A Push For Parity in Hip Hop

I appreciate all types of Rap music. For my entire conscious life, I’ve been listening to Hip Hop. I was born in Boston, MA in 1980, the youngest of 3 by a good chunk. My siblings are 12 and 14 years older than I am, so at the age that my memory kicks in, right around 4 or 5 years old, my brother and sister were in their late teens approaching their 20s.  We’re of Puerto Rican descent, so we listed to plenty of Salsa, Merengue, and even some Cumbia, but my brother and sister were also listening to a lot of Rap music. Being the impressionable youngest sibling, I couldn’t help but to follow their lead.  This meant that my first musical preference was Rap music, and truth be told it has been ever since. I often say that Hip Hop and the Boston Celtics were my first loves, and I’m only half-joking. I’ll write about Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ, and Danny Ainge being responsible for many of my favorite childhood memories some other day. Today, my focus is on my love of Hip Hop, and more specifically, how much the lack of parity in the brand of Rap that the industry pushes these days is not only damaging to the culture, but frustrating for the ‘older’ Hip Hop head, such as myself.

To that end, I remember a time when there was in fact parity in Hip Hop at the industry level. For much of Hip Hop’s “first” decade, the 1980s, Rap music was relatively safe and non-threatening to the masses. I put “first” in quotations because the origins of Rap can be traced further back than 1980, but for the simplicity’s sake, given that many of the first Hip Hop records were released in the early 80s, let’s work with it. That said, though tracks such as Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message” took an honest look at inner-city plight, they were curse-free. Thought-provoking and revolutionary yes, but there wasn’t much push-back from mainstream America because lyrically, the tracks were clean. Acts such as The Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, MC Lyte, Run DMC, Slick Rick, Doug E Fresh, and Salt ‘n Pepa made tracks that were fun and party-oriented at times, and deeper and reflective of urban community struggles at others. Some tracks contained some sexual innuendo and even the occasional reference to street violence and gang activity. But again, with very little cursing going on and the focus more on lyrics and artistic expression, the mainstream wasn’t too concerned or threatened.

CLICK HERE for Scholar’s thoughts on the lack of parity in Hip Hop…

Pats Preview – Can BB’s DB’s Be Elite?

darrelle-revisFor the third of my 3-part series on question areas for the New England Patriots, today we look at the defensive secondary, a group with few questions about youthful inexperience and more a study in new and/or moving pieces. A steady building project of Belichick’s over the past four seasons, the Pats’ secondary is nearly entirely made up of players the Patriots have drafted since 2010 (with McCourty in the 1st round), many of them taken from a certain college in New Jersey. The biggest acquisition of the off-season was obviously Darrelle Revis, widely considered to be the best cornerback in the game and an historic obstacle for the Pats in his time with the Jets. The Revis signing came the same week in March that Aqib Talib was whisked away by a large Broncos contract. While Revis’ deal is a complicated style of 2-year deal , the impact for even a single season is palpable. Perhaps even more importantly, his presence allows the rest of the Patriots defensive backs to not be forced into roles unbefitting them, creating greater depth to the defense. While Talib’s impact in Denver has also been considerable – 6 tackles, 4 passes deflected, an energetic boost – it’s not difficult to see the upward move the Patriots made from Talib to Revis.

The other free agent acquisition that has flown somewhat under the radar is former Seahawk and CFL’er, Brandon Browner, who can re-join the team after serving a four-game suspension to start the season. Browner is a big aggressive corner and is seen by many to be the heir-apparent to the starting position across from Revis’ Vineyard once he returns. His suspension is an odd one, relating to missed drug tests during his time in the CFL and a recent positive test for weed. Once he returns for the Week 5 Sunday night matchup against Cincinnati, the Patriots will be looking at perhaps the best set of starting DB’s in the league (Richard Sherman, keep your angry ranting emails/tweets to yourself) – quite a switch from a year ago. The duo will not only shut down the opposing team’s best receivers but will allow greater versatility to the Safeties behind them and pass rushers in front of them. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves by a few weeks.

Presently starting in the #2 CB spot is third-year man Alfonzo Dennard, who has also seen looks at the Safety position (versatility, versatility…). Projected to go high in the 2012 draft, Dennard saw his draft stock drop, mainly due to an incident in Nebraska involving an assault on a cop a week before the draft, turning him into a 7th-rd bargain for the Patriots. He made his presence felt with three big interceptions in his first season (two returned for TD’s) and last year he started 13 games, rotating in with the insufferable Kyle Arrington. With 8 passes deflected over each of the first two seasons, Dennard has grown into someone Belichick can trust and while Browner’s return will undoubtedly shuffle him down a spot on the depth chart, his place as a part of the secondary is secure. logan ryan intHe was a surprising scratch for Week 2, relating to a possible shoulder issue. His absence allowed the 2013 3rd-rd pick Logan Ryan to find some time to shine to the tune of 3 tackles, 2 passes deflected and 1 interception. Ryan, like Dennard, is another product of Rutgers and found himself starting several games late last season as Dennard recovered from injury. Ryan’s 5 interceptions last season led the Patriots defense and if Dennard has to spend any significant time out, we may be hearing a lot more from him.

Just how good can this secondary be? READ ON…

Pats Preview – Here, Catch!

Welcome back Sports Fans!

In the second of my three-part series on the New England football Patriots, today we’re going to take a quick look at the WR position. Last year’s WR corps was notable for its lack of experience… or skill… or general forward progress. It was the first year in recent memory without a veteran holdover like Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Troy Brown, even guys like Danny Woodhead (despite the fact that he’s a RB) or Randy Moss (despite the fact that he’s a loon). In last year’s WR set it was rookies, Danny Amendola and the bright spot of the season, Julian Edelman. And as much as I like Edels and his prospects for the coming season, I don’t know that he would have found the space to flourish like he did if there had been other actual receiving talent on the team. Add into this youth movement a broken and incarcerated TE tandem that only a year before had looked like the next wave of the NFL’s future. Venerable superstars at the WR position have not been very plentiful in the Belichick era (the previously-mentioned loon and molly-popping Welker aside) but consistent, smart workers have always seemed to be rewarded by the Pats’ system and find their way to the top of the receiver depth chart. So the question before us is who will the system (and the Holy arm of Tom Freakin’ Brady) anoint for the 2014-5 season?

Sunday we got our first view of the passing game in its true form, so what did we learn? gronk spikeWe saw that, as is his style, Tommy is going spread the ball around, with four different receivers registering 4 catches or more while four other receivers got their hands on the ball at least once.  It was unsurprising to see Edelman leading the way, as his ability to run the underneath routes is crucial for marches down the field. The other bright spot for Pats fans and fantasy owners alike was the return of the Gronk Monster who pulled in 4 catches, one for an energizing second-quarter touchdown. The team was said to be limiting Rob Gronkowski’s play count, aiming to ease him back to full production but Brady’s excitement at the return his favorite target was apparent.

CLICK HERE to catch up on all the Pats’ receivers…

A Football Poem

Football MapAs summer fades & Autumn blooms and kids get back to class…
A grounds crew uses chalk to decorate freshly cut grass…
Some men suit up in armor, others wear black and white stripes…
The rest of us wake up intoxicated by the hype…
‘Cause as Sunday morning rolls around anticipation grows…
Time to cheer the home team on to victory against our foes…
Gutsy call! Solid running! Damn good catch! Better throw!
What a tackle! Nasty hit! Interception! Here we go!
Now we’ve got momentum, baby! High fives ’cause we’re on a roll…
What? Another flag?!?!? These refs are blind! That call was horrible!!!

CLICK HERE to finish reading ‘A Football Poem’…

Kasinova Tha Don – Thug Life Lives

Kasinova Tha DonBefore I get this post going, I want to emphasize two things. Firstly, I do not believe that Tupac Shakur is alive. Secondly, though much of the following text will in fact discuss the tug of war between the alive theories and debunking them, my main purpose for writing this piece is not to convince you one way or another, but rather to bring light to an artist whose music I recently came across that quite simply fascinated me, in large part because of my affinity for Tupac’s music; namely, Kasinova Tha Don. As per his various social media profiles, he’s an emcee out of New Jersey, endorsed by The Outlawz (the group Tupac founded who also hail from the Garden State). On his Facebook page he explains, “I discovered my love for music at the age of 9, when I stumbled across “Makaveli The Don 7 Day Theory,” and later decrees, “I am not here to replace “Pac”. I am here to complete his mission.”

CLICK HERE for more on Kasinova Tha Don and his striking musical similarities to 2Pac…

What’s the Story, Ferguson Missouri?

protestor in police circle

Mike brown

“Big Mike” Brown

 

Fortunately for all of us as members of an active democracy, the protests in Ferguson, MO have continued strongly for three weeks now. What would normally have been driven down under the heel of police action, the Ferguson protests have gained numbers and a higher profile over their course. In that time, the lessons, the implications and facts of the events have been subject to change, pushed in various directions by competing narratives. As an ongoing event, the various sides in this conflict have continuously worked for control of information, with some claiming that race has been over-emphasized while others have made it clear that this is only the tip of a racial iceberg that’s been sitting below our societal surface for too long. Even as protestors and supporters of the Brown family hold vigils for their deceased son, the St. Louis PD have organized a fund-raising effort and PR campaign to fight the “unfair shake” that Officer Darren Wilson is reportedly likely to receive. On our biased cable news channels, the battle for the narrative is fought most succinctly, wrapping talking points in conveniently punchy headlines and employing pundits to discuss these points ad nauseum; the more times you repeat something, the more likely it is to become true. In our personal discussions and on social media, opinions are thrown around with the freedom that online relative anonymity allows. Kansas City police officer, Marc Catron, recently made news by posting a false photo of Mike Brown on his facebook page with disparaging remarks such as, “Remember how white people rioted after OJs acquittal? Me neither.” The photo, showing a young man with a gun in his hand and a wad of money in his mouth, was actually of a murder defendant in Oregon. Catron is now “under internal review”.

Not Mike Brown

Not Mike Brown

Saying both sides of this conflict are fighting the same battle to control the narrative is inherently problematic. Firstly, saying so infers two polar sides to the conflict and, much like any tangled mess involving we humans, there are far more than just two. Secondly, placing two sides to the conflict assumes some relatively equal level of responsibility and I’d say that lets off the Ferguson PD pretty easy. In this large conversation there is a fact that is absolutely essential we not overlook: law enforcement officers (LEO’s), as protectors of Law and Order are ALWAYS to be held to a higher standard than both general civilians and any suspects/persons they may encounter in the course of performing their duties. To introduce the idea that these guys are just people, eager to do their job and get home to their family just like the rest of us ignores the basic idea that we have endowed each and every officer in this nation with a weapon (several, in fact) and a mandate to protect us. We therefore require from them a higher level of bravery, poise, sound decision-making, and selflessness than we would require of ourselves. Far too often, as we’ll see below, tragedies involving police originate/escalate because the officer ignores or forgets one or both of the following: 1. Police are to be held to a higher standard of conduct than civilians and 2. Police are not above the Law.  We’ll talk more about the latter in a moment but the former rears its head all too often as LEO supporters attempt this line of support: “If you were in the situation, you’d shoot first too.” Well I’m not a cop.  In truth, ANY event involving police abuse of power is a danger to our society so measuring police statistics on the matter becomes spurious in the face of any single tragedy.

As we look into the face of the #Ferguson protests and the subsequent conversation, there are two big points that need to be addressed.

Is the situation in Ferguson more about race or abuse of power? READ ON…

2014 VMA Timeline

VMA logoThe 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 Iggythis 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…

CLICK HERE for thoughts on Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Beyonce & all the action at the 2014 VMAs…

Pats Preview – Are These RB’s Ready to Run?

Patriots-Pat-300x225Ladies 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.

shane vereenScholar 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?

Ridley, Develin, White and others ahead – READ ON…

Happy Birthday Professa! – ‘What You Need’ Lyric Analysis

Chris Everson - aka Professa

Chris Everson – aka Professa of JP Lime Productions

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.

CLICK HERE for Scholar’s breakdown of Professa’s ‘What You Need’ verse…