The VMAs are always a fun night. From Madonna’s legendary performance of ‘Like A Virgin’ & Janet Jackson tearing up the stage during her ‘Control’ run, to Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift & and Miley’s twerking fiasco, the VMAs always deliver a hotbed of pop culture moments that keep us entertained and talking. In my mid-30s now, I barely watch MTV these days and as far as the VMAs go, some years intrigue me, others don’t. This year, with all the femme-fatale star power – Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande, etc… I’m definitely intrigued. With that in mind, tonight I’ll be writing as I watch and sharing some of my thoughts on standout moments.
Uh oh, Sway’s on the Red Carpet, let’s get the party started.
8:00pm – Pre-show begins with the cast of ‘Teen Wolf’ on the Red Carpet. I don’t know what that means anymore. I always thought Michael J. Fox was the ‘Teen Wolf’. I must be getting old.
Christina Garibaldi and Lucy Hale of ‘Pretty Little Liars’ fame are co-hosting the pre-show with Sway. They interview Jason Derulo who proceeds to hype up his ‘Talk Dirty’ tour and then leads the crowd in the “first ever wave in MTV VMA history.” Annnnnnd, the crowd pulled it off. Not bad Jason Derulo, well-played.
8:05pm – Sway interviews Ariana Grande. She’s got a laid back vibe, but at the same time seems excited about the night. She looks absolutely stunning. Apparently she’s kicking off the show. Can’t wait for that.
8:14pm – Taylor Swift is interviewed and talks a bit about her upcoming album. It’s entitled, ’1989′, in part because that’s the year she was born. Oh my… Definitely feeling old now.
8:17pm – Sway interviews Iggy Azalea who’s performing and has 7 nominations tonight. She sounds very Australian in this interview. Ha! She looks fantastic, sporting either a great tan or a great tan spray job. She’s wearing a white/silver Versace dress that she says didn’t fit initially. She goes one to explain that ‘they busted it apart and [now] it looks great!’ I have NO idea what that means… Must be a fashion thing. A “Miley Cyrus” chant breaks out in the crowd. Iggy jokes that Miley’s about to twerk. I kinda wish it were the other way around.
8:20pm — Hey, it’s Gwen Stefani! Nice to see her on the Red Carpet. She dodged a question about whether she’ll be putting out any new music soon, sounding non-committal at best. That sucks. I’d love to hear some new Gwen. Quick shot of Miley on the segue to the commercial break. Thankfully, she wasn’t twerking. But the night is young.
8:25pm – Back from the commercial break and Miley’s being interviewed. Sway mentions to Miley that Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda‘ video surpassed her ‘Wrecking Ball’ video for number of views on Vevo in 24 hours (with a staggering 19.6 million). She praises Nicki’s ass and goes on to say that she’s moved on from the twerking vibe and that what’s most important is the music. Good for you Miley, some growth exhibited I suppose. But again, the night is young…
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the season of glory is nearly upon us. I can only be talking about one thing – that’s right, FOOTBALL SEASON IS ALMOST HERE!! Football is my absolute favorite. I love it. I love fantasy football, I love Sundays, I love over-indulging in the glorious Game of Kings, plainly said I mothe*****ing love football. As the pre-season winds down, the murky waters of roster battles begin to clear. For my hometown Patriots, while aspirations and potential are high, burning questions remain. In the first of a three-part pre-season series addressing three key question areas on the minds of Pats fans everywhere, this week we’ll attempt to decipher the roles of the running backs in the 2014 scheme.
Scholar and I got the chance to go to Friday’s pre-season game, the third and the best look at the team’s starters before the season begins in earnest (with starters usually playing little of the final pre-season game to prevent injury). One thing that was clear from that game, both inside Gillette and from your couch at home was Shane Vereen looked good. With two TD’s on the night, and 5 total receptions, Vereen is carving out a very nice role for himself in the ilk of Kevin Faulk or Danny Woodhead. Often called a third-down or “change of pace” back, running backs that are threat in the passing game are a somewhat recent necessity, with backs like Darren Sproles finding new levels of success at the position. The Pats rely on their screen package to keep defenses unbalanced and I predict Screen Vereen (that term is trademarked, not to be used without the expressed written consent of Prof Inc.) will build on his 47 receptions from last year, topping out this year with a higher total than Kevin Faulk’s best season of 58. Injury concerns persist for Vereen, though, having not played a complete NFL season yet. Can he stay healthy enough to be the Patriots’ best back?
Back in June, as a cool way to wish me a “Happy Birthday”, my band mate Professa put together a lyric analysis of one of my verses. Given that today is Prof’s birthday, I’m returning the favor with some thoughts on his verse from ‘What You Need‘, a track off our 2012 release, Blue Star Boulevard.
Throughout the song, when we say “we got what you want” and “what you need”, the intended meaning is both metaphoric and literal. Each of our verses offer our individual interpretations of that theme. Spaceman starts the track with “spectacular, oracular, stupendous / you hear the flow and you got it get in it”. On verse 2 I add, “witness the mind of every winner of all time, and every sinner’s cry to repent”. Space offers the listener a dynamic, prophetic delivery, an oracular flow if you will, while I piggy back with a winner’s mind packaged with a sinner’s penance, not unlike the “gift and the curse” motif other emcees have explored. Obviously both verses expound upon those ideas, but taking no credit away from either Space or myself, neither do so as brilliantly as Professa’s.
When you create songs in a group setting, especially with people whose ability you admire, it drives you to put your best foot forward every time – you always want to have the best verse on a track. Inevitably, when the song’s done that’s one of the things you listen for; who rocked it the best? On ‘What You Need’, Prof did. His voice, delivery, and cadence are trademark; a couplet master with a poet’s approach to Hip Hop using a deep, bass heavy, & raspy voice that I often joke sounds like the “Macho Man” Randy Savage with emcee skills. He employed all these characteristics masterfully on this song, delivering a vivid picture of what you, the listener needs, and utilized brilliant word play in doing so. With that in mind, here’s verse 3 of ‘What You Need’, by Professa, along with my thoughts on certain bars.
Perhaps the greatest measure of who we are is the mark we leave on other people. We can only ever see ourselves through our own slim, often critical perspective. Because of that, the people that become close to us and the ways we impact their lives truly paint the most honest picture of we are. In the wake of Robin Williams’ tragic passing last Monday, the outpouring of support has been impossible to ignore, with heartfelt, personal memories from many of his fellow comedians, actors and other public figures. Robin Williams was a true comic innovator, an under-rated and hard-working artist with a depth and diversity rarely seen. He was, by all accounts, a lover of fun with a passion for making others laugh and a sincere desire to meet and know all those he was working with, cast and crew. He was also a complicated man, chased by demons of substance abuse and depression who, it would be revealed posthumously, was battling the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. It can be difficult to imagine why someone so revered and someone so funny would make the decision to take their own life but for better or worse, placing oneself inside the mind of one the quickest wits of his generation and a man fighting his share of personal battles is impossible. Instead, let’s look at some of the most touching expressions and tributes from those he impacted in a way that only Robin Williams could.
Amidst the outpouring of emotion, actor Nathan Lane, who starred with Williams in 1996’s The Birdcage, felt compelled to dig deeper:
“I feel I have to say something more than just ‘heartbreaking and shocking’ which everyone has said and I feel as well, but something a little more personal. Thus the following: One day in 1995 while riffing in the character of a snobby French toy store owner, Robin made me laugh so hard and so long that I cried. It seemed to please him no end. Yesterday I cried again at the thought that he was gone.”
“What I will always remember about Robin,” he continued, “perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent, and astounding intellect, was his huge heart — his tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion as an acting partner, colleague, and fellow traveler in a difficult world. My heartfelt condolences to his wife and family.”
As one would expect, Chuck D’s latest album ‘The Black In Man‘, released on August 1st, 2014 (his 54th birthday) proves itself to be very hard-hitting and message driven. At this stage in his career, having served as the front-man for the both legendary &
revolutionary Public Enemy, a 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Chuck D has nothing left to prove musically, nor can anyone question his importance to Hip Hop culture. Gaining popularity in a period of Hip Hop’s evolution ranging from roughly 1987-1993, where Afrocentric Rap was celebrated among Hip Hop purists as well as the commercial mainstream, Public Enemy’s music is typically laced with overt themes of self-empowerment, pro-blackness, & truth-seeking. Chuck D has never been one to sugarcoat his messages or dilute the meaning of his words with metaphors and word play. In other words, Chuck D calls it like he sees it. To highlight that point we needn’t look further than his infamous bars from the 1989 smash hit, “Fight The Power”.
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist, that sucker was simple and plain
[Flava Flava] Motherfuck him and John Wayne
Cause I’m Black and I’m proud
I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps
With that in mind, my biggest takeaways from Chuck D’s latest solo effort is that I appreciate its intent as well as the strength and truth within the album’s central themes more than I actually enjoy it. That’s not to say it’s a bad work. I do like some of the tracks for more than their messages. Predictably deviating from many of today’s Hip Hop sonic trends, musically it’s refreshing to hear the throwback break-beat and boom-bap sounds used in tracks such as “Spread The Words“, “Get It Right Or Be Gone”, & “Leave With Your Own Mind”. Balanced with the Rock/Punk/Rap fusion of “Grudge” & “Ican” along with the call and response driven & James Brown inspired “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”, which borrows heavily (albeit respectfully) from the original, and the Mavis Staples assisted “Give We the Pride“, which features a funky disco groove, results in a sonically diverse album that steers completely away from the EDM, Trap, & New Age West Coast Funk sound that’s dominating popular music these days. Even harmonicas are featured at certain points throughout the album and its interludes, adding a blues / gospel feel to that fits perfectly with the album’s overall retro & empowering feel.
Last Wednesday night the Wu-Tang Clan made a both long-awaited and unexpected full-cast return with an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, officially announcing a November release for A Better Tomorrow, their sixth full group album and the first since 2007’s somewhat disappointing 8 Diagrams. In a music segment rare for The Daily Show, the shoguns of Shaolin trudged their way through lead single “Ron O’Neal” before actually getting the blood pumping with the Wu-Tang Forever hit “Triumph”. First, though, the group sat for an interview with Stewart centerstage of the 9-man line, genuine in his reverence for the semi-historic event. Anticipation for the new album has been high but details few, which made the Daily Show appearance all the more surprising. In a particularly poignant moment, Stewart asked Raekwon about the biggest challenges in bringing everyone together for the new album, following up with “Or was Chef the biggest challenge?” It’s difficult to know if the moment was an intentional or incidental reference to the latest round of in-fighting among the Crew revolving around Chef’s lack of involvement until late in the project and while I’d like to give Jon Stewart credit for being up on the latest Wu news, I’m leaning towards incidental. The group has had no lack of internal issues, from U-God’s departure in 2004, to Rae and Ghost’s conflicts with RZA around the time of 8 Diagrams, to GZA saying as recently as 2012 that the group “hasn’t been on the same page in years”. Does another wave of greatness await if they’re able to set these differences aside and re-form as a brotherhood?
The 2014 summer of live music continued this weekend as the Lollapalooza Music Festival concluded their 8-stage, three-day event this Sunday night at Grant Park in Chicago. Lollapalooza was created in 1991 by Perry Farrell, frontman for Jane’s Addiction, as a farewell tour for his soon retiring band. For eight years it existed as a travelling concert, assembling one of the largest bills of performers of any tour and especially championing the Alternative Rock genre. By the late 90’s Farrell
was having differences with the other organizers of the festival, mainly over the choices of acts, decrying a loss of the festival’s underground feel, and in 1997 he quit the tour.
After the 1998 festival dealt with its share of problems and eventual cancellation, it seemed to be the end of Lolla’s road. In 2003, though, Farrell attempted to bring Jane’s Addiction back together and with it, Lollapalooza. In 2005 Farrell joined forces with C3 Presents, re-structuring the festival as a two-day, one-location event in Chicago, adding a third day the following year. With 65,000 attending that first show in its new format, the festival has grown more than fourfold, with 300,000 attendees expected in 2014.
Day 1 was ruled by big names, kicking the festival off with a signature eclectic style. The gates opened at 11am to the familiar sound of John Williams’ Star Wars theme and after a short rain delay, the music got going by 12:30. Headliner Eminem, who attracted the festival’s biggest crowd, was joined by Slaughterhouse emcee Royce da 5’9” for the song “Fast Lane”. But as guest appearances go, that was only a tease as Rihanna came out next for the duo’s two collaboration tracks “Love the Way You Lie” and “Monster” as well as Rihanna taking on the Dido vocals in “Stan”. Em moved seamlessly between his various albums, going from “Marshall Mathers” into “Rap God”, followed by a tight pairing of “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” and “Still Don’t Give a Fuck” before ramping the set up with his guest stars. Crowds were forced to choose between the Great White Rapper and perennial favorite The Arctic Monkeys who both began in the last spot of the first night. Earlier on Friday, it was the attack of the women from down under as Australian Iggy Azalea hit the stage at 4:30 and New Zealander Lorde at 6:45. Completing the triumvirate of young, foreign female singer-songwiters, Swedish sensation Lykke Li returned to the Lolla stage at 7:30, the final spot before the headliners dominated the night. Nas, Outkast, Vic Mensa, Skrillex, R. Kelly?? READ MORE
Remy Ma, who was released from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility after serving a six-year bid for intentional assault, gave her first interview since being set free this past weekend with Hot 97′s Funkmaster Flex. Now going by her actual first name, ‘Reminisce’, she had some interesting things to say about the state of female emcees in the game. First and foremost, she discussed how supportive the Hip Hop community has been, alluding to a countdown to her release campaign on Instagram (and Twitter) that featured an outpouring of love from many prominent females in Hip Hop, such Missy Elliot, Da Brat, and Rah Digga. As encouraging as that is, let us not lose sight of the fact that Hip Hop is in fact a competitive sport, and it’s some of the things Rem said within that context that I found most interesting, particularly when contrasted with the lyrical content of the track she just put out with DJ Khaled, a remix to “They Don’t Love You No More” which features Meek Mill, French Montana, Jay Z, & Rick Ross on the original.
When Flex asked about the state of female emcees, setting up his question by alluding to the battles of supremacy between Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown back in the day and the subsequent changing of the guard, if you will, from Lil’ Kim to Nicki Minaj, Rem delivered a very intelligent & diplomatic reply.
“I was listening to a lot of the girls that are out right now. And not the ones that you named, but the ones that are trying to get in position. And it’s a lot of dope chicks that’s out there from what I heard… More than what I expected. But what I think happens with females in this game. They tend to allow other people to pit us against each other. They make it seem like it can only be one female. There can be a thousand guys putting out music and rapping and doing what they do, but when it comes to the females in this Hip Hop business, they make it seem like it can only be one… Alright if it’s more than one, [there] can be two but y’all better be at each other’s throat every chance that you get. And any time you say one of them things, you know they be like ‘oh yeah, she HAS to be talking THIS person when she said THAT.’ And I just feel like… it got really crazy, to the point where I wouldn’t tolerate it. I mean me personally, you know… Some people, they’re easily led astray. If you have enough people like ‘she’s coming AT you, you gotta say something,’ or ‘you tryin’ to get on ma, you gotta dis HER to get one because she’s winning right now…’ That’s not what it’s about. “
As Buffalo Springfield put it, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” In world politics and conflicts, it’s often easy to lose track of (or not know to begin with) the origins of a given conflict. We hear the big, breaking news but don’t know why or how this round of fighting got started. It’s especially difficult to get a clear picture of fault lines in a crisis that has been going on continuously for a century with roots that reach back thousands of years. So what do we need to know to understand the latest round of fighting in the world’s oldest blood feud? Let’s take a look…
First, some quick geography. The State of Israel is located in the heart of the Middle East, on the eastern bank of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered on the south by Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, by Jordan on the East and across the Dead Sea and Jordan River, on the Northeast by Syria, and on the North by Lebanon. It borders internally the Palestinian Territories of the Gaza Strip on the Southwestern edge, and the West Bank, named for its location on the Western bank of the Dead Sea. Though it was not and is not always this way, the primary points of conflict (at least since 1948) have been between Israel and the (occupied) Palestinian Territories. Though certainly not existing in a historical vacuum, the most recent conflict finds its roots in the kidnapping and execution of 3 Israeli students on June 12 in the West Bank. The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) began an operation to locate the teenagers and PM Netanyahu publicly blamed Hamas, which Hamas denied. The two and half weeks that followed were comprised of heavy raids in many areas of the West Bank, finally producing the bodies of the three victims on June 30. Then, with tensions still high, on July 2 the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was found burned to death. The suspects were arrested by Israeli police within a few hours but later that night a series of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel and Israel’s July 3 airstrike response began a familiar pattern of back-and-forth destruction. On July 17, the IDF began its present ground incursion into Gaza called Operation Protective Edge, with one of its primary goals being the destruction of the Hamas tunnels running from Gaza into Israel (and expertly explored by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer here).
I think this is a good place to pause for a brief history lesson. You can’t get where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been and the start of this seemingly unending struggle goes back at least a century. We could no doubt journey back further but let’s start with World War I when what would be known as Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
What is past is prologue.. READ MORE