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Monday, Feb 16, 2009
We live in a world were the love ethic is under attack from all sides, not lest of which is its commercialization and commodification, or even distillation down to the romanticized romantic view, providing plenty of excuses for acting unloved, satiated with material possession.

I want to make this quick because know that I give B. and HOV a whole lotta grief. I want it to be clear that I am equally able to give the duo a whole lotta lovin, too. In the last hip-hop concert I attended, Jay-Z landed at Louisville Gardens where the predicable lot of players, pimps, prissies and punks all showed up in their Sunday best to come bounce and hop to the beats. Moreover, the last drag show I performed was to Beyoncé’s ‘Suga Mamma’. While I find B.’s lyrics wholly problematic- the eventual topic of this Valentine Day’s rant- I can not resist the unbridled energy she brings to her entertainment, which gets me real bodied each and every time. Sit back and watch as I drop to my knees, arch my back and shake it like an alley cat!


“Don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable”


One of the greatest criticism Gen-X folk have of video-game kids these days is their shortened attention span. An evening spent with a house full of college seniors during a recent visit to my alma mater reminded me of my age. Two of the four roomies competed on their large flat screen with the latest competing video game formats. Indeed, I am so lame that I cannot even remember the names of the two boxes with which I gave it a good ole college try, boxing and batting in front of a screen with some random wireless apparati. E-mail had just come into widespread play my senior year at the same school, yet here I stood dumbed by the access to technology that these kids enjoyed today. Yet on the same evening, an elder alum- a true gen-Xer, abruptly removed himself from the fun and games, muttering something about how these guys couldn’t pay attention long enough to have even a decent conversation.


‘You must not know ‘bout me/I could have another you in a minute/Matter of fact he’ll be here in a minute, baby’


Happy Valentine’s Day, B. Hopefully HOVA has managed to stuff your mouth with another diamond, like in the video ‘Upgrade You’. Upgrade? Indeed, B. said: Audemars Piguet watch/Dimples in ya necktie/Hermes briefcase/Cartier top clips/Silk lined blazers/Diamond creamed facials/VVS cuff links/six star pent suites.” There is an apparent ignorance in offering free advertisement to designer brands that do little more for her than feed spiritual emptiness, because one will never be satiated with these possessions. My criticism mirrors LL Cool J’s: “That seems to be enough to satisfy your needs, but there’s a deeper level; if you would follow, I’ll lead.” Beyoncé, Kelly Michelle, Fantasia, Rhianna and all those R&B, hip-hop chicks can’t get to any deeper level from the soldiers they beg for from hood boys in “wife beaters and jeans.” Has it ever occurred to these women why we use the term ‘wife beater’, or has the video-game generation stamped its ok on domestic abuse?


Behind L.L.’s smooth rap, in soft voices the R&B group Boyz to Men croon ‘This is more than a crush’. Together these brothers talk about fantasies, revealing a vulnerability unknown in this day and age of DMX thugs, Rick Ross Hustlers, and 50 Cent P.I.M.P.’s. These brothers don what radical feminist writer/professor bell hooks calls the ‘hard pose’. And it’s not that I believe that these brothers are incapable of feeling and expressing care. Yet, there is a clear conspiracy around regressive gender roles, where at best roles are reverse, and power is never challenged. In the Beyoncé Experience concert, she appears on stage in a sultry pose, smoking a cigarette and whispers: “Damn, that was so good, I wanna buy him a short set” What’s this? Oh, I love you baby, so let me buy you something. Is B. the new James Brown? Macking niggas and pimpin’ hoes!


A visiting artist in residence at my college once said that when she was a little girl, she saw a nasty word spray-painted on the wall of some uncared for public space in her neighborhood. She understood that the word was nasty when all of the grown folks made clear to her that she was never to say the word aloud because it was dirty, as were the people associated with it. As she grew, and learned more about ‘those’ folks and even more nasty words, she noticed an intrinsic link between that initial dirty word, and money. She saw that the compromises people would make for this dirty word were only paralleled by what folks would do for money. Even worse was what they would do for both, which was often tied to either giving or depriving someone of one or the other. However, the word was so dirty, like Voldemort that one only need insinuate its presence and someone would attempt to harness and control it. By the time she grew up, she only knew this nasty word to describe what she had between her legs, and the feeling she’d get when letting someone have some.


Pink chaddis from The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women

Pink chaddis from The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women


Saturday was St Valentine’s Day. In the recent past, conservative, ‘hard line’ Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists like the Sri Ram Sena here in India have advocated banning this holiday because ‘Love’ in their understanding, is sacrosanct with their understanding of religion, which apparently significantly less disparate than most believers profess. Leader Pramod Mutalik even said that Indian women have should not even go to bars. In Mangalore in January 2009, Sri Ram Sena fundamentalists chased down and beat women visiting a local pub simply for being there. Two years ago in Kahmir, a group of veiled women mobbed local shops, confiscated and burned alleged Valentine’s Day cards and trinkets. The adhoc vigilante group was lead by Asiya Andrabi who proudly boasted: “These Western gimmicks are corrupting our kids and taking them away from their roots.” Today blokes like Pramod Mutalik are receiving gifts of pink underwear to from activists ready to match their avid cynicism.


We live in a world were the love ethic is under attack from all sides, not lest of which is its commercialization and commodification, or even distillation down to the romanticized romantic view. Indeed, the significance of today is so convoluted that one can see how it would be easier to just buy something and be done with it.


My man and I are entering our seventh year, and there’s no itch. There is plenty of passion, understanding, and giving—all the sites of care seem to be covered. Care is all about expectations. Negotiating our expectations has been the name of the game, and therefore dialogue has allowed us to make it this far. For B. and much of the video game generation, lyrics like “I can have another you by tomorrow”, replace actual attempts at the necessary concerted patience and dialogue needed to sustain any relationship. Without the basic understanding that our relationship is irreplaceable, I can only suppose that we would have settled for purple labels, Hermès and Cartier fashion statements in lace of affection. I would be quite disenfranchised in this relationship. Yet, as Beyoncé points out elsewhere, ‘a little sweat never hurt nobody,” Indeed, “I ain’t worried doing me,” because the love that our patience is allowed to cultivate is worth more than all the cocoa and precious metals that Switzerland stole and coerces from the Gold Coast still today.


I am content that I stuck around even through the disagreements and sometimes all out fights. It’s fortunate, I suppose, that I am dissatisfied with the instant gratification like “that rock on ya finger is like a tumor/You can’t fit ya hand in ya new purse.” Tobacco offers a similar instant gratification and causes equally dangerous forms of cancer—tumors as large as fists! I saw one tumor so large that it would not even fit in a Birkin bag.


On this and past Valentine’s Days, I am sending sweet love to my first and truest Sweetheart, Ms. Alice. Since I can remember, she has brought me a box of chocolates, hugs and kisses. And my Granny never expected anything in return. Sometimes she would sit and watch as I ate the whole box all by myself, not even taking one for herself. In elementary school, we traded tiny cards and small chalky heart-shaped candies with cupid messages. Years later, Bex, another sweetheart and dear friend from college, continues to send me these tiny cards with cute brown smiling faces. Inside she inscribes a note to remind me that time and distance have not wrecked our bond. My Sweethearts’ consistency and sustainability have me all in a tussle. I am loved and much is expected of those in this predicament. There are no excuses for acting unloved, satiated with material possession. Neither of these sweethearts “ever for a second get to thinkin’” that my ambitions begin or end with pussy and money. Happy Valentine’s B., I hope your man bought you something you like.


Tagged as: b-day, beyoncé
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Friday, Feb 13, 2009
How The-Dream took me from a modern R&B hater and made me into an R&B believer. Revisiting The-Dream's debut, Love Hate, in anticipation of the March release of Love vs. Money.

I’ve long been a modern R&B hater. I’m not claiming it’s not a valuable genre or form of music, because it obviously is, it’s just never had any musical elements that have appealed to me. From Boyz II Men to Brandy to Chris Brown, it’s always come off as boring and preposterous; all of the “whooowhoowhoooo”s and the needlessly sappy and slow songs lost my interest by the first chorus. There have been exceptions over the years; Usher, Beyonce, R.Kelly, Ciara have all nailed it on certain songs, bringing a certain energy and swagger to a typically uninspired and maudlin genre, but my feelings towards modern R&B changed a couple of summers ago when Rihanna’s “Umbrella” hit the radio (minus Jay Z’s terrible intro verse) with its heaviness, hookiness and nonsense “ella” and “ay” repetitions.


“Umbrella” seemed to have a lot more going on than previous modern R&B, with its heavy keyboards and hip hop drums. When the follow-up single came out, “Shut Up and Drive”, I realized that “Umbrella” had nothing to do with Rihanna—it was essentially karaoke—the real talent was with the writers. It’d be a while until I found out who that writing team was, and the answer drew me in to modern R&B.


When friends started talking about The-Dream’s album Love Hate (Love Me All Summer / Hate Me All Winter), I was not on board.  It just seemed like typical R&B and I already had my token listenable R&B song with Usher’s “Love in the Club”. After hearing more and more of The-Dream’s debut album I realized that he was employing Rihanna’s “ella”s and “ay”s and something like Young Jeezy’s “Aaaaayyy”s. After very little investigation I found out that The-Dream (Terius Nash) and his production partner Christopher Stewart were the geniuses behind “Umbrella”,  that’s all that was necessary for me to give the entire album a chance.


Prejudices can make people do odd things. I had ignored modern R&B for a decade, when I’m sure when mined there are a ton of good albums regardless of your tastes. Hearing The-Dream’s debut has given me more listening satisfaction than most other 2008 releases (it was released Dec 2007). I’m kind of glad that I was late in discovering Love Hate, because it means that the wait for more The-Dream is not as long as it is for those early adapters. So, with his new album, Love vs. Money, set for release March 10 (I wonder how close Def Jam will get to that actual date), I want to give late praise to The-Dream and Love Hate—from the perspective of a changed man. For all you R&B haters out there: if you’re going to check out one R&B album, make sure it’s this one, it’ll change your perspective.


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Friday, Feb 13, 2009
by PopMatters Staff

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I don’t like the latest books and movies, but I always cry when I see Now Voyager and at leat 10 other black and white movies made before 1940.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire because life drove her crazy, too.


3. The greatest album, ever?
John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (1963) and Coltrane’s Lush Life, which is the last time that John Coltrane played and I could understand it.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek, because I remember the first episode and went through all of the others with them. Star Wars was made by children.


5. Your ideal brain food?
Champagne.


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Thursday, Feb 12, 2009

Recently, new age music got a major dose of street cred courtesy of an unlikely source. Though it wasn’t televised or even publicized all that much, legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette snagged the 2009 Grammy for—get this—best new age album.


You may remember DeJohnette as the man holding down the beat for several little known musicians like Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and some guy called Miles Davis. Over the years, DeJohnette has tackled and mastered nearly every type of jazz and pop form, from free jazz and fusion to rock and R&B. Now, we can add new age to that list.


I must admit that new age music has never been at the top of my list. Embarrassingly for a music critic, I’ve always viewed it the way people look at abstract art: It’s pretty, but what’s so special about something my four-year-old nephew could do. If music were a collection of animals, new age would surely be the snail. Slow and methodical, it seems to rarely change its pace and direction. If jazz is the epitome of spontaneous, exciting, and emotional music, new age always seemed like the opposite—stagnant, boring, and devoid of genuine feeling. A not-so-scientific look at the past Grammy winners for best new age album reveals names like Paul Winter, Enya, and the Clannad. Accomplished musicians in their own right, but not exactly the artists that speak for a generation. Jack DeJohnette is another story.


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Thursday, Feb 12, 2009

The cell phone company found the biggest, blackest group of loud bling-wearing, “wife-beater and jeans” thugs in American hip-hop to rock the crowd in order to promote their brand. The largest man of the bunch both in terms of height and in terms of width, stood in back wearing dark sunglasses and a heavy hooded sweatshirt. He was the only one on stage without a microphone and had, what one of my favorite comedians calls, “the kind of muscle that you get from trying to keep a brutha off you” (Prison style)! Everyone else on stage showed-off muscular torsos and sagging jeans.


An imported popular, affordable vodka brand sponsored a special foreign guest DJ-event the only other time I had visited this discothèque. On that occasion, the bar only served that particular brand. Something similar was repeated during what turned out to be the taping for their commercial—apparently the cell phone and liquor companies were in collusion to win us all over. The limited drinks alongside the massive branded-posters all around the hallways and stage, and even seemed to float above the dance floor like its halo, implying a kind of divinity that the brand certainly lacked.


On the whole, however, this was a crafted marketing event. The Rs. 1500 ($30) cover charge included 500 rupees ($10) worth of drinks that sold for Rs. 150 ($3) and included Rs. 20 (40 cents) worth of liquor and Rs. 7 (14 cents) worth of juice. I suppose they charged for ice as well.


The crowd’s hands shot into the air the moment the group finally appeared on stage after several announced delays and stalling by an annoying squirt to whom I shall return to later. The crowd thrust their cellular phones high to capture the action live. Many mobiles had flashes adding a sense of bedazzlement and active participation coming from our side. I could see that others took video recordings that they reviewed, at times ignoring the live performance altogether; for them this even was more about their ability to boast later, than actually enjoy the present. This went on throughout the first three acts. When hip-hop was born, empty hands and firm fists flew into the air raising the roof, but this would have been too transgressive for the commercial state. Besides, one cannot commodity and export/import defiance and self-determination as easily as a DJ on stage with some fat tracks. Still, thanks to the hype-men, we sang: “The roof, the roof, the roof is one fire, we don’t need no water…” But the crowd didn’t know how the song ended unless and until they were told so.


The first two songs ended abruptly with the DJ spinning the sounds of a broken window or perhaps shattered goods. Then, each transition between songs was marked by the noise of crashing glass, as if we had witnessed some altercation or other illicit transgression. This sound repeated over and over, sold us the idea that we were amongst real bad boys, and that we were somehow a part of this dangerous cluster. I looked around, and as I noticed many teens from the local high school for expatriates, I imagined that this must have felt exhilarating to them. Here we were in an exclusive and expensive bar so far out of the city that the very ability to reach that space already implies a great amount of relative privilege in this city. Moreover, like most of the kids in attendance for the commercial, there were chauffeurs waiting outside to cart them between the high walls and security guards blocking the gates to their school, their homes, their friends’ homes, the places where they shop and spent leisure time, including and especially places like this club.


Enhacing the crowd’s criminal sensibilities, the end of the third song ended with the sounds of a machine guns—I dare not imagine the target, the victims, the criminals, the police, the criminal justice system. These were all the mad men who were seemingly convinced that violence was regular. They constitute one of many well-treaded institutions in America built around our propensity towards violence. The prison industrial complex is one of the fastest growing and privatized national industries, and is a direct descendant of the institution of slavery a transition that was so shady that we could just mark it with the sounds of shattered dreams- broken glass.


The cameramen on stage competed with the local announcer and his tiny digicam for the best shots of the rowdy group of men as they spit on the mic, criss-crossing the stage. The cheering crowd seemed to be their main focus, and one wonders what becomes of this footage—market research? Propaganda? Convincingly, there were several redundant TV networks standing by to capture each bit of the action.


Gangbanging the crowd


The crowd roared quite a bit that night. Certainly, there were those who welcomed the beats with a response when any new, deep bass came through the blisteringly loud speakers. The speakers were set so loud as to literally penetrate our muscles and bones even as densely packed as we were, pressing forward towards the stage.  I went with a mixed group of friends, so the males in our bunch spent most of the night as human shields for the women in our group because the crowd’s density provided ample opportunity for the sort of public fondling of women that is quite common here in India- that which drives women to constantly strategize about how to deal with crammed busses where women and girls have been fingered by hapless men who believe the anonymity of the crowd grants them permission to behave in ways that they probably would not their mothers, wives and sisters to have to suffer. What’s more, the hype-man* made sure that the crowd cheered after the DJ spun each song. The hype-men also teased the crowd who grew agitated waiting for the real thugs to arrive. After one hype-man had announced for the third time that the group would arrive in another 15 minutes some folks even started to shout, and a beat began to emerge from the ground as they stomped in unison. Good job; we were sufficiently hyped up.


After each song the hype-man would come on stage and ask the crowd to, “give it up for the DJ,” or “give it up for that dope beat,” and finally, “give it up for the sponsors,” to which many reluctantly complied. As a final point, the hype-man announced: “There are too many white people in here!” I suppose that he bonded with hip-hop culture through a mutual dispassion for ‘the man’. If new comers to America can align themselves with the culture of dominance, power and the false sense of meritocracy through adopting the dominant culture’s stance of racial superiority, then certainly a hatred of ‘the man’ marks one as a radical, right? Thanks to this cell-phone company the hype-man has taken full root in India. I caution you to consider what it is that they are selling. I caution us all to (re)consider what it is we choose to buy- and why.


* A hype man is a hip-hop performer responsible for backup rapping and singing, and increasing an audience’s excitement with call-and-response chants. A notable hype man is Flavor Flav from Public Enemy.


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