Monday, January 31, 2011

A Quick Thought on Interracial Dating

No matter what someone's political beliefs may be, Barack Obama is an impressive individual. He has worked tirelessly and diligently to assume the role he now plays in our world. I feel that no matter what the legacy of his presidency may be, he will be remembered by history to be one of America's most inspiring figures.

Obama's parents are Barack Obama, Sr., a black man from Kenya, and Stanley Ann Dunham, a white woman from Kansas. So yes, while the President may personally identify with being a black man (and rightfully so), he is the product of an interracial relationship.

I would cautiously argue that many Americans tend to admire the novelty and exoticism of individuals who are biracial or multiracial descended. We seem extremely attracted to them; we view their existence almost as an evolution of humanity. They represent the gradual erasure of the racial divide. However, there are many in our society that are still apprehensive about interracial dating. We still have those initial tribal impulses embedded in our bodies that prevent us from fully appreciating romantic biracial interaction. When we see interracial couples in public, we can't help but take a second look and wonder about their story. What were the circumstances that brought them together and why did they choose each other instead of someone of their own race? Is the scrutiny difficult for them, or has it simply become background noise?

I know I do this, even though I feel a bit of shame. It takes a moment for my reason and acceptance to offset the initial pangs of tribalism. I guess I'm human after all.

But for me, there is a bigger question. If the children of interracial couples are so treasured by our society, why are the couples themselves still the targets of scrutiny and skepticism? Should we not praise their efforts as openly as we marvel in the beauty of their offspring?

Until tomorrow...


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two-Wheeled Narcotics

I ride a motorcycle. It's the best thing ever.

To be more specific I'm a motorcyclist, which to me is much different than simply owning a motorcycle. Anyone who owns a motorcycle will happily ride during near-perfect riding conditions; middle of the day, 77 degrees, no traffic, and not a cloud in the sky. But in addition to this, a motorcyclist will ride at any other opportunity s/he finds, no matter the conditions. I've ridden during the middle of the night, through pouring rain, to work and back, to run errands around town, and even down to temperatures of 40 degrees. The only reason I'm not riding my bike now is because I don't own motorcycle gear that can protect me from the relative frigidity of a Philadelphia winter. (However, that type of gear does exist, and I will own some in the near future.)

Many motorcyclists have tried to describe the appeal of riding. Some romanticize about the sense of isolation and time for self reflection motorcycling offers. Others will celebrate the camaraderie and community that accompanies motorcycle ownership. And yes, both of these concepts are very appealing. But more than these, motorcycling allows me to be as fully engaged with the world and my surrounding as I can possibly imagine.

Consider this. A motorcycle is practically a chair on which someone has bolted an internal combustion engine (so it's highly flammable), two wheels (so it has half the grip of an automobile), and handlebars (so the rider has to physically hold on). And depending which chair-on-wheels the rider may own, s/he is capable of traveling at speeds upwards of 180 mph. So even at more legal velocities, the performance of a motorcycle can quickly become overwhelming. Oh, and let's add a few 2-ton blocks of steel moving at similar speeds in close proximity to this high-powered chair, just for good measure (many of them driven by people texting their BFFs while looking for their credit card to purchase their vacation tickets to Bermuda). As you can see, the attention that is required to safely operate a motorcycle on the street is paramount and requires active and unconditional commitment.

This is what I absolutely love about motorcycling. It's one of the few things in life one can do that doesn't allow "phoning it in." If only we injected this type of engagement into other events/actions/relationships in our lives...

Let me be clear. There are many challenges in the motorcycling community, and most are reflective of similar challenges in the greater society. In future posts, I will most likely take time to highlight some of these issues in hopes of inspiring discussion.

Nevertheless, motorcycling will be a part of my life until the end. It has become part my identity; as much as where I grew up and or who I consider my friends. I feel if things had been different, I would have wanted to be the first black racer in MotoGP instead of a theatre artist. But for me, it was a matter of economics. I'll save that for another day.

For now, here's a video of one of my favorite styles of motorcycle racing, flat track. I hope to build my own flat tracker in the next couple of years and start learning how to ride this way. I really want to try this!

For more info on flat track racing, look here. See you tomorrow!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Asher Roth

This will be the last week I highlight Asher Roth, and I'd like to end the month with his first single "G.R.I.N.D. (Get Ready It's a New Day)" off of his forthcoming album The Spaghetti Tree.

After spending the month listening to Asher, I am really impressed by his commitment to solid, steady progress as an artist. So many new emcees see debut hits as a chance to propel themselves into superstar territory which, more often than not, never quite comes to fruition. But Mr. Roth seems to be following a more measured and deliberate approach. He's making very credible and insightful choices about the artists with whom he chooses to collaborate, and he is doing the grassroots ground work that remains the tried and true method of solidifying one's fanbase. Plus, the cat can rhyme, he makes enjoyable music, and he doesn't take himself to seriously. I've had fun learning more about Asher and his music this month, and I look forward to hearing good things from him in the future.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Reverend Tyson

Whenever I find myself lacking in inspiration to perform or write or practice, there are a few key thoughts or ideas that usually help me get back in gear. Recent events in my professional progress have jostled me a bit and I've noticed feeling a bit weighted down. But tonight, I'm feeling somewhat rejuvenated as I've revisited the stories, thoughts, and musings of one of my current heros, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Dr. Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He's written 11 books, including Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet. He's appeared on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Rachel Maddow Show, and half a dozen other television programs enlightening audiences about the fascinations of the universe. He's also the host of NOVA scienceNOW on PBS. For a full bio, check this out.

He's also one of the best storytellers of our time.

He has a way of talking about the universe with colors and textures that arrest me with interest. There's no way I'm not going to listen to what he says. He makes the most complex scientific theories refreshingly digestible without watering down their importance. But what's most important, he has fun discussing the universe with people. From what I can tell, he doesn't seem to mind people asking him questions about the cosmos. He's an educator, and he's good at.

I could go on and on about Dr. Tyson's dopeness, but I'll save that for another night. It's much better now if you have a chance to see for yourself.

So for your viewing pleasure, a bit of Dr. Tyson doing what he does. I hope you enjoy.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's all this white stuff?

If you're in the northeast, you may have noticed a little bit of precipitation over the last few days. Seeing as how I'm a country boy from eastern North Carolina, snow will always remain somewhat of a novelty to me no matter how long I live up here. When I see it blanketing the streets, houses, and trees around the neighborhood I can't help but feel just a bit of excitement and wonderment. Yes, snow can be dangerous and cause damage to property. Yes, it's a pain to shovel for an hour twice a week. But a day in out in the snow can be an incredibly fun adventure.

My cousin Nina, her two-year-old twins Madison and Roderick, and I had one of those adventures today. We went sledding over at the local park and had two solid hours of frozen fun. As I mentioned earlier, I'm from eastern North Carolina where there is very little snow and virtually no hills to slide down. So this was my very first time sledding and let me tell you, if you haven't had the opportunity to do this, go to where the snow is and get to it. It's off the hook!

But enough yackin'. Here are a few pictures of our day, courtesy of my cousin Nina.

Here are Madison and Roderick doing their Inuit impressions.

That's me with our trusty steed, a 2001 Nissan Xterra. My dad calls it "The Billy Goat."

I'm not quite sure what this one's all about.

And for the grand finale, a video of my first sledding experience for your viewing pleasure. I am such a child.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mo' tee, suh?

So the State of the Union address was last night. (yawn...)

The President's remarks were remarkable. His speech and proposals reestablished his message and allowed him to rise above the rhetorical shenanigans and political posturing of punditry and partisan bickering. (boring...)

The official Republican response was inflexible and unsuccessful in offering clear alternatives to the President's proposals, mostly regurgitating Republican talking points to no real purpose. (next...)

But then there was the "Official Tea Party Response to the President's State of the Union" by Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann. (It aired on CNN, giving it EQUAL BILLING with the SOTU and the official Republican response.) You remember her, don't you? She's the Kato Kaelin grand prize winner that found her way onto "Hardball with Chris Matthews" (I still don't like that name.) and called for media penetration of liberal members of Congress for having "anti-American" views.

I'm loving this Tea Party stuff. Its exposure of the destructiveness and hatred that exists in the extreme right of this country's electorate is exactly what our political process needs. I have many friends, some conservative and some liberal. But more than anything, they are ALL hard-working, decent, generous people who simply want their children to have a better experience of life than they. They are much more alike than different. And none of them carry these types of radical and extremist ideologies. I know. I've talked to them.

There are only two outcomes to this Tea Party movement.

1. The Tea Party movement succeeds in yanking the Republican party further and further to the right in order to maintain its base, rendering most Republican candidates for state and federal office unelectable. The Democrats will respond by moving the center of the country towards the left and offer sensible programs and policy that appeal to the majority of American citizens.

2. The Republican party distances itself from the principles of the Tea Party and moves ITSELF further towards the left, more in the direction of a Dwight Eisenhower sense of conservatism. (Look up his domestic policy. You'll be surprised.) This would also allow the Democrats to move left as well. These two moves would allow for a more healthy bipartisan effort in governing the country, confining the extremists on both the left and the right to the fringes of the political landscape.

Although both outcomes are fine with me, I hope for the second. Republicans have ideas, too. And even though I consider myself fairly liberal/progressive, I recognize my beliefs aren't for everyone and governing should be shared in order for us all to progress together.

So thank you, Tea Partiers, for being so out of your mind. You are serving your country more than you know.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Snow Day

So I'm taking another night off. I haven't talked to Walta in a while so I decided it'd be a good time to catch up with her since we both have a free evening. I'm also taking in the coverage of President Obama's State of the Union address. I will be back tomorrow with my thoughts on the speech.

Until now and then, here's a video of a two rats having a staring contest.

Hmmm... I'll bet this is what would happen if Bill O'Reilly ever met Ed Schultz.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Whatcha Gonna Do

Tonight I was in rehearsal for a production of Waiting for Lefty over in Camden, New Jersey. (For more info, have a look here.) We had begun our very first run of the entire show since our table reading back last month. My first entrance is from the lobby of the theatre, which has four windows that look out onto the corner of Jasper Street and S. 4th Street. So if someone is standing in the lobby the happenings on the street can feel very close.

As I was waiting for my cue I hear quick, regular thuds striking the sidewalk from up the street. As they sped past the theatre lobby, I looked out the window and saw a man who had evidently done something illegal. I know this because he was being chased, on foot, by a Camden Police officer. The chase took them about halfway up the next block on 4th Street until the suspect was eventually caught. The officer cuffed the guy and sat him in the back of a squad car that pulled up a moment later.

I've never seen a police chase before, and even though I was well removed from the actual events, it was still quite frightening.

What's even more frightening, however, is that Camden, New Jersey has recently cut half of its police force. For the uninitiated, Camden, New Jersey has been ranked in the top 10 most dangerous cities in America since 1998 by the Morgan Quinto Press. As Jon Stewart put it on The Daily Show last week, "Camden is the place in New Jersey where people from Newark go to feel better about Newark." It is one of the most depressed communities on this continent.

Now, I've been assured by a lifetime Camden resident who's intricately linked to the community that the cuts in the force won't mean a diminished police presence. But this development will affect the atmosphere of the criminal element in the city. Crooks watch the news, too. And if there's word their number one adversary has been limited in its effectiveness, they are going to take advantage.

I hope the city gets its house in order and puts those officers back to work. There are very few places that need them more. I don't want to see anymore police chases before I go on stage.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Quick Thought on Immigration

So I've started waiting tables at a fairly upscale Chinese restaurant here in Philly. It's a nice place with great food and honest people running the place. There are ten employees. I only have one coworker who is not of color and only two who were born in the United States.

Of the seven that have immigrated here, there's a 22 year old kid who washes the dishes (Am I old enough to call a 22 year old a kid!?). From what he told me, he's been in the States for about a year. He's a quiet guy. He gets a bit short with people when the pace of the restaurant picks up, but I think that's because his English is limited and he has trouble expressing his thoughts. But he's got a good energy.

Tonight we were REALLY slow because of the NFC and AFC Championship games. So to kill time, the kid comes out into the dining room and brings his ESL (English as a Second Language) book and starts asking the other server and I how to say certain words. Since I spent an entire year in Toronto training as a voice and speech teacher, my first response was to put on my instructor hat and give the kid a hand. I hoped he would humor me for a few minutes to give my ego a boost.

Instead, I spent practically the rest of the night helping the kid with English speech sounds and syllable emphasis. He had tons of questions. Apparently, he wants to go to school here and it looks like he's been teaching himself English so he can get in. As I was helping him, he seemed to have make some real discoveries. We were having a great time.

I haven't taught tons of people in tons of courses. But I've taught enough to witness a worrying sense of apathy towards education. There are too many kids in this country who don't care to learn and think good grades are either overrated or a foregone conclusion. It's disheartening. But here's a kid who dove head first into a completely new world with more hunger and determination to grow and progress than most of the students I've ever instructed.

Maybe it was just tonight and he's really a slacker. But I don't think so.

No one can tell me this country can't use more people like that. If the American dream does exist (that's a whole other post) then it should be available to ANYONE who wants it.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Asher Roth

Every so often a song will emerge from the massive boiling cauldron of hip hop music and ignite the rawest of emcee flames, setting of culture-wide cyphers that can last for weeks, or even months. Most of the time it happens during the summer; the party season. The record is almost always an unexpected hit, and each new incarnation seems more unimagined than the one before.

Such was the case a few years ago when Lil Wayne released his record "A Milli", which stood hip hop on its ear in the summer of 2008. It wasn't long after its official release when a plethora of emcees used the instrumental to record their own versions of the track. And quite frankly, how could they resist? Yes, the song is stripped-down, monotonous, and repetitive. But there is a darkness and mystery to it that is undeniably intoxicating.

The list of emcees that recorded verses on the track was extensive, including Jay-Z, The Game, Jadakiss, Papoose, Drake, guessed it, Asher Roth. As always, youtube is your friend if you'd like to hear them all. But Asher's is just below, so have a listen. Oh, and listen to the original, too. It will definitely give Mr. Roth's contribution more context.


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Countdown has Ended

Not Keith Olbermann...

Tonight I was at my new job finishing up my shift when I decided to have a quick glance at to check on the happenings of the day. Nothing was out of the ordinary really (good to hear about Rep. Giffords, by the way), until I saw an article about Keith Olbermann. "Wait. Keith's on MSNBC. What's this?"

I supposed deflated was the best word for it.

Olbermann has been a foundational voice in my journey towards political maturity. I was first introduced to his show during the 2004 presidential election. My friend Mark and I would watch slack-jawed at the audacity and precision of Keith's perspective on the day's political events. Jon Stewart described him in his Nov. 2010 interview with Rachel Maddow as a "voice in the wilderness" during the early period of MSNBC's shift towards liberal and progressive commentary. For me, he articulated and illuminated thoughts on bureaucracy and policy making that I had never considered or explored. And even though it has become more difficult for me to watch 24-hour cable news due to my growing distaste for the amplified effect of opposing ideologies (I can't stand Glenn Beck OR Ed Schultz because they're both obnoxious.) I've always made sure to check in on Keith from time to time in order to restore my sense of progressive ambition.

I will truly miss his voice and his show. I hope he finds a new forum from which to continue inviting us into his world.

Thanks Keith.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do the Bus a Bus

I was too young and too busy tinkering with my bicycle to notice when Leaders of the New School practically broke up on camera during an episode of "Yo! MTV Raps" in 1993. But I wasn't too young to be completely spellbound and ignited with primal exuberance when I first heard "Woo Hah! Got You All in Check" on the radio in 1996. Everyone I knew was going out of their minds over this track! I don't think hip hoppers had shouted and jumped around that much since 3rd Base dropped "The Gas Face". It wasn't long after that when Busta Rhymes solidified his place in my top 10 favorite emcees.

Busta is one of the most unapologetic, relentless, aggressive, amplified, and explosive voices in hip hop. His characteristic vocal abrasion matched with his ability to rattle off lines like a roofer with a nail gun allows him to rhyme with a cannonball-like impact. He purposely throws the listener of balance; it's not supposed to be comfortable listening to him rap. It's supposed to incite a riot.

Over the years, Busta Rhymes has found more range and variety in his performance. He discovered a sense of delicacy and sophistication with his collaboration with Janet Jackson on "What's It Gonna Be?!" in 1998. On the 1997 single "Dangerous" he explored some of his more playful impulses. But throughout all of his work his edge has remains, which will always be the most enduring and dynamic element of his music.

Here's a clip of Busta's recent collaboration with Kanye West and Jay-Z called "H.A.M."


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Voice Intensive, I miss you.

Canada's National Voice Intensive is a five-week voice, speech, and text workshop that's been happening in Vancouver, B.C. every summer since 1986. Under the brilliant direction of master voice teacher David Smukler, the Intensive has served as a safe and accessible laboratory for participants and instructors to explore and examine the limitless textures and nuances of the human voice. Although CNVI is primarily focused on voice for the actor, it has served participants from numerous professional disciplines.

I've had the unique pleasure of attending in the Intensive twice; once in 2006 as a participant and again as an associate instructor in 2010. I have little doubt my path will guide me there again in the near future.

Today I had the chance to reconnect with a couple acquaintances from both of my CNVI experiences. I am always pleasantly surprised at how much these conversations allow me to remember ('re' as in 'again', and 'member' as in 'body'; so 'embody again') the wonderful and inspiring times I've had in Vancouver at the Intensive. I'm pleased today.

For more information on Canada's National Voice Intensive, have a look here. I'm on the homepage!!!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quick Blog Post

I've got some real work to do. I was just cast in a show and I have to memorize my part by next week. So yeah, I'm hitting the books hard until I'm out of the woods.

Between now and then I will still post, but be prepared for them to be significantly truncated. I'm incredibly sorry, but it's a necessary evil.

Oh well...

Be sure to go here and check out last night's interview of one of my heroes, Neil deGrasse Tyson. We'll get to him soon.

Oh, and apparently we have a new astrology chart. Oh no. My world will never be the same. (add sarcasm)


Monday, January 17, 2011

Drivin' 'Round the City at Night Music

Last night I was on my way home from work and thumbed my way to 808s and Heartbreak on my iPod. For the uninitiated, 808s and Heartbreak is the fourth studio album by Kanye West. Released in 2008, its prominent musical element was Kanye's extensive use of Auto-Tune added to a minimalist production style centered around the Roland TR-808 drum machine.

Skipping through the playlist, I landed on the eighth track on the album called "Street Lights". And as I listened, it was almost as if the song became the soundtrack of my ride home. The lyrics, the production, the atmosphere, everything about the song seemed specifically arranged for a midnight ride through the cold and quiet Philadelphia streets. It was so perfect in fact, that I set my iPod to single-song repeat and took the long(er) way home. I almost didn't want it to end.

This got me thinking. What makes a song good for riding through the city at night?

So I went through my catalog on iTunes and made a playlist with every song I could remember playing in my car to enhance my nighttime excursions. Here's what I came up with. I'm sure I'm missing something, so don't scold me:

Kanye West - Street Lights
Digable Planets - Pacifics
k-os - Heaven Only Knows
Mariah Carey - Fourth Of July
Common - A Filim Called (Pimp)
Lauryn Hill - Tell Him
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Iyahlonipha Lengane
Lee Moses - California Dreaming
Gnarls Barkley - Who's Gonna Save My Soul
Little Brother - Nighttime Maneuvers
Outkast - Slum Beautiful
Common - The Game
Cee-Lo - Bass Head Jazz
Sade - Love is Stronger Than Pride
Buckshot LeFonque - Phoenix
Amel Larrieux - Infinite Possibilities
Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight
Daft Punk - Something About Us
Jeff Buckley - Lover, You Should've Come Over
Erykah Badu - Drama
Mos Def - Sex, Love And Money
Jamiroquai - Didjital Vibrations
Black Star - Respiration

There are a few common themes that I imagined would be prevalent; references to the night, dreams, the passage of time, and emerging or fading lights are abundant. There is also a general sense of introspection and reflecting upon past times or encounters. However, there were some aspects of the list that varied greatly. Tracks like Sade's "Love is Stronger Than Pride" and the aforementioned "Street Lights" by Kanye West feel very vaporous, very ethereal. Others, such as Cee-lo's "Bass Head Jazz" or Lee Moses' "California Dreaming" seem to carry considerably more weight and, at least to me, feel very dense and viscous. There's also quite a range of tempos here, from the soulful jazz ballad "Phoenix" by Buckshot LeFonque to the dark and penetrating Common cut "The Game".

So I offer these to you. If you get a chance, give them a try on your next evening automotive venture. What songs work best at stoplights? On highways and interstates? Surface streets? Do some feel better under a starry night? How about in rain? Or even snow? You may have limitless discoveries, or you may not dig any of them at all. Either way, it's all good! If you have some others you've found inspire you, feel free to share them in the comments of this post. I'm all about new music!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Radiohole: Your brain won't save you.

"Who knows?"

After witnessing Whatever, Heaven Allows (WHA?!), staged by the Brooklyn-based experimental performance group Radiohole, and watching as it humiliates anyone who ever believed they were a part of forward-moving theatre, you may be left wondering what it was you just witnessed. What was the story? What were they trying to say? Where was it going? No matter the question, I would suggest the only reasonable response is, "Who knows?"

You see, that's just it. Knowing has nothing to do with it. This show is not for your brain, but rather your body and your soul. It's a show for audiences to taste, smell, and most certainly feel (especially if you're splattered with Jell-O shots from the front row). It's purpose is to vibrate, tickle, rattle, blind, deafen, chill, and warm you within a lightening quick hour and a half. You are lambasted with an image one moment then unapologetically snatched away into new imagery the next, with no regard for continuity or safety. Video screens whip out and slap you with rainbows. Ice water flings from a man's bald head into your lap. And there will be no mercy.

"Experimental" and "experience" are practically the same word.

This company is operating on the leading edge of the theatrical universe. A usual outing to the theatre is like Michael Faraday discovering electromagnetism on a table top; important, noteworthy, interesting. But we've been there many times before. Radiohole is closer to the Large Hadron Collider. Once they crank that thing up, who knows?

Here's a teaser video for the show.


Emcee of the Month: Asher Roth

I was bouncing around youtube tonight looking for some performance footage of Asher Roth and happened upon this video of Ash doing a cover of "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas for BBC Radio 1. It's good. Ash and his crew, The Roth Boys (hmmm...), seem to be having a good time and making things fun for the listeners.

But more than that, Asher has allowed someone to record him and his crew doing a cover of another hip hop song. That got me thinking. I've seen artists like The Roots, Common, and Talib Kweli do bits of other artists' tracks in their live performances, but rarely do I see those bits recorded. Why is that? Why is it hip hop artists don't do recorded covers? I mean, there's this video, the In Tha Beginning...There Was Rap compilation album, Snoop's "Paper'd Up" (which was Eric B and Rakim's "Paid in Full"), and that's about all I can think of.

Perhaps it's due to the fear in the hip hop community of being criticized for borrowing and re-imagining a new idea, which is ironic because that's what hip hop beat makers have been doing since around 1974.

Or maybe it's simply a case of hip hop not having enough historical source material from which to sufficiently revisit an idea. But honestly, that would be a really lame excuse. There are dozens of memorable artists and memorable tracks from hip hop's past that I would love to hear rediscovered and reworked. Imagine OutKast doing their take on "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" or Kanye West taking on a new "Planet Rock" project. How incredible would that be?

Best of all, projects like these would allow younger generations in the culture to continually be exposed to hip hop history in way that's more digestible. They won't feel they're being scolded for "not knowing their roots". They would have the opportunity to enjoy these songs with the same sense of discovery and excitement as those who were so fortunate to experience them at their inception.

I vote more covers in hip hop!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tucson Ruminations

It's late. I just came from my friend James' birthday celebration and I don't have much left. So I'll make this quick.

Maybe I've been fooled.
Maybe this moment has been tailored to trigger my response.
Maybe I'm being cornered and manipulated by powers I could never comprehend.

Perhaps it's because I feel like I should have been around for the 1960s so I didn't feel like such a fake when discussing "the struggle".

Perhaps I want to feel now the way they felt then, as if someone spoke not only with a familiar voice, but a familiar soul.


Maybe it's the truth. It's been hard to spot nowadays.
Maybe this is the feeling I've been waiting for; pride, admiration, awe.
Maybe this represents the beginnings of my citizenship.

Because I don't know if I've ever identified with that until now.

But whatever it is, I do know this.

These two will always be my heroes.

Hopefully, I'll be in New York tomorrow to see my friend Mark in a play. If I can get to an internet connection I'll put up the next Emcee of the Month post and get a review of the play up on Sunday. I'm so excited (Jessie Spano)!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day

So, I'm blowing off my homework tonight, as my friend Ron would say. I've been watching coverage of the Tucson memorial service, reading up on photographers specializing in photos of abandoned buildings and other ruins, and debating my friend Marcel about Jon Stewart's impact on the public discourse.

So I'm not REALLY blowing off my homework. Rather, I'd like to think of it as doing research.

I'll be back tomorrow with more rambling about something or other. I hope you'll check it out.

In the meanwhile, check out this video of a guy ice-skating down Peachtree Street in Atlanta. That's right. Ice-skating. On the street. In Georgia.



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hot Music: A Love Story

This is the first piece of music that really stole my heart.

Omarr and I had no business on Fifth Street trying to get into Roc's Lounge. I can't even imagine what possessed the doorman to even entertain us. I guess it was a slow night and they really needed the money.

Roc's Lounge was a shady, smoky, dank, shadowy, hole-in-the-wall club on the roughest street in the roughest neighborhood in my hometown of Greenville, North Carolina. Every week, Roc's Lounge would have an "18 to get in, 21 to drink" night in a noble, if slightly misguided attempt to give young people somewhere to be instead of on the streets. A couple of high school friends of mine, Jamel and Little Jessie, were frequent visitors to the Lounge. They both were good dudes and always generous in extending an invitation to Omarr and I to hit the club with them sometime. Understandably, I had a few reservations. But knowing my concerns would most likely conclude in one of the many epic insult contests between Omarr and I (which I would almost certainly lose), I opted to keep them to myself.

We arrived around midnight. I remember the place smelling like 1000 packs of cigarettes and bathing us in a dim, golden shade of light. There weren't many people there, and the ones we did see obviously knew we were from the south side of town. And the music was INCREDIBLY loud. By this time I was a rising senior in high school, and I had already been to two proms (holla at me!) and more than a few house parties. But I had never heard speakers so powerful. We were a little worried when we couldn't get a fix on Jamel and Little Jessie. We noticed a set of stairs leading up to what we could only assume to be a second level, so Omarr and I decided to head up and see if they were awaiting us.

Sure enough there they were. We all dapped each other up (which means shakes hands for all of my uninitiated friends) and eased into the pocket of the evening. There was very little talking due to the music, but there was really no need for words. A phrase here and there of course to check in, but the club spoke for itself. It didn't take me long to begin feeling comfortable in what I wrongly assumed would be a much more tense, or perhaps hostile environment.

Eventually, I began to notice a strange sense of anticipation, that we actually seemed to be waiting for something. I suppose it was either the energy level of the people in the club or Jamel and Little Jessie's response to each new song, but there was a progression to things that I couldn't quite pinpoint. As the dj continued his work, blending records one after another, the underlying tempo of this hour long soundtrack was gradually gaining speed. Where were we going? What was about to happen?

Just then, as if sensing my curiosity, Little Jessie says to me, "They're about to play Hot."

Hot? What the hell is Hot?

Not even 30 seconds later, the dj completely kills the roaring hip hop music and spins up the first real dance record of the night, "Coffee Pot (It's Time for the Percolator)" by Chicago house musician Cajmere. Almost as if everyone swallowed a sudden dose of pure adrenaline, the club erupted. The track was remarkable, with its relentless pounding and a coffeemaker-like "melody" serving as its musical party piece. Omarr and I stood marveling in the immediacy and urgency of the sudden inspired outburst of movement. Everyone lost their minds!

Everyone, that is, except for Jamel and Little Jessie. They were dancing, yes, but there was still a sense of hesitation, of something yet to come.

It may have been a minute or two before the dj decided to slide into the next track, a surprisingly uplifting and inspirational house song titled "Follow Me" by Aly-us. For me, this track was even better than "Percolator", partly because it actually had words and something refreshingly meaningful to say, and partly because of its use of a majestic, sweeping orchestral sample in conjunction with classic house music pulse and vibration. The energy in the club was more intoxicating than Omarr or I could have ever dreamed.

Yet, Jamel and Little Jessie remained focused.


I think the first bits we heard were the sampled voices in the track shouting their repeated mantras, "Get up! Come on!" Then came the subtle bleeding of piano chords mixed with a manic snare drum, ricocheting all over the place. After that followed the drunk but determined bass hits. The dj was taunting us, intravenously feeding us the new track while gradually allowing the previous to retreat. By the time "Hot Music" was fully unleashed into the room I realized that in one single crossfade, I'd fallen in love with this song. It was primal, sensual, organic, aggressive, bewitching. I needed it in my life.

Jamel and Little Jessie knew this sensation all too well. Before the track even had time to fully shift they had exploded in a frantic, trance-like dance that looked like the lovechild of b-boy uprockin' and kung-fu. A circle of onlookers took shape around them as they swooped and gyrated to the music. Little Jessie was clearly the technician of the pair; his specificity and direction were laser-like, as if he was making a statement. Jamel's style was more soulful, more impulsive. At times it seemed he didn't even know who or where he was; his pure exploration of the rhythm had us mesmerized. There were a couple other cats who took their turn in the circle, each one inheriting the stage from the other. Omarr and I must have watched this go on for at least four or five minutes, totally stunned by the level of passion and daring. Even though we'd lived in Greenville our whole lives, we'd never seen anything like this. It wasn't until the night was over when we finally caught our local term for this style of dance. Everyone called it "flexin'."

Over the next four months or so, I searched every record store and asked every clerk I could find if they knew this song. I was eventually given a tape with "Hot Music" blended on its front side by "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ E. Z. Rock and on the back by "Treat 'em Right" by Chubb Rock. I practiced my flexin' relentlessly in the secrecy of my room. However, Omarr was never fooled. He could see I wanted to be in the circle from day one, because I really wasn't great at containing my excitement. Almost a year after my first encounter with "Hot Music", I finally jumped in at one of the legendary parties at Mendenhall Student Center on the campus of East Carolina University. After the party, Omarr said to me, "You've been practicing, huh? 'Cause you were wack when you first started!"

Every party I've attended after leaving Greenville, no matter how spectacular, has always seemed to be missing something. I'm always waiting for "Hot Music" to come charging through the clutter to save the night, save the crowd, save me.

"Hot Music", I love you.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Patriots or Tyrants?

"The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Thomas Jefferson


Shay's Rebellion was an armed social uprising in western and central Massachusetts during the last half of 1786 and spilling over into the first few months of 1787. The rebellion was born from egregious injustices enacted upon Revolutionary war veterans and meager farmhands from whom the state wrongfully confiscated personal and business-related items to pay back debts owed to European war investors. During this period, the framework of the United States' taxation and revenue code was dictated by the Articles of Confederation (the Constitution wasn't adopted until September of 1787) which was hopelessly inadequate to enforce federal law or collect the appropriate revenue to operate the country. Therefore, each state struggled to pay down its own debt accumulated during the war. Much of this debt repayment was placed on the backs of the poor.

It was in a response to Shay's Rebellion that Jefferson penned these words in a letter addressed to James Adam's son-in-law William Stephens Smith concerning the current state of affairs in Massachusetts. It's also been a favorite rallying cry for the recent activities of the Tea Party Movement during the past two years. One of the most visible events involving this phrase occurred in August 2009 when Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball (I really don't like that name.) berated a gentleman named William Kostric about his decision to bring a firearm to a presidential rally.

Here it is:

However, there are critical sections in the letter that are seldom, if ever, mentioned by the people who tout this phrase as a Libertarian calling card. In these passages, Jefferson emphasizes a much more sophisticated, and more moderate (especially given the period) view of social rebellion.

[Their motives] were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be...always well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive.


What country before ever existed...without rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon, and pacify them.

Should people in this country preserve the "spirit of resistance?" A large part of me believes so. But there is quite a bit more to it. Firstly, it was never Jefferson's belief that ACTUAL blood should be spilled in rebellion. Remember he was politician, not a soldier and not a mercenary. And he was damned sure smart enough not to be so negligent as to incite what would only be considered as anarchy, especially in a country he worked so diligently to help create. Rather, it seems he suffered some of the same inarticulate tendencies of his modern day counterparts in his inartful usage of gun and war imagery to highlight a political concept.

Furthermore, and I feel this is most important, he stresses the importance of an informed public. Now, the Tea Party followers may feel they have nothing to worry about here.

I'm sorry, Tea Partiers. This is where you're all washed up. But it's not your fault.

The people who remain in the background, the ones who logistically and financially organize the Tea Partiers have herded these people not with facts about the challenges of government, but rather with threats, misconceptions, falsities, dubious math, and inflated conjecture. These are the strings by which the groundlings of this movement have been puppeted. And these puppet-masters will continue pulling these strings until their foot soldiers fetch the bounty for them, no matter what kinds of violent atrocities and/or acts of terrorism lay in their wake. Hence, they roll out Thomas Jefferson (Because founding fathers can't be wrong, right?) and perform contextomy with his words to aggravate the open wound of partisanship for the benefit of no one but themselves.

Snap out of it, Tea Partiers.

Yes, please question the government. But arm yourself with THE REAL AND ACTUAL FACTS, not someone else's talking points, and certainly not firearms.

"Let us hope we never become numb to what...the real blood of patriots looks like when it's spilled." Jon Stewart


Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Journey to the Broken Angel

As it progresses, any developing cultural or social movement invariably discovers its own identity through a variety of unique and distinguishing characteristics. Most of these developments include inventions and evolutions in apparel and fashion, language and lexicon, dietary patterns, musical styles, and so on. For me however, the most enduring, most compelling, and most tangible cultural symbols involve the landmarks and locations of pivotal and momentous events in a culture’s history.

There's nothing like being there; and it's just that. Being. There.

If you're a rock n' roll junkie, then it's The Dakota or the Riot House. If it's jazz that turns you on, there's nothing like the Cotton Club. For the gearheads of the world, the Bonneville Salt Flats or the Nürburgring is your Mecca. And political aficionados should never turn down a trip to The Watergate Hotel or Dealey Plaza. It's about seeing, touching, feeling it for ourselves or else it will only exist in theory.

Hip hop culture has a few of these places as well, like D&D Studios (although you ain't NEVER gettin' in there) or Rucker Park. And a few months ago I took the chance to visit what I feel is arguably the newest on the list of hip hop cultural landmarks, The Broken Angel.

It is one erie place.

The Broken Angel was the home of Cynthia and Arthur Wood from 1972 through 2006. It's located at the intersection of Downing Street and Quincy Street in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Its legacy in hip hop history was cemented in 2004 when it became the backdrop of a concert/block party that was organized and hosted by Dave Chappelle, and documented by Michel Gondry in the 2006 film Dave Chappelle's Block Party. In the film, Cynthia and Arthur invite Dave and his camera crew into their home to show them the inner workings of the building. It's one of the most entertaining parts of the film as we witness the couple's compassionate, albeit slightly eccentric, quality and demeanor. Towards the end of the film, there's even a shot of Cynthia in the window of the Broken Angel waving a peace sign to the crowd, which I've always felt was one of the indelible images of solidarity in the movie.

So I'll leave it to you to look up more on Cynthia, Arthur, and the Broken Angel. This is the story of how I got there.

Mariana had to leave. The needle on her record player had broken and we needed to head over to J&R Audio by the WTC because that was the only place she thought we could pick up a new one. So by the time I reached her brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant she was perched on the stoop, demanding me to hurry my a$$ up because the bank was about to close. So I shuffled into her place to set down my bag, she locked the door, and we hustled our way to Fulton Street.

After handling her business at the bank and "politely" assisting a young lady find her destination on Fulton St., we got on the C train to Manhattan. We got off at Chambers Street a few blocks north of Ground Zero and made our way down to J&R, which is situated at what's essentially Park Row and Broadway.

Everything is huge in New York, including this audio store. It took us two or three tries to enter the correct section of the building, and even then we really didn't find it without help. And one would think an audio store in New York would and SHOULD have everything under the sun, but alas Mariana's needle was not in stock. So dejectedly, we exited the store and decided it was time to eat.

Now, Mari had a pregnant-woman's craving for cheese fries right about now, even though she hasn't had a boyfriend in a while. However, I would assume this is purely by choice because a woman as beautiful as Mariana can be in a relationship almost anytime she wants. I can only deduce all the men she's encountered recently have been woefully sub-par. C'mon NY...

She suggested we head to Madison Square Park to get burgers and cheese fries at a well-known spot called The Shake Shack. While standing in the quarter-mile long line (it moved fairly quickly, so don't be discouraged) we continued our usual discussions on all things hip hop. We're both huge fans of artists like The Roots, Black Star, Common, J Dilla, and Kanye West. And as we sat to enjoy our slightly overpriced but incredibly delicious burgers, our conversation shifted to Block Party. As is the nature of these exchanges, one thing led to another and we mutually agreed to seek out the location of this magnificent day in hip hop history. We finished our food, scared off the giant attack squirrels, and hopped back onto the subway.

We got off at the N/Q/R stop at DeKalb Avenue and opted to take the bus down Fulton towards Downing Street. It seemed we were on the bus for an unreasonably long time and we worried that we had missed our stop. So we got off somewhere between St. James Place and Grand Avenue to hoof it from there. We approached a huge laundromat with some cool-a$$ middle-aged cats hangin' outside and asked them if they knew the way to Downing Street. Personally, I was hoping we didn't get the same "politeness" that Mari had offered the young lady from earlier in the day. But they were truly friendly and pointed us in the right direction. We got to the block about 10 minutes later.

There are very few places in New York as quiet as the corner of Quincy and Downing in Brooklyn. It's one of those spots that seems to exist solely on its own; as if arriving there means departing the rest of the city. We walked up to the impressive red door of the Broken Angel, with the name of the building and the address adorning it in a grayish-white hue. There was very little traffic. I don't think we saw one car round the corner the whole time we were there. We read the sign on the bulletin board just to the right of the Angel's door and discovered Cynthia Wood had unfortunately passed away due to complications with cancer. We stood by the daycare center where Dave and the others had visited, using the roof as an observation area. We took turns imagining the stage and quoting unforgettable lines and verses from the documentary. We made sure to take some time making fun of Common's role in the show, because we've always been puzzled as to why he seemed only to serve as everybody's hype man. Weird...

I've often wondered if the people that live on that block are getting tired of folks showing up and doing that type of stuff. But in the moment, we didn't care about any of that. We were just a little late to the party, that's all. We wanted to have our fun, too.

We left just before the streetlights starting coming on and walked the almost-two miles back to Mari's apartment in Bed-Sty. We were glowing. We touched the history of our own culture, and it was a really good feeling. Somehow, we felt more firmly connected to the inspirations that have been fueling our lives for quite some time now. When we got back, we threw in Block Party and watched a bit of the concert footage. I suppose it was our way of "double-checking."

But really, there wasn't any need. We knew what it looked like.

Due to the fading light, these were the only pictures that were decent. We took these with Mari's iPhone.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Emcee of the Month: Asher Roth

So I took a day off yesterday, primarily because I took a 4 1/2 hour nap from 6:30pm-11pm. After I woke up, the evening had turned into midnight and my interest and attention was waning. So let's just chalk it up to a "slow news day."

This is week two of highlighting Asher Roth this month, and I thought I'd offer an interview he did with Hot 93.7 in Hartford, CT. I'm especially impressed with not only the topics of conversation in this interview, but the informal comradery. This conversation looks and feels very much like many I've had with friends of mine; in parking lots and backyards curious about each other's opinions. I even like the occasional plane flying overhead.

Also, there are some really wonderful topics here. Asher talks about the future of hip hop as he sees it, acknowledges some very talented and underrated emcees, and how he's building his artistic base. I hope you enjoy.

Tomorrow: A Journey to the Broken Angel

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Legend of N*gger Twain

What? They're taking "nigger" out of Huckleberry Finn? What's next, a remake of Dolemite without the word "honkey"?

From The Guardian UK:

A new US edition of Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be published with a notable language alteration: all instances of the offensive racial term "nigger" are to be expunged.

The word occurs more than 200 times in Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, and its 1876 precursor, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which tell the story of the boys' adventures along the Mississippi river in the mid-19th century. In the new edition, the word will be replaced in each instance by "slave". The word "injun" will also be replaced in the text.

The new edition's Alabama-based publisher, NewSouth books, says the development is a "bold move compassionately advocated" by the book's editor, Twain scholar Dr Alan Gribben of Auburn University, Montgomery. It will have the effect, the publisher claims, of replacing "two hurtful epithets" in order to "counter the 'pre-emptive censorship' that Dr Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists worldwide."

More here.

Few things unnerve me nowadays. I'm actually finding it quite spooky. I frequently encounter rude, aggressive, and depressing individuals who have overwhelming and unmanageable personal challenges weighing them down. I feel empathy and compassion for them, I really do. But it's seldom that I'm really shaken by them.

This has shaken me a bit. Feels great.

In many ways, we should be exceedingly grateful that we live in a world that allows us such remarkable access to information. These types of revisionist tactics have continued to cloud, puncture, and erase our true sense of human history. Now that we have this incredible and extensive network of information sharing, perhaps the truths of who we are will always live on somewhere in the vastness of cyberspace. That doesn't mean, however, that we should ever allow these revisionists to have their way and let our technology iron out the wrinkles.

I don't know what I believe about the n-word. Even now, it's appeared in this post twice in its normal form, but somehow at the moment of writing this particular section I feel the need to make it safe. "N-word". It drives me nuts! But what I do know is that it resonants the history of Americans who fought both for and against the beliefs and complexities within. Even though the era of its inception was the most oppressive and violent episode of American history, that does not excuse us from the obligation to intimately know and understand that history. Our faults are just as important as our advantages.

This is the greatness of American debate; and let me tell you something. As a black male in America I don't think I've ever felt true patriotism or compassion for "the great experiment of democracy" or "the land of the free", except in the instances where I was either an observer or participant in healthy, difficult, productive, reasonable discussion. Considering the polarizing climate in Washington during the last 20 years or so, and trends in the public's opinion of D.C. politics, I would argue many in this country share this particular sense of "Americaness". It's the debate that makes us special; that makes this whole thing worth it.

Mark Twain, in his brilliance, was writing from a fundamentally American perspective. He threw our vitriol in our faces and amplified sounds to which we forgot or neglected to listen. AND he was doing this in 1885, a time in America where being a "nigger lover" could get a white person hung as quickly as black person.

In the final press conference scene in the 1995 film The American President, President Andrew Shepard (played by Michael Douglas) makes this declaration on the sophisticated nature of American citizenship:

You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free."

Unless Doctor Emmett L. Brown figures something out in the next few years, we will never be able to change who we were. But maybe we can anyway. By acknowledging those parts of ourselves, collectively processing the hows and the whys, maybe we'll change who we were by bettering who we are.

I always get this way when I watch National Treasure. Damn you, Nicholas Cage.

And so without further ado, a silly youtube video compliments of my cousin Nina, and staring our old friend "nigger."

Why? Because it's funny!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Homeless Casey Kasem

Disclaimer: Most of you have probably seen or heard this by now. Sorry!

Get this man a job, right now.

The astonishing thing about this cat is the comfort and effortlessness in his speech. There is nothing in this to suggest he's not allowing his voice to release from his body naturally or unimpeded, and the resonance and texture he finds is both bright and alive while remained foundational and grounded. It's especially noticable in the second part of the video when he's giving the quick story of how he's found himself in his current environment.

What's really exciting is that as of 11:30am, this video has 4 million views on youtube within 48 hours of being posted. Hopefully, one of those views is from someone who will have the capability and will to find this gentleman.

The bigger picture, however, is that there are so many people who are homeless and disadvantaged with gifts and abilites such as these. I can only imagine benefiting to our local and global societies by finding ways to nurture these individuals, and not let allow them to slip through the cracks of indifference or neglect.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jessica Care Moore: Michael Vick's Homegirl

During my nightly cruise of facebook status updates, I happened upon a new development on the page of poet, publisher, theatre artist, and renaissance woman Jessica Care Moore.

from Jess' page:

American Villian

When I met Mike Vick we were both checking into a Delta flight in Atlanta. It was about 7am, and I was in a rush. He was on crutches and had people bringing his boxes of shoes out of a car. We both had cornrolls. I didn't recognize him. I'm more of basketball fan, but I liked Mike Vick

When he was the Quarterback for the Falcons. He reminded me of the way Barry Sanders ran with the Lions. He was standing around and I jumped in front of him and asked the Delta rep to check me in, as I had a flight I needed to catch. He looked at me puzzled, but I think he liked the way I didn't know him at that moment. I never imagined the world knowing him for something other than the game of football.

This is for him.

one of janet jackson's tits
stopped america
from the luxury of their
pork and beer and family hour
of football on primetime television.

a quick glimpse of this natural dark phenomenon
shook the fat white beer bellies and right wing
like a juicy piece of bbq
dripping like blood
covering the carpets of america's
brutal living/dead room that powers it's
brains with their tv god

teaching us that a woman's body is not sacred.
one brown breast exposed for two seconds
is a sin in this home of
puritans and pilgrims

while we are forced to watch and smell them
bloated, pierced, hairy, funky
beer bellies of men who have five tits
to our two
sweating profusely as they scream at their favorite
football team
shoving cheetos down their throats

acting as if their children really give a damn who wins.

football is an outside sport.

when's the last time any of you went outside and threw the pig skin?

played under the sun and the stars?
it is a violent game that paralyzes.
excites the gladiator in us.

all this superbowl attention to a single
black quarter back and the fighting of pit bulls

but what about the abused wives of players?

what is the fine for beating your wife
after a bad loss?

are we ready to ruuuumble?

young man. rumble.

they rape women they rape dogs.

we live in a country that used to muzzle african women
and rape them like wild animals
fight enslaved shackled african men
gladiator style

and mike vick is the villain?

let's be clear. i'm an animal lover. i cried when
i had to leave my dog crystal behind when my mom
left my daddy. he was a mut and crazy as hell. nobody
would ever wanna fight crystal. he was part poodle and dug up
the damn yard like a hound dog. but around the block we knew
some fools who fought the pits and we weren't allowed to go. it
was a part of the culture of the neighborhood.

dog fighting
chicken fighting
slaves fighting

violent contact sports


american as apple pie.

you can lose
your legs. your game. your teeth. your life.
your legs. your game. your teeth. your life.

your career.

especially if you are a talented
fast quarter back



in the NFL.

Check out the video here. The section on Vick starts at 3:00.

I first met Jessica in 2001 while she was collecting cover charges at Atlanta's now defunct MoorEpics Cafe. At the time, I was still brand new to the idea of being black and poetic and I was devouring any media or material on modern performance poetry I could find, including one very important and awe-inspiring documentary called SlamNation.

The movie follows the journey of a number of performance poetry teams from across the nation as they converge on the National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon. I remember becoming particularly impressed with the energy and movement in the team from New York, which included Saul Williams, muMs the Schemer, Beau Sia, and Jessica Care Moore. They were a powerhouse!

So as Jess and I continue our conversation, it slowly dawns on me who's sitting across the table. I began to feel that feeling one gets when s/he meets a hero, and I was floored that a small town cat like me had stumbled and bumbled myself into a conversation with Jessica Care Moore. I hardly knew what to say! But she was very kind to me and made me feel comfortable, inviting me into her space. I instantly fell in love with MoorEpics, spending more time than I probably should have hanging out in what was Atlanta's best poetry spot.

Eventually, I found myself interning for Jessica's independently owned publishing house, Moore Black Press. I felt honored. All the time I spent mailing press kits and book orders, depositing checks, making phone calls, cleaning and Cleaning and CLEANING the office(!) made me feel like a foot soldier of a movement. It wasn't glamorous and most of the time I had no idea what I was doing, but Jess appreciated me and welcomed me into her life as a friend and fellow artist. Some of the best memories of my time in Atlanta were a direct result of my friendship with her and I feel incredibly grateful to have her energy in my life.

So allow me this moment to give you a PARTIAL list of Ms. Moore's extraordinary accomplishments:

- founder and CEO of Moore Black Press: publisher of notable poets such as Saul Williams, Asha Bandele, Ras Baraka, Shariff Simmons and artists Danny Simmons and Marcia Jones
- Five time winner of Amateur Night at the Apollo, an unsurpassed accomplishment
- publication of three collections of poetry; The Words Don't Fit in My Mouth, The Alphabet verses the Ghetto, and God is Not an American
- recognized by as one of the "100 History Makers in the Making"
- development and performance of three solo performances; There Are No Asylums for Real Crazy Women, Alphaphobia, and God is Not an American
- multiple appearances of Russel Simmons' Def Poetry
- performance and collaboration with countless poets, musicians, and all-around dope people including Mos Def, Sonia Sanchez, The Last Poets, Nas, Talib Kweli, and Gregory Hines

If you ever have the opportunity to see and hear Jess perform, please do not pass it by. She writes, speaks, and performs with an intoxicating combination of frustration and jubliation. Her voice moves like a pissed-off soul singer, with an aggressive hint of rasp and a sexiness slightly off-pitch.

She bad, homie. She bad.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Waiting for Lefty Godot: A Shameless Plug

In addition to being a child of hip hop culture, I also like to consider myself an actor every once in a while. Actually, if I'm being a snob about it, I prefer the term "theatre artist." But we'll see how that one goes in the months and years to come. Right now, I'd be happy with "that dude I saw in that play that one time."

Tonight I had my first rehearsal with my cast mates of Waiting for Lefty, an incredibly powerful and moving piece of theatre currently in production at South Camden Theatre Company in Camden, NJ. Waiting for Lefty was written in 1935 by a playwright named Clifford Odets. It follows the stories of employees at a fictional taxi company in New York and their plans to walk out and strike in demand of better wages and working conditions.

I am exceedingly excited to be a part of this production. I've wanted to work with Odets material for an incredibly long time, and especially this particular play. Odets is considered to be one of the seminal American playwrights of the 20th century and this play is credited as one of his masterpieces. For me, he writes with an industrial sense of urgency which appropriately mirrors the dire conditions of his socio-political environment. Every voice he pens speaks in ironclad terms, and gives no room for misunderstanding. When I hear his plays rehearsed or performed I can't help but wish I could have been there to hear people speaking like this on the streets or in the shops. I'm always thinking, "This can't be real! They spoke like this!? This is fantastic!"

I'll leave it to you to wiki Odets and the plays he wrote. Instead, I'll share with you a video I found a few weeks ago of Lee Strasberg. Odets and Strasberg were members of The Group Theatre, a collective of actors, directors, and playwrights who collaboratively created theatre with which to comment on their society. Considering they formed two years after the Wall Street crash of 1929, which eventually led to the Great Depression, you can imagine they had lots to say.

Nevertheless, when I read Odets, a voice like Strasberg's is the one I hear; piercing, staccato, allegro, New York, Jewish (Hey, let's be honest!).

If you happen to be in the Philadelphia area during the first few weeks of February and you fancy an evening at the theatre, come see this show. We had a good rehearsal tonight and I feel this is going to be solid piece of art.

You can get more info on the show here.



I must give my homie Ron a big thank you for doing a wonderful write-up on my fledgling blog. He had some extremely kind and flattering things to say, and I've been an admirer of the dedication and passion he expresses everyday on his site. Please have a look at his work here. He's got more than a few milliseconds of genius over there.

Also, big props to my homegirl Jenn for reminding me of the J Dilla Foundation in response to my post yesterday, which is an organization committed to funding music programs in inner city schools. If you're thinking of donating more in the new year, this is an effort that is definitely worthwhile.