Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 27

Homage must be paid to another influential musical icon today: the late DJ Screw.

For those who don't know, or aren't all that familiar with the Houston hip-hop scene, June 27 is the name of a legendary Screw freestyle session and mixtape. June 27 was also the birthday of D-Moe, one of the couple handful of local artists from the Screwed Up Click to flow over the 35-minute track.

Hard to believe, but this really means something in H-Town. Even today. I can't explain it to you. You simply had to be there.

Here's Part 1:

Also, here's Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Growing up - I can't lie - I was not a big fan of Screw. In fact, I openly mocked the music and its fans - which included most of my friends at the time. I was more of an East Coast hip-hop head: Biggie, Nas, Wu, The Roots, Mobb Deep, KRS, Jeru, etc. By comparison, I thought Screw and the SUC were unsophisticated and primitive, music for morons.

But I'd like to think I'm much more diplomatic than that today. If anything, the music has earned a permanent spot in my heart: I remember hanging out with my boys, listening to this very track and taking our turns in the cipher. And I was awful - almost every verse started with "I'm coming through..." and I'm sure I made some mention of niggas or candy paint.

Those were the days.

In the end, Screw was impossible to escape. And I'm glad he didn't let me get away. Continue Reading »

What was behind the music?

So the First Lady and I were watching "Beat It" the other night, laughing at the jazz hands and the leather and rhinestones and the Puerto Rican cat who went on to play Detective Eddie Torres on "New York Undercover."

Then it occurred to us both - at damn near the same time, once again - that Michael Jackson was almost certainly influenced by the rumble scene between the Sharks and the Jets in "The West Side Story."

You could see it, over and over again, in his music videos. "Beat It," of course. "Bad." "Smooth Criminal." It's apparent that Michael really, really liked his gang fights to have pocketknives, bandannas, a step, step ball change, kick and a spin.

But I'd never heard him say anything like that before. In fact, I could not ever really remember him talking much about his musical influences.

Which was sad to me.

Of all the things we lost when Jackson died Thursday afternoon, I think we'll come to regret never hearing much talk from him about his art and the forces behind it - and I'm not talking about Joe Jackson or Quincy Jones.

Now, maybe I need to read Moon Walk. Maybe I missed some Motown TV special that came on when I was too young to care. And it's plainly obvious that James Brown was someone that Jackson clearly modeled his career after at a young age.

But in a time where we can hear Zane Cook talk about his motivation on a special feature of the "Employee of the Month" DVD, it seems odd that there's not an exhaustive archive of Jackson really digging into his catalogue for the cameras.

Why the loafers and the army outfits? Where did "shamone" and "hooooooooo!" and the original pop-and-lock come from? Who got his feet tapping and head bobbing when he was rocking a 'fro?

Does anyone know the answers to these questions? And if you do, could you please send them my way? Continue Reading »

Friday, June 26, 2009

What's playing in my deck

Something, anything, with a little hint of the late King of Pop. It's no surprise that Michael Jackson left his substantial musical imprint all over hip hop, too.

Here's a list of my five favorite hip-hop joints that include samples from Jackson's unparalleled catalogue:

1. It Ain't Hard to Tell by Nas. Jackson sample: Human Nature. A couple of classics from a pair of artists who were, in a sense, pioneers of their genre. Obviously, Nas ain't touching Mike on a number of levels. But nonetheless, Nas has built quite a legacy in hip hop. This was the song that pretty much launched his career and turned Illmatic into a classic.

2. It's All About the Benjamins by Puffy, Biggie, The Lox and Lil' Kim. Jackson sample: It's Great to Be Here. If you're wondering where the sample comes in, it's the last verse of the song. Biggie's verse. And he kills it. As usual.

3. OPP by Naughty by Nature. Jackson sample: ABC. "OPP" is a song that has held up well over the years. Nothing feels dated about it.

4. You Ain't a Killer by Big Pun. Jackson sample: With a Child's Heart. The first Pun single that I ever heard. I was a fan from jump.

5. Breakadawn by De La Soul. Jackson sample: I Can't Help It. One of my favorite hip-hop acts rhyming over my absolute favorite Michael Jackson song. Both songs put me totally at peace.

Honorable mentions: All That I Got is You by Ghostface (Maybe Tomorrow); Izzo (H.O.V.A.) by Jay-Z (I Want You Back); Hey Lover by LL Cool J and Boyz II Men (The Lady in My Life). Continue Reading »

Thursday, June 25, 2009

He made Thriller, man. Thriller.

Michael Jackson died today after suffering from cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon.

He was 50.

What a sad, sad, sad week for Hollywood. Death in 3s: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and now the great Gloved One.

Post-script: Though there will be more later, I had to mention this ... Off the Wall > Thriller. Continue Reading »

Not fulfilling the dream

I know Louisiana Rep. Barbara Norton. I know from whence Hurricane Chris came. And I know that the state capitol in Baton Rouge is where common sense goes to die a horrible death.

All that to say, I'm not surprised that any of this happened.

If you made it through that entire video, I'll bring the Pepto over to your home myself.

Thanks (I guess) to MetropolitanMagnolia and Crazy as a Road Lizard. Continue Reading »

Blaming Barack

Via John Cole, we learn that Rush Limbaugh is blaming President Obama for Mark Sanford's Argentine Adventure. And I actually agree with him on this point.

Obama is almost literally driving the Republicans insane.

Here's a list of other things Obama is to blame for here. I heard he also won't leave Britney aloooooone. Continue Reading »

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We don't believe you/You need more people

UPDATE: To borrow a riff from blogmate Shani-O, Sanford has, er, outsourced his affair.

That means you, Mark Sanford.

Even the notoriously staid AP is looking at the South Carolina governor's bizarre explanation a little sideways:

He declined to give any additional details about what he did other than to say he was alone and that he drove along the coastline.

Trying to drive along the coast could frustrate a weekend visitor to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the Avenida Costanera is the only coastal road, and it's less than two miles long. Reaching coastal resorts to the south requires a drive of nearly four hours on an inland highway with views of endless cattle ranches. To the north is a river delta of islands reached only by boat.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing. But I doubt it. And I'm not alone. His explanation doesn't add up. It doesn't make sense.

Also, I think Ta-Nehisi has this right: this reeks of amateur hour.
"There are a lot of pretenders out there who don't understand that this really is the big leagues. This just strikes me as the sort of thing that pro can't do. This isn't the college game anymore."
Not that I think Sanford was a serious contender to the throne anyway. He was bound to be exposed as a lightweight. Might as well happen now instead of the fall of '11.

But the thing to watch for is what happens from here. There's no way that this story simply goes away. Speculation about what happened and with whom is already underway. Continue Reading »

Fear of a Mulatto Planet

Burnishing his credentials as a Hall of Fame asshole, newly released tapes reveal President Richard Nixon would have preferred Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Halle Berry - to name a few - never existed.

Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases —like interracial pregnancies, he said.

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.”

That's racism we can believe in.
Continue Reading »

In praise of second bananas

Hard to believe, but it has been 17 years since Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon left NBC's "The Tonight Show."

Even more difficult to fathom - at least for a kid who never fell asleep before I could hear "Heeere's Johnny!" - is the fact that they're both gone after McMahon died Tuesday morning following a struggle with a number of illnesses. He was 86.

May he rest in eternal peace.

That said, McMahon's death got me to thinking about something a colleague of mine wrote in a thoughtful obit of sorts yesterday:

In many ways, he helped Carson be a better Carson: serving as the ready butt to a joke when the action got slow and pitching products for sponsors so the host didn't have to lower himself.

For a guy willing to stand next to the brightest spotlight, it was a pretty sweet gig.

Indeed. It takes a lot of humility and self-confidence to flourish as a sidekick.

To borrow from sports for a second, most often you see rookies and young players break into the NBA with their eyes set hard on scoring lots of points and becoming a star.

And why not? Most everyone who makes it into the NBA was a high-scoring supernova on some level of hoops. It's natural for anyone who's experienced that sort of success to figure that will only continue in the League.

Of course, only a precious few can really become legends like MJ, Kobe, Hakeem, Wilt, etc. But if someone is willing to swallow their pride and work for it, they too can become an iconic sidekick in the manner of McMahon. Or Pau Gasol.

So, in honor of McMahon - and to rip an idea from the much more talented Spencer Hall, here's my salute to the best of the second bananas:

1. Scottie Pippen - Pip pretty much set the template for the successful beta male. In fact, he was such a superb sidekick that he's still generally regarded as one of the NBA's 50 best players of all-time and a future Hall of Famer. However, I'm still bitter that he only showed up on the first and final days of his basketball camp at the University of Central Arkansas - (why else would my parents have signed me up for a week in Conway, Arkansas?)

2. TC from "Magnum PI" - I can't tell you how many times TC bailed out Magnum's sorry ass with that helicopter. And really, TC handled all the rough stuff when things got a little too heated. Bonus: TC, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam, never drank alcohol.

3. Phife from A Tribe Called Quest - I wouldn't go so far as to say he was the best ever "second rapper" in a hip-hop group. But he's definitely in the conversation. And his improvement from People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm to The Low End Theory really catapulted ATCQ into consideration as one of the all-time great hip-hop acts. However, it was clear that Q-Tip was running things in that group.

4. Cockroach from "The Cosby Show" - When I was in elementary school, I always wanted a homeboy like Cockroach. He was pretty much down for whatever but respectable enough to bring around the fam. A brown-skinned Eddie Haskell, I suppose. But he totally disappeared when Theo went to NYU. What was that about?

5. Mouse from "Devil in a Blue Dress" - Not only was Mouse from Houston, a loyal friend to Easy and one of the most dangerous characters ever dreamed up for a movie, but he uttered a line near the end of the film that sticks with me to this day: "If you didn't want me to kill him, why did you leave me alone with him?" Just classic.

To honor these honorable men and to validate my list, why not force a hearty chuckle over the crickets? Think of the team.
Continue Reading »

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deep Thought

You would think, especially at this point, that any celebrity or moderately famous couple would think it's a bad idea to invite tee-vee cameras into their home. It's the kiss of death. Continue Reading »

Random Acts of YouTube

While online sleuths attempt to determine whether the following video is real or some elaborate hoax, people should refrain from challenging Aaron Shutway in a "H-O-R-S-E" contest of any real consequence. It will not end well for them.

Continue Reading »

Monday, June 22, 2009

She's Michelle Obama, not Huxtable

After reading the second paragraph of Robin Givhan's weekend story in the Washington Post about Michelle Obama, I had to manually prevent my eyeballs from rolling into the back of my head:

So far, the first lady has chosen to be a food bank volunteer with an outsize entourage and an education activist with the largest soapbox imaginable. But Michelle Obama also fills a role that is not of her choosing but that may, in fact, be the most influential: She serves as a symbol of middle-class progress, feminist achievement, affirmative action success and individual style.

And she has done all this on the world stage . . . while being black.

Thank goodness for Bill Cosby and Co. Otherwise, I doubt any of us Negroes would have ever known how to act in public.

But really, the audience for Givhan's piece is clearly people who don't know black people or know anything about them other than what they see on TV. Because if they did, they would know that Michelle Obama is no alien, no anomaly, no actor.

Indeed, Michelle Obama could be your mom, your next-door neighbor, your elementary-school teacher, your attorney. She's an actual human being, and she didn't grow up feral on some remote island. I think it's safe to say Michelle Obama didn't "become a symbol of middle-class progress" all on her lonesome - her older brother was also an Ivy League grad, after all.

Maybe this is foreign to some people but I've known Michelle Obamas and Claire Huxtables all my life. Hundreds of them. And I didn't have to watch TV to figure that out.
Continue Reading »

Free period

Your Monday Random Ass Roundup has been posted over at PostBourgie. Check it out.

In this week's edition of the roundup, we discuss marital fail, President Obama's struggles with LGBTQ issues, the possibility of Mayor Brad Pitt, surfing the "fatosphere," and once again revisit the Black Mamba.

Enjoy. Continue Reading »

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Songs for our fathers

Consider this a feeble attempt at coming up with a list of suitable songs for Father's Day. The most important word in the previous sentence was "feeble" and the least important was "suitable." If you can do better or have some suggestions, please share with the rest of the class:

1. The Foundation by Xzibit

2. Bridging the Gap by Nas and Olu Dara.

3. Papa Was A Rolling Stone by The Temptations - this song seems a bit cliche for the list but, upon closer listen, is one of the most thoughtfully written songs that I've ever heard in my life.

4. Be a Father to Your Child by Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs.

5. Something by Eddie and Gerald Levert. You choose.

Bonus track: 6. What U See is What U Get by Xzibit. Not the song. But the video. Continue Reading »

The big piece of chicken

In my search this morning for some songs to honor all the fathers out there on Father's Day, particularly mine, I quickly came to realize the offerings were very limited. One online list of father-centered songs turned up Will Smith's remake of "Just the Two of Us."

I mean, really?

It reminded me of Chris Rock's classic riff during his "Bigger & Blacker" comedy set in 1999 about the diminshed importance - relative to mothers, of course - of the traditional father.

[The real daddies] Make your world a better, safer place, and what does daddy get? The big piece of chicken. That's all daddy gets is the big piece of chicken.
From my perspective, it's hard to argue with him.

Even though plenty of fathers - like my own - worked hard to provide for their families, they're often ignored and taken for granted because outward displays of appreciation and affection are supposedly unimportant to dads. Real men don't need praise; they need quiet time in front of the TV with a beer and the sports section of the Sunday newspaper ... right?

Or not.

In my case, I could not possibly come up with enough ways to express gratitude for my father. I mean, where would I start?

Thanks for spending all those nights teaching me arithmetic on flash cards; thanks for teaching me how to execute a proper layup; thanks for motivating me for little-league football by promising a video game for each touchdown; thanks for boosting my confidence enough so that I summoned enough college to ask out a girl for the first time in my life; thanks for understanding when I bawled like a baby on the drive to college; thanks for encouraging me to keep running up The Hill even when my lungs were burning and my legs were wobbling; thanks for keeping all of my college newspaper stories in a clipbook; thanks for convincing me that Oklahoma City wouldn't be such a bad place to live after all; thanks for hugging me so tight when I found out I lost my job; thanks for being the first to suggest that I ask the First Lady to come join me in Tampa; thanks for being there everday, even when I was less than appreciative. Like, maybe, Tuesday or something.

A big piece of chicken isn't nearly enough. And neither is a song.
Continue Reading »