New Documentary focuses on Risky life of AIDS afflicted Howard Grad

About 5 years ago, I had the misfortune of learning about this awful truth via a website. On the heels of World AIDS Day yesterday, since it’s being shared damn near everywhere else by my fellow Howard University alum who are just finding out about this, it only makes sense that I post this as well.

This is the story of William “Reds” Brawner, a dude I distinctly remember being prominent on campus during my time there. As fate would have it, he’s been HIV positive most of his life and has even taken some active role in spreading awareness. The dramatic and shocking side to this tale is that he kept it concealed until those 5 years ago and he was having all kinds of sex while in college. Sometimes unprotected.

Now as scary as the thought is of knowing that the probability that we have (in the words of Nas) ‘bumped the same bunnies’ is high(fear not, I’m fine), there is something about this story that needs to be told. Perhaps if for no other reason then for the scores of young people out there who are probably running around living their lives in secrecy and shame at the expense of other’s health. Regardless of our thoughts on Brawner personally, we should all tune into this documentary. Maybe even help see it come to light.

For a more detailed look check this article.http://loop21.com/life/coming-clean-hiv-postive-man-confronts-lives-he-destroyed

For more info on the film check this site. http://25tolifefilmsite.com/#

 

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Beats Rhymes & Life – A NiteHawk story…

Sometimes you wonder why things haven’t always been a certain way that seems to make the most sense. When walking into a place such as Williamsburg’s NiteHawk Cinema, you instantly hate every movie experience that you’ve had before then. It’s a “could have had a V8” kind of moment where you’re immediately spoiled. I recently went to the theatre this past weekend to see their debut screening of Michael Rappaport’s documentary on A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes & Life.

Now, sure, there’s been plenty of theatres with amenities and service features. This is nothing new. And yeah, by now you’ve probably heard or read a dozen reviews of Beats, Rhymes & Life. But what makes this different is that this is the first theatre like this in New York City. Brooklyn to be exact. And really, it’s not like any other. It’s laid back, with a bar and a hipster asthetic, but a feel that’s classic New York. Also, this is not any regular review. This movie holds a sentimental place for me because I went to see it with my boys and fellow members of my own erstwhile rap group, The Balance. How ironic that we’re sitting on the footage for our own documentary, 3 years in the making now.

Nitehawk was suggested by the homie Khadj about 2 months ago. He told me the scope of things and I looked it up to see what it was all about, but I couldn’t be prepared enough for what it’s like to really be there. Just pulling up to the theatre feels like pulling up to a Brooklyn hotspot. It looks clubbish. Then the ground level bar adds to the it factor by providing a hangout kind of atmosphere where one can go after or before viewing a film or if doing neither. This is only bolstered by the second bar upstairs on the theatre level where you’re greeted by friendly staff that will bartend and take your ticket order. The viewing rooms themselves are what the movie experience is made of; plush red and black seats separated by movable arm rests and triangular tables between them, with so much space in front of each row that you’d have to be Yao Ming to kick the seat of the person in front of you. There is no chance of that annoying ‘excuse me’ dance that people have to do when they have to get up out of their seats for something and shuffle through the row. You’re then greeted by an accomodating wait staff that will check your ticket, take your order and instruct on how to make further requests after the movie starts. This is what makes Nitehawk special; you’re equipped with a pen and pad on your table, complete with a ringed holder where you can place it to order more items cool and quietly without disturbing anyone’s experience – including your own. The menu is uniquely gourmet and quirky while maintaing a casual movie-friendliness to it. Things that stand out like the fried peanut butter and jelly bites and the other decadent deserts will keep word of mouth buzzing, and though there is not yet a way to get served alcholic beverages while watching the movie, the in-house drink specials without alchohol are memorable. Besides, you can reach the upstairs bar almost quicker than the bathroom by taking one step out of the screening room. Unfortunately, there’s only one bathroom so just hope for no lines (there’s also one at the downstairs bar). The brightest side to all of this and the cherry on top is the uber cool manager Jess G, who will greet patrons with a warm smile and is visible throughout – even handling service duties herself.

As far as Rappaport’s foray into documentary filmmaking, his obvious fandom comes across. He doesn’t waste our time with an introduction of himself, assuming that if you don’t already know who he is, then it’s inconsequential to the film. The film begins predominantly as a Q-Tip show, with alot of the focus on his thoughts on how the roots of Hip-Hop shaped the movement that fueled the group. And while members like Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are introduced and interviewed one by one, their roles are never really explored or defined. This is not helped by the fact that a great deal of time is spent praising Q-Tip for his sampling and production genius. There is no real denying that Q-Tip is the nucleus and leader of A Tribe Called Quest, and he spends as much time refuting that notion as he spends crediting himself for most of the groundbreaking elements of the group. This is what allows the viewer to see the Tribe dilemma from all angles. It’s probably what is the biggest point of contention for any reservations or apprehension stemming from the group itself about the movie. You either love Q-Tip or don’t like him as much after watching the film, and apparently Phife leans more toward the latter. Although Phife is introduced and noted here and there in the first half of the film, it’s not until the last half where he gets the most attention when discussing his turmoil with Q-Tip and his battle with diabetes. Between Phife’s obvious underacheiver pattern and desire to stake his own claim in life (as seen by his foray into sports journalism) and the iconic lure surrounding Q-Tip’s career during and post-Tribe, it’s easy to see why the group fell apart. This is the climactic point of the film that brings the life out of it. Jarobi and Ali just come across as commentators and bystanders who either sway towards team Phife or team Q-Tip (in this case, Jarobi being Phife’s best friend, and Ali appearing to rock more with Tip by default). It’s wise to infer that alot of the film got scaled down and edited out as made evident by the slew of cameo clips in the ending credits from rappers and industry insiders who’s interviews did not make it into the documentary. This is probably disappointing to true fans who would have loved to hear more from artists like De La or Busta Rhymes who actually have a longstanding working relationship and friendship with the group, and less of Pharell drooling over them (which is cool by the way, because his commentary served as a highlight, but still…). A great job is done on emphasizing the importance of the group’s catalogue, but Rappaport seems to be a bigger fan of their earlier work. He uses a couple songs more than once throughout the film instead of throwing in some other classics, and when the film approaches their later releases, they just get glazed over. Rappaport ends things with footage from the group’s newer tour efforts and a suggestive blurb across the screen that informs that they are still obligated for one last album under their original contract with Jive records…Leaving hope for Tribe Stans still crossing their fingers.

At the end of the day, nothing beats getting that Midnight screening V.I.P. service (Thanks Jess). But more importantly, nothing beats seeing this kind of film with my crew and thinking about the similarities in our own story. We cracked up at the coincidences and the comparable traits between Q-Tip, Sol-Leks and I. We spazzed out as the classic verses dropped and rapped along, and Sek kept asking when me and WhoIsNumber5? are going to get to work on our documentary. A Dope moment in history and a great effort by Rappaport to document what no one else would…and get into theatres at that. Good to know that it came from a fan. I’m not even one of ATCQ, but their music is apart of my life’s soundtrack so it can’t be denied. I’m inspired to work on this doc, and to step up my movie theatre game. I suggest you do the same. And NiteHawk is an excellent place to start. Tell Jess hello for me.

“Ayo Shaheed, take us the F*ck outta here!”

Videos Bring Big L back to life!

Speaking of famous deaths, It’s high time some light gets shed on the death of one of the punchline masters and a true Harlem great, The late Big L.

It’s been 12 years since his murder, and this video goes into that,which has always been a pretty quiet point of conversation when it comes to the story. 

And story is exactly what Street Sruck; The Big L Story primes itself to tell. Check out the trailer for the documentary below.

With the full version of the recorded Stretch and Bobbito show where he and Jay-Z traded verses hitting the net early this fall, I guess the timing just seems right to hear his name popping up again and have history unveiled.

Watch for the track that my group, The Have-Knotz and I will be putting out soon paying homage to the legend.

Who Killed The Female Rapper?: A Love Story…

As I watched the BET special, My Mic Sounds Nice –  The Truth About Women in Hip-Hop,

I realized that along with my homegirl, Starrene Rhett, I have become somewhat of an advocate for the female emcee in this modest blog-world. Upon a quick review of this site and it’s stats, I see that my most popular posts have been the ones in my series of Top female rapper lists, ranging from Top failures to Top hopes for the future. I accept that responsibility humbly, something like a masculine feminist, simply because I couldn’t imagine hip-hop without women.

What I do like about this delicately edited and thoughtfully put-together documentary is that it addressed all of the relevant issues that have arisen for the female M.C. Although it flashed past the whole early 90’s era where you might have seen the most diverse cavalcade of estrogen-infused rappers and jumped right into the mid-90’s, it accomplished so much in its one hour time span.

I was surprised and  delighted to see unexpected faces like Eve, Ladybug Mecca (so damn beautiful), Nikki D, Tiye Phoenix and even Rage and Medusa. Despite having to endure my favorite, Mc Lyte‘s twisting lips every time she spoke, and listening to almost every participant damn near eulogize Lauryn Hill, I just kept wishing Foxy, Da Brat, Monie Love and Kim were apart of this as well. It would have felt more complete. And Why the fuck doesn’t Queen Latifah ever Come out for these kinds of things??!

Actually, this topic is so big that each segment really deserved its own half hour. This could be a Planet Earth – like series that goes on and really delves into the details of everything. Female hip-hop enthusiasts, writers, rappers and directors – you listening out there??

I was wondering if Nicki Minaj would come up, and of course she did. Things were approached from the angles that you would expect from a special on this level. Remember, this is a network that has turned its program marketing toward a young pre-teen to late 20’s demographic, so at most, I hope it taught lots of young’ns that there was life before Nicki. It was a very surface investigation that didn’t give us answers or surely didn’t teach hip-hop historians such as myself, but if anything, should have inspired us to do better, or at least find out the whys and hows.

I know from being in this world that there are in fact more female rappers now than ever! And on a super diverse scale. What I haven’t seen, however, is a wealth of appeal.

Let’s put the burden of being a female aside and just take into account the value of appeal and grind for any artist on the come up. Now Iam no guru on this being that I as an artist trying to make it myself haven’t really been able to crack the magic formula to be an overnight smash. But the few strides that I have made thus far in my fledgling career can be attributed to a healthy understanding of and dedication to both. As I pointed out in one of my top female rapper posts, the number one Achilles heel of Female rappers is focusing too much of their energy on one aspect of their artistry or personalities. Sex sells, but there’s only so much you sell yourself before you’re used up. Battling is cool, but after you’ve won all the battles, where’s your deal? Lyrics are dope and all, but where’s your stage presence?

The reason Lauryn is the Holy Grail of female hip-hopdom and her name garners the same reverence from both new and old rappers is because she displayed so many facets of her personality in an honest, vulnerable, casual, confident and believable way, all from the jump. It wasn’t, ‘oh, let me sing on this third project‘. Or ‘let me wear a dress after 10 years’, or ‘let me make a relationship song now after I’ve killed niggas on the block in my 80 prior mixtape appearances’, or ‘let me try to show you I’m lyrical on this acapella YouTube freestyle after all my songs have been bubblegum pop’.

For this reason, we have to bring the fact of being a female back into play. Any new rapper has to present their story and their appeal, and in most cases, being a 1 dimensional rapper doesn’t get you far (Unless of course your character as an artist overshadows your content, or you’re Kid Cudi or one of these new Weed Rappers or Officer Ricky). Now take that and double the responsibility for a woman because not only does she have the obstacle of trying to sway the masses as a new artist, she has to sway the masses to feel her as a woman. And in hip-hop, the masses means men who fuel barbershop debates and hating-ass women who have to feel like there’s something to relate to or identify with in you. That means all you hardcore underground Lesbians better have some helluva charismatic charm!

Now, Starrene stands on the side that insists that the industry is shady and men have been closing doors on females for years, citing a lack of ability to generate sales (see her article here, http://gangstarrgirl.com/2010/08/mics-do-sound-nice-but-some-still-dont-hear-it/#more-1228). She points that most of these big wigs are too lazy to actually Scout for the talent that is flooding the rap scene today, and wouldn’t know where to look if they tried.

I agree.

But I do definitely think that the female rapper herself is more to blame.

If anyone remembers the PreYoung Money Nicki, you know that she was determined to make heads turn and gain reaction because she sought out to keep her name buzzing and play in the same arenas as the boys who are respected. I see the misogyny in hip-hop lyrics daily, but rarely amongst the community of artists. I don’t hear male rap groups or soloists saying ‘nah, she can’t do this because she’s a chic’ If anything, the usual response from men in the game upon hearing a good female rapper is one of excitement, wanting to be the one who puts her on, or seeking to collab.

I used to date a female rapper who was very prominent within the underground circle, even award-winning. But what I noticed is that for all the acclaim that she received and all the notoriety she was gaining for her music on the show circuit, she never took the steps to translate that to any other success in the other crucial areas of being buzzworthy. Videos were nil, Press coverage was scarce, and pursuit of a radio or dj connect was not in the works. This is something that I see far too often with women in the game. I can’t – and you can’t either, name 1 female who is a prominent mainstay on any blogsite or hip-hop media site the same way as alot of these dudes. There is no female Curren$y. No female Joell Ortiz.

Now, as much love as someone like this chic got or someone who most everyone loves, like a Jean Grae gets respect across the board, I find it hard to believe that this is the doing of evil men in power so much as it is a lack of push. I think some semblance of complacency sets in when female artists reach a certain level of status in the underground world. They may not feel the urgency of getting features and having weekly tracks posted. This is evidenced by such big breaks you see between female-helmed releases.

Another thing is that It may be easier for women to feel like their rap lives are separate from their private lives. This is delicate territory because I cannot truly know the mechanics of being a woman, but in my experience, I have heard most women who rap draw the line more distinctly than men. This could play a role in how much what they deem as real life gets in the way of their grind. Life changes, finances, travel, romantic and familial situations can all deter one young lady. Or even something less tangible but just as real such as age and security can unravel someone and make them withdraw a bit. As women advance thru life, they become more concerned with their stability and future. A man is more inclined to engage in at-risk behavior well into his late 30’s, including continuing to live as a starving artist. Most women ain’t having that! Even the raptress I was dating would have moments where she questioned hanging it up and pursuing other passions out of fear of time. Take our favorite, Jean, for example…. What rap journalist wouldn’t scramble to claim first dibs on her exclusives a few years ago if she was the kind of artist to consistently drop new music? At one point, she had us in the palm of her hands, waiting for her to give us the closest thing to balance in a female rapper since Ms. Hill. But what did she do? She played us! She fake-retired, got moody, got old and not bubbling under anymore. Now the only ones checking for her to blow are her prior fans. There was a point in time where Nina B was a frequent name on hip hop sites with new videos and mixtapes and collabs every month, but now it seems even she has fallen back a bit.

So something must be said for the amount of women in this biz not understanding what works and neglecting to marry as many elements together in a way that will gather the largest build-up. As was said in the special, I just hope somebody comes along after the airing of this and gets it right so a new spark can be ignited. I have my predictions. And lets not count Nicki out as a spearhead.

On another note, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to hip you all to this brilliant post that was put up by one of my blogger homies, Ms. Smarty P. Jones, courtesy of her blog, Smarty’s World http://smartysworld.com/2010/09/01/hip-hop/

She does a clever run down of female M.C.ing based on the show’s main subjects.

Until next time people, I’ll be bumping my Da Brat joints and waiting for some kind of Phoenix Saga.

My Kwanzaa Story x The Black Candle Documentary Trailer

God!

I’m trying to figure out the best way to make this post short but I have so much to say about this.

I resolved last year to try to make a collective effort to get all of my friends and family to embrace the celebration of Kwanzaa this time around. I was introduced to it in the 3rd grade, and then my family tried to initiate it into practice before the turn of the century courtesy of my brother Khalid’s ex-wife who thought it was a happy medium for my family that is part Islamic, part Christian, and part whatever.

Safe to say it didn’t stick, although my sister Veen and her children and husband picked it up a few years back and have been going strong now for a minute.

So I was determined to re-teach myself the values and rituals, but this time with a fuller understanding of why and how. As a child and the way it was presented to me in school, I thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread that this even existed.

But as I grew older, I got severely turned off by Afrocentricity and the personalities of people who were engulfed in it. In my experience, the folk who are super in touch with their “Roots” have a tendency to be dramatic, overbearing and a little outdated. I never quite got the whole Pan -African thing. Africa is the Biggest continent in the world, with the most countries and nations, and what afrocentricity does is blend it all into a hodgepodge of oneness, mostly leaning towards the West African influences, as if each region shouldn’t be acknowledged for it’s individual identity and cultural distinction. Somalia is nothing like Togo. And Swaziland is nothing like Morrocco. I even had to ask if Swahili is a national language of any African country, and Iam still researching. Yet and still, it is the universal dialect of Africa-obsessed Americans.

So my experience has been a jaded one. I have spent a great amount of my lifetime around this lifestyle, and have rarely come across someone who is truly down to Earth and in touch with their African ancestry. It always just seems so sad to me that we as Black Americans will always be that people who will never really know our clear history, and only be able to tap into it by engaging in these neo – cultural, amalgamations of traditions scattered across The Continent. What’s even more saddening to me is that in my experience, Africans who I’ve met from the continent never seem to have such a sense of urgency as we do, and quickly differentiate themsleves from the African-American. Although, by technicality, they themselves are classified as such.

But what an amazing people we are for trying!, and always creating something from nothing.

I want to be as in touch with my ancestry as possible, but I don’t want to have to grow dreadlocks or wear a dashiki to exhibit this. I don’t need to have a bunch of statues of oblong breasted figures or giraffes around the house or do dances. What I need to do is just talk to my Grandmother who is a well of history herself and can tell me firsthand so many things about her life growing up as a Liberian woman. Lord knows my Mom sucks at it. She can only remember her life in Africa up to the age of 9. Which was quite an Americanized one, since most people contest that Liberia is a made up Country.

Nevertheless, I wanted to get into Kwanzaa for what it represents, and coincidentally, my homegirl Indigo put me on to this film that was done by a talented Young Man named M. K. Asante Jr. titled The Black Candle. It’s an award winning documentary on the black experience and the creation and foundation of the Kwanzaa celebration that features in depth commentary by the creator of the holiday(Maulana Karenga), as well as many famous Black leaders, and is narrated by the one of a kind Maya Angelou. You should really read the description on the youtube page, because it does it better than I can.

Now this film blew me away and I took my little nephew Winnie to see it with me. We watched it in a screening room of the Teachers’ College among a group of teenagers. Prior to this viewing, Winnie asked me what Kwanzaa was, and I was shocked to see that his school hadn’t yet made mention of this celebration that by now is so widely practiced that it should be given it’s own televised parade (but that would be too black). But even more than that, I was taken aback at how many of the teenagers themselves were in the dark about it, as their questions and comments after the viewing displayed a total lack of awareness.

This was an issue that was visited in the documentary itself. The quick clips from street interviews with local youth pointed at the fact that there is a lack of positive self awareness and crucial historical education.

I kept thinking, damn, how could something I learned back in the day in 3rd grade have regressed to a point of obscurity in the local education system instead of progressed??  I thought curriculum was supposed to advance! It’s not like I went to a special school where the aim was teaching Blackness.

This let me down a bit, but the film gave me such a reinforced and stronger motivation to take on the Kwanzaa festivities, with renewed determination to instill some of the principles into my nephew while he’s still young. I also want to see the togetherness of my friends and family all moving in unison for something that we may actually understand all of, as opposed to Christmas, where we just do without really thinking about why.

I’m also Hellbent on making this holiday Fly! It’s not meant to be commercialized, but still, it’s not all about hand woven baskets and books. We can have a 7 day extravaganza of dope gift-gving (homemade and store-bought) AND enlightenment.

So let the Celebration begin!

It all goes down on the 26th of December. I’ll be posting up each principle daily. I  just hope I can get my stuff in time…