Thursday, March 24, 2016

BEATS, RHYMES & PHIFE: Malik Taylor (R.I.P.)

"Slum village gold still danglin' in your ear" is one of the many phrases Malik "Phife" Dawg" Taylor brought to the American lexicon and our lives. If life were math he would be known as a constant variable. Not heralded but always solidly present in your lives. Even with the knowledge of his troubles with diabetes no one expected to lose the 5 foot assassin at the young age of 45. The news of his death struck an nerve that I think lies somewhere between his commonality with his fans and his career that was built on meritocracy and not bullshit. Yesterday I saw and heard tributes to Phife varying from a morning deejay reduced to tears on-air to a traffic reporter do his daily report littered with The Phife Dawg's lyrics. I saw many a videos posted on social media and I include myself in that number. But it wasn't until I finally clicked on one video, Can I Kick It? and heard, "Can I kick it? To my Tribe that flows in layers/Right now, Phife is a poem sayer At times, I'm a studio conveyor/Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor?" did it really hit me the 5 foot assassin lives no more. For hot second, I was taken aback by the realization of what would be his permanent absence. I recall when Tupac died and while saddened I didn't feel the way I did on this day. I can't answer the why of my stilted reaction to Tupac but what's made the loss of Phife resonate is he was as I said a constant. A constant variable in hip hop and inevitably lives of those who grew up on his music. "Cause your lyrics is played, like 8 ball jackets" Every lyric wasn't a grand slam walk off homerun but it was always a stand up double to win a playoff series. These moments you can recall in those moments at the barbershop, a cookout or on the corner amongst hip hop heads. And we loved Phife because he earned it like we as people appreciate as opposed to those, who are pushed to heights on superficial bullshit. "Phife Dawg my name but onstage call me Dyno-Mutt" Self admittedly, Phife knows he wasn't in many of the recording sessions of ATCQ's debut CD People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. And easily hip hop could assume ATCQ would soon be called Q-Tip and the Tribe or dissolve in classic Newports & Puma sweats fashion. But alas on the ground breaking Low End Theory ATCQ developed their signature sound and hip hop truly met the man we would know as Phife Dawg. "Tell me that I can't tear it up/go get some yourself some toilet paper because your lyrics is butt." From the drop of the irresistible head nodding Low End Theory's 1st single Check the Rhyme, we knew ATCQ had stepped up the game on their sophomore effort. We even appreciated Phife's middle verse from his first utterance, "Now here's a funky introduction of how nice I am/tell your mother, tell your father/send a telegram..." and onto the end. But Phife at this point was still that good kid from the neighborhood you always said "what's up" to and respected but still kept it moving. But not until people bought the Low End CD and heard Phife proverbally "let loose the lion" on what was his first lead off on an ATCQ track, Buggin' Out, did we realize 'little man is niiiiiiiice'. From "Yo! Microphone check 1-2 what is" to his "room freezing" move of stopping the entire track to say "If a crowd is in my room, I say 'mic please'" as if to say "I thought you knew my name was Phife Diggy". Yes we now knew that Malik from around the way had true emcee skills and was a true member of ATCQ. "Next time you think you want something here/Make something def or take that garbage to St Elsewhere" And Phife would step up his game show us his high level emcee consistency on the classic Midnight Marauders, Beats Rhymes & Life, in concert and subsequent ATCQ efforts. Phife would tell us his stories b balling, an amorous girl named Flo and many tales to which we could relate as kids of the time. We saw Phife as one of those guys you were happy to see when he came in the party because he was sure to leave with you something while not monumental but by no means unforgettable. Phife was never in emcees beefs. He never beat his chest, he just stepped to the mic, had his say and we listened. Because greatness never asks for your attention for it just always has it. "When's the last time you seen a funky diabetic" So while Phife may not be a mainstay in the evergreen debate of Top 5 Emcees, he is a mainstay in hip hop culture and in being part of that, also American culture. So while we weren't always looking for Malik Taylor, when Malik Taylor stepped to the mic WE ALWAYS LOOKED. Now follow me! Follow me to freedom!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


If you keep treating human beings like Freddie Gray and continually say "The police did nothing wrong" like people have no common sense Baltimore and other cities will happen. Let me first say when I say "police" I strictly mean the police who handled Freddie Gray and not the entire Baltimore Police Department. I know too many members of police enforcement who are a cut above in doing their jobs. I can't stress enough the things that cannot be proven, in cases like Gray's, because there's usually only one testimony of an incident that involved two people. And sadly the victims are not here to speak on the incidents. Isn't it natural to wonder what kind of "medical emergencies arose" (the police's words) that would result in the HANDCUFFED Freddie Gray having an 80% severed spine? If it were from the van ride why didn't the police officers suffer any injuries? An 80% severed spine can only come from serious force (be it man made or accident). So what could a HANDCUFFED Gray do like that to severe 80% of his spine? It doesn't add up but I've recently read an article showing people can be injured in a police van, So it is a real thing. Now as the article reads there are instances of police not securing prisoners in seat belts (as in Freddie Gray's case) and drivers intentionally driving rough to intentionally hurt prisoners in the police vans. For a moment, I ask people for a moment to look past the rioting and see the absurdity of Freddie Gray's death, which has briefly turned Baltimore into Pompeii. Again, it takes real force to severe spines and if the police van ride did this to Gray why weren't the police officers injured like Gray? In the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, "he tried to take the officer's weapon". With the adverse history of black people and the police, in what world does a black man try to reach for a police officer's gun unless it's a threat to his person or life? Michael Brown has no power over police. As a matter of fact, he has just stolen cigars from a convenience store. Michael Brown at this point should want nothing to do with authorities and wants to make this engagement of the police quick. Why didn't Michael Brown run, as in the case of Freddie Gray, who merely ran on eye contact of the police?Again Brown at this point, a criminal with stolen cigars on his person. Why didn't he just run as well? Officer Wilson couldn't get out of his squad quicker than Brown could have ran and ducked away. And no weed in the world make Brown do that. Again, WHY would Michael Brown think he could reach into a car, unfasten his sidearm and then take it? He's gotta be faster than The Flash to do that. People keep hearing sound blurbs, reading click bait and not seeing what just doesn't make sense due to a two sided media, each presenting their angle and not the truth. Now every cop out there isn't trying to play Victoria Mackey on every black male on the street but every black male on the street doesn't deserve to be treated like a point man for a coke and illegal gun ring. There is NO justifying the actions taking place in Baltimore because no one can hear your truths through wanton destruction and mayhem. Housing for elders have been lost to these fires for which there is no justification or sympathy for the guilty parties. So if you're found guilty of destroying property or injuring someone you must deal with the consequences of your actions. Now actions do speak louder than words but NO ONE can hear the words of these people because of their criminal (that is what they are no matter what the cause) actions. But I must concede that there comes a point where people will say "we're not stupid and stop talking to us like we are". The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result and I guess people are feeling the marches are coming up empty on results. And when the powers that be won't concede to common sense maybe the powers that be will concede to uncommon actions. Now follow me! Follow me to freedom!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Shocking cannot describe the news of actor James Gandolfini’s death. I was initially taken aback by the death but I went on with my day exchanging “did you hears” and “can you believes” with friends, family and acquaintances. As the number of Rest In Peace messages grew I saw that James had touched more than the Hollywood but America. He was a steady working actor, who rocketed to “overnight” fame, as it’s always so callously described, when he took part in creating one of television’s iconic characters, New Jersey mob boss Anthony Soprano. I recall seeing the posters promoting the upcoming HBO series, with this slight of hair, doughy faced guy with a thousand yard stare and stood above the mantra, “If one family doesn’t kill him the other one will”. To say the least my interest had been piqued, because I love the normalcy of unique characters. In my younger days, I knew of people who walked across “the line” daily, but had responsibilities like getting their kids to school or getting their oil changed. And James Gandolfini brought that to the character of Tony Soprano. After the initial thirteen episodes I was hooked on the show and everyone’s favorite mob boss. . I mean without him saying a word, his Italian heritage and physical presence equated Tony Soprano but I didn’t know of Gandolfini’s earlier work, so I was one to believe this character was not a stretch for him. It’s like going to see megastars in films, the Will Smiths, the Tom Cruises, the Tom Hanks—sure you’re they’re actors but we’re paying for their own personalities in a role. I am one of these people who like to see actors do a varied amount of roles. Many audience goers say they want that but they deep down they like their Robert Deniros running an arm of the mafia, their Tom Cruises smirking and their Will Smiths dropping their “brother man” spiel. It wasn’t until I saw Mr. Gandolfini in a probably forgotten film titled The Last Castle. He would be antagonist to Robert Redford’s protagonist. The film was about Redford, a decorated but shamed war hero, being sent to a military prison under the wardenship of Gandolfini’s character, who was a peace time officer. Gandolfini’s character studied war like, a gamer studies the latest game platform or hottest game on the street. His character was kind of a fan Redford’s character, who didn’t really show him the respect he thought he deserved for his knowledge of war. Gandolfini’s character didn’t take kindly to it and became a prick to the Nth degree and the poster child for Napoleonic complex or what I would call “little dick disease”. He was nothing like the character that made him, well a “made man” in Hollywood. James left Tony Soprano back at a Silvercup Studios sound stage in NYC when he cut his teeth on this role. It may be just my perspective but I felt I was watching a man determined to make sure you realized that he was not the son of Livia Soprano or a regular at the Bada Bing. I as many continued to watch The Sopranos as appointment TV, but if I heard James was in a piece I was looking for him. I would see him in many non-gangster roles in 8MM, the Coen Brothers The Man Who Wasn’t There, Zero Dark Thirty, as Carol in Where The Wild Things Are and most recently as a dick of a casino owner in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I truly enjoyed seeing him in these anti-mob roles, interviews because it showed me what a soft spoken person he was and what a true talent we had and have lost. But to think a man could play a pornographer, a dick general, a man lying about his military experience, Leon Panetta and well a Wild Thing in a ten year span but once we heard the opening bass line of A3’s Woke Up This Morning he transformed into Tony Soprano. I couldn't understand why this man whom I only knew via 40 inch televisions or 30 foot movie screens touched myself and so many until my wife said, "I actually expected to see him again before some family members" and I was taken aback by that thought. Though it may be via media because of distance or busy lives there's a great chance we would see Mr. Gandolfini again before we may have seen some of our own family members. I don’t know how much truth there was to it but it’s rumored that he had a Twitter Account and his only Tweet was “call me James, call me Jim, call me Jim but I’m not Tony”. On that note I say Rest In Peace, James. Now Follow Me, Follow Me To Freedom!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I had just heard a bit of disheartening unrelated, news myself, so—for lack of a better phrase-- I wasn’t in the mood. When it was brought to my attention my heart sunk like someone told me my children had been injured. I’ve never felt like that about a news event before, don’t know why, but I did and I just wanted to avoid it. But in the 21st century that’s sometimes difficult, between the tweets, the status updates— even my ESPN app that was sending updates to me every few minutes. Two homemade bombs had been detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I channel surfed through the local, national and cable channels to see the many news, cell phone and home videos of the first bomb detonating. I was quickly reminded of a day in 2001, as I held on to my then nine month old for hours and watched what seemed like a constant loop of the planes hitting the twin towers. I immediately turned the coverage off, as I didn’t want relive that in seeing the second or third bomb detonating. I expected nothing but an endless loop of destruction and news anchors searching for the words, like children playing Marco Polo, over the same fifty three seconds of footage. Not to mention the soon to come, “Terror In Boston “, graphics and morose, accompanying theme music. As time passed, scrolling across the bottom of all networks were incremental increases in the injured and death toll. We would learn that 176 people had been injured and 3 people killed, one being an 8 year old boy awaiting his father’s finish in the marathon. The narrative for this incident was on lock. If anything I was happy to see my many social media friends on both sides of the aisle posting Pray For Boston and other supportive phrases for Beantown, whatever that can do for the human spirit. With this usual ‘falling into ranks as one’ unity, we’ve seen with past disasters in this country, I began to have that sense of despite all everything is going to be okay. Boston is resilient. Americans are resilient. Periodically hearing native Bostonians in those classic accents saying things like “Ain’t no ter-rah-wrists knaucking us down!”. I was briefly on some “Red, White and Blue, these colors don’t run” stuff. It wasn’t until I saw two photos. One was of a man, being pushed in a wheelchair from the bombing site by two marathon viewers and a first responder running with them. The man in the wheelchair was covered in ash, his feet had been completely blown off and his splintered bloody tibias and fibulas stuck out from his knees. The other was of bloodied people lying on the ground just after the explosion. One man was on the ground in a fetal position and he too had his foot completely blown off and his fibula was bloodied and completely free of skin and muscle as in the first photo. These images reminded me of so many seen after Middle East bombings on a random bus or in an open air market. You know the ones we ignore because there are no American casualties and go on with our First World problems, like ‘what Olivia Pope did on Scandal’, ‘the new changes to Facebook’ or the latest Kimye sighting. This chicken shit act, be it foreign or domestic, was not the Twin Towers or OKC and I’m not lessening those acts but it happened in a very random area like a bazaar or a bus. As some have said, ‘you can’t totally police 26 square miles’, just like you can’t police, do a bomb sweep and background check on every random bus, cafe or open air bazaar like in the Middle East. I didn’t know why this act of cowardice had struck me so initially but now I knew. And while I can’t find the probably the best words, I feel the playing field has been leveled or lowered. Either way the Terror in Boston now feels just like the Terror in Tehran. As much Dennis Rodman’s new friend, Kim Jong threatens us with Armageddon like weapons, I wasn’t concerned. As much as I hear the ghetto bird flying around my neighborhood and have to lock my yard as a precautionary measure, I wasn’t concerned. But these photos, that I had seen so many times in my life, in some form or fashion, were displaying global style random violence here in the USA. As many times I’ve heard the phrase “our lives have changed forever’, I didn’t truly buy into it. But on this solemn day in Boston I did. And now I’m concerned. Now Follow Me! Follow Me to freedom

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


The nets have been cut down. Coach Pitino was scared sh**less by what he thought were gun shots and the Louisville Cardinals have prevailed as the last man standing in the field of 64 (I know it’s 68 but I like 64) or as it’s been called March Madness. This year’s tournament has never seen as many low seeds win, #1 seeds fall so soon or get upsets. Yet, all I’ve heard are sports pundits and talking heads on sports talk radio and TV say this tournament isn’t valid because of so many ‘one and done’ kids leaving after one year of school for the NBA. I actually heard sports personality, Dan Patrick, whom I actually like, say, “The Cinderella teams are great for the first two rounds but after the Sweet 16 we need the college powerhouses, the Dukes, the Michigans, the Jayhawks and the Louisvilles.” Dan this is the tournament for which you base your daily argument for a college football playoff system. Why is the tournament so great? Because it is not a beauty contest, it is one team strapping up just like any other team and when the dust settles, one is the victor. It doesn’t get any more primal than that. People, aka spoiled Americans, you can’t clamor for upsets and then get pissed when you get them When I hear the many complaints about this tourney I can’t help but ask “What else do you want? Do you want to have your cake, eat it, and crap it and hope it smells like lilac?” To those who say the competitive level of basketball is off isn’t watching. Parity has been created in the tournament because the rosters of the normal powerhouses are revolving doors to the NBA and the mid majors and small schools are littered with players that the powers rejected. The rosters of these smaller teams remain and grow together as teams, so when these teams meet the Blue Chip mega teams that just met at registration, it’s an equation for an upset loss. That doesn’t make the quality of basketball bad, it just doesn’t make it the outcome you’re used to or wanted to see. Universities with nine figure athletic complexes, top flight medical staffs, the best equipment and 5 star, blue chip athletes are losing to teams with weight rooms no larger than studio apartments. They’re grabbing the athletes, the powerhouse schools rejected and coming to win, as Florida Gulf Coast, Harvard and ninth seeded, Wichita State came to do. When will we be able to see the amazing that took place in this tournament or the amazing things that happen in daily life? A few weeks ago, it rained and I saw a rainbow, not a small portion, no a rainbow that stretched and arched across the sky. Many may have seen that before, but I had not and I appreciated despite the fact I didn’t find a little man wearing green with a pot of gold. But someone will find a way to be dismissive about it. Did you know that the same amount of technology you’re using in your 3G cell phone was more than the energy used to get Apollo 11 to the moon? Wrap your head around that. Folks complain about their iPhone not updating Facebook quick enough and Neil Armstrong was just praying that the same technology to sling him and his crew around the dark side of the moon. We’ve been spoiled and we just ignore things and don’t take them in for what they’re worth. We just witnessed a tournament in which every round leading up to the Final game tonight had at least one surprise teams. The ninth ranked Wichita State Shockers, shocked the world by getting to the semi-finals and as some think they could’ve beat Louisville if not for any last minute costly mistakes. The film Jurassic Park recently re-opened in 3D and picked up a cool eighteen million dollars. Hollywood executives are expressing disappointment in this opening. Really? Your company just picked up 18 million dollars for a 20 year old movie that recreated the effing, dinosaurs. The T-Rex hasn’t existed for 65 million got damn years old but it does now on screen and movies . No recollection but some wayward drawings, no photos to recreate them and we believed them, wholeheartedly. Still not enough, we’ve got to seem them in 3D, coming out the got damn screen giving grandparents heart attacks. As simple as those acts were, they were amazing, as many other thing are if you just take the time and look. I honestly don’t know why I wrote this entry but it’s one before Now Follow Me! Follow Me To Freedom!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


“I respectfully and totally disagree with you, Gene.” Those would be the first of many firm words, directed at film critic Gene Siskel, I would hear from Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert. At the time televised, entertainment in my home consisted of the three major networks, the UHF channel reserved for reruns and the publicly supported PBS. Roger and film critic Gene Siskel were arguing about a film, which one I couldn’t recall, and I marveled at this because to date I had never seen this. Film reviews and criticism were reserved to the always annoyed Rex Reed and the heavily mustached Gene Shalit. I’d never seen people disagreeing about a film and it was interesting. I can’t say that it was Soprano’s-like appointment TV for me. It was more like I wasn’t old enough to go out and my Saturday nights consisted of regional wrestling, Miami Vice and in between them, At The Movies as a transition. But as a teenager, I would find myself delaying my weekend evenings in the NOLA streets to take in their half hour of discourse. I liked to hear both of their opinions but from the start Roger always seemed to look at all films more objectively, while performing this ostensibly subjective task. If he disliked a film he could always give you some kind of bright spot within the opus, for he respected the art form and all filmmakers efforts. Roger felt if he was going to criticize filmmakers he had least needed to attempt to be one. He would go on to scribe the sequel to Valley Of The Dolls, which was appropriately titled Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Roger himself would give the film a patented “thumbs down”. That is why so many filmmakers respected Ebert’s opinion. He had danced with devil, been in the trenches or whatever hyperbole or analogy used by filmmakers likening themselves to Gulf War veterans. Roger was passionate and seemed to embrace the new films, new filmmakers and new advances in the medium as much as he welcomed new works by seasoned filmmakers. Plain and simple Roger just dug film. He’s said before and I’m paraphrasing, “Film is about a visceral feeling. Be it a big budget film or small independent film. It makes you feel.” And with this train of thought Roger had no problem embracing the big budget film, which I think your more erudite film critics knocked on him. But it’s also this train of thought that which made his embrace films from all points of views. I recall when Spike Lee’s SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT opened in theaters, I didn’t know what to expect from Siskel or Ebert from this film I had already seen five times. Roger raved about this film as being a refreshing point of view of black culture from black people instead of white people. He would champion many black films in the future, one being the controversial DO THE RIGHT THING. Roger has always championed films starring people of color as just films, as all filmmakers want, and not some celluloid aberrations. You could see his passion as he stood in defense of Asian American director Justin Lin’s debut feature, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW at the Sundance Film Festival. A Caucasian man complimented the film, but questioned it's negative portrayals of Asian Americans. Ebert defiantly yelled across the theater in the Q & A, "What I find very offensive and condescending about your comment is that nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?' This film has the right to be. And be whatever the hell they want the characters to be." That is who he and he didn't give a damn what your color was. His partner in crime, Gene Siskel would sadly leave us in 1999 due to a brain tumor. After his death, Roger would have others fill in for Gene, but he would never find that same healthy debate. Gene made Roger good and Roger made Gene good. It was like any classic battles, Russell and Chamberlain on the court, Brady and Manning on the field, Steve Harvey and tasteful clothes in public. But with Gene’s death, Roger’s sun would shine brighter as a critic. And as the years progressed and film critics speaking at length with the filmmakers regressed into five minutes at press junkets, Roger stayed true to the form. Roger said, “I’m glad I don’t live in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t want relationships with the filmmakers, because it makes it hard to review their films.” Roger would be stricken with cancer in the last few years. He would literally lose his voice and some of his jaw but it did not slow him down. His voice became even louder, via his website and Twitter account, as he was still reviewing over three hundred movies a year. As evidenced by the reaction and outpouring to his death, he will be missed and remembered. I toast you Roger Ebert for seeing black films as just films with black people and being one half of ground zero of film debate. Now Follow Me! Follow Me to Freedom!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


"Let me tell you somethin!" That was the signature catch phrase of Fire Marshall Bill. One of Jim Carrey's many characters on the popular 90's sketch show In Living Color. When I was first introduced to that character, I did not know what to make of it but I stayed with Jim because of the energy he put into that character. He was manic and going one hundred miles per hour in his performance. But that is how he was with all his characters, even secondary characters in a sketch. If he played Ricky Ricardo in a sketch titled I LOVE LAQUITA, he didn't play Ricky, he WAS Ricky. If he played a nine year old sitting on Homey D. Clown's lap, he was an annoying 9 year old with all the bells, whistles and ticks of a 9 year old kid. I've been revisiting the canon of Jim Carrey because I recently saw the film, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, in which Jim played a goth-type, self inflicting pain magician against Steve Carell's titular Burt Wonderstone. The movie going crowd was sparse and I would say the laughs the returned to the screen were too. But for me, when there were laughs it was for Jim Carrey who was going all out to make us laugh. Be it, acting as if he held his urine for eleven straight days or periodically screaming bloody murder because he was sleeping on hot coals. My personal favorite drilling a hole in his head with an actual power drill. It was a truly silly film in the vein of Austin Powers but it was funny in my humble opinion. Now I may be talking matinee or "dollar show" funny, only because it costs to go to the movie in this economy. Even if it's a blockbuster, I get pissed about the prices. Hell, I'm still upset about the money I dropped on The Avengers, but that's another time, another blog. After the film, I went home to see the reviews of the film and as I thought they were not all positive, but despite the negativity they all spoke of Jim Carrey's 'balls to the wall', 'gonzo' performance as this David Blaine/Criss Angel type street magician. Mind you if you surf the web of recent and Jim Carrey has been placed into the elephant graveyard right next to one Edward Reagan Murphy aka Eddie Murphy to us non Murphy family members. I then perused Carrey's filmography. Each and every performance I recalled and there was not one performance, no matter how poorly the film did financially, did Diamond Jim Carrey phone his performance in. As much as I want to say Eddie has never phoned in a performance, there are a few where he looked like he was doing his "tough street brother" schtick from a villa in Monte Carlo. But trust me Eddie belongs in the hashtag-underappreciated category too. But back to Jim, be it Lemony Snickets, Bruce Almighty, The Grinch, a cameo on The Office or just accepting an MTV Movie Award like a Jim Morrison knock off-- the dude puts in work on any character he does. I guess I've always appreciated him, even his dramatic work, which I suggest you screen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man On the Moon or The Majestic. All three are earnest performances, The Majestic is a throwback to the Billy wilder films of days gone by and has a bit of treacle with no cutter, but nonetheless James dives into the character. No matter, what acting choices he took, he TOOK them and as my old football coaches would say, "Even if you're doing it wrong, just give me 100%." And that's what Jim does. I wrote this entry because in a general sense I try to appreciate people before their photo is over the shoulder of a newscaster reporting their death. On a micro level, I appreciate that Jim knows he is paid handsomely for what he does and like him or hate him he tries to give you your money's worth if possible. Jimbo keeps it hun'id! Now Follow Me! Follow Me to Freedom!