Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘insideplaya’

The Ab is the abbreviated name of The Abstract Poetic, another fly pseudonym for the player more widely known as Q-Tip, the leader of A Tribe Called Quest. We work together on Apple Music’s Beats 1. He spins and I announce. We’ve got chemistry that we’ve developed over a period of nearly thirty year’s time. 
He called yesterday. Hearing from him is not the most unusual occurrence in and of itself, but he’s been busy lately – mad busy. Monday he and his fellow band mates shot a video, Wednesday night they had a listening party in Queens, and yesterday he was rehearsing for an appearance in support of Dave Chapelle’s first shot at hosting Saturday Night Live. The SNL gig jumps off tonight.

While he was on the phone, he had to pick up another call from Jonah Hill, and he’d already heard from Bradley Cooper. Rick Rubin texted his congratulations. Nas checked in, Alicia Keys and L Boogie checked in. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Rev. Run of Run/DMC checked in. All of this uptick in activity and interaction with these film, comedy, soul and Hip Hop headliners has been prompted by yesterday’s release of the sixth and last album from A Tribe Called Quest “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” the band’s first record in nearly twenty years. And the first one since the heartbreaking and sudden death of Tribe cofounder Phife Dawg, from complications due to Diabetes last spring.

“We Got it from Here… ” is on fire, and showing early signs of penetrating the public’s consciousness by receiving commercial acceptance in a way that is rare for records in these times. In an earlier era, you could easily track the success of a new release through radio air play and retail sales. Now, the online radio community, Soundcloud, You Tube, streaming, unauthorized downloading, file sharing and the rest have diminished the ability of record companies to quantify the success of their product. Even so, early indicators are that the record is already top ten in sales in eighteen countries (without the availability of a physical CD), and may possibly enter next week’s pop chart at number one. Epic Records chieftain and Black Pop overlord, L.A. Reid has got a left field smash with significant cultural importance on his hands.

The current political climate has upended the American status quo in a shockingly definitive fashion by unearthing an ugly underbelly of hatred that had been previously held in check. In an effort to reclaim economic and political power, working class whites and a large portion of voting Latinos elected an immature and bigoted political novice to the Oval Office. Blacks, Latinos with sounder political views, Muslims, women who want to maintain the right to choose, gays and people in need of affordable health care all feel less secure than we did at the beginning of the week. In uncertain times the need for solid, dependable ideas, concepts and institutions increases. A Tribe Called Quest is one of those durable brands that we can count on in times of distress to soothe our souls with the healing power of Black Love.

Yesterday at an impromptu retail pop-up promotion in New York’s Chinatown, a line of eager Tribe fans, that went totally around the block in both directions, and met itself at the beginning, began to form six hours before the doors opened. While attending the event, Tip encountered a young woman who was despondent about America’s recent choice for president. She confessed that she’d been considering suicide because of our national folly until she heard “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and now she has the hope to go on.

The young fan is not the only one who has been feeling a little down lately. The record has been giving me life too. It’s dope, game changing and badly needed.  I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of WGIFHTY4YS in various stages of completion for nearly a year. The intensity of the production and performances far outshines anything else in the marketplace right now – Tribe is playing chess while the rest of these kids are playing marbles.

When I visited Tip in September at his home in Soul City, he played a relatively complete version of the project for me over the course of three nights. The majority of the record was recorded in the Ab Lab in the basement of his crib. Based on that first night’s playback, I was so overwhelmed by what I heard that I had to excuse myself and go to sleep. I didn’t have the required stamina to hear that level of sophistication and fury. Subsequent listens inspired tears.

Sonically this record is somewhat undefinable but it is rooted more in a slick Pop/Funk thing that can only be described as the Q-Tip sound. He’s been digging in the crates where the rarest of grooves can be found, but has incorporated. a good deal of live playing that fits his overall concept well. With this record, Q-Tip, the master conceptualist, DJ and MC has stepped forward to the elite ranks of record producers working in music today.

They’re all on it. All the Tribesman; Tip, Busta Rhymes, Jarobi, Consequence, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife. A few friends helped out too; Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Marsha Ambrosious, Jack White, Elton John and a new voice on the record’s tribute to better living through chemistry “Melatonin,” Abby Smith. The group addresses hot topics in the intellectually conscious, insightful, humorous and funky way that has made the band one of Hip Hop’s best of all time. Tip, Jarobi and Phife set the pace from track one on “Space Program,” a demand for the listener to wake up to the pervasiveness of the affects of wealth inequality among other things. Other standout tracks include ; “Whateva Will Be,” a proud display of human and lyrical identity; “Dis Generation,” a tight freestyle with pop potential; “Lost Somebody,” the tribute to a fallen comrade and the b-boy workouts; “Möbius” and “The Donald,” a couple of joints where Consequence, Busta, Phife and Tip rock steady.

It’s been a long journey from the beginning for Tribe. It’s been a path laden with success, disappointment, defeat, death, healing and triumph. A lot of life was lived in the eighteen years that passed in between now and their most recent record. We are reminded that creating great art requires sacrifice and pain. Without it there will be no joy. This record sounds like all of that took place and got poured into its creation. Those eighteen years were time well spent because this is the best Tribe record ever. Get one right away. You can thank me later.

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

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. An experimental scene 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 an era when Madonna, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Grandmaster Flash and others made their bones. Due to 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 Mapplethorpe, playwright Sam Shepard and the 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?”

“Yes.”

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?”, and continued, “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 gifts. 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.

insideplaya

For Michael Stipe, Annabella Sciorra, Julie Panabianco, The Ab, Hilly Kristel (R.I.P.) and Ray Fallon

Read Full Post »


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? 

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

Q-Tip

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.

the playa

Read Full Post »

I’m not chastising anybody. I’m not preaching. I’m not acting like I’m on a higher plane or that I’m more evolved than the next man. That said, last week’s assassination of five Dallas cops, and the attempted assassination of six others was wrong. It was the kind of evil deed that has no place in a civilized society. I sympathize with the losses of the families, loved ones and co-workers involved. Policing is dangerous business, but as we have seen again, it’s dirty business too.

You saw it just like I did. The video footage captured it all one more time for the world to see. Alton Stringer was wrestled to the ground and held under control by two Baton Rouge cops. They had him pinned. He was caught. All that was left was to cuff him. Instead he was shot in the chest repeatedly. Bystanders caught the murder on video. The clip went viral. As of this writing, no arrests have been made.

We had barely enough time to process the execution of Alton Stringer when a video posted to Facebook Live captured another assassination. During a routine traffic stop in an outlying suburb of St. Paul, a cop stuck his weapon in the open front window of the passenger side of a car and murdered Philando Castille, an admired public school cafeteria worker. Philando’s girlfriend was in the driver’s seat and her four year old daughter sat in the back. The girlfriend posted the shocking episode to her Facebook page.

The victims were Black. You knew that, right? Because the country has been plunged into another debate about the merits of the Black Lives Matter movement instead of taking a serious look at the lethal use of force by agents of the state. Passive aggressive, non empathetic and racist commenters would remind us that All Lives Matter. My take? I guess all lives would matter if those who keep killing us would receive due process and punishment – which is certainly better than the victims of this continued bloodshed have received.

And then there are those who would say that if you don’t resist you won’t be killed. Philando Castille was reaching for his license and registration when he informed his assailant that he was carrying a weapon that he had a license for. The cop shot him four times at point blank range. A video that surfaced last year showed a North Charleston, South Carolina cop shooting Walter Scott in the back while he was running away. Scott had been stopped for a busted taillight and ran because he feared prosecution over missed child support payments. Alton Stringer was selling CDs.

None of these instances carry the death penalty. Unless the real crime is blackness. Unforgivable, unbreakable, beautiful blackness. The crime that doesn’t require arrest, arraignment, prosecution, judgement or jurors. The crime that was once prosecuted by slavery and at other times by lynching. The crime that allows cops to end the lives of the perpetrators with full knowledge that they will get away with it.

I mourn the Dallas police who were killed, but I fear for my own life. I fear for the lives of cousins, uncles, friends, schoolmates and strangers alike. We are all at risk. Why? Because on the wrong street at the wrong time, no cop can tell how well traveled I am, how well connected I am, how well read I am, how much of a contribution I’ve made or how positive my intentions are. To that cop I may just be any other nigger or a thug. Not human, not a citizen – nothing.

With one fatal decision a cop can erase my past, remove my future and give my loved ones cause to doubt the system. The system that we have invested in as students, laborers, educators, clergymen, business people, writers, advocates and activists. The system that we have fought so dearly to be a part of so that we may be afforded the full rights of American citizenship and equal protection under the law. Yes, a cop can end it all and get away with it. Because the crime of being a nigger on a sunny day is greater than taking the life of one. How much more of this shit do we have to take? I am tired of these motherfuckers killing us, getting away with and people acting like it’s all good. – insideplaya

Read Full Post »

20150521-144910.jpg

Jan and Marvin Gaye

After The Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye by Jan Gaye, Marvin Gaye’s second wife, and David Ritz is a deeply moving account of a love gone wrong, and a reminder that love is seldom enough on its own. At the age of sixteen, Jan met the then thirty-three year old genius, Marvin during the early stages of his recording of the classic “Let’s Get It On” album. Her beauty, youth and presence ignited Marvin’s creativity and secured Jan’s historic role as soul music’s greatest muse. She has written a page turner that I could not put down.

Throughout the book, Jan takes great care to describe Marvin as a loving but confused patriarch who tried to provide for his wife, his children and his extended family. There are passages where Marvin’s love for his children and for Jan is apparent, and her love for him as well. She also depicts the great artist as vain, shallow, manipulative, cruel and indifferent to the wishes of loved ones – you know; a rock star. According to Jan, Marvin’s insecure doubting of her affection for him and his constant taunting drove her into affairs with both Frankie Beverly and the great Teddy Pendergrass. She also gives honest accounts of real and suspected dalliances that Marvin had with both well known and obscure women.

“After The Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye is not a sensationalized tell all, instead it is a cautionary tale of how insecurity, dysfunction and cruelty can end the greatest of loves while that love can inspire world class art. Her uncertainty and insecurity made the then young girl submit to sexual fantasies of Marvin’s that she now regrets. Her inexperience led her to forego her education, move in with Marvin and in the name of love, abandon any pursuit of marketable skills while becoming financially dependent on a free spending addict. Jan also reveals how she and her late husband shared a deep spirituality as well as a mutual love of top shelf quality drugs. In the book, she has shared as much about her personal struggle with, and triumph over substances as she has shared about anyone else’s.

Her heartbreaking tale describes how the ill matched couple had very little chance of succeeding from the start; she had been raised in an uncertified foster care home where she’d been dumped by her loving but drug addicted mother and became the victim of sexual abuse. He had been the son of a deeply religious, evangelical cross dressing father who’d beaten Marvin mercilessly for questioning the elder’s fashion sense, and daring to raise the possibility that his gender bending attire may have brought dishonor to the family name. Marvin was also a superstar depressive who had lost his way and was using copious amounts of drugs to numb the pain from the break-up of his first marriage. Jan and Marvin never had a chance.

I spoke with Jan, earlier this year, via telephone. She called for the purpose of nervously reading the book’s first chapter to me, and getting my opinion. She hadn’t turned in her manuscript to her publisher yet, so I felt flattered by the sneak preview. I assured her that what she’d written was great, and it was, but in no way had her excerpt prepared me for the exceptionally intimate, personal and poetic work of depth and beauty that she and Ritz have delivered.

Jan describe how life at the side of a glamorous ’70s sex symbol was like living in the eye of a hurricane. She writes of the unscrupulous promoters, Marvin’s ambivalence about performing, and his stage fright. She writes of Motown pressuring the superstar for bigger and more frequent hits. She writes of Marvin’s loyalty to Motown chieftain, Berry Gordy, and Marvin’s bitter resentment of Gordy’s lack of appreciation for his artistic ambitions. The book insightfully examines the complications caused by Marvin’s marriage to, and ultimate divorce from Gordy’s sister Anna. There are also recollections of delusional managers who could not manage the great but unmanageable talent, and vignettes about accountants and business managers who could not convince Marvin to spend less frequently, save more often or pay his taxes. She has written beautifully about the gorgeous messiness of love in the shadows of stardom while it’s shrouded in the fog addiction.

Recently Jan and her children have been in the news as a result of having won a seven figure judgement against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, in a copyright infringement lawsuit, over the contention that their “Blurred Lines” record of two summer’s back too closely resembled Marvin Gaye’s dance floor classic “Got To Give It Up”. It has been said that the landmark decision will put a chill on musical creativity, and that a business built on sampling the work of others has been rocked at its core. Time will tell.

Of course, for me, the most interesting portions of the book are the ones where Jan describes the creative process that Marvin, the hit maker, went through to come up with the albums; “Here My Dear”; “I Want You”; Let’s Get It On” and the smash single “Got To Give It Up”, and the subtle way that she inspired and guided Marvin to the expression of his best and higher artistic potential.

This book is her love letter to her mentor, partner and former husband who was tragically murdered by the hand of the cross dressing father who vied for control of the Gaye clan with his strong willed son. It is her deeply personal confession of the adoration, confusion and regret that she felt as a result of falling up to her eyeballs in love with one of the most creative figures of the twentieth century. It proves that Marvin’s spirit still speaks to all of us through his music and through this tremendously written work. For soul music fans and those who are interested in black creativity and pop culture it is a must read. Jan Gaye hit this one out of the park.

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

El Toro Negro

El Toro Negro

The genius Stevie Wonder turned 65 years old yesterday. It is hard to believe that he has reached the official point of senior citizenship. It seems like just yesterday when I first heard his records. He was a kid like I was. A Taurus like me too, he called himself “El Toro Negro” (The Balck Bull). A decade older maybe, but still a kid. A big fun loving kid who dressed like Ray Charles played the piano and caused trouble when he picked up that harmonica to play it. His youthful exuberance made the occasion of my Uncle Dave’s funeral truly memorable because my older cousins Joan, Jimmy and Carl (Uncle Dave’s niece and nephews) were all closer to Stevie’s age and had been hip to the Wonder get down before me. They, fortunately, wanted to share the gift of Stevie’s genius with their little cousin, and the gift has kept on giving ever since.

There aren’t many artists or records that you can recall exactly where and when you first heard them, but for me, Stevie Wonder is one of them. I was six or seven and I’d traveled from Soul City with my mother and grandmother to Springfield, Massachusetts for was supposed to be a sober and somber event when I “got it”, for real, after hearing my older cousins playing “Uptight”, the slangy, up-tempo, Soul Music romp by the then sixteen-year-old Stevie, the night before Uncle Dave’s home going – funky bunch of kids we were.

Like most African-Americans of, or near my generation, I have felt a deep connection to Stevie Wonder’s music for the past fifty years. He is the most important musical reason that I chose to pursue a career as a record man. Earlier today, I did what I normally do on the great man’s birthday, I listened to his music, and I posted some of it on my Facebook timeline.

A noted author who wrote, an important non-fiction book about a particularly messy, and corrupt period in the career of a key record business figure who I’d worked with about 25 years ago, made what appeared to be a sarcastic remark about how much I love Stevie Wonder. Though he is a celebrated author with a national reputation, his comment revealed a lack of consciousness. Because if he understood what it meant to be young and Black in an America that was finding its way after King was assassinated, and during the rise of Black militancy as exhibited by; the Panthers, Stokley Carmichael’s SNCC, and Angela Davis; during and after Vietnam and Watergate. If he understood how closely intertwined Wonder’s music was with the struggle and rise of a people, and how that music, which was as potent as King’s message of non-violence. or James Brown’s message of self-determination, and how that music provided a platform that Wonder used to get the King Holiday through the US Congress, and how many house parties that music jumped off, then yes, he’d understand how much I love Stevie Wonder. I loved him because he was a potent voice of my America when we didn’t have many. Happy birthday El Toro Negro, nobody ever did it like you. Thank you.

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

dangelo-1.22.2013.

THE BLACK MESSIAH

Interesting moment we’re living through; just last weekend, Chris Rock returned to the big screen with his self-written and directed starring vehicle “Top Five”, a sweet, funny and romantic tale that co-stars Rosario Dawson, and has been deeply influenced by Chris’ love of Woody Allen films. My love of Woody Allen films has given me the lens to see Chris’s work in its proper light, and I have to recommend ‘Top Five” wholeheartedly. Not surprisingly, audiences are responding enthusiastically and have given the top banana two thumbs up to the tune of a $7million opening weekend-good enough to place it in the top five of all films that played last week in the US.

Sunday night, I finished reading an excellent book by former Huffington Post editor, Marcus Baram. His debut effort is a biography on the activist, poet, blues, jazz, and soul man, Gil Scott-Heron entitled, “Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man” and it’s stellar. It is the perfect companion to Scott-Heron’s own 2012 memoir “The Last Holiday”. Baram’s book gives great insight into Gil’s eccentric ride in the music business, and his battles with commercial and corporate expectations, family responsibilities, the press, band mates and addiction. It also gives political, cultural and historic context to Scott-Heron’s poetry and political activism. It is a must read for these revolutionary times that we’re living through.

Chris-Rock-and-Rosario-Dawson-in-NYC-in-Top-Five-Movie-Film-2014

CHRIS ROCK and ROSARIO DAWSON

The day before I finished Baram’s book, word of another troubled Black genius came across my Facebook newsfeed, Bad Boy/Soul Man, D’Angelo has returned to the fray with a flurry of excitement. News of his first full – length studio project in 15 years broke the Internet when “Sugah Daddy”, a set up track from “Black Messiah”, the highly anticipated album, was made available for streaming, and as a free download for a limited time. The buzz was deafening, I followed, and I went to hear it.

I’d heard “Sugah Daddy”, when I last saw D’Angelo perform, he was here in Charlotte, and he came through in September of 2012 as an opener on a Mary J. Blige tour in support of her “My Life II” project. D played “Sugah Daddy’ that night, and later at an impromptu backstage meeting with D and veteran Soul Music player, Alan Leeds, I expressed my support for “Sugah Daddy” as a lead single. My thinking was that even though it may not be a home run radio charter, it would serve well as a set up single. I remember saying, “Stop bullshitting, put the motherfucker out.” We all laughed at how easily my old promotion man’s humor and swagger could be called upon in the right circumstances.

Swagger and humor that I earned during my battles in the radio wars. You see, I spent nearly a decade as a promotion man during the period when Hip Hop bubbled up from the underground and became Black oil for the corporate multi-nationals. After that, I became an A&R man, the A&R man who signed D’Angelo to his first record deal. The one who rocked with him during the writing of his masterwork, “Brown Sugar”. So you see, I’m somewhat familiar with the “D’Angelo sound” and its roots.

It starts in the South and in the Black church. His granddaddy was a preacher, and his daddy was too, D was the director of the Senior Choir at his granddaddy’s church at the age of seven. All churches have hierarchies and Black churches are no different. The senior choir in a Black church is populated with the voices that are most steeped in the Black gospel tradition and feeling. They are entrusted to deliver all the show-stopping, house quaking, spirit invoking hymns on the Sundays they sing. Usually, after they have made a joyful noise, the collection plate gets passed around, and if they have done their job well, the congregation will shell out the cash in support of the lord. When you witness this as a young child, the connection between purity of expression, art and commerce is forever embedded in your psyche.

Like Gil Scott-Heron, D’Angelo is a gifted southerner who is deeply steeped in the Black arts of Blues, Gospel, and Soul, and his “Black Messiah” reflects it. Also like Scott-Heron’s work, it reflects his disdain for corporate interference and commercial considerations. The album is deep, Black, funky, exquisitely performed and confused. It has no clear direction and the songs are sung with muted and inaudible vocals. Lyrics have surfaced on various sites on the Internet – somebody over at RCA is really thinking. The project has inspired online debate as to whether or not it is an instant classic, unfinished or even good. As my friend Chris Rock shared with me, “It’s a beautiful mess”. I would agree. Projected first-week sales have been quoted at the 100,000 mark. D’Angelo, and all of the attendant controversy that comes with him is back.

In May of this year, here on this blog, I wrote an open letter to D that (amongst other things) chided him for fostering a hoax on the public as the self-anointed “future of the funk”. I stand corrected; he is funk’s last best hope of survival. “Black Messiah” is a miracle born out of resistance to corporate interference and an unwillingness to assimilate into a Black Music marketplace filled with compromised synth based juvenile love songs, and pre-fab white rappers. It is the music of struggle, of pain and woe. It is uncompromisingly and authentically Black, and quite funky.

Many have inquired about my thoughts. Frankly, it is not a record that I would have helped him make. As a creative businessman with an ear to the street and an eye on the bottom line, it would have been irresponsible to encourage an artist to release a record in this form. However, I may have been wrong. Part of what an A&R man must do is to support courageous experimentation. In this regard, apparently, D’Angelo’s courage knows no bounds, and his uncompromising resistance to creative guidance may pay off well. And this may be the ideal soundtrack for the chaotic and unpredictable moment that we are living through. I hope it ends differently for him than it did for Gil.

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

20141214-172353.jpg

Read Full Post »

tumblr_nggj81Vs2u1rn7mtdo1_500

SCOTT RUDIN and AMY PASCAL

Last month, Sony Pictures became the victim of a massive hack into its computer systems and the company’s dirty laundry has been incrementally aired over the web ever since. Fascinating details of the inner workings of a major Hollywood studio concerning salaries, material, talent, and politics have emerged and become a dynamic source of debate on the Interwebs.

One of the leaked e-mail threads, in particular, has stirred a tremendous amount of anger. Sony Pictures Chair, Amy Pascal and top Hollywood and Broadway producer Scott Rudin had a personal e-mail exchange where they both made a racist conjecture about Barak Obama’s taste in films. In light of a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story where my old friend Chris Rock penned an essay that spelled out the reality that Hollywood was a town filled with racist liberals who, on the whole, continue to exclude blacks from decision-making positions, both Pascal and Rudin look like country club rednecks who secretly have the confederate flag hanging over their fireplaces. Ironically, the event that prompted the poorly chosen private joke was a high-powered fundraiser for Obama that Pascal would be attending later. After the story hit the web, both Rudin and Pascal issued apologies the next day.

Yesterday morning, after I posted an account of the TV producing powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes accusation that the press had been less than forthcoming by describing Rudin and Pascal as “insensitive” rather than “racist” when she Tweeted, “U can put a cherry on a pile of shit but it don’t make it a sundae,” a young Facebook friend of mine inquired, “Where’s the NAACP on this?”

When I responded, “What do they need to do? They apologized. It’s over.”

My friend was not too pleased with my response and posted, “Racism isn’t over. Wish it were that simple.”

Producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, creator of the

THE POWERHOUSE

In my opinion, that’s not debatable but it is an oversimplification. I don’t apologize for racists, but I think there’s more at work here so I answered, “And what would you suggest? Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Jay-Z are involved in Sony’s biggest Christmas movie (Annie). Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, and Beyoncé have all worked with Screen Gems (a Sony division), any complaints from them? Scott Rudin has produced the new Chris Rock movie (Top Five), you expecting to hear anything from Chris? Pharrell had Sony’s biggest record this past year, worked on the last Spider-Man soundtrack, and hired Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, you expecting to hear anything from them?”

He’s a smart kid, but an outsider whose reply indicated that he was less than impressed, “Facetiously, I suggest we say and do nothing and continue to receive handouts. Mere pittance. I say resoundingly, that there are more Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamars, Elbas, Foxxs…out there. While I love all of those individuals that you and I named, I suggest Hollywood stop going to the same individuals and let everyone on, not just Alicia, Idris, Lamar etc…. There are so many talented artists out there and they are being hindered and suffocated by the Pascals and Rudins of the world. Racism is subtle and cunning.”

It was early yesterday morning, and I didn’t have time to explain to my earnest friend the idea of bankability, the requirements to open a movie or that none of the previously mentioned artists were “let” in. No, they worked, clawed, fought and got themselves in a position where their talent was not only noticed but in demand. So I hit him with this, “I do not disagree that it’s cunning. I asked what would you do, not what you would have Hollywood do. You protest against policies not e-mails. Annie is not a pittance, and Will Smith is not taking handouts he is partnered with Sony management. Is there a need for more black involvement in Hollywood? Sure. Will boycotting Sony achieve that? I’m not sure it will. The real issues are these; 18 Sony employees in management are making north of half a million a year, none of them is black, and only one is a woman. Amy Pascal jokingly inquired of Rudin about what should she say to Obama because she doesn’t have enough black people in her circle. Entertainment is a closed network and cash intensive. If you know of independent third party financing that is really interested in serious entertainment driven by black creativity, let me know. I can help ’em get in the game quickly. You certainly can make your mark independently, but if you want to have true international success, you at some point will have to work within a corporate structure, and that means racists. Previously, the closest thing to this was the Imus situation and Donald Sterling neither of whom had the good sense to apologize. Rudin and Pascal have. Don’t expect to hear from the Hollywood NAACP on this they want to work.”

Are they racists? Perhaps. Was their exchange loaded with racist attitudes? Definitely. Are they discriminatory? That is the more important question, and in that regard the answer is less clear. Sony has helped Will Smith become a wealthy and powerful mogul. Before the hacking “Annie” was set to make a fortune for Smith, his producing partner Jay-Z and the film’s star, Jamie Foxx. Sony has also been instrumental in channeling the mega-wattage of Kevin Hart into films. Rudin has brought Denzel Washington, Chris Rock and Whoopi Goldberg to Broadway, remade “Shaft” with Samuel L. Jackson, has a film version of the ’70s TV series “Good Times” in development, and is working with a friend of mine to develop a musical version of a classic ’70s blaxploitation film for the big screen. Though Pascal and Rudin’s private e-mails reveal racist attitudes that are troubling their practices are not exactly discriminatory.

Barak Obama’s white house called Pascal and Rudin’s apologies, “appropriate”. I would have to agree. In addition to Pascal’s written apology, she also called Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson to offer her apologies to them as well. Sharpton issued a statement that indicated that she needed to meet with him. That’s code for, “Hit me with a consultant’s check, hire my people, and I’ll help this go away for you.” Here’s where I am with it: If Al puts the bite on her for more gigs, access and content then this was all a good thing. I personally don’t care what the contents of her personal e-mails are as much as I care that her production budget, marketing budget, and slate are both more inclusive and more reflective of where we are right now.

These are heated times we live in. Race and class based discrimination seen through the lens of new technology and Social Media has various factions of society at each other’s throats. Cop killers are getting away with murdering black people, and in response, people of good will of all colors, and from varied backgrounds are uniting in solidarity for justice. Students, artists, athletes, workers, intellectuals and politicians have all participated in demonstrations, die ins, I can’t breathe ins and marches of some sort since the Staten Island and Ferguson grand jury decisions were made public.

Later today, three marches in Boston, New York and Washington will continue to illuminate the corrupt practices of the criminal justice system, and mount public pressure on elected officials to address the will of the people. Despite the long hard journey ahead this is a moment that gives hope. For those of you who are uncertain of the usefulness and impact that these acts will eventually have, remember this: The Eric Garner grand jury decision was shared with the public last week, and since then, worldwide reaction has been stunning. If change does not come it won’t be because we didn’t fight for it. Personally, I remain hopeful and I’m encouraged by the amount of love that has been displayed on a global basis.

I have several friends who are participating in the organizing, the marching, protesting and the all out pursuit of justice for those who have been unjustly murdered, and their families. Hopefully, we will all get through this period in better shape than when we started. And if they are paying attention to the drama of the moment, maybe Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin will green light and produce a film of quality that depicts the struggle that we are going through. If they do, they should hire me as the music supervisor. I know what they are missing.

insideplaya

For Debbie, Sammy, Rush, Mike, Dream, The Justice League NYC, the inspired and the Freedom Fighters

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »