Thursday, November 29, 2007

Princteon / Columbia... Here I Be

"Ain't that a Groove": The Genius of James Brown
A Princeton University Two-Day Symposium


Thursday, November 29, 2007
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

Valerie Smith, Director of the Center for African American Studies

"James Brown: Man To Man", Concert Film Footage
courtesy of Alan Leeds and Harry Weinger

"On the One": A Keynote Roundtable featuring Robert Christgau, Farah J. Griffin, Alan Leeds, and Fred Moten
moderator: Daphne A. Brooks

Friday, November 30, 2007
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

Opening Remarks: "'I'm Not There': Popular Music Studies & the
Godfather of Soul"
Daphne A. Brooks

"It's A Man's Man's Man's World": Black Power, Black Masculinity and the Politics of Funk

Mark Anthony Neal, "In the Rhythm of Patriarchy: 'Papa Don't Take No Mess'"
Jason King, "James Brown's Sweat"
Thomas F. DeFrantz, "My Brother, the Dance Master"
Robert Fink, "Soul Power, 1971"
Moderator: Tera W. Hunter

The Funky Precedent: Revolutionizing Rock, Birthing Hip Hop—Theorizing James Brown's Musical Innovations

Kandia Crazy Horse, "The One and Only: King James' Rock Revolt"
Rickey Vincent, "James Brown and the Rhythm Revolution"
Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, "The Roots of Hip Hop"
Harry Weinger, "Listening to James Brown"
Moderator: Joshua B. Guild

"Mama Don't Take No Mess": Black Feminist Readings of James Brown

Greg Tate, "blues and the nekkid truth--the embodied she-funks of betty davis, chaka khan, grace jones and meshell ndeocello"
Imani Perry, "Telling Him About Himself: A Feminist Reading of James Brown"
Mendi Obadike, "The Pleasure/Challenge of James Brown's Iconicity"
Ernest Hardy, "James Brown: Portal of Possibility"
Moderator: Tavia Nyong'o

Closing Remarks
Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies

101 McCormick Hall

Special Evening Q&A
A Conversation with legendary James Brown band members Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Questlove of the Roots
Moderator: Alan Leeds

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

White Boy to Jill Scott: "Step back nigger..."

From the Bossip website

Jill Scott explains a recent incident where she was called a nigger and how she handled it:

      “I was waiting outside for the valet to bring the car round, and these … I say kids, but they must have been 25, looking wealthy, five-o’clock-in-the-morning wasted. And this guy’s saying, ‘Step back nigger, step back nigger.’ He’s saying it like it’s a song, but there’s nobody out there but me. I was taken aback, and I said, ‘Excuse me?’

      And he said, ‘Shut your mouth and don’t say a word when a white man is talking.’

      “I’m not kidding. I started laughing, and I followed him and his cohorts through the parking lot laughing hysterically, and they became more and more uncomfortable. It was one of the best moments of outrageous laughter I’ve had. To think for one moment I could possibly fit into that box … I am so far from that word that it is funny. They looked so uncomfortable; I wanted to emasculate him, to make sure he was getting no nookie that night. The girls sobered up and were looking scared. It was something else - the first time in my life I’ve been called that. Wow. But I enjoyed it. You must fight back; it’s imperative. I like the fight in me now.”


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boho Darling of the Week

      I haven't thought about Angel Grant in a very long time. The model-pretty, airy-voiced singer-songwriter was meant to be the jewel of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' Flyte Time Records, which they formed in the late '90s. In 1998, I flew to New York to attend a three-day series of artist showcases being thrown by Universal Music; one of the artists slated to perform was Ms. Grant since Flyte Time was distributed through Universal. (The criminally overlooked Rachid was also part of the three-day showcase.) Grant's single "Little Red Boat" was already a minor r&b chart hit whose video was in heavy rotation on BET. Hours (at least three) slowly went by with no sign of the star; all the free shrimp was eaten; the vanilla-scented candles in the middles of the tables pretty much melted away; the backing band ran through their bag of tricks, and the gathering of movers & shakers were salty as hell. (At one point, Jimmy Jam took the stage and jokingly asked, "Any singers in the house?" He was smiling but he clearly wasn't amused or happy.) Finally, Ms. Grant showed up... Now, I can't say for certain what the problem had been, but when a female voice rose above the crowd and proclaimed, "That bitch high," the room murmured in collective agreement. And Grant's career was pretty much over before it began.
      Grant came to mind while I was listening to Joyful, the debut CD of Ayo. Ayo's voice is better, stronger, possessing more character and texture, and her songs are tighter (which is saying something, really, 'cause Angel's songs were generally very good.) But something of Grant's arresting vulnerability is in Ayo's style and approach. A resident of Germany, born to a Nigerian father and a gypsy Roma mother (the biracial beauty brigade is constantly upping the ante, yo... it ain't enough to just say you're half-black/half-white no more; your shit's gotta be hyper exotic... cubed), Ayo's guitar driven, folksinger, singer-songwriter approach is heavily centered on reggae (she cites Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer as influences -- as well as Pink Floyd, King Sunny Ade and Fela), and she sounds a bit like Sade as channeled by Tracy Chapman. There's a sturdy strength beneath the afore mentioned vulnerability. That might all sound incredibly hackneyed but it's actually quite lovely. The music soothes. It can function simply as chill background fare but it's more than able to stand up to scrutiny. I'm really loving "Life is Real." Check it out...

CD review: Kenna

Make Sure They See My Face | Star Trak/Interscope

      It’s the absence of irony that makes Kenna’s ’80s throwback CD, Make Sure They See My Face — his non-jinx sophomore effort — so damn cool. He’s not above the Brit new wave references he so copiously cites; he doesn’t wink or smirk, or hide his love away beneath art-school archaeological detachment. That’s not to say that Face is absent effect. It swims in it. But the 29-year-old Ethiopian-born, West Virginia–raised BFF of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (a.k.a. the Neptunes) gives himself over to his musical influences with sincere abandon, capturing something of what it was like for so many American kids first hearing (or seeing) the early ’80s British MTV/KROQ darlings as they stormed the shores of U.S. pop culture. It’s the giddy rush of possibility, as assorted cultural assumptions are trashed and genre boundaries traversed via technology and innate pop sensibilities. With the help of producer and co-songwriter Hugo (Pharrell also produced and co-wrote two tracks), Kenna has mapped the future through artfully massaged re-creations of the not-too-distant past.

      Flickers of Coldplay and Radiohead crop up on Face, and the Ramones get a nod too. But spiraling through the grooves of Make Sure They See My Face most powerfully are the stylistic fingerprints of the Cure, U2, the Pet Shop Boys, the Fixx and countless British ‘80s one-hit wonders who made their marks and then vanished. (If Kenna doesn’t quite have the full-on lung power of Bono, he nails the phrasing and passion.) Hugo and Pharrell provide foundations of syncopated drum beats that simultaneously unfold the DNA of their own fabled studio aesthetic, while being grin-inducing, ass-shakingly faithful homages to the drum-machine glories of days gone by. Highlight: The black-boy-white-boy rap Kenna does mid-way through “Loose Wires,” evoking Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant’s deadpan delivery on “West End Girls,” and in the process, underscoring the cross-genre pollination that fed so much ’80s fare.

Review is taken from here

Monday, November 19, 2007

Video of the Day

I love pop music. I'm not a Negro-on-some-next... To me, a really good pop song is the most amazing work of art. But my definition of "pop" encompasses a whole range of genres and moods. I recently reviewed the new Kenna CD (that review is coming up in this week's LA Weekly) and it forced me to pull out some old Rhino compilations of '80s New Wave hits. The music on those discs ranged from Marshall Crenshaw (undervalued genius) to Kajagoogoo (undervalued fluff) to Fun Boy Three. It all made me smile. And it all made me grateful to have been a teenager in Detroit (just named the most dangerous city in the country) when one radio station playlist could and would include the Bus Boys, Cherelle, the B-52s, Run DMC, Culture Club, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, the Time. This Blondie track predates all that by a few years but it sorta dovetails right into the mix. It's one of my all-time favorites. Pure, shimmering, perfect-world pop.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book news... and more

After working our asses off to get Blood Beats Vol. 2 out before the end of this year, my publisher and I decided to push the new publication date to January 2008. It really is coming out then. In the meantime, the current issue of the Advocate (the one with Cate Blanchett on the cover) has an excerpt; it's taken from a piece I wrote on Lil' Kim just for Vol. 2 called "The Pornagrapher's Daughter."

I'm also going to be speaking at Princeton later this month as part of their two-day symposium, "Ain't that a Groove": The Genius of James Brown. I'm on the panel "Mama Don't Take No Mess: Feminist Readings of James Brown." (Where else could they slot a mama's boy?) For more info on that, click here.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Quote of the Day

Martha Graham in a letter to Agnes DeMille...

There is a vitaltiy, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action.

And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.

The world will not hear it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is:

Nor how valuable it is;

Nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours;

Clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work

You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased.

There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.

There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Meeting Mary...

Here are a few snippets from my forthcoming Advocate interview with Mary J. Blige

Mary on her gay fans: "The majority of my fans are gay. The majority of them are, and I have to really make sure that they know I’m paying attention to the fact that they support me, and I support them."

On gay folk in her life as a young girl:
When I was growing up, my neighborhood was full of everyone—black, white, Latino, gay, straight. A lot of people that I knew were gay, but they were great people. They were good people. It’s not like they were alien. They were just people. That [acceptance] was just something that was always in me. I’ve never been a judgmental person because I have been through so much hell myself."

On when she first realized she had so many gay & lesbian fans:
"I realized that years ago. Like, probably during…was it Share My World or Mary? It was probably during the Mary album that I realized I had so many gay fans, because one of my managers at the time was gay and him and all his friends were die-hard Mary fans. And then there’s a lot of gay women that love Mary J. Blige—a slew of gay women. And that’s never been something to bother me. Never. Because we’re all people at the end of the day.'"

On the loss of her friend songwriter Kenny Greene to AIDS, and why she got involved with AIDS causes: "[AIDS] was the elephant in the room that nobody’s looking at. It made me be like, Oh, this is right at our front door. This can touch us. So why wouldn’t I want to get involved with something that can help save all our lives, save everybody’s lives?"

On homophobia in hip-hop: "The real hip-hop, the real people don’t even care about that. They’ll love you and accept you no matter what because they know who they are. There are a lot of people trying to figure out who they are and what they’re gonna be. There’s a lot of confusion in that. Confusion causes a lack of identity. I’ve heard a couple of guys say foul things, and those guys are not around me anymore because when they say things like that, I’m looking at them like, What makes you so scared? You don’t know who you are? I guess it all boils down to them not being sure about themselves and what they wanna do, whoever that is. I won’t say any names. And I don’t dislike them or anything—it just makes me wonder about them period. ’Cause if you’re not sure about that, then you ain’t sure about a lotta things!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Charles Burnett DVD Signing

Press release I just received:

Director CHARLES BURNETT will appear at Rocket Video on Thursday, November 15 at 7 p.m. to sign copies of his new DVD release KILLER OF SHEEP. An interview and a brief Q&A session will precede the event. Rocket Video is located at 726 N. La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. For more information call (323)965-1100. Admission and parking are free.

R.I.P. Dr. Donda West

Last Friday night, I went to dinner and saw a movie ("Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") with a very good and dear friend, catching up after months of not being able to hang. At some point, Kanye West's name came up in the conversation and my friend made a face. "I can't stand that guy," he said. I chuckled and asked why. "I don't know," replied my friend. "I guess it's because he's such a mama's boy. He has a certain kind of arrogant confidence that mama's boys have. Like, you know that whenever he fell, there was someone there to pick him up."

I've written too much about Kanye to regurgitate it again but I am a fan. I do think he's insufferably cocky and, at best, a so-so rapper. I love his music (great production, clever rhymes) but take his beyond-the-headphones persona in very small doses. I think a lot of the resistance so many hip-hop heads (the thugs, playas, "real" niggas) and macho dudes have to 'Ye is the fact that his swagger is so deep and in-your-face but doesn't come from the usual testosterone carved sources. He ain't nearly the only rapper raised by a single mom and I'd wager that more than one sneering, menacing rapper is also a big-ass, undercover "mama's boy." But 'Ye doesn't showcase bottomless gendered wounds (if not standard-issue misogyny) toward women for his growing up in a single-mom household. The roots of his swagger were watered by maternal devotion, and he boasts of that fact. His cock-of-the-walk strut wasn't forged in the streets, in a gang, in prison, selling drugs. He got it from his mama: Dr. Donda West.

When I heard that his mom died Saturday night, my heart tightened. Speaking as an unabashed, unapologetic mama's boy, I know that 'Ye is really going through it right now. Here's a live clip of his tribute to his mom, "Hey Mama."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Meshell, Keyshia, Joni, Herbie, Jill... Fiddy & 'Ye

The contrived media beef between 50 Cent and Kanye West in the weeks preceding the September 11th release of their latest CDs (Curtis and Graduation, respectively) accomplished two things. First, it laid bare the crude, cynical marketing strategy behind so much hip-hop animus — Biggie and Tupac died for these sins — even though that revelation ain’t hardly new. It also gassed the flames around the always and forever blazing authenticity bugaboo that rends the American Negro community: intra-racial class warfare. It was the up-by-his-bullet-wounds, ’hood-spawned gangsta versus the middle-class prep-school mama’s boy. Predictable camps fell along predictably defensive (and often offensive) lines of rhetoric; much old-media ink was spilled and blog space allocated toward explaining how this latest manifestation of patented Afro-Am class schisms folded into and stoked anxieties around definitions of “real” black manhood. But like the tabloid feud between Donald Trump and Mark Cuban, this was also and primarily a pissing contest between very rich men. (You almost have to admire the audacity of the two trigger-tempered hip-hop divas for the way they jacked a date swollen with nationalistic emotionalism and overwrought good-versus-evil symbolism, and used it as marketing D-day for their own dick jousting.)

For more, click here

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Love is Blind... and Apparently High as Hell

This is my lifted blog entry of the week. I really have no words. It speaks for itself. Not work safe. But you must check it out.