Reviews

Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? by Michael Eric Dyson

Jonathan L. Walton

I admit I never saw Cliff and Claire attending a 'Free Mumia Abu Jamal' rally. But, then again, I never saw JJ, Re-Run, or Lionel out fighting for the cause of freedom either.


Is Bill Cosby Right? or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

Publisher: Basic Civitas Books
Length: 288
Price: $23.00
Author: Michael Eric Dyson
US publication date: 2005-04
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Black America's favorite hip-hop intellectual Michael Eric Dyson has squared off against black America's favorite father, Bill Cosby. Responding to Cosby's recent charges that America's black poor are not taking proper responsibility for their condition in society, Dyson meticulously dissects Cosby's comments toward offering a scholarly rebuttal to the comedian's claims.

Is Bill Cosby Right? offers the type of in-depth, critical analysis that we have come to expect from Professor Dyson. His demonstrated understanding of the complex issues plaguing poor and working class black Americans exhibits the sociological proficiency of William Julius Wilson and economic insight of Kevin Phillips. In this regard, the second chapter, "Classrooms and Cell Blocks" is worth the price of the book. Further, Dyson's writing style reflects the best of James Baldwin's rhythmic prose and Notorious BIG's lyrical wonderment. By describing the neighborhood knucklehead as a dispossessed pavement poet captured in a bloody urban drama, Dyson will actually make you believe that Raquan is robbing you to feed his family.

Despite this, I am not sure about the point of this book. Dyson states that this is his attempt to "offer a principled defense of poor black folk". According to the author, for Cosby to chastise the black poor without challenging social factors that preclude social mobility is irresponsible and mean-spirited. This I understand. But due to the wide acceptance of Cosby's comments among the African American middle class -- the group that Dyson somewhat sophomorically labels the Afristocracy -- he spends the majority of the book interrogating bourgeois notions of racial uplift and "politics of respectability" themes that inform black middleclass thought. Therefore, aside from the second chapter, Dyson spends less time defending the poor and more time attacking the middle class.

This creates a problem. Professor Dyson's preoccupation with the insecurities animating the behavior of the middle class flattens his defense of the poor. The poor must be right because the middle class has always been wrong. From zoot-suits to throwback jerseys, the black middleclass' inability to appreciate the creative flair of Tyquan and Sheniqua appears to justify the actions of the latter. As if somehow the assimilating fumes of white supremacy have asphyxiated only blacks of a certain economic level while poor blacks have remained pure. Of course Dyson does not say this and admonishes the reader against such essentialist claims. But one gets the sense Dyson is winking at himself the entire time.

Then there is the issue with Dyson's frontal assault on Cosby. Fortunately Dyson's scholarly acumen holds the author accountable in ways that his personal bias does not. Dyson's thorough examination of Cosby provides evidence that the comedian is capable of a more nuanced analysis of the black poor than his drunken harangue before the Congressional Black Caucus. In Cosby's doctoral dissertation and a later Playboy interview Cosby provides the type of reasoned structural analysis that Dyson desires. However, the author's apparent disdain for the elder comedian skews his conclusions. One cannot help but wonder if this would be an issue if Dyson afforded Cosby the same kind of grace evidenced in his well-known fetishization of Tupac.

For example, there is Dyson's characterization of Cosby as a "colorblind comedian". I understand the author's point. Cosby's intent to efface race from his stand-up routine in order to emphasize the interconnectedness of humanity could be read as a cowardly cop-out. This is particularly true amidst the tempestuous political climate of the 1960s when persons on the front lines of social change needed all the help they could get. But, as Dyson points out, placing emphasis upon shared humanity and the deconstruction of race was a common theme employed by countless trailblazers of justice in the civil rights era. Thus, it is hard to say that Cosby's actions border on the terrain of cowardly Uncle Tomism -- an implicit claim that Dyson seems to ensconce within his repetitive use of the "colorblind comedian" moniker.

Moreover, the black aesthetic of The Cosby Show resists Professor Dyson's mantra that Cosby is a "colorblind, race avoider." All one has to do is look at the Huxtable's artwork, musical tastes, educational choices, and overall sense of style. Yes, I admit, I never saw Cliff and Claire attending a "Free Mumia Abu Jamal" rally. But, then again, I never saw JJ, Re-Run, or Lionel out fighting for the cause of freedom either -- except for the one multiracial rent strike on What's Happening?. Remember? "No Roger, No Re-Run, No Rent!" Anyway, these characters, like most poor or middleclass black people in America, live their lives by waking up, going to work, loving their families, and allowing the voices of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Legend to work out the stress and strain of life. Does this make them race avoiders?

Finally, I must ask Professor Dyson: In order to defend the black poor was it necessary to disclose the details of Cosby's alleged personal indiscretions? Discuss Cosby's personal relationship with his daughter(s)? Extract skeletons from his kids' closets? Is this appropriate Reverend Dyson? The author breaks the culturally understood rules of "playing the dozens." I can imagine Camille somewhere hollering, "Hell Naw, Folk. You Dun Up and Dun It!" Justifiably so. The fourth chapter "Family Values" is nothing but a personal attack on her husband and children.

Don't get me wrong; in principle I agree with Dyson. I think Cosby's comments were as wrong as Creflo Dollar at a Martin Luther King Day parade. They were unoriginal, unimaginative, and ill-tempered. Yet two wrongs don't make a right. The author's dive into the murky waters of tabloid discourse and exposé journalism does not contribute anything to the text. Rather, it proves to unsettle the moral high ground upon which Dyson believes himself to stand. I pray the desire to sell books has not compromised Professor Dyson's moral decency. His mind is too sharp, analysis too thorough, and cause is too just to resort to such un-Christ-like tactics. To be sure, with such an acute understanding of the mores and anxieties of the contemporary black middleclass it is quite possible that Dyson has penned the Black Bourgeoisie of the post-civil rights era. Thus Dyson continues to indelibly etch himself upon the pages of intellectual history. But like E. Franklin Frazier's classic text, the stench of personal resentment and unpleasant animosity directed towards the subject matter overshadows an otherwise insightful sociological and cultural study.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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