Thursday, September 28, 2006

Image v. Justice on trial at Spelman/Morehouse

This recent piece by Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal about the recent controversy over rape allegations at Spelman/Morehouse shows why he is one of the most insightful cultural critics writing today. The piece explains the deeper meaning behind the virulent reaction from Morehouse men to the recent demonstrations by Spelman women attempting to break the official silence about rape allegations at two of our most distinguished black universities. We have been extremely impressed with Spelman women lately. As the nation's most elite black women's college, they have rightfully taken their place at the symbolic center of the cutting edge of black gender relations in the hip-hop generation. (We of course talk about the Spelman ladies in DT chapter on hip-hop recounting how they famously took on Nelly. We're glad to see more Spelman women joining the chorus on this rape issue. When the Nelly flap took place, the media painted it as a campus-wide undertaking. In acutality, it was the same feminist alliance members leading the charge, but they had the support of only about a dozen or so Spelmanites.) We agree with Dr. Neal that image is not everything; Some things need to be aired in order to move past them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Where's Huey and Co.?

He hasn't officially said it, but it appears as if the Boondock's is not coming back as a comic strip. Universal Syndicate made an announcement that told newspapers not to expect the biting strip back on its pages.
We love Aaron McGruder even though his TV show on the Cartoon Network can be a bit sexist toward women with episodes like "Guess Ho's Coming to Dinner" or intent on going over the top just because. Still, we've read the strip since it debuted in 1999. Here's hoping that he can maintain his satirical wit on television and that he changes his mind about the strip, which had shaken up the sometimes stale funnies.
Some folks are wondering if he's pulling a Dave Chappelle and you can't escape the parallels. We have The Man, leeching money, but yet smilingly insisting, "we love this black man and he can take as long as he needs before coming back to work." Also, Chappelle's dancing v. shuffling existential query has plagued the Boondocks since it debuted on cable. We discussed the premiere episode at the college campus where I teach. One of my favorite students, a white male, commented to me after class that he didn't care for the show. "He uses the word 'nigger' too much," he told me. Ordinarily, I would have responded to that statement by taking off my earrings and breaking out the vaseline, tenure be damned. But my student was just recounting what he had no doubt heard on countless hip-hop recordings, now on national TV. Clearly some of these youngins have not received the memo about non-black use of the word...So what could I say? Hey A-dub, thanksssssssssss

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Negrophobia in 2006?

NPR did a really interesting Q&A with the historian Clarissa Myrick Harris, co-curator of an exhibit chronicling the 1906 race riots in Atlanta, which happened a century ago Friday. In the interview she talks about the many reasons why the riots happened, even though the city was considered riot-proof because it boasted the largest black middle class in the country. She also talked about the role of the media in inflaming racial tensions. Here's what she had to say about the "negrophobia" that prevailed in the city that is now "too busy to hate."

There is paternalism that looked at the black race as inferior but capable of being improved by guidance and the example of white people -- "We will civilize them." And there is negrophobia -- which looks upon black men, in particular, as essentially degenerate, fundamentally vicious, prone to vice, prone to lust, as not quite responsible because they haven't developed morals, [which] sees the black man as a dangerous animal. Negrophobes think the black man can't be improved, but he can be controlled. That's where you get ideas like the chain gang, a system to get itinerant black men off the streets by putting them in jail, putting them to work for the state, building roads, doing work but remaining incarcerated. The idea is that, "At least we're teaching them to do a good day's work, giving them food." This is the lens that negrophobes had.

Amazing how much and how little has changed.

To hear the NPR broadcast, click HERE

See the New York Times article about the anniversary click HERE

Thursday, September 21, 2006

hip-hop love project update

I just got this latest update from "Hip-Hop Love Project" coordinator Lynda Greene. This is the latest project from the Prince George's County Women's Collective. One thing the innovative "hip-hope" minister Rev. Tony Lee has said is that when a ball is rolling in the wrong direction, it takes someone to stop it, then turn it around. Truer words have never been said about popular rap music today. I'm happy to see these women trying to reclaim the love in our culture in a constructive, uplifting way that does not attack or condemn but harnesses feminine power toward positive change. See the previous post HERE to read about their strategy.

The event will take place Saturday, Sept. 23. They will meet at the Sports and Learning Complex in Prince George's County, Maryland at 9:30 am, and continue to the following locations:
9:30- 11:30 Sports & Learning Complex
12:00-1:00 Lunch (fast food) Largo Town Center
1:30-3:30 - Watkins Park
4:00 - 5:00 - Starbuck's Break (Bowie Town Center)
5:30 - 6:30 - X-treme teen b-ballÂ
7:00 Dinner at Cap.Centre at the Blvd (Carolina Kitchen)

They also plan to have a new Web site ( and a new email address ( will be up and running by Friday evening. Check it out when you get a chance, especially after Saturday when pictures of the Hip-Hop Love Project will be posted for all to see!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Athletes and manhood

A recent column "Can Our Athletes Ever Be Men Again? Don’t Count On It" by Boyce Watkins, adapted from his speech he will give this week to the NAACP, reminded me once again why it's time for A New Look. (Thanks to my BFF Allison R. Brown for suggesting this subtitle for our book!) A cousin of Muhammad Ali, Boyce rails against the lack of "Real Men", activists in professional athletics in the hip-hop generation in a column posted on the online Black Athlete Sports Network website.
Deep sigh....We show evidence to the contrary in our chapter "Thomas, 36" which profiles Washington Wizards player Etan Thomas, who is not only a team co-captain, has made a name for himself as a published poet and anti-war activist. I had the honor of hanging out with Etan and his family briefly last year to talk to him about his struggle to heed Ali's challenge to "take this fame the white man gave to...use our fame for freedom," in highly ambiguous times. Although I personally think he could use some help from his NBA peers, Etan Thomas disagreed.
“I don’t feel alone," he said. "We’ll have discussions. Guys couldn’t stop talking about what happened with [executed former gang leader] Tookie Williams. They are aware; they are just not trying to speak out. That’s my thing. People think [all basketball players] do one thing and that’s it, they don’t have a mind and opinions about anything. Guys are definitely aware, a lot more than people think. That’s the whole thing with perceptions.”
And that's also the whole thing with forcing older measures and definitions on a new generation, which we also talk about throughout DT. We don't pull any punches about the triflinity that also pervades our generation, but this is a new world and we need to keep up. That means not making lazy assumptions based on what we read in Sports Illustrated or see on TV. Really sad in this case, since Etan was a standout player and activist since his days at Syracuse, the university where Dr. Watkins happens to be a professor of finance.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

silencing the hater

One of the unfortunate byproducts of being a culture critic is that you by definition are a hater. Radio sucks. The new movies? Formulaic and trite. Contemporary literature--bleh! And the kids these days call that a concert! Look up and before you've even reached 30 you've become this angry, bitter, unsatisfied person starved for culture that speaks to you--stuck in some wretched old-school loop in the meantime. Some of the smartest people I know are afflicted with this condition. But as the writer Jedediah Purdy pointed out, Gen X-ers' negative and downright nasty cynical pose is a cop-out, a ruse to avoid taking a chance on something and believe in anything. A nothing ventured, nothing lost, attitude ultimately will get us nowhere.

Good news on this front: I loved Idlewild. Little Miss Sunshine is the funniest movie since "Something About Mary." I was on a roll! So in my ongoing quest for personal betterment, I trekked out to Best Buy to pick up (yes, purchase!) a few of the current recent "popular" music releases. I put a smile on my face and quietly laid them on the counter. The brother behind the counter took one look at my selections, then shot me a long, sideways, now-you-know-better-than-that glance. I tried to explain my quest for positive reinvention, to adopt a sunnier outlook. Not to hate just because.
He grunted.
"Beyonce, I can understand," he said. "But Justin Timberlake?"
Well I really like his new single with Timbaland, I stammered. Timbo produced the whole album....
"I just can't get with that whole 'sexyback' thing," he said. "When did sexy go out of style?"
Good point, I thought as i popped JT's album into my car CD player, launching one of the most exciting R&B albums I've heard in quite some time. When I got home I heard the rest. Beyonce's new album sucks.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Piano Man

Jason Moran has a new jazz CD -- his seventh -- out on Blue Note . It's entitled Artist in Residence. I saw Jason (we met a few years ago) earlier this month at the Chicago Jazz Festival and he blew the audience away. Jason samples sounds and DJs in his work, giving it a tinge of hip-hop flavor. He has several CDs out. Also check out Modernistic where he does an innovative interpretation of Planet Rock.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

more election tomfoolery

I just love election years. And a recent captured-on-video spectacle of two distinguished, accomplished black men vying for the top elected position in Prince George's County, MD., beefing like biggie & tupac through the streets of suburban D.C. makes having to wade through all that election spam worthwhile. Let's see, we've got: A Jesse Jackson news conference being crashed. Plenty of trash talk ("You can run but you can't hide!"). We even have one candidate being ejected from the Gladys Knight chicken and waffle joint. And that's all in one day.
In all seriousness, this a local election with national resonance for black people--and a new chapter in the way black masculinity is constructed in the news media.
After the '68 riots following the MLK assassination charred DC to a crisp, blacks of means fled DC like embittered Cuban exiles, eventually transforming a sleepy white rural county into the wealthiest majority-black jurisdiction in the country. Now as gentrification invades all of d.c., there has been an influx of working class blacks and immigrants seeking refuge in Prince George's County. The black-run government is audibly groaning under the strain on police and schools. Thus we have the spectacle of two candidates desperate to telepath some sort of bourgie code to assure their wealthy constituents that the tide is indeed being stemmed. At the same time, neither one can afford to lose their black cards. The result is not pretty. But it is pretty dern funny

Friday, September 08, 2006

the new black politics

In the article "Bigger Than Hip-Hop: A Look at the State of Black Leadership" writer Glen Ford (also editor of takes yet another stab at revealing how (and if) the torch is being passed to a new generation of black leadership. In the article, Ford quotes 27-year-old activist Adrienne Marie Brown who describes a situation in which the old-school Civil Rights lions are guarding the door, cutting their eyes at young would-be newcomers. Then Brown rightly turns the finger back at us. “Most black middle-class young people—a huge arena—don’t identify as hip hop or as civil rights. They just want to boogie. They don’t want to mess anything up.” Sad but true. Read the rest of the article in In These Times, which mostly looks at the fledgling hip-hop activism movement HERE.
The young Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whom we profile in DT, escaped this fate the old fashion way: being born into politics. (Mom a Congresswoman, dad an old Detroit pol). Still, he's smart, he has brass, he's flashy, fresh and committed to leading maybe the blackest big city in America. Kilpatrick is a great case study for the future of not only black leadership, but also the nitty gritty urban issues that most affect black people today and tomorrow, too. That, and watching him joust with the local news media is entertaining as hell to watch.
Although he is totally lacking in that unmistakably Detroit flair, we are also keeping our eye on the front runner of the D.C. mayor's race, Adrian Fenty. He is also in his mid-30s, has been endorsed by Marion Barry and has produced a lot of teeth-gnashing from the old guard.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

So Smooth...

It's the ironies of ironies.

I've recently written a lot about video girls and their construction in society and land of hip hop. Our Hip-Hop chapter in the book interviews women in the industry, from label execs to video babes. We actually hear from them, for a change, on how they manage in a hypermasculine culture. For research, we read a lot of Smooth and King magazines, the marketing arm for 'video vixens.' Most lay women don't know of Smooth's existence.
Several months ago I was partying with my BFFs Brian and Shayne. We ended up at some random club in the VIP section. It was a Smooth party in Chicago for one of the magazine's cover girls. I thought nothing of it. We didn't stay long.

A few months later, Brian called me to come by his job for a 'surprise.' He whipped out Smooth and showed our photo. There we are, mugging for the camera. I had forgotten that we took a picture. What were the odds that I'd be in the video girl bible?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Godfrey on Kelis

Loved this smart review of Kelis's album by Washington City paper writer Sarah Godfrey. Not only did Sarah have excellent taste in undergraduate institutions, she was one of the young black women writers we recruited to write for the first incarnation of the DT project, when it was an anthology.
I've always been a Kelis fan and "Bossy" is my (and my 2 year-old daughter's) personal theme song this summer. I guess I've got to go cop the whole album now.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Race Wasn't an Issue to Him, Which Was an Issue for me

This Sunday article in the New York Times is a first-person essay about a Black woman who realizes that dating White men who are so-called 'colored blind' is detrimental. A well-written piece. She was married to a White man.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

R.I.P. Billy

Chuck & Billy's was one of our favorite hangout spots when we were Howard undergraduates in the mid to late 1990s. It was a down home, old school, totally unpretentious jukebox-type bar and grill located right across the street from the school of B. It was an always-entertaining mix of folk, everyone from the retirees of Chuck's Cussin Club, to federal judges and prosecutors, to students, professors, bootleggers and anyone else the wind might blow in from gritty Georgia Avenue. We had musician friends who used to sit in on the live jazz band on Wednesdays nights. The fried chicken was slammin'. The rum and cokes were the strongest in town. Best of all a cute but broke coed could have their pick of willing drink sponsors(:
Naturally, it inspired the Natalies very first writing collaboration, an article about the past and present of the bar and its two owners, Chuck & Billy, which we published in the Hilltop, Howard's student paper where we were both editors. We gathered there to celebrate when Nat M.'s sister Megan decided to come to Howard. When we got ready to graduate in 1998, Chuck & Billy sponsored a special Happy Hour for us and our friends.
This picture of us below the marquee they made especially for us "Congradulations Natalie-Chana-Natalie-Erin & the HU Class 98" is one of our prized possessions. This morning, we learned that Billy Banks passed away at age 85 after a long struggle with lung cancer. Thanks so much for the memories, Billy! May you rest in peace.
As for you Chuck, we are sorry for your loss and you know we'll be back to see you and the rest of the regulars when the book tour stops in D.C.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Parenting a la Hip-Hop

So I had just dropped off my 1st grade son at his D.C. public elementary school this morning, and who did I see doing the same but Asheru himself. His ears musta been burning because his name was just on my lips no more than 2 weeks ago when I finally realized that it was him rhyming the theme song to Aaron McGruder's Boondock animated show on cable. I first met Asheru in 99' or 2000 when I published an article in the Post about D.C.'s innovative Hip-Hop scene and he was with Unspoken Heard. We (and hip-hop!) are truly growing up when we run into each other in school parking lots dropping off our youngins! This is one of the many paradoxes that we explore in the book in the chapter "Raising Tyrone" which looks at the challenges of being HIp-Hop Generation parents trying to raise our black boys with some sense while still keeping it real and true to the culture we grew up in. I think we're on our way. Asheru gave me the CD of the official mixtape related to the Boondocks. I listened to it on the way back to campus and it is hot to death! Can't wait to meet Mrs. Asheru at the first PTA meeting next week!