Erykah Badu & Her Window Seat

Ok, you know I had to go on the record and talk about this one.  This weekend, I was on a non-stop Twitter campaign to plug the blog and started hearing rumblings about somebody with the username @fatbellybella, which turned out to be none other than eclectic soulstress Erykah Badu, known for her legendary contribution to neo-soul as well as driving every rapper she comes into contact with plum crazy (Common in crochet pants is all I can say).  With her album dropping this week, Erykah decided to drop another bomb on us this weekend in the form of a controversial video in which she walked through the streets of Dallas, methodically removing her clothing.  On a sidenote, I don’t think this would have worked anywhere in DC…picture the L.A. riots, only a little less…no, picture the L.A. riots.  “Window Seat was shot guerilla style, no crew, one take, no closed set, no warning, two minutes, downtown Dallas, then ran like hell.”

Chopped & screwed Twitter & Facebook convos from this weekend:

You seen that new Erykah Badu video?

No…

N*GGA!!!

Uh…coon?  I’m sorry, I don’t know how to respond to th…

Erykah has a WAGON, son!!!  Like a Oregon Trail wagon!!!  Who knew she’d been hiding all that ass up under that kinte cloth sh*t she always had on?  I feel lied to!

The mixed reactions were interesting, to say the least.  There were those who read too much into it as well as too little.  The gentlemen only seemed to focus on one thing: Erykah Badu’s donkey.  Ass As is to be expected.  Admidst this, the women seemed to draw a line in the sand, some congratulating Erykah’s “vision” and some were critical…even going so far as to say Erykah is resorting to “Beyonce tactics”.

First of all, to compare what Beyonce does to what Erykah Badu does is just stupid.  Beyonce is a pop/R&B singer whose ass-shaking corresponds with the music she makes…which is mostly designed for shaking of the ass…what is wrong with that?  Nobody wants to watch a woman in a knee length skirt and turtleneck talking about bootyliciousness.  Sex sells and it’s a driving force in society…live with it or leave…yes, leave Earth.  I’d be more concerned if Beyonce was in the tabloids every week coked up at parties and getting her kids taken from her (side-eye at Britney).  Please deal with the real.  A music video or musical performance is just what it’s supposed to be…entertainment.  Every artist isn’t trying to be on some Def Poetry Jam sh*t all the time and enlighten you, nor do I personally want them all to.  Sometimes, you just wanna get crunk.  If you don’t see the fun in music, I feel sorry for you.

That being said, I see where Erykah was going, but come on…acknowledge that the video’s backlash/popularity/dayyuuum factor was sort of what you were going for, with your album coming out on 3/30/10 and all.  Come on…(dubious face).  I have no problem with shock value (get money), but just be real (or should I say front-free) about it.  You could still get your message across and be honest about it: “I know y’all were lookin’ at my booty, but here’s what you were supposed to get from it…”  Universal Music Group is being a little d*ckish and removing the video from blogs and Youtube accounts left and right (oh, what, you won’t still get paid?), so I don’t have a video to give you, but I’m sure you Illuminetties will find it on your own.  Regardless, the song is all kinds of dope and everything else I’ve heard thus far is as well, so go cop that New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh this week…regardless of what you think Erykah’s resorted to, remember that Justin Beiber’s wack ass has been a Twitter trending topic for like…ever.  If these kids today knew real music, they would not be giving that kid any kind of spin.  Teach the chirrens.  That all.

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No Homo: Hip-Hop & Homophobia

 

“That’s a nice fur…no homo.”

Let me start by saying that the color pink in and of itself is not gay.  Also, I have no idea how Cam’ron himself feels about homosexuality.  The picture’s just funny.  Whatever genius came up with the term “no homo” needs to get smacked with a slouch sock full of Monopoly pieces, though.  Every time somebody utters this phrase, I gotta look at them sideways.  Complimenting another man or saying something that could vaguely be construed as “gay” doesn’t in fact make you a homosexual…having sex with men (while being a man) does.  The rapper who I’ve heard say this most often is none other than Cam’ron, who’s known for a phase in which he wore pink furs and matching hats and also wears earrings & rings that look like he got into my grandma’s church jewelry collection (“I want Grammy’s ice back ASAP, Cam).  No disrespect inteded, as I’m a fan of Cam’ron’s music, but this was too prime an example for me to pass up.  I’m not saying that those adornments in any way make a person gay, as these are just posessions, but for a person so overly concerned with not being perceived as gay based on his pervasive use of the phrase, shouldn’t he have been wearing a sign that said “no homo” every time he decided to leave the house in a home-insulation-pink fur coat and matching hat?  Just sayin’. 

In all seriousness, this tendency in hip-hop is and has had a very negative effect on our community.  I am speaking of course about the down-low “epidemic” as some call it: the tendency for gay Black males to hide their orientation from their friends and family, even their female lovers and wives, while having sex with other men.  According to the CDC, about one in 10 men who reported that they have had sex with men also have sex with women and of those, one in four has unprotected sex with both.  I found the startling information below on Wikipedia while researching the subject:

The CDC cited three findings that relate to African-American men who operate on the down-low (engage in MSM activity but don’t disclose to others):

  • African American men who have sex with men (MSM), but who do not disclose their sexual orientation (nondisclosers), have a high prevalence of HIV infection (14%); nearly three times higher than nondisclosing MSMs of all other races/ethnicities combined (5%).
  • Confirming previous research, the study of 5,589 MSM, aged 15-29 years, in six U.S. cities found that African American MSM were more likely not to disclose their sexual orientation compared with white MSM (18% vs. 8%).
  • HIV-infected nondisclosers were less likely to know their HIV status (98% were unaware of their infection compared with 75% of HIV-positive disclosers), and more likely to have had recent female sex partners.

Remember the final scene in the movie School Daze with Larry (yes Larry) Fishburne and Giancarlo (just got out of bed…my conk ain’t layin right) Esposito screaming: “Waaaaaaaake uuuuuuuuup!!!!”

We have got to do better in our communities…both Black and hip-hop.  There’s a direct correlation between our treatment of homosexuality in the Black and hip-hop communities and the rise of HIV/AIDS.  Not saying it’s right in any way, shape, or form, but there’s a reason so many of these guys feel the need to hide who they are and lead double-lives.  The best thing about America is that it’s designed to allow people to be who they want to be…well, that was the idea, but we’ve had quite the storied history with people fighting to do just that. 

Many choose to use religion as a reason to ostracize folks for sexual orientation, but if you do this because the Bible or your holy book of choice says it is a sin, you should also disassociate yourself from anyone you know who has ever lied, cheated, stolen, taken God’s name in vain…I could go on.  How do we determine which sins hold more weight than others?  “Love thy neighbor” does not indicate to only love the neighbors you deem worthy.  Religion is the other monster keeping our communities from being more accepting, unfortunately.  People are going to hate this, but real talk…though God is universal, religion is a man-made construct and is therefore fallible in its ideals and everyday practice.  Consider this.  Though Bible-beaters will on ocassion refer to homosexuality as an “abomination”, consider the fact that our ancestors were once considered the abomination by the very group that enslaved us and literally forced Christianity down our collective throat, stripping us of our own culture and beliefs.  Some argue that homosexuality is a choice, but I disagree.  Who would choose of their own accord to live in fear of being “outed” or to risk the potential harassment and abuse resulting from being openly gay in the Black community…or any community for that matter?  I’m not trying to spark a debate here, just open some minds.  Get tested and encourage your loved ones to do the same.  Education and awareness ain’t as cool as it needs to be in our communities, but we need to take it upon ourselves to make that the case.  Peace.

Oh yeah…and f*ck Marion Barry

I leave you with this video, courtesy of Vlad TV via YouTube.  Rap legend Noreaga discusses the “gay rapper myth”, confirms gay rappers exists, and even expresses tolerance (“They don’t booooother you, son”):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7D1thMrTzA

 

 

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Why HBO’s ‘How To Make It In America’ Works

Just when I was thinking HBO was an incredible waste of a good portion of my cable bill (I was thinking of getting rid of it altogether), I managed to catch the second episode of the new series How To Make It In America and and I was back on the team.  The upcoming original series Treme also looks like it could be worth watching, but gives me the feeling I’ll need to take a thorough, scalding shower after each episode.  Anyway, How To Make It In America tells the story of a couple of 20-something hipsters Ben and Cam (played very capably by Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk) trying to carve out success by starting their own clothing line.  Along the way, they’re assisted by a number of friends, most notably hedge fund millionaire David “Kappo” Kaplan and Domingo Dean, who’s played by none other than hip-hop hipster Kid Cudi. 

I’ll tell you why this show does it for me.  I was surprised (borderline mortified, actually) to find out that the show is executive produced by the same team that brought us Entourage, a show that followers of my previous blog know I’m enormously underwhelmed by.  The difference here, in my humple opinion, is that these characters are relatable…I’d actually hang out with these dudes.  Personally, I can’t relate to the various hangers-on and Hollywood types from Entourage, but something about the hustlers and strivers depicted in HTMIIA that reminds me of my own small circle of associates.  I was talking to my best man the other day and we both agreed: “You do realize this is us, right?”  HTMIIA has its hand on the pulse of our generation…pardon my cheese.  Twenty-somethings today know that these days, the doctos and lawyers aren’t the ones making the real money (sure, you may break six figures, but one malpractice suit and it’s back to square one…or zero).  In a world where one can lose a job at the drop of a hat, the only way to “do it” is to do it for oneself.

The characters in HTMIIA are diverse in a way that’s one hundred percent buyable.  While staying away from incessant talk of racial identity and diversity, it also isn’t just swept under the rug, with minority characters just placed in to generic roles.  Kid Cudi basically plays himself as Domingo, a character I don’t get much depth from, but for some reason, that doesn’t bother me.  You wouldn’t get much depth from me off of first impression, either, and every character doesn’t need to have a “thing”.  Luis Guzman co-stars as Rene, Cam’s ex-c0n cousin, offering a different vibe to parts of the show, almost filling in where crime dramas like The Sopranos left us high and dry, minus the intensity and violence.  There’s even a little bit of romance thrown in, with Lake Bell as Rachel Chapman, Ben’s ex-girlfriend who is dating a well-to-do but square (and possibly bisexual) hotelier.  For guys, this aspect of the show isn’t overwhelming, but it’s just enough for your lady to want to watch with you.  The part that got me was that the show actually makes New York seem like somewhere I’d want to be.  No disrespect intended for all my New Yorkers…I love y’all, but I can’t visit your city for more than two days (this probably has something to do with the fact that I’m a Californian and more of a suburban type…DC is as “citified” as I get).  This series makes me want to rob a bank just to be able to afford to live in Manhattan and grab a piece of the fast-paced life HTMIIA depicts stylishly and effortlessly.

HBO bought eight episodes of the series, but one can only hope they’re smart enough to make this an ongoing series and I can only hope viewers are smart enough to talk it up and tune in on Sundays.  HBO’s already on my sh*t-list for not continuing Eastbound & Down and viewers are on the same list for contributing to the success of schlock like Big Love and True Blood (for shame), so let’s hope How To Make It In America is a success and we’re not stuck with vampires, the horrible “acting” of Anna Paquin, and polygamist Mormons every Sunday as opposed to a very current, very authentic series that offers up a little something for everybody.

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Wale & Tabi Bonney: ‘My Sweetie’

Alright, so yesterday I posted an article discussing Wale’s video for “Pretty Girls”, which featured a lot of non-Black, vaguely ethnic and lighter-skinned women.  To be fair, I also want to post the video for “My Sweetie” featuring local artist Tabi Bonney, which seems to feature a more diverse mix of skin tones and an abundance of African sistas as well.  Kudos.   Some may argue that this video doesn’t get as much exposure as “Pretty Girls” and blame it on skin politics, but quite frankly, the song isn’t as appealling (though it is good and a guaranteed party-starter) on a mainstream level and the production value is more BET Uncut than 106 & Park.  Nevertheless, it’s good to see that Wale is in fact reppin’ and that “Pretty Girls” may not have been indicative of the artist’s personal standards or preferences.  My point still stands that an opportunity was lost to go above and beyond to show the multiple hues of “pretty” and that the video could be viewed as irresponsible depending on the audience.  But like I said in the recent BET interview, we can’t rely on music videos to raise our youth and teaching that Black is beautiful in all its variations starts at the crib.  Now back to the Wale playlist on my iPod…”DC chillin…”  Peace. 

 

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Wale: ‘Pretty Girls’ Come In All ‘Shades’

Yes, I’m a grown man…and yes, I do watch 106 & Park on a fairly regular basis.  Something about watching Terrence & Rocsi (who seem to have 356 teeth between the two of them) grin and play music videos I feel at times I’m too old to fully comprehend that relaxes me at the end of a long work day.  Since I don’t have MTV37 or VH1 Soul or any of those “extra” channels, I gotta stay up on what’s current.  It also comes on right after Everybody Hates Chris, which is a show I just downright appreciate.

That being said, yesterday I was watching the video for Wale’s “Pretty Girls”, featuring Gucci Mane.  I’m probably really late in seeing it for the first time, but whatever.  Let me begin by saying this is a dope song.  The album wasn’t what I expected, but I’ve been a fan of Wale since before anyone outside of DC knew who he was and I think he’s a dope MC.  Wale tracks are the only way I could ever stomach go-go music.  So I mean this in the most respectful way possible:

“My n***a, what iz you doin?”

Now I’ve never been the one to sit there and count how many of each complexion are represented in every music video…I just don’t care enough usually and hate to beat a dead horse by resurrecting this old, dusty issue.  I’m also never the one to say someone can’t have a preference (though understand there is no way to intelligently express that you only like light- or dark-skinned people in mixed company…Yung Berg).  That being said, if you take it upon yourself to make an artistic statement about the light-skin/dark-skin complex in one of your songs, you can’t go and shoot a video for another song on the same damn album and only cast vaguely ethnic, manila-folder-skinned women and expect nobody to say anything.  It’s self-contradictory. 

Live from the "Pretty Girls" video shoot...

“Shades” was definitely one of the songs on Wale’s album where I listened once and was like “next”…though it was musically sound, had a good message, and Wale has an excellent flow, it just wasn’t my cup o’ cognac.  But when the lyrics of your song say “We as Black dudes tend to lack unity / and them Black girls ain’t on the tube usually”, you paint a picture that says you’re conscious of the situation.  I didn’t even consider writing about it until the video was over and the camera panned the 106 & Park audience, which was full of young sistas and brothas of all complexions. 

To be fair, we don’t know how the editing process went and I’m not naive enough to think that Wale was sitting there with the casting director hand-picking every single girl in the video, but if you’re casting a video called “Pretty Girls” and the video comes out looking like a Colombian-Creole convention, you have to understand there’s gonna be some raised eyebrows.  Had the song “Shades”, which also discusses Wale’s difficulties growing up as a dark-skinned African in America, not been included on the album, I may have just thought “Okay, dude just likes the light-brights”, but you can’t say one thing and then go completely in the opposite direction and expect people to take you seriously again when you try to be poignant.  If you wanna be deep, by all means do…we need more of that.  Just let your actions coincide with your words and consider the audience.

Quite simply, Wale missed out on what could have been a dope opportunity to back up his own talk by showcasing the many faces of “pretty”.  Throw in the light sistas (Black as well as Latina sistas), but why not throw in some dark-skinned sistas and *newsflash* sistas from Nigeria, where his parents are from…or just some African sistas in general.  How much love would that have gotten?  How many young sistas (and brothas) would have identified with and appreciated that? 

And yo…I’m all about fairness, so if anyone finds a response from Wale on the video or gets in touch with the brotha, I’d be happy to publish his perspective on it.

Couldn’t find a video for “Pretty Girls” online fast enough, but here’s “Shades” by Wale f/ Chrisette Michelle…enjoy a taste of contradictory pie.

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The Black Entertainment Solution: Raise Your Own Kids

Welcome to For-real Wednesdays.  Every Wednesday, Front-Free will present a serious issue in typical Front-Free fashion…minus the propaganda, hidden agenda, or posturing.  Cards will be pulled, feelings will be hurt, but the aim is to provide perspective, provoke independent thought, as well as to entertain.  Enjoy…or don’t.

 I just read an article on washingtonpost.com discussing BET’s CEO Debra Lee’s recent leadership events, which discussed seeking to improve images of Black women.  To many, this probably seemed a bit ironic.  The article led with the following: 

Bonnie McDaniel refused to let her now 24-year-old daughter watch Black Entertainment Television growing up. 

So you mean she missed Teen SummitVideo Soul?  Terrible.  Even Planet Groove with Rachel?  Well, maybe that was a personal obsession.  My parents were relatively young when they had me.  My dad had no qualms about listening to Ice Cube or N.W.A. at high volume in the car with me as a child, but I also had exposure to African and African-American history and art in my own home, meaning that in addition to being well-cultured, I also developed a staunch “F*ck The Police” attitude toward law enforcement.  In a similar vein, though I attended a Christian church with my grandmother and attended 8 years of Christian school, there was always both a Bible and a Holy Qur’an in my home at all times.  I grew up in both the ‘hood and the suburbs at different points in my life.  I believe that exposure to more than one view of things played a major role in my development and eventually became a strength.  The greatest gift a parent can give a child aside from life is the ability to make grown-up decisions and not sheltering them from the negatives or what you feel is negative.  It’s all part of life and sheltering breeds weakness of the mind. 

The article on the Debra Lee event and the reactions got me thinking about the never-ending discussion about Black images on television and I have basically come to the conclusion that Black audiences will never be satisfied.  Why?  Because instead of taking an active role in supporting Black projects, therefore becoming invested in the network we tend to complain about, many of us feel it is more of a statement to boycott a whole network and tell anyone who will listen that they do.  By doing this, all you’re really doing is making it more difficult for up and coming Black directors, screenwriters and actors to get on.  I’ll explain. 

Tyler Perry's fed up with the hatin'.

If Hollywood is this faceless white monolith Black people tend to refer to it as, consider that the Black viewing public is looked at the same way.  Though Tyler Perry’s projects are clearly flawed in several respects, I support his films personally because I understand a number of things: his films put a lot of Black people in jobs both as actors and staff members (extremely important in this Recession era), they bring Black faces into mainstream media as opposed to the relative obscurity of indie films, and they have made Perry one of the highest-paid men in Hollywood, Black or white.  I also know that I can’t be an effective critic of someone’s work if I haven’t watched it.  I admit to sleeping on it at first, but can’t say that once I did watch one of the Madea movies, I didn’t laugh my a** off here and there.  Favorite director?  By no means.  Do I personally own a Madea boxed set?  No.  But as a writer aspiring to one day become a screenwriter, looking to create films (not just Black films), I recognize an opened door when I see one.  These days, unless you want to work with a shoestring budget (in which case your film will end up only being aired on BET anyway), investors are only giving money to what they think Black audiences want to see.  Though he may not even be conscious of it, Tyler Perry is playing the game so that those who come later might not have to, all the while employing Black actors and changing the face of Black film, which before was limited to gangster sagas and schlock like Soul Plane.  Hollywood used to be scared of Black sexuality and though every character in a Perry movie may not be how you would like to be represented, for every one of those there are several characters who represent positively. 

Art will always imitate life and freedom of speech and press will win this battle every time.  It’s ultimately futile.  Instead of protesting a network that clearly plays what its audience wants to see, why not put that energy into changing our communities, which are rife with the problems that hip-hop tends to both glorify and report on…protest that…personally, I’m protesting wack-a** parenting.  I had no problems with BET Uncut or the infamous “Tip Drill” video…why?  I’m an adult and it looked like a great time.    If your kids are up at 3am unsupervised, the least of their problems is seeing somebody on TV swiping a credit card through a woman’s a**crack.  And if they think that is something that can be done anywhere outside of a strip club or an intended-for-mature-audiences music video, then their parents need a beating.  Yes, the BET Awards with Drake and Wayne and the teeny-boppers was messed up, but there were good portions of the show as well…such is life.  And isn’t taking the bad with the good reflective of the Black experience as a whole?  The Cosby Show was great, but films like Juice and Menace II Society also represent another very common reality that Black people here and abroad face every day.  Do we ignore the realities just to put a positive face on things for white folks?  Should I as a grown man not be able to watch a gyrating a** when I want to because some people can’t raise their children properly?    

I refuse to sell our youth short in assuming they can’t tell fact from fiction and I refuse to let parents off the hook on this one.  My parents weren’t there to monitor 100% of what I watched on TV or listened to, but a foundation was laid early on which should be present in any child’s upbringing.  Enough is enough?  Yes…personally, I have had enough of people expecting music, television and movies to raise their children, while parents are allowed to slide on being held responsible for raising sensible children.  That starts at home and once a parent fails at that, the child could never watch one television show or listen to one CD and still end up royally f*cked up.  If you want to really be productive and make a difference, let’s get together and work on creating the next generation of Black entertainment: music, TV and film…I’m just not gonna join you in protesting at Debra Lee’s home or disrespecting that sista in any way based on frivolous entertainment and I’m certainly not looking at you with any more respect based on the fact that you claim (claim) to not watch a network.  Just sayin’.

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