HHBMedia | Freddie Gray.

This isn't my piece about the Baltimore Uprising. I've tried to pen it a few times, but can't bring myself to voice my opinion on the actions of others fueled by hurt and pain. The mere audacity…

I'll take another angle instead.

We now know that half of the arresting officers of Freddie Gray are black. Now, for me, this doesn't change anything. I seem to be in the minority, or I'm friends with the wrong people on Facebook.

Yes. Facebook.

 

The day that the names of the arresting officers were revealed I made the mistake of logging into Facebook. I tell you, I scrolled through the most unenlightened, propagandized, absurd statuses I think I've ever seen in my life that day. And the fact that people of color penned the statuses was disheartening.

Now, I never try to embarrass or discredit personal opinions, but there were far too many ignorant comments to not acknowledge. Seeing "friends" comment that the voices of blacks are now null because a few of the officers charged are black, and that black folks bring these issues upon them[our]selves pissed me all-the-way off.

I'm only going to say this one more time. The arresting officers being black does not hurt the case surrounding the Freddie Gray incident.

I shouldn't have to point this out.

I feel like we're all canny enough to understand that a black person committing a crime against another black person doesn't cancel out racism. Yes. You can “be black” and still have a disregard for, and be prejudice towards other black lives. It's called "self-hate.” It's real and ever-present, especially today.

Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, colored people, more specifically black Americans, are conditioned to hate being "black.” For the majority of black Americans, our family trees go as far as slavery.

American slavery was the single most destructive blow to our generational self-esteem. Our history books teach us that we originated from slavery, not from a lineage of African Kings and Queens. And this oppressive history haunts us today.

I'm not just making this up. You can open up any U.S. History book and read it for yourselves.

You can only imagine the effects that this could have on someone. There's no better way to explain it than to compare it to “crabs in a barrel.” A few, not all, black Americans have the "crab in a barrel" mentality. I'm not angry with them. In fact, I feel for them. They're not the culprits.

Who's the culprit, you ask?

Who put the crabs in the barrel?

Now, how this relates to Freddie Gray and the black arresting officers: If Freddie Gray were white, he'd more than likely still be alive. You see, black lives are disposable to most, especially when their fates are left in the hands of the law.

We're arrested more than whites, and a higher percentage of those arrests turn violent, or even deadly... Fast.

Now, if “being black” isn't valued and I, as a black American, internalize this, and begin to live my life with this in mind, why would I handle another black man with care?

We have to change the perceptions that human lives are measured on a totem pole, with black lives being towards the very bottom.

We chant "Black Lives Matter" because our country has historically treated us as "less than.”

Freddie Gray is just another example to why we need to keep fighting, and not let cases like this continue to be swept under the rug.

Must I remind you that we're ultimately fighting for basic human rights? We just want to live a life that's treated along the same lines as everyone else. We want to be able to have the freedom to make mistakes and the punishment not result in death.

 

I swear, I hate Facebook.

 

*** This piece was originally published on HHBMedia.com in May 2015

HHBMedia | Godspeed Pictures Presents: Where Hope Grows

I attended the premiere of "Where Hope Grows", a faith-based film highlighting the unconventional friendship between a struggling alcoholic and grocery store attendant with Down Syndrome. It was an uplifting and enlightening tale of redemption and acceptance - something that all of us can probably relate to.

One of the goals that creators of the film set was to defy the stereotypes of those living with Down Syndrome, and it did just that. Produce, the grocery store clerk with Down Syndrome played by David Desanctis, lived a life of a responsible, working and independent man - something that I for one didn't expect to see. Contrary to what a lot of the world would like to believe, those living with Down Syndrome are able to live independently as many other adults do. In fact, Produce acted as more of a responsible adult than Calvin Campbell, an alcoholic, ex-Detroit Tiger played by Kris Polaha.

I was thoroughly impressed with Desanctis and his ability to bring so much life and candidness to the role of Produce. Did I mention that Produce is a Church-throughout the week, Bible toting Christian? Yet another dynamic that was brilliantly paired with the film's redemptive message. Produce's beautiful personality and faithfulness rubbed off on Calvin Campbell and ultimately saved his life.

As you can probably guess, I loved the film. It's definitely something to see with the family. Warning: you may want to pack a few tissues - it will certainly tug on the toughest of heartstrings.

 

*** This piece was originally published on HBBMedia.com in May 2015

HHBMedia | Center Theater Group Presents: Immediate Family

I had the pleasure of attending opening night for Center Theatre Group’s “Immediate Family” – a hilarious play surrounding modern family drama, flirting with Christian taboos and racial tensions. Written by Paul Oakley Stovall and directed by Phylicia Rashad, the production did a great job of giving the audience a dose of each and every character and their baggage without complicating the plot. Traditional family conversations and card games guided the storyline seamlessly, without missing a single detail. So much so, that the lines between Stovall’s words and Rashad’s directions were positively blurred.

Stovall successfully kept the conversations centered on family matters unapologetically blunt, relatable and entertaining.  A few moments while in attendance I forgot that I was apart of the audience. The quarrels were oh-so real and I felt like I was an observing member of the family – delivering my own umm-hmm’s and he said what?’s throughout. I loved on every character as if they were relatives of my own family in spite of their personal shortcomings.

From the lighting to set design, everything was cleverly arranged so that the audience could distinguish between locations and times of day.

As in every great story, the family was seemingly able to resolve, or at least gain mutual respect for, their issues towards the final scene. Countless lessons were taught, which lead to self-reflection followed by internal dialogue on my behalf noting my own actions and prejudice towards the unfamiliar and untraditional – an effect that only a top-notch production could leave.

I would definitely recommend that everyone in the Los Angeles area check out “Immediate Family” at the Mark Taper Forum, and support Stovall as he continues to playfully open the minds of the “not-so-familiar” to untraditional notions of love and family.

 

*** This post was originally published for HHBMedia.com in May 2015

HHBMedia | Bruce Jenner and Glass Houses

I, along with everyone else in America, was anxious to watch Bruce Jenner's ABC interview this past Friday. I just had to know what the deal was - was he actually transitioning? Or is he just going through a mid-life crisis? And out of all of the viewers, I'm sure I was the only one who was actually surprised that the Bruiser was indeed transitioning.

He was so candid and ready to spill the tea on all aspects of his situation. And seeing that his family's most intimate moments are constantly on display, I should've expected this. I just imagine that transitioning is a life event that one would want to keep sacred - not necessarily a secret, but sacred. Like, I wouldn't expect to know whether they had "the surgery" or not, and I wouldn't expect for them to exploit their alternative wardrobe to ABC cameras for a quick buck.

Now, I have to mention that I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to transgender facts so I won't pretend to know what I'm talking about. I would just hope that those who choose to transition wouldn't feel as though they owe the world an explanation. In Bruce's case, he didn't owe the world an explanation, especially after how the media and public fools have been treating him over the past year. Following him, leaking his most private doctors appointments, bullying him, turning his life into a living joke. I wouldn't have given ANYONE the satisfaction or privilege to know my life's details after that.

But that's just me.

This leads me to my next point - I'm sure Bruiser had a mission or motive for doing the interview. Whether it be to troll for KUWTK ratings or to truly be a poster child for those who are transitioning privately, he had a purpose. And as someone who's simply observing, I don't think it's my place to tell Bruce my thoughts on what that motive may have been.

I guess what I really want to say is... You guys suck. And "you guys" as in the social media pricks and paparazzi pigs who tormented that poor man. You made fun of him, bullied him, and made his life a living hell. [I even believe that the paparazzi were the main cause of his horrific 2014 car accident.] I don't think people realize how all of this nonsense can have a negative effect on someone's life.

So insensitive. So disgusting. So down right mean.

The fact that it took Bruce to do a prime time interview for folks to start taking his life serious is appalling. Regardless of his celebrity, he's still a person. His situation, although unfamiliar to many, has to be rough, and to bully him in such a manner burns me. What burns me even further is that after his interview aired, I still saw some folks carrying on with their memes and insensitive comments.

"Deuteronomy says this!" and "Deuteronomy says that!"

Well you wanna know what else the Bible says?!

How about "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned." Luke 6:37

[And as a Christian, there were a few things Bruiser said that, of course, I didn't agree with. One of them being that he believed God made a mistake by putting him in the wrong body. I don't know which god he's referring to, but my God doesn't make "mistakes.”]

I won't get too preachy, but I just have to make my point.

Bottom line. Stop judging.

Social media has successfully turned hearts into coal, and fingers into weapons. Folks are absent-mindedly casting stones whilst forgetting to board up their own glass houses.

Your judgment and torment could've cost him his life - plenty of others have already offed themselves because of resembling ridicule.

People are taking their lives because they feel like the world isn't safe for them to be who they are.

Children are killing themselves out of fear of alienation.

And even if you're like me and clueless of what Bruce, or those like Bruce, may be going through - is it truly our place to poke fun and / or crucify?

 

Have you ever been haunted by your deepest, darkest emotions?

Have you ever had to live your life in absolute discomfort because you feared that if your deepest, darkest emotion were leaked, you'd be shamed by the public?

No? Well, sit with that for a moment. Try to imagine how your life would be if your daily sins were unfamiliar / unpopular to the world?

Would you be as brave as Bruce to wear them on your sleeve?

Maybe next time you'll think twice before making a mockery of someone's life.

 

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in April 2015

HHBMedia | Is There Room for Trap-Music in the Gospel Genre

Can I be honest with you guys? I didn't know what I was going to write about until Saturday morning. And seeing as my posts are due Sunday's, that's considered heavy procrastination.

I was sitting at my dining table eating breakfast with my son and FaceTiming my best friend Nikk when she asked me if I've heard Erica Campbell's new track. I said "no,” with a hint of excitement because I love Erica Campbell / Mary Mary. I just knew the song was going to be bomb.

So I asked, "what is it called?"

Nikk then replied, "I Luh God. Erica calls it trap-gospel.”

I almost fell out of the chair. I had to ask her to repeat herself. What did she mean trap-gospel? I was ever so intrigued to hear what this new genre was all about.  

So I downloaded the song.

And hit play.

My. Goodness.

My first reaction, you ask? Well, for one it definitely sounds like something Tamar Braxton would "twerk to Jesus" to. Like, I didn't even know if I was supposed to twerk or give it a churchy 2-step.

It made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Confused, even.

A part of me expected Weird Al Yankovich to begin rapping at any time.

It felt like a parody.

Like, K. Michelle would put this type of track on the album as a bonus, just to remind her fans that she's still "holy.”

Oh, Erica.

To give you a little background, Mary Mary has been known to drop the more contemporary gospel tracks. And with gospel artists like Lecrae, Mali Music, Tye Tribbet and Jackie Hill Perry bringing a more hip-hop feel into the gospel genre, an urban sound with a gospel message is no longer as far-fetched of an idea as it once was. There's room for gospel artists to experiment with their sound, but is there a space for trap music in the genre?

As far as I'm concerned trap and gospel should never be in the same sentence. And as a new-aged, liberal Christian, I just think trap-gospel is a little too mainstream.

I can totally picture a D.J. mistakenly playing this at a nightclub.

Is that Erica’s goal?

Now, I absolutely get where Erica was going with this. She'll be able to use this new sound to witness to the younger generation. Making Christianity more attainable for the "not so traditional" Christian.

I just don’t think it’s appropriate to blur the lines of what’s Christian-like and what’s secular. With artists like K. Michelle sporting formfitting, deep v-neck one pieces in her gospel-inspired music videos, temptation is higher than ever. Young people see these images and get a misconstrued message of what Christianity is all about. Not to say that we should all wear garbage-bag cloaks wherever we go, but flirting with the secular world shouldn’t be your way of witnessing. I shouldn’t have to “almost cuss” to prove to you that I’m “down.”

Erica may have pushed the envelope a little too far with this one. In fact, I’m sure Rich Homie Quan is working on his verse for the remix as we speak.

What are your thoughts?

 

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in April 2015

HHBMedia | You may not agree, but Black Lives Matter

Remember when I said that I was hopeful to have the opportunity to write an uplifting and inspirational piece for readers this week? Well, this isn't it.

Sorry not sorry.

I also remember mentioning last week how I'm tired of talking about race. It's draining, at least for me, because I'm a member of the race that's been the most mistreated and underrepresented in U.S. history. And because of the color of my skin, I'll never be able to go a day without thinking of my race or civil position in this country. It's a never-ending conversation - day in and day out.

 

I'm absolutely disgusted by the recent reports of police officers acting a plum fool in these streets. Their violent behaviors are purely criminal, and using their powerful positions to justify their animalistic actions is frightening to say the least.

I've seen 3 reports of extreme police brutality gone viral (2 black victims, and 1 white) this week alone. Black Lives Matter chants are speeding up again and it's only a matter of time before some un-conscious person points out that the white victim's life matters as well. And you know what, they're right.

Absolutely.

Mr. Pusok, the white victim who was jumped by a gang of donut eating bastards, deserves justice. All cop’s involved fates shouldn't end with a suspension; they ought to be punished in the highest degree. I have to tell you, watching the video of Francis Pusok being tased, kicked in the face, stomped on the head, elbowed in the neck, etc., made my heart break. It was a high-speed chase turned vicious, and no crime amounts to this type of walloping. But as soon as I saw a picture of Mr. Pusok, my broken heart began to mend. I know that Mr. Pusok will have justice. I'm about 90% sure that the cops involved will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and if not, some white, rich millionaire will purchase Pusok the best lawyer in the state to fight.

But in the cases of Walter Scott and Eric Harris, that 90% reassurance quickly drops to about a 50% chance that justice will be served. And even if they're appointed one of the best lawyers in their state, it only rises to a 75% chance that punishment will ensue for the officers. You see, black lives don't seem to hold as much a value in this country as white lives. But you should already know that by now.

This now leads me into my next point - there are 2 very important issues here: 1 being that our country's police departments need a complete overhaul, and 2, colored lives matter, too. And although both are extremely imperative, they are not to be equated.

 

Parents of colored children have a different type of fear for their offspring. I know for a fact that my worries for my 21-month-old's future as a black man in this country are on a-whole-nother level than those of his white classmate's parents.

I'm sure we all hope for the best and that our kids turn out to be upstanding citizens who make the world a better place. I'm sure we all pray that God protects our kids, and keeps them off the pathways to becoming meth dealers.

But I have a few extra prayers that I’m forced to tack on - I pray that Jace never has to face injustices because of the color of his skin. I pray that he's not judged or seen as a threat while simply breathing. I pray that a routine traffic stop doesn't turn into a deadly crime scene. The reality of the situation is that colored lives aren't valued, a lesson that I'll have to explain to Jace as he gets older.

 

Thank goodness the latest brutal police attacks have been caught on tape. Mr. Pusok, who thankfully lived through his inhumane attack, will hopefully get to tell his side of the story in court. On the other hand, Mr. Martin, Brown, Garner, Scott, Harris and countless others we loss but have not forgotten, will not.

We'll continue to chant "Black Lives Matter" until our justice system sees it right to fit the punishment with the crime - selling loosies, owing on child support, and purchasing Arizona Iced Tea and Skittles from a neighborhood convenient store does not surmount to death, but the gentlemen listed above were murdered for said petty crimes. Crimes that most white citizens get a tap on the wrist for cost them their very lives.

And that's why Black Lives Matter.

 

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in April 2015

HHBMedia | Too Much Malarkey: Diversity in Television

This week in race-insensitivity news...

I really hate talking about this - I really do. I would love to write a happy-go-lucky, inspirational piece, but there's far too much malarkey for me to remain mum.

Firstly, Latina Magazine and their obnoxiously written ultimatum to the writers of Empire – No. I didn't want to address it, but they have left no choice.

To give you a bit of background, Latina Magazine posted an article pleading for Latino characters to be added to the Empire cast. Now, this would've been acceptable had the article not have taken shots at the show's premise, discrediting its stance in the music industry by pointing out everything that isn't "realistic" - negating the fact that it's a fictional show. My beef isn't with the writer, he's clearly out of touch, but my beef lies more so with the editor.

Why would you approve the publishing of an article that discredits another minority stakeholder?

Especially in a time when both groups of color are facing immeasurable injustices in our country.

I just think that tearing any avenue of entertainment that celebrates people of color should be the last thing to do. To pretty much make the statement "the show is all wrong, and could be better if they added Latino characters to the cast" is borderline disrespectful. It's another demeaning point of view on black culture - and according to everyone who isn't black, blacks would have never obtained this level of success on their own. Blacks are handicapped.

And who would want to willingly feature a plethora of black characters on prime time television shows? Television is becoming "too ethnic"-at least that's what a writer at Deadline thinks.

Is there even a such thing as "too ethnic?”

For years, blacks have had to accept secondary roles on leading television series. They have had to settle for the supporting story lines and even have had to man the most belittling and stereotypical characters. So to have television outlets that now celebrate the race it used to once shame is a step in the right direction.

I remember being invited to my 3rd grade classmate’s birthday party. Let's call her Emily. Emily's mother put together a great affair, filled with awesome snacks and the most creative games little girls could ever imagine. One of the games was a talent show where we had to mimic our favorite musical acts. My group of friends chose the Spice Girls. Now this probably sounds like an epic task, but it quickly turned into a tragic moment for a little black girl from Asheville, NC. There were 2 of us, black girls, in the group but only 1 black Spice Girl. So we had to audition for the role. Two black girls who were once the best of friends quickly turned into a couple of competitors, because there could only be 1 black girl on top. A challenge that black actresses have had to defy was a lesson for a couple of 8 year olds - something that should never infiltrate an elementary school.

The Deadline article was, without a doubt, disrespectful. To try to brainwash its readers into thinking that blacks are less than deserving of the leading roles they have is a continuation of the oppressive legacy that has haunted the industry for years.

And because of that godforsaken legacy, we have been forced to create our own outlets of expression to showcase our talents and abilities to be leading ladies/men.

Television being diverse in this day and age should be celebrated, not critiqued. It shows that those of all races are capable of being the face of prime time television, and to say anything but would be a blow to an unsaid amount of tiny colored children everywhere.

 

*** This piece was originally published on HHBMedia.com in April 2015

HHBMedia | Suge Knight or Sugah Bear?

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you've all heard about the latest Suge Knight news. His bail was recently set to $25 mil after being held for a hit-and-run incident resulting in one man's death and another being critically injured. I know most of you shrugged off the news, seeing as Suge and trouble seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, but I just couldn't. I have a soft place in my heart for him - he's definitely been through a lot over the years.

Suge Knight is notorious for drama. He's rumored to have connections with the death of Biggie and the (alleged) death of Tupac. He was the mastermind behind the West coast vs. East coast beef in the 90's. And although it's never been confirmed which gang he's a member of, he is continuously affiliated with gangbanging. All of these mentions don't help to support my case, so I'll just end the scroll here.

I believe that Suge is the poster child for old mistakes haunting one's future. He wears the turmoil from his past as a Scarlet Letter. No matter what he does henceforth, the public will always view him as nothing more than a Compton Thug. I'm not excusing or justifying anything that he's done, I just don't think it's fair to judge one's future / present solely off past indiscretions. Hear me out…

I remember watching the first season's reunion of R&B Divas LA. Michel’le, ex wife of both Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, discussed her relationships with both West coasters and her abusive past. Now, we knew at least one of the men mentioned abused her, and I don't know about you, but I didn't expect Michel’le to pin point Dre as the culprit. In fact, I probably would've put money on Suge having the strongest pimp hand.

I, along with the rest of America, was wrong.

 

Michel’le even said that Suge was a gentle giant, and after divorcing Dre and linking up with him, she questioned Suge's love for her because he didn't hit her.

Crazy right?

Gives ‘Beats By Dre’ a-whole-nother meaning.

 

I completely judged him and made him the criminal in my mind. And although he's been involved in several scandalous activities, should we continue to hold all of them over his head? Now, I'd like to think that prison is uncomfortably harsh, and is probably the last place a millionaire would want to spend his time. And I note that to say, maybe Suge was really trying to get his life together this time around.

Reports cite that Suge was "ambushed" by 3 gang bangers at the burger joint. He felt threatened and in his attempt to escape the altercation, he ran over 2 of them with his car, killing 1. I'm no gangbanging expert, but I'd think that someone with such a tumultuous past would still have to pay in consequences for a lot of those actions. Maybe the ambush and hit-and-run incident was just that - a consequence to his old habits.

Getting shot at Chris Brown's party a few months ago – consequence.

Having his bail set to $25 mil – another consequence.

To what exactly, you ask? I can’t say, but I’m sure Suge has all of the answers.

Drama definitely follows Suge. I just think he's a little too old to actually initiate anything, and everything that's coming to him in the latter part if his life is, unfortunately, karma.

I don't know the inner workings of his daily being, but I believe that one can change if they truly want to. And in Suge's case, his environment just won't let him be great.

I feel bad for the ol' G.

I’d hate to be tortured by a past that I couldn’t go back and change – wouldn’t you?

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in March 2015

HHBMedia | Hollywood and Natural Hair

I was more than excited to watch the season premiere of Dancing With The Stars this past week. I missed the live showing, but was able to catch it on Hulu the following day. I couldn't wait to see Patti Labelle, Rumer Willis and Michael Sam tear up their routines.

As expected, the premiere was fun and light-hearted. The judges were pretty lenient on the contestants, seeing as this was their first go-round. All of them seemed to be on their best behavior; all but Len Goodman, whose commentary left a bad taste in my mouth.

LMFAO's RedFoo and his partner, Emma Slater performed a 70's style-Cha Cha number over his single, Juicy Wiggle. Although his ballroom skills needed a bit of work, I thought they killed it overall. Now, I'm no pro but I do know a thing or two about entertainment, and RedFoo's moonwalk had me hype. He was full of energy and put on a great show. I thought that most of his feedback was on point, until Len Goodman inappropriately compared RedFoo’s dancing style to his hair, "wild and unkempt.”

If you're unfamiliar with LMFAO, RedFoo represents half of the group and is the son of music legend Berry Gordy. So you guessed it, he's black (half, full, doesn't matter. He's a black man), and historically blacks are known to have kinkier hair textures than other races. In fact, the group’s trademarks are their enormously thick Afros.

As soon as the remark slipped out, I did a quick Google search to see if anyone else peeped it. To my surprise, I couldn't find a single article acknowledging it. I reassessed to see if I was maybe overreacting - maybe his comment wasn't that bad, and I shouldn't be offended? Truth is it was ignorant, and shouldn't have been said at all, let alone on-air. In fact, RedFoo's facial expression showed me that he wasn’t too cool with Len's observation either.

Now, I'm not calling Len Goodman a racist - he's actually one of my favorite judges on the show, and I highly doubt that he would've made the statement if he knew how unsuitable it was. But that’s the issue. Hollywood is notorious for being absent-minded with their comments, and under-representing anything that isn’t “white.”

We could blame Len's lack of sensitivity on his age, seeing that he's one of the most seasoned judges on the show. But in a time when the natural hair movement is picking up momentum and awareness is at an all time high, I would think that, at very least, those with an entertainment platform would be more socially conscious with the comments they make on air.

 

Giuliana Rancic, another beloved on-air personality of mine, felt the wrath of the natural hair community when she stereotyped Zendaya and her faux locs as smelling like "patchouli oil and weed" during an episode of Fashion Police. With the help of the viewers (and the network), she immediately realized the offensive nature of her comment, and promptly made a public apology to everyone she may have hurt.

But what about Len Goodman? Is it ok for his ignorance to be swept under the rug because not enough naturals tuned in to DWTS?

I guess this shows us that Hollywood isn't diverse enough, and will continue to neglect cultural differences unless they’re confronted. And according to the industry, you’re only offensive and inapt if you’re caught red-handed.

When will it change?

In the meantime, I’ll continue to sport my “wild and unkempt” Afro…

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia in March 2015

HHBMedia | To Pimp A Butterfly - Music Review

I'm absolutely in love with Kendrick Lamar that this point in my life. Going back to the summer of 2011, when I had my first listen to his independently released album, Section.80, I knew that he would be a force in the industry. And his sound hasn't changed. By now, you know that when you hear a Kendrick Lamar track or feature, you're going to get authenticity. And in a time when every other rapper is a carbon copy, I love that we can depend on him to put his artistry over fame and radio bangers.

good kid, m.A.A.d city was awesome, but To Pimp A Butterfly is history. BLACK history. Funk, jazz, blues, spoken word, the samples - black history. I get the feeling that Kendrick put his all into each and every track, including the interludes. I have to say, For Free? and For Sale? are just as good as the songs. 

Abnormally, I find myself at a loss for words as I write this - trying to organize my thoughts without getting carried away. I'm just, in a nutshell, overwhelmed with passion. I expected something good, but NOT anything like this. 

Socially conscious? Sure. Maybe a little. But this album is way more than just an industry phrase to categorize "eloquent Negroes.” It’s a testament to the fact that no matter how much money, power, or success you have, we all still deal with some of the same issues. Self doubt, self consciousness, internal morality battles, skin complexion-complexes, depression, feelings of neglect and abandonment, questioning your self worth (especially in a time when people of color are still being treated as less than human), wanting to build a united front but allowing our religions, social statuses, cultures, or gang affiliations continue to tear us apart - are just a few of the albums themes that I identified with. I kind of feel like labeling this masterpiece as "socially conscious" would be disrespectful. Kendrick packed his life's insecurities into 16 wonderfully-made tracks that can't be described as anything but “unapologetically black.”

I can honestly say that "skip" wasn't, and hasn't been, hit a single time. I'm in love with the stories and found myself yearning to learn/hear more. 

Throughout the album, Kendrick talks about his encounters with Lucy, which I later realized was Lucifer after listening to For Sale? about 4-5 times. Kendrick explains how Lucy hypnotized him with empty promises of power and success. I feel like you have to listen to the album in its entirety before you truly understand the purpose of For Sale?. You see, Kendrick's idol, Tupac struggled with this as well.

 

Lucy in For Sale? speaking to Kendrick
What’s wrong, nigga?
I thought you was keeping it “gangsta”?
I thought that’s what you wanted?
They say “if you scared, go to church”
But remember, he knows the Bible too.
 

My guess is that this comes from him not being able to handle the success of his first album. Surprisingly enough, Tupac has been quoted talking about this exact struggle. This not being a secret to Kendrick, he recites a poem he wrote for Tupac about the situation, which we later come to know as Another Nigga. 

 

Another Nigga: Kendrick talking to Tupac
I remember you was conflicted
Misusing your influence
Sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in the hotel room
I didn’t wanna self-destruct
The evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went running for answers
Until I came home
But that didn’t stop “Survivor’s Guilt”
Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned
Or maybe how A1 my foundation was
But while my loved ones was fighting a continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one
A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination
Made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned
The word was “Respect”
Just because you wore a different gang color than mines, doesn’t mean I can’t respect you as a black man
Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets
If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us
But I don’t know
I’m no mortal man
Maybe I’m just another nigga

 

With stanzas sprinkled throughout the album, each song helps to build to the final chapter, Mortal Man.

Mortal Man is the perfect piece to complete Another Nigga's puzzle. It’s the final song and does a great job summarizing many of the album’s themes. It closes with an eerie conversation that Kendrick has with Tupac about the future of hip hop and black culture. It tripped me out how Tupac was completely in tuned to what's going on in the world today. 

 

In closing, I haven't felt this way about a project since The Love Below. And just like The Love Below, To Pimp A Butterfly is off the Richter. It can't be fairly compared to anything that has come out in the last few years. Seeing as this is an album review and it’s pretty much my responsibility to give it a rating, I’ll grade it an “A.”

Even if you don't feel the sound, you have to respect the messages. Kendrick is dropping some valuable knowledge, and that, my friends, is priceless.

Special shoutout to iTunes. I don't think I could've waited another week for this. 

 

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in March 2015

HHBMedia | I can say it... But you can't

To say that I was shocked when I heard about the recent racist SAE viral video would be a complete lie. In fact, when I first caught wind of it I shrugged it off. It's definitely not anything new, and far from surprising.

America is infested with closeted racists, sexists, homophobes – and all around bigots - who believe that as long as they're friendly and p.c. in public, it's totally acceptable to make "harmless" jokes in the privacy of their abodes. Not realizing that they're offending almost everyone that they come into contact with on a daily basis, or maybe realizing it but simply not caring.

I honestly didn't watch the actual chant in discussion until today. Again, I wasn't surprised - disgusted, but not surprised. I must've watched 10-15 different news reports, interviews and opinion videos tonight. Each of them describing how devastated the OK campus is and how using that "type of language" is "never" ok. I started to rule it out to be the nation's consensus that the N-word should die, until I came across an interview of OK Alum and former SAE African American members on the verge of tears as they commented on the 2nd viral video in the wake of recent events. The house mom, Beauton ‘Mom B’ Gilbow, was caught on tape rapping along to a Trinidadian song, not missing a single N-word in cadence. Now, this could've just been someone's grandmother merely trying to be "down,” but Mom B was just quoted saying how she thinks the SAE member's video was devastating and disrespectful 5 minutes ago. And then Don Lemon asked:

"Is it excusable for Mom B to say the N-word if she's rapping along to lyrics in a song?", knowing good-darn well that he already knew the answer to that question.

Absolutely not.

And I know what you're about to ask:

"Well, how do you expect non-blacks to not use the N-word if blacks say it all the time?!"

Because... We're black. It's as simple as that.

Point. Blank. Period.

Confused? Don't be. Watch the SAE video again. That's a perfect example to why non-blacks should never say the N-word.

You see, it's all good when you get lost rapping along to your fave Waka Flocka track. And I know a bit of liberation gasses you up as you let a few N-bombs slide off your lips. You can taste it. You're that much closer to being down with the brown. Not to mention the black guy at the gas station just complimented you on your sound system. Your bass is dope and you just potentially made a new black, best friend? Man, you're golden.

But just as Al Sharpton was about to put your certification of honorary blackness in the mail, another person of color cuts you off on the road and the N-word that once proudly wore an "a" quickly dresses itself with an "er.”

You let your anger get the best of you, and just turned a term of endearment into a racial slur.

Honorary black accolade revoked.

You. Can't. Sit. With. Us.

Non-blacks abuse the term.

As soon as a black person pisses you off or threatens you in any way you use it to insult or degrade. That, at least for me, is enough to take away your N-word privileges all together (not that non-blacks had the privilege to begin with, but you catch my drift).

Now, I would never want to offend or make anyone reading this feel uncomfortable. I just think it has to be said. Bottom line, if you don't know how to treat the N-word, you shouldn't use it. And seeing as there are far too many non-Blacks to keep a tally of who's an actual offender, I just have to ban you all. Thank SAE :)

 

No disrespect. No hard feelings.

 

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in March 2015

HHBMedia | Dark Sky Paradise review

I was hesitant to listen to Big Sean’s newest project, Dark Sky Paradise, initially. I went into it with the lowest of expectations, trying not to put forth my preconceived biases when reviewing.

You see, I moved to LA from the Metro-Detroit area and lived there during Big Sean’s come-up. A few of my college-mates weren’t too enthused with his success, and me not knowing too much about him then, I let their perceptions of him rub off on me.  Stories of Sean being the whackest member of Finally Famous were surfacing, and the mood was somber so I didn’t want to waste my time trying to figure him out.

I have to say, I’m glad that I finally gave him a chance. Dark Sky Paradise is a really good album and I could tell that he poured his heart out in majority of the tracks. He kept it honest and was surprisingly, for me at least, extremely transparent. The LP helped me get to know him on a deeper level, and as a result, I now have a new level of respect for Sean.

Sean’s flow is interestingly rich. His lyrics are witty and intelligent, so much so that I found myself chuckling at a few of his rhymes.

My favorite tracks would have to be Blessings, Paradise, Win Some Lose Some, Stay Down, and I Know.

I’d give the album a B rating – he completely changed my perceptions of his music and I’m impressed. This is definitely a record that I’d listen to during my long commutes.

So, does this officially make me a fan?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! But I’m undeniably intrigued by him and will try to listen to more of his music with an open mind.

Great job, Sean!

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in March 2015

HHBMedia | Empire: Prime-Time Television's Game Changer

Along with pretty much everyone else in America, I'm in love with Empire. I've touched on my thoughts of the show briefly in my vlogs (youtube.com/user/bashinlavlog – shameless plug), but kept the review mainly on the surface - that being its catchy songs, Derek Luke being a pleasant surprise, and Cookie as my most favorite, ratchet, television character ever. The story lines never disappoint, and this past week's episode was no different.

Those who aren't as familiar with the show's premise, Empire showcases the lives of a family who runs one of the biggest music labels in their time. It's all about corruption, sex, infidelity, loyalty and sibling rivalry.

Luscious Lyon, Terrence Howard, is the head of the label and is looking to choose one of his three sons to take over the family's empire. The youngest son, Hakeem, played by Bryshere Gray, is a lovely hot mess. He's expecting to have Empire handed to him upon his father's departure and is trying to make a name for himself in the industry. His talent is undeniable, but he has a lot of growing up to do before his time to reign comes. His juicy relationship with the gorgeous-cougar Camilla, Naomi Campbell, is definitely something to keep a close eye on.

Jamal Lyon, Jussie Smollet, is the uber talented, sensitive, middle son with a not-so-secret, secret. He's gay and battles with his father over the notion that homosexuality doesn't have a place in the Hip-Hop culture. Jamal, aside from Cookie Lyon, is one of my favorite characters. I admire his strength and bravery. He's loyal to his family's empire, but determined to stay true to himself in the same light. The mother, Cookie Lyon, played by baddie Taraji P. Henson, clearly sees Jamal as her favorite son and would like for him to ultimately run Empire once Luscious kicks the bucket.

The eldest son, Andre Lyon, played by Trai Byers, and until now, the hardest character to figure out, is the CFO of Empire. The flashbacks in previous episodes helped us understand his relationship with Luscious. He's always had his father's back, and although I'm sure he feels as if his actions are validated, I can't help but question his morals. He believes that he's a shoe-in to run the family business, and will stop at nothing to get it. He plays dirty, is untrustworthy, actively stirs up trouble with his family and uses his wife as a pawn to manipulate people. Like Jamal, Andre has a not-so-secret, secret that took a turn for the worst this past week - his mental illness.

I'm amazed that the show's writers are choosing to showcase a diverse range of industry taboos. Zoning in on Andre's mental illness is commendable. Like homosexuality, mental illness isn't a subject that is spoken of candidly in the Hip-Hop or black communities. I can't say that I've ever heard of an artist openly declaring that they are living with a mental illness. And although Andre isn't an artist, he's a known, powerful name in the show's music industry and his story line, to me, has the potential to be a game changer. I can't even begin to imagine how the depths of his character will inspire those tuning in.

 

Chris Lighty was an industry exec that was said to have suffered from depression and as a result, allegedly killed himself in 2012. His death came as a shock to the industry and briefly sparked conversations surrounding mental illness in the Hip-Hop and black communities. [Staying true to journalism ethics, I have to add that in 2014 Lighty’s family petitioned to have his death examined further, stating that they believed he was involved in a rap feud that may have lead to him being murdered.]

Actress and dancer, Stephanie Moseley was shot and killed by her boyfriend, rapper Earl Hayes in late 2014, after a relationship dispute. It ended up being a murder-suicide, but information on whether or not Hayes was mentally ill never surfaced. One can only imagine what the young man had to be dealing with in order to commit such a crime.

 

I'm unable to pinpoint exactly which illness Andre is living with, I'm not an expert and I'm not going to pretend to be, but I have noticed signs of depression and anxiety throughout the season. The extreme pressures of his job and the fear of not gaining his father's approval have been hard on the kid, and these stressors clearly pushed him to his breaking point.

The elevator scene with his brothers almost had me in tears. Previous episodes never focused on his relationship with his younger brothers, and I assumed, along with many others I'm sure, that they were somewhat estranged. Not drastically, but they just lead different lives and a personal bond has never been shown until now. Andre having a nervous breakdown in a trapped elevator and his brothers calming him, while singing the nostalgic "Lean On Me,” made me wonder whether Andre's illness is a "secret from the family" or a "family secret.” I'm leaning towards it being more of a "family secret.” Even though his illness was more in the forefront this episode, his family still dealt with it quietly. Keeping him locked in the Empire conference room and strolling him off to a 48-hour hold was Luscious' way of handling it.

Maybe the pressures of balancing his career and not letting his mental illness "embarrass" the family legacy are finally breaking him down.

Empire is definitely taking advantage of their platform - giving faces and names to historic industry taboos, making them human and relatable. I'm excited to see how everything pans out and am praying that it starts some dialogue amongst, as well as beyond its viewers.

The writers are dope - Wednesday's are my new favorite TV nights.

What do you think of the show?

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in March 2015

HHBMedia | Drake is so talented, it's annoying

Listen. If you haven't heard Drake's If You're Reading This You're Too Late, you're missing out, & I'm saying this as a certified "Drake-hater.”

I feel like we (you and I) are still in the "getting to know each other" phase, seeing as I'm new to the website and everything. I want to be as honest and candid as possible in my posts, so it's only right that I expose myself.

The Twittersphere knows me as a Drake-hater. That's where the title came from. No, I did not make that up. But little do my followers know, I absolutely adore Drake.

Most of the time. Secretly.

So much so that I'm sure my closest friends don't know I rock with him. Like, so secret to the point where you probably wouldn't have seen me nod my head to any of his tunes in public, but in my car he's on heavy rotation.

I publicly shamed Marvin's Room, but if you take a look at my iTunes library, I'm sure it falls within the top 10 of my most played songs.

I'm ashamed that it has gone on for this long. In all fairness, I've tried to openly express my love for him a few times, but could never bring myself to. You see, at that time I found myself always ranting about how “snitches get stitches” and I didn’t want to be hypocritical.

 

Drake is the type of guy to pass you on the 405 and write a song about it. The whole world would know your license plate number, make and model of your car, and how you rode in the carpool lane solo-dolo. (And if you're unfamiliar with carpool lanes, it's totally illegal to drive in it if you don't have 2+ passengers and the cops will write you a big, fat ticket.)

 

So Drake just snitched on you.

The Po’s have all the information they need and your citation is in the mail.

Thank him later.

 

He's that type of guy. He has all the tea and isn't afraid to spill it. But deep down you have to appreciate him for it, because it's the truth.

See how I'm torn?

That's what makes his music so annoyingly good. He talks about real-life events, and you can count on him to give you the real-time facts.

 

I believe that You & The 6 is an actual phone conversation that he had with his mom - dramatic pauses and everything.

I believe that Drake truly ran through the 6 with his overwhelming woes.

I believe that he was, in fact, lonely on that particular Wednesday night.

I believe that he has a young lady whom he should propose to, but they're just on different pages right now. They always fight about his love for strippers. It's depressing.

He's an open book and we know all of his business. Usually, I'd praise an artist for their sincerity, but Drake makes it hard to respect his hustle. At times he can be a little "too honest" and divulge a little "too much".

 

He reminds me of this guy I knew in middle school who used to write me poems all the time. He didn't place them on my desk for me to read while he wasn't around, like any normal prepubescent teen. No. He'd wait by my locker to hand them to me. Face to face. Hand in hand. I remember his poetry making me cringe. I thought he was whack, but I appreciated his art. He irritated the heck out of me, making me want to avoid him every open chance I got, but I respected his morality.

 

Drake's talent is so authentic it's annoying. Dependable - forthrightness is his brand. You want to hate him for his tattle-telling rhymes, but you respect him because you know he's more than likely telling the truth.

And that's annoying.

*** The post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in February 2015

HHBMedia | Blacker the Berry: How do you handle “black”?

Wow.

Where do I begin?

Just in case you aren’t up to speed, Blacker the Berry is a contradiction to i. K. Dot goes from declaring his love for himself and his blackness to putting that same blackness on blast. If you haven’t watched the video for i, stop reading this and go watch it… Now.  This whole thing will make sense.

i celebrates black culture, showing how fun and flavorful it can be. Watching the youngins dance in the video almost covers up the cultural issues/taboos on display (e.g. suicide, domestic abuse, alcoholism). Listening to it makes me want to throw my right fist in the air while picking my fro with the left. Kendrick had me feeling like Angela Davis.

And then Blacker the Berry dropped. Oh man – A complete 180.

In all fairness, Kendrick calls out his hypocrisy before any of us had the chance to.  And if I can be candid for a moment, I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t like how he made me question myself. Am I really proud to be black? Do I only rep it when it’s convenient? After listening to it a few times, I found myself stuck on the first 23 seconds.

I dedicate the rest of this post to the following powerful stanza:

“Everything black, I don’t want black. I want everything black, I don’t need black. Some white, some black. I ain’t mean black. I want everything black. Everything black, want all things black. I don’t need black. Want everything black. Don’t need black. Our eyes ain’t black. I own black. I own everything black.”

I replayed the intro at least 20 times, and even looked the lyrics up on Rap Genius just to make sure I wasn’t trippin.

“Everything black, I don’t want black. I want everything black, I don’t need black.”

Did he just say that? Did he just admit this publically? Does he battle with his blackness like me? Is he speaking about how society handles “black” or how Blacks handle “black”?

 

I’m going to talk about myself for a moment, and how I handle “black”.

 

I go back and forth, internally, with my blackness all the time. And because I know you’re (if you’re black) probably getting defensive and calling me crazy, I won’t ask you to agree with me. But I have to stand up with him on this. I commend his bravery, because half of us won’t admit it for fear of judgment by our own people. Being black isn’t easy and definitely isn’t as fun as Martin or Fresh Prince of Bel Air makes it look. If you’re proud to be black, you’re abrasive. If you’re timid with your blackness, you’re white-washed. If you have natural hair, you’re a nappy headed-hoe who looks “un-kept.” It almost seems like it’d be easier to let it all go and conform to what society thinks “black” should look like, instead of fighting to keep its authenticity.

But what is its authenticity? Has it ever truly been authentic?

Has it ever been accepted for what it truly was? But, what is “it?”

Black Americans haven’t been allowed to “just be”, and K. Dot doesn’t want us to continue to sweep this issue under the rug. I felt safe and proud listening to him proclaim his blackness, but as soon as he switched it up, I panicked. Blacker the Berry made me look a little deeper inside myself. 

It would be easy to blame my self-consciousness and confusion of what “being black” really means on the American history of systematic oppression and white-supremacy. And by not negating those facts and brushing off the bruises slavery has left on Black American egos, I’m going to continue to look inward and work to change my perceptions of my own blackness.

I’m going to begin taking ownership of my blackness and not wait for anyone to define “it” for me.

“Everything black, I don’t want black. I want everything black, I don’t need black. Some white, some black. I ain’t mean black. I want everything black. Everything black, want all things black. I don’t need black. Want everything black. Don’t need black. Our eyes ain’t black. I own black. I own everything black.”

Be real... How do you handle “black?”

Thank you, Kendrick.

 

*** The post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in February 2015

HHBMedia | Yeezy VS Everybody

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Let me preface by saying that I absolutely adore Kanye West, so the following may come off as being a tad biased – but I’m ok with that.

Kanye is a game changer and I’m just not talking about music (even though he’s arguably one of the GOATs when it comes to producing), but in terms of behavior.

Kanye doesn’t behave like your typical rap-god. He doesn’t have very much of a “gangster-like” past to rhyme about, nor does he sport ill-fitting garments accented with tattoos that glorify his street cred. Instead he flaunts his self-consciousness and brags about casually dining with Valentino Garavani. He’s an overly-confident, momma’s boy from the Southside of Chicago who has something to teach all of us – If you truly and whole-heartedly believe in yourself, you can, and in Kanye’s case, will accomplish anything.

I’ve been rocking with Kanye since my freshman year of high school, back when every headline on MTV News was about his famous car crash. Soon after that, his debut album College Dropout circulated on AOL You Heard It First. I swear, I must’ve listened to that album a gazillion times before it dropped. AOL posted it as one track to halt any attempts at pirating, so you couldn’t skip the songs. I didn’t mind however, I loved every bit of it. It was something about him that made me want to listen to each and every song, over and over again. I just wasn’t able to place my finger on it then.

Fast forward 11-12 years and I still get the same feeling I got when I listened to College Dropout. His production style has changed and even a bit of his artistry is different, but he hasn’t/isn’t. Kanye is still the same overly-confident, momma’s boy from the Southside of Chicago, just with better outfits and more stardom.

The blogs and tabloids paint him as an arrogant, angry, know-it-all. And I’d have to agree. But hasn’t he always been arrogant, angry and a know-it-all? Go back and watch some of his early interviews. He’s still arrogant. Still angry. Still a know-it. And all for good reason.

You see, and early Ye’ fans will back me on this, Kanye has defeated all of the odds. He was put down during the early parts of his career – even Jay Z told him that he couldn’t rap. He never once buckled and kept pushing towards what he believed he could accomplish. Some may say that he had the divine confirmation from God on what he was set out to accomplish, others would credit his mother, Donda West, for instilling that “never back down” mind-set into her knuckle-headed son. Whichever way the coin landed, Kanye knew what he wanted and sought after it with full force and tenacity – EVEN WHEN JAY-Z TOLD HIM HE COULDN’T RAP (palms forehead)!

With everything, and everyone, against him, he still never gave up. His over-confidence wouldn’t let him settle. He needed to make it, he didn’t have a backup plan. Isn’t that how we should approach our passions?

If more of us looked at the world through Kanye’s eyes, I can say without a doubt that we would be better off. Fight self-doubt and dig deep, in search for your own arrogance. Know that if you work hard enough, you too can achieve your goals. Don’t depend on anyone else to stroke your ego. Get angry when working towards your passion and don’t let anyone tell you nothin’. And even after all of that, if you for a moment begin to doubt yourself, think of Kanye.

Jay-Z told him he couldn’t rap. And he’s not only a rapper – he’s an icon.

***This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in February 2015