Sunday, November 26, 2006

What are We Fighting For?

Growing up in the Midwest I was exposed to all the various facets of Hip-Hop. The geographic location of my upbringing allowed me to hear everything from the East to the emergence West. I fortunate enough as a youngster to be exposed some of the first generation of Rap music from Run-DMC, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, Big Daddy Kane, Treacherous 3, The Sugar Hill Gang (was and still is my father’s favorite group), Rakim, L.L. Cool J and N.W.A., just to name a few. As I got older, hip-hop was right there with me and it evolved. I saw the emergence of the East Coast/West Coast Beef that would forever change the face of the music. I vividly remember skipping class to go by both 2Pac’s, “All Eyes On Me” and Notorious B.I.G.’s last musical offering, “Life After Death.” You couldn’t wait to unwrap whatever new hot CD was coming out on Tuesday at the local record store. However, this article is not written to romanticize or reminisce like Pete Rock and CL Smooth. This piece was written to discuss a problem with the music, and those who create and consume it.

In the pantheon of artists in heavy rotation (at least in my car) around that time that I was in high school was Nas’s album “It was Written,” could always be heard in the background. It was also nothing to hear me reciting B.I.G.’s “Everyday Struggle”, on my way to basketball practice. Though I was somewhat annoyed with the minstrelesque producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, (laughing, etc. in the background of most tracks), I learned to live with him. Hearing B.I.G.’s versus made you forget Combs’ annoying adlibs. Presently, both Sean Combs and Nas have become in many respects icons of the industry. In 2001, “One Mic” reintroduced Nas to new audiences and reaffirmed his place among the great MC’s. Diddy, on the other hand, kept himself in the limelight after the death of B.I.G., one way or another. Whether it was the launching of his highly successful Sean Jean clothing line, his brush with the law (that landed former Bad Boy artist Shyne in jail) failed attempts at MTV Bands, and resurrecting old Bad Boy artists (Mase, Black Rob, Craig Mack…by the way did his second joint ever drop?) “Puffy” was always on the scene.

Last month, Nas and Diddy announced they would be making some really big moves, or so it seemed. Inspired by the current hip-hop/rap boycott of the widely known Cristal premium champagne, after some disparaging remarks made in The Economist maganzine. Nas and Diddy were going to join forces not too different from their “Hate Me Now” video, and launch their own premium brand of the coveted bubbly. I was initially estatic to hear of this venture. I mean who wouldn’t? Two black men who have made great sums of money and spent large sums would now be toasting up their own champagne. My black-nationalist sensibilities were intrigued that these young brothers would go into business for themselves, dispelling the negative aspects of conspicuous consumption. As much as material culture has thrived off of rap music and hip-hop culture Nas and Diddy were going to, at least preverbally, bring it back home. My joy or at least praise for them, especially Nas, was short lived. On October 6, 2006, in an interview with, Nasir Jones, (Nas’s birth name), commenting on the remarks made by Frederic Rouzaud, frankly opined, “The bottom line is all these dudes is jealous of black men…So stop making fly sh**t, if you don’t want us to buy it, hell how in the f**k we gonna not drink the most [expensive] s**t”. Nas continued, “…so they gotta a problem with the Black man, I know they jealous of me. I’m gonna make them more mad. I’m gonna drink more of their s**t [to upset them] and boycott ‘em, F**k ‘em.” Okay, will the real Nas please stand up? When I read this I could not believe it. I asked myself is this the same Nas from “Illmatic” fame? Unfortunately it was. We have some serious problems to address when those at the top of the rap game are this confused. That is like me saying I’m going to buy a house from a Ku Klux Klan member who works for a local realtor to piss him off. The stereotypical African American quest to seek and attain status through our lifestyle, is painfully reaffirmed here. There are some hard questions to be asked and some real discussions to be had as some aspects of hip-hop culture continued to be hijacked by corporate interests. I don’t have time to discuss them all here (hopefully in another issue).

I’m going to let you marinate on this, when I was first listening to Nas I used to also listen to Goodie Mob quite often, (and still do). On their Soul Food album there was a track called, “Fighting”. In the chorus amidst the penetrating rhymes of Cee-Lo, Khujo, Big Gip, and T-Mo the vocals echo, “Seems like we’re fighting for our spirit and mind/They got us fighting for our spirit and mind/We can’t stop fighting for our spirit and mind!” That was out in 1996, and it is still the case today, but I don’t know...could someone please tell me what Nas is fighting for?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Another reason to hate Seinfeld...

I already hated the show, but now I have a whole new reason not to watch the wildly popular Jerry Seinfeld sitcom. If you haven't heard about this drama yet, I hope you will take time to visit or to watch the footage of this racist tirade former co-star Michael Richards, who played the character, "Kramer". By now, I think Richards has apologized to all of "Black America" on both Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton's radio shows as well as with the group of African Americans that he insulted that night.

I think this whole "apology" thing is complete nonsense. I saw this clown on the "Late Show" with David Letterman, and it was rediculous. The audience even laughed, (but they could have been chuckling in agreement with his comments). What is he apologizing for? I could see him now talking to the NAACP next with a "sincere" apologetic tone, "I'm sorry that I got caught calling you niggers, 'niggers'?" Yes, I'm being very sarcastic and quite cynical about this, but if you heard the tirade you know that that was some deep seeded racist rage he has been holding in for a good minute. What he said is how he really felt. I am so sick and tired of white folk "apologizing" as if , especially in Richard's case, some cosmic or mystical force (what he labeled a "force field") came upon him that brought out language and and feelings that are not his. There is NO WAY in hell that I am going to believe that some "spirit" of racism descended upon him like the holy ghost on a Pentecostal congregation speaking in "tongues" during a Sunday morning service.

That said, I don't want and apology...what should have happened is that the brothers should have rushed the stage to see how "brave" Richards would be with them in his face (and hopefully placing some well placed blows to his cranium). I agree wholeheartedly with Paul Mooney's suggestions for what Richards could do to prove he is truly sorry. The only thing that Richards is sorry for is that his portion of the Seinfeld money may take a hit due to poor sales of the new DVD box set. However, I doubt if it effects sales. America is a sucker for so called celebrities who are trying to mend their ways. My hope however, is that amongst all the talk of the "color blind" society where affirmative action ceases to exist, that at least black folk wake up and smell the oppression.

We are right around the corner from having white sheets and burning crosses becoming en vogue again. Don't think for a minute that, "Oh, that was back in the day...". That day is right now! I'm sure that all of the brothers and sisters released from slavery felt that freedom would bring all types of new opportunities, which it did, but it also brought new challenges as well (See Leon Litwack's, Trouble in Mind). White terror was a scourge upon the black community in many cities not only in the South, but the Middle West, and the North. Couldn't you just see George "Dub-yah" saying how great a film Birth of a Nation is? This is NOT the time to be apathetic. In the words of Khujo from Goodie Mob, "Use that tool between yo' two shoulders." Look at the footage again of Richard's rant and listen to or hear the supportive whites in the audience. Richards himself in an article I read last week said he was deeply hurt not just by what he said, but by the whitefolk in the audience who supported his comments. Racism is not going anywhere, ANY time soon in this nation. Burning crosses, white sheets, and the cowardly ritualistic lynchings of Africans and African Americans is just as "American" as apple pie.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

OJ, OJ, OJ...

Well, I was going to wait to engage this topic, but since I have heard so many people discuss it I thought I would give it at least a little attention (maybe more than that). For those that may have been visiting another planet and have just returned you have likely just heard of O.J. Simpson's new interview on FOX, which will also be a book.

As expected many Americans both white and black have expressed disdain about this latest OJ development. For some, he just seems to never go away. OJ in many respects is like Sean "Puffy" "P-Diddy" Combs (or whatever the hell he is calling himself now) to me...always wanting some attention. Let's move beyond that though and look at what this really is about. Many Americans have said that OJ is making a mockery of the justice system and should be ashamed for what he is doing. Thus, you get the emergence of the white angst about the murder trial that they still cannot get over. Others, say, "Why can't OJ just leave well enough alone?" I will admit initially, I thought, "OJ deserves whatever the hell he gets after having pulled this latest stunt. He really has some serious balls to do something like this."

Over the weekend however, I reflected back on the fallen American "hero" and put his situation in its right context. I think now that the fact that FOX is airing this show says a great deal about what people will do for money, not just OJ, but the FOX network. FOX is known as the home of conservative spun media with the likes of the damnable Bill O'Reilley and his pseudo-conservative neocons. If there were not a market for OJ, then they would not even attempt to air it. I have heard comments to the effect of how; "sick and disgusting" it is that OJ would dare speak of his dead ex-wife. Well, for those folk, my answer to you is don't watch it then. In a world where we continue to push the button in media this is the latest chapter in this sick saga. Americans in general enjoy being voyeurs of the world around them. The more "personal" we get the better. How many of us have watched reality TV shows and near death car chases and police captures, only to be like, "I'm glad that is not me." America is obsessed with programming that is "real". If it weren’t FOX would not even attempt to air this "special" at all. You could rest assured however, that O'Reilly has plenty to say about this, regardless.

FOX has a history of pushing the envelope from its experimentation with shows such as "Married with Children", "The Simpson’s", and "Family Guy" (I'm a big fan of all three) All these shows were rejected in other media outlets and FOX picked them up and developed a sort of reputation for testing the limits of regular broadcast television. With the development of the FOX NEWS network, I could say that this is some sort of diabolical plan to re-open fresh wounds not just about OJ, but to re-affirm the murderous tendencies of black men who lust for white women that goes back even further than D.W. Griffith's movie, Birth of a Nation, which happens to be the most successful and acclaimed piece of racist propaganda ever released (I'll have post about that movie later). It is ironic that earlier this month, that William Styron, author of The Confessions of Nat Turner, died. His book did much to further the notions of the "black brute" that lives to wage war against the white man by defiling the essence of republican motherhood encapsulated in the white woman. While this too is something and someone I will comment on later, it is worth mentioning in this context. Styron's ficticous account of Turner's rebellion became just as "real" to the majority of white America as did Thomas Dixon's the Klansman, the fictional novel that decades earlier was the inspiration for Birth of a Nation, and the second rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

I don't believe that OJ or FOX is trying to vilify all black men with airing this show, though I cannot say that subconsciously that will not happen. Also, if he did indeed commit those heinous murders he is indeed a sick man. Furthermore, FOX should be embarrassed as should those who take time to watch the show or purchase the book and complain about about how it shouldn't be on television. No matter how it is sold or spun it also shows just how low networks are willing to go with regard to programming. However we already knew that, right? Just look at how many "reality" television shows exist? In the end for FOX, as for those who will buy advertisement time on the network, it is about THE MONEY! It always has been and always will be. Think of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Remember the quote, "If you build it, they will come"? It is no different here. Think about those who tuned in to see Michael Jackson's trial and his "exclusive" interview prior to the trial (Mike is another tragic American figure).

Now it is time for a brief history lesson. On August 28, 1955, a young man by the name of Emmett Till was kidnapped and viciously murdered for allegedly "whistling" at a white woman. His murderers, Joe Bryant and his half brother J. W. Milam, were arrested the next day, charged with the disappearance and murder of the 14-year old Till. By September 23, 1955 both Milam and Bryant are acquitted of murdering Emmett Till after the all white jury deliberates only 67 minutes. One juror informs a reporter that they would have given back the verdict sooner than that had they not taken a break to drink a soda. Boldly, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam stand before photographers, light up cigars and kiss their relieved wives in celebration of the not guilty verdict. Now, I ask you, where was the shame then? Where was justice? Where was the outcry about the cowardice of Milam and Bryant?

I'll tell you...there never has been any, justice, or shame about the law as it has related to Africans and African Americans just like Justice Roger B. Taney told Dred Scott, in 1857 that the, "negro had no rights the white man was bound to respect." Moreover, the justice system has the additional tendency to yield not just to racilized privilege but also to class status. Many scholars and common folk alike have argued that if OJ were not a rich, black athlete his story would not have recieved the coverage or verdict that it did. OJ's "dream-team" of attorneys did their job to see their client free. But one cannot deny the obsession with race in this instance.

I remember being in high school and seeing the verdict and cheering with classmates over the decision. Even then I thought about Emmett Till. He never got the chance to live life or grow up to have the families that his coward murders did. While they smoked cigars and kissed their wives, after having "protected" them from the 14-year old brute, Emmett's lifeless body became a martyr for a movement and a chilling reminder of just how deep-seated white racist attitudes and behaviors were. So, to OJ, I say, make your money. I could care less if he did murder Goldman and his ex-wife. I am NOT condoning their murders and my heart goes out to their families. However, in terms of the wrongs continually done to African and African Americans, I say to those who cast a blind-eye to the evils of our justice system to cry about OJ...GET SOME! Don’t be mad because OJ takes advantage of a corrupt system that so many others have. The question to ask if he were white, would “America,” and I am talking about the normative population, and those African-Americans who accommodate themselves to their will (and OJ was one of these as well) would there be this huge debate? I doubt it.

So when you see OJ smiling and smirking on television and it pisses you off, think about those white men, women, and children who took pictures next to the mutilated lifeless corpses during photo sessions after a lynching. Therefore if you get mad, help to change the justice system...if not, "don't hate the playa (OJ)...hate the game." Revenge, I have heard is a dish best served cold.

(For more information on Emmett Till check out

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Upon viewing this blog, the question that invariably arises is, "Why another blog?" Well, at least that is what I told myself. There are enough people out there “blogging,” so why do I need to create one? After some careful thought, I think there is really no reason to even engage this question other than to say that in a world where there is no such thing as a monolithic society/culture it is always beneficial to hear a from a varied number of places. Each of us operates from a different perspective that relates to our individual and collective experiences in life. Thus, I will add to the plethora of attitudes, thoughts, and understandings that make up our world. Particularly, I am interested in providing not only critique, but also entertaining ways that lead to sustainable solutions to deal with the myriad of systemic problems plaguing American society.

The continued struggle for African American equality is of paramount interest to me, and as I comment on a number of different topics, I hope to be able to speak to these issues broadly, and at times narrowly, as they impact the lives of Americans of African descent. To those that might question the title of this blog, it is strictly an understanding of the revolutionary spirit that resides within me. The title also reflects how I choose to engage the normative structures of this world. Simply put, “Don’t let my bowtie fool you.” Just as much as I love black people, and support black empowerment or nationalist ideology, I can certainly appreciate a fine suit and tie (then again can’t we all?). The problem for me comes when folk purchase such items and have not for instance, paid their rent.

In the same spirit of the black intellectuals of a bygone era, I am a believer in activist scholarship. Scholarship (and social critique in this case) should not just relegate discussion or examination of current issues merely to pontification of emotion, but offer some relevant thought that provokes more questions and discussion to a given topic.

As I write, the reader does not necessarily have to agree with my viewpoints, but at least respect them and engage in meaningful dialogue. With that, I hope you enjoy and continue to read my posts. I promise you will not be disappointed.

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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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