It has to be a spirit that makes you beat your children for no good damn reason.

A spirit that makes you tell them to keep their legs closed,

while you keep yours open.

A sick ass spirit that makes you tell your children that they ain’t going to be nothing.

A spirit that makes you call them,

nigga,

a coon,

a monkey

and a ho.

A spirit that makes you yell be a man at your son,

when you ain’t being one.

It’s probably the same spirit that makes you mad when a white person

says the exact same things you’ve been saying.

Instead of giving a child love,

they get hugged by these spirits.

In these possessed houses all they talk about is the white woman this,

the white man that and there aren’t any white people in the house.

You never hear them saying the name of Martin Luther King Jr., Marshawn Evans,

Langston Hughes, Spike Lee, Phyllis Wheatley,

Bell Hooks, Percy Ellis Sutton,

Dr. Cornel West or  Muhammad Ali.

All they watch is black and racist movies until that is all they know.

How are you going to teach a child how to love,

when you don’t know how to.

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In 1972, Magnovox brought coins eating time wasters into American homes with The Odyssey.  In 1975, Atari released Pong, followed in 1980 by Atari’s “Asteroids”. Today video games have developed into a 70 Billion dollar industry. The industry has moved from Pong to Pac-man to Super Mario; from initials and high scores to gamer tags and trophies; from 8-bit to 64-bit to 128-bit buses; from single-player to Multiplayer to co-op; from online gaming to remote play, the video game console is now the center of the home entertainment experience. In five decades the video game industry has grown by leaps and bounds. There have been advancements in all areas except one. ..Race.

The usual video game controversies are sex and violence, but many of us have been gaming since we were two, yet when you scour the 70 billion dollar industry; minorities only  litter the landscape as bit players or cover athletes, Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant, Shaq and Tiger Woods. You find one dimensional black characters based off of comic books or movies like Spawn, Blade or Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, but you won’t find them as the central character in a video game, unless they are a pimp, gangster or built on a celebrity persona such as Michael Jackson. The most popular main black character is Carl “CJ” Johnson, the ultra-violent gang founder from Grand Theft: Auto San Andreas.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that black youths between 8 and 18 years old played video and computer games roughly 90 minutes a day (30 minutes more than white youths).”For a long time, we’ve talked in the game industry about gender diversity as the one problem on the radar, but the racial split is worse,” said Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech game design professor. Most video games, right or wrong, are being designed from the unconscious biases, reflections and opinions of their creators. 80 percent of video game programmers are white; this may have something to do with the absence of color in video games.

Most characters of color are either covered up or they aren’t playable, leaving one to wonder if there is racial bias, even in cyber-space. Over time America has become more and more diverse, but not our primary game characters. Is it necessary for gamers to identify with the characters they are using? Does it matter if all the heroes are male Caucasians when minorities (male and female) are not only purchasing expensive gaming consoles, but also shelling out $60 on each video game. America has made social advancements in every way of life except gaming.

In 2012 enter Starhawk, a third-person shooter, aerial-vehiclar combat, real-time strategy video game and the first of its kind. A Playstation 3 exclusive and a collaborative effort from Lightbox Interactive and Sony’s Santa Monica Studios. Starhawk is an inspired game, it is not recycled and it’s the right kind of freshness a stagnant industry needs. Starhawk introduces a new system called “Build &’ Battle”, which changes the landscape and possibilities each time you play. With the flick of a button, Build and Battle, give the player options to build structures such as, bunkers, defenses, and armories which crash down from space,  in the midst of battle. Build & Battle gives the game a dynamic real-time strategy feel while remaining a third-person shooter.

The hero of the game is Emmett Graves, a man who was running a rift mine on the Frontier alongside Logan, his brother. All was well until the mine was attacked by an Outcast war party. Emmett’s rig exploded and both Emmett and his brother became partially exposed to rift energy. Colonies of humans called Rifters have been exploring the “Frontier” of planets, but now they find their way of life threatened at every turn by the Outcast, a psychotic species of humans who have mutated due to over-exposure to rift Energy. Caught in the middle is Emmett Graves, ostracized by the humans because of his partial exposure to Rift Energy, leaving him partially mutated. He becomes a hired gun to protect the Rifters, while his infected brother becomes the leader of the Outcast. Will Emmett be able to retain his humanity… This game gives you a real sense that he is fighting for his family, the rifters and for his very survival.

The game is visually stunning, fluid, fast paced and a mash up of the sci-fi and western genres. The game features flying vehicles called Hawks that transform into Mechs, tanks, 4×4 razorback, 32-players, huge maps, weapons, customization, jetpack, 2-player split screen, skill mods, “Build & Battle”, power ups, Jetbikes, multiplayer, co-op, HD, a limited edition package and yes a Black protagonist. “The rift energy looks really good on darker skin, and we really liked the tale—the brothers’ tale, I thought, felt better with having the character be a black guy. It was just really more about design stuff. It wasn’t about, “Yay, let’s be the first to make a black protagonist.” It was just, you know, the design evolved and he ended up being a black guy. And it was like cool, let’s roll with it.” Dylan Jobe Lightbox Interactive President

Experts will say gamers generally ignore the character they are playing, but there are already questions surrounding Graves’ race, and how the game will play with the buying public. “I’m curious how fans will react when they’re placed in the shoes of a minority. Will Graves speak to them? Will they even have the maturity to contemplate this instead of just spewing forth the typical vitriol of an Internet gaming message board?”- IGN (Starhawk: The Reveal of a Bold New Frontier)

Video games have been in American homes for 50 years and indeed times have changed, yet criticism about a black primary character is already being spewed by those unsure of their aversion to the game and those shocked at how great the game is. Unavoidably there will be those so disappointed in the skin color of Starhawk’s main character that they will fill message boards and social network postings with racial vitriol. There will also be many more smiling, albeit silently, that they can finally play a hero that l looks like them;  a character, a face to connect with. This is a positive step for gaming and could lead to more primary minorities in video games, but more importantly it could open the door for more minority game developers. Starhawk begins recruiting May 8th 2012  with Emmett Graves as the hero the video game world needs, but doesn’t want.

Other Tolerable Black Characters:  

Adam/Skate – Streets of Rage Trilogy, Balrog/Dee Jay– Street Fighter Series, Mr. Sandman – The Punch-Out!! Series,  Eddy Gordo – Tekken 3, Captain David Anderson – Mass Effect, Barret Wallace – Final Fantasy VII, Sergeant Major Avery J. Johnson –  Halo,  Augusts Cole a.k.a. Cole Train – Gears of War Trilogy, Sergeant Foley – Modern Warfare 2, Zack – Dead or Alive Series, Coach – Left 4 Dead 2, Louis – Left 4 Dead, Romeo – Halo 3: ODST. Doc Louis – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! & Punch-Out!!, Fortune – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Jacob – Mass Effect 2, Jax – Mortal Kombat Series, Alyx Vance – Half-Life 2, Dean Shephard Marc Ecko’s Getting Up and Jade from  Beyond Good & Evil the first and only original IP involving a black woman (although the developers say Jade is Racially Ambiguous). Not to slant Prototype 2 but the main character didn’t start off as black.

Part 1

Far to often we have waited until it was too late to give thanks to the people who moved and inspired us. We give awards and accolades long after they were deserved. Some of these artist made us feel, think and others showed us that it is okay to human and that we are not alone. If nothing else perhaps some of these artist will be rediscover by some and seen in a new way by others. We grew up watching R & B borrow from soul and jazz elements, to co-opting hip hop grooves, to mixtures of pop and now even techno musings. I have created this list not based solely on sales, or emotions, what this means is that having a hit or two wont get you on this list, while dropping a classic album might. These artist had guts, creativity, range and most importantly impact and without them R & B would not be the same. A lot of women have contributed to R & B, but here are my top 15.

1. Aretha Franklin (Queen of Soul)

She epitomized gospel-charged soul and has 18 Grammys,  20 No. 1 singles, 45 “Top 40” hits, to back that up. She also has the most million-selling singles of any female artist with 14. Between 1967 and 1982 she had 10 #1 R&B albums – more than any other female artist. The term “Diva” was coined just to describe her talents. Ms. Franklin is the epitome of a trailblazer with her vocal style and ability and is one of the few living legends who can still perform at a high level to this day. Franklin was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Respect”,”Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You”,  “Think”, “Chain of Fools”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”

2. Whitney Houston (Whitney)

at 170 Million albums sold Whitney is the most awarded female singer ever. She has number 1 albums and soundtracks that have powered her film roles. Whitney is one od the few singers who could sing anything and it would be a hit. Case in point the “Star Spangled Banner” , which she performed at Superbowl XXV , was released as a single and was in the top 20. In the early 90’s Whitney skillfully rode Michael Jackson’s wake and knocked the doors opened for other female artist such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker “Because of what Whitney did, there was an opening for me… For radio stations, black women singers aren’t taboo anymore.’ says Baker. Whitney tackled big adult contemporary ballads, effervescent, stylish dance-pop, and slick urban contemporary soul with with dexterity and grace.  She was commondly referred to as a phenomon because when she sang a song…it was sung and no one could do it better. “Greatest Love of All”,  “I’m Every Woman”, “Greatest Love of All”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, “I Will Always Love You” and “I’m Your Baby Tonight”


3. Etta James

James has four Grammys and seventeen Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. In the 1950s and 1960s, she had her biggest success as a blues and R&B singer. She is best known for her son “At last”.  In modern times Ms. James is often overlooked, but she can flat out sang and her music has lived on for decades. “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “Stop the Wedding,” and “Would It Make Any Difference to You”

4. Patti Labelle

A one woman powerhouse of vocal & musical ability, Ms. Labelle is one of a kind. Blessed with power, range and passion her voice is as powerful as it is graceful.  Her unwavering appeal has spanned more than five decades. She has hits such as “On My Own,” “Somebody Loves You Baby” and “New Attitude.” There is no one quite like entertainment legend Patti LaBelle. “On My Own“, “If Only You Knew“, “Have a Little Faith in Me”, “If You Asked Me To“, “Stir It Up” and “New Attitude“.

5. Chaka Khan

in the 1970s she was the frontwoman of the band Rufus, however, her solo body of work stands on its own. As a singer she is the most diverse with her range and vocal skill. When it wasn’t fashionable for singers to record their own background vocals, Khan made her own fashion statement and arranged her own. Chaka Khan is clearly in a class by herself. Her vocal style, identifiable in a flash, is a major force of nature in music, a sound like no other.  “I’m Every Woman”, “This Is My Night”, “Got To Be There”, “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me”, and “I Feel For You”

Billie Holiday, Dionne Warwick, Minne Ripperton, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole and many others.

Part 2 

M

Far to often we have waited until it was too late to give the people who moved and inspired us recognition. We often give awards and accolades long after they were deserved. These artist have made us feel, think and move. Many have shown us that it is okay to be human and that we are not alone. If nothing else perhaps these artist will be rediscovered by some or seen in a new way by others.  We have grown up with R & B, we have watched it blend soul and jazz elements, we have seen it nod heads with hip hop grooves and dance with pop beats. I have created this list not based solely on sales, emotions, but more so on impact. Having one hit may not help, while dropping a classic album does. These artist, these women had guts, creativity and range. They did not allow music to power the song while they fell back, they were the songs and without them Rhythm & Blues would not be the same. A lot of women have contributed to R & B, here is part 1 of my All-Time list.

 

11. Lauryn Hill

 

Lauryn is on this list for one reason and that is The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Her 1998 album is what debut albums should be. This album contained musical styles that ranged from R&B, Soul and Reggae, to Hip Hop and Gospel. The album was strikingly beautifully as it blended melodies in ways never done before. Her album is the perfect example of what happens when  talent meets purpose.  The album dealt with many serious life issues, but it was never bogged down. She became the 1st women to win 5 Grammys on one night and the music world is much better off because of it.  

12. Erykah Badu

Baduizm is Badu’s highly acclaimed debut album, it was released in 1997 and debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. The album was filled with introspective lyrics, jazz and a bass-heavy sound. Baduizm was hailed as one of the leading lights of the burgeoning “Neo Soul” genre. because of Erykah’s phrasing and tempo she drew comparisons to Billie Holiday. Her lyrics challenge listeners with their highly personal, philosophical, and political content. Her albums say everything that we want to,but never do.  Through her album she was able to weave different musical influences together to create a richer sound.

13. Toni Braxton

Toni topped the Billboard 200 with her 1993 self-titled debut album her second album “Secrets”, spawned the number-one hits “You’re Makin’ Me High”, “I Love Me Some Him” and “Un-Break My Heart” songs that live forever. Braxton’s debut album won several awards, including three Grammy Awards (for Best New Artist and two consecutive awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance). Braxton’s broad appeal comes from her low vocal register and her range which includes R&B, adult contemporary, saucy dance tracks and sultry ballads.

14. Rihanna

Discovered as a teenager. Rihanna has a unique and powerful carribean voice, so much so that her collaborations consist of a rapper dropping 12 bars while she sings the rest. That’s a good thing because Ri-Ri’s voice has outshined every single counterpart she has been on track with. Albums Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded and Rated R provide her a showcase; complete with R & B, soul, dance hall, pop, a rebellious attitude and risque sexual lyrics. Her Caribbean-inflected R & B has managed to escape the package the industry tried to put her in.

15.Keyshia Cole

Cole’s 2005 debut album Way It Is  landed at number six on the Billboard 200. The song “I should have cheated” from that album told the world what was to come. What came was her second album Just Like You, which is one of the best R & B albums ever released. Keyshia’s lyrics powered by her vocals connected men and women with her pain. She has spawned a thousand wannabee, but there is only one.

 

Through their music these singers can tell you more about themselves I anyone ever could, so click the links. Other impactful R & B singers: Pink, Monica, Aalyah, Brandy, Mya, Fantasia

 Part 2

In the 80’s Hip Hop needed to co-op rock music with songs like, Run DMC’s “Walk this Way” . In the 90’s Hip-Hop co-oped R & B with albums brilliant albums like, “What’s the 411”. Today it is those genres that need Hip Hop and all of its elements just to survive. Whether it’s rock or pop acts who are rapping but saying that they aren’t, or singers who put the latest hip hop star on a track the impact of Hip Hop has been felt in every genre of music and here are the people most responsible for that, they exist beyond regular rap. This list is not solely based on album sales, or lyrics, one of the mot important criteria for this list is impact. So before you hip hop heads go crazy with the WTF’s, just ask yourself ‘Where would Hip Hop be today if none of these rappers existed?’ If you don’t see your favorite rapper on this list it is most likely because they are one dimensional, have lyrics written by other people or perhaps you are the one that is short-sighted.

 

14. Redman There are very few rappers as skilled as Redman. In term of using braggadocios wit and hard hitting beats, he is the most consistent rapper on this list and most underrated. If you have ever used the pop-culture gesture, “Raise the Roof”, then you owe him.  Redman is an elder statesman with distinctive voice and flow who exploded on to the hip-hop scene in 1992 with Whut? Thee Album. (I Be Dat, Let’s Get Dirty, On Da 99, My Zone, Whatever Man, How High, Whateva man, i’ll be dat, Pick it Up, Da Rockwilder)

 

 

13. Nelly: Is it getting hot in herre? In 2000 he blessed us with the 9x Platinum “Country Grammar” he introduced the nation to Mid West rap, or should I say the Dirty South. Skillfully rapping with unforgettable hooks and an unmistakable mid-west twang. Nelly put the Mid West on the rap map, period. Nelly’s Country Grammar opened the door that Ludacris, T.I. and Lil Wayne have walked through and that’s saying a whole lot. In 2004 the video for “Tip Drill” was released, this was a video full of strippers and naked video vixens, Nelly slid a credit card between a naked ass, after which the the lady started to pop her ass for Nelly. This video sparked controversy from black women’s groups and media, who said “Nelly and other rapper were saying that women were only good for one thing…sex.” This controversy not only led to the banning of the video “Tip Drill”, and other staple raunchy rap videos, but by the end of 2005 hip hop videos were forever changed to reflect a more creative, less overtly sexual tone. This controversy almost ruined Nelly. Nelly is also the only other rapper beside Snoop Dog to have a number #1 hit on the Country Charts. Album- Country Grammar, Nellyville (Dilemma, My Place, Country Grammar, Tip Drill, Hot in Herre 2, and Over & Over)

12. DMX His first major-label album “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot”, was released in May 1998 and debuted on the #1 on the Billboard 200. It was this album that began the comparisons to Tupac.  In December of 1998 he released “Flesh of My Flesh and Blood of My Blood”, which also debuts #1. DMX was the second rapper to have two albums released the same year debut at #1, the only other rapper was Tupac Shakur. With dark beats and harsh DMX pushed boundaries of imagery and sanity with lyrics on love, rage, God complete with prayers. Albums- It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood

11. Nas: With his densely packed flow, he is the best technical rapper of his generation. Nas created a style of rapping that was more conversational, with compound rhymes and words that run into a bar. During a feud with Jay-Z, Nas solidified his stance as rap’s best by releasing a crushing battle track called “Ether.” Though his raps took a more popularized slant in the ‘90s, he has consistently delivered cutting-edge material.  His first album, “Illmatic”, is widely considered the greatest hip-hop debut of all time.  Album: (Illmatic), Songs: (It ain’t hard to tell, If I ruled the world, Ether, One love, Black Girl Lost, Book of Rhymes)

10. Biggie Smalls: A lyrical genius. His song are real life and words add up to something. His skills were untouchable, his flow almost supernatural, and for a fat man his swagger was unmatched. Biggies is credited with changing the game of rap, Biggie was to the East Coast what Tupac was to the West Coast. Biggie released two classic Hip Hop albums “Ready to Die” and “Life After Death” which made him a Hip Hop icon. He changed the way MC’s flow when he blessed “Notorious Thugs” with a verse, using the Bone Thugs style better than they did themselves. He is also one of the great storytellers in Hip Hop, unfortunate he career was cut short with his life. (Hypnotize, Juicy, What’s Beef, Warning, Kick In the Door, Who Shot Ya, Unbelievable)

9. Ice Cube: is an original Member of NWA. He along with Dr. Dre was at the forefront of 90’s gangsta rap era. A gifted storyteller, only his stories usually revolve around illegal acts and retribution. His lyrics were tough and hardcore as he scared Hollywood with his anti-white, misogynist, antisemitic lyrics and Hollywood still gave him movie roles, now that’s gangsta.  He continued to push the gangsta vibe when he created the group, Westside Connection. Westside Connection had two year olds to eighty-two year olds throwing up four fingers with two twisted in the middle. He, Snoop Dog and Too Short are the only mainstream rappers who have used curse words if they were periods and still had hit songs. He manages to stay relevant, but even more than that he has been producing television shows and is a serious actor, who every now and then still finds time to drop a gangsta album. Today his music is considered to conscious to receive radio-play. Whether he is dropping a Hip Hop movie classic like “Friday”, or producing television shows, we’ve beening trying to guess the color of his shoe laces for years. At the eight spot he may still be underrated on  the consciousness of his lyric alone.  Album- Greatest Hits (Go to church, Once Upon a Time in the Projects, You know how we do it, We be clubbin’, It Was A Good Day, Check Yo Self, You Know How We Do It, Bow Down, Why We Thugs,Natural Born Killers)

8. Ludacris: Others claim to be the King of the South, but Luda actually is the King. He popularize the Dirty South, so much that his reach touches each coast. “Word of Mouth” was a classic album regardless of the coastal region. Interesting hooks, unique style, distinctive voice, sexual overtones. A Ludacris themed album is just pure entertainment. Versatile is a word that can’t even describe Ludacris, so lets put uniquely in front of that. Luda opened up the mid western hip hop to the masses. As the market has saturated with sub par commercial rap fair Luda has taken his appeal into movie roles. Albums- Word of Mouf (Move Bitch, Area Codes, Southern Hospitality, What’s your fantasy, Stand up, Act a fool, One More Drink, Money Maker, Last of a dying breed)

7. Kanye West: He is what Tupac would be if he were raised upper middle class. Complete with social issues, political, dis and controversial all in one rap song. His flow is more akin to Spoken Word, while he may not quite be Taalam Acey he does puts it down quite nicely. He gained fame by producing Jay Z’s albums and spitting bars through a wire (while his mouth was wired shut), and then he took Jesus to the top of the hip hop and pop charts. His style is uncommon eclectic to perfection. I have always maintained that Kanye is what Tupac would be if he were middle class in the millennium, but Kanye almost to a fault love to experiment on track production. His album 2007 “Graduation” retired rapper 50 Cent. Kanye was influenced by RZA’s uses of distinctive and intricate string arrangements over his own drum tracks. He uses unique instrumentation to push the limits of creativity with each albums, sometimes he pushes a bit too far…with albums such as Yeezus which is vicious, petulant, abrasive and colossally vain.  Albums- Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, Late Registration, The College Dropout. His collab album “Watch The Throne” with Jay Z goes even to further show his versatility and passion.

6. Jay Z  He had a hard knock life, but he is arguably the most versatile rapper ever he can flow to any beat, his wordplay is of the highest order and his presence on the mic is unmatched.  Even though he lost a rap battle to rival Nas, the war was won in the end by Jay Z. Hova is proof that if you speak clearly and have skills you can stay local and still be a national hit. His debut album “Reasonable Doubt” heralded his arrival, but he didn’t stop there, he then dropped “The Blueprint” and “The Black Album” both classic albums in their own right. There is one thing the business side of  Jay Z knows is that the audience is not only watching, it is changing, so he filled the, also classic, album “Hard Knock Life” with tons of mainstream appeal and he also shows his daring side in the experimental collaborative album “Watch The Throne” with Kanye West. Even when Jay-Z rest on his laurel with the 2013’s unpredictable “Magna Carta Holy Grail” shows that no matter the age Jay Z is an artistic rebel as well as a family stalwart  (99 Problems, Dope Man, This can’t be life, Brooklyn’s Finest, Hard Knock Life, Regrets)

                                                                                                        

5. Tupac Shakur: He rapped about poverty in America, but more importantly he rapped about how we should stop it. Tupac was rap’s greatest storyteller of all-time. His ability to convey the gangster lifestyle was unmatched. His popularity and notoriety exceeds that of any hip-hop artist. The East Coast, West Coast beef and the eventual shooting deaths of Tupac and Biggie remain rap’s biggest stories. He was the first rapper to enjoy success internationally. He earned movie roles in Above the Rim, Juice and Poetic Justice. Honestly Tupac would have had many more great songs and been higher on this list, if he wasn’t always allowing wack rappers to follow him on tracks and if he hadn’t been murdered. His verses have saved many a song, and are the only reason we listened to them. When it came to telling it like it is, or how we felt no one did it better and Tupac. Power, Spiteful, Passion, Outrageous and Inflammatory, Tupac pondered the afterlife and why, with all of our resources, social ills still persist. He didn’t need the dopest beatmaker, or a corporate machine to produce him to perfection, he just needed a mic and it was ‘Tupac against the World’. Tupac’s voice was and still is the voice of the streets. Albums- Greatest Hits (When Thugz Cry, Only God can judge me, Hail Mary, Brenda’s Got a Baby, Keep Ya Head Up, Life Goes On, Me Against the World, Ambitionz as a Ridah, Letter To My Unborn, I Wonder If Heaven’s Got a Ghetto, Hit ‘Em Up’, Changes, 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted, Blasphemy)

4. Snoop Dog: Snoop has stretched out more vowels and dismantled more of the English language than any rapper hands down. His unique laid back cadence and delivery sets him apart from any other rapper. Snoop along with Warren G and Nate Dogg put Long Beach forever on the map. Snoop has dropped lyrics on Pop, Rock, Country and Reggae tracks and that says a lot for a Gangsta rapper from Long Beach California. After gracing Dr Dre’s “The Chronic” with his confident, laid-back flow, Snoop dropped the most important west coast release in the history of Hip Hop 1993’s “DoggyStyle”.  He helped make Death Row records (a label Tupac was also signed to) a force in the music game.  He has graced many rap albums with incredible 16’s. Snoop is constantly reinventing himself. In 2013 he dropped the reggae album Reincarnated. Reincarnated is a very good album and it is Snoop’s most positive and least commercially successful album to date, indicating that there may be a connection with negativity and hip hopSo much of an icon. in movie roles he typically stars as himself, because he’s the most interesting rapper in the world. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and Tupac earned the West Coast a level of respect it has since lost. Albums- Doggystyle (Gin and Juice, Drop it like it’s hot, Murder was the case, 2 of Amerikaz most wanted, Ain’t No Fun, Sensual Seduction, Lighters Up, What’s my name)

3. Eminem  His first two albums were instant classics.  His song are about true life experiences but more than that he is a lyrical mastermind. His flow is as faster and his verbiage is more on point than anyone in the game. His ability to cut people down with words is second to none. His albums are not happy, they are not party albums, they are drug addicted, domestic violence laden serious and personal albums that always seems to spark controversy. In an entertainment business that turns largely on race, Em has in many ways transcended that argument, although race has a lot to do with his broader appeal, which is evident by the fact that he has sold more albums than any other rapper. Albums- The Slim ShadyLP, Marshal Mathers LP,  (Remember me, Rock Bottom, Till I collapse, Role Model, The way I am, Stan)

 

2. KRS-1: A philosopher and poet among rappers. He put out five albums under the name Boogie Down Productions (BDP). He pre-dates raps movement towards guns and drugs and instead delivered lyrics with a message, that message was that “You Must Learn”. If the black community had an issue he rapped about it. He spoke to the spirit and the mind of the hip-hop and those that love it. Not afraid to provoke thoughts, or express his opinion he set the standard for New York Hip Hop in the late 80’s. He was crucial in organizing dozens of rappers into the “Stop the Violence Movement”, to help curb the violence in hip hop and black communities. Krs-1 is the chief promoter of Hip Hip culture, he is noted for battling any challenger that tried to stepped to his throne and he is the most respected rapper on this list.. (You Must Learn, Hip Hop Lives, South Bronx, The Bridge is over, Criminal Minded, My Philosophy, Stop the violence,

1.  Tie (Dr. Dre & P. Diddy)

Dr. Dre: What rapper/producer’s name has been uttered more times on albums than his? No ones. And that should tell you all you need to know about his impact on the world of musuc. He entered the big time with the rap group NWA. He introduced the world to Gangsta Rap, D.O.C., Snoop Dog, Eminem, 50 Cent and Music ring-tones. He used multi-layered, melodic synthesizers, slow hypnotic grooves, deep bass, a sine wave keyboard and a liberal sampling of P-funk tunes as he developed G-Funk to power the laid back West Coast vibe of  sex, drugs, violence, gangsterism and promiscuous sex. When you forgot about him, he reminded you. His beats alone have powered more top 10 hits than any other rap producer and his pupils are on this list beneath him. Albums- The Chonic, 2001 (Xxplosive, What’s the difference, Forgot about Dre, Light speed, Let me Ride, Kush)

P. Diddy  The rapper/producer who was the driving force behind Biggie, Mary J. Blige, Usher and a half dozen other rappers and groups. He brought hip hop reality television to the masses. He and protege Mase ended gangsta raps reign with shiny suits. What rapper didn’t want to make is band? He introduced the R & B world to Keysha Cole, while he put a brand new Flava in yo ear. Even with average lyrics Sean, Diddy, Puff Daddy, P. Diddy or whatever he is calling himself now-a-days has constantly beats his haters expectations. Name changes, identity crisis, business side, controversy, creativity and unusual collaborations…that is Combs, from Hip Hop from childhood to adulthood all the while his lyrics displayed relationship and religious conflicts. The uniformed masses will no doubt hate it, but Combs is the Portrait of the artist as a young rapper. Albums- No Way Out (Can’t nobody hold me down, I’ll be missing you, Been around the world, Last Night, I need a girl, Hello good morning)

Dr. Dre and P. Diddy have rapped, produced and shepherded Hip Hop from puberty, through gangsta rap and the lean corporate years. Today corporate production only focuses on catchy phrases, hooks and making sure that the music stays more powerful than lyrics. For those who wondered how middle age hip hoppers will fair, just look at these two is the answered because they’ve done it. The one true omission from the top spot is Will Smith, who is without argument the most popular rapper that ever existed, but let’s leave him at the #1 actor spot.

Very worthy of mention: Drake, Slick Rick, Rakim,Kool G Rap, Busta Rhymes, Timberland, T.I.,GZA, L.L. Cool J, E-40, Too Short, Big Daddy Kane, Kirk Franklin, Ice T, Scarface, Raekwon, Heavy D, *Justin Timberlake, 50 cent, Common, Lil Wayne, Nate Dogg, Chuck D, Mos Def, Method Man, Twista,  Lil John, Kool Moe Dee, Ben Haggerty, Ja-Rule, Kurupt, Mystical and Big Pun. Unlike many of todays rappers the rappers on this list can tell you more about themselves, through their music, than I ever could.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/MG-Hardie/277636622262511 (Join the movement)

Michael Vick has paid his debt to society. So why is PETA, other organizations and dog lovers still on his case? No one is condoning what he did in killing dogs, when he was the star Quarterbak for the Atlanta Falcons, no one is trying to minimize his actions in that regard.  The fact is that many people believe he was excessively charged and over-sentenced, which was only due to public outcry. Vick got caught doing what he did and while the media eye was on him PETA and the Humane Society pushed their agenda hard, emploring people to go to shelters and get a dog. Being the sensitive human beings that many people claim to be (including then President George Bush) we went out and picked up millions of abandoned dogs from shelters. This mass rescuing of dogs at the time was so prevalent that the pet dog population overtook the pet cat population for the first time in a decades. Then guess what happened? The bottom fell out of the housing market and the recession took hold of the country. People were losing their jobs and homes left and right, they could barely feed their children and now they have to decide whether to feed a dog as well. So those same caring sensitive human beings did what any reasonable dog lover would do, they abandoned their new pets by the thousands…thanks PETA.

This is not to bash PETA because both PETA and I believe in non-captivity. I do not support the enslavement of any animal as does PETA. I believe that enslavement of an animal makes it easier for human beings, us, to accept the mistreatment of people. I had hoped that the outrage expressed towards Michael Vick was not racial in nature (They went after Pedro Martinez as well), but where is this outrage when it does not involve minorities? I have never heard PETA calling to shut down racetracks, or ask for the head of any racehorse owner. These Dog Lovers have never called for kennel club participants to have their Brain Scanned as they did with Mr. Vick. Dog Shows, Dog and Horse Racing means taxes, which means cities and governments profit. The fact is that Las Vegas odds makers will still take bets on Vick’s games even if they are card carrying PETA Members. NFL Defensive Backs won’t tackle him any harder because they have pets. Wide Receivers won’t drop his passes because they are dog lovers. Remember that just because you like dogs doesn’t necessarily mean that you like cats. For all of you who don’t like where this article is headed, here is the question?  How is spaying, neutering, declawing and imprisoning an animal for your entertainment purposes not enslavement?

What about those breeders that strap female dogs to metal devices and then let the male dogs repeatedly mate with them? Where is PETA when these Kennel clubs who are altering the dogs and then trotting them around for people to celebrate? My guess is that they are perhaps, in the stands drinking gourmet coffee. PETA stands for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Supposedly they care more about the treatment of animals than they do the treatment of people. Don’t ask them to donate to help a homeless child because they will say “if it were a dog, I would gladly give.” And whose “Humane” and “Ethics” are these organizations really talking about because in todays world everything is up for interpretation. As far as Animal cruelty goes aren’t we all complicit and completely hypocritical when we complain about what Vick did, and at the same time lounge on a leather couch eating chicken wings watching the players throw around the old pigskin. And let’s not forget the chickens cut up for our Superbowl parties and cows slaughtered for our leatherwares, you may want to check your closet. Say what you will about the companionship of dogs and cats, all pets are only around for our pleasure.

Horses racing is ‘sport’ where the horses are starved, beaten, altered, killed, given steriods and hormones. Horses are commonly known to have their spirits broken. In Hollywood movies we see that happening by a good rider not being thrown from the animals back. However, in real life a horse’s spirit is broken when it is hit with electric prods, thrown to the ground while running at full speed and having its genitals crushed. In some circuses, animals have been beaten, whipped, and prodded how do you think they get them to perform those amazingly unnatural acts. Some of these animals are poorly feed and kept chained night and day in small cages. Zoos are not much better when it comes to animal treatment. Many of those animal have been stolen from their natural habitats and that couldn’t have been pleasant. In our own homes pets are enslaved, punished, beaten, mistreated, starved, declawed among other things. So before you animal lovers start dictating measures perhaps you should adhere to some of your own. PETA and the Humane Society kill Millions and Millions of Dogs, Cats and Chickens each year, they say they do it because “they care more”.

Many people believe in standing up for the defenseless, helpless, homeless animals, but are we, as a society, really civilized and compassionate enough to do that? Aren’t we the people who torture, and hold people without rights, and believe me we are using those tactics and worse? Aren’t we the people who urinate on dead Afghans? Aren’t we the ones who blind-fold and stack up naked foreign prisoners in a pyramid. Isn’t America the place where our judicial system boast a wrongly incarcerated rate of 10%? Are we not holding people in detention camps, just so they can’t sue us? Are we not a society of racist, fanatical, sexist, bloodthirsty individuals? We have become professionals at “Looking The Other Way”, so much in fact that maybe we can label the “unethical” treatment of animals as Enhanced Training Techniques.

Michael Vick’s debt to society has been paid, to the tune of 2 years in prison, 20 million dollars and all of his dignity. So who do those “heartfelt” apologies go to? Because you sleep with a dog in your bed, adopted a pet, or kiss dogs in the mouth, he owes you an apology? I don’t think so. If I were told 10 times “No” and “Back Up” by bodyguards it seems to me that a journalist continuing to confront Micahel Vick after that, is going too far, but not according to Richard Hunter because he has a dog. This is not all about the Media, PETA, The ASPCA, The Humane Society or other dog cuddlers. This is about our society. When Michael Vick was released from prision, no team would sign him, because activist organizations pressured them not to. But 10 year veteran Quarterback Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles put his neck out for Michael Vick.

McNabb forced the Philadelphia Eagles owner to sign him and the coach used Vick as a trick playmaker in 2009-2010. Vick did everything he was ask to and obligated to do. Privately the Eagles brass simmered at McNabb. The following season the Eagles traded McNabb, their all-time leader in career wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, to the lowly Washington Redskins, where was disrespected and mistreated all season, so much for a black man putting his neck out for another black man. The Eagles named Kevin Kolb their new starter, Vick never said a word. Kolb got hurt and Vick led the Eagles to impressive victory after victory, in press conference after press conference the coach said that Kolb is still the starter, Vick never complained. Kolb’s injuries and the obvious leadership qualities of Michael Vick forced the coach to start Vick. Michael Vick had an amazing almost storybook season. Vick left the announcers and crowds speechless even in defeat. In during the 2011 season, he had the Eagles believing, leading the division and in serious Superbowl contention. He had other teams devising methods to stop his pass and run attack. He went 6 games without an interception. He was their leading rusher. He was the leading vote getting for the pro bowl. He was in MVP contention with the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Payton Manning, but he is also Black and that’s the problem not one really wants to tackle.

In the midst of the huddles, the confeiti, slow-mo hits, advertisments, one handed catches, celebrations and trophy kisses the NFL is and has been the most racially bias of all professional sports. So racial was the NFL’s inception that they actually had “No Niggas” in their bi-laws. Yes on the field you see Blacks and Hispanics, but that’s only because they needed the market appeal and talent to have a sucessful product. The NFL, in full acknowledgement of America’s racial division, felt that people would not accept America’s sport being black dominated, so they strickly enforced unsportsmanlike conduct penalties such as enzone celebrations and helmet removal in the 1980’s, the players of that era said as much. You can see a racial tint in how they film the players, how long the camera is on a player and especially in the complete lack of Black History month in Superbowl advertisements and promos, the Superbowl was moved into the month of February.

In recent years the NFL has taken to creating rules and fines to protect the (primarily white dominated) quarterback position. No matter how much you don’t want to believe, or how difficulty a thing is to accept, sometimes you have to look at a things the way they are and not how you want them to be. In America most minorities never get tried by a jury of their peers, which is why minorities take so many plea deals. Michael Vick knew this, which is why he took a plea deal. He was facing a 20 years sentence and a jury of his peers would have understood that his environment and perhaps his upbringing led to his involvement in dog-fighting non-sense. To Vick’s peers Dog Fighting is wrong, but it not worthy of Levenworth. Anyone that was raised in the any white middle class or inner-city in the 80’s, or 90’s had to kick the shit out of a dog or two, there were no leash laws and dogs bite, this is something that Vick’s “peers” would have been aware of.

Media portrayal and societal anger towards most African-American athletes is often racially coded and emoted. Look at the situations of James Lebron, James Harrison, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young, then look at Brett Farve, Tim Tebow and Cliff Lee and how they are treated and discussed. Look at the many chances Tim Tebow has been given and he can’t throw the ball, Brett Favre is elderly and is sending people text messages of his crank, Cliff Lee is just white and the last time I checked steroids were illegal. Society is always look for and clinging to the next great white hype at the expense of better talent in minorities. Were it not for McNabb, Vick would not have had a sliver of opportunity.

Were it not for Vick’s value through his physical attributes and ability to entertain he would not have been allowed to play. Although he is entertaining and using his ability to make the corporation money, look at how he is treated, talked about and disregarded. He has been involved involved in programs to help children and education program and in many ways he has been heroic, yet he is the constant example of how the black man once released from prison is not really free and how they are in many ways still imprisoned. Did Michael Vick deserve the NFL MVP award?  Did he deserve the comeback player of the year award?  However, what he deserves most the the opportunity to have his second chance. This golden second chance ticket of an opportunity that is readily afforded many Whites, but sadly absent when it comes to minorities. Michael Vick was forced to look himself in the mirror and he has changed. He is better for it. What is unfortunate is that when it is time for Society to look itself in the mirror it, chooses the option to look the other way.

Food for thought: Throwing things on people and destroying their clothing that they worked hard for doesn’t help make your case… it pisses people off. Wouldn’t the horses run faster if they didn’t have someone on their backs? Why do they call things inhumane when it involves animals? Do we only like dogs more than humans because they don’t tell us where to get off?  On Fox News Tucker Carlson said “Vick…should have been executed, for killing dogs”.  Do you think Mr. Carlson would have said that if Michael Vick were white? If I were Vick I would get a big contract and then begin the slow road to retirement.

Think for yourself.

Kanye West recently released his new video “Power” from his album ‘Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Some have called it a Video, others have called it Art, at 90 seconds long many are saying that they are waiting on the rest of it. In this video you see a huge gold chain, naked women, violence acts and various vices, but does it push boundaries, does it raise the bar, is the video sexist; as some have suggested. As always the public will search for meaning in the Marco Brambilla produced “Power”.  In this new video, or portrait if you will, Kanye is portrayed as “Damocles”, as the legendary sword hangs above is head.  The video is scattered with ancient and modern day visual representations of the many perils that come with Power. Filled with sharp light and dark visual contrast all the way down the the white and black individuals wielding swords to strike each other down. To fully understand this video, we need to take a look at Kanye West the artist. I didn’t call him a rapper, I said the Artist, but more on that later.

I was just wondering if the MTV staff and security didn’t see Kanye wandering around below the stage before hand

While we are on Mr. West, does anyone still care if Kanye took a mic from Taylor Swift? Especially since she is really not a country artist add to that the fact that MTV was trying to steal the country youth audience by giving her a “throw away” award, (MTV also threw away and award in 2011 to Tyler the Creator, likely due to Kanye not wanting his ex-girlfriend’s (Amber Rose) husband (Wiz Khalifa) to be on stage) Kanye the artist called MTV on the throw away award. President Barack Obama, rightly called Kanye a “jackass” for his actions that night. But then again the President went to an elementary school and told the youth there that they can’t all be the next Lil Wayne…Lil Wayne.  At a Hurricane Katrina telethon, Kanye West said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, while it is hard to argue with him on that, but he said it so matter-of-factly, so openly and in front of so many people that his comments from that night still haunt President George W. Bush. Kanye’s words haunted ex-President George W. Bush so much that in his memior “Decision Points” that moment is listed as the lowest of his presidency? Not the Hurricane Katrina response, not 9/11, not the Mission Accomplished statement, not the Vice President’s heart attack, not illegal wire taps, or a mis-guided wars, but Kanye West saying that you don’t care about Black People was your lowest point. When asked about Kanye West’s comments that night the ex-president said “I didn’t appreciate it then, I don’t appreciate it now.”  This is a testament to the power and affect that entertainers could have and use but so very often don’t. In a 4-year period Kanye effectively tied himself to two Presidents and a rising young country star, without rhyming a single lyric.

Factions from all sides have taken swipes at Kanye West ever since he released his debut album “The College Dropout” in 2004.  The Hip Hop community poked fun at Kanye’s “808 & Heartbreak” album. An album which was dedicated to emotions and the heat break of love, but isn’t that what music, dare I say Hip Hop needs? A black man rapping about power shows how hip hop is evolving. Kanye’s power breaks down the paradox of those in the industry that say he can only talk about the hood, what it’s like to be in jail and, what it’s like to get free government cheese.  Kanye isn’t supposed to be rapping about power and he definitely isn’t supposed to be sophisticated enough to use images of Renaissance artwork  to get his point across.

Was posing on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a crown of thorns a bad idea?

Only if you don’t remember it.

Kanye has even went so far as to suggest that his race is a major factor in why he gets a lot of media flak and is overlooked for some awards, in the words of Kanye “Give a black man a chance…Maybe my skin’s not right”. Does Kanye say things that you don’t agree with? Does he speak ingrandiose term of himself? Does he really need to say “Black”, or “I’ve got the” in order for us to see and hear it?

Hip Hop today is not focused on the Art, but the production. So much so that even the average listener is conditioned to only be concerned with catchy phrases and the formulaic dance-ability of a song. Corporations are riding the music gravy train and squeezing every drop of money out of each stop. Does anyone care that Pop singers can’t sing, or that R & B has become a soulless mosh pit of rap and pop or that Hip Hop is often little more than bad lyrics and violent rhymes? There is no doubt that corporations are pushing explicit wording, overt sexuality and trying to front the genre with White Acceptable rappers. The fact is that Hip Hop has permeated our American lives. Politicians try to relate to our youth by rhyming lines, brushing imaginary dirt off their shoulders or by throwing out a rappers name. Does controversy sell? Does sex sell? They sure do, and when the media trots out people to point fingers at they sell even more.

What do you think?

Kanye’s  lack of humility is the main reason people will always find a reason to not like him, but people also do not like his politics, race or  his grammar, yet he does seem to enjoy his share of critics. When “Dark Twisted Fantasy” was released, many that live on the music industry’s outskirts mistakenly called it a comeback. Even the most respected critics quickly deride the intellectual, or message filled rap, while at time they same time speak in glowing terms of rappers with Dr. Seuss lyrics, or an imaginary violent acumen reminiscent of Al Capone. At the same time radio and television browbeat the populace with this subpar music until they like it. Unknown to many is that the best music every created will never be heard, except for a few select people.

By incorporating spoken word poetry and narration, rappers have made their products more accessible to “the mainstream”. Some rappers have adapted by embedding knowledge into their bars, a few have extended that to their videos. Here is where Kanye West comes into play, he has now branched off into Fine Art. How many times have you or your child went to a museum to appreciate the art? Art is not just sculpture, dance, music and paintings, it also includes wood and metal shop, and he cut that from schools too. Aside from questioning the subversive qualities of power, celebrity, sexuality decadence; what Kanye does is bring the Art to you on your television, powered by images and bass lines.

Jay Z did it in his  video “On to the Next One“, but he did that more so to make fun of the pettiness of people.

Lady GaGa tried it, albeit it in a less artistic fashion with “Telephone“, but that was only to spark controversy and solidify her brand.

These entertainers are creating their own kind of power

Showing that he is a true hip hop student, Kanye’s song nods to Snap’s 1990 hit “The Power”. The hook may not be quite as catchy as “I’ve got the power”, but Kanye’s “Power” shows the power, hope and promise of Hip Hop, especially when you study your craft. The song “Power”, aside from powerful social commentary, is addressed to his many haters. Everyone should seriously take the time and really listen to his lyrics in “Power”, especially the remix. In the remix Kanye West raps in Arabic, I wonder if 20% of Americans will believe that he is a Muslim, like they do President Barack Obama.  You can love Kanye’s vocal samples and instruments or not, he has been a lightening rod for the media and consumers alike and now he is trying to spark an interest in Art, how dare he. So while you are watching Kanye West, recognize that he is so out of touch that he is and has been trying to touch each one of us. There are many followers, and those that play them for that. There are people who will say or do something just because someone else did it, and there is a growing market for that too. Maybe this type of thinking can be traced back to early childhood Art Education, I’m just sayin’.

There will still be those that think that Kanye is ignorant. However, I beg to differ, Kanye seems to know the power of Art. He is aware of the boost in creativity, the focused concentration, the increased eye-hand coordination, the sense of completion you get from it. He also knows that Art promotes thinking outside of the box because that is exactly where he is.

One Name, Two Fates

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates is a memoir with a twist. Wes Moore is a young black man who rose from the drug, crime and poverty-stricken streets of Baltimore to attain prestigious academic honors. The twist is that Wes Moore is also a man who killed a Baltimore policeman while robbing a jewelry store. These two men grew up in the same neighborhood, both faced the same life obstacles, but they ended up on very different paths. One a Rhodes Scholar, interning for Condoleezza Rice, the other was behind bars for the rest of his life. It is the name of the latter individual that drove the author to reach out to him, to attempt to understand how they ended up in very different places.

Set in Baltimore we are given two boys with similar backgrounds and choices. The two Wes’ lived in the same neighborhood, both were raised by single mothers and both had early age brushes with law enforcement. The author believes that he is showing us a paralleling of lives by saying that what happened to the Other Wes Moore could have happened to him, this is not the case but it is interesting. “The Other Wes Moore” is a beautifully written narrative study on the effects of class and that alone makes it unique. Two black youths, who live in the same neighborhood, but in different classes.

The twist is more like a literary hook so-to-speak. Wes Moore’s mother was raised by college educated parents and she would have been a college graduate had it not been for forces beyond her control; his father was no slouch either although he dies early on. When Wes get too rambunctious she had the means to put him into military school. The Other Wes’ life was plagued with poverty and violence inside and outside his home, one day his father just takes off.  As a result of this familial disengagement he ends up having children by multiple women and selling drugs. Here, there is much to be said about “active parenting”.

The story is good, but I was quite disturbed and sadden that two hospitals allowed Race to place a major role in the deaths of two of the story’s characters.  Included in the book is a short ‘call to action’ by Tavis Smiley which will also, like the book, miss its intend mark. “The Other Wes Moore” will not reach the people who need to read it the most. This book is not filled with glorified violent acts, broad shouldered men, barely dressed married-single women, crime lords or thugs trying to get their paper. This book is not a copy of another book with changed names and places. No, it does not remain in the ghetto universe.

Throughout the book the Wes’ dialogue and we are exposed to the realest grit that life has to offer. We see the effects of not having positive mentors urban communities. We see the possibilities. We see the hope, but we also see the hopelessness. As the book ends we are left with these questions:  It is The Other Wes Moore’s fault that he was born into a lower class family? Was it his fault that he became a street urchin? Was it his mothers? His fathers? Or is it just easier to blame them instead the struggle in our society between, The haves and The have nots, The wants and The want mores?

Often these type of narratives make race or racism the deciding factor, “the man was holding me down” or “the opportunities were not there”, this is not so with Wes Moore’s book. These two children lived in the same neighborhood, shared the same obstacles and were divided only by Class. Class and it’s socioeconomic effects are subjects that very few want to discuss. Classism exist in every community, including the black ones. Wes Moore really didn’t need the hook, but I completely understand. And, he never really answers the question, How did this happen? In truth, he doesn’t need to because he knows that the answer is his upbringing. The book does not come across as arrogant, nor pretentious and I hope that this book will open discussions on the class warfare that is prevalent in our society. “The Other Wes Moore”  is less of a textbook for school and more of a textbook for life, so I am including a link to the author’s website, where there are resources for those that want to make a difference in their community, Wes Moore.

Wes Moore forces us to look at an overlooked, much maligned, under represented segment of our population, our children. They are ten percent of our population, but one hundred percent of our future. While adults spend countless hours with electronic doohickeys and bicker over race, politics and other created nonsense a child somewhere needs help with their homework, and another one needs to be told to put down the video game and pick up a book. What “The Other Wes Moore” points out more than anything else is that a child’s life course could be altered by acts as simple as that.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates  is an amazing book and I can’t stress it enough. The way this book is written is worth the read alone. The author’s style is simply beautiful. “The Other Wes Moore” makes you smile, and does much to restore some of the promise that modern literature has lost.

4.5 out of 5

‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’, is the sequel to Tyler Perry’s 2007 movie “Why Did I Get Married”. As many of my readers my know I try not to review Tyler Perry’s films because I have previously been compared to him, in some regard, and most of my reviews, while honest  have not been flattering.  The formula here is the same, couples bickering, exploiting emotions, and all of the marriage challenged have moral, ethical and relationship issues that usually get resolved by the time the movie is over and always with one character who is so horribly flawed that they are beyond redemption.

Honestly, Why Did I Get Married (2007) is when I thought that Tyler Perry had finally shown growth as a director, so I wanted to see this movie. The sequel’s story, though predictable, moves better than most of his films and the subject matter is still shallow. His films have marginally gotten better, but here we are almost 10 movies in and still Tyler Perry refuses to enlist real help with his film making.

This film picks up three years after the first movie, the four couples have moved on with their lives and are now taking their annual vacation. The location this time? The beautiful Bahamas. The couples all seen to be doing fine. Therapist Patricia (Janet Jackson) and her husband Gavin (Malik Yoba) have the perfect marriage and are moving on after the tragic death of their baby boy Noah. The workaholic Dianne (Sharon Leal) and her husband Terry (Tyler Perry) now have a little boy after Dianne had surgery to reverse the tubal ligation. Troy (Lamman Rucker) and Sheila (Jill Scott) are newlyweds and have moved from Colorado to Atlanta and have a little boy. Troy’s inability to land a job has put stress on the couple a matter which is complicated when Sheila’s ex-husband Mike (Richard T Jones) crashes their vacation. The ever mouthy Angela (Tasha Smith) and Marcus (Michael Jai White) are dealing with infidelity issues.

‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’ shows each of these couples attempting to portray that they have happy marriages, but before the vacation is over as we find out that real trouble is brewing. When the couples return home is where the couples face their problems head on.  Janet Jackson gives a nod to Tiger Woods in some very dramatic scenes. This film is where Janet turns in what I think is her best performance as an actress, sadly their isn’t much to see here. Now before you start thinking “he’s hating”, let me finish.

To say that this movie is cliché  and over the top are understatements, but what did you expect?  Sometimes the dialogue falls flat and the characters feel like they are on a stage instead of a beautiful island. There are several moments in this movie that will tug at your heart strings and tickle your funny bone. This is a film about relationships, love lost and found. Mr. Perry has continually assaulted my film experience since his arrival, and this movie is not totally good news for those waiting for the recently announced film “For Colored Girls”.  I said all of that to say that there is something about seeing the screen full of black actors and actresses that is refreshing… liberating even. There is something special about black people not being afraid of being black. This fact is something my fellow film critics will never get. Yes the Tyler Perry brand is formulaic and there are many things that can be said about his directing, writing  and acting. However, there is one word I have never heard someone say in regard to Tyler Perry, and that word is “Fearless”. And fearless is exactly what Tyler Perry is.  That is what ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’ fully shows.  Fearless is what Mo’Nique showed by acting in Precious. Fearless is what Lee Daniels showed for directing that movie. They are all unafraid. So in that regard Tyler Perry thank you.

This movie gets a 7 out of 10 and that’s my Film Word.

This film is in theaters.

Today one of the biggest publishing markets is Urban Literature. However, Street Lit has come under fire from many angles. With urban novels being turned into Oscar nominated movies such as Precious, this is as good of a time as any to ask what is the state of Black Literature? There are those that say that Street Literature has no real value to Black Literature as a whole, and that it is equivalent to gangster rap’s relation to the larger genre of Hip-Hop. Then there are people who swear by Urban Literature, as they claim that is type of literary fair is the only kind they will consume. Surprising the people who swear by Ghetto Literature the most are middle class black women.  Many Black authors are  relegated to an existence of selling books out their car trunks at every stop, while their white counterparts enjoy the heights of respected best seller lists.  Thousands of black authors have to ‘grind’, and or’ hustle’, while their counterparts have no concept of those two words. Is it the literature that is the problem, or is it those who are writing the literature?

Before I became an author I knew that urban literature had a credibility issue, I just didn’t know how deep that issue really was. I won’t go into how many authors have four or five books, but still don’t know how to use a simile, yet and still street literature dominates the market. With so many titles selling like hot cakes and its proponents saying ‘I’ve sold X amount of books” , “people are buying it’. So why would anyone think that there is a problem with black literature? I have heard statements similar to these being uttered by crack dealers of the 80s, as  justification as to why they sold drugs.  At a book event I overheard an author say “I am an Essence bestseller”, followed by the publisher snickering, is that respect?  This is not to say that there are not some wonderfully well written positive African American books out there. There are many stories of black success and black triumph, but are black people reading those books? “Any story celebrating the beauty and strength of black family life, the power of education, and the desire to succeed in the workplace and in business is now out of fashion.” wrote Juan William in his article titled “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature”.

Since “Urban Lit” began as an often overlooked subdivision of the Blaxploitation era, over 40 years ago. The Film genre was considered exploitative because they took place in the ghetto, played up stereotypes and were mostly written by whites. Today Urban Literature contains many element that were present in its now defunct film counterparts the only difference, no is that blacks are at the helm of these projects. The main argument for this type of literature is that it attracts new readers. It has also been said that Ghetto Lit provides escapism, but for many blacks this type of escapism can be had by not opening a book, but a door. After reading a novel filled with busty women and thugs, overflowing with misogyny, depicting female characters as “dime pieces” or “trophies”, novels that proudly display real gritty scenes of  infidelity, criminal activities and murder that go unpunished or they are glorified, one would have to wonder if Marva Allen owner of Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem was right when she said, “It’s not literature it’s fiction… they offer no literary advantages.” Or is there something more to this “Box” that these Black ‘Harlequins’ have put black literature in? Maybe it has something to do with where you find these books in the bookstore. I have never seen the White Literature section, though I have seen American Literature sections devoid of black authors, except for one dimensional books like Steve Harvey’s “Straight Talk, No Chaser” and sport stories of course. Is a book made urban by the skin color of its characters, the skin color of the author, or its content?

In the New York Times article “Their Eyes Were Reading Smut”, Nick Chiles said ,“On shelf after shelf, in bookcase after bookcase, all that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life. I felt as if I was walking into a pornography shop, except in this case the smut is being produced by and for my people, and it is called literature.” Is Nick Chiles right? Maybe the problem is in the definition, What is literature? If you solely define it as it as publication of printed material then there is no issue, but historically literature has meant much more than that. Rebecca West once said, “Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity.” Apparently many disagree, noting that literature can mean many things to many people Nick Chiles mused, “That leaves me wondering where we – writers, publishers, readers and the black community – go from here. Is street fiction some passing fad, or does it represent our future? It’s depressing that this noble profession, one that I aspired to as a child from the moment I first cracked open James Baldwin and Gabriel García Márquez about 30 years ago, has been reduced by the greed of the publishing industry and the ways of the American marketplace to a tasteless collection of pornography.” I do not believe that these articles, bloggers, or reviewers are trying to ‘hate’ on anyone, or ‘knock’ someone’s hustle and neither am I for that matter, but these are legitimate questions, what is black literature? Where do we go from here? Is Black Literature viewed as nothing more than a collection coming of age Pre and Post Prison tales? “A lot of people complain that most of the Urban Lit books are the same three or four stories with different titles, character names and locations . And that many of the authors have the same felonious background story in their bios. I have been to high profile author meetings where terms like “This is Crip Shit” and “Am a Blood” were tossed around with hand signs. It was comical and something I will most likely write about later, but I digress. “Urban List is just like Hip-Hop nowadays” Was Joey Pinkey correct in his widely viewed article, ‘Urban Lit is Dead? ‘

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire It's going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire
It’s going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

As an author I feel all of these sentiment, but I also believe that urban literature, like hip hop, is not dead and that the problem, with both forms of entertainment, lies in where you get it from. Many people have asked the question I have posed in the title, but there have been no definitive answers. Perhaps this literary dust-up is equivalent to the one going in among our “Black Leaders”, see Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley.  Perhaps this was summed up in an  article titled ‘The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament)’, “this new millennium of emerging writers and novelists are still struggling to find a place in contemporary literary circles.” For the sake of argument let’s say that the critics in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the blogs are all wrong, or at least mistaken. Let’s say books like mine and The Other Wes Moore are not “really Urban Lit. Let’s say that when you tell a publisher that you are an Essence Best Seller that they do not snicker, not even privately. Let’s say that the media gives black authors the same amount of press and credibility they do their white contemporaries. Let’s say that urban literature isn’t as watered down as hip hop. And let’s say that big publishing houses market African American works as they would the works of others. Does an author not want the respect of their peers? As a people we have always been told to wait for things, that everything takes time, this is what was said decade ago about urban literature. When street literature was young, we heard “it is just starting out, give it some time.” It is now 2011, so the question is has anything changed? Hopefully the documentary “Behind Those Books” answers some much needed questions, regarding the genre future.

Maybe, but now the question  is one of Credibility, but a question for who? Is it a question for The Relentless Aaron’s, Larry Wilson Jr’s, Vickie Stringer’s, and Zane’s of the literary world? Or is our new direction for the Aisha Ford’s, Eric Jerome Dickey’s, and Terry A. O’Neal’s to forge? Or do we follow the examples of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Phyllis Wheatley, and others? Chances are that those in Ghetto/Street/Urban/African American Literature wont stand up, but the hope is that they will coalesce around something more important than shelf space, money, the thrill of the hustle or fame. Maybe Black literature reader see more of themselves in Rachetville and Grimy than they see of themselves in the future, which is why they haven’t fully embraced black sci-fiction because of how omitted we see ourselves in the future. Unfortunately, like many forms of entertainment, it is all we got.

Perhaps the discussion can best be summed up by what Mo’Nique said when accepting The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious, “Sometimes you have to forgo doing what is popular, in order to do what’s right.”

The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament) http://blogginginblack.com/?p=1076 Urban Lit is DEAD http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/articles/editorials/urbanlitisdead.php “Their eyes were looking at smut” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/04/opinion/04chiles.html “A critical look at Street Lit” http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/interviews/nick-chiles.php “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703740004574514260044271666.html