How are things in Charlotte? You ok? Over the last few days, both of those questions have been directed toward me via e-mail, phone and text. On my block, on my street, in my house, and in this suede recliner, where I sit while I write this, things are quiet, and I am safe. But if I should choose to wander into the night, I won’t be safe. No more or less safe than usual. The standard amount of danger. Because it’s open season on Black men in America.
North Carolina is not the best nor is it the worst. State House Republicans have done the regular job of voter suppression, and they’ve passed a law that restricts bathroom privileges for the transgender community – business as usual. Polls indicate that Clinton and Trump are tied in a dead heat. It’s a sate that Obama barely lost in the last election and one that he won in the previous cycle. In many ways, North Carolina is the beginning of the North. It is a state that is making a real effort to leave the roots of its agrarian based Jim Crow economy in the past.
I’ve been coming to North Carolina for a long time now. My mother and father were both natives who met while they were in college here in Charlotte. NC is a second home. Charlotte is the largest city in both Carolinas, and it’s populated by progressives who work in the financial community – recent arrivals from all over the world with sophisticated tastes in food, ballet and art. There’s an NBA franchise owned and operated by Michael Jordan, and the defending NFC Champion Panthers feature a game changing MVP at the quarterback position.
Much of Charlotte is state of the art. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Keith Lamont Scott was executed in cold blood by agents of the state while he sat in a car waiting for his child to come home on a bus. We shouldn’t be surprised because for the past few years, agents of the state have been murdering unarmed Black men, women and children in cold blood and getting away wth it. I’m old enough to remember several examples of trigger happy policing that pre-date the Internet, but here and now, cell phone cameras are capturing these dirty deeds and the images of the true face of racist white supremacist practices can now be beamed around the globe instantaneously.
So you say a Black cop pulled the trigger and a black police chief is managing the aftermath? That doesn’t mean that the cumulative effects of negative media, poor schools, real estate redlining, racist courts and all sorts of discriminatory practices didn’t all come into play at the time Keith Lamont Scott was killed, because after all, we live in a racist society whether or not someone else gets shot today. A society that tells us over and over in large and small ways that Black Lives don’t Matter.
Witnesses say Keith Lamont Scott was reading a book. The police claim he had a gun. Scott’s wife knew the stakes instantly. She watched and taped the actions of a murderous Black cop while yelling all along, “Don’t you shoot him. Don’t you shoot him,” and alternately telling her husband repeatedly, “Get out of the car.” Neither her husband or the cops heeded her attempts to manage the situation to a peaceful resolution. She knew that on that day Keith Lamont Scott’s Black Life didn’t Matter enough.
Keith Lamont Scott’s daughter had a cell phone camera too. The footage revealed a shrieking young woman who can not believe that her father has been shot by cops in broad daylight, and in front of witnesses while cameras are taping their every move. The sheer arrogance that it takes to take a life under those conditions is shockingly appalling. On top of all of this, it has been reported that the cops were there with a warrant to arrest someone else. Kenneth Lamont Scott was only guilty of reading while Black.
So you ask why riot? I say why not? Charlotte is not Mars. The people have seen what has happened in Cleveland, in Tulsa in Ferguson and Staten Island. They know that they are a hunted species. They know that the corrupt law officials who have perpetrated state sactioned murder have not been prosecuted, or that the cases have not been adjudicated fairly. They know that selling CDs or loose cigarettes, or having their car conk out can be considered crimes punishable by death. Deaths that don’t result in arrests, trials or convictions. Deaths where racists submit that it’s hard to be a cop and that if the victims just hadn’t moved, or had they complied, or hadn’t been brandishing a toy gun, or hadn’t been running away in the opposite direction then they’d still be alive. The numbers and the citizen shot cell phone footage indicate that that just doesn’t ring true.
And so the people have taken to the street looking for justice. Because when a cop kills your father, or your husband, your sister, your neighbor or your wife. Who are you going to call? The mayor? The chief of police? CNN? No, the people know that the only thing to do is bring the light of day to corrupt practices. Video tape, protest, fight, riot.
On the whole, Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights led protests were peaceful, but riots during that era in Watts, Newark, Detroit and other districts were not. Federal lawmaking and budgeting was very responsive to both approaches. It was this type of action that led to reforms in Ferguson and new political blood in Baltimore too. The same type of action that has the eyes of the world trained on local police here in The Queen City. Because one thing you can be certain of, we live in a system that values the sanctity of Walmart and Target locations over human life. Now that the dust has settled and the calm has set in maybe some one with the people’s interest in mind will remind all that Black Lives Matter enough to riot over their illegal and unjust loss.
Last Saturday night, I was sitting in Philly’s 30th Street Station waiting on a connection. It was a slow evening and the old cavernous railway hub was sparsely filled. I’d missed my scheduled train because it hadn’t been announced. Apparently, the departure of New Jersey Transit commuter lines are occasionally overlooked by the station attendants and only frequent users of those lines have solved the mystery of scheduled departures.
I was on the phone discussing a few creative ideas with The Ab. We hung up and then I saw her. She sat down on the bench in the row in front of me. Her back was to me, but her profile was evident while her head was slightly bowed as she read. White hair, two braids, glasses, simple – bohemian. My heart sped up a bit because I didn’t believe it was her. But it was, like me, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Patti Smith was quietly waiting for a connection too.
I walked over and asked politely, “Excuse me, are you Miss Smith?”
She said in that unmistakeable raspy voice, “I am.”
I replied, “I’m Gary Harris, I worked in many record companies, and I grew up in the hip hop business.”
Her first records came out while I was in high school. I was too busy keeping up with Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder to pay much attention. Later, in Boston, when I involved myself in the little 10 watt college radio station that would change the course of my life forever, Ray Fallon, a classmate with cutting edge rock tastes, kept our little funk, jazz and soul station honest by being the primary programming ear for our morning rock show. As a result, I gained exposure to the first recordings of The B-52s, The Police and early stuff from Patti. I still didn’t pay much attention to her music because an androgynous upstart named Prince was the dominant new voice that captured my attention.
Later still, I became immersed in the ’80s world of Downtown New York, the bohemian paradise below 14th Street in Manhattan that was populated by artists, designers, dancers, fashionistas, musicians, hustlers, socialites and rule breakers of every type. A world knitted together by punk, alternative and hip hop cultures and where clubs had names like Danceteria, Area, The Roxy, The World and Save The Robots. It was a world where Madonna, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Grandmaster Flash and others made their bones. Due to the the ghettoization of the disciplines of all of these artists, we were all forced to hang out in the same spots, and somehow or another, we were all considered punk to a greater or lesser extent. Patti Smith was our predecessor and an architect of the aesthetic that shaped that world. At the time, I was a little busy promoting underground hip hop acts to mainstream radio to have paid much attention to her records.
But I read. Some say a lot, I’d say not enough. There’s never enough time to get it all in, but I make an effort to search out new and interesting authors. A few years back, Patti’s brilliantly observed and exquisitely written memoir “Just Kids” came into my life, and for a little while it lit up my world. Her descriptions of her relationships with controversial photographer Robert Mapplerhorpe, playwright Sam Shepard and the world of music, art, theater, poetry and photography that formed them are beautiful.
We talked briefly, but covered a wide range of topics. I asked where she was coming from. “South Jersey,” she said.
“Do you still have family there?”
I told her that I’d loved how in her book she’d detailed growing up in stifling working class conditions, and that, “I loved the way you described how listening to early rock & roll gave you creative and emotional freedom,” I said, “I’m from Jersey too. The town where The Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett lived.”
She asked, “Did Jimi Hendrix used to play with The Isley Brothers? Johnny Mathis played my high school prom and in a smaller ballroom off to the side, The Isley Brothers were playing. They had this great looking guitarist who was doing splits while he performed and I remembered that they were all laughing at him. Later when I saw him (Hendrix) perform, I wondered if that was the same guy.”
I asked incredulously, “Johnny Mathis played your high school prom? Wow. That must have been some high school.”
“It was a sponsored event,” she said.
“Obviously,” I replied. And then I continued, “Yes Jimi played with them, and in fact, he lived with them when they were all still with their mom in a house right across the street from my junior high school.” I told Patti, “I loved how you referenced (John) Coltrane in your book. He recorded A Love Supreme in the area where I grew up. The engineer who recorded the record (Rudy Van Gelder) still lived there when he died recently.”
“I can’t believe I’m running into you at the train station in Philly,” I said.
“We’re both in our hood,” and she went on, “When I first moved to New York, I walked along 57th Street…”
“When you worked at the book store?”, I interrupted.
“…no, before I worked at the book store. And I stopped at a church… I don’t remember the name of the church…”
“And that was when you ran into the elderly couple who looked at you and your friend and said to one another, “Look at those two. They seem so interesting, you think they might be artists?” And you overheard the reply, “Nah, I don’t think so, they’re just kids”.
Patti Smith is a national treasure. She came up as a muse and poet who was convinced by others to record and perform. Reading her memoir was a deeply moving experience unlike few I’ve gotten from a book. I’ve already read it twice, and along with her newest “M Train” I intend to read it again.
Meeting her felt like speaking with an older relative with highly evolved mystic powers. Her demeanor was quiet and powerful. I mentioned that I’d seen her documentary on PBS and she shared that it was a labor of love that took a decade to complete. Shot while she was based in Detroit, it covered a period of semiretirement when she grieved over the loss of her husband and brother, while she raised her kids. We talked about many other things, but when I began to relate the experience to a friend, I became overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry. The force is very strong with that one. I’m happy that we both made our connection.
For Michael Stipe, Annabella Sciorra, Julie Panabianco, The Ab, Hilly Kristel (R.I.P.) and Ray Fallon
Posted in books, Education, Film, hip hop, insideplaya, Music, New York, Uncategorized | Tagged Amtrak, Apple Music, Beats 1, CBGB, Danceteria, insideplaya, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Stipe, Patti Smith, Soul City, The Isley Brothers, WRBB | 5 Comments »
Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix wanted to make a record together, but Hendrix died before they could get it done. And before his death, Davis was searching for a hip hop producer to cut tracks with. Davis was an adventurous spirit who pushed the envelope until the end, and he was definitely not going to continue to play Bill Evans charts or Cole Porter and Gershwin standards forever – he moved on. At some point, we all have to. I loved the record business of the ’80s, 90s, and ’00s but I’m excited about the way it is now, and I am optimistically looking forward to the future.
As a major label promotion man who eventually experienced platinum level success as an A&R man, I was a reasonably well compensated and high profile participant in what was essentially a manufacturing business that placed ultimate importance on the shifting of the plastic and vinyl that the music was embedded on as its end game. But that’s all changed, even though there’s an upswing in vinyl sales, now the little pieces of plastic and vinyl are being phased out – by the record companies that once all but murdered in order to sell them – so the music itself can be consumed digitally over the web.
Technology has realigned virtually every critical relationship in the process that begins in the mind and soul of a creative individual – with musical intentions – and eventually makes its way to the end user. Internet and satellite radio are plentiful, and this has all lessened the grip that brick and mortar retail, terrestrial radio and record companies had on the game. With no one to guide, lead, force or promote them, consumers can now find new music on You Tube, on Soundcloud and Mix Cloud. Once they’ve heard it they can download the music legally or illegally from any number of independent digital outlets, underground file sharing services or from iTunes. Or they can stream the music on one of several services.
I adapted to this new reality; I began to network aggressively on social media, I took several digital subscriptions to consumer publications and read them for news of e-business. I read The Digital Music Report and Pitchfork. I used my extensive knowledge of music, and my collection of over 30,000 MP3 files to program iPods for celebrity friends and others. I read books. I read scripts. I looked for Music Supervision gigs in film and television by using the apps for Hollywood trade publications. I became an advisor to the Universal Hip Hop Museum and suggested that in advance of breaking ground on a physical space, a “virtual museum” collection could be curated and displayed on a website. I became a freelance writer, and an announcer on Beats 1 Radio. I realized I wasn’t going to beat ’em so I joined ’em. Call it gospel, blues, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, trap or Urban it’s all Black Music, and much of it is still the music of struggle, of strength, of joy and pain and I am proud to continue to play some small part in its preservation and it’s exposure.
Black Music is no longer the sole province of the well dressed occupants of corner office suites located on high floors of Sixth Avenue skyscrapers. The democratizing affect of the Internet has eroded the need for the middle man mentality that impeded the progress of hip hop in its early years, and denied the impact of downloading and file sharing until it was almost too late. Now the music has outgrown the relationship that record companies enjoyed with retail and radio for decades. It’s viral, it’s infected everything and everyone in its wake, it’s global. It’s bigger than the radio, bigger than spins, bigger than anyone who induced spins for a living.
For the entire summer of 2010, leading up to the release of his Dark and Twisted Fantasy project, on a weekly basis, Kanye West previewed early mixes of each album track on Twitter, for free, before he dropped the completed album in the fall. During the promotional set up phase of the project he went to the home offices of Google and Facebook to perform selections from the album. When the record was released he went to number 1 on Billboard’s Pop Albums Chart. Beyoncé no longer turns her record into her record company or services radio with a single, she now shoots a long form video, plays it one time on HBO, and for a limited amount of time, she now makes the album exclusively available through Tidal – her husband’s streaming service – waits a bit, puts the record up on iTunes for downloading and goes to number one. She then embarks on an extensive Black Lives Matter influenced tour and sells out football arenas across the nation. And Frank Ocean, after feeling unappreciated by his record company, fulfilled his contractual obligation to the label by releasing an album exclusively through Apple Music, and then bought his way out of his deal, digitally released another record the following week with no radio, no set up, and no warning and entered the Billboard chart at number one. Clearly things have changed. The artists are no longer playing the game the way it had been played before. They’ve started a league of their own.
Now the music is in the The Roots Picnic, The Made In America Labor Day jump off and Afro Punk. It’s in the fourth season of the Yeezy fashion collection, it’s in the bespoke sartorial splendor of Nile Rodgers’ gear, it’s in the startling world wide success of Straight out of Compton, it’s in the deal that Apple struck with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, it’s in Barack Obama’s voice as he sings an Al Green classic from the stage of the Apollo Theater. It’s Q-Tip going to the White House. It’s in the Hotline Bling, it’s in the Bad Boy Reunion Tour, the Netflix series, The Get Down, the 50 Cent produced, STARZ series, Power, the deeply sarcastic and brilliant humor of Donald Glover’s FX series, Atlanta. It’s Rhianna covering Vogue, it’s in her Work. It’s in Revolt TV. It’s in the bohemian hood funk of Anderson .Paak, the songs of freedom of Gregory Porter and the sweet and low sexiness of Kandace Springs. It’s Amy Schumer telling Charlie Rose that Obama’s summer playlist is cool because it includes a track from D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar album, it’s in Chris Rock’s Top 5 MCs, it’s Black Thought and ?uestlove rocking with Adele on The Tonight Show. It’s in All Def Digital. It’s in the prose of Colson Whitehead, Bryan Stevenson, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Heather Ann Thompson. It’s Kendrick Lamar illustrating the genocide of over incarceration on stage at The Grammys. It’s in the bold swagger of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, it’s in Common’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, it’s in Meshell Ndegeocello’s moving score for Queen Sugar. It was on the CDs that Alton Sterling was selling, it’s in Formation, it’s in your Lemonade, it’s in this essay, it’s everywhere. Can’t you feel it?
Posted in Film, hip hop, insideplaya, Music, Soul City | Tagged Abstract Radio, Al Green, Amy Schumer, Anderson. Paak, Apple Music, Beats 1, Beyonce, Charlie Rose, Chris Rock, Donald Glover, insideplaya, Jimi Hendrix, Kandace Sprimgs, Kendrick Lamar, Miles Davis, Q-Tip, Soul City, Tidal, Yeezy | 1 Comment »
Q-Tip’s co-manager, Kim Lumpkin confirms that Tip has received an invitation to the White House via the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to address the winners of Thursday’s National Student Poets Program. This will be the fifth class of student poets to be honored by noted hip hop head and long time ATCQ fan, Michelle Obama along with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as well as the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Always keeping it arts and crafts, Tip, the host of Apple Music’s Beats 1’s Abstract Radio Show was recently named the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Hip Hop Culture, and is maintaining the Native Tongue tradition of mixing progressive politics, conscious thought and rhyme.
The five students who will be honored are Stella Binion of Chicago, Maya Eashwaran of Alpharetta Ga., Gopal Raman of Dallas, Tx., Joey Reisberg of Towson, Md. and Maya Salameh of San Diego, Ca. Tip is expected to speak to the young poets and presumably offer encouragement and insight to the creative life. While discussing Thursday’s event with the playa, Kim Lumpkin asked, “How dope is that?”
We think it’s mad dope.
Posted in Education, hip hop, insideplaya, Music, Politics, Soul, Soul City, Uncategorized, Washington D.C. | Tagged A Tribe Called Quest, Abstract Radio, Apple Music, Beats 1, insideplaya, Michelle Obama, Q-Tip, Soul City, White House | Leave a Comment »