Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dear Occupy Wall Street

Ohhhhhh, so that's what it's about? Show that to every conservative and 1-percenter on the radar...

The Internet has a way of aggrandizing things so that you think a lot more of them than they really are. Sometimes you have to see something for yourself to get a good idea of what the point is. I could go on an on with euphemisms to segue into what I want to say here, but Occupy Wall Street, upon my 2nd visit to your site, it's a miracle I didn't see your mission at first.

The American political/economic/social malady has never been a secret to me. One look at half of the political posts on this blog, and a reader knows that there is something seriously wrong with the direction our country is going in. Occupy Wall Street, you are a result of that, not because you are doing your job to a tee, but because you are giving something to talk about. That's not a bad thing, but it has the potential to be turned against you, because of how overarching your goal is.

To draw attention to the vast inequality, rampant injustices and ridiculous faults of our system is your goal, OWS. Being down at Zucotti Park gave me that perspective, but Middle America won't see it the same way. Violence, anger, misdirected and misinformed protests and general hoopla (have always wanted to use that word in a sentence) are what will draw their attention, and not the actual issues at hand. For two weeks, your movement was seen as a fringe movement. Add some high-profile appearances like Kanye West, Talib Kweli, and Russell Simmonds, and you've got the press' ears. Add some heated standoffs and violent shows from police to your pot of brew, and NOW you've got the rest of the world watching. Why is that? Why are you relegated into the realm of 'noise' until something bad happens? Is that what America is really about? Is your plight just background noise, destined to be talked about for a few more weeks until they 'deal' with you?

Look at even the way politicians have reacted to you. The right wings say your a bunch of dirty hippies, underachieving liberal arts students and homeless gathered over nothing, even though the Tea Party makes WAY less sense. The left wing, even though they lay in the same bed of lobbyist and corporate money, has latched on to you, hoping they can ride a populist, working class wave all the way to victory in 2012. At this point, you're nothing more than a prop, OWS. While you may be formless, leaderless and all-encompassing, you're going to have to soon adopt a serious stance so that you can't be boxed in. It's even ironic that your lack of parameters has resulted in parameters placed around you by the media and politicians.

OWS, I started out in support of you, became disillusioned with my first visit, got back some zeal in the second and am somewhat wishy-washy about you now. It's not because I don't agree with your goals, or that I've given up hope that some sort of rational discussion about our country's system can come together. It's because your own nature makes you impossible to follow. Idealistic, Utopian or what have you, it has to end somewhere, and you don't even know where that is. Yes, protests have been popping up in other locales, but to what end? Don't sit there and tell me about the 'revolution'. I've listened to more Gil Scott-Heron than you know, and the revolution damn sure won't be televised, much less tweeted, Facebooked, Tumblr'ed. But how do we draw the line between sensationalism and actual constructive movement?

OWS, that is your struggle: to find legitimacy without the controversy that litters most politics, to bring attention to something that should have been attended to years ago. Our society is one that emphasizes the frivolous and fleeting for the important. It's like you couldn't have been a better movement for a worse time, OWS. The country needs the discourse you bring. Though I'm not convinced most Americans will be able to see through the noise to the actual problems that plague their nation, I think enough will pay attention to that something gets done... Maybe not a 'revolution', but something. I suppose the same lack of clarity in goals that you began with has to bear on the lack of clarity in an end. We all have to start somewhere...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dear J. Cole (re: Cole World)

I was beginning to think you were going to be relegated to the fate of Dr. Dre and the artist formerly known as Young Jeezy, Jermaine. No, seriously... It has been a long time coming, but finally, the kid from Fayettenam who came to the city of New York with his beat machine and a matriculation to St. John's has released his oft-delayed debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story. I'll admit, Jermaine. I was a bit reticent to give this a listen. As of late, I'd gotten disillusioned again with the direction rap was taking; valuing names and sensation over actual skills, placing novelty over quality, and deeming anything with two decent songs a 'classic'. And in your case, I'd grown bored of your 'struggle raps'. Yet, to veer from what makes you great rapper would be stupid. I eat my words at what was a precursor to a seemingly illustrious career ahead of you.

To accurately touch on Cole World, though, I have to hearken back to a line from 'Friday Night Lights' that describes your position at the moment:
To the college kids no scholarships starting your semester / unpacking your suitcases filling up your dresser / enjoy it while you got it, after that it’s God bless ya / life is your professor, you know that b*tch is gon test ya
That line exemplifies your music, Jermaine; the hardships of transitioning into true maturity. Cole, to be honest, I feel like I've become an adult listening to you over the past two years. Your music has been the soundtrack to the strife that a college student goes through, not only before, but after graduation. Embarking on my own life's journey, it's hard not to embrace your genre of 'struggle music'. If the three mixtapes were college, Cole World is definitely the culmination of an undergraduate tenure and the start of a promising life and career. As a graduate, to see you in the throes of a world tour, a successful (by today's standards) album, and a promising future, is inspiration.

Starting off with the story of your signing to Jay-Z's Roc Nation is akin to the offer letter a grad gets from the huge firm. Add 'Dollar and a Dream III' and 'Can't Get Enough', to that, and you have the perfect juxtaposition of seeing the spoils of victory arisen from the mire of hard work. The next track, 'Lights Please', a holdover from 'The Warm Up', makes the perfect transition to the 'Interlude'. Even as a successful black man, it is nearly impossible to evade the long arm of the law. The album starts out showing how many aspects there are to such a caricature, from the diligent, to the frivolous, to the pensive, to the sensual.

My favorite song is the secondary titular track 'The Sideline Story' because it brings all of those aspects into view, along with reaching for the loftiest of goals. Your assertion that 'Can't nobody tell me what I ain't gonna be no more / You thinking I'mma fall, don't be so sure' is a thumbing of the nose to a system that tries to put everyone from college graduates to rappers and everyone in between in boxes. Rather than follow a pattern or formula, you do what is in your nature, and nothing more. In that same song you say 'Some niggas ask me why Jay never shout me out like I’m supposed to give a f*ck.' That line does wonders for so many reasons. Despite the fact that Jay is a mentor to you, and is on your album (albeit on the next song), you not needing him to cosign you is the greatest sign of independence I've seen in hip-hop today. Everyone in rap is trying to be the next Jay, and here you are espousing your freedom from that delineation. You, the graduate, the next up at bat, are standing up on your own two. Rather than look to the top for guidance, you looked to yourself, something that I want to do in my own life. Much like LeBron dropping the number 23 to leave his own legacy as number 6, you are making your own path.

Cole World goes on with another titular track that sounds as grimy as its namesake. The song, while a huge pat on the back, seems a bit misplaced. I suppose when the first half is as loaded as yours, you can't help but get a little sloppy. 'In the Morning' and 'Lost Ones' pick the album back up, juxtaposing the sultriness of mid-morning lust with the pain of fathering a son out of wedlock. Frivolity versus futility, salaciousness versus subjection, Cole, you show the duality that ails the young black. It is a weighty discussion that has been in our minds since we knew what sex was, and that you explore both sides in 'Lost Ones' is exceptional.

The album hits a short a lull after this, to me, Jermaine. It seems as if the postgrad world indeed has its peaks and valleys. A lot of the subject matter you touched on in the first half is revisited, albeit in a different manner, but still rehashed. The track with Missy, while valiant, sounded sluggish aside from Missy's chorus. 'Rise and Shine' didn't really do much for me, and seemed like a filler track that could have honestly been left out, as did 'God's Gift'. 'Never Told' takes the issues of non-communication in a somewhat roundabout way, while in an ascending fashion, 'Breakdown' shows the weakness that our generation has when faced with trying situations. Yet as the Missy song implies, no one is perfect. One of the things that our generation of young adults must contend with is learning about life while living it. That means making mistakes, and letting go of old things. That second part is the theme of 'Nothing Lasts Forever', where you recant on love lost and learning to move on. For me, that was a welcome song, having a new chapter of my life to start.

Your original lead single, 'Who Dat', is the perfect way to end Cole World, as it signals a changing of the guards. Your name is a non-issue if you continue to improve and spit flames, Cole. This album had no 'certified bangers', which honestly was a high point for me. Rather than relying on a single to do your work for you, you put out something that has to be listened to. One can't passively listen to you, Jermaine, although songs like 'Work Out' and 'Can't Get Enough' are certainly radio-friendly enough to draw a buzz. Is it a turning point in hip-hop? I'm not sure. With the way that Wayne, and Ye-Z (see what I did there?) sold, we might not see the rise of a oft-called 'conscious MC' for a while. But it starts with the college kids and graduates. #occupywallstreet, Obama's election and a new youth movement are certainly examples of this shift, and your debut album can be one of the many sounds to march to. Your ideal seems to be warming up to the world, Cole.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dear NBA Owners

With a front of players united, how can you guys win?

via Yahoo! Sports:
Before a stunning confrontation between Dwyane Wade and NBA commissioner David Stern in Friday’s labor meeting, Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul told their Players Association peers that they’re willing to sit out the season rather than make further concessions to the owners, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Wade, James and Paul were at the forefront of a strong players presence at a Park Avenue hotel for Friday’s contentious bargaining session. In a private union meeting prior to the bargaining session with owners, James kept reiterating to the group of elite players that they shouldn’t give back a greater share of the league’s basketball-related income (BRI) than what they’d already conceded in previous negotiations.

“We’re all together on 53 [percent], right?” James said. “All together on 53 right?”

“LeBron, Wade and Paul want to fight this so hard, they don’t seem scared about missing the season,” one source in the negotiating room told Yahoo! Sports.

James, Wade and Paul believe the owners are bluffing in threatening to ultimately cancel the season to get the changes they want in the collective bargaining agreement, a source in the meeting said. In the meeting with union peers, the three stars declared their willingness to miss games rather than drop down from the 53 percent of BRI the union has proposed to the NBA.

Despite the bold talk out of the sport’s biggest stars, the union privately has expressed a willingness to move further toward ownership this weekend with an understanding that Stern wants desperately to cut a deal with the players and avoid a prolonged work stoppage.

Take a look around, NBA Owners! What do you see on the social landscape these days? I'll give you a second... *plays another game of NBA 2K11* You figure it out yet? ...No? Well, I'll tell you! Social upheaval is on the horizon! Wall Street protestors are trying to make waves against corporate personhood. The GOP is fighting to end government-run social programs in lieu of 'economic austerity'. All over the world, progressive, young citizens are pushing against their conservative governments in the name of social progress. NBA owners, this is the WRONG time to be a non-populist, especially considering how staid the players seem.

As a fan, this season was probably my favorite in recent memory. Not only were the Playoffs exciting and the Finals compelling, the NBA seems poised to birth a new era of stars. Players like John Wall, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and many of the draft picks from the past four years are either entering their primes or beginning to show dominance. From a standpoint of gameplay, watching the NBA has never been more exciting.

Owners, look at the business landscape of your league at the moment, as well. The NBA just came off financially, its biggest season in decades according to Business Finance Magazine:
Overall revenues are at the highest they have ever been with gate receipts up significantly and team sponsorship sales at an all time high. We are on pace to have our most-watched season ever on TV. Subscriber growth has increased dramatically on NBA TV to 55 million homes in the U.S. We are experiencing double-digit revenue growth this year both in the digital business and internationally.

However, in order to achieve the revenue growth that we have experienced over the last decade, we have had to spend much more to generate the same $1 of revenue than we had to in decades past. As a result, the league overall has been experiencing significant net losses now, which wasn't the case back in the mid 1990s.
So, revenues are at an all-time high and ratings are through the roof, but you guys still insist that your pockets are losing weight. Of you 30 active owners, over half of you are billionaires. I don't think losing out a few million dollars to keep this season whole will hurt your bottom line. And if you decide to continue to lock the players out, you'll only be losing more money. Kobe Bryant, without an NBA season, can sign a deal anywhere in the world and still do what he loves. Jerry Buss, however, stands to lose a lot more if he doesn't cut the Ebenezer Scrooge act.

It's not that I think the players are lining up for the soup kitchen, either. LeBron, D. Wade, A'mare, Chris Bosh and the rest of last year's free agents are still filing receipts from those paychecks. As a matter of fact, I do think that there should be some sort of regulation on how much money a team can spend, so as to curb the ever-popular trend of going over the salary cap to seize a coup on the free agent market. That said, you guys shouldn't be so uncompromising. You guys aren't even playing! It's not your bodies on the line, and even if your team loses, you'll still be paid (as will the players, for that matter). At the same time, if your team wins, you get to stand on the podium with the team and take credit for something that you had no part in other than writing a check.

Populism and the rights of the workers are about to take on a new level of importance again, owners. The fans, whose hard-earned money you depend upon will support the players because they more easily identify with the blue-collar aesthetic of an athlete, not your big-wig greed. If the players continue to stand firm united against your front of trying to scream 'broke,' there is no way you can win. Why not take a page out of the NFL's book and head to the negotiating table ASAP. I guarantee it will be more constructive for you and the players than a winter full of owners slinging mud and NBA players trying to rap...

Steve Jack, you're my man, but this just can't go on...