A freelance writer's take on beats, rhymes and life. My work appears in Creative Loafing Atlanta, okayplayer, The Boombox.com. I also contributed to Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label
A3C is here! It’s what I call hip-hop Christmas or Raptoberfest. For five days, Atlanta will host some of the finest, MCs, DJs, filmmakers, dancers, writers, journalists, commentators, panelists – all dedicated to celebrating one of the world’s most incredible art forms.
I plan to take it all in and tell you about it.
Among all the many superstars set to light up the fest, I’m checking for:
Boog Brown, StaHHr, Schoolboy Q, Talib Kweli, DJ Red Alert and the incomparable Questlove of the legendary Roots crew.
My friend and fellow artist Charles Huntley Nelson, Jr. died on July 30th. Charles was one of the first artists I met and could go to who was always consistently about his work. I met him when I was a senior in college. He was an adjunct professor teaching painting. Charles stood out for two very poignant reasons; he was one of about 4 professors at the Atlanta College of Art who was black. The second reason was he was barely much older than me. As I soon learned, Charles had recently come to Atlanta after having received his MFA from Howard University and immediately began teaching. He may have been 25 or 26 at the time, so that should give you a clue about the kind of person he was. From the moment I met him he was always full of advice and guidance and always willing to offer…
Recent programming changes on Clark Atlanta University’s WCLK-FM have longtime listeners worried that the place where hot sounds of traditional-meets-experimental soul and jazz is being cooled to tepid blandness. The station has shifted to a pre-programmed, smooth jazz format in an attempt to attract new membership.
At the center of the issue is the beloved 20-year veteran DJ, Jamal Ahmad. Long before Pandora, he opened ears to new music that local and international listeners were unlikely to hear on other local stations.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, activism is at our fingertips. As a Creative Loafing Atlanta freelancer, I have to shout out my colleagues who were on this from the jump. CL contributor and publisher of Slo*Mo Magazine, Carlton Hargro, set off the protests on Facebook with “WCLK: Save our S.O.U.L.” and a Change.org campaign to make sure WCLK supporters’ demands are heard. Hargro is proposing that WCLK allow Ahmad to direct programming for the entire station.
Staff culture writer, Rodney Carmichael, said this in his August 28 Crib Notes post:
“Between Ahmad’s original WCLK-FM show “S.O.U.L.” (Sounds of Universal Love) – which pumped a weekly diet of UK soul, drum ‘n’ bass and acid jazz from 1995 to 2005 – to his involvement as co-founder of defunct indie label Groovement Collective (which introduced listeners to India.Arie, Donnie, and others), Ahmad is a large part of the reason why Atlanta’s soul scene took over the world stage in the 2000s.”
Clearly, WCLK’s neutered background sound is a serious step in the wrong direction for a number of reasons. First of all, in the past decade, digital stations have made radio an increasingly democratic space free of marketing boxes. Also, in Atlanta and other major cities, the smooth jazz format is a proven fail – with experts declaring the subgenre itself dead.
Unlike any programmed playlist on or offline, Ahmad combines his repertoire with in-depth cultural context, musical facts, live interviews and all-around broadcasting savvy. He knows what we need and want before we do and makes sure we get it right on time.
Like that Indeep disco jam, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” S.O.U.L. fans can attest to how Jamal Ahmad has saved the day from the weeping and gnashing of teeth known as Atlanta rush hour. His shows make us feel, think and jam no matter where we are. With every form of liberation, though, we know freedom ain’t free, so if the good folks at WCLK leave well enough alone, we’ll have to back it with increased membership dollars. Period. If we had to lose our S.O.U.L. to find it again we can say it was all worth it.
Most of my peers, both personally and professionally, were born at least a decade after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led August 28, 1963 March on Washington. While we are not total strangers to racial inequality, we have nothing in our collective experience even remotely close to life in the turbulent Civil Rights era.
Some of us witnessed the dangers of crime and violence in neighborhoods where the opportunities had gone away to suburbs or lands overseas but none of us knew a world where the mere act of assembly, especially with friends of a different color, could end your life or land you in jail.
Today, none of us even knows the difficulties of gathering. We do not know the challenges of organizing closed strategic meetings in undisclosed locations through word of mouth – phone lines were tapped and for some families a home phone was a luxury. Today, global communication is as close as a few words in a text or social media application away. We exact rapid change online. We even have change.org to expedite our processes. Social activism is literally in our hands.
To put it bluntly, we have it easy. If you are a person of color with post-secondary education, live and work relatively safely in or near a major American city among people of multiple racial and ethnic groups, chances are your general quality of life is significantly better than it would have been 50 years ago. Of course, job discrimination, unemployment and economic strife are still regular realities for many Americans, but the possibilities to escape through education, career or with help through public and private assistance are numerous. And regardless of where you stand in the political strata, a black identifying biracial president is incredible progress.
All we have to do now is commemorate the past. Remember, pay homage and learn. Talk to your children, young family members or other youth. Because we will never understand, we can only look back in reverence.
Read the full text of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech here.
Read the full text of Obama’s August 28, 2013 Commemoration speech here.
Fruitvale Station is the feature debut written and directed by 27-year-old wunderkind, Ryan Coogler. The winner of top prizes from both Cannes and Sundance is about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in Oakland on January 1, 2009.
The coincidental timing of the film’s release near the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin appears to have accelerated interest in the film. At a recent media rountable in Atlanta, Coogler declined to discuss the case. Instead, he went behind-the-scenes about making the film and working with Michael B. Jordan who leads as Grant, and Octavia Spencer who plays Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson.
“I never thought she [Spencer] would do it after winning an Academy Award. She approached it with the same passion like actors that have never done anything,” said Coogler.
Much like his recent talks, the film makes no attempt to politicize or racialize the tragedy. Rather, Fruitvale Station is about the immediate toll of senseless violence and the humanity of the victim.
I do not hate this woman. At one point, I really wanted to like her. I am far less concerned about the use of the N-word, than her overarching vision of African Americans as inferior. That appears ingrained in her psyche no matter the words she chooses.
Deen’s well-publicized fantasy for a wedding catering venture involved a concept of all black everything. Middle-aged black male staff members, dressed in white shirts, serving everyone like slaves. This comes amid allegations from a former restaurant manager that she and her brother contributed to a racially hostile work environment in their family-owned eateries.
To the post-racial pundits and Deen apologists, it is abominable to cast these views as inherently southern. That ignorant and outmoded thinking is simply inexcusable. I can not only count many white southerners as friends, but among my favorite authors and educators – people who challenged me to think beyond my gritty Pittsburgh upbringing and aim for my best self.
Perhaps I should not be so disturbed since I did not pay her a great amount of attention to begin with. Sure, I may have smiled about her victories in the battle of the bulge, which is tough all by yourself, let alone under public scrutiny in a culinary career. And yes, during one Thanksgiving I indulged in some blueberry cobbler at a family dinner from one of her recipe books (belonging to a cousin). Beyond that, I liked her “hey y’all” goodness and started-from-the-bottom-now-she’s-here rise to success.
Today, her high calorie fare and newly surfaced repugnant views have no place at my table.
Deen only let us know that wealth and fame do not change a person, but magnify what already exists. She let us know that while health milestones are measurable, the internal demons she has to fight may not come down like blood sugar and cholesterol after taking the right (sponsored or not) medication. She also reminded us that there is no way to reveal a changed heart and mind, other than careful public relations planning and strategic career moves. It is up to viewers and consumers to take a bite or shove away the plate. A diverse public armed with nutritional awareness and lots of choices may very well choose the latter.
Her apology video is here. Let me know what you think.
About four years ago, I was a regular at a music and art function held every other Wednesday night at the now closed Sambuca Jazz Café on Piedmont Avenue – home of Atlanta’s grown up restaurant/bar scene. From the beginning, I was in my element. The soundscape was dominated by young instrumentalists and vocalists doing funk, soul, jazz and a little hip-hop, or any combination of them all. They jammed alongside several visual artists live painting mostly musical themes on canvasses or nearly nude models.
Fabian Williams was one of them. The event’s hosts introduced me to the talented group. Williams, who always secured a spot near the front left of the stage, looked me squarely in the eye, cocked his head back, grinned and said, “Interview me.” So I did.
Enter Occasional Superstar – Williams’ brand persona and key character. When we first sat down for an interview he was in one of those contemplative moods not unusual for creative and writerly types. Once we dived into the art conversation, he turned up like he had an amp in his back.
When I listen now to the audio of that talk, I think I sounded like a little kid at her first magic show. The unintended oohing and ahhing embarrassed the hell out of me. The cool part, though, is that it reawakened my love for art and taught me a lot of new things. I’m from Pittsburgh, the city of Warhol – one of the coolest cultural districts in the U.S., if not the world. By writing about Fabian, I also realized – and I told him so – that I was honoring the memory of my high school friend, Javon Thompson, a brilliant young artist and writer who was tragically gunned down during a home invasion in 1994.
By reconnecting with the arts in a new way, I felt powerfully inspired. I can’t draw worth a damn, but just being in the same space with Fabian and his peers was cathartic. I’ve done some of my best writing alongside painters.
I was very shocked to learn that I was the first to write about him. He not only had a house full of paintings, but video, illustrations and a deck of face cards featuring hip-hop stars with two-sided, but different images. After, about forty-five minutes of conversation, almost as an afterthought, he talked about the art battle.
Performance art. My last experience with performance art was in high school at a warehouse where some kid rode around a dim light on a tricycle, wearing a tin foil mask while reciting a poem. Weird shit.
The World Wide Arts Federation, Williams’ promotion vehicle, was anything but. He took the best of everything – from classic paintings, to video, hip-hop and, yes the Ric Flair days of WWF pro-wrestling -and put it in a crazy, never-done-before kind of mix. Dude sings, he acts, he’s loud and he’s badass, but he has an inner humility that helped him keep it all under wraps until it was buffed, polished and fit for public consumption.
Now with Last Man Standing, the 10th battle, Williams wants the baddest to take home some cash. In the past art battles, like my personal favorites, Paint, Sketch or Draw Blood! and The Art of War of Art, participants “won” crowd favor by virtue of applause. This time, there is a diverse panel of judges, who will see that the last man or woman takes home $1000. If I could draw…
Anyway, if you’ve never been to an art battle, this is the one to watch. Over the years, I’ve written over half a dozen articles about Williams’ work. My editors at Creative Loafing Atlanta chose him as a staff pick for Poets, Artists and Madmen in the 2011 Best of Atlanta issue. They invented the category, “Best Local Art Beef” to describe his brand of painterly mayhem.
Like my favorite music journalist, dream hampton, who introduced hip-hop’s critical thinkers to Jay Z, I wanted to readers to see what Fabian Williams is up to and reach the unanimous decision, that this kind of performance art should be as much anticipated as a new album from a classic MC.
Last Man Standing Takes place at the Stuart McClean Gallery on 684 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, Suite A-1 30312 in the historic old fourth ward.
I first met 2 Chainz, then Tity Boi, in October 2009 after the BET Hip-Hop Awards. I was watching performers exit and chatting with fans and anyone else who wanted to talk. He introduced himself and gave me his cell phone number.
We did not talk again until this interview from fall 2011.
At the time, the artist formerly known as Tity Boy talked collabos, codeine and what he really thinks about hair weaves. This all went down before the release of his Grammy-nominated album, Based on a T.R.U. Story,and his part as a major component to radio rap singles – “The Birthday Song,” and “Mercy,” – with Kanye West, “I Love Dem Strippers,” with Nicki Minaj, the Juicy J and Lil Wayne banger, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” “I’m Different,” and the A$AP Rocky, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar posse cut, “F*ckin’ Problems” – in a flurry of releases of the past year.
Well-spoken and polite, he’s different, yeah he’s different – very much so than his strip-club and round-rumped birthday gift loving video persona. A lot has changed since my phone conversation to the College Park, Ga. native, born Tauheed Epps. Tity Boy was no more and he was busy re-introducing himself.
“My fans understand me as an artist. I believe in prosperity so I grow with every project. I know each one is better than the last one,” he says. “Everyone has to be better than the last one.”
His previous mixtapes, Codeine Cowboy and T.R.U. REALigion generated only moderate buzz. In 2011, he was promoting his now shelved mixtape, Hair Weave Killa. Instead of breaking down the song content, he made a point to tell me that he doesn’t have a problem with women’s hairstyle choices.
“Hair Weave Killa is just another a.k.a. My whole take is pulling hair whether in the bedroom or partying hard, just sweating it out,” he says, laughing.
As for his “Tity Boi,” moniker, the true meaning has nothing to do with mammary objectification. “It’s a country name,” he explained. “It’s nothing derogatory towards women. It comes from my family. It has to do with being spoiled, being an only child.”
He continues, “My name has always been 2 Chainz. I had them on in my 8th grade yearbook picture. It just kinda happened one day.”
His unceremonious name change came after the release of Playaz Circle’s 2007 album Supply and Demand while on Ludacris’ Disturbing The Peace imprint. The single “Duffle Bag Boy,” featuring Lil Wayne, was their biggest hit. Chainz is still grateful for Wayne’s contribution.
“Not as many people would know me if it wasn’t for Dwayne Carter. I’ve known him for a decade,” he says, “Shouts out to Young Money.”
His connection to Weezy and their shared passion for “purple drank” also had a major influence on Chainz’s mixtape, Me Against the World 2: Codeine Withdrawal. Followers of southern hip hop are intimately familiar with several artists’ love for the sweet but dangerous stuff – Texans DJ Screw and Pimp C are among the drug’s best known casualties.
“If you do too much of anything, it’s bad for you,” 2 Chainz warns. “[Codeine] is prescribed by doctors to help, not abuse.” (At the time of the interview, I was battling a cold and cough. He he said that I could use codeine cough syrup. I stuck to Mucinex).
Whether he’s still sippin’ on sizzurp or not, he’s remained focused since he hit the scene through DTP with childhood friend Earl Conyers a.k.a. Dolla Boy. They chose the name as an acronym of Playaz (Preparing Legal Assets from Years A-Z) to let fans know that they planned to be around for the long haul.
“We had the same common denominator, talking about hustling and making money,” 2 Chainz says about his now long defunct duo.
The two met up with Ludacris through a mutual friend when they lived in the same apartment complex near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. While he and Luda have known each other for more than a dozen years, online rumors circulated that their friendship was strained at the time of the eventual departure. Ludacris cleared the air in a June 2012 interview on New York’s Hot 97, stating that “I still call him Tit. That’s the homie man, that’s family…I’m extremely proud of him.”
At the time of our interview, 2 Chainz offered no details on his relationship with Luda.
As the conversation moved deeper into his past, he was reluctant to talk – particularly about the violence and incarceration of his Playaz Circle rhyme partner that stalled his career. “Where I come from we call that puberty; we consider that part of adolescence. I don’t even want to elaborate on that,” his becoming seriousness. “People get shot.”
Nowadays, 2 Chainz is mostly concerned with shooting videos. When we talked, there was nothing anything unique or unusual happening, nor was there anything indicating that he was on the brink of new success.
Despite the protest of parents, women and proponents of lyrically meaningful hip-hop, his star continues to rise.
ABC’s Scandal is finally returning from a three-week hiatus. The show has one of the most dedicated and diverse fanbases since HBO’s Sex and the City, which ended almost a decade ago. During the network’s break, The Scandalistas, as I like to call them (though they’re not all women), were going through withdrawal—evidenced by social media commentary lamenting the wait and the noticeable “silence” of tweets and Facebook status updates.
Full disclosure: I’ve never seen a full episode of Scandal. I know, I’m totally late to the party on this one. I can’t say I have a “good” reason other than simply not getting around to it. I am also not a huge TV watcher and a show has to be mighty good like the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning, Mad Men for me to sit down to a whole hour every week. I’m a fan of Kerry Washington, so I guess that’s a good enough reason. Exclusion from real and virtual show conversations is a close second.
Until this one.
A colleague whom I’ll refer to as Ms. Majorfan broke it down. When Ms. M. is not working her career as a busy creative management professional, she’s serving as a voice of reason in her friendship circle. The attractive single suburbanite has spent several Thursday evenings hosting Scandal events that ultimately turned into revelatory heart-to-heart sessions on life and love.
“It feels like Olivia is one of my friends and I’m cheering for her to get it right.”
By ‘getting it right,’ this devotee wants America’s favorite crisis manager to “overcome the bad habit that she has,” an addiction to toxic relationships. Amidst the tales of danger and espionage, the juiciest buzz centers around Pope’s affair with President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). While mainstream media appears to have approached the racial dynamic rather delicately, blogs and Facebook posts from African Americans have gone in. The black woman-white man extramarital dalliance has seen Washington’s character labeled everything from “whore” and “bed wench” to the “new Sally Hemings,” with equally harsh words black women viewers.
A post by TheRoot.com went as far to ask if black women are “hypocrites” for loving the “home-wrecking heroine.”
No matter the intensity of Olivia and Fitz’s flame, Scandal is hardly a primer on interracial romantic exploration.
“They’re all caught up in iniquity; that’s all I talk about,” says Ms. M.
It is very easy to dislike a philandering president and his weapons of mass distraction to throw Olivia off her already troubled course. The lack of clear-cut heroes and villains makes all the key players loved or hated depending on the scene. Viewers love an intricately plotted series about fiery human emotions and the way lustful passion, no matter how virulent the circumstances, will drive poor souls to desperate acts.
Until now, no one ever told me exactly why they were so intrigued. Some, though well-meaning, assumed that since it’s another top-rated Shonda Rhimes creation, I should just get it.
For Ms. Majorfan and her friends, Scandal strikes chords of empathy and sympathy for Pope, her supporting characters, and their real-life loved ones caught in a bad romance.
“They like it and don’t know why they like it. It’s just art imitating life.”
A messy life, but a life lived by people who without the high-level politics are something like us, quietly mitigating scandals of their very own.