Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Negritude 2.0

Monday, June 23 2014

Bring Back the Beat! What’s Up with Hip-Hop Reissues?

The record industry makes huge efforts to reissue rock CDs, but nowhere near as much effort for hip-hop CDs.


Friday, May 30 2014

Carl Van Vechten, America’s First White Negro

What was Van Vechten really writing about during the Harlem Renaissance; black culture as it existed in its own right, or how he viewed it through his own complicated prism?


Tuesday, March 18 2014

A New Book Calls for a More Activist Black Church—But That Might Be Easier Said Than Done

The difference between churches of service and activism is seen by the degree to which they hold to the philosophies of black theology, a school of religious thought that emerged in the wake of the racial tumult of the ‘60s.


Tuesday, January 28 2014

Soul Train: The Hippest Nostalgia Trip in America

Soul Train was more than entertainment for black America. It was inspiration and validation. Questlove gives us another ride.


Monday, October 28 2013

The Once, Current and (Maybe) Future Arsenioooooooooo Hall!

Can a pioneering late-night talk show host catch lightning in a bottle 20 years later? Hmmm...


Monday, August 26 2013

How to Make Political Pop Without Trying

"Dancing in the Street" did not seek the kind of greatness ascribed to it -- it simply woke up one morning and found that greatness bestowed upon it.


Monday, July 15 2013

How to Best Handle Controversial, Racially-Charged Art? Talk It Up, or Shut It Down?

If Disney's Song of the South is as innocuous as its adherents claim, they need to think long and hard about why it’s out of official circulation.


Sunday, March 3 2013

I Write, Therefore I Am

Black people had plenty to say about slavery -- especially slaves themselves -- and as soon as they learned to write, they did.


Monday, January 21 2013

Chicago—The Other Black Renaissance

The biggest difference between the Black Chicago Renaissance and the Harlem Renaissance is brand awareness. The fact is, from roughly the early ‘30s to the ‘50s, Chicago was black America’s most fruitful cultural capitol.


Wednesday, October 24 2012

In Praise of Black Minstrelsy’s Happy Darkies on Parade

Is black minstrelsy a celebration of noxious stereotypes or an important part of American culture? Or both?


Wednesday, September 19 2012

Bounce and Go-Go: It’s Not Where You’re At, It’s Where You Are

So expressly "chocolate city", go-go is part art form, part entertainment, and part Washington, D.C. civic totem pole; heading south, bounce is a distinctly and defiantly New Orleansian spin on an established rap genre.


Wednesday, June 13 2012

Post-Black, Post-Racial… Post-Trayvon

The sense that a cohesion of group identity was no longer a defining factor of black life had taken a firm hold in America. Then Trayvon Martin was killed.


Sunday, February 19 2012

Black Music, White People / White Music, Black People

These two books show how knotty the connections between culture, race and music have become, even though the only thing the worlds they explore share in common is that in both cases, the audiences are almost all white.


Tuesday, September 6 2011

In Appreciation of Nick Ashford: Love Songs, Unsung

Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson stood for all that was true and eternal and clear-eyed about adult love and relationships. Romance resounded in every note.


Monday, June 27 2011

On Losing Superman: Gil Scott-Heron’s Rise, Fall, and All-Too-Brief Second Act

We thought Gil Scott-Heron was bulletproof. He wasn’t. We thought he’d know better. He didn’t. He was human. And I‘m New Here, not his greatest work, is his most human work.


Wednesday, February 23 2011

Duke Ellington Is Heard Loud and Clear on Old 78s, Across Decades of Time

From dusty old 78s placed tenderly on the console to reissue CDs spinning easily on the latest-model boom box, Duke Ellington's music spans generations of technology and memory, as told here by the son of a 90-year-old man who loved the Duke.


Thursday, January 13 2011

Lil’ Pookie’s America: Some Big Shoes to Fill

How can a kid from the 'hood today measure up to the likes of Duke Ellington? or Hank Aaron? A mythical boy from the 'hood meets these major black American figures through three recent books: 'Duke Ellington's America', 'The Last Hero' and 'Willie Mays'.


Thursday, November 11 2010

Jimi Hendrix, the Patron Saint of Alt-Blackness

Forty years after his death, Jimi Hendrix looms larger - and deeper - than ever within the black cultural pantheon. Even though he wasn't really 'black'.


Thursday, July 15 2010

It Was Only Yesterday L.A. Went Up in Flames

Langston Hughes’ proverbial California raisin in the sun exploded to a funky beat. I stared blankly past the familiar storefronts, into a world I could barely grasp. How civil a society was it that my daughter was about to join?


Thursday, May 27 2010

Race in America, Race in Music: Different Trains,  Same Two Tracks

It's an American pop music creation myth: that blues and folk music developed along two distinct tracks, with their own distinct traditions, divided along racial lines. The truth is, of course, far more slippery and complicated.


Thursday, March 18 2010

Six Years in the Life of Post-Blackness (Or Not)

If the 'black' in 'post-black' means “the last 40 years or so”, black folks are clearly moving beyond that; but to the extent that 'black' means “having to deal with the same-old same-old when it comes to racial attitudes,” then we ain’t post-nuthin’.


Thursday, January 14 2010

Obsessing About Black Beauty Never Goes Out of Fashion

The year 2009 saw no shortage of jumping-off points for wrestling with how black folks regard their visages, how everyone else regards black visages, and how we all negotiate the distance between the two.


Sunday, November 22 2009

The Death and Rebirth of Black Glossies

Much as Ebony and Vibe crackled with the sense of discovery in their heydays, Arise feels like the magazine that’s got its finger on the pulse of today’s black pop.


Thursday, September 3 2009

Ride This Time Machine Down a Road Less Traveled

Jump into that ’59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz with the maxed-out tailfins, contemplate what an original Barbie doll could fetch on eBay, and enjoy this roll call of Reasons Why Everything Changed in 1959.


Thursday, July 16 2009

The Audacity of Certain Black Ballers

The distance we’ve come from Jackie Robinson hawking Chock Full o’Nuts coffee in the ‘50s, and black A-list jocks hawking virtually anything under the sun today, is astounding.


Thursday, February 26 2009

Herb Kent: Another Reason Why Black History Month is Still Relevant

Throughout the late ‘50s and ‘60s, every city with a significant black population turned to a black-formatted radio station for the hottest sounds and pulse of the street.


Monday, January 12 2009

Three Icons and the Worlds They Left Behind

Miriam Makeba, Odetta and Eartha Kitt both fully represented and completely transcended their moments in time


Thursday, December 11 2008

The Politics Inside Black Pop

Will black pop artists still see themselves as outsiders now that a black person is President? Will they use their cultural platform to criticize him if need be, just as they did to help elect him?


Monday, November 3 2008

The Limits of Celebrity

Even Oscar-winning worldwide superstars such as Jennifer Hudson aren’t immune from sh*t jumping off in the ‘hood, where jobs disappeared long ago, and warzones are populated by local gangs -- not Al-Qaeda wannabes.


Tuesday, September 30 2008

Retelling the History of Black Music: When Black Pop Blew Up the First Time

Black cultural activity exploded during the 1920s. By the end of that decade, modern black pop had established itself as a cornerstone of American culture.


Wednesday, September 24 2008

Retelling the History of Black Music: Bert Williams, Godfather of the Black Stage & Studio

Bert Williams in blackface started a conversation about representing blackness within a mainstream context that has continued through virtually every crossover moment in black American life.


Thursday, August 7 2008

Retelling the History of Black Music: The Beautiful Music All Around John Work III

Work recorded the soundtrack of people’s lives, and captured the earliest stirrings of much of the music we’ve enjoyed since World War II.


Wednesday, July 2 2008

Retelling the History of Black Music: Everything You Know about the Blues Is Wrong

For the most part, blacks were not involved in the heroic work of rescuing the black acoustic blues legacy from the passage of time.


Thursday, March 6 2008

Retelling the History of Black Music: Adventures in Retro-ism

Rightly or wrongly, black audiences have always tended to chase musical innovation, not musical reverence.


Thursday, January 10 2008

Ask an African

Africa will play an increasingly pivotal role in world affairs this year, and not just because a guy whose dad was Kenyan is running for President of the United States.


Sunday, October 28 2007

Deconstructing the False Good Rapper/ Bad Rapper Dichotomy

In this corner: Common, in that: 50 Cent. In this corner: Dr. Martin Luther King, in that: Malcolm X. In this corner: W.E.B. DuBois, in that: Booker T. Washington. Standing outside of the ring: Dilated Peoples.


Sunday, July 29 2007

The NAACP’s Mock Burial of Its Relevance

Our enemy is not the "N-word" itself; it’s whatever propels people to use it. We need healers, not language nannies.


Wednesday, April 11 2007

Is Obama the Last in a Long Line of Firsts?

It doesn’t even matter if your achievement isn’t something a lot of people might want to emulate; you’ll go to your grave eulogized as the “first black (fill-in-the-blank)”, and every Black History Month someone will remember your name.


Sunday, March 4 2007

Vibe: Hard to Let it Go

Vibe once nailed down the sweet spot between hip-hop swagger and Madison Avenue polish. But no longer needing to prove hip-hop’s worth to the broader audience, it morphed into a gooey valentine to hip-hop’s ghetto fabulousness.


Sunday, January 28 2007

Standing in the Shadows of Dreamgirls

Entrepreneurs of color owe an enormous debt to Berry Gordy, whose path from hit-chasing songwriter to world-renown business mogul is, as much as if not more than those beautiful ladies on the movie screen, the stuff of dreams.


Sunday, January 14 2007

Re-Seizing the Time

For all the gains we’ve made in electoral politics and community leadership, there has yet to be a successor to the Black Panther Party as a nationally organized, politically oriented body speaking out and working on the vanguard in the name of black progress, directly confronting and challenging the powers-that-be.


Sunday, December 3 2006

Gerald Levert and the Black Pop Nobody Knows, but Should

To paraphrase the dead prez: Black pop is way, way bigger than Oprah, or Cosby, or LeBron James. Why, black pop is even bigger than hip-hop.


Tuesday, November 21 2006

Looking for the Perfect Off-Beat

This one is for the Afro-punks and black rockers and everyone else who doesn't see their hearts and minds reflected in what passes for mainstream black music nowadays.


Wednesday, October 11 2006

Walking Away From It All: The New Great American Fantasy

Walking away from it all to pursue a quieter, less complicated life is an oft-recurring theme in American culture, from Henry David Thoreau's 1854 Walden to the 1932 Scarface and countless other sagas of the underworld – right up to the present day's Dave Chappelle and Aaron McGruder.


Wednesday, September 13 2006

If You Love Tupac, Help Find His Killer

Because Tupac and Biggie were -- and are -- so famous, a massive cry for breaks in the cases would signal to the world that the Hip-Hop Nation, that amorphous band of young people blamed for all the ills of urban life from drugs in the streets to questionable taste in fashion, does in fact care about something bigger than bling.


Sunday, June 4 2006

Coming Out of the Hazy Past

Even as black America continues to battle crime, violence, and death from within and hostile political and economic policy from beyond, it can be useful to occasionally look back through the haze and marvel at the richness of our individual stories. Two such stories: Floyd Patterson and Fats Domino.


Thursday, March 9 2006

Modern Day Hottietots

There is much to be made of / on / about a black woman's backside.


Wednesday, February 15 2006

Martin and Coretta are Both Gone Now.  It Is Not Their Battle No More

With the passing of another leader from the civil rights era, it's up to us, whose songs of freedom come with a hip-hop beat, whose advocates preach online instead of on street corners, who live in a world multicolored beyond just black and white, to assume our awesome legacy and move the mountain some more.


Sunday, January 8 2006

In the Time of B.K. (Before Kobe)

They didn't command big bucks and they'd never know the level of celebrity of today's counterparts, but the early black players transcended the sport and were vital to creating this legendary black cultural institution; otherwise known as basketball.


Wednesday, December 7 2005

Good Night, Annie Lee Moss, and Good Luck

She knew the community and she knew the dynamics of life and activism in those perilous, McCarthy-era, pre-Rosa Parks days. What else did Annie Lee Moss know?


Wednesday, November 16 2005

The Holy Grails of Jazz

With reissues of music past, so much of history lives on to be rediscovered, over and over again. Yet one can't help but wonder how much has been forever lost.


Sunday, October 16 2005

Today the Hill District, Tomorrow the World: August Wilson

August Wilson now takes his place in the pantheon of black arts and letters for the dignity he gave the blues singers, mill workers, rooming house owners, ex-cons, neighborhood eccentrics, and 300-year-old matriarchs among us.


Wednesday, August 31 2005

Ebony Then, Now and Later

With its founder, John H. Johnson passed, can Ebony adapt to the new era of black publications -- and live on?


Thursday, July 14 2005

Cleaning Up After the Train Wreck

When (witting and unwitting) celebrities make train wrecks of their lives, the crowd will be sure to be there to cheer them on. But in the aftermath, they're alone with nothing but a broom and one helluva mess.


Monday, June 6 2005

I’m Not a Social Policy Expert, But I Play One on TV

When all the righteous Cosby-induced bluster has blown, all that's left the poor is caught up in tree branches and clogging the gutters, same as before.


Thursday, May 12 2005

One Diaspora Under a Groove

At an African concert set in Philadelphia, Reynolds experienced the rare feeling of being a distinct minority in a virtually all-black setting in America. He considers the divide between Africans in America, and African-Americans.


Wednesday, April 13 2005

Diary of a Mad White Film Critic

In defense of Roger Ebert, Reynolds notes that it's not at all necessarily racist to say that a black film isn't very good. Earnestness, sensitivity to a community's culture, and good intentions don't automatically make a solid work of art.


Wednesday, March 9 2005

Ossie Davis, A Celebrity of the People

Davis' true art was in his representation of all that was noble and heroic about being a black man. He gave dignity to our workaday struggles, and ceremony to our highest joys.


Wednesday, February 2 2005

10 Good Reasons to Celebrate Black History Month

Black History Month is subject to a lot of commercial hype, trotted out once a year, as it is. February alone cannot contain such history. But 2005's Black History Month is a good opportunity to look at the history lessons brought to us in just the past year.


Wednesday, December 22 2004

Let the Good Times Roll… Again

Up in the Pop Culture Attic, where all those wonderful things that get trampled by the new and exciting eventually end up, radio DJs worthy of their stuff pull out and dust off some '50s R&B for the holiday season and for the joie de vivre this music brings.


Wednesday, December 8 2004

Barack Obama, the Great Fill-in-the-Blank Hope

Everywhere Barack Obama went, people flocked to get a glimpse of the politician who stole their hearts with just one speech.


Wednesday, November 3 2004

Will the Real Harlem Please Stand Up?

Harlem's current renaissance has less to do with the art and culture that flowed freely during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and more to do with good old-fashioned commerce. The new gentry went looking for a new ground floor, and found it right in their own mythic backyard.


Wednesday, October 20 2004

The High and Low of Black Literature

What's happening now in black literature is similar to the smooth jazz/serious jazz dichotomy; urban fiction is getting more 'play' to the public, and fine literature is experienced only by the cognoscenti.


Wednesday, September 29 2004

Role Model at Bat?

It's not that a black child can't appreciate the talents of a white baseball star; it's just that a black athlete's accomplishments mean more to that child because the athlete looks like him/her, and therefore, that black athlete is a role model.


Thursday, August 12 2004

Back Down the Chisholm Trail

Before Michael Moore, there was Shirley Chisholm.


Wednesday, July 7 2004

Fighting the Power For Real

At the first US hip-hop political convention, generations of black activists struggle with translating good ideas into real activism.


Wednesday, June 2 2004

Whatever Happened to Mumia Abu-Jamal?

One could argue that, until the current Bush administration and the Iraq war, Mumia Abu-Jamal was the only thing that came remotely close to galvanizing the far left and its myriad individual causes, from Puerto Rican independence to anti-imperialism. Such is the state of the left in America that for years, Abu-Jamal's case was the only thing that aroused unanimous passion.


Wednesday, April 21 2004

TV, Validation, and the Three Sistas

Somewhere in the country, a black woman who has no use whatsoever for the Bush administration's approach to global politics watched Rice on the witness stand and chanted, 'You go, girl.' Political and economic progress be damned, we still live vicariously through our celebrities.


Sunday, January 1 1995

Modern Day Hottietots

There is much to be made of / on / about a black woman's backside.


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