Why I’m still talking about A3C

I don’t know about you, but I can remember when hip-hop was unwelcome in many public spaces. Surely there are places in the world where this remains. When I was growing up, authority figures –particularly teachers and principals—discouraged rappers and their supporters from congregating. Even rap music itself was locked in cases at record stores because, you know, “those people” steal.

The ninth year of A3C made me realize just how far we’d come. The Meliá hotel in Midtown Atlanta was a central meeting place; the site of most of interview sessions and panel discussions. We, and when I say we, I mean all of us – the media, the artists, the producers and the fans from the most buttoned-up plain folks to the gold-grilled, tatted up, peacocking standouts – were not only welcomed, but with open arms. And no it wasn’t the money; hip-hop has always had money. The global cultural force is simply undeniable.

It’s the only event where an inexperienced MC can have his or her name appear in the same program as an international mogul.

To paraphrase the First Lady, this was one of the few times in my adult life where I can say I’m proud of hip-hop. I was proud to see so many different kinds of people come together not only peacefully, but productively while having a great time.

Here is the breakdown of highlights from all five days:

October 2

I headed to the Quad downtown to check out the Dunk X Change after party headlined by Too $hort.

Nappy Roots dropped in as a pleasant surprise with amped up renditions of “Po’ Folks” “Aw Naw.”

Too $hort ran through the most popular of his long catalogue of hits, “Gettin’ It,” “Freaky Tales” and “Don’t Fight the Feelin.’” Back in the day, I snuck and listened to Too $hort.  As a good kid in a protective household, this felt very rebellious, like Richard Pryor set to a beat. As a grown-ass woman, his nasty rap shtick is useless, misogynist tripe that has no place in my life. The crowd must have agreed because they mostly dipped out well before his set was finished.

The real gem of this showcase was Tom P, whose concise stage set ended in a super-fast flow veering into Twista territory. More on this guy, coming up.

October 3

The A3C Film Series presented Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records at the Plaza Theater. Attendees were treated to the very first ever showing of the film’s final cut. The story of the iconic label was told through rare photos and video clips of Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf along with commentary from Questlove, Kanye West, Common and more. Both director Jeff Broadway and Wolf were in attendance. Wolf is a rare label magnate who stands up for his artists, no matter how different or commercially viable they are.

Once again A3C enjoyed some Wu Tang representation, this year in the form of a headlining Ghostface Killah at Variety Playhouse. Also on the bill were the grossly underrated Jean Grae and Phoroahe Monch who performed with an energy usually reserved for new artists. I hate to say it, but Ghostface was a little disappointing. He rocked alongside former Lox member, Sheek Louch. The two traded bars in a series of their popular group and solo tracks. Unfortunately Ghost’s late start resulted in an abbreviated show.  Instead of hearing verses from his first hit, “Daytona 500,” the instrumental played as background music to the audience’s exit.

October 4

In a live interview session with Big Rock of Heltah Skeltah, Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch, the three veteran MCs broke down the meanings and madness of their upcoming projects.

Grae literally completed Gotham Down in her hotel room after the show and dropped it exclusively on her site, jeangrae.com.

“Mine comes with orphans, kittens and free crack. I just try to push envelope; not for anyone else but myself,” said Grae, exhausted but still funny.

“Three months behind on my rent and car payments. I need people to support. No,” Pharoahe Monch said only half-joking.

“It’s a follow up to the last project I did called W.A.R. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, deals with health issues mental issues in the sense of being an independent artist… Just like the W.A.R. which stands for We Are Renegades, this talks about the reality of the situation.”

“I’ve been in the game in the long time, but I’m essentially a new artist with this solo release. I’ve written my whole life to this moment. It’s easy to write things that rhyme, but things that rhyme ain’t always the truth. I can’t help that I’m intense,” Big Rock added.

On the panel front, engineer, DJ and producer,Young Guru held it down with A3C founder, Brian Knott during “The Evolution of Production from a Music and Event Perspective.”

“You gotta change your mind on what success is and what you want. You have access to the world now,” said Guru on gaining traction through international outreach.

Later at Old Fourth Ward’s, Space 2, the Man Bites Dog Records session jammed with performances from J-Live, Copywrite and Boog Brown – who generated the most lively crowd response. Rasyrious and Yamin Semali laid down the sounds through the evening.

October 5

Veteran lyricist Talib Kweli paired with influential A&R Dante Ross for “How Technology Has Affected Artist Branding.” Kweli talked about releasing independent music and his unique relationship with MC Hammer. He went from dissing: “f*ck Hammer” to “thank you” after forming a business friendship.

“[As] an artist who’s a lyrical, miracle, spiritual – you need to pay attention to what’s happening in your industry whether you like their music or not,”  said Kweli in dispelling “conscious rapper” myths.  Kweli dropped lots of quotables. I could listen to that guy talk all day.

That evening Schoolboy Q  was entertaining, but overall underwhelming on Old Fourth Ward stage in a headlining show, performing “Hands on the Wheel” and “Collard Greens” along with a new track from his upcoming Oxymoron.

A few streets over, the Stuart McClean Gallery housed The Art of War of Art 2: Talk Panels of Death, Fabian Williams’ visual art trash-talking smackdown as part of the A3C lineup for the first time. Featured artists included P.S. I’m Dope, who garnered attention at earlier events with her powerful renderings of hip-hop artists. CP the Artist Palmer created what could be described as the Best Visual Art Depiction of a Hip-Hop Metaphor when he presented a pre-painted “cheat piece” of a battered and hospitalized Williams while quoting Notorious B.I.G.’s “beef is when I see you, guaranteed to be in ICU.”

Saturday night went well into overtime as East Atlanta was home to a series of late night performances as iNDEED and Scotty ATL packed 529 with DJ Burn One mixing it up between sets.

October 6

Because A3C cares, there were two awesome events free and open to the public.

The one and only Questlove stopped by Criminal Records for a quick signing of his memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, The World According to Questlove. I snapped a quick phone pic with the funky drummer.

He (and I) then hightailed it to the Fourth Ward Stage on Edgewood Avenue for The Best Block Party Ever. It really was the Best.Block. Party. Ever.

Questo jammed in a crowd-pleasing, time-traveling, mutli-genre set before the heavy rain forced everyone to take cover.

20131005_164439CP OS ICU DisA3C 2013 logo

The festival wrapped with DJ Premier at Space 2 as an appropriate finale to an excellent week in hip-hop.

Images: Big Rock, Pharoahe Monch, I and Jean Grae

CP The Artist’s Art of War of Art 2 “cheat piece.”

A3C 2013 logo

A3C and the Secret Life music roundup

A3C 2013 logo

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.

Yes!

See the full schedule here.

Also, last weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on publicity for the International Music Conference.

I lead an interesting discussion on the challenges of covering the music biz with journalists Maurice Garland, Jonathan Landrum, Yinka Adegoke and publicist, Tresa Sanders

See the highlight photos here.

Episode 22: Remembering Charles

By Fahamu Pecou: one gifted artist’s homage to another.

PASSAGE of RIGHT: A Black Man's Journey

meandcharlesMy 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…

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S.O.U.L. on ice?

Cool note from Shellton Tremble

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.

Image: Shellton Trimble So True Art

The Commemoration

50th Anniversary march

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.

Have you seen ‘Fruitvale Station?’

Fruitvale Station graphic

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.

My full review is here.

What Paula Deen’s statements on race truly reveal

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.