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Books

James Baldwin Matters

There's a reason why Ta-Nehesi Coates is often compared to James Baldwin, and there's a reason why Baldwin's work is so relevant in the age of Black Lives Matter.

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Music

On Wanting Sly Stone to Take Us Higher Yet Again

Sly Stone was one of the first audacious badasses of modern black pop music, a hero and then an anti-hero to millions.

Books

'Muslim Cool' Puts Its Faith in Hip-Hop, and Hip-Hop in Its Faith

Where Chance the Rapper injects spirituality into hip-hop, Muslim Cool injects hip-hop into spirituality.

Music

Culture and History for the Age of Trump

History doesn’t always tell us how to get it right. It sometimes warns us of the cost of getting it wrong. Art steeped in that history can remind us, if we’re paying attention.

Books

Harry Belafonte and the Art of Activism

Harry Belafonte's life and work looms large over this moment, when artists of color are exercising their activist voices.

Politics

The Long, Hot Summer of 2016: How We Got Over

Simone Manuel’s winning a gold medal in this particular Olympic swimming event in this particular summer gave the especially besieged among us a chance to take a break from the siege.

Music

Perhaps Prince Really Did Die 4 Us

On what would have been the groundbreaking musician's 58th birthday, a reflection on his final chord.

Music

Kanye and Mingus: Gifted, Complicated and Proud of It

Charles Mingus and Kanye West represent an extreme form of the complicated-and-proud-of-it black man, within a society that prefers its black men as uncomplicated and untroubling as possible.

Books

Defending Chicago's 'Defender'

It's possible to trace much of 20th Century America’s history through the pages of the Defender, a local paper with a national impact.

Music

Afropunk Is Officially a Brand and That's a Good Thing

There is a large community of alt-black folks out there, and Afropunk has given them a big tent to party under.

Visual Arts

'Who We Be' and the Optics of Culture, in Living Colors

Jeff Chang's cultural history tackles how race has played out across the last 50 years, and counting, of American culture.

Television

Wanna Buy Some Old Bill Cosby Records?

In the face of mounting allegations against the beloved comedian, we are left to reconsider his artistic legacy.

Books

I'm Rick James' Bio, Bitch!

The majority of Glow is a blow-by-blow account of the drugs he took and the women he bedded. James either had a great memory, or he took remarkable notes.

Music

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.

Books

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?

Books

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.

Television

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.

Television

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...

Music

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.

Books

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.

Books

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.

Performing Arts

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?

Music

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.

Politics

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Technology

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.

Sports

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'.

Music

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'.

Television

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?

Music

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.

Books

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’.

Fashion

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.

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