Tag Archives: culture

Gentrification of Identity


You don’t tear a person down and rebuild them with intent on something better. That’s what they do to black and brown neighborhoods. Why would you do it to a person?

Talk this way, walk this way, wear these clothes…

Why is there never recognition of the special in each person?

Why do we toss away self determination for impression?

Sanitization has been a thorn in our side for too long. Do we not recognize it’s effects?

Why not add to what is there. Teach value in authentic self and the importance of widening scope. Foster adaptability not assimilation.

Requiem for Change


The words don’t always
seem adequate enough
of my tongue

I’m still choking back tears
after all this time
I guess it’s learning
you can never be good guy oblivious
for too long
You can’t be enough royalty
to not need to keep challenging
Ain’t no ribbons for books read
and chivalry
This here is a long road traveled

The first shared tears came in high school
She was trying to reconcile what happened
I was trying to use balled fists in revenge
She was telling me she didn’t want that
I never realized I was making her
manage him and me
It took too long to recognize her strength
Good guy said you should have stayed with me
Good guy said let me fix it
Good guy still made it about good guy
I guess I felt
I couldn’t make it about her because
I wasn’t good at tears falling

Daddy liked liquor and women
Liked to swing heavy hands
I never asked to know about
anything else
But I know the dangers of that recipe
Good guy wanted to redeem
him by being the first
good decision he ever made
Wasn’t I the one who had to go
pick up his pride
from houses he was no longer
wanted in?
Good guys learn to fix things early

Good guys ask stranger if he
can walk her to her car
Never wonders why she might refuse
Might get mad at the answer
He be good guy
Good guy ask questions for understanding
Never bother to ask if it is ok
to ask questions first
Might take too much time trying to grasp
the reason for the answer
Good guy wears badges like boy scout
earned by completing deeds and tasks
Good guy don’t ask why the shirt
makes some run
Never realized that he didn’t get
the only badges made
That boy scouts also learned to hunt

The best goodbye
I’ve ever been a part of
was packing good guy’s baggage
and sending him on his way
The search for a new tenant
in this man’s understanding of self
was intensive
Thank God for the caretakers
who saw fit to share
with this fractured dreamer
The only lesson that never
settled home
is the freedom in letting
cheeks wet
I’ve never been good
at tears falling

What I did learn is priceless
I was inspired by the number of
times I was betrayed
by good guy instincts
Confided in by partners who
Didn’t need to be saved
Found comfort in the midst of my eyes
I was challenged by fighters who
gave me books and lessons on
Pushed by men who were willing
to sit with each other in examination
of our own masculinity
Checked by soothsayers who had
seen where ignorance would lead me
Supported by a defiant band of clumsy
who were finding out how to stumble
but not fall
We had been learning to walk a certain
way for so long
The steps were unfamiliar but liberating

Each experience makes my heart full
Sobbing seems like thank you sometimes
I guess I know the reason I feel I’ve never
shown enough gratitude
I’ve just never been good at tears falling

Good guy sends me postcards
and texts saying he wants to come home
I tell him no
I’ve seen too much
I ain’t the same man no more

I remember leaving a workshop
after talking to a group of young men
feeling heavy
I remember telling the community
organizers that brought us
that there was so much work to do
What a crippling feeling it is
to do all that you know how to do
but still worrying
To fear that an angel’s fall at night
could lead to a devilish dawn
I remember stopping on the side
of the road on the way home
because what wasn’t being said
was deafening
I couldn’t get out the car
fast enough
I remember
the comrade
who held me up
The brother who loved me
band-aid enough to make it home
I remember the tears

The years doing workshops with men
The programs developed
The organizations worked with
The activists I have been trained by
The survivors I have stood by
The conversations
The broken
The determined
The death threats
The resilience
The everyday reflection
The camaraderie
The betrayals
The challenges
The dismissals
The reiterations
The struggle

The beauty of healing
The burden of sustainability
The necessity of the work

The realization that silence
means that nobody ever
considers that you can
hear them
see them

I promise
The tears are never too far away

I read a comment online today
I wanted to go numb
I couldn’t
I wanted to break things
but demolition is too familiar of a fancy
I wanted to cry
But I’ve never been good at falling tears

The water has welled in my chest
One day I will see monsoon
Or one day
I will vomit tidal waves

The problem with Spike: A Modern Greek Tragedy

spike lee
Spike Lee on set

I went to Chiraq with the other fellows from the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. We were invited to see the movie by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (also known as “Skip”). I had been following some of the responses to the idea of the project when it was first announced. I knew that there was backlash over him titling the film using a slang term unfavorably referencing the violence in Chicago. I also read some of the pieces that offered their reaction to the trailer once it was released. None of the responses or reactions were good.

Spike decided to address the criticisms over the trailer. He identified the movie as a satire. Then came the music video by Kevon Carter that didn’t make anything any better. It’s one thing to dig through the #wakeup comments across social media and the ongoing condemnation that results from people believing black people can’t focus on more than one highly discussed thing at one time. You know, #dontbedistracted. It’s another to have someone sing how misguided we are and how we should clean our own doorsteps is a bit much, no matter how beautiful the sound is. He actually sang about Meek Mill and Drake. Sorry dude, I learned way more from that beef about the societal perceptions, the influence of social media, and pop culture relevance than I did from your music video and the movie Chiraq. R&B is not respectability and bullshit.

After seeing some responses that seemed to be favorable from my friends on social media, I was excited to see the movie for myself. To watch it with a group of American and International scholars heightened my excitement. I knew the conversation would be exhilarating. I held hope that this was all just crafty media hype created for a movie that would be so much more than people thought. I wanted to trust Spike. After it was over, we all shared the same look of confusion and dumbfoundedness. I knew how I felt. Many of them didn’t even have some of the cultural contexts to use in evaluation of the film. My heart was heavy for them.

The movie is bad y’all. I mean it is bad. I don’t know if Jennifer Hudson can actually explain what range of emotion she was acting at any point in that movie. They all looked the same. Like she was excruciatingly constipated. Nick Cannon cannot play anybody’s gang leader. He barely passes as a rapper. Hearing him talk in rhyme was gut wrenching. He should have said his lines to J-Hud before she had to do her scenes. It might have inspired her. I didn’t understand the pop up video animations on screen. Sam Jackson probably had some of the best lines even though I have no idea why his Dolemite inspired narrator character was there. This was not an adequate replacement for the Greek chorus.

The writing was not good. The acting was not that good. Some scenes were so heavy handed it was as if the scene had those hand grips that on one ever really understood the purpose for. But every person who did push ups in their room to get cut in High School had them. The pastor who drops Justice Department and Talk Poverty stats during his sermon? Come on Spike. The folks from the church had the hottest gear though. It’ll be bootlegged at some point.

Angela Bassett has the steeliest glare I’ve ever seen outside of Liam Neesom. If Spike had of gotten Martin Lawrence and Bobby Brown to be part of the old men group, then maybe I would have a better feeling about the movie. I think don’t think Angela was acting. I think she throws that glare at breakfast. Whips it out at the mall. I won’t mention Wesley Snipes. Bills gotta get paid. The awkward way they looked at Snoop from The Wire (Felicia Pearson) when they said “lovers” was ridiculous. How she had to represent the whole of the LGTBQ community was just wrong.

I do have to give Spike credit though. He is still gifted, just a little self indulgent at times. I truly think that he believes he can pull anything off. Not this film though. He does draw out some interesting things in the film. There are issues of elder patriarchy, misguided masculinity, and black exoticism brought out. There is attention to the collateral damage of violence in terms of the lives affected. The space made in the movie for the mothers of the victim in Chicago was beautiful (this is Spike’s rebuttal to claims he has treated the violence in Chicago with lack of care or true concern). The whole interaction with the general is funny. Though the setup is ductaped together. Oh yeah, the Opedipus reference was cute. Unnecessary, but cute.

But his goal was to make a movie, not a series of bad improv night sketches. That he did a marginal job of. He won’t hear that though. He is too caught up in trying to defend his decision to make the movie and make it the way he did. But he did not do a good job of translating Lysistrata to modern times. He did not do a good job of replacing the old women and old men choruses that helped frame the original play. He did not do a consistently good job with the dialogue in the film. The acting was passable. The female lead exuded charisma and presence on screen. She was the shining light. Everyone else seemed as confused as I was about what they were doing.

It still carried a message that was internal. It made no real efforts other than pretentious speeches to address the outside influences and factors in the condition that community members in Chicago face. It highlighted how often change in communities falls into the hands of women in the community, but not in a way that reflects the modern history of social movements. The original play was not written with feminist intentions, but it has been used in that way since. Nah, not Spike though.

Sorry bro. That joint was bad.

The preacher was wearing them wristbands Wesley wore in Disappearing Acts. No, I’m serious.

It won’t good.

Thinking of the Cultural Arts and Entertainment Scene…


Ok. Look. Every city should have a cultural arts and entertainment planner serving a position commissioned like a laureate and supported through allocated funds to consistently help curators, promoters, artists, and culturalists move in a way that fosters an ever blossoming scene. 
Warning…Warning…Warning…What’s next is a mini rant….
I was thinking about things and trying to figure out how to convey it. Then I started digging. Finally I figured out what it was I was trying to articulate. I immediately thought of my friend, poet/artist/organizer Shelly Bell, who says I have a knack for these things. LOL. I hope this makes sense.
Let’s take a moment and look at this information from the Harvard Business School. It’s only a coincidence that I am at Harvard for a fellowship and pulled this quote. It just happened to be the one that had what I was looking for the way I was looking for. 
“Total quality management. Benchmarking. Time-based competition. Reengineering. Change management. The quest for productivity, quality, and speed has spawned a remarkable number of management tools and techniques….
Simply improving operational effectiveness does not provide a robust competitive advantage because rarely are “best practice” advantages sustainable. Once a company establishes a new best practice, its rivals tend to copy it quickly.
Strategy is about doing things differently, not simply doing them better than everyone else. And it’s the key to competitive advantage.”
What’s that mean to the arts? It means that having the best event ever is great and having a seamless process for how you run that event is even better, but what you do with the event is even more key.
The “differently” is the part that I want to focus on. It’s the part that often gets overlooked. Mainly because too many facilitators confuse “better” and “different” and the venues rarely think about it or care. They have their own competitive interests in mind. It’s not their responsibility unless they are an arts organization. It’s the producers and presenters who have to think strategically about how they are programming. They need to remember that expanding the marketplace is always better for the scene than competing for market share.
“There is a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness.” – economist, researcher, author, advisor, speaker and teacher, Michael Porter.
Yes, also from Harvard’s Business School. I promise it’s a coinci…never mind. Let’s continue.
The broader and more active and robust the market seems the more leverage the producers have. What will also happen is the pool of consumers continues to grow as new people experience what’s being offered across the marketplace. People are engaging with the market more often and having great experiences (because your still focusing on and maintaining operational effectiveness). Word of mouth travels fast. Buzz is built and anticipation for the next offering bubbles. A rising consumer base is hungry for more!
As this happens, the best run and operated offerings will solidify themselves as mainstays. The producers and presenters put themselves in position to drive the market moving forward. You win and have helped built a foundation to keep winning. 
Somebody ask Cicely Mitchell, who runs The Art of Cool Project (www.theartofcoolproject.com) in Durham, NC about this.
So think…how do I expand the marketplace rather than be pushed to fight for market share? What do I really lose by doing so? What are the factors in “different” (time, location, date, space, look, etc.).
Habit is what we are trying to break not conform to. If we don’t want our consumer base to be static then why would we be in how we offer our art to them?
Until that position is created and these conversations are being facilitated, we have to think strategically.
I’m done.

Reflecting on Hip Hop


In addition to the things I’ve been able to do as an artist I’ve had the pleasure of being an independent recording artist. I love music and dreamed of recording music for a long time. I participated in talent shows with my friends when I was young. I couldn’t sing anything but blended background and I was too shy to take too much of a lead role rapping, but I enjoyed being expressive with my friends. I guess there was an entertainer inside I hadn’t come to terms with yet. When I started to perform publicly as an adult thanks to being coerced into reading a local open mic, things started to change for me.

In 2001 I recorded my first spoken word CD. I was so excited. I recorded part of it in the famous Osceola Studios in Raleigh. It was my first time in a professional studio. Finances didn’t allow me to finish the project there, but the bug had bitten. On that first CD I experimented with blended genre. I got to try my hand at recording songs. With the next project I did the same. I blended poems set over music with poems and rhymes set to music. I was writing hooks and working with songwriters. Soon I started to collaborate with other emcees.

It all led to a record deal with local indie label Amp Truth Records. I was excited to sign my name on the dotted line. It was my first (and only) recording and publishing contract. They released an album domestically and internationally (with distribution through Grindin Records out of Australia). Unfortunately, the owners split and the label folded before we could thoroughly promote the album. I did gain a lot from that opportunity. Through that experience I found myself steadily in the studio. Since then, I have worked with not only emcees, but musicians and vocalists in NC.

This has led to some great work and some great relationships. I draw on these relationships to continue to craft quality work. I also draw on these relationships to help me frame and present Hip Hop to others. I feel a responsibility to help forward the culture and to help spark dialogues that increase people’s understanding of the culture.

For instance, I was asked to talk to some college freshmen about music on the world stage. I thought about what I wanted to cover with them. I wanted to make sure that I made some connections that made sense. I wanted to offer them some new information. I also wanted to use the opportunity to address Hip Hop and how far-reaching it is as both a culture and a genre of music.

Almost every culture has music as a part of it. Music is used to tell stories, it is a part of rituals and celebrations, it is a part of important ceremonies, and it is used as praise and worship. Classical music, opera, and other forms of music have inspired people for centuries. Just take a look at cultural traditions in Africa, Japan, and across the Caribbean. Look at the impact of music in America (Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Hip Hop).

Music as a unifying force, a bridge. It can help bring together cultures. It is a way of understanding that is often universal. The musical backdrop can help people find common ground regardless of the difference in the language of the lyrics. If we clap a simple measure (musical term) out together and count them (similar to counting bars, a songwriting term), you’ll see how quickly everyone finds the same pace and stays together. There may eventually be some improvisation, but not at the expense of the group unity. This is an activity I use in workshops. The results are almost always the same. People begin to communicate together in a new language that feels familiar, rhythm. If you start to add other sounds you’ll eventually get a reverie that is on beat and in pace. This is even in a room with no musicians.

Hip Hop culture has had a major impact on popular music in these modern times because culture is an important part of society. When we talk about pop music we are talking about music mediated for the masses. That means that there is an entity (TV station, radio, record label, corporation of some kind) that is presenting the music to the people. As it has become a major facet in pop culture, you can see the influence of Hip Hop on genres of music outside of rap. While the commercial rap industry has captured the world’s attention, Hip Hop music continues to expand its breath as “heads” from various communities worldwide integrate the culture into their musical outputs.

When you talk about the reach of Hip Hop it is with the understanding that music has always been global. Hip Hop is only 40 years old, but it has grown to be an important form of music to communities across the world. What we see when we look at Hip Hop globally is that in addition to entertainment and cultural representation it plays a role as protest music and social commentary.

There is so much to discuss. I hope to continue to share the breadth of possibilities with as many people as I can. My time as a Nasir Jones Fellow at the Hop Hop Archive at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University will definitely be a catalyst for that. Stay tuned! 

Hip Hop and you don’t stop! Yes yes y’all!

Signs – A new poem



She said she enjoyed suspense
Looked me in my eye
It took every thing in me not to run
Because hesitation
Is often a respectful and compassionate billboard
Letting you know that what you need
Might be waiting at the next exit
But I don’t heed warnings well
I’m not too good with signs

Like the one
Neon lit between her lips
Juke joint juxtaposed
With the temptation on the tip of his tongue
He made her want to discover the poet inside her
But the time between inspiration and insatiable
Can come and go so quick

That by the time she realized
The truth of the poet inside her
They’d both lied
Her still laying
With tears in her eyes
Him with new conquests in his eyes
I wished I had known before I booked him
For the show

I understand though
Optimism can become desert deceit
When you’ve become parched
Since the last wet taste
Facing decisions like segregated designations
Marriage like bright light over horizon
Indulgence like dark degradation
Seems like white only and colored only
Water fountains

Hallucinations can happen
When Road Closed
Look like Rest Stop Ahead
Have you crash test dummy desperately
Diving into accidental embraces

I’m no better
Show me a danger zone

And I see an area under construction
An optimistic land developer
Who’s been an indecisive bulldozer for too long
Never knowing whether to dig or bury
I’ve got a hard hat and a lunch box
Because it’s a long days work being this beautifully broken
Fenced into construction sites
With lovers wearing orange vests and steel toe boots
Then wondering why all I have are stories
of things falling apart

Ask me if I can memory a blueprint of love working
I’ll answer
What examples do I have of building to completion,
Joyous occupancy, effective and efficient maintenance
Death and divorce has robbed me of a semblance
Of certainty that it’s possible
So I’m making it up as I go along
Plans are just pages of passionate principles
But no context
It’s all imagination
Dammit I’m drawing this shit in crayon

Life is just a School Zone
Full of lessons
A roadway full of decisions
and speed limits
A lot with instructions
to Park in Designated Spaces Only
I’ve paid a lot of fines
Learned a lot from my experiences

But I’m gone be ok
God granted the peace
that likes to dress up as patience
and play trick or treat with elitists and enigmas
It’s just a matter of reading the signs
Out for lunch
They’re just all defense mechanisms
Just steps along the path to being comfortable
Open 24hrs A Day

That’s why I’m good at doing this work
Service entrance above my apartment door
Where the exit sign should be
Means I signed up when I step out
To face the day
Even though my choice got me asking questions
Like why me
When them others got diamond encrusted
Out of Order pieces
Wood carved Out for Repairs medallions
We Reserve the Right to Refuse tshirts
And Try Back Later four finger rings

But I tried to turn my back on my calling
God taped a kick me sense of responsibility
to my back
Now I bear the weight of the world
Between my shoulder blades
And spend my days
With life’s foot in my ass
Trust me, I got the message

See there’s no turning back
Once the door has closed behind you
Your vision, beliefs, and sense of purpose
Waiting on the other side
Every day in the world is a meeting
With the primary stockholders of all that you are
They knew the best course of action was going public
Too late to say you aint ready
When it plainly said
Authorized personnel only

I just answer the call
I’ve tried to manipulate my destiny
That a gated community
Can quickly become a prison yard
That when the hands of the clock
Begin to believe they dictate the time
It will be too late
When they realize they are outnumbered

She said she enjoyed suspense
I’m looking for what’s suspended in her eyes
Then let the moment pass by
With no reply
Because hesitation
Is often a respectful and compassionate billboard
Letting you know that what you need
Might be waiting at the next exit
But I don’t heed warnings well
And I’m not too good with signs

Context is everything – Musical Relatavism

Music Doodle

I read it. Loved it. Then got pissed off. Then I learned something…I was wrong.

I was reading an article that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook page. It was addressing the judgement on the Pharell Williams/Robin Thicke vs. The Estate of Marvin Gaye case over Blurred Lines. The piece was informative and eye opening. It specifically challenged Pharell’s statement about the situation. It addressed it both by calling out the holes in his statement and educating about music. It met the statement right where it existed and blew it apart. I loved it.

Of course, Nicholas Payton is the right one to challenge someone’s musical bullshit. He is an accomplished musician, writer, and scholar. He is a Grammy award winning artist who is world renown and highly respected. He is also a scholar who has taught at Tulane and is also an activist. You can read the piece below.

An Open Letter To Pharrell Williams (Blurred Lines Vol. 3)

Then I got to the bottom of the post. Payton is known to give it to you straight. He has addressed topics and called to light issues that many aren’t ready to handle. So I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess I was in my feelings on the day I read it. It took me a minute to realize that I was totally in my feelings and needed to take a step back.

This is the part that sent me reeling… “And to those of you who say I know nothing about Hiphop, if “Blurred Lines” is Hiphop, I don’t want to know anything about it. So let me officially go on record now and say that I hate Hiphop. There are certain artists who claim Hiphop that I dig, but Hiphop as a whole is wack. It’s a parasitic culture that preys on real musicians for its livelihood. I may not know anything about Hiphop, but I don’t have to. Without real artists and musicians like me, you’d have nothing to steal. I know enough about it all to know that.”

I lost it. I was blowing air in the sky. Pacing around my room. Shouting curse words. I started typing on my computer, said something stupid, and then I went back to the quote. Dammit, I was wrong. I was wrong.

The commercial music industry, and more specifically the commercial rap industry, is parasitic. It has been a pariah on the art of music for some time. It has become even more of a harbinger of ills for Hip Hop Culture. It has done the amazing job of bastardizing a beautiful built thing for the sake of a higher profit margin, very well I might add. Hip Hop has become a global culture. It has also become a global commodity. Often it is the commodified representative that continues to piss off so many. It’s like when you realize that the person you’ve been spending time about or keep hearing such good things about is really an asshole. The good ole representative.

I got pissed because I saw leader in music call the culture I love and represent parasitic. I wanted to scream, “No, how could you?” But I ignored the context. If Pharell’s (among others) placement of foolishness under the banner of Hip Hop is what people meet as the representative of Hip Hop, then I can understand how they would feel.

After I got a better sense of things, I wanted to run to social media to tell the Hip Hop community that we have to continue to let people know that Hip Hop is alive and well, that it is not this representative. But that would be good ole respectability politics and I will not play that game. The Hip Hop community doesn’t need to try to sanitize Hip Hop. The NAACP learned that sanitizing Black Culture doesn’t help us win (RIP Tupac). Black conservatives seem to be relentless in trying. We know better. There is a double consciousness in Hip Hop (on top of the double consciousness of Blacks in America). We are Hip Hop heads within a culture that was wonderfully built and is all encompassing. The elements are rooted in spiritual traditions that are redemptive and inclusive. But we are also Hip Hop heads in a commercial entertainment industry that could care less about the tenets of this powerful culture. It’s an industry that makes money regardless of what the impression of the music is because all press/reactions/attention is good for business.

As a Hip Hop Head and member of the Universal Zulu Nation (Z’s up), I know what Hip Hop really is. I know that we as a community just need to keep forwarding the culture and representing it as we know we should. The truth of the culture is bigger than the industry no matter how they make it look (it’s not dead people!).

I also know that there is some stuff I have to let be bullshit. Pharell’s comments are bullshit. The Husle (another tangent for another day) saying his current play dress up musical moment (sorry Musiq) is his contribution to Hip Hop is bullshit. The rap artists who continue to create divides that we on the streets have to be accountable for (I’m looking at you Kendrick) are on some bullshit. I could go on (Rick Ross mentioning Trayvon in an Usher Raymond love song, Young Thug putting money over social accountability in response to Ferguson, etc.), but I wont.

I know the culture is fine, wonderful, powerful, and alive. But when members of that culture (whether they properly represent or not or try to Iggy Azalea distance themselves from responsibility) piss people off, we got to wear that too. We can call it for what it is, but we can’t dismiss it like that aint us.

See, I am an artist that is part of a wonderful community of talented people. I have worked hard to bridge genres and close gaps. That includes working with dynamic musicians on our scene across the state. When one of the culture bearers talks, you listen. You hear what he is saying. You understand. You recognize. You learn.

Then you get back to work. My aim is to continue to be present in my arts community, to collaborate and contribute in a way that adds positively to the canon of urban comtemporary music and art. I will do that as a representative of a culture that I love. I will do that open to learning from those I respect and admire. I will not be on some bullshit. I also will not wear that hat. Peace and Love y’all!