Monday, September 14, 2020

New article: "The Interstellar Corridors of Killah Priest's Rocket to Nebula"

My new album review was just published at Hip Hop Golden Age, the piece is called "The Interstellar Corridors of Killah Priest's Rocket to Nebula." Check it out HERE.

The Interstellar Corridors of Killah Priest's Rocket to Nebula

"Welcome to the Nebula, where the impossible is regular"

Killah Priest has been among my favorite artists for over 20 years now and, as I talk about at length in the review, he deserves accolades for continuing to grow and improve as an artist. Priest is most well known for his classic features on Wu-Tang Clan tracks, his affiliated Killa Beez group Sunz of Man, and his solo debut album from 1998, Heavy Mental. But, as I've written about on this blog before, Priest advanced his visual rhyming style and deepened his already encyclopedic content on albums like The Psychic World of Walter Reed (2013) and Planet of the Gods (2015) and has been dropping tons of new material the past several years. His second new album that dropped in 2020 is Rocket to Nebula, an hour-long spoken-word poetry cosmic trip, unlike any other rap album you'll hear. It's a cosmic journey to the farthest reaches of inner space, from the mind of a brilliant emcee who dwells often on metaphysics and mysticism. 

While Rocket to Nebula is loaded with esoteric subjects, celestial imagery, and occult magic and mysticism, it also continually returns to everyday reality of human life on earth. The poetic descriptions of some of the simple pleasures in life hit the listener differently during a time of pandemic and quarantine. And the cosmic journeys to imaginative utopias described in visual lyricism are stimulating for the mind. As I mention in the article, "Priest has occupied the role of shaman of the Wu tribe for many years now, but it’s good and well-timed to hear him fully embrace it for a full album." 

Here is the track "Digital Ghost" from Rocket to Nebula:

And here is a new track from Priest from an upcoming album, I'm really digging this one, it's called "Manuka Honey":

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Mixtape in Memoriam of Kobe

From its humble inception 11 years ago this blog began with me showing love for the beauty of Kobe Bryant's jump shot, so now since today would have been Kobe's 42nd birthday I'd like to share some thoughts on the late Lakers legend, plus post a mixtape of choice clips of the Black Mamba. 

While I was never a Lakers fan and was usually rooting against Kobe as a Knicks fan (or as a fan of Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter as they went up against Kobe), he was such an amazingly talented, flashy, dynamic, high-flying and insanely competitive player it was impossible not to be entertained by his game even as he was kicking your team's ass. Dude was an absolute legend. During the latter half of his career I spent some time living in Southern California and got to watch a lot of Lakers games on local cable. In those days I also had a friend who was a huge Lakers fan and we'd argue about Kobe's place among the all-time greats. 

Prior to his tragic death early this year, the most recent memories I had of Kobe, the events that stuck in my head as I-remember-where-I-was-when-that-happened kinda moments, were how bad I felt for him the night he tore his Achilles and how happy I was for him watching his unforgettable final NBA game when he dropped 60 in a win against Utah. And I remember seeing that video of Kobe and Gianna, the father teaching his attentive daughter as they sat courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game, a month before the accident that took their lives. 

Looking back on it, the horrible death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash on January 26th stands out as a harbinger of the unthinkably dark and depressing months to come. Strangely, that period of grieving and binge-watching Kobe videos, watching the memorial they held at Staples Center, that was actually the final period of normalcy we had before the world we knew suddenly collapsed. I remember I was at work, on a lunch break when I caught Michael Jordan's eulogy for Kobe at his memorial. (My office would soon be closed indefinitely.) The Staples Center that day was filled with the gods of basketball lore all gathered together in the arena Kobe called home, all mourning a fallen star. Everybody packed together in Los Angeles and just one month later all public gatherings would be banned, NBA's season indefinitely shut down, America's confrontation with the coronavirus escalating. 

I remember that Sunday afternoon hearing the news about Kobe and Gianna and it was a gut punch. That shit hurt for a while. I was shocked how hard it hit me. Just seeing headlines with the words The Death of Kobe Bryant just looked surreal, bizarre, fake or unthinkable like The Death of Superman. I kept talking to friends about it, trying to process it with anyone who understood the impact of the death of Kobe, and at night I'd get lost in watching every YouTube video of Kobe I could find, reliving his greatest highlights and reliving my history as a basketball fan, commiserating with every commentator on the loss of Kobe from late night talk show hosts and retired NBA greats to Randy Moss and Jason Alexander and anybody who felt or understood the impact of the death of Kobe. The shock was well captured by Jon Batiste talking to Stephen Colbert, describing that viscerally painful realization that "even the mighty among us, those who seem like they'll live forever, the immortal ones could be gone (snap) just like that."

After the death of Kobe I felt like something inside me broke. To heal it I had to binge watch Kobe videos. I was trying to keep my memories of Kobe alive, everything I had ever loved and been inspired by about Kobe, I was trying to bring it all back to life. Having had a while to think about it now, what made me love Kobe so much, besides the entertainment value of his game was his drive, his inspiration, his internal push to achieve greatness. He was born with gifts, the son of pro basketball player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant whose hoop genes he surely inherited, but Kobe was never complacent, he famously had an ethic to work as hard as he possibly could to get the most out of his gifts. He was notoriously an asshole in his competitive excesses but he was driven to be the absolute best to ever play the game of basketball, determined to outdo his idol Michael Jordan. There was a great scene in the ESPN Jordan documentary where you hear Jordan in the locker room before an All-Star game talking about the "little Laker boy" whose cockiness would get the best of him. Kobe/Jordan battles evolved sharply over the years until the torch was officially passed to the Black Mamba who reached his scoring peaks around when Jordan finished his twilight years with the Wizards. Seeing Jordan pour his heart out in mourning his little brother at the Kobe memorial, it felt extra heart-wrenching that young Kobe was being laid to rest while the older Jordan was delivering his eulogy. The whole thing brought to the forefront for me the unyielding passage of time, the inescapableness of death, and the cold reality of our loneliness as human beings who are, despite all of our impacts and connections, born alone and who die alone.  

At the same time, in the aftermath of the death of Kobe I felt the reality of the idea espoused in the works of James Joyce which essentially amounts to: in death, absence can become the greatest form of presence. I thought about Kobe more in the wake of his passing that I had in many years. Kobe was on my mind constantly for weeks. I know that was the case for a lot of people. Jordan captured that in his eulogy, describing how we all feel like some part of us died when Kobe died. I'm still thinking about and feeling some feelings about Kobe Bryant today on his 42nd birthday. 

And so in honoring his memory, here is a mixtape of some of my favorite videos that capture what made Kobe Bryant such an iconic and inspiring figure.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

"Created Equal" (1984) by Jean-Michel Basquiat

"Created Equal" (1984) by Jean-Michel Basquiat 

Article at "Hip Hop Golden Age"

Last month I had an article posted at the Hip Hop Golden Age website "Who Got the Camera? by Kevlaar 7 & Bronze Nazareth: A Lyrical Breakdown" which takes a close look at two verses from the title track of the late Kevlaar 7's album Who Got the Camera? from 2011. As I have written about a few times before, that album was loaded with messages exposing social injustices and it came forth as an outcry against police brutality and racial violence. As Ari Melber talked about in a recent segment that aligns in some ways with my piece, this is a topic that rappers have made music about for years and since they were exposing what is now a widely accepted truth some of them deserve Pulitzers. Kevlaar 7 passed away on December 23, 2014. The reality of present day racism and its historical roots was always a major theme in his music. He explicitly came to warn us all but he knew he was also ahead of his time, as he put it on the opening track to the Wisemen album Children of a Lesser God, "It's too early, truth is dirty."

Kevlaar 7 (RIP)

Just like his brother Bronze Nazareth, Kevlaar was a brilliant lyricist (and a great producer too) and these two came together on this song to deliver a poetic exposé documenting the ongoing atrocities of racial violence in America. Now that these issues are front and center in American life in 2020, so many of us have been compelled to try to learn more about these issues, seek out knowledge and read more history. American history is so often presented in a way that tries to conceal the bad stuff, but we need to face it if we will ever be able to overcome its painfulness. Bronze and Kevlaar wrote about this history and its present manifestations in their verses often, although rarely as concentrated and focused as on this track. This article I shared is actually an excerpt from a book I've been working on for several years where I try to unpack, interpret, and expand on many verses from Bronze. That book also includes another song he did with Kevlaar devoted to bringing this same topic to light. We are living through a sudden awakening now and it is helpful as ever to glean historical facts and information from the poetics of tuned-in rappers writing about Black America for those of us who want to see what's been going on and try to envision a better future. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

(Video) Anti-Racism: Listen to Jane Elliott and Share This

Jane Elliott is an educator and anti-racism activist who has been working for more than 50 years to educate the public about the reality of racism in the United States of America and how to overcome indoctrinated racist beliefs. As her videos have been circulating around the internet a lot recently, I've been watching and learning a great deal from her. She is a captivating speaker, a passionate and fierce human being, a provocative and extremely knowledgable teacher who will crack your head open, show you what was implanted there by indoctrination, and help you to see things clearly for what they are rather than how they appear to be.

Of all the videos I have watched so far, the one I am sharing below struck me as the best because the interviewer gives her the space to speak her lessons longwindedly and she absolutely goes off. She goes off on the inherited bullshit American society indoctrinates its children with, she goes off on Trump, she describes what she witnessed as a small child seeing Hitler rise to power and World War II explode while comparing that to today, and she provides a litany of lessons for the viewer to learn from. She recommends a bunch of insightful books and even, towards the end, admonishes us about the power of television and what it does to our minds, recommending we all seek out the work of Marshall McLuhan to learn about how the medium of television can damage your perspective and sensory perception.

PLEASE WATCH THIS AND SHARE WIDELY. If you have friends or family members who express racist views or who don't understand the gravity of our moment in history, make them watch this. This woman Jane Elliott has that type of energy that will sit you down, make you shut the fuck up and LISTEN to the authority of her knowledge. She loves to bring up the etymology of the word Educator which literally means one who leads others out of ignorance. Listen and let her guide you.

Monday, June 1, 2020

"Pity the Nation" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
   And whose shepherds mislead them
 Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
            Whose sages are silenced
  And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
 Pity the nation that raises not its voice
          Except to praise conquerers
       And acclaim the bully as hero
          And aims to rule the world
              With force and by torture
          Pity the nation that knows
        No other language but its own
      And no other culture but its own
 Pity the nation whose breath is money
 And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
      Pity the nation oh pity the people
        who allow their rights to erode
   and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
                   Sweet land of liberty

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Putting the Killing of George Floyd in Context

Photo of George Floyd from USA Today.

It seems as though we can hardly process the horror of one tragic murder of a black person by the police before there’s another one and another one, each more egregious than the last. The killing of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis is the main focus right now because it was all captured on video in broad daylight and inevitably strikes the viewer as an act that is heartbreakingly malicious and inhumane. A handcuffed man, face down on the ground, not posing any threat, suffering from an officer callously forcing a knee into his neck for nearly ten minutes. The officer kept that knee planted there even two minutes after they’d realized Floyd no longer had a pulse. All while other officers watched on. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

Looking Back on 2019 (Part 3)

Street art seen in Mexico City, June 2019.

A little delayed in sharing this final look back at some of the things I liked about 2019, but that gave me time to properly soak in the music that dropped later in the year. As always with this blog, my favorite new albums came out of the realm of hip hop in its purest and grimiest form.

We are now nearly a quarter century past the golden era of hip hop and the art form remains alive with a slew of newer artists arising to bring fresh blood and new approaches to a musical tradition whose forefathers they seem to not only respect but spiritually summon and pay homage to. Some established rap gods have also helped bring along the new artists. These phenomena were reflected in some of the albums and artists I dug in 2019. Here are, in no particular order, my favorite albums from last year with a few words about each.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Looking Back on 2019 (Part 2)

Books Read in 2019:

1. Harpooning Donald Trump by Tom LeClair
A short book of essays by a literary scholar arguing for the importance of literature during times of political turmoil. LeClair goes into what he calls "systems novels" here, that is, enormous novels that seek to contain everything. These can be useful guides to crazy times. He especially highlights Robert Coover's The Public Burning, a satirical novel that features a caricatured Richard Nixon as the protagonist and narrator. The book's best chapter analyzes Trump from the perspective of Moby-Dick---what LeClair calls "the only book you'll ever need"---and concludes:
And we will need literate readers---like Ishmael---to counter Trump's unscrupulous monomania. Not just literate readers but literary, which is literate on Human Growth Hormone. Literary readers do not think any more carefully than literate people, but literature trains one to care about and care for language as a sensitive instrument, not just a blunt tool for propaganda and power. I'll quote Wittgenstein again: 'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.' The world of literature is large with possibilities of imagination and thought and feeling. The world of pre-literate Donald Trump is small, impoverished by ignorance and fear and anger. Literary responses to Trump may not bring down a president or even affect his policies, but literary artists still must continue to provide models of rigorous thought and rich expression---just as medieval monks preserved manuscripts in an earlier dark time---for great and great-minded literature is in and of itself a harpoon, a weapon against the fake 'great' and small-minded demagoguery. (p. 95)

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