Noyzes – January 16

Noyzes – January 16  

 Volume 17, #1

“The Home of the Brave?”

The conservative right, and their media lackeys, have chosen many silly reasons to pick apart the way that Barack Obama has done his job. Some have been fair, the vast majority have not been. The most recent furor falls in the latter category.

The latest source of collective outrage is the fact that the President didn’t go all drama-queen in his public reactions to the awful acts of violence displayed recently in San Bernardino and Paris that resulted in mass loss of life.

It is understandable to have some concern over these matters. It is easy to picture any one of us caught in that situation where you’re not doing anything wrong other than living your everyday life.

Concern, caution and heightened diligence are fine. Irrational hysteria is not. Particularly irrational hysteria that is not on par with the actual threat.

Most of us don’t make good decisions when we’re hysterical. That’s why it is vital in times of crisis that our nation’s leaders don’t bullshit us, but also that they project a sense of calm that is rooted in a resolute belief in the American way of life. To unduly freak out helps to make terrorism the center of our existence in a way that those who attack the United States want us to.

We’ve already lived through this lesson during the badly mismanaged and expensive Iraq War, as well as the never-ending war in Afghanistan. Neither of these engagements helped to achieve retribution against the Saudi citizens who are reported to have been directly involved in the 9/11 attacks.

A lot has happened since 2008, but you’ll recall that President Obama was elected primarily because he didn’t fall prey to that wave of hysteria that gripped a blood-thirsty nation after 9/11 and he was one of the few politicians on record that joined me in opposing the Iraq War from the very beginning. The entanglement in Iraq is viewed by most as such a universal foreign policy failure that even President Obama’s most ardent critics are not suggesting that we repeat the mistake of sending tens of thousands of poor & working class whites, blacks and browns into a war zone where victory is not only fluid, its’ very definition changes from week to week. That’s because victory, in the way that we have understood it in previous wars, is largely impractical. During his most recent press conference, I could sense that President Obama badly wanted to tell the American people this, but sadly we are far too emotionally immature for him to burden us with this truth. So allow me. We are never going to defeat terrorism. Never.

There are a lot of people in the world, including some of our fellow citizens, who hate America. Some of that hate has been well-earned quite frankly. But even if you reject that notion and naively believe that America has strictly been a force for good in the world, you’d have to be a fool to think that military action can help to eliminate all the people who would wish to do America harm. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the threat. That would be irresponsible. But we should view this threat like we do all the threats in our lives. We want to gain as much information as possible and be transparent with that information. We want to be proactive against those threats that we can protect ourselves against in advance. And when harm does arise we want to attack it as aggressively as possible in an effort to eliminate it. What we should not do –whether the threat is Middle Eastern terrorism, Chicago gun violence or high blood pressure- is begin to live like cowards in a bubble in a misguided belief that behaving this way will make us safer.

As a man of science I personally feel that the terrorism threat is grossly overblown. For all the consternation over ISIS, consider that as of January 2016, the number of Americans who have been killed at the hands of ISIS has not even reached double digits. And do know that even if by some miracle we eliminate all the terrorists tomorrow, as if this were some bad Tom Cruise movie, this planet of ours will continue to be a dangerous place. There are literally a million ways to die in the West.

For example, Ramon Rodriguez was killed doing construction work. But unlike the over 1000 people who will lose their lives this year from hazards directly tied to the job, Rodriguez had the misfortune of standing at the wrong place at the wrong time when a Porta Potty fell four stories on top of him, killing him instantly. Teenagers Jeff Dailey and Peter Burkowski each died of heart attacks after getting excited from achieving a high score in a video game. Disney employee, Javier Cruz, died in a parade while dressed as Pluto when he was run over by the “Beauty and the Beast” float. Robert Williams, an employee at Ford, had to experience the indignity of being murdered by the robot that was created to take his job. And we are all far more likely to die as the result of our own personal incompetence more than any existential threat. Consider Ghulam Rasul and Muhammad Sultan. These two morons were preparing for a suicide attack in Pakistan when they got into a heated argument on their way to slaughter more of the primary victims of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism: other Muslims. During the argument, one shoved the other, causing one of their suicide vests to detonate, killing them both. This is the lot that has America paralyzed with fear?

Foreign executioners preparing for beheadings on grainy videos certainly project a frightening image when looped again and again on CNN. But you should feel comfort in the fact that there are all types of things right in your own back yard that are more likely to kill you long, long, long before some dude 8,000 miles away will.

A far greater risk than you being the victim of some hidden terrorist plot is that you begin to alter your life for a potential risk that is less likely to occur than you being struck by lightning, killed by African killer bees, the Ebola virus, losing all the money in your banking account from a Y2K glitch, being run over by a parade float or struck by a port-a-potty. By scaring you out of living life, the terrorists that we empower have already killed many of us symbolically.

This culture of fear would be less concerning if it were only confined to terrorism. However, it seems these days that Americans are scared of most everything. Parents are scared to have their children be exposed to the world without them because they watched the movie “Taken.” And I know more than a few Chicagoans who rarely venture out after sundown because they have been convinced that flurries of bullets are as common as flurries of snow, in spite of the fact that gun deaths have fallen to nearly 500 a year in the most recent decade, down from the average of 900 per year during my high school years in the early 1990s. This is not to minimize the violence in Chicago, only to put it in its proper context. And the factual context is that as violent as Chicago remains, it is a far less violent place than it was through most of the 20th century. Only the media coverage has grown louder.

Even in recreation, I can’t seem to escape this reactionary, pansy mentality. To wit, after Steph Curry experienced some discomfort in his calf during the nationally-televised Christmas Day game, the broadcasters immediately clamored for Steph to sit out as the only reasonable thing to do. Since he’s a true warrior (not to be confused with a Warrior) Steph returned to the arena and somehow managed to complete the game without ruining his career. Seems to me that in this short life, doing what you love is the reasonable thing to do. Honestly, what the fuck? It’s understood that it’s a long season and Steph’s ultimate goal is to win a championship, not a big game in December. But this was a Finals rematch on Christmas Day with literally the entire world watching. What kind of competitor would willingly want to come out of that game? Had it been something more serious, I have little doubt that Steph would have exercised the same caution he did a few games later in a nondescript game against the Mavericks. But the line between caution and being a pussy seems to becoming increasingly blurred.

Don’t get me wrong, I have all kinds of limits to the risk I expose myself too. You’ll never ever catch me bungee jumping, sky diving, surfing, riding a motorcycle, whitewater rafting, rock climbing or no shit like that. That’s because the pleasure gained from those activities don’t outweigh the risks involved for me personally. But my fear of something going wrong is not going to prevent me from doing things I actually enjoy. What I will do is act on the information I’ve been given on the risks that come with a given activity, be proactive about how to limit my risks and try to enjoy these things in moderation so as not to unnecessarily overexpose myself to risks. This is how I have always tried to live my life: by living life. And no bitch-made, religious zealot is going to make me stop that now.  After all, it’s not like all of a sudden these clowns made life dangerous in a world where we routinely share roads with people who are texting, white-girl wasted and just plain stupid while sitting behind the wheel of a car.

As it relates to groups like ISIS or the next ominous threat that is looking to get us, we want to take that threat seriously and be constructive about the ways that we can limit that threat. But if being other than ourselves is our defense mechanism then we’ve already lost. That pertains to us as individuals in how we live our lives and deal with our own personal phobias. But it also pertains to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Peace and God bless,

009

Noyzes – December 15

Vol. 16, No. 12

“Kangaroo Court”

If it takes you a long time to recall your worst moment while roaming this planet, either you have lived a truly virtuous life or have had so many bad moments that picking just one becomes a bit of a chore. Whether a sinner or saint, we have all had a moment or two where we’ve stepped out of character in a manner that goes against our value system.

I’ve been no saint in this life of mine. Mistakes? I’ve made a few, though hopefully too few to mention when it’s all done and said.

Unfortunately it doesn’t take me very long to acknowledge that my worst moment came when my emotions and my liquor got the best of me, and I physically assaulted a woman that I was madly in love with. A woman who I wanted no physical or emotional harm to come to then, or since.

My behavior in that moment; well over 20 years ago now, was totally inexcusable. Any legal penalty brought against me would have been fully justified and I would have truly suffered it in peace because it would have been deserved and well-earned. That would have held true whether my retribution came at the hands of the U.S legal system or her older brother. Only my ex-girlfriend’s good graces prevented him from administering his own unique brand of justice. But I absolutely would have had it coming. Any dude who even allowed the thought to form in his head of putting his hands on my late-sister would have had a beatdown coming for sure. Without hesitation.

There is no bigger show of weakness and cowardice that a man can display more than violently laying his hands on a woman. I felt that way then when it was my own cowardice, and I feel that way now when I see it in others.

But to be clear, I had a moment. A shameful, inexcusable moment. A moment that would have justified in me being held to full account. A moment that could have totally changed the trajectory of my life. But what that moment should not have done (particularly with me not being close to approaching the age where I could legally over-consume the alcohol that contributed to my impaired judgment) is in any way define the entirety of who I would become as a man. Or even who I was in that relationship, which has long since been mended.

I am forever indebted to my teenage love that she gave me a chance to redeem myself in a manner that seems to be severely lacking in today’s society where we stand eager to cast stones at whoever is the new national pariah of the week.

I am not a woman beater. I’ve had many relationships since, some of which have had more than their share of volatile moments. Some have even involved women wailing on me, but I’ve never come close to having a moment like that again. And I never will.

From all accounts there are several dissimilarities between my behavior as a teenager and those that have been widely reported as being committed against Nicole Holder at the hands of Greg Hardy. In theory, Greg Hardy is old enough to know better. Don’t get me wrong, even then, I too was old enough to know better; but there should be no doubt that one should have mastered enough emotional maturity to control themselves in this manner by the time they are 26 years-old as Hardy was at the time of his assault. Unlike me, (sort of anyway) Greg Hardy’s body is a weapon. He weighs 278 pounds and gets paid to commit violent acts against grown men for a living. And while I had a moment, Hardy’s actions seemed to go on for several minutes and had a premeditation that I lacked at the time. And while it has taken Greg Hardy some time to make any public acknowledgement of his wrongdoing, 5 minutes hadn’t gone by before I was literally begging at my ex-girlfriend’s feet.

I feel as though the legal system did not do right by Nicole Holder, even in spite of her sudden unavailability to testify against him in the jury trial. My line of work makes me privy to the wide body of research that shows that victims of domestic violence often take years to report their abuse – if they ever report it at all. And male-dominated law enforcement and prosecutors have failed to take these crimes seriously for generations. If this crime were taken more seriously, we would not see so many incidents of domestic violence nationwide. The numbers are staggering. One out of every five women will be the victim of serious physical violence from a mate in their lifetime. A woman is assaulted in this country every nine seconds. 20,000 women call domestic violence hotlines daily and yet only 34 percent of victims ever receive medical treatment for their injuries, signaling that many go unreported.

There has been much attention given to Greg Hardy’s incident in recent weeks, although the case itself is well over a year old; as well the shocking 9-1-1 call that may have saved her life.  The only thing new was the photos and; like Ray Rice in the elevator, we learned again that America can only be shaken from its attention deficit regarding this crisis when it is accompanied by some not-so-pretty pictures. Before that, Nicole Holder was totally invisible to the vast majority of the American public, just like the three women who will die today as a result of domestic violence.

What made the collective faux concern even more difficult to stomach was the sanctimonious reaction that came from far and wide on how this crowd felt that Greg Hardy should be reprimanded: he should lose his $11-million-a-year job.

Hardly anyone asked any hard questions about how Hardy could be walking around free in a country where we lock up over 90,000 non-violent, drug offenders each year in America. No one questioned if the prosecutor in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; who failed to even secure an arrest in the the case, was asleep at the wheel. No one scrutinized our laws that allowed Hardy to escape without any sort of legal penalty.

No, all anybody talked about was football. What a ridiculously sad state of affairs.

Most women who will be abused this year won’t be abused by football players. And these lawbreakers won’t always abuse women like Nicole Holder who have a wider set of options to escape their abusers. The solution to bring justice for those women is a lost of pay, rather than a lost of freedom?

And to be clear, I am the last person who is rushing to have another black man locked up. My point is that looking to Jerry Jones to set the moral authority on domestic violence is totally misguided. And more than showing any real concern for the victims, this posture reveals the hypocrisy of many of those who have chimed in on the issue. It’s easy to use Roger Goodell as a whipping boy, but it is much more difficult to take Uncle Sam to account. But make no mistake, domestic violence isn’t an NFL problem, it’s an American problem. And kicking dudes like Greg Hardy or Ray Rice out of the NFL isn’t a serious solution to that problem, it just provides a ceremonial piece of black flesh for a white media and consumer public that’s foaming at the mouth for sacrificial lambs. However, unlike Pavlov’s dog whose froth was generated by tapping into his audible senses, the unconscious American masses only react to visual stimulants. Others who have been accused of domestic violence in the NFL such as Chris Rainey, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Keelan Johnson, A.J. Jefferson, Amari Spivey and Leroy Hill don’t outrage us quite us much because there are no pictures accompanying their violent acts.

Sadly, it will only be a matter of time before some other athlete is in the headlines for similar misdeeds. Rather than only thinking like fucking capitalists all the time and believing that the marketplace offers the proper solution, let’s try some old-school democratic justice. If Greg Hardy lost his job after all, odds are he’d manage ok economically. But what he’d also be is free. Free to have a similar act in the future with another woman who may not be so fortunate next time. If this were to happen, surely Greg Hardy should be held to the highest account. But so should a legal system that gives dudes like this a slap on the wrist for the most grotesque of actions.

And so should all of us who ask more of our sports leagues than our legal system.

And whether you’re, me or Philadelphia Eagle, Lane Johnson; like it or not, the legal system has had its say with Greg Hardy. If you’re not happy about that, boycotting the NFL probably isn’t the smartest strategy to go about changing it.

Whatever the case, I hope that Greg Hardy learns the error of his ways. In spite of everyone’s collective haste to throw away the key to his redemption forever in this Christ-fearing land, I am living proof that that it is possible that Hardy can learn to do better. So although I think the legal system should be more proactive in going after these types of criminals, I also think that we need to slow our collective roles in rushing to play judge and jury over one another when things like this occur.

People fuck up and do dumb shit. They should be held to account. But they should also be given space to get better. The space to learn from their dumb shit and even help others not be as dumb in the future.

When the Ray Rice video became public (7 months after his actual crime), everyone said that Rice should go to jail, and that his girl should divorce him and break up another black family. When Janay Rice did otherwise, her character was put on trial; almost as much as her husband’s, as it was widely assumed that she only was staying in what “we all knew” to be a horribly dysfunctional marriage in order to reap the benefits of those phat NFL checks every two weeks.

Well, over a year later, by all accounts Ray Rice has not repeated his cowardly actions that were on display in Atlantic City that night. He has become a vocal spokesperson against domestic violence. And in spite of no longer having access to those NFL checks, his high school sweetheart is still by her man’s side, showing their children how grown folks work through their problems together.

We’re not excused from our worst moments no matter when they occur. Like most men who commit domestic violence in our society Ray Rice escaped severe legal justice, but has likely paid the price of forfeiting away his last few years as a player in the NFL.  Life is about choices and consequences. Whether out of character or not, Ray Rice made a bad one that night in Atlantic City.

There is no intent here to persuade you to lose any sleep over Ray Rice. Or Greg Hardy. Or their choices. Beyond attempting to bring heightened attention to domestic violence and its victims, one of the core ideas that I do hope comes across is for us to all slow down the rate at which we hop on our high horses to banish someone from society. Because next time that someone might be you having your worst moment.

Peace and God bless,

009

Noyzes – November 15

Noyzes – November 15 

Volume 16, #11

“Some Rational Perspective on the Remarkable Career of Mr. LeBron James” (AKA: A Message to the Dick Riders)

The start of a new NBA season is always an exciting time in cities across the land as hope springs eternal, even for Knicks fans. Well maybe not Knick fans but you get my point.

One thing that even loser-ass Knick fans can partake in is the water cooler and bar room debates that make sports so exciting. Who is the league’s best coach? Can the Warriors repeat or were they lucky like Doc Rivers said? How many games will it be into the season before Kobe makes Roy Hibbert cry? 10? 20? The All Star Break?

One thing that should not be quarreled about too often is who the league’s best player is.

That’s because LeBron James is the unquestioned best player in the Association. He probably single-handedly adds 10 to 15 wins to any team he plays for. He’s an efficient scorer, an outstanding team leader, adept passer and perhaps the league’s best defender. (Tony Allen, don’t bumrush me for that if we ever cross paths in the Chi) LeBron’s ability to do it all makes him the indisputable top talent in the league presently.

It’s important to reinforce this point because we live in an attention-deprived society where at various points in the season this fact may be forgotten. I feel confident that Anthony Davis will continue his assault on the throne. As if he wasn’t good enough already, now his coach will have him floating out to the three-point line more often. Of course Steph Curry wouldn’t be out of line to put in his claim, considering his status as reigning MVP and best player on the league’s defending champion. And even with explosive as Steph is; there is no better scorer on the planet than a healthy Kevin Durant. Each of these cats; and many more, are sure to have their moments during the season and many onlookers will suffer from warped amnesia in wondering who the top dog is. But for at least a few more years, LeBron has that title; no matter what you may have just seen 5 minutes ago. And as a diehard Bulls fan, I don’t say that easily. I despise LeCon (no typo) and largely view him as a phony, calculating cornball with a god-awful hairline. But as a true fan of the game, it would be ridiculous to deny him his props. He’s earned his status and it should not be given away easily just because you and your crew can only focus for a SportsCenter highlight at a time. I defend LeBron’s position as a true fan and historian of the sport, not as one who is emotionally invested in his success.

It is in this same emotionally detached spirit that I beg all you dick riders, 10-year-old kids and media whores to calm down on placing LeBron on a pedestal he hasn’t quite ascended to yet as the greatest not just of his time, but of all times. During LeBron’s brilliant run to losing yet another championship last spring I actually had to endure some of this talk at times as if Michael Jordan had never existed.

I won’t lie. I am very much emotionally attached to the Jordan legacy. I was raised on that shit. But I have always prided myself on submitting to truth. Emmitt Smith is my favorite NFL player of all time and the league’s top rusher ever. But I’m not so blinded by love that I’d rank him as a better back than Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson or Jim Brown. If one day, someone truly passes Jordan in overall quality of play I won’t front. But that day hasn’t come yet. And it is a long, long, long way off no matter how much people are looking for the next big thing. Anyone who has been watching the NBA for longer than 5 years who describes LeBron James as being the league’s greatest player should be punched really hard in their face, put in prison or both.

Eliminating LeBron from this exclusive conversation on the GOAT is no dis to Mr. James. LeBron James is an outstanding basketball player. Putting LeBron’s career in context is done in defense of greatness, not as a slight to him.

First off, let’s start with where I began. There may be some real debate on who the current best player is in 2015. Though I still think it’s LeBron, strong cases can be made for the likes of Steph, Durant, Chris Paul, Russ Westbrook and Anthony Davis. When Jordan was playing, after 1988 there wasn’t much debate on this. Jordan was the best, no question. There wasn’t even a close 2nd. And there were some bad boys in Jordan’s day. Conversely, during LeBron’s first years in Miami, he wasn’t the best player on his team.

Secondly, LeBron has lost four titles already where Jordan has lost none. Can’t undo that from the resume, especially when you got outplayed by J.J. Barea in one of them.

And while greats like Bird lost some too, Larry Legend was losing in the playoffs to the Lakers, the Bad Boys and Doc’s Sixers. LeBron hasn’t faced anywhere near that level of competition. That’s not his fault, but it’s also something that shouldn’t be omitted from the discussion as it is far too often. There are few things that demonstrate just how watered down LeBron’s era is than the fact he’s been able to make it to 4 championships to lose. Unlike Jordan who had to deal with the Bad Boy Pistons, Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers before getting his bling, there are no historically great teams in the east that the Cavs or Heat had to face off with. Shit, I don’t think the Heat team that challenged the Lakers 33 game win streak would have toppled Reggie Miller’s Pacers, Pat Ewing’s Knicks, Malone’s Jazz teams, Drexler’s Blazers, Payton’s Sonics, Barkley’s Suns or even the Cavs teams lead by Mark Price and Brad Daugherty. And all of those teams would have positively destroyed the two Cleveland teams LeBron led to the finals. LeBron is great, but that greatness has not been chiseled under the kind of intense pressure that Jordan, Magic and Bird had to go through.

Fourth, and ok you lose championships. It’s a team sport so that’s not all on LeBron. Honestly he was vastly overmatched with both of his Cavs team. Not quite overmatched like Jordan in Boston Garden in 86, (Dave Korzine and Kyle Macy started in that game opposite Hall of Famers Robert Parrish and Dennis Johnson. SMDH) but overmatched nonetheless. What is more of an indictment on LeBron is that the man he was responsible for checking won the Finals MVP two years in a row. And although Kawhi Leonard and an aging Andre Iguodala are outstanding players, I’m not sure either is going to receive a bust in the Hall of Fame. LeBron’s duels with those two top-level wing players wasn’t exactly Larry Bird going against Dominique in 88.

One day this summer the Bird vs. Dominique game was on TV. What I was most struck by was not only the ball movement and the ability of all the players on the floor to score in a variety of ways; but more than that I was totally blown away by the sheer physicality of the game. There was unabashed hand checking for 60 feet. There were hard fouls that would get players suspended for 10 games today. There were fully grown men in the paint to greet ambitious athletic guards, not teams full of 20 year old kids who should still be preparing for midterms in Chapel Hill and East Lansing. Nor were there a bunch of 7-foot stiffs from Bulgaria whose role model for physical play is Toni Kukoc. One of the common qualifiers for LeBron’s excellence is his ability to guard all five positions because he can guard everyone from John Wall to Al Horford. And that’s commendable. What it is not is the same thing as guarding Bob Lanier or Ralph Sampson. LeBron would have had a much more difficult time imposing his physical will on the game way back when. He’d likely still be an all star, but no one would seriously have him in discussions as the league’s best player in the late 80s. No one. First off, he’s never experienced a true hard foul in his life no matter how much he cries from even the slightest contact. He wouldn’t be able to bulldoze down the lane like he does now. He would be consistently laid on his ass, making him more prone to rely on his inconsistent jump shot. Not only would he be playing against grown men who could match his physicality, there were far fewer teams back then so the talent wasn’t nearly as watered down as it is now. Each NBA team today has no fewer than 3 or 4 guys that wouldn’t have even sniffed the NBA in 1990. That’s because the players back then weren’t nearly as one dimensional. LeBron’s NBA is full of guys who only have one skill. Three point specialists like Kyle Korver and Steve Novak. Guys who just set screens and grab rebounds like Josh McRoberts and yes, my dude, Tyler Hansbrough. Spectacular scorers like James Harden and Carmelo Anthony who refuse to play any defense at all. Point guards that (still) can’t hit open jump shots like Rajon Rondo. In yesterday’s NBA, you had to be able to do more than one thing. The fact that LeBron James is one of the few players today who has a multiple skill set makes him stand out a lot more than he would in previous eras.

Sixth, LeBron is a physical marvel that brilliantly uses his size to his advantage. As someone who was never the biggest person on the court at any time in their life, I admire this. In this way, the way that LeBron utilizes his sheer size and athleticism is reminiscent of Shaq, one of the league’s most dominant forces. Shaq was productive and his teams won big consistently. In his prime, any team that Shaquille O’Neal was on was an instant title contender and there were no real defensive answers for him. But like LeBron, Shaq wasn’t at the top of the pack compared to other big men in terms of actual basketball skills. He didn’t have the footwork of an Hakeem, Arvydas Sabonis or Kevin McHale. He wasn’t the defender that Mutumbo was. He couldn’t shoot the way Ewing or Mourning could. He was mainly just really big and strong, aiming to dunk the ball –and you- through the hoop every time he touched the rock. There is nothing wrong with that. I honestly wish more of today’s soft-ass big men would play that way. But his productivity and championship success notwithstanding, most people who watched Shaq play wouldn’t put him above Jabbar, Olajuwon, Chamberlain or Russell in the all time pantheon. Yet I feel that LeBron’s awesome athleticism causes us at times to gloss over his skill set compared to other all-time greats. And frankly, there have been many who have been more athletically freakish than LeBron. To be sure, to see a man of LeBron’s size be so agile is a sight to behold. But it’s also not new. I, for one, was much more amazed to see someone with the body type and height of Charles Barkley grab a rebound, dribble the length of the court (even going behind the back a couple of times) and dunk on some 7 foot nigga than I have been with anything that LeBron’s done on the court. And he has never made me drop my jaw in awe the way Vince Carter, Sean Kemp or even a pre-ACL tear Derrick Rose did. LeBron’s a big dude in an era where big dudes play small. He should be given credit for finally realizing he’s bigger than everybody after being scared to death to go into the post for the first seven-eight years of his career. But he isn’t reinventing the wheel either.

Which bring me to my 7th point. LeBron is an excellent defender. But what other basketball skill is he truly exceptional at? He’s not the shooter that Steph Curry or Ray Allen is. He isn’t a rebounding savant like Dennis Rodman. He’s not a relentless, ruthless scorer in the mold of Jordan, Kobe, Melo or Bernard King. He’s not the facilitator that Magic or Jason Kidd was. He isn’t as clutch as Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe or Reggie Miller. This isn’t any dis, it’s the truth.

One reason we don’t hear more about the likes of Bernard King and Chuck Barkley in discussions of the GOAT is that they left the game ring-less. My sense is that as great as LeBron is; had he not fully broken through and got his first title in 2012, no one would be nominating him for these lofty heights historically. But let’s not forget that LeBron felt that the only way he could get this ring was by following up behind his big brother, Dwayne Wade. To be sure, by the time he exited South Beach, LeBron had emerged as the superior player. But the moment that chinks appeared in the Miami armor he swiftly moved on to a path of least resistance in Cleveland where he could stack the deck in his favor once again with as much A-level talent as possible. LeBron is a brilliant businessman to leverage his power in a manner that is virtually unheard of for athletes. As a black man who is often troubled by the plantation-nature of pro and college sports I applaud this power grab. But from a basketball perspective, it strikes me that LeBron seems most eager to compete when everything is stacked in his favor. And that’s cool. But it’s not the path that other all-time-greats have taken. Sometimes to their detriment. I think Barkley is a superior overall basketball player to LeBron James but no one will take me seriously because he didn’t team up with Pat Ewing and Gary Payton to try and chase a ring. Shame on him. Shame on us if we forget that what made Jordan so great was not his ultimate successes, but the way in which he overcame his early failures. It is important that the comical and charismatic commercials don’t make us forget the way LeBron overcame his early failures: he cut and ran.

Because of superior skill sets, being forced to play against stiffer competition and having to face more adversity to become transcendent it is with great confidence that I personally rank several players I’ve seen with my own two eyes -Kobe, Magic, Bird, Olajuwon- above LeBron. And I think a strong case can be made for those I haven’t seen like Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Comparing LeBron to Jordan is comical at best and downright insulting at worst. He’s not as good as Jordan was in his junior year at Carolina. Maybe one day he’ll be as good as the Jordan that played with the Wizards. .

There have been over 3100 people that have played in the NBA. Whether you rank LeBron higher on your water-cooler list; or you keep him at around 10-and-rising like I have him pegged in mine, that’s not a bad place to be.

But I understand why people are so quick to anoint LeBron in the same insufferable way that they’ve done Andrew Luck and Mike Trout in other sports. Most of us can’t be great ourselves so it’s exciting to feel like you’re a part of greatness by, um, witnessing it.

I totally get that.

I saw probably 98-99 percent of every game Michael Jordan ever played. I’ve had a charmed life but having an up-close seat for all that is truly one of the best parts of it. It was an honor to see his career develop as it did. I sincerely feel like I’m a better person from having been a part of that. Others want that feeling too and I dig that.

But it can’t be forced. It has to happen organically. We all thought Jordan would be big time but no one believed he was going to turn into what he did. The fact that he so exceeded everyone’s expectations; when they already were pretty high, is one of the things that made watching Mike’s career so fascinating.

That’s very different from LeBron. Since he was 16-years-old the media has been telling us that LeBron was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Dude has been hyped into our living rooms virtually all his life. To his great credit he has lived up to quite a bit of it in a way that I personally was very skeptical of originally.

In the years since, the media hype has only grown. A lot has been invested in creating the media celebrity of LeBron James by companies such as Nike, Galaxy, Kia, ESPN and the NBA itself. Long ago, the corporate Geppettos wrote a check that, try as he may, LeBron James just does not possess the skill set, nor the gumption, to cash. One thing we can be absolutely certain of is that the captains of industry will continue to sell us this fantasy. Don’t you be a fool and buy in.

Peace and God bless,

009

Noyzes – July 15

Noyzes 

Volume 16, # 7 – July 15

“I Hope I Can Be Like My Big Sister When I Grow Up”

This past weekend my sister should have celebrated her 49th birthday.

Instead, we buried her the day before I celebrated my milestone 40th .

For once, I was in no mood to celebrate on this birthday and frankly have not been particularly celebratory on most of the days since. Life goes on I suppose. My sister, Rashidah, would want it that way. But my life was made less whole by the untimely departure of my big sister from this sick and twisted planet. Time spent with her made it feel less sick and twisted. She was my kindred spirit in a great many ways and because of that; in a world that grows ever more uncertain by the moment, I always felt totally understood, appreciated and loved in her heart. Though I have tried mightily to seek it out, that comfort and familiarity is something that I have found to be exceedingly rare. So although I’m relieved Rashidah’s no longer dealing with the side effects of the hole in her heart that ultimately helped claim her last breaths, it will be a long time coming before my heart feels whole again.

Although I was the smallest in my family; and usually on my block, I wasn’t ever scared of a fight and I owe that to my big sister more than anyone because she had a totally different interpretation of leaning in before Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg made the term part of our nomenclature. My sister Rashidah is fiercely loyal to those that she loves and even more protective of them. Some of my family members were reminded of this trait just a few years ago when Rashidah almost caused a riot when someone had the audacity to make a snide comment about my father’s organization of the family reunion.

“Don’t y’all be talkin’ bout my daddy!” she yelled out as her husband attempted to restrain her. You could say what you wanted about Rashidah. She knew who she was, so that didn’t bother her in the least. But attack her children, parents or siblings and a wrath so intense would kindle that even ISIS and Al Qaeda would be seeking out a peaceful resolution with her.

But few saw that side. Most only knew Rashidah to have a smile on her face and to quickly put one on yours. Rashidah had a great sense of humor and was almost always in a good mood; far different from her constantly irritated (and to her, irritating) younger brothers who both woke up angry; and only grew more annoyed as the day went on. Far too many women have been trained to be in competition with one other. But my big sister was always quick to fellowship with sisters of varying backgrounds, and was comfortable enough in her own skin to pay a sincere compliment to them. “I like your hair like that” or “that dress is so pretty, it really suits your figure,” she could be heard to say. She showed me it was ok to fight –sometimes literally, and sometimes with her- for what you believed in. She showed me that it was ok to love. And love unconditionally in a way that most people talk about but almost never really practice. All of my parents’ children initially had hopes of emulating their union that is at a remarkable 50 years and counting. But only my sister was able to be true to her vows until death due her part, leaving this world with her heartbroken husband at her bedside. Like me, my sister had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Unlike me, she was a nurturer. Not just to her own children. To all children. And she was this way even when she was still very much a child herself. When I was a shorty and my mom had to be hospitalized for a spell, it was Rashidah that kept everyone’s life in order. And when our parents sent us to Birmingham for glorious summers with our grandmother, Rashidah was the one that most assisted Mary Pearl in helping to lasso in me and my rambunctious cousins. My brother and I, early on, developed a deep passion for hip-hop that helped us form a close-knit bond in between our daily (hourly?), UFC-styled fights. But it was my sister who first tapped into my musical imagination. Even more than my parents playing Nancy Wilson and Marvin Gaye, the soundtrack of my childhood was scored by my big sister who commandeered the boom box at our crib during a time where you could still listen to FM radio without wanting to blow your brains out. She put me up on Denise Williams, Stephanie Mills, Patrice Rushen, Shalamar and Stacy Lattisaw in helping to show me very early on what soul music was, and what it wasn’t – a lesson I still haven’t lost. It was my sister’s friends for whom I developed my first crush (you was looking good at the funeral, Deneen) so I probably have my sweet tooth for women partially to blame on her as well. Though I always found her decision to revert back to the Christianity that my parents had rescued her from to be totally bizarre, I truly respected her courage to be true to herself and live her life like she wanted to. Ain’t no telling how my parents would have responded to my unique drum beat had Rashidah not been there to set the rhythm before me. I’ve been totally off beat in the months since she left me.

All of these wonderful traits made it where even people who wanted to hate my sister (sadly, most of whom share her blood) could not. This shit is cliché I know. I hate saying it, it’s so damn cliché. But it’s the truth: no one had anything bad to say about Rashidah. I would love to say that she never had anything bad to say about anybody but that would be a lie. But if she did have something bad to say, you certainly wouldn’t have to guess or wonder. She’d tell you directly and would make no pretense if she wasn’t fucking with you. That raw realness that could always be counted on is what I’ll miss the most about my sister.

Today’s world is full of ambiguity. One day Bruce Jenner is outpacing dudes in the Olympics, the next he has a mangina. We recently learned that the leader of Spokane’s NAACP is a white woman, which is not a problem on its face except she appears to have been born a white woman who has decided to live the existence of a black woman as an adult. Routinely these days, my most trusted loved ones and confidants talk with split tongues without batting an eye. Everywhere I look, up is down and down is up. So it was so very comforting to have people like Rashidah in my life who; although her views and values evolved like most of us, I didn’t have to guess or wonder about who she was. Or who I was to her.

And I am happy that my sister left this earth without having to wonder or guess how I felt about her. I can’t begin to fathom the various health-related challenges that she’s had to fight through for most of her adult life. She did so with dignity, strength and little complaint. I am deeply relieved she is no longer in any pain. Still some months later, I have yet to figure out how to mend the hole in my own heart after having lost her. But I hope this tribute to her serves as a first step in a long journey towards healing. Rest in peace, Rah Digga. I love you.

009

Noyzes – June 15

Volume 16, # 6 – June 15

“All the Way Live”

If you’re reading this, you’re probably deeply interested in hip-hop and so intoxicated by its sounds that you own a lot of the music derived from this wonderful culture that we all love. Especially the classics. I; myself, am such a fanatic that I own several thousand hip-hop albums. And as massive as that is, my collection actually pales in comparison to a few cats in my circle. And professional DJ’s would go insane if they woke up and found themselves in possession of my smattering of sounds.

You can best see what a person is truly committed to by what they spend their money on. And to be sure, an unseemly amount of money (to say nothing of the time) has been spent in accumulating my music collection.  But make no mistake, no matter how many CD’s I collect, that -in and of itself- doesn’t make me hip-hop. It makes me a consumer.

I think a lot of times headz believe that owning The Extinction Agenda, as phat as it is, qualifies someone as being of hip-hop culture. Any idiot with money to spend can buy a lot of music. It requires something more than legal tender to truly understand and value the manuscripts that these albums serve as. Acquiring the cultural capital to truly appreciate good hip-hop music requires the listeners to invest their time. And more than that, it requires them to have been forced out of their comfort zone a time or two. Physically and psychologically.

As I’ve stated throughout this series, hip-hop is a living, breathing culture that is meant to be experienced in the flesh. And often times, sharing this experience means experiencing some level of discomfort, something that technology is making it less necessary for us to do. For someone to fully experience hip-hop still requires that they leave their home, and it is hard to find a cultural breeding ground more fruitful than the live show. The live show, unlike the controlled sound of an album or ringtone, involves an organic synthesis between the community and the MC and DJ. And on occasion, even b-girls and graf writers.

Here in my, um, more mature years there are many reasons for me to stop going to hip-hop shows. There are often long lines to be stood in. Upon arriving at the front of the line –sometimes hours later- we are frequently greeted with contempt and disrespect by people who hate our music, skin tone, clothing and belief systems but very much like our money. Once inside, your reward for standing in those long lines is to stand up some more because most any hip-hop show of any real quality isn’t going to have assigned seating. There are few acts that I have yet to see live on stage, so I’m generally content to post up on the wall these days unless any of the limited seats at the bar haven’t been snatched up. But there are still rare times; such as Little Brother’s last ever stop in Chicago as a group, where I had to go down to the pit just in front of the stage. Being in this area requires a level of endurance and aggressiveness rarely seen in polite society. You can expect to catch an inadvertent elbow to your neck or a well-placed knee to your thigh. Your white-on-white kicks are sure to get scuffed many times over. You may get a drink, and sometimes even a human being, spilled on you. But when MC’s like Black Thought, Common or KRS are rocking the mic right, it’s all well worth it. The good vibes gained from a live show better allows me to cope with the madness that exists in the world outside of hip-hop.

It is easy to forget the value in these experiences when you can hear the “Bridge is Over” in perfect pitch and clarity while seated comfortably in your home, where you won’t be aggressively escorted out by security if you want to smoke a little weed. But it’s important for the continued existence and growth of hip-hop culture for all of us who love it to force ourselves into these uncomfortable spaces among familiar strangers every once in a while.

One reason that a live hip-hop show still has value is that too much of our modern society is informed and governed by fear. We view our fellow man as a threat far too often because we only isolate ourselves around people in our everyday lives. Stepping out among some weirdos with tattoos and strange haircuts allows you not only to capture people’s fundamental humanity in a way that the TV never can, it also allows us to better form common ground across communities through a shared passion for hip-hop.

Your presence at live shows also serves a vital function for the MC. And not only because it is touring; and not album sales, that allow many underground rappers to earn a living. But also, they need to have someone be honest with them about how much they’re growing as artists. No one at the label is going to tell them they’re wack. And even if they do, most of those clowns aren’t really qualified to speak to what is and isn’t wack anyway. The rapper’s dick-riding crew who is on the payroll ain’t gonna tell them they’re starting to fall off. His baby moms might, but if he’s treating her right, she can’t be relied on for constructive criticism either. But the energy emitted from the audience at a live show can’t be faked, and will make crystal-clear to any MC exactly where she or he stands with their core audience.

Besides that, many MC’s actually hate the record-making part of the rap business and feel most invested in their craft at the live show. They need fans there to help fuel them, not just the Johnny-come-latelys who are there to hear the catchy song they just heard on the radio last week. If you want Pharoahe Monch to keep making music for you and your struggle, you need to go support his sometimes too.

Again, this is a living and breathing culture of ours. But it is quite easy to think that hip-hop is dead if you’re tuning into BET for some reason. However, when I went to the Curren$y’s show last summer I was reminded that it was very much alive. There, I saw hundreds of kids saying his rhymes word-for-word even though he has produced most of his music without any institutional backing from any majors. Were I only to use Billboard as a reference, I might feel much more disillusioned about the culture and the ability of independent artists to exist in this environment. Nights like that remind me that there’s still a lot of really good hip-hop music being made, and a lot of people who still want to hear it. People who downright crave to hear it; akin to an addict, in the way that I did 20 years ago when me and the music were coming of age at the same time. The way I do now.

As a fan you can also get better exposed to up-and-coming talent through opening acts at live shows. Any real MC isn’t going to have just anybody open up for them.

Our planet is getting dumber. And true hip-hop attracts intelligent people so going to a hip-hop concert can offer a rare opportunity to interact with a lot of smart people.

Though my body is aging a bit too fast sometimes, I make great efforts to keep my mind young. And being in these hip-hop spaces -that will always be dominated by the young- helps to keep me young in mind and spirit. Even if you’re only to step out once or twice a year, I have no doubt it will do the same for you.

And it is important for the young cats finding their way in this culture to be exposed to older heads so that they have a proper understanding of the culture’s norms and mores. Who else, after all, is going to show these young kids just how hopelessly lame their gym shoes and jeans are? If we’re not physically there to set the standards, hip-hop will be associated with even more weird, effeminate shit in the next 20 years as dictated by mainstream media. And it’ll be partially your fault.

The live show is critical for the hip-hop experience because you hear the music in a different way than you do on an album. Sometimes you’ll hear songs that you’ll never actually hear recorded on wax.

And hardcore hip-hop fans’ presence at the live show reinforces the notion that there should be some level of work involved in hip-hop because it is music that demands interaction and shuns passivity. The MC is going to ask you to respond and react, and maybe even rhyme a few bars while he sips some cognac. The show you get will only be as good as the energy you provide.

It’s dope that cats are able to profit from recorded sounds, but that’s not how hip-hop music was created to be experienced. I think that the technology is dope. Growing up in the 80s, there was some music you couldn’t get access to unless you were physically in New York City and sometimes not even then. So the accessibility to the music that we enjoy today is madd fly. But it also makes it where we don’t spend as much time in the collective space of other like-minded heads. And it makes it so that MC’s aren’t forced to master their craft among experts who are far more discriminating than the A&R who plays an electric guitar and is looking for the next Waka Flocka Flame.

The engineers in the studio, the label execs, a dope producer, and brilliant marketer can obscure many artistic blemishes. But at a hip-hop concert it’s just you and the crowd. There is nowhere for a phony rapper to hide.

This level of interaction between an artist and the public is important for most any craft, but this is especially true of hip-hop music because good hip-hop music is rooted in the experiences of common folk. Any artist and fan who does not make every effort to seek out this experience will slowly find themselves drifting away from the value system of hip-hop. And those who have exclusively experienced hip-hop through their vast CD collection, computer or wide-screen TV are not experiencing hip-hop at all. They’re experiencing commodification.

To be sure, the live show has been commodified by Live Nation and Stubhub to the point that many of the hardcore fans find themselves priced out of this experience. But there are many spots that routinely feature local MC’s and DJ’s in every city in the world where you can patronize heads; that are rooted in your community, on the cheap. And experiencing hip-hop collectively does not at all mean that you have to go see someone rap. There are madd b-boy and DJ battles in every major city all across this planet. Check one out, unless you scared of getting a little dirty.

Peace and God bless,

009

 

 

 

Noyzes – May 15

May 15 – Volume 16, #5

“Cause and Effect”

 “Nigga for this shit, I need you to get violent….” Jay Z, “D.O.A.”

I had previously committed this space to hip-hop for the next six months. And to be sure, there will be a commitment to hip-hop whenever I write because I can’t help but to be moved by the culture that helped raise me whenever I put ink to paper. And there’s been a lot going on in my world personally that certainly has inspired a whirlwind of emotion in me.

But I would be derelict in my duty as a writer, a sociologist and the nympho of info if I didn’t address the latest police killing, the response of the good people of Baltimore and the idiot media’s response to their response.

I barely know what to say about the latest police homicide. For one, there’s still –somehow at this late date- so much that is unknown about the nature of Freddie Gray’s murder. And by the time you’re reading this, much has been said already on why there continue to be Freddie Grays. And Tamir Rice’s. Michael Browns. Tyree Woodsons. Sean Bells. Victor Whites. Yvette Smiths. And Rekia Boyds. All of these citizens, and hundreds of faceless others, have lost their lives at the hands of the boys & girls in blue that took oaths to protect them.

The inept and aloof media has finally discovered that police-sanctioned murders of black men has continued unabated while they were busy celebrating Obama’s post-racial America. The talking heads, and their know-nothing interview subjects from the political world, have volunteered several quick-fixes.

The solution to end this madness is that we just need more black police officers, some will say. No, we need more diversity training. Body cameras seem a practical answer until one considers that Eric Garner’s execution at the hands of his judge and jury was caught on video. Plenty of others have blamed the victims, who are unable to defend themselves because they were killed in cold-blood. This moronic line of thinking has oscillated between suggesting that running from the police and having a checkered criminal past are sufficient justifications for someone to lose their life in the purported international beacon of democracy. Few original ideas have been brought forward for a centuries-old problem.

Sadly, being subjected to state-sponsored violence isn’t anything new for black America. The only thing that is new is that technology is capturing more of these atrocities, which have sometimes been mistakenly described as public lynchings. While local and federal government officials often turned a blind eye to violence against black men in the decades after the Civil War, what is happening today is far worse because it is the people who are actually hired to protect black people who are killing them. Back then, by-and-large, the lynchings were organized and carried out by private citizens. Afterwards, to be sure, the state gave them a pass for their transgressions. However today’s spate of murders are categorized, it is non debatable that the lives of black men have been treated as disposable for generations.

So it strikes me as quite odd that in the immediate aftermath of the latest wave of violence (not the fuckin’ riots that mainly resulted in damage to poverty, but the police violence that resulted in an actual death) that white media and timid, bourgeois negroes talk of the need for the black pockets of west Baltimore to serve as example to white America that black communities can be peaceful in the face of injustice. Prior to the indictment; in expectation of the police getting away with murder once again, it had even been suggested that the violence could take away from the investigation, a positively silly idea. The investigators had a job to do and nothing short of Armageddon should have distracted them from it.

Another narrative that picked up steam from the idiot box was that peaceful protests are a symbol to America that most of the black community don’t support mindless violence. But it’s not black people in America that need to demonstrate that we can coexist peacefully with white folks. Never has been, never will.

We aren’t the ones that are killing innocent, unarmed white people that we are hired to protect and serve. We generally aren’t the ones serving on juries that ensure that murderers like the cops in New York City and Ferguson never are brought to justice. It seems to me that it is white America that needs to begin to show that they are outraged by the mindless violence taken against their fellow citizens. And many white folks of good will have. Just not enough of the white people in power. And certainly not enough people of any color in uniform.

For the media to promote this line of thinking that it is black folks that need to quell their violent tendencies is not only insulting, it’s incorrect.

Before I proceed, let me be crystal clear. The best and most effective way to combat the systemic police-state executions of black men is true education. Not that bullshit cultural diversity training that police officers have slept through for years. What I mean is a true education that starts from the womb. The hatred of black people –manifested by people of all races in this country- produces subconscious acts like those of the Baltimore police. Your teachers can’t teach you not to think this way, your parents have to. It isn’t that all pigs are actively hating black folks, it’s just that they’ve been taught from day one that black lives actually don’t matter. This makes it far easier to take levels of force that police officers generally wouldn’t dream of taking with white lawbreakers.

And make no mistake, these deaths aren’t merely a police problem. It’s just the police that get to carry their guns around legally and have the best alibis for killing black men. These deaths are a symptom of a larger white supremacy virus that has infected all of us in varying degrees. Retraining the police and improving the technology is a waste of time. We gotta retrain and improve America. There are cameras in police cars now because Rodney King got his ass beat on tape 20 years ago. And shit is worse now than it’s been since the start of the 20th century.

Laws have been changed. Police have gotten so much sensitivity training that they could be mistaken for Drake. Occasionally, rogue policemen have been brought to justice, though not nearly enough. Books have been written, documentaries produced. Protests have been staged. Black bodies continue to pile up.

It is essential that these strategies; and others that can take advantage of the advances and accessibility in technology, continue to be used. However, to pretend that violence is not a viable option in bringing a more expedient resolution to this problem of the color line ignores history. This is especially true of American history, a nation that has never turned the other cheek in the way that the media and political establishment of the nation demand of the black community.

I’m not pro violence. I prefer peace, like most black people. But best believe, if my personal peace is disturbed and I am unable to reason with you, violence is surely going to be an option. Not the first option. Perhaps not the fourth. But American foreign policy has shown us well that if you remove the threat of violence from the table, you quickly find yourself turning into a pussy. Or worse yet, France.

I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Black, white, brown or purple. But I’m not going to pretend that I’ve lost any sleep over some of the officers that were hurt in Baltimore when bricks and rocks were hurled their way. Those officers are casualties of the war that has been declared on the black community and not by the black community. Those who have declared this war don’t get to also set the terms of engagement. Frankly, the news story should have been the Christ-levels of restraint exercised in black communities across the nation in not repeating that scene much, much more often.

Instead, the talking heads attempted to say that the focus should be on Freddie Gray rather than “opportunistic” violence. And that’s true. Gray’s family, and the future Freddie Grays among us, deserve transparency in this case.

But part of the problem is that we view these isolated incidents as isolated incidents when these state-sponsored murders absolutely are not. These murders are part of a systemic, often subconscious mechanism that is designed to destroy black men. Like automatic ATM fees, they no longer require a thinking, conscious human being to enact them to cause harm. They are already programmed into the matrix and operate automatically. Baltimore is a black city with a black mayor. And Freddie Gray was killed at the hands of several black officers. In my experiences, there are few who hate black men in this society more than black cops. Hiring more white-thinking black men to be on the police force isn’t going to bring more justice and peace to the black community. Nor will hiring more police officers of good intentions. The system is broken even if we fix a few people.

Intent isn’t what matters. Harm is. And this system brings disproportionate harm to black men. If we don’t come to grips with that fact we’ll be back here again soon enough. So yes, by all means talk about the specifics of Freddie Gray’s murder.

But the media should have a wide enough attention span and intellectual dexterity to focus on his case while also examining the structural, macro-level issues that cause this to happen again and again and again and again.

And if more black men continue to be killed, more violence will ensue. And it should. And know that if you are in uniform, you’ll be viewed much in the same way that a U.S. soldier would in Vietnam, the Gulf War or any war. Once the soldiers arrive in enemy territory, the natives make no distinction among aggressors. There is no survey to find which solider has a new, doting bride back home. Or which one has a special-needs kid that is really relying on dad’s salary and health benefits. Or which one is actually an advocate of the people he is invading. Those who are threatened only see that they are under attack and do what humans are designed to do: go into self-preservation mode.

The bitch-made media has a short memory, so as the fires burned in Baltimore, it was easy to forget exactly what turn of events lead us to this point. It was another episode of violence against the black community. They isolated Freddie Gray’s death as if we hadn’t been seeing black people killed on TV, literally just about every week.

With this consistent level of carnage, it is not crazy for me; or others, to think that a war has been declared on our community. Shit, frankly for any totally independent and objective observer of the situation, it would be completely irrational to think otherwise. Peaceful protests and diplomatic measures are important negotiating tools in any conflict. But when war is declared, that single-file, target practice shit played out with the British Red Coats.

What the media and other politicians don’t get is that the anger that spurred some isolated violence in Baltimore isn’t just about Freddie Gray. His individual death is about all of us. How can it not be if you’re a conscious black person living through these times? Clearly it is open season to kill any black person at any time for any reason.

Those black kids who pelted the police with rocks and bricks weren’t just randomly attacking the police and other establishments. Theirs was a rational response to actual threats.

Perhaps this response may make much of America very uncomfortable and that’s fair. But any rational person will know that scenes like those are only set to increase if the police killings continue at this rate.

For my fellow black Americans, we must be very careful not to adopt the mindset of those who wish us harm. Many in the black community, including our president, seemed to show more outrage against the kids throwing bricks than the officers who actually took lives. They were labeled thugs, troublemakers and opportunists.

Well I’d like to add one more label: freedom fighters.

This environment has made it where black people all across America live in an uncomfortable environment. Maybe it’s time that white America begins to feel a bit more uncomfortable too. Picket signs and chants that occur hundreds of miles away from white communities can do well to make liberals feel good about themselves. But they aren’t doing much to make the white establishment uncomfortable. Those cats throwing bricks did do that, regardless of what you may think of their tactics.

Consider this, the Baltimore Orioles were so concerned about the safety of the good consumers who drive from the Maryland suburbs to see their ballclub that they chose to cancel two games, play another before an empty stadium, and outright cancel three other home dates. That’s a lot of beer concessions and overpriced parking to sacrifice. Many other businesses followed the Orioles’ example. And while it is too early to tell exactly how much this cost the city, it doesn’t take an econ major to guess that this was a significant hit for an area that isn’t exactly Silicon Valley. For a week, just a few kids throwing bricks paralyzed the economy of a major U.S. city.

There are many good reasons why violence should not be the primary strategy used by the black community in our ongoing effort to stop police riots. The main reasons are simple. We don’t have enough guns, resources or bodies to win that fight.

But the media isn’t trying to discredit the violent freedom fighters because they are concerned about the welfare of Baltimore. They are doing so because they are concerned about the welfare of capitalism. A few pigs suffered some broken bones and that’s a shame. Cry me a river. But the river cried over those officers does not amount to the oceans-worth of blood stained on the hands of dirty cops; and those that protect them, from sea to shining sea.

The only casualty in Baltimore last week was commerce. Businesses have been afraid to set up shop in the ghetto for generations for fear of being the victims of random violence. For a few days at least, much of Baltimore was like a ghetto, a place that people were afraid to venture into. Maybe the solution to the problem posed as the beginning of this prose is to make more of America feel the way greater Baltimore did last week. Maybe if everyone is forced to live like black people have for generations, maybe then, black lives will truly matter. Peace and God bless,

009

Noyzes – March 15

Noyzes

March 15 – Volume 16, #3

“The Year of Hip-Hop: Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”

It was set to be a van-glorious evening in a lifetime full of van-glorious evenings. The weather was pitch perfect on this early autumn Chicago day.  Most of the humidity from August’s dog days had long since dissipated, and the hawk remained lurking, but still perched far in the distance.

It was the middle of the week so I had worked that day which left me mentally exhausted as usual. But I ended classes early enough to be able to fully lay out enough of my day to avoid it conflicting with my night.

As usual, I had most of my 24 hours totally mapped out and accounted for. I would take a little bit of a nap after taking the number 6 back south. I’d wake up in time to catch PTI and Around the Horn talk shit about the Cowboys while I got my mind right. Building up my appetite was vitally important because I would need a full stomach for the big night ahead, the centerpiece of which was checking Pete Rock and CL Smooth at the Shrine in the South Loop.

It had been well over a decade and a half since the Mount Vernon duo had recorded together and lord knows how long since they had performed live on stage.  But even though it was what was for me –literally a school night, I wasn’t going to miss this for the world. School night or not, tonight was kind of special. That’s because I would set off seeing the Meccadon and Chocolate Boy Wonder by getting drunker than I had in years and chasing those cocktails by slipping comfortably into my bed and taking the entire bottle of sleeping pills I had bought earlier that week with intentions of killing myself.

But for once, my plan didn’t work out.

I put a lot of thought into how I was going to spend my day, so much thought had been put into what I wanted to be my last night on the planet.

I was in the very early stages of a deep, dark depression that I foolishly didn’t think I’d ever emerge from.  I needed a new nigga for that black cloud to follow, because while it was out it was far too dark to see tomorrow.  Tomorrow was sure to bring more torment.

But that night in the Shrine, the sun did shine bright for a few minutes. At no point that night did I bathe in the sun’s rays more than when the dynamic duo performed their classic, “One in A Million.”

The shit sounded so dope, so beautiful. The song had always ignited a spark in me, from the first time that I heard it, but now I was hearing it live. And Pete Rock was dropping the beat from the original instrumental right there in front of us, adlibbing scratches that would never be heard anywhere else. It was the definition of dopeness. And I’ve seen everybody in every possible setting. Red & Meth, The entire Wu, when Dirty was still alive. KRS. Tribe. De La. Rakim. Nas. MC Lyte. Kane. Cube. Outkast. The Roots. Mos. The Fugees. Gang Starr. You name it.

So I’m not easily impressed.

But I was this night. And I felt like if it were possible to produce something so beautiful as that sound from this awful, seemingly God-forsaken planet then maybe there was hope that something else could make me feel like that again for sustained periods.

To be sure, there are many influences that propelled me to my “come to Jesus” moment. None smaller than the fact that, let’s face it, I was likely to pussy out and am not sure I would have had the nerve to off myself. I don’t like getting fucking paper cuts. I’m not sure I was prepared to endure a wound that would fail to heal. And usually when pressed, throughout my life, my instinct has been to fight. Fight like hell. And that instinct may well have kicked in here. But hip-hop music helped to trigger that. As it always had.

I have written about why this music and culture is important for black people, for white people, for the very salvation of the republic. This month I want to speak on why hip-hop is so very important to me.

In this journey that is life, it is inevitable that we lose people along the way. Some we lose through mortality. Others prove to be false friends. Sometimes we are pushed out of people’s lives, and other times we have to discard those we love the most for the sake of our own internal peace. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more philosophical about this cycle of life and have come to learn that often times people are truly in our lives for a season. But my one constant through all this constant change has been hip-hop. Other than my parents, nothing and nobody else has been there consistently for me throughout.  And since my parents raised me to be stubbornly independent, it has usually  been within the confines of hip-hop that I have been able to regain my balance when life has knocked me down.

Through the years when I needed a space where I could feel understood, I could find sanctuary in hip-hop. I always had somewhere that I felt my shortcomings could be evaluated without moral judgment, but with true empathy. Hip-hop gave me somewhere I could feel like I had been heard. Not listened to but truly heard. It gave me a space where I could feel courageous and somewhere I could go and feel vulnerable without losing my masculinity. Hip hop gave me a space that I could test out new ideas that sounded crazy to everybody else.

But like any relationship, there have been times where I’ve questioned whether or not hip-hop would still be that place for me. It’s hard not to question this commitment with what the Rap Industrial Complex and their blackface minstrels have done to this music.

The prospects of this no longer being a safe space are positively frightening. I have never lived in a world where that place didn’t exist for me personally. From the time I first heard The Treacherous Three battling the Furious Five, (and probably even earlier than that if my memory allowed) I’ve always felt that I was part of a movement. And within that movement anything was possible in a world where shit seemed downright hopeless at times. And once again, when things felt as hopeless as they ever had for me personally, there was hip-hop to my rescue.

Who knows how that night in September may have ended? But I do know for sure that I entered that concert with full intention of it being my last. Not just my last concert. My last everything.

This latest stupid decision wasn’t a rash one. I had battled with it for a while, even before my world began to unravel in front of me. I had been really unhappy for a very long time. What was most disturbing about this is that I actually had a pretty good life, by all the external measures anyway. But in spite of getting a great start to a promising career while simultaneously building my own business through the support from a wonderful group of friends, family and an adoring wife, no sunshine seemed to be able to peak through the black clouds. I could deal with the bad times, but being unhappy during the good times was worrisome to the point where I felt like things would never improve and the suffering was more than I thought I could bear. I’m no coward. I wasn’t above standing up to adversity, but there just didn’t seem to be enough positives to balance out all the bullshit that is adult life.

But Pete Rock and CL reminded me of the good in life. Hearing “One in a Million” not only made me feel euphoric in that particular moment. It endeared within me the spirit of a million other moments where that song has had me feeling that way. For a few minutes I was a teenager again, hearing this song for the first time.

And I thought about all the body blows that life had given me since I first heard that track in the summer of 1993, another time in my life where I felt like I could never overcome the woes of the day. In that time; and since, I’ve battled periodic feelings of self-doubt, misery induced by loves lost that I thought I couldn’t possibly ever recover from, and many self-inflicted stumbles. I’ve had quite a few dark days since the night that Pete Rock and CL rocked the Shrine, and if I’m lucky I’m going to have several thousand more.  You can’t live very long and avoid the rainy days. Even in Southern California.

But life is about –at least my life is about- chasing that next moment that made me feel like I did that night. Or how I felt the first time I heard The Low End Theory. And Moment of Truth. Do You Want More. Aquemini. It Takes A Nation of Millions and Straight Outta Compton. Good Kid, Madd City. Life is Good. And “One in a Million.”

All my problems weren’t solved that night. Far from it. Honestly, shit got a lot worse than that before it got better. By March of the next year, I would have given anything to feel the despair that I thought was insurmountable the prior September. But I had to survive September to gain the perspective of March.

What helped me survive that night was not a fear of dying. My senses now fully restored and then some, I once again hope to live a very long time. But I have forgone my fear of mortality some time ago. I hope God grants me a couple of thousand of years to see if my Cubs can end this World Series drought, but I am prepared to meet my maker at the time of his choosing. So less than a fear of death, I was frightened that someone somewhere would make a song that would make feel like that one did and I wouldn’t be alive to enjoy it.

And besides, for as many fucked up things that are going on, a planet that could produce masterpieces like that Pete Rock gem couldn’t be all bad.

I hope that you never feel as low as I did that night. And if you do, I certainly hope that you gain your wits quicker than I did, and recognize that there are no less than ten million more constructive ways to get over the hump that don’t involve suicide. If you’re an overzealous hip-hop head like me, one sure-fire way is to listen to some classic hip-hop. No matter what you’re going through, there is certainly some MC who has gone through it too and has expressed your struggle to the world. Or at the very least, that good soul music can do what it was intended to do: lift your soul for a few minutes. It can touch something that speaks to the very essence of your humanity. And that’s what good hip-hop music is, soul music. Shit, all good music period is soul music, from Bach to the Beatnuts. What saved this twisted soul on that night was hip-hop music. These moments of clarity that only hip-hop provides is what compels me to continue to fight so hard for it.

It is true that nowadays songs like “One in a Million” are truly one in a million. But not as rare as headz believe. I’ll explore this misperception next month. I hope you’ll join me then. Peace and God bless,

009