Sur5ill – Nerd Rap 101

Sur5ill 2The story of Sur5ill (@golerflame) is one of a growing trend of emcees from the inner city who acknowledge, but don’t necessarily identify with the street element behind much of Hip Hop. Born in Boston and spending the majority of his youth in the city’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Sur5ill would attend Boston Public Schools through his elementary years and go on to spend the bulk of his middle school and his entire high school tenure at a prestigious independent school in the Greater Boston area. During this time he began “internet battle rapping” as he terms it, a practice popular in the mid-late 1990s, where you post your raps in chat rooms via instant messaging programs and digitally duke it out for rhyme supremacy; the on-line version of a live Rap battle if you will.

It was also during these years that he came up with his stage name, “Sur5ill”, about which he states, “I was looking for a name that encapsulated my mindset, but it was stupid, I tried to include my favorite number in it.” After working said favorite number 5 into a few different nouns, he settled on “Sur5ill” – or “Survival” if sounded out phonetically. Though in a bit of a self-deprecating fashion he looks back on his insistence to include the number 5 as “stupid”, he also points out that he chose the word “ill” to round out his stage name because simply put, “I think I’m dope.” In one sentence, he admits that if you called him a “nerd”, he “wouldn’t take it as an insult,” and in the next, assessing the current state of Rap music notes that in his opinion there are “a lot of people bullshitting themselves thinking that they’re better than they really are.”

After graduating High School, Sur5ill would go on to split time between Morehouse College and UMass Boston before entering the work force, a period of his life which coincided with his first full foray into music, as a guitarist and vocalist for an alternative local Boston band called The LE Project . The birth child of a group of roommates and friends, Sur5ill notes that his time with the band was as a “good opportunity to evolve musically and not be hamstrung by people who were afraid of failure.” The result of these travels is a man who’s comfortable in both urban and suburban settings, whether among corporate types or in an artistic context.

CLICK HERE for more on Sur5ill, his latest mixtape, ‘Work’, and the Nerd Rap movement…

Rap Flashback, September edition

This month’s Rap Flashback features a look back at Tupac Shakur’s death as well as album releases by Jay Z, Outkast, Naughty by Nature, Queen Latifah, KRS One, and MC Lyte, along with a huge week in 1994 where Biggie, Craig Mack and Bad Boy Records changed the course of Rap history.  September Hip Hop birthdays are also highlighted, so get ‘ya popcorn ready and enjoy!

 

The Return of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

agents-of-shield-season-2It’s Fall, boys and girls, and that means it’s time for the return of some of the hottest series’ television has to offer. The Walking Dead returns October 12th for their last season and Sons of Anarchy kicked off in violent fashion two weeks ago for their final ride. Tonight though, September 23th, is one for the comic book fans amongst us as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for their sophomore season. A show that grabs at my particular nerd fandom, AoS returns for a second round with looming questions about the central plot (what is GH 325?), character developments (who/what is Skye really?), and cliffhangers (will Fitz survive?), as well as questions about its production: will the writers be able to maintain the level of interest gained in the second half of last season? What new characters from Marvel comics canon will they introduce, and how will the second season tie into Marvel’s film releases for the coming year? We’ll get to all this in a moment, as well as some of the rumors for Season 2 but first, True Believers, let’s take a step back and present some background into AoS for the uninitiated.

In the interwoven world of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), centered around the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a secret government organization, headed by Nick Fury (played by Sam Motherfuckin’ Jackson in the films), dealing primarily with terrorism and superhuman threats. It was represented in the Iron Man films almost exclusively by Fury and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. As the MCU grew to include the Thor and Captain America movies, along with The Avengers itself, S.H.I.E.L.D. remained a constant, growing in detail over time and finally into its own individual television entity last Fall. The show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. basically takes its jumping off point from this moment in the movie The Avengers:

coulson dead

The show begins in the “post-New York” world, where the central battle in The Avengers movie took place, changing the world forever with an alien invasion and the introduction of superheroes to the public. It is that battle that sees S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson perish at the hands of Loki, Thor’s evil brother and it is with Coulson’s death that Fury is able to bring the quarreling members of the Avengers together to face the invading foe.  In the subsequent show, the protagonist is a very much not dead Agent Coulson and much of the first season is spent hinting, chipping away at, and then finally revealing the mystery of how Coulson survived. The show sees him head a special rogue-ish group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, formed personally by Director Fury, that fly around on a superplane/operations base called The Bus to deal with strange, new cases, a few of which have links to the events from the films.

Agent Coulson, Nick Fury, and all other AoS news and rumors…READ ON…

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…