street corners. Is this book aimed solely at the academy?

Rap’s literary form is rarely studied in depth at all—anywhere. When it is studied, though, I’d say it’s just as likely—maybe even more likely—to be happening on the corner than in the classroom. So I wrote this book with true hip-hop heads in mind, wherever they may be. Of course, there are plenty of heads in the academy nowadays. That said, it was important for me to find a voice that could go from the seminar to the street corner, from classroom to the cipher. I wrote Book of Rhymes with the conviction that profound discussions of rap’s poetry can happen anywhere you can hear the music.

Will there come a day when rap will be recognized by academia as poetry to be seriously studied?

I think it’s already happening. There’s a vanguard of writers and academics who are demanding that rap have a place at the center of literary studies. And we have some unexpected allies. You never know who might be a rap fan on the low. A couple years ago I had dinner with the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He’s one of the most distinguished poets alive. You’ll find his work in any respectable anthology of contemporary poetry. Well, after a couple drinks we somehow got to talking about rap and he started saying how much he admired the poetic skills of Jay-Z and Eminem. I even promised to make him a mixtape to introduce him to some new artists. Here was a man pushing seventy who didn’t listen to rap that often, but still couldn’t ignore the miraculous way that MCs play with words. More and more, I think people are coming to realize that rap is where poetry lives today.

How is the reception at colleges and universities when it comes to studying rap as literature?

Students can’t get enough. And I’m not just talking about students who already listen to rap. I teach a class on contemporary black poetry where we do just one section on hip-hop. Every time I offer the course I have a waiting list. And I don’t think it’s because I have such a great personality, either. They’re lining up to talk about hip-hop. I’m not alone in experiencing this. The last several years have seen an explosion of courses on hip-hop across the country. There’s an element of fad to it, of course. But I think there’s something far deeper than that: people are starting to realize that rap is one of the most vibrant forms of literature we have.

It’s getting a lot easier to study rap as literature because so many writers and scholars are laying the groundwork. Jeff Chang, Imani Perry, Scott Heath, Samy Alim, you—I could go on and on. We’re experiencing something like a Hip-hop Renaissance. My next project will, I hope, make it much easier to read rap as poetry. I’m editing the Yale Anthology of Rap along with my colleague Andrew Du Bois from the University of Toronto. When the anthology’s published in 2010 it will be the first comprehensive collection of rap lyrics—more than four hundred in all from hundreds of artists. Our purpose is to help establish a canon of rap lyrics so that future generations of students will have a way of studying rap as poetry. To have the support of a major academic press like Yale is tremendous. It signals a transformation, I think, of rap’s place in literary studies.

What can the academy gain from studying the poetry of rap?

Studying rap’s poetics provides a bridge to studying more traditional poetry. Rap takes us back to some of poetry’s ancestral forms, from the strong-stress meter of Beowulf to the four-beat line of the ballad stanza. And then, of course, there’s the simile, rap’s favorite figure of speech. If you want to help someone understand the concept of figurative language there’s no better place to look than rap. “I got a question, it’s serious as cancer,” Rakim rhymes. Or “I flip the scrip like a dyslexic actor,” Tajai from Souls of Mischief says. You can diagram these similes so that you can understand precisely how they function.

For some, listening to rap is less intimidating than reading the Norton Anthology of English Poetry or something. This is particularly true, I think, for people under, say, thirty years old who have known rap all their lives. There’s a certain comfort level they feel with it as music that makes them more amenable to studying it as poetry. I notice it in my classes all the time. I’ll have a student who says to me “I hate poetry.” or “I don’t understand how to read poems.” I love when I hear that because I know that nine times out of ten that’s the last time they’ll ever say it. I’ll get them talking about their favorite rap song. I’ll ask them a few pointed questions. And then I’ll tell them, “Guess what? You just analyzed a poem.” It’s amazing to see how quickly students get it. Before long, they’re talking about stressed syllables and slant rhymes and metonymy. Those terms come alive when students first experience them in action. To me, the concept is always more important than the name we give to it.

You do a lot of comparative work in Book of Rhymes, dissecting the work of rap artists in the historical context of past great poets. Which great MC reminds you of which great poet and why?

Remember when Q-Tip rhymed “the Abstract Poet prominent like Shakespeare, or Edgar Allan Poe. . ..”? It’s fun to draw connections. I’ve actually spent more time than I’d like to admit speculating on MCs’ alter egos in the canons of Western Poetry. I’ll give you a few:

Rakim is Langston Hughes. Both draw from jazz and the blues. (Rakim played saxophone, and you can hear it in the way he riffs when he rhymes.) Both are forefathers of modern poetic traditions.

KRS-One is Amiri Baraka. Two geniuses who talk a lot of shit and spit off-the-wall conspiracy theories every now and then.

Tupac is John Keats. Literary stylists who were masters of their craft before the age of twenty-five and died far too soon.

Lil Wayne is Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Geniuses of rhythm and wordplay, and fond of mind-altering substances…

Lauryn Hill is Gwendolyn Brooks—Fierce lyricists who evoke strong emotions out of everyday circumstances. Only Lauryn can match the swagger of Brooks’ “We Real Cool.”

Andre 3000 is, well, Andre 3000. . . Not everybody’s got a match.

As a literary scholar, I’m sure you’ve spent more than enough time reading (and reading about) Shakespeare to get a sense of the man’s personality. How do you think he would react to rap music and which artist would he take the most interest in?

Shakespeare would have been a hip-hop head, no doubt. After all, he was known for spitting slang, making lewd plays on words, mixing a lot of sex and violence and swagger into his poetry. Shakespeare was more gangsta than most so-called “gangsta rappers.” Most of all, though, Shakespeare wrote for everyday people. Nowadays, people sometimes get the sense that you have to read his lines with a fake British accent or something. But for his time, he was writing in a voice that his audience could easily understand and in a way that delighted and entertained them. If that doesn’t sound like rap, I don’t know what does. As for the MCs Shakespeare would like, they’d need to have lots of witty wordplay, an ear for rhythm and rhyme, and a profound sense of the human condition. So I’d want to put him on to someone like Jean Grae, for instance. He’d have his hands full with the Wu-Tang Clan, too.

Given that, over the last 30 years, rap music has turned the written and spoken word every which way, has the music come to the end of its rope as far as innovating poetically? If not, where can it go?

I think you already know how I’m going to answer this in light of how I responded to your previous question about the best period of rap’s poetry. I really think we are living in the midst of a renaissance of the word with rap at the forefront. Poetry in general is making a comeback in a major way. There are more people writing, reading, and reciting poems today than at any other time in the history of the world. And more than a few of those folks are rapping. When I think about the future of rap as a literary form I think of what Andre 3000 said about it at the end of “Hollywood Divorce”—when our styles get stolen, “we just keep it going and make new shit.” That’s hip-hop’s injunction: make new shit. That’s the poetics of hip-hop.