Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dear Kendrick Lamar (re: 'good kid, m.A.A.d city')

40s next to the baby bottle. It's no question where you are.
I've said it time and time again, but dey don't hurr me doe: The best hip-hop albums are portraits of the time, place, and mindset of the artist behind them. They draw from experiences seen and told to the artists, incorporate the sonic memory of what that artist is experiencing, and draw the listener into a world viewed through the artists' eyes.

Nature versus nurture; it's the oldest conflict in the book of human development and interaction. Is one a product of their environment, or do the sum of those products make the environment? After listening to your debut, Kendrick Lamar, I'm convinced there needs to be an urban studies symposium or class or certificate program regarding it. Holding true to its name good kid, m.A.A.d city, is a portrait of the battle between nature and nurture: a black child whose inborn 'goodness' is chipped away at by his gritty urban surroundings.

The good kid you portray is clearly a smart one, as evidenced by his constant introspection. One of the first things I noticed in the story is the push and pull relationship that comes with groupthink. You muse, "Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it / That's ironic 'cause I never been violent, until I'm with the homies." Throughout GKMC, you grapple with your own decision-making because though you're capable of making informed decisions, frequently decisions are made for you. Whether out of circumstance, laziness, or influence of drugs or alcohol, you more often than not seemed to be carried away with a wave of bad intentions. Even in trying to develop a mature relationship with a young lady it is obvious your appetite for sex will ultimately trump your desire for emotional comfort and security:
A fatal attraction is common, and what we have common is pain / I mean you need to hear this / Love is not just a verb and I can see power steering / Sex drive when you swerve, I want that interference / It's coherent, I can hear it... mmhmm, that's your heartbeat / It either caught me or it called me, mmhmm
Kendrick, listening to GKMC is like watching Spider-Man fall victim to the Venom symbiote. You know that the anger that fuels the symbiote will make Spider-Man stronger, but that same symbiote will kill all pure ambitions within him. It's a tough album to critique with a moral compass because the listener can interpret your descent into that m.A.A.d city ambiguously.

Speaking of ambiguity, there's another prevalent theme in this album. While you grapple with acquiescing to your nature or nurture, the ever-reaching grey area between right and wrong rears its confusing head in almost every song on GKMC. You debate whether it is better to be predator or prey in such a vicious jungle, saying "Everybody gon' respect the shooter, but the one in front of the gun lives forever." Neither is an enviable position to be in, dying a hero or living as a villain. You recant on your past trespasses, too, wondering if your present good deeds and intelligence can erase that past on 'M.A.A.D. City':
If I told you I killed a nigga at 16, would you believe me? / Or see me to be innocent Kendrick that you seen in the street / With a basketball and some Now & Laters to eat / If I'm mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat? / Would you say my intelligence now is great relief? And it's safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep / With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor / Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul de sac hostage
That imagery is ridiculous, especially in light of the rash of violence in Chicago or the Trayvon Martin killing. No matter the littered past of a teenager, who is to say that the same teen couldn't end up curing the world of epilepsy or become President? Aspirations, regardless of how attainable, seem to all be misguided in your world though, Kendrick.

The title tracks of the album, expertly placed in the middle, give way to the vices in the second half of the album. 'Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst' that shows the true ill of your story: thirst. Thirst for love, thirst for fulfillment, thirst for money, and thirst for direction lead you and your compatriots astray so many times, that the prayers of an old woman couldn't possibly sway you. You can't help but quench it in 'Swimming Pools', because the holy water the woman speaks of isn't feasible in the way you would want it to be. As a good kid in that environment, the visuals of drugs, sex, violence, and crime are much more influential than that of a God whose presence you can't see. The city pulls your gaze in so many directions that it's impossible to tell what deserves attention and what is real. 'Real' details that conflict, making light of the choir of voices begging for your ear:
But what love got to do with it when I don't love myself / To the point I should hate everything I do love / Should I hate living my life inside the club / Should I hate her for watching me for that reason / Should I hate him for telling me that I'm season / Should I hate them for telling me ball out / Should I hate street credibility I'm talkin' about / Hatin' all money, power, respect in my will / I'm hatin' the fact that none of that shit make me real
Fame is a bitter medicine by your tastes, Kendrick. As a good kid from a m.A.A.d city, you're happy to have gotten yourself away from the chaos of that city, yet clubs, credibility, influence and fame aren't necessarily the antithesis to your rough upbringing. They seem more like a different part of the city, rather than an entirely different city. Maybe that's the answer to the nature versus nurture question. You can take the good kid out of that m.A.A.d city, but it's impossible to take the memory of that m.A.A.d city out of the good kid.

No matter how far you get away from that city, Kendrick, its ills, its vices, and its pitfalls all served to make you the man you are today. You're not ashamed of your city. Kendrick Lamar is a product of Compton. It was so fitting to end the album with a track titled after your hometown, featuring Dr. Dre nonetheless. Just Blaze-produced, it was a horn-laced yet hard-bodied anthem showing the bravado of a bastion of West Coast hip-hop. Though you deride the bad, you know your city is full of good kids like yourself. You would rather show off your city for what it is, 'responsible for taking Compton International', than continue to languish in hatred for the madness that it engenders. It's like I said: your album is a portrait of Compton and your experiences in that city during your formative years. You rose above that m.A.A.d city to show that you can be a product from your environment without being a product of your environment.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who Gives a (What) About NYC Rap?

An era that I'll always love, but NYC rap can't live on its history anymore. Hip-hop is global.

QUICK!!!! What’s the last classic rap album from an New York City rapper? Chances are, you couldn’t even name one. That’s because the last one came out in 2003. 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, holds true to the formula that binds all classic rap albums. They are all snapshots of the time and locale at which they are recorded and released. Nas’ Illmatic does that for Queensbridge from 1992 to 1994, Biggie’s Ready to Die for Bed-Stuy in 1992 and Big L’s Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous does that for Harlem in 1995.

Who gives a f*ck about NYC rap? That’s right... I said it. The New York City rappers who carry the torch at the moment suck. Most of them are older than 30, former gangsta rappers now flaunting their wealth while waxing philosophical about their decades-old exploits. Think about it. Biggie, Pun, Stack Bundles and Big L are dead. Jay-Z is worldwide, and could give a Memphis Bleek about Brooklyn aside from the Barclay’s Center. Fabolous? He’s on Love and Hip-Hop, not pushing work in the Brevoort Houses. The Diplomats? Jim Jones is right there with Fab, Cam’ron is somewhere trying to find another protege to screw, and Juelz can’t feel a beat, much less feel his face. 50 Cent tried becoming an actor, tried becoming Floyd Mayweather’s best friend, is supposedly a Street King, and has gone from the ‘Next Big Thing’ to a sideshow. The LOX are too busy rapping about the same thing they’ve been rapping about for the past 15 years. While something can be said for steadfastness by some of these guys, Lil Wayne’s insult to New York was spot on if you’re referring to rap. Seriously, who gives a flying shit about NYC rappers? None of those guys I mentioned are selling or making classics. Nas’ latest offering, while incredibly sound and one of the better rap albums in years, won’t be breaking Soundscan records, much less working its way into the iTunes of anyone younger than 18.

No, NYC rap is far beyond the flash and bang of yesteryear. It’s 2012. Rap has already transcended what it was originally intended to convey. Block parties have been replaced by full stadiums. Boom-bap instrumentals have given way to Fruity Loops, dubstep beats, and complex orchestral arrangements. ‘Struggle music,’ while endearing at the lower rungs of the rap game, has a hard time catching on once you’ve stopped being ‘the next big thing'. Guns, selling drugs, and the like aren’t the reality that hip-hop can display anymore, especially now that the genre extends WAY past inner-city streets. One read of Steve Stoute’s The Tanning of America was enough to know that rap’s growth makes it a much more inclusive genre, and New York City isn’t immune from that expansion.

New York is a ridiculous amalgamation of culture. That’s what makes it special. Rap was a portrait of one of those cultures, but as rap has grown, I don’t think New York’s lyricists necessarily grew at the same rate. That’s why most rap bores me nowadays. Most doesn’t veer from the tried and true, no matter how silly and repetitive it gets. I’m tired of NYC rappers who all try to harken back to the days of Biggie and evoke the spirit of Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt. It’s 2012. Those days are over. NYC rap has to evolve. It has to encompass not only the poverty that many of its denizens encounter, but also the different cultures that they experience.

Acts like Action Bronson, the A$AP Mob, Phony Ppl, the Flatbush Zombies, Das Racist, Mr. Muthafuckin exQuire, Danny Brown, Kid Daytona and Joey Bada$$, to name a few, all have the talent to break through. But it’s their handle on the ‘New’ New York that gives them a leg up as we enter this next decade of hip-hop lore. From 1979 to 1982, rap was confined to New York City, having no outside influences to draw from, no external critics to detract from its greatness, and no flag bearers other than what the city itself crowned. Through hip-hop’s global growth, NYC rap has become a genre within a genre, a microcosm of hip-hop as a whole, complete with a history and a historical sound. The city’s rap scene can’t get by on it’s history. There has to be progression, not only in the culture, but in the sound. No amount of boom-bap nostalgia can make up for ten years of inaction, and no NYC rapper can refute any of these statements, no matter how much money or ‘acclaim’ they’ve acquired.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obama-Romney is the new Kennedy-Nixon

The American political headlights are fixed on the Presidential debates. October 3rd, 16th and 22nd mark the candidates’ final opportunities to influence the mercurial American electorate. Polls give neither candidate significant advantage. It makes sense to look to history as a barometer of the outcome. Only one election comes close to Obama-Romney in terms of precursors, divisions, and implications: 1960’s Kennedy-Nixon election.

Even with a 42-year time difference, the analogies between the elections are uncanny. Both come on the heels of economic downturns featuring long-fought wars as backdrops. The key similarity, though, is the clash of cultures that the candidates from both elections depict. Romney and Nixon are two older liberal-leaning Republicans with shakily wavering stances. Both considered awkward and disingenuous unless calculated, they draw support from a fervent, ideologically-rigid base. On the other hand, the younger Kennedy and Obama appeal to the progressive-minded and minorities, are gifted orators, air toward populism, and are the ‘rock stars’ of their respective campaigns.

Implication-wise, both elections are at historic social junctures in America. 1960 came at the precipice of counterculture becoming mainstream, while 2012 underscores a divisive tension between the rich and poor. 2012’s debates will undoubtedly be the fulcrum of the election. Americans will see Romney, like Nixon, in the wild, and Barack Obama, like Kennedy, taking on a fierce ideological adversary. If history holds true, Obama’s calm, Kennedy-like demeanor should outshine Romney’s shifty, deliberate Nixon-esque approach. Though the times, they continue a’changin’, 2012’s significance emulates that of 1960 effortlessly.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On Dwight Howard, Leverage, and Oversized Egos

Only a self-serving, undeservedly decorated player would pull something like this...

Quick! Name the 5 biggest superstars in the NBA right now. My guess is most people shouted LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, D-Wade, and one out of Dirk, Carmelo, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul or some other max-contract player. Dwight Howard shouldn't be anywhere near the top. There's nothing game-changing, enigmatic, or incredible about him or his game, to me at least. DH12 aka Superman Bizarro has been deemed the best at a position that has three or four other legitimate candidates, which is absurd! One look at Howard's statistics shows how little he contributes exceptionally other than shot-blocking and rebounding. Peep a comparison of these three big mens' stats:

Big Man A: 26.0 PPG - 13.3 RPG - 2.0 APG - 0.9 SPG - 0.5 BPG - 45% FG - 82% FT - 2.3 TO
Big Man B: 20.6 PPG - 14.5 RPG - 1.9 APG - 1.5 SPG - 2.1 BPG - 57% FG - 49% FT - 3.2 TO 

Big Man C: 18.1 PPG - 11.0 RPG - 1.6 APG - 1.5 SPG - 1.2 BPG - 45% FG - 70% FT - 2.7 TO

Big Man C will surprise you, being DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. Big Man A, with his great PPG average and comparable rebounding is my favorite big man, Kevin Love. Big Man B is the underwhelming Dwight Howard. Age is what makes these stats so shocking. Dwight Howard is 26, having played eight seasons, mostly under the tutelage of Stan van Gundy. Love is 23 with four seasons under his belt. DeMarcus Cousins will start his third season next year, at the ripe age of 21. That the stats of the three are comparable is laughable on Howard's part. For someone who dubbed himself Superman, he shows none of the finesse, skill, or poise that the original, Shaquille O'Neal, possessed at his age. Howard's one NBA Finals appearance, mostly a result of great shooting from Hedo Turkoglu, a sad Cavaliers opponent in the East Finals, and a vacuum at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, showed Howard languishing with 15.4 PPG. Your 'franchise center' shouldn't be the third option on the team in big games, and too many times Howard disappears during crunch time.

The reason I bring up Howard's middling performance is for a discussion on leverage. Howard earned his levergage mostly by winning a Slam Dunk contest, which if it was the barometer for NBA success, would have players like Fred Jones, Demond Mason, Harold Miner, and Nate Robinson earning max contracts. His unnecessarily brash chokehold on the Magic franchise is detestable, mainly because the fact that he can't be moved is his own fault. Howard defied normal, traditional, and pragmatic logic by signing a one-year extension to stay in Orlando, after a year of trade rumors, throwing team members under the bus, and inconsistent play. Had he not signed the extension, he would have been a free agent on July 1st, able to sign with whichever team was dumb enough to drop $100 million on him, most likely the New Jersey Brooklyn Nets. Why he didn't just stay pat and wait is beyond me. If anything, he lost leverage because the extension he signed made him less attractive in terms of trade value. No team wants a player that doesn't want to play for them, and is constantly auditioning for their next contract, much less one that can only rebound, block shots, and dunk.

Now, if rebounding, shot-blocking, and the occasional highlight play are considered leverage to Dwight, then what does that say about him? All I can point to is an oversized ego. Howard has yet to improve his game to the 'superstar' level most people peg him at. With Patrick Ewing on his bench for every year of his career, he hasn't developed as much as an inkling of elite footwork, a jump shot, or consistent post-up game. How is it possible that he didn't pick up anything from one of the most skilled big men of all time? Howard is useless outside of the paint area. Add to that his abysmal free throw percentage, and you have a $20 million per year dud. Not once have I seen Bizarro dominate a game offensively. Never has he demanded the ball in the paint. He is just a physical freak, always surrounded by shooters, allowed to roam the paint mindlessly in search of putback dunks and easy buckets inside ten feet of the bucket. Ego is the reason for it. Howard saunters about the court and sidelines like a player who has mastered his craft, which couldn't be further from the truth. Had he any ounce of modesty or humility, Dwight would be embarrassed with how bad of an offensive player he is in lieu of his physical gifts. 

That he's gotten this amount of leverage with such a limited skill set is a miracle. Yet even with all of the leverage Howard has, he most likely won't end up in Brooklyn because of his debilitating salary and the fact that the Magic aren't dumb enough to trade him for peppercorns. One thing that usually comes standard with an oversized ego is a big mouth, which DH12 is known for. If it's not situations like the above infamous press conference with Stan van Gundy, it's his penchant for changing his mind more than a preteen girl with a walk-in closet. It's as if he's trying to make himself hard to deal with. If I'm an NBA general manager, I'd have to ask myself whether his spotty play and toxic attitude are even worth the 20 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks he provides. Don't get me wrong... the guy's got otherworldly athleticism and potential (whatever 'potential' means these days). But for all of the trouble, you could find two or three players that do all that with fewer headaches. For all Dwight brings to the table, haven't his weaknesses, ego, and push for leverage taken that much more off the table? It's like having a delicious steak dinner, but no table, plates or silverware to eat it with. Howard is, quite honestly, the NBA's most flawed player. He needs a serious reality check, and a new nickname to clear his name in my book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

On Frank Ocean, and Why 'Gay' Shouldn't Even Matter Anymore

I know I wasn't the only near-sighted person to almost have a seizure trying to read this.

BBQ's aren't my really forte. You can invite me to a barbecue, though. I might go. But most likely I'll think about going, and either go hang out with my closest friends or bury myself in books and reruns of Chopped. It's not that I don't enjoy the prospect of grilling food with family, friends, and an assortment of complete strangers. It's that small talk gets boring. 'Where are you working?' 'How's your mom?' 'Are you going back to school?' 'How about those Yankees?' 'You see what Mitt Romney did last week?' 'What was Evelyn thinking on last week's episode?' There are always some topics that get breached constantly in loose small talk.

This Independence Day, among the hordes of hamburger-fancying twenty-somethings, the subject at hand was Frank Ocean's heartfelt message to accompany his upcoming album Channel Orange. There were toasts to Frank's liberation, to his prowess as an artist, and to the open-mindedness of Odd Future for accepting his status. Frank Ocean was the man of the hour everywhere without being anywhere.

For a loose interpreter wary of Frank's (in addition to OF as a whole) knack for picking archaic language and rosy prose over strict meaning, such as myself, I found everyone taking Frank's letter as a coming out with mixed feelings. Nowhere in the letter did the OF crooner say the word gay, bisexual, or anything related to sexual orientation. He just said he loved a man. I think in this day and age, no thanks to Anderson Cooper, everyone is jumping to find a revolutionary idol of sorts: someone who, for them, can represent everything positive about a marginalized group and serve of a bastion of the group's accomplishment within the greater majority. The letter gave hope and shouting rights to fighters of sexual liberty. That it happened on Independence Day only served to amplify the fact that a post-sexual society is on the horizon, but not here yet.

One of the things I ponder a lot is whether we're even really in a post-racial society. Yeah, my President is black and my Lambo is blue. But since the man's taken office, there's been more working against him than for him. Birthers, Tea Partiers, Mitt Romney, and Bible Belters will say that nothing about their hatred for Barry O has to do with race, but the undercurrent is too great to ignore. I think as long as the construct of race still exists in that it can be used as a basis for anything other than physical identification, we're not in a post-racial society. In the same way, as long as society keeps mentioning 'gay' or 'straight' or 'bisexual' or 'bath salt users' as a delineation, instead of a trait of the greater person, we're not past sexual preference as an issue.

It's like the old saying, 'It's not what they call you, it's what you answer to.' Frank Ocean's sexuality shouldn't even be an issue. If there wasn't a name for a sexual preference or any stigma attached to it, would it be an issue? In this day and age, where flashes in the pan are the norm, it suffices to say that there'll be another celebrity to come out of the closet and everyone will laud their bravery at barbecues and in between meetings and at happy hours. It will become the small talk of that week, and that person's status will be debated hotly because sexual preference still is a taboo topic. Not in a post-sexual society.

In this post-sexual society I imagine, your spouse will be your spouse, male or female. People won't shudder at two fathers, and there won't be a 'down low'. The words 'transgender' and 'transexual' won't mean anything anymore. Two women utilizing in vitro fertilization will be widely accepted. Post-sexual society will affect more than sexual preference, too. No one will give a damn about abortions, or womb rights, or being pro-life or pro-choice. Just like the M and F you cross out on forms, anything related to sex will become an afterthought. If we don't even mention it, it will cease to be important. It might even become one of those 'don't touch' topics like politics or religion that polite, civilized people scoff at in public (that's another post in and of itself) and hold strong opinions about behind closed doors. Who knows? The only sure thing is that Frank Ocean loved a man. Any person with a father, brother, uncle, cousin, mentor, or friend can say the same. I think that's the first step to sexuality not mattering: letting love be, regardless of who or what the target is. Lord knows we loved Frank Ocean's music before.

Dear Readers

Replace the pencil with my computer, and you have my mind state for the past six months...

Fancy being back, isn't it? The last post published on Dear Whoever was almost six months ago. Since then, a lot of things have changed in my life, some for the better and some for the worse. Regardless, this blog was one of the things that had to suffer. Between job searching, starting projects, ending projects, reviving some relationships and ending others, existential crises, and reading obsessively, I somehow lost that fire to write everyday. It's a sad feeling. People ask you about your blog, and you have to come up with some half-assed answer or tell them you've got 'something in the works' (I actually do have something in the works, but that's another post). You try to lift the pen or type a few words, and everything sounds stupid. You wonder why you even started writing the blog in the first place.

Something changed to make me take this hiatus. I can't quite put my finger on what it was, but recently some small part of me said 'Ev, quit grab-assing and just write whatever your feel like'. I'd realized that the problem wasn't that my writing bug had gone, but that I was trying. Dear Whoever started out as a collection of rants about music, sports, sneaker culture, technology, politics, and whatever else I felt necessary. As the site grew, I found myself adhering to too stringent of a formula for posts. It started to get mechanical. After a while I had trouble coming up with content, because the letter format only lends itself to certain kinds of writing. You can't write a letter for everything, especially analytical letters with the intention of entertaining and informing. To borrow the words of one of my best friends, I turned into a professional hater, rather than an honest critic. My writing suffered because it was stifled and overly angry.

So here we are, readers. Dear Whoever is still alive, albeit a few changes. First, I'm going to be writing less letters. The Dear Whoever moniker will stay, but there'll be a lot more articles/essays/whatever-you-wanna-call-ems. Like I said, the letter format was constricting. Secondly, I won't post every day like when I started. The pressure to throw something up can kill your creativity and make my passion of writing seem too much like a job. Why post something if you know it isn't your best work? Why turn something you love into a chore? If it's no fun or uninteresting for me to write, I can only imagine how much it could've sucked to read.

If there's one thing I hope you have or will learn about me through my writing, it's that I'm a person who thrives when he loves what he's doing. I think that's what threw me off my game more than anything: the love was missing. Whether it took a six-month sabbatical, or I had some growing to do before I could love my writing again is a mystery to me. Either way, it feels good to hit that 'Publish' button again. The circumstances that brought me to this point were no coincidence, and I thank God for bringing me back full circle. That said, readers, I pray you'll support Dear Whoever like you did for the past three years. Aside from writing as an outlet, I write for my words to be read. If this is your first time reading, enjoy. If you're a longtime reader, welcome back. I do this for y'all! It's gonna be a hot summer! You know what it is! ... never mind. Let's get back to the writing...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dear Congress (re: SOPA & PIPA)

For the past two years, you Congress, our legislative body has been embroiled in a myriad of conflicts. From immigration, taxation, education, health care, Barack Obama's birth certificate, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, bin Laden allllll the way down to Barry Bonds lying in court, you have ran the gamut of brutal contention. It seems like every issue on the table is a bitter dispute between the Democrats and Republicans. Are you going to play laissez faire or overregulate? Are you going to kick the can down the road, or simply handle your business now. Are you going to act on principle, logic, and virtue or act like politicians and reneg on your promises start your re-election bid the day after Election Day spend most of your time doing meaningless bidding? You've done nothing but the latter, Congress... Which is why your ever-so-consistent stance on the Internet-killing SOPA and PIPA bills is so confounding for me.

For all of the hoopla last year regarding the debt ceiling, Occupy Wall Street, class warfare and all of those ideologically-rooted political impasses, you would think that something so universal as the Internet wouldn't be privy to your spastic rulings, Congress. When did you all come to such a consensus? What happened to the deep-seeded resentments that keep you all on different ideological planets?

I think I know: lobbyists. If one looks at the supporters of SOPA and PIPA, it's a pretty high-profile list of offenders. The major networks, the RIAA, the MPAA and any organization associated with bringing owners (not producers) of content together, are all united in their big-wig support of SOPA and PIPA. That said, it's easy to see why. They're stuck in 2001, Congress!!! Remember that period when downloading music on Napster or Limewire or Bearshare was a Cardinal Sin? I do. I remember when the music companies shuffled their feet at getting into the online sector because they thought the craze wouldn't last. Fast forward 10 years, and it's happening again: media companies stuck in antiquated ways trying to quell the burning bastion of freedom that is the Internet. And you're aiding them, Congress.

You'd rather stifle than uplift. You'd rather be stringent about 'rules' than look at the meaning behind them, and their ramifications. You'd rather cut the cord than figure out how to make a better one. How lazy is that, Congress? Consider this. If you were to pass the two bills your Internet would:

- be 10x slower depending on what service you had and what sites you're visiting
- be dominated by Facebook, NBC, CBS, ABC, Facebook, FOX, Facebook, and Facebook
- have about tenfold LESS sites
- be unable to stream movies, videos, or music unless expressly consented to by the controlling media conglomerate

In short form, the Internet would be zapped back to 1995, Congress. A few big companies would run everything and the whole idea of 'free market economics' would be null. We might as well have AOL Version 1.0 floppy disks again. If you didn't have the money to fight a SOPA or PIPA claim, your site would be off the 'net before you even knew it!

Congress, by passing these bills, you are essentially giving yourselves free reign to dictate what shouldn't be dictated. You are killing Internet innovation at the root by making it a criminal offense to do anything that remotely infringes on any sort of intellectual property. No idea is original, Congress. Lest I get into the finer aspects of intellectual property, I would say that protecting someone's work is NOT wrong. For every word that I've written on this website to be lifted and purported as someone else's would be unforgivable. At the same time, you have no right to say where personal liberty ends and protecting against piracy begins, especially when you've balked at regulating things that matter, like say, big banks, the military-industrial complex, health insurance companies, or oil conglomerates?

It's as if you want the stop the conversation, Congress. That's not democracy. For all of the talk of corporate personhood and money in politics, this is a shining example. Why listen to the people, when you can line your pockets with money from companies who'd rather protect old ways than innovate new ones? That's what politics is about nowadays, isn't it? SOPA and PIPA are just pixels in the greater picture of your failures as of late. If this is too harsh, then good. Censor me. Stifle free speech and free movement of information, so the whole world can see what 'democracy' is all about. I guarantee you'll be doing more harm than any debt crisis, terrorist threat, or education bubble will.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Condescension, Prognostication & The Educational Gap

He’s right. The spread between rich and poor has gotten wider over the decades. And the opportunities for the 99% have become harder to realize.

The President’s speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.

I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.
*gets in time machine and goes back to 2008*

Oh, snap!!! Obama's the President of the United States!! You know what that means! We live in a post-racial society! Race doesn't exist anymore. A charismatic, smart, half-Kenyan man from Hawaii can ascend to the top of the political world, so that means that every minority should be able to do comparably!

*gets back in time machine and goes to present-day*

Oh, wait... Educational gaps are still tremendous. Poverty is still rampant. Employment is sparse. But Obama's President, so none of that matters.

Such is the society we live in today... A society where the haves continually look down on the have-nots... A society where even in the face of mounting evidence that the system is no more fairly skewed that the lottery, people continue to cry 'self-determination'... A society where a man with admittedly no knowledge of growing up poor feels compelled to cast judgment on the poor. While I am no urban sociologist, I've seen enough of the ills of urban sprawl to know that the odds do not favor children in the inner city. From dilapidated and underfunded schools, to a lack of a successful network supporting them, is it really that hard to see why poor black children gravitate towards endeavors far-removed from academia?

The author, a 'mediocre accountant' and owner of a 10-person accounting firm, is engaging in what I like to call condescendent prognostication - the use of one's lofty ideals to scrutinize the actions of and portend the paths of those in a more precarious situation than he. He claims to be a supporter of Obama and the 99%, but is essentially echoing the unfounded sentiments of the 1%, namely:
- If you're poor, underprivileged, or the like, it's your fault
- The government and related entities have no responsibility to help those who can't help themselves
- There are more than enough resources to help the underprivileged

The author gets even more haughty in his rhetoric:
President Obama was right in his speech last week. The division between rich and poor is a national problem. But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance. So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them. Many come from single-parent families whose mom or dad (or in many cases their grand mom) is working two jobs to survive and are just (understandably) too plain tired to do anything else in the few short hours they’re home. Many have teachers who are overburdened and too stressed to find the time to help every kid that needs it. Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids. Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.

Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.
This type of grandstanding is only upended by the fact that the author says himself that his children have the resources (parents and good schools) to properly advance. When did complete hypocrisy and sociological blinders replace the social contract of Roosevelt's New Deal? When did the American tenet of every citizen's unalienable rights to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' fall victim to 'you're on your own social policy'? The problem here isn't the author's proclamation that the will to succeed doesn't go unnoticed. It's that he fails to fully acknowledge the crumbling systems around the same 'poor black kids'. Rather than addressing the systematic failures, he asserts that these children should aspire to be the best of the worst. How is that remotely inspiring? Even if an poor black kid in West Philadelphia does gain straight A's in a terrible school, chances are he will still be drastically behind his affluent counterparts across town.

The educational gap in this country is beyond detestable, not because kids don't want to learn, but because most people removed from the worst education systems in our country have little stake in it. They can point the finger and be condescending because they admittedly have never lived in conditions anywhere close to the ones they criticize. It's like a king pointing down at peasants, scoffing at the squalor they live in: easy. I beg the question to Mr. Marks and any other critic of 'poor black kids', what would you do to improve these schools, aside from claim that the kids need to try harder? What solution do you have for the dwindling quality of teachers, curricula, infrastructure and resources? What answer do you have for the student who have no clue what Google Scholar, SparkNotes, Evernote or the CIA World Factbook are? My guess is none.

That is the plight of the condescending prognosticator. They scream that if you're not winning the race, then you should run harder instead of blaming the busted soles on your sneakers. Maybe I'm rambling. Maybe undue outrage is coming towards the author for his clearly misinformed stance. The one thing I'm certain of is that there are many more Gene Marks' out there. They live anywhere from quiet, isolated suburban neighborhoods to high rise penthouses believe that self-determination is all one needs to be successful. For the amount of technological resources they espouse can help 'poor black kids', it would behoove them to use these same tools to see that the world isn't as cut and dry as they think.

Dear NBA Superstars

What max contracts?

Can you feel it in the air? Can you? It's almost here. Two weeks from now, NBA junkies like myself will finally get their fix. The player's union finally figured out that any games are better than no games, while the owners jumped off their high horses and compromised. Training camps begin in a week or so, but free agency is the talk of the town. Of all Chris Broussard's 'sources', the rumor that Chris Paul wants to join the Lakers is a fun, but sad one. That said, NBA superstars, I implore you to stay where you are!

In 2008, the Boston Celtics shook the SportsCenter-addicted masses when they crafted the inaugural 'Big 3' on draft night. Fast forward to 2011, and the concept of the Big 3 has been played out more than slow-mo club scenes in rap videos. Shout out to LeBron and Chris Bosh for making the idea a mainstay, but with all due respect, NBA superstars, the constant need for 3 superstars to band together is an inefficient, lame cop-out for franchises who don't know how to build teams. Look no further than my own hometown Knicks. Before the Carmelo Anthony trade, we had a legitimate squad from 1 through 9. Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton were perfect pieces for a deep Playoff run. Instead we have a decimated roster full of scrubs like Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf... But wait... We have Carmelo and A'Mare!!! That's still not enough.

NBA superstars, look at the 2011 Dallas Mavericks for the blueprint on how to build a team sans mortgaging your. Dirk Nowitzki was maligned, ridiculed, and castigated for his lack of resolve during the Playoffs, yet on the big stage this year, was surrounded by a cast of role players that was unbreakable. If it wasn't Jason Terry hitting a record number of three-pointers, it was Tyson Chandler (happy trails) providing a resolute defensive presence in the paint, or Shawn Marion being the glue guy with rebounds and floor placement, or Jason Kidd playing the consumate veteran role and giving the Mavericks a second voice of leadership. The Mavericks beat everyone's new favorite team with one superstar and a perfect team built to debunk the new trend. Defense, chemistry and basketball IQ trumped athleticism, potential and hype. They proved that you don't need to buy out the bar to still have a good night.

This is to you Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. This letter is in response to the teams that will bluff a trio of 15 point scorers for one 28 point scorer. This is for GM's like Mitch Kupchak, Pat Riley and the like who have no imagination and less patience. This is for bandwagon fans who gravitate to whichever team has more stars. This is for Chris Broussard and his unreliable 'sources' on every movement in the NBA. But most of all, this is for the NBA. NBA superstars, you've forgotten what it means to stand on your own two. You'd rather team up with your friends than compete against them. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were friends off the court, but bitter enemies from wire to wire. The same can be said of any of Jordan's compatriots.

That's not to say that this era of the NBA should be one of big stars in small markets. I can understand how disconcerting playing for a bad team as a good player is. Even so, rather than use your celebrity to request a trade, why not try to bring in players you know will mesh with you. LeBron and Wade were doomed because they essentially play the same position and had no one to fill in, not because of defense or any completely objective criteria. As a student of basketball, I recognize that in this talent-filled era of the NBA, winning with no help is impossible. However, that the prospect of building a team has gone out the window is sad. You all should be looking to carry the load instead of teaming up to lessen it. If I'm wrong, then why is the season starting on Christmas, instead of a month and a half ago?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dear Drake (re: Take Care)

The Midas touch?? Ehh... Debatable.

The truth is such a paradoxical concept. They say the truth sets you free, yet the truth hurts. Half a truth makes a great lie, but when you find the truth, it's more that you've found a truth. Truth is sought by the masses but attained by the few. Truth makes for great art, but only when placed in a palatable medium. Such is your issue, Drake. Your truth is a complete paradox. It has certain aspects that everyone can relate to, but make people (especially men) so uncomfortable, that they can't accept it. While you make music that embraces the whole gamut of male emotion, you are so unabashed in your portrayal during Take Care that it is impossible for the average man to listen without casting improper libel on your name, Drizzy.
Sidenote: I'm tired of people labeling any type of defamation via social media 'slander'. For you non-lexical thinkers, the proper term is libel, or defamation by written or printed words. Slander is the same, but spoken. I know it's splitting hairs, but with the way writing is going down the pooper, I had to make the disambiguation.

Take Care was named so because you supposedly rushed the production of Thank Me Later and wanted to take your time while putting your sophomore project out. Production-wise, this is a masterful album. It does not have the beautifully eclectic sound that Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has, but centers on the sonically dark, sensuous sound that marked Thank Me Later. It is obvious that you were heavy handed in your production, taking care to make this your album again.

Content-wise, the truth you convey is anything but careful. From your verses to your features, the honesty of how (excuse my French) fucked up the industry makes the artist, is evident. Kendrick Lamar says it best when he muses about the penchant for music to beget sex:
Live the ambiance all cause the audience / One day said I would do it / So instead of a verse being read / Ima go ‘n get some head off the strength of my music
The themes of love lost and the downfall to fame are exceptionally reckless, almost reminiscent of a melancholy teenage love affair. No stone is left uncast (not a word, but it sounded hot) when dealing with the hurt of being broken hearted, whether by one's own doing or by the ills of another. It is this truth, that love does indeed hurt, that makes Take Care so off-putting to the host of caveman-esque listeners saying you're as soft as terry cloth, Drake.

Songs like 'Marvin's Room/Buried Alive' only serve to add flames to the firestorm of softness allegations, yet the candidness afforded is undeniable. What stone-hearted ogre can truly say that they've never been hurt? How is reveling and thriving in light of hatred pointed towards one's art considered 'soft'? Drake, your truth is one that is seldom seen, yet needed in this day and age. 'Lord Knows' is a positive example of this truth. For all of the flak aimed at your neck, you've got Teflon both metaphorically and on the track with Ross as you deflect criticism about your place in hip-hop history:
They take the greats from the past and compare us / I wonder if they'd ever survive in this era / In a time where it's recreation / To pull all your skeletons out the closet like Halloween decorations
It used to be a case where a rapper's dirty laundry was only aired out on wax. Now that MTO and TMZ and Necole Bitchie and whatever other gossip sites there are lend themselves to that end, that line is extremely powerful, even though it will fly over the heads of most in terms of gravity.

I have to say, Drake, that listening to Comeback Season before So Far Gone before Thank Me Later before Take Care was a HUGE mistake. The change in your style is almost ridiculous. From the rapper who idolized Phonte to the syrup-sipping YMCMB harpy, it's a bittersweet transition. Did you have to lose the socially awkward, prodigally-talented ideal that marked your earlier works in the pursuit of fame? I suppose you comment on that phenomenon on 'Underground Kings':
Live a little, cause niggas die a lot, and lie a lot / But I'm the truth -- that's right, I fucking said it / The living proof that you don't gotta die to get to heaven
Is that really the truth, Drake? Is that really your truth? I'm not sure which truth to believe from you, Drake; the tortured musician or the ballin' outta control rapper. It seems as if the latter is prevalent during this album, as with the last.

The downside to truth is that not everyone's truth is palatable to a wider audience. Drake, as much as I appreciate you discussing the plight of heartbreak, you need some other kinds of truth... Seriously. Big Ghostfase allusions aside, this album explored a whole new frontier of emotion. I wasn't ready for such a sultry ambience while listening. It honestly had me at a loss for words, especially when 'Doing it Wrong' came on. Of the 18 tracks on Take Care at least half dealt with women in some way. Really, Drake? I know they say that women drive the majority of record sales, but that doesn't mean the truth you convey should be entirely centered around the fairer sex. Jay-Z would be disappointed, as his chorus on '99 Problems' claims. 'The Real Her', was more of the same, oozing with heartbreak from the soul of a tortured musician. Yes, it's relatable, but only for a while. (see my post on Joe Budden's woman troubles) After essentially visiting the same theme on Thank Me Later, you would think you'd stop hitting industry parties and strip clubs looking for your Cinderella, Drake. Come on, son... The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. There's got to be a new impetus for your next musical work, or I won't be able to stomach it again.

I had to wonder why your album started to sound like a wasteful-spending broken-hearted, broken record halfway through, and I could think of one reason: Weezy F. Baby. The Clown Prince of Syrup-Influenced Music has infiltrated what little integrity the music industry leaves in most artists and destroyed it, Drake. The result of this unholy union is a track like 'Practice'. Drake, I may be classified among the rank-and-file of so-called haters, but this has to be one of the most God-awful pieces of music I've ever had the displeasure of blasting through my speakers. Never mind that you tried to turn a twerking anthem into an R&B song, or that Wayne must be paying a grills-worth in royalties to Juvenile, or that an appearance from The Lonely Island is the only thing separating this song from being a parody. This was the equivalent of sticking scalding butter knives in my ears, Drake. Hearkening back to my theme of truth, someone in that studio needed to tell you the truth about that song. Lack of truth is the reason Eminem's recent work sounds like a watered-down cocktail and why heads will never be able to accept that death in hip-hop doesn't equal martyrdom. Your sophomore offering shouldn't have suffered from the truth being withheld in your recording process. It's clear that while this album was inherently yours, there was a lot more Young Money in your Kool-Aid than most listeners would be lead to believe.

Drake, I'm conflicted in writing this letter. While I commend another good listen, with more shades of emotion being exposed for a mostly emotionless listener-base, I can't condone a lot of the songs, content and decisions made concerning Take Care. It's almost as if you don't believe a lot of the truth you're conveying. You can deflect the and hate welcome the praise, but you can't even begin to describe what got you there. You may be able to wax philosophical about the ills of trying to find love, but you probably will never get any closer to finding it. You may be a 'king' in your own mind, but are one sitting on a throne in jeopardy, mostly of your own doing. The bane of truth is not only being able to convey it, but also being able to use it to grow. I think what concerns me the most about Take Care is the lack of growth. It's as if this album had a confused take on the same truth from Thank Me Later, resulting in a melancholy, teenage hormone-laced version of what should have been the album. That's the truth; the careful, unabashed truth. You need a reality check, not only to stop you from bigging up your gun-toting henchmen, but also from letting the pain of girl problems completely stain your work. It will make for a more widely-accepted and enlightening truth on your part.