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Roots Picnic 2016: A Photo Recap

On Saturday, June 4, 2016, I was blessed enough to cover the ninth annual Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, PA. It was 11 hours of 24 acts ranging from experiment electro pop to dab-tastic trap rap to the epic mashup that was The Roots and Usher! My written review was featured in EBONY Magazine, but I was fortunate to collect a few personal photos with my trusty Sony CyberShot. Here are the 12 best pictures from that day:

 

 

Categories: Big Picture

When It Hits The Fan, Should We Still Be Fans?

As Afrika Bambaataa and Bill Cosby face allegations of sexual abuse, we ask should a celebrity’s beautiful legacy be cast aside after being tied to egregious crimes?

 

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*DISCLAIMER: THE WELL-DRESSED HEADPHONE ADDICT IN NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM, CONDONES SEXUAL ABUSE OF ANY SORT.*

Before 2015, when someone said the name Bill Cosby, people would think of a prolific comedian and a dedicated philanthropist. Today, after over a year of allegations of drugging and sexually assaulting no less than 50 women over decades, his name evokes the thoughts of a rapist and a monster to many. More than three weeks ago, Afrika Bambaataa was a revered pillar of American hip-hop community. But now, when Bronx politician Ronald Savage claimed the musician sexually abused him in the 1980s as a teenager, all that began to change as well. Last week, three more men have come forward with the same claim, and while Bambaataa has stated the allegations are “baseless and cowardly,” his legacy may soon suffer the same explosion that Cosby’s has. It remains to be seen whether or not the courts will prove that either Cosby or Bambaataa are guilty of these crimes, but in the court of public opinion has already convicted them, serving as judge, jury and executioner. We live in a country with a criminal justice edict that reads “innocence until proven guilty.” Why is it that outside of courthouse walls, it has been the opposite? Moreover, should all that these men done to uplift Black culture over the years be omitted in light of this accusations?

Two things must be examined here. First, there’s the issue of a man being convicted by the court of public opinion regardless of the outcome in a court of law. For additional context, let’s go back to two other prominent occurrences. Two decades ago, both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were accused of similar charges. Kelly’s reputation was originally marred when news got out that he’d married former protege Aaliyah at age 15 (he was 27 at the time). He has put out one chart topping album after another and it was all but forgotten, until allegations of statutory rape came after a sex tape allegedly of him and another underage girl surfaced in 2000. Jackson was accused of child molestation in 1993 and the public immediately turned on him. Both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were exonerated of their respective charges. However, the stench of allegations is so potent that neither of them has been able to remove them completely. This ideal is intensified with Cosby’s and Bambaataa’s cases. Regardless of what any of us may believe, it is dangerous to target and see people as guilty, particularly from afar, before a judge has said anything. We are in a time when circumstances, hearsay and volume superseded evidence, and that’s a slippery slope.

Perhap it’s because the act of sexual abuse is so heinous. Fact about it, the public has often forgiven other prominent celebrities of brutal crimes. It’s been well documented that both Miles Davis and Richard Pryor were drug addicts and spousal abusers. However, history has been far kinder to them and their legacies than that of Bambaataa, Cosby, Kelly and Jackson. Is one crime worse than another? And is it fair why should we castigate people who aren’t found guilty in court while we lift up those are factually guilty?

More importantly, should we erase all the good that a person has done in light of bad things they “most likely” did – it cannot be overstated that these men were not convicted, or have yet to be. But let’s just say for the sake of the discourse that each is actually guilty. Let’s consider what each has contributed to the enrichment of Black culture:

Cosby’s revolutionized stand-up comedy; used the television platform via The Cosby Show and A Different World to promote Black familial assimilation and aspiration, and advocate for historically black colleges and universities respectively. Bambaataa, a reformed gang member, founded the Zulu Nation, deterring Black youth from street violence to more constructive and creative outlets; his 1982 hit “Planet Rock” caused a dramatic shift in the international musical direction of rap music. Jackson broke music and television color barriers, influenced multiple generations of pop and R&B stars to this day, completely revolutionized profitability and marketability of the modern recording artists, and is the most charitable celebrity in history, donating over $250 million dollars to charity in his lifetime. Kelly drastically inspired two generations of R&B singers and songwriters and created a new sound in contemporary Black music at the turn of the 21st century. All of these are feats that have provide Black men and women for over 60 years of being uplifted, enlightening and enriched.

Now, let’s look at what’s happened after each was accused:

Cosby’s legacy has been tarnished, arguably, beyond repair. Numerous colleges rescinded all his honorary doctorates, The Cosby Show was removed from syndication, and a man who made a fortune making people laugh is now the butt of every joke and meme. Jackson has labeled a child molester nearly everywhere he went, losing endorsements, investments and public approval. Kelly shares the same stigma of sexual deviancy, as he’s grilled in interviews with Huffington Post and GQ about his perceived preoccupation with sex in his work. As far as Bambaataa, according to the New York Daily News, Cornell University, where Bambaataa frequently lectures, is under scrutiny for housing his music collection and a Charge.org petition to remove him has been started.

Are we able to condemn the acts of evil while still commending all the good they did? In our society, it seems to be Black or White; either/or. There’s a possibility that some of us conclude that by watching The Cosby Show, singing along to “I Believe I Can Fly,” dancing to “Planet Rock” at a party or watching Jackson moonwalk during “Billie Jean” that we support and advocate rape, deviance and violence.

There is also the notion the public feels a deep sense of betrayal. When preachers are caught cheating, abusing young boys or stealing money, their flocks’ sense of trust, love and loyalty to men has been compromised, as these men are held in higher standards than others. We hold our entertainers more sacredly than politicians and dignitaries. We quote singers, rappers and comedians like scriptures and fables. Therefore, when they can’t live up to a standard or they are tied to – not even necessarily guilty of – an unforgivable crime, i.e. sexual assault, we tend to cast them to the wind and leave them behind for the most part. Well, it’s not quite that simple. We benefit from the good they’ve done whether we want to or not, because we’ve applied their essence to our lives subliminally every day, but it doesn’t make us rapist sympathizers. At the end of the day, none of us are perfect, and the faster we realize that people who are gifted at entertaining and educating us are any less flawed that those who watch, listen or subscribe to them. Acts should be praised before people. Acts should be judged before people.

Categories: Big Picture

Why Chris Brown’s “Loyal” Is His Latest Homage to Michael Jackson

October 11, 2014 3 comments
Single cover of Chris Brown's "Loyal," from his 2014 album "X"

Single cover of Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” from his 2014 album “X”

One of the worst kept secrets in show business is that Chris Brown is a big fan of Michael Jackson. Since his first years of teenage success, Brown has pledged his loyalty to the departed singer/songwriter by singing his songs on stage, wear his iconic jackets during concerts and, of course, let’s not forget his tear-jerking tribute to Jackson at the BET Awards. On wax, on the other hand, you can’t find too many similarities between the two. This changed in the summer of 2013 with the release of “Fine China,” the lead single to his 2014 album X, which finds the Grammy-winning singer crooning over a Jackson-esque funk/pop track and exclaiming the gloved one’s signature vocal ad-libs (i.e. Whoo-Hoo’s and syncopated scatting). “Fine China” is a homage to MJ in a stylistic sense and sticks out among X‘s other hip-hop infused songs like “Love More” and “New Flame,” but it isn’t the only time Jackson’s influence rear’s it’s head on the album. “Loyal,” the fourth single from X, is a mid-tempo club banging anthem featuring Lil’ Wayne all about gold digger women. No one would ever mistake a song that has a hook that expresses, “These ho’s ain’t loyal,” and includes phrases such as “I don’t fuck with broke bitches” as being inspired by anything associated with Michael Jackson, but they should and here’s why.

Aside from being revered by millions as the greatest entertainer in music history, Michael Jackson was a singular songwriter who wrote vivid, brooding material culled from his very unusual life. Jackson was able to write songs of various subject matter, from love, injustice, and unity. However, one topic constantly came up: the deceptive female . Since the late 1970”s, MJ repeated the pattern in song many times:

1979 – “Working Day and Night,” Off the Wall – MJ’s girlfriend makes him work extensively to keep him from noticing her cheating ways.

1980 – “This Place Hotel (fka Heartbreak Hotel),” Triumph (with The Jacksons) – Mysterious women claim a false relationship with MJ, causing his
“baby” to leave him.

1982 – “Billie Jean,” Thriller – A woman falsely accuses MJ of fathering her child.

1987 – “Dirty Diana,” Bad – A notorious groupie pressures MJ to trade sex for stardom.

1991 – “Dangerous,” Dangerous – Same plot as “This Place Hotel,” only this time, MJ succumbs to temptation.

1995 – “Blood on the Dance Floor,” – Blood on the Dance Floor – A mysterious woman seduces, then kills, a man.

When these songs were released, Jackson fell under minimal, if any at all, criticism for portraying women in this hawking fashion. This is clearly evident by the public’s response to the songs; “Billie Jean” and “Dirty Diana” both rose to number one on the Billboard charts, “This Place Hotel,” was an R&B Top ten hit, “Working Day and Night” was a live staple on every tour Jackson had since 1981, and “Dangerous” is among his most well known dance routines, performing it no less than five times on television between 1992 and 2001. Jackson explained his rationale behind these songs in his autobiography, Moon Walk: “If [“This Place Hotel’], and later “Billie Jean,” seemed to cast women in an unfavorable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement,” Jackson wrote. “I just think that when sex is used as a form or blackmail or power, it’s a repugnant use of one of God’s gifts.”

Most people wouldn’t dare to compare Brown’s “Loyal” to anything Jackson’s recorded in his career. In fairness, this may be due to the lyrics. The chorus is frank and harsh, “When I rich nigga wants you/And your nigga can’t do nothing for you/These Ho’s ain’t loyal.” Also, Brown’s contribution to the song’s creation is minimal. In the liner notes, “Loyal” lists no less than eight people having writing credits for the song, whereas Jackson wrote all the lyrics of the six aforementioned songs and composed all but two (“Dangerous” and “Blood on the Dance Floor” were both composed by Teddy Riley). Lastly, some would say Brown has a bitter and skewed view of women in light of his tumultuous relationship with pop singer Rihanna, while some would argue that Jackson’s point of view came from a more observational point of view and is much more objective. With all that said, the issue that Brown addresses in “Loyal” of being women being unfaithful (“I Betcha bottom dollar she gonna cheat”), disposing of men that can’t give them a certain lifestyle (see chorus) and will go to great lengths to trap stars (“She wanna see a nigga trapped/she wanna fuck all the rappers”) touches on numerous points that Jackson has made in several songs. The supposed misogyny attached to this material is understandable, but it doesn’t negate the fact that women like these do exist. As Jackson stated again in his book, “There were so many sharks in this business looking for blood in the water.” We mustn’t dismiss that ideal that there are females who use sex as a weapon for dishonorable gains just because the language on “Loyal” is crass. Given that fact that the song reached number nine on the Billboard 100, it’s safe to assume that many others co-sign with the song’s message. Brown still has a long way to go before he can be considered near the accomplishments of his hero, but like it or not, a song like “Loyal” is a step in the right direction to expanding ability to express via his music.

Categories: Big Picture

Jazz Icon Clark Terry’s Life Commitment Mentoring Young Musicians (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

clarkterry2Musicians can be a selfish or cryptic people. Even though it may or may not be a fair assessment to make, the truth of the matter is that many of them are, and for good reason. Musicians work very, very hard at learning their respective instruments, understanding composition and mastering improvisation. Then, they have to work that much harder at getting people to notice them – fans, potential band mates or bandleaders, record companies, management, and more.

Once they’ve obtained all of which they wanted, at whatever level they are content with, then the truly difficult task begins, which is keeping it all for themselves as long as they can while other musicians move up the ranks, fighting for position. So, after all of that, they want to keep it for themselves, afraid anyone who comes along will take their shine, or they may just want the youngsters to prove that they’re good enough by learning on their own the same way they did. Clark Terry’s early life encounter with such a musician was the catalyst that put him on a selfless path that helped make him the living legend that he is today.

Quincy Jones on Clark Terry: “The greatest honor I’ve ever felt in my life was when Clark Terry left Duke Ellington to come play with my band,” Jones testified in his book “Q” on Producing. “Can you imagine what it felt like to have the guy who taught me when I was 12 years-old leave Duke Ellington’s band to come play with me? It was incredible!”

Read the full article at iRockJazz.comhttp://irockjazz.com/2013/03/pay-it-forward-clark-terrys-commitment-to-help-others/

Categories: Big Picture

Melvin Van Peebles: Architect of The Black Soundtrack (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

melvinvanpeebles1_732Melvin Van Peebles belongs on the short list of the most innovative filmmakers of the 20th century. The renegade director’s approach to storytelling has made him a true original. His guerilla style quick camera cut approach to his breakout film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song laid the groundwork for the sub-genre what would become known as the Blaxploitation films. Movies like ShaftSuperflyThe Mack and a host of others owe a debt of gratitude to Peebles, but not just for the films, but for the music, as well.

Although Quincy Jones deserves the lion share of credit for breaking barriers for Black film scorers in the 1960s, and Curtis Mayfield may have been the most commercially successful Black film scorer of the 1970s, it was Peebles’ intuitive use of music. Music both as a backdrop and as a marketing tool that both initiated a lasting trend of popular Black artists like Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye lending their composing pens to these gritty, urban action movies, as well as paying considerable dividends for himself.Sweetback grossed 15 million dollars with a 150,000 dollar budget! The soundtrack of a Black movie went on to become a crucial undertaking for the film and its ability to attract audiences, to the point where in some cases; the music tends to outlast the film itself (i.e. Gaye’s Trouble Man, Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street and James Brown’s Black Ceasar). Peebles recently spoke with iRockJazz to discuss the role of music in his films.

Read the full article at iRockJazz.com: http://irockjazz.com/2013/04/melvin-van-peebles-architect-of-the-black-soundtrack/

Categories: Big Picture

THE PROTOTYPE: BETTY DAVIS LIT THE SPARK THAT IGNITED TODAY’S MUSIC INFERNO (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

BettyDavis1Brooklyn, NY. Saturday, October 6, 2012. It’s 8:45pm just outside the doors of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, located on the third floor of the Brooklyn Museum. Many people congregated there to witness a celebration of rare and innovative music. The auditorium was located on the third floor and in order to reach it, the concertgoers had to walk through an exhibit called Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity, a long term gallery installation that presented priceless African relics. The walls are adorned with gold and reminders of an ancient time when the pharaohs and inhabitants of the North African country were the envy of the globe, thanks to their innovative architecture, imagery and regality.

Each and every one of those who gazed upon the gallery had no choice but to feel fascination and inspiration from these tombs that encased kings. The women were immortalized in these alabaster carvings and sculptures that presented them as both nurtures and rulers. Finally, when the eager souls filled the hall’s 415 seats, they were ready to bask in another priceless African artifact the music of one Betty Davis.

Conceived by Brooklyn singer Nucomme Davis-Walker“Betty’s Story” was a multimedia tribute to the under-championed singer/songwriter who had used funk to empower and liberate her listeners and herself. “Betty’s Story” was a feast to the senses, which featured an aural narration of her career, video collages of news clippings and album covers, a raucous five-piece band and alluring exotic dance, provided by the Brown Girls Burlesque troupe.

In between the spoken dialogue was the true legend as the robust, confident Nucomme, who decisively and convincingly belted out songs from Davis’ catalog, like the defiant “Nasty Gal” and the driving hedonism of “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up”. The crowd took it all in, rocking their heads, clinching their fists and biting their lips as the curdling bass injected its way into their veins, the burlesque dancers occupied their eyes and Nucomme’s voice dominated their minds.

In the end, however, it was their souls that got the ultimate workout, which of course was their rationale behind attending the event in the first place. Davis’ assertive, unfiltered artistry had a lingering effect on each of them, prior to their decisions to enter the Brooklyn Museum. All the while, projected above the performers were images of Betty at several stages of her career, as an exuberant young model that made the road easier for Black beauties like Iman, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, and as a rough singing sexual dynamo who paved the way for artists like Millie Jackson, Rick James and Prince.

No matter in what incarnation, there she was, high above the stage, her flawless fair skin, her shining pouty lips, with that proud and natural afro, like she was carved from a piece of jade. When you look into her eyes, you see a trailblazer, but behind them was just an artist who only wanted her music to be heard; an artist who used her sexual energy on stage and wax to fulfill her need to simply write songs.

When it comes to the influence that Betty Davis bestowed on music, her individual work is always an afterthought when held up against her lasting impression on former husband, legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Fact about it, whenever her name is mentioned in print, it’s immediately followed by “ex-wife of Miles Davis”.

Read the full article at iRockJazz.com: http://irockjazz.com/2012/12/the-prototype-betty-davis-lit-the-spark-that-ignited-todays-music-inferno-pt-i/

Categories: Big Picture

McCoy Tyner: Act Like a Legend, Think Like You’re Hungry (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

February 6, 2013 1 comment

mccoytyner15_cropIt’s late October 2012. Pianist McCoy Tyner age 73 (now 74), regarded as one of America’s greatest jazz treasures, stepped on stage at New York City’s Symphony Center to perform as a special guest at the Jazz For Obamabenefit concert. He made his way to the Steinway and Son’s grand piano slowly, requiring help from a fellow musician. You’d think at his age, mere days before spearheading a weekend long festival at Lincoln Center, The Gentle Side of Coltrane, that he wouldn’t want to spread himself so thin. However, once he sat on the bench and played “Walk Spirit Talk Spirit,” he maintained the deft, heavy handed style that we’re used to hearing from him; and if you closed your eyes, you’d swear up and down that you listening to a 26-year-old McCoy Tyner. Even now, while enjoying his status as a legend, he still feels the need, and want, to hone his craft during his off time.

Excerpt: 
After recording with some of the most successful labels in Jazz history, Impulse,Blue Note, and most recently Telarc, the composer launched McCoy Tyner Music in 2007. “I think I was a good idea,” Tyner declared. “I think if you have the initiative and the interest to do something like that, why not do it? There are plenty guys out there that have had their own label and gave a good for it. You learn something about the business as well.” Tyner admittedly founded inspiration in producer Bob Thiele and Coltrane, whose tenure withImpulse provided a great template for musician/businessmen. “I’ve always taken an interest in both. I think that there are people who like to sell records and have interests in that. I think that the more savvy you are about what’s going on in the Jazz business, the better off you are. In Jazz, Rock & Roll, the Blues, whether you’re into, if you get on the business side of it, it’s good; you learn. What’s wrong with learning something?”

Read the full article at iRockJazz.comhttp://irockjazz.com/2013/01/mccoy-tyner-act-like-a-legend-think-like-youre-hungry/

Categories: Big Picture