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Lupe Fiasco and the Radical Messiness of Black Male Feeling

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I wonder if people – black people especially – really appreciate how beautiful it is to live at a time when black men are allowing themselves to feel so openly, to be emotional in public.

Lupe Fiasco articulates something that black men have been saying for a long time: that black men are dying, killing themselves and each other, that we live in a society where black male life is disposable. And he’s eloquent on the substance of what you see in this clip.

But what is truly remarkable is that he lets himself feel something more than just frustration and anger at the plight of black men. This is a display of profound, deep sadness. It’s love. Pure. Messy.

It takes Lupe Fiasco a minute to find the words. Those precious, awkward moments before he starts to find the words are wonderous, awe-inspiring, and deeply affecting.

And yet, when I watched this I was uncomfortable because I still don’t really know how to respond. This is not my vernacular. My reference is the 90s’ cold, hard grip on “keepin it real,” even as I never felt fully a part of that. My language is 2pac’s righteous indignation and anger, even it left me in so many ways illiterate.

I struggle with deep emotion. Still.

Artists like Drake, J. Cole, Frank Ocean, Kanye West and others are playing in space that is quite new. And while I think they often confuse narcissism for reflection and miss the mark in communicating what they are genuinely feeling, I appreciate so very much that the range of emotion that black men can feel publicly – and be successful and lauded – is so much broader now than it has been in the past.

Millennials have so many more colors to play with than previous generations allowed themselves. We should celebrate that.

Posted on July 28th, 2012 - Filed under Culture,Music,Self-reflection
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Imitating Life

I think Antoine Fuqua is right to cast his Tupac biopic with unknowns.

I actually don't understand Hollywood's penchant for casting movie stars as real people in biopics. The hardest job of a film actor is to make you forget that you've seen them in other things. That is even harder for movie stars – assuming they care that deeply, which I don't think most actually do – because they have cultivated a persona that threatens to supercede everything else in the performance.

When you add to that playing a real person who may or may not have notoriety or with whom an audience will have some familiarity, casting movie stars just seems unwise. I mean, did anyone really see anything other than Leo in The Aviator or Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line?

The Tupac biopic will likely be a standard biopic. It's unlikely that it will tell us anything new or interesting or revelatory about Tupac, especially given the fact that his mother is executive producing.

But in spite of that, Tupac himself could be the role of a lifetime for some young actor who can capture his great humanity without playing him as some weird contradiction the way he was characterized for so much of his career.

And the right performance can make even a bad film at least watchable.


Posted on February 12th, 2011 - Filed under Film
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Hip-Hop Dopeness: LL Cool J on Keith Murray’s Incredible

Before Tupac and Lord Jamar, LL Cool J was the emcee I wanted to be like.  I went through a stupid number of cassette tapes of Bigger and Deffer before I finally got a CD and treated it like the Holy damn Grail.

As we all know, over time LL’s attention was split and he fell off hard, releasing shitty album after shitty album.  But there was a brief period in the late 90s — you know, around the time he was beefin wit Canibus — when I thought LL was going to reassert his dominance and become the longest running great rapper alive.

This verse is one of the main reasons why:

I’m incredible I mix up shit like cake mix
Keep it blazin hot, rhymes burn to keep you frost bit
MC’s is assed out cause they lost it
Peep my foundation, the way I reinforce it
I monitor movements precisely
Makin niggas hit high notes like the Isleys
Finally some asses I can touch up
Tie em to the grill of my Six pop the clutch up
Hush up I rush up, inside your cut
Make you puss up, then bust up, cause my shit bumps
This Don’s Trumps, kill straight cats and all chumps
Cause “Life is like a box of chocolate,” Mr. Gump
Uh, the ultimatum, lets abbreviate em
LL platinum again, don’t you hate ‘im?
A thin line between darkness and sunshine
Five Percenters that was raised on swine
Known to be wise, and you wise to understand
Bringin me drama’s a handstand in quicksand
I’ve been hot so long, I’m immune
Your rap career get cut short like Poom-Pooms

Simply – economy of phrasing.  There are no extra words in this verse.  Every word hits hard.

I miss LL….*sigh*

Enjoy the crazy-ass video:

Posted on October 22nd, 2009 - Filed under Hip-Hop Dopeness,Music
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Biggie Biggie Biggie…

I was never a fan of Biggie (yes, since before the East Coast-West Coast media war).  I saw him at the Tunnel as a kid in NY right around the time Juicy dropped.  He was slovenly, rude, and could barely make it through his performance.  I was totally turned off.  I could never quite shake that image of him even as his legend and influence grew.  He always seemed like that Tunnel guy.  As an adult, I have an appreciation for his artistry even though I enjoy so very little of it.

But watching this trailer reminds me of my feeling that Hollywood is incapable of rendering any rapper’s life realistically and artfully.  I think this has to do with their perception that black men are contradictions, instead of complex human beings.  That perception always leads to oversimplification.

This film probably focuses a lot on Big’s war with Pac instead of the relationship between Big and Puff.  Or between Big and Faith and Kim (ugh, even Charli, if you wanna be a completist).

That said, this trailer convinces me that Derek Luke gives the performance of a lifetime as Puffy.  It shows very little of Anthony Mackie as Tupac, but the few scenes here are glaringly false and artificial.

Which brings me to my real question:

Where is the film about ‘Pac? 


Posted on October 27th, 2008 - Filed under Film,Music
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Tupac Overrated?


In Blender’s list of the most overrated “People, Places, Trends and Other Junk in Rock” Tupac Shakur takes the top slot.

I sometimes think stuff like this has more to do with the frustration that often happens with popularity than it does with any real beef with the work.  This feels to me like White people whining cause they just don’t get it and the fact that there is such zeal, such love, such passion for someone they don’t get is confusing and maddening.

I sympathize.  I understand that one recognizes that there’s a segment of ‘Pac’s fanbase that is in love with the myth and the drama, not the music.  I understand that so much of who we were told Pac was, what he chose to sell at different points in his career, what he was seduced by, was “dangerous” and “scary.”

Interestingly, any reasonable diehard hip-hop fan with any integrity will tell you that Tupac is not the greatest rapper.  In fact, that’s kinda what we been saying all along.  In fact, as he was being captured by the mainstream media and he started to believe all his own hype, we prayed we’d get him back.

Because here’s the thing about ‘Pac:

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Posted on September 4th, 2008 - Filed under Music
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