5 Albums that Interrupted my Year of Nostalgia

For new music, 2012 has been the year of revitalization. Folks, like myself, have been complaining that “Hip Hop is dead,” that “They don’t make R&B like they used to,” that “Everything sounds the same,” but this year, there were a few artists who challenged such statements.

Before I share my list, I must admit, this is the year that I have been the most out-of-touch with that which is modernly cool. As I prepared for my Mad Men inspired wedding, which inherently causes one to reminisce on their younger, FUBU days, my soundtrack for 2012 could simply be entitled, “Nostalgia.. with Special Guests.” “Nostalgia.. with Special Guests” features timeless talent like Miles Davis, TLC, Dilla, Anita O’Day, SWV, and Astrud Gilberto, with special guests being those artists whose modern-day-talent was so big this year, that even I could get up from my black & white slumber, and recognize the making of new classics.

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5. Azealia Banks. She would have made it further up the list, but I’m deducting points for not releasing a full album. Her EP, titled 1991, after the year she was born (man, I feel old!), has left many wanting more. Blending house music, with a Foxy Brown-styled flow, Ms. Banks is fighting to stay away from labels, and is defining the type of artist she wants to be. She unapologetically reveals skin when she wants to, wears Mickey sweatshirts in music videos, and makes music that makes you dance. Mad props goes to a young woman claiming, and maintaining her own agency in a male-driven industry.

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4. Lupe Fiasco. I would call Food and Liquor: The Great American Rap Album Part I my theory-heavy album of the year. Fiasco released his fourth album with a plan to tell America his opinions about racism, the usage of the word “bitch” (though the n-word is continuously used without being problematized), American imperialism, and anything else that angers him. This Chicago-based rapper shares his opinions while exhibiting strong lyrical flow, against well-produced tracks. While, at times, it feels as though he’s being a bit too preachy, I definitely imagine referencing this album in future writings and teachings on examples of thought-provoking Hip Hop albums.

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3. Lianne La Havas. In her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough, London based artist, Lianne La Havas brought back the beauty of simple acoustics with breathy singing. But don’t let her soft lyrics fool you. As evident in one of my favorite songs, “Lost & Found,” La Havas has a skill to match a delicate sound with heart wrenching, dig-beneath-the-soul lyrics. She has the ability to softly sing post-break up songs in a way that makes you feel like she’s going to be alright.

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2. Frank Ocean. The thing I’ve enjoyed most about Frank Ocean is he’s unpredictable. From his nasally head-boppin’ release, “Novacane,” to laid-back interludes like “White,” and his grandiose track, “Pyramids,” it’s hard to say, “Frank Ocean sounds like _______.”  As heard from his mixtapes and debut album, Orange, Ocean is an artist whose experimentation with compiling  sound changes the way we listen to music.

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1. Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Lamar is receiving accolades from every direction, and one doesn’t hate when such props are well-deserved. Like 2 Pac, and Doug E. Fresh, Lamar is a nothing less than a storyteller who happens to recite his reality in beautifully constructed rhythmic stanzas. Lamar’s talent of storying his experiences and lessons without preaching, sold me on his sophomore album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. While his songs indicate that he doesn’t usually engage in the hustle, he outlines how easily it is to get caught up. Despite the album’s name, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the two cannot be juxtaposed so neatly, thus complicating the West Coast rapper story.

Where are Our Snowflakes?: An East Oakland Educator’s Response to the Connecticut Shootings

The Tuesday after the Connecticut shooting, a colleague announced that the National Education Association sent out a request for schools around the country to make snowflakes in commemoration of the victims killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. The plan is to have all of the snowflakes hanging up in the halls when the school reopens. When she informed me and my colleagues of this project, I had two thoughts:

a.) That can potentially be touching for those returning… or it may be eerie.

b.) When are people going to honor the many slain brown and black children that are killed in neighborhoods like the one where I teach? What about my kids, or the nearly 300 Chicago Public School students who have been murdered in the past three years? What about the family members my students have lost due to gun violence?

Thought b.) continues to be my  second reaction any time someone mentions the Connecticut shootings (the first thought being, how horrific for the babies, educators, and members of this community). My students are all victims to gun violence. Not unusual for our school, we had a lockdown the Tuesday after the Connecticut massacre, because there was a shooting a couple of blocks from our campus. Children were outside playing, heard the gunshots, and had to rush into the nearest classroom. Was there a national, or even local news story about this? Bullets have been found on our campus during school hours; I’ve had students witness their parents get shot in their own home during a drive-by; two of our students’ grandmother was caught in a crossfire and killed the Wednesday before Christmas.  Has there been a news story about any of these incidents? My students know the procedures for a lockdown better than they know our rainy-day schedule. It’s disgusting, but, again, I ask, has there been a national outcry because of these tragic realities?

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In wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, one of my students- who lost his father to gun violence- asked that we take a moment of silence for the children and educators who were killed in Connecticut. On that same note, I ask that we, at the very least, remember to honor those who are victim to gun violence in communities such as East Oakland.

People outside our environment rarely, if ever, talk about the realities my students face.

Sadly, those living and working within an environment like East Oakland rarely discuss the tragedy of children knowing the sound of a gunshot better than a Nina Simone song. Many of us who work in the schools have become numb to the war zone in which we function. Why? Partly, because we have to become numb in order to do what we need to do– educate our students. We have also become numb to our reality  because when we do tell the “outside world” about our experiences, we’re often met with wavering responses like, “That’s sad,” causing us to feel like we must move onto a topic more lighthearted, so they don’t feel as depressed. I understand; it’s overwhelming; I feel it everyday. But, let me be clear– I, the teacher, who gets to drive home to another Oakland community after work, am not the victim– my 10 and 11 year-old scholars, and the young scholars living in similar neighborhoods, are the victims. They, along with their families, deserve more.

Yet, despite the fact that most students in East Oakland, and neighborhoods like East Oakland, are victims to gun violence, our nation is not responding to their tragedies. Our nation doesn’t respond with a national outcry, with tears, or with a moment of silence. More importantly, our nation doesn’t respond with the proper emotional and mental support all of my students need to recover from and survive such trauma, and I have yet to hear a national conversation around gun control take place in lieu of the many gun fires shot in East Oakland. The recent response to the Sandy Hook shootings compared to the lack of response for the violence my students, and students who look like them experience, make me wonder, where are the snowflakes for East Oakland, for Chicago, for L.A., and for all of the other  neighborhoods where gun violence is a daily reality? When do they get their moment of silence? Their vigil? Their justice?

Questionings for the Black, Brown and Whiteness of ON the ROAD

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On the Road has been adapted into a film directed by Walter Salles, and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. It is set for release 12/21/12, and despite my critique, I plan to see it… and (likely) critique it some more.

I began On the Road with the complete understanding that Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical “novel” is about a white man’s geographical and developmental journey. I understood that the setting of the novel is the 40s—  a time when traveling meant something very different from people who look like me. For Kerouac, or his alter ego, Sal, jumping on Route 66 in the mid-40s is a symbol of adventure and freedom—for searching for himself through experiences with “mad” people, such as his habitual co-pilot Dean, the alter ego for real-life beatnik, Neal Cassidy. Despite my background information of the novel, throughout my reading experience, I couldn’t help but think that if I, or anyone who looked like me, jumped on the road in the mid-40s, it probably would have been out of dire necessity—physical safety and/or financial needs. Someone who looked like me would not have been able to hitchhike freely, pick up hitchhikers, or even stop for a trip to the loo in many towns, the way Sal and his roaddogs do so mindlessly. But, alas, On the Road is not about a Negro woman’s journey across the American countryside in the mid-40s (though, that would make for an important account), and the fact that I cannot easily place myself into this story is not problematic.

 

White people get to tell their story too.

 

What has been surprising during my reading experience, however, is the amount of brown and Black co-stars who do show up on Sal’s journey to enlightenment. Silly me, for thinking I was reading a white man’s story—what American tale of personal fulfillment would be complete without the occasional tryst with the brown woman, or soulful experience with the Negro musician? The novel hasn’t been compared to Huckleberry Finn for nothin’!

 

For all Kerouac fans, I think he would “dig” my cheekiness, and to be fair, I’ve enjoyed much of my reading experience.Kerouac’s eccentric characters, and exploration of the American landscape is romantic, and when it’s not at the expense of a brown or Black person’s experience, even thrilling. His erratic writing style creates urgency for his reader to drop their book, stand on the nearest corner, stick out their thumb, and see where fate takes them. Aside from Kerouac’s entrancing narrative, however, I am most curious about his brown and Black encounters, and their necessity to his story’s progression. What would Kerouac’s story be like without his obsession with Jazz (read Black) culture, or his fantasy of living amongst “the Mexicans”? Aside from Keroacs’ obsession with Dean, it is his fascination with non-white folks that moves, and even ends his story.

On the back of my Penguin edition of the book, it states On the Road is “The novel that defined a generation,” and I don’t think there’s a better way to describe the book’s impact. Between intersecting Sal’s journey with his pseudo-relationship with the Mexican “girl,” Terry, his eventual road trip leading to Mexico, or “Mehico,” as he emphatically puts it , and his nights out with wild Negro musicians in San Francisco and Chicago, Keroac’s novel created the requirements for the white American journey:

1. Be slightly privileged, and white-minded, at the very least.

2. Find an inner-struggle

3. Seek self through Black and brown folks.

4. Leave brown and Black folks in the dust of your journey.

5. Continue your journey; seek “stability;” and find joy in the stories you tell about your white American journeys.

I know, I know… I’m being harsh on poor, Kerouac’s narrative. But, really, I’m just as selfish as he, or Sal, is, and am concerned about where I, and people who look like me, fit into these narratives. Whether a fictionalized or authentic geographical/spiritual journey, the brown and/or Black rendezvous have become staple for the white American quest– Eat, Pray, Love is another obvious example of the white person finding personal ecstasy at the expense of people of color. As readers/viewers absorb such narratives, I can’t help but wonder…What happens to the brown and Black people who get fetishized for the sake of the white (wo)man’s journey? What happens to “Mexican Terry” or “wild” musicians, once their exciting quality wears out–when do we get to hear  their story, and when does it get listened to? What does it look like when the fetishized community reclaims agency, and explores a journey of their own— is it considered worth reading about? If so, when do I get to read it, and then get to watch it in the theaters?

A woman MC holdin’ it down… and she lives in Oakland!

Davey D's Hip Hop Corner

I long been a big fan of Seattle-based group Canary Sing.. Made up of Madeleine “Lioness” Clifford and Hollis “Ispire” Wong-I first met the pair several years back when they were rocking hard on the spoken word scene. Later when they put beats to their rhymes and started making noise culminating in the release of their ep The Beautiful Baby back in 2010.

The group had a funky retro sound and a fun vibe which is best personified in one of my favorite songs Freak Show…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZWx7QAmXIg

It wasn’t to long after the Beautiful Baby dropped that Madeleines  came down to the Bay Area and blessed us with her talent as she pursued her Masters degree at Oakland’s Mills College. She’s been rocking the mic as well as the books and recently dropped a gem of a song and fun video called ‘I Need a Moment’…

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