Talk To Me (2007)

Part biopic, part portrait of an era, Talk to Me presents an ongoing dilemma -- what does it mean to be "black enough" and how does "talk" shape the question and answers?

Talk to Me

Director: Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson, Cedric The Entertainer, Mike Epps, Martin Sheen
Distributor: Universal
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Focus Features
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-07-13 (Limited release)
I’ll tell it to the hot, I’ll tell it to the cold. I’ll tell it to the young, I’ll tell it to the old. I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin'.

-- Petey Greene

This is a man's world,

But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.

-- James Brown, "A Man's World"

Following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the streets of Washington DC erupted. The scene, fiery and chaotic, similar to other cities across the US at the time, appears in Talk to Me through the eyes of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle). Shocked by the news, he stands outside the WOL-AM office where he's a DJ and surveys the turmoil. Figures barely discernable run past, papers fly through smoke, windows break across the street, a car blows up. Petey pauses, then heads back inside, where he takes the mic and starts doing what he does best: he starts talking.

It's a turning point in Kasi Lemmons' smart, enthralling film. Part biopic, part portrait of an era, it presents an ongoing dilemma -- what does it mean to be "black enough" and how does "talk" shape the question and answers? Petey has just had an awful fight inside the office, stemming from a perfectly petty and typical conflict over sex and prerogatives. Following her discovery of Petey with another girl, his girlfriend Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) shoots back by having sex with his coworker, the smooth-talking, pimp-suit-wearing, pair-of-wolfhounds-owning Nighthawk Bob Terry (Cedric the Entertainer). The showdown in the radio station is broadly physical and plainly inane, the two men throwing punches and falling down, furniture crashing and onlookers squealing.

It all looks even sillier when boss E. G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) tearfully delivers the news about Dr. King. Horrified and maybe even ashamed of their trifling self-concern, the boys break up the fight and Petey takes the decision to go on air, to talk out his rage, fearfulness, and despair, and especially to invite his fiercely loyal listeners to talk with him. "I went to jail," he says earnestly, "because I was a knucklehead. Dr. King went to jail for what he believed in. Put your anger away." And with that, Petey's trajectory seems changed.

The operative term here is "changed." For Petey's fate is set, according to the film, by the complex circumstances that make him. Charismatic, controversial, and consistently defiant, Petey is presented here as a painfully self-aware hustler and con as well as a "prophet of the streets," in the words of program director Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Emphatically representative of his time (1960s and '70s) and place (the Chocolate City), Petey's influence appears both urgently local and, in hindsight, far-reaching. The film uses Petey and Dewey's friendship to set up and then break down what seems an easy opposition: Dewey calls Petey a "miscreant" and Petey calls Dewey "Mr. Tibbs," or again, "nothing but another white man with a tan." And yet both come together to expand the possibilities of talk radio as a means to "speak for and unite a community."

The film begins when Petey is incarcerated at Virginia's Lorton Penitentiary (convicted of armed robbery), circa 1966. Dewey comes to visit his brother Milo (Mike Epps), who urges him to hire Petey, the electrifying prison DJ. Dewey is skeptical, as he both resents and judges what he terms his brother's apparent moral failure, but eventually hires Petey on his release. As the host of "Rapping with Petey Greene," Petey plays James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and Sam Cooke, and in between, calls out Berry Gordy as a pimp, relates his own raunchy escapades, and invites listeners to vent about "the system," but also to imagine other options, to see themselves as powerful, to understand "voice" as a means, multiple and dynamic, to collective and individual identity. Petey says talk is "the only thing I'm good at that don't involve breaking the law," and invites frank conversation on air about politics, sex, race, and popular culture, calling himself "a nigger in America telling it like it is, telling the truth."

The radio show is his platform on the occasion of Dr. King's death. Though he admits that, like his audience, he wants "revenge," he also seeks another way. "That's your city," he says of the burning streets, inviting listeners to attend a free concert by James Brown the following evening instead of destroying their neighborhood. The concept works, but Petey shows up to emcee the event late and drunk. The crowd adores him but you (through Dewey's eyes) also see the battle that comprises Petey's soul: as he leaves the stage and the Brown facsimile (Herbert L. Rawlings, Jr.) begins performing "Say It Loud," Petey pukes and staggers.

It is Dewey and Petey's relationship that shapes Talk to Me, which leaves Vernell, unfortunately, to play their go-between and interpreter. (Her perspective would constitute an entirely other movie.) Plainly imperfect even as he's both selfless and ambitious, Petey reluctantly agrees to Dewey's career plan, at first enjoying the attention, the swank new apartment, the access to liquor, clothes, and women. But he also worries. His self-doubt has to do with personal misgivings but also, more deeply, in the very structural oppressions he talks about on air. The film punctuates his story with TV images of anti-Vietnam war protests and Black Panthers, Lyndon Johnson and Shirley Chisholm. Dewey sees the chance to change the "system" from within, rejecting Petey's vision of genuine and only blackness: "Negroes," says Dewey as he displays his own considerable skills as a pool hustler, "always think that if you speak correct and wear anything other than clown suits, you're not real." Dewey's role model, he confesses, is Johnny Carson; he believes he can reach people and prosper, help shape a community and create a better world.

To this end, Dewey encourages Petey to greater and greater visibility -- a local TV show (Petey Greene's Washington), a live comedy routine, and even an appearance on The Tonight Show. But Petey is conflicted, unwilling to immerse himself in the system he sees as fundamentally flawed and racist. Petey resists Dewey's faith in "the whole world," remaining dedicated to his community, the same community that Dewey, when riled, calls "low-life."

At last Petey has a profound, proto-Dave Chappelle-ian moment on Carson's stage. He looks into the studio audience and ends Dewey's dream: "I look out here and all I see is a room full of white folks waiting for some nigger jokes." The silence -- the "dead air" that Dewey has long warned him against -- is stunning. The scene combines a life's worth of disappointment, anger, and self-defining resistance. Petey knows full well what he's doing when he speaks.


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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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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