The Curious Case of “Amen”

And no, we’re not talking about Sherman Helmsley, smokin’ that “boat”, or Dee.

We’re talking about Meek Mill and Drake’s perplexing homage to, well, the same thing they talk about on every other song they write and record – f*cking, living the good life, and being swagged out – entitled “Amen”.

But first, let me say, lord forgive them, they got them dark forces in them.

Amen.

This song perplexes me so much I’ve spent literal hours going back and forth with myself on how I should feel versus how I do feel. Let’s start with the basics, this is only an issue because the beat to this song is so insanely infectious and dope. The producer took us to church with it. On purpose. It’s like that bridge between secular and gospel rap that 100 percent of all gospel rappers have been looking for but couldn’t find. Real talk, put DMX or some other rapper conflicted about his spirituality and likes to talk about it over that beat and you might have your first respectable gospel rap song. Hell, you could even title it “Amen” and it would work perfectly.

More hell, you could have taken the ENTIRE verses spit by Meek and Drake, turned them towards a religious bent and had a significantly dope gospel rap record. I truly believe this. The vast majority of us, whether currently believers, atheists, agnostics, or what have you, began in the church and can immediately identify with that piano riff. If you’re grandmother is Baptist or Pentecostal, she likely crip-walked to it this past Sunday. Meek knew this, probably because he also is insanely familiar with it, immediately heard the beat and knew exactly where to take it…to church.

NEVERMIND THAT HE STARTED IT WITH AN IGNANT NINJA PRAYER!!

So what we get is a 4-minute long sacreligious ode to ignorance that is intentionally geared to play up to our religious histories in a way that would ensure that we’d all need to go to church on Sunday JUST to repent for dancing to it in the club the night before. The hook is a PERFECT call-and-response execution. Meek and Drake are both dope on it…if only they weren’t sending me to hell every time I listened to it. Which, obviously, is the conundrum. In many ways, I feel like they went too damn far. But I’ll admit it’s only because I’m Black and I hold church (even though I rarely, if ever, go) sacred. Which is mostly because despite my imperfect church record (no pun) over the past umpteen years, I’m still god-fearing and recognize blasphemy when I hear it. I believe in being struck by lightning, for heaven’s sake!

Which presents a whole OTHER problem. Ladies, I have issues. For some reason I’m more conflicted about this than about the rampant exploitation I hear in the record. I kind of just want them to change the title and stop saying “amen” and “church”. I know, and I’m working on this. There’s really no defense for it. Though I’ve mostly stopped listening to 90 percent of the “ignorant” stuff. My daughter has COMPLETELY trumped all of my music choices nowadays. Believe it or not (and this might sound ironic) but I pretty much only listen to pop music stations when she’s not with me and gospel when she is. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Annnnnnyway.

Back to just wanting them to change the title and hook. Sure the beat is churchy, but I could live with that as just being creative. Besides, more rappers than you may realize have straight jacked gospel for samples. Shoot, early soul and blues owes its entire lineage to gospel. So gospel tinged secular music isn’t exactly new or troubling. This just feels different.

I hear it and I want to dance, but yelling “amen” after their lines using the terms “b*tches, kill n*ggas, etc” just seems inherently wrong. Perhaps I read too much or have mostly grown up (again, I’m apparently okay with the exploitation and misogyny present…help me) but I wonder why NOBODY thought there would be anything wrong with this record. Granted, its creative as a mug and of course entertaining. Meek does entertaining records and the boy can rap. I’m fairly certain his album would be terrible but his singles are monsters (I’m not sure I could listen to him yell at me for a whole hour…I’m grown, stop that).

Back to the lecture at hand, the record…befuddles me. I’m fairly certain that I shouldn’t like it, but deep down, I do. Because it’s a good record. I just want them to stop being so blasphemous. And I’m not even sure they are. I’m nowhere near the level of ole boy out of Philly, the pastor who found it to be outwardly just damn wrong. But in some small way, I get his point. For the first time ever, d-boys everywhere will be yelling “amen” and “church” ad nauseum and it will be for all of the wrong reasons. Which brings up something else: I know that I’ve DEFINITELY used lots of church references in my everyday speech and things I’ve written that could very well be considered sacrilege. So perhaps there’s a little bit of pot-calling-the-kettle-black here. And perhaps I should reconsider my own choices.

But perhaps, I’ll probably not do that either. And I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

Amen.

Church?

(Couldn’t help myself.)

So good folks, what do you think about the record (video included uptop)? Is anybody else conflicted by this song? Does this record go to far in its sacrelige? Does it even go to far? Does it even matter?

Talk to me.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. TAKE ‘EM TO CHURCH aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Don’t forget about the upcoming panel hosted by VSB P and Raheil T of Urban Cusp in conjunction with the Washington Post on July 26, 2012, from 6-8pm at the WaPo Building. It should be a great interactive conversation about relationships between all of us! Group participation, ninjas! See you there!

Thoughts On The Light-Skinned Beef Heard Round The World, And More…

It was all good just a week ago

1. The Increasingly Bizarre Chris Brown (IBCB for short) is becoming a caricature of himself

You know how in every crime/heist movie, there’s always that one skittish and perpetually sweaty guy who no one really wants to talk to, no one ever wants to partner with, no one trusts with a gun? The guy with strange clothes and “unique” hygiene that’s only involved with the crew because…well, no one really knows why he’s involved with the crew, and the only reason his character was even written was to provide an in-house foil to annoy (and potentially sabotage) the rest of the characters?

Well, I’m not going to say that IBCB is becoming that guy, but IBCB is becoming that guy. His continued descent from “boy next door” to“that sweaty, skeevy, rapey guy with the platinum Caesar and the sleeveless jean jacket doing push-ups in a bar bathroom” has been amazing to witness. You can even argue that Britney Spears is the only other celebrity ever to go from “widespread heartthrob” to “person who creeps the hell out of everyone with an IQ over 86” as quickly as he has.

***“BOY FIGHT! Thoughts on the (Alleged) Drake v. Chris Brown Beef”— my latest at Ebony.com (and an article I obviously did not title) — lists four of my initial thoughts about what could be the most entertaining beef in hip-hop history. While I definitely want you to go over there and read the rest of the list, here are a couple more quick things I want to add

1. As much as I chide toughDrake for being, to quote Big Ghost, “the human electric slide,” I actually don’t dislike him or his music at all. I know his latest album was full of songs that may not even actually be songs, but I’ve stopped expecting him to live up to the expectations he set with “So Far Gone” and “Comeback Season” and just accepted him for who he is — a diabolical (Yes. Diabolical. “Marvin’s Room” was some diabolical-ass shit) stripper-saving “Merchant of Cuddles,” and a talented guy who makes decent albums that you wouldn’t be caught dead actually listening to.

2. Apparently, a three-way series of passive aggressive Rihanna-related tweets between toughDrake, IBCB, and…Meek Mill preceded all of this. Somewhere, Suge Knight is spinning in his grave. (and eating waffles)

3. Rihanna still scares the shit out of me. And by “scares the hell out of me” I mean “somehow simultaneously arouses and scares the hell out of me.” I’ve never been more attracted to a woman who I didn’t think was really all that attractive. Her p*ssy is a paradox, and I somehow feel haunted by it just by typing her name. Basically, she’s the coital “Candyman.”

If this doesn’t make any sense, good. It doesn’t to me either.

***Before you leave today, I want you to go and check out Anything But Style. It’s a fashion blog run by a good friend of mine, and she decided to celebrate her blog’s one year anniversary by launching her own online vintage clothing store today. Although she’s a (gasp) Delta, I’m very proud of her for setting a goal and doing what she needed to do to accomplish it.

***Lastly, check out A.P., this week’s Very Smart Single, and hit us up at contact@verysmartbrothas.com if interested in getting to know her better.

That’s it for me today. People of VSB.com, what’s new on your ends of the world and shit?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Marvin’s Room and the Rise of the Open-Air Emo Negro


I realize that Drake’s song “Marvin’s Room” came out a few months ago. However, it still manages to get airplay on the radio stations here in Washington, DC, and every time it comes on I’m compelled to listen to it. Mostly because this song flies in the face of pretty much everything you’re taught at Man School. But even worse than that, this song is the exact same sh*t that Bill Cosby got in trouble for some years ago when he called out Black folks. Dyson was all over his back on that one. Where are you now Mr. Michael Eric Dyson when Drake is throwing your manhood under the bus?

Damn wheelchair academics.

What do I mean by this being the equivalent of Bill Cosby’s now famous “pound cake” speech heard ’round the world? Well, Cosby was basically accused of airing dirty laundry. It’s not that what he was saying was wrong, it’s just that he (allegedly) shouldn’t be out there saying it publicly – a point I fervently disagreed with. In fact, he said it at Howard University at a UNCF function if memory serves correct. In truth, dude was talking to the very people he needed to be talking to. Anyway, back to Drake and his 3-minute slip up. No pregnancy.

Every man swears we are real G’s. Well except Drake. I don’t think he ever pretends that he doesn’t cry in the daytime. With a crowd. Never has one successful rapper seemingly been so in touch with his feminine side on wax before. But he crossed the line. Dude put every ninja in America on blast with “Marvin’s Room”. While all of us swear to never have those moments of weakness and not giving into our emo sides, we’ve all done it. A lot of us swear that when Snoop said in ’94 that we don’t love them hoes, we made it our battle cry and man mantra. When the truth is…

…there are a gang of emo, wang-stas running around saying that same sh*t Drake was saying over and over to some woman who moved on because he sucked. Yep, some of us do love them hoes. We pick up the phone and tell some ex that “she can do better” while she wonders why the hell we’re even calling. Not that we’re ready to step up to the plate, we just know that we’d like a chance to still be at bat. Which, is ridiculous. But many cats do give into those moments of weakness that most of us swear we don’t have. Truth is, women are just great gatekeepers and put up with a lot of non-sense. I’ll bet nearly every dude has at least one moment where he simped out hard but the woman he was dealing with didn’t put him blast.

Of course, that could be because she didn’t know dontdatehimgirl.com existed or she doesn’t understand the point of a Twitter, but I’m guessing it’s because deep down, women like that type of attention and validation. Yep, validation. A dude calling you back after some time or just being on some, “girl we had good times…that dude you’re with isn’t good enough for you…” more or less lets her know that she had some last effect on you. And I honestly think that’s what all women want most. Even if the relationship didn’t work out, they just want to know that they mattered. Or will be remembered.

Women tend to only put dudes on blast who do egregious sh*t and even still, I’d bet the dudes would still try to get back in at some point and ole girl would listen. Which is where Drake comes in…again…because I’m sure none of us believe that was his last phone to call her. Biggie makes “Suicidal Thoughts” and offs himself at the end. Drake probably hangs up and makes himself a smoothie, watches Jerry Maguire then writes a rap about struggling with success…again. Emo-rap apparently can win.

And it wins because a vast majority of the guys out there are emo as all hell. Sure they are Big Meech at the club, but they stay in their feelings at home. Check Twitter feeds. You’ve got as many dudes as women playing into gossip and putting their feelings out there and not wanting to be misunderstood. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You know, perhaps social networking is at fault here. It’s just like with the “babymama” phenomenon. We have this ridiculous view that every kid had a husband-wife, mommy-daddy tandem back in the 50s-70s and somewhere along the way divorce became okay and out of wedlock births weren’t as frowned upon. The truth is, that stuff has been happening since day one, it just didn’t have the Internet to put it on blast. Nobody talked about it because there weren’t a million anonymous people listening to your every word. Nowadays, it happens all the time and men have audiences who eat it up. The same gossipping women are supposed to do is being taken over by men who are more than willing to get into their feelings and share them. Without feeling conflicted about it.

I think that’s been the biggest culprit. The lack of conflict a lot of guys are feeling. Whereas most of used to feel like p*ssies for getting caught in our feelings on some dumb sh*t, it seems like nowadays a lot of dudes are running at the opportunity to get in their feelings on some dumb sh*t and air it out to be seen by as many people as possible.

You used to just keep that sh*t at home for your wife or girlfriend to see and hear. Yeah, she’d laugh at you. But it stayed at home. Now, not so much.

“Marvin’s Room” is the perfect example. I saw all kinds of people, men and women, talking about it when it, and for good reason. It represents that shift where putting out stuff like this that used to be confined to just that one dude and that one chick (and whoever she clowned him with). Now, it’s a song a mainstream rapper makes. Sh*t like that only used to come out on indy releases by Atmosphere. I wonder how Slug feels about Drake? By the way, its possible that thost last two sentences made sense to about 10 percent of anybody reading this.

So what say you? Have you seen this rise of the emo negro? What’s to blame? Is it a bad thing? And how many of y’all have had Marvin’s Rooms situations? Pony up fellas. It’s okay to tell the truth. We’re being emo now.

For the record. I’m not emo. I’ve never done anything I’ve referenced. I’m a gangsta, I don’t dance. I boogie. Thank you and good night.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka TICKLE ME EMO P aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Why Kanye Matters so Gotdamn Much

Panama: so i know a lot of women who absolutely love kanye west and i can honestly say i dont get it. like i cant tell if they want to be with him? or if his swag is attractive to them or what…

kanye being an attractive human being is an oddity to me

Champ: i think they like what he produces and what he’s capable of producing more than anything else
the art more than the artist
i mean, i guess that explains why guys like paul mccartney and lyle lovett have had their pick of beautiful women
the idea of kanye matters more than he does
well, not more, but just as much
women love big ideas and potential more than they love us, lol
and kanye is a big f*cking idea
Panama: that is true
Champ: but yeah, you’re right. he’s a sex symbol who women don’t seem to want to have sex with
its weird. i’ve never believed any of the “kanye’s gay” rumors, but i have a hard time believing he was sleeping with amber rose, or anyone for that matter
Panama: good point
Champ: but, he’s also admitted to a porn addiction, and i’ve heard from a few sources that he’s not particularly shy about whipping it out in public, lol
Panama: apparently a lot of guys aren’t
i’ve had chicks tell me numerous times of dudes i know who they’ve been with on some one-on-one hang shit and dude will just pull his shit out
Champ: i knew a guy in college who’d hand women business cards with a pic of him holding his wang
i always wondered who took those pictures for him
Panama: lol

Midway through our latest podcast, I made a completely extemporaneous remark about Kanye West being one of the most important black people in the world; a statement so extemporaneous and unexpected you can hear the shock in my own voice when I said it. This surprise was largely based on the fact that I didn’t believe a single word of what I had just said.

But, because the verbal edit button–a device allowing you to delete reckless things you’ve said before anyone actually hears it–hasn’t been invented yet, I went full speed ahead, citing Kanye’s pandemic effect on our culture as proof of my statement’s truth. Surprisingly, the more I spoke, the more I realized this theory wasn’t that far fetched. Culture–the way we behave, how we interact, and what we believe–f*cking matters. And, regardless of how superficial you consider their particular contributions to be, our living and breathing cultural determinants–our Jay-Zs’, our Kardashians, our Beyonces–f*cking matter too.

Kanye, his brand of unabashed and simultaneously insecure self-confidence, and the art this volatile mixture created, has done more to spearhead this current era of hip-hop androgyny we live in than any other entity. Ironically, this makes him a bit of a throwback. His visceral emoting and occasional bouts of hyper-heterosexual aggression hearken back to the 80′s, when lascivious and sexually ambiguous performers such as Prince, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George ruled the airwaves. I’m not suggesting Kanye is in fact bi or homosexual, but his particular type of emotiveness is unlike any we’ve seen in hip-hop, and by osmosis he’s helped to pave the way to mainstream acceptance and embrace for (among other things) Drake, skinny jeans, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, blazers, Nicky Minaj, eyeglasses, B.O.B., blogging (yes. blogging), Lil Wayne, frohawks, and Twitter.

Despite all of this, I’ve always wondered what exactly it is about Kanye that allows him to wield such a cultural influence. How the hell does this tiny guy from the Chi have so much power? While his persona is (somewhat) original in a hip-hop context, the characteristics contributing to this persona are completely unoriginal. His critically lauded sample-heavy and soulful production is somewhat of a copy of music the RZA was making in 1995. While he’s definitely improving as a rapper, he’ll never be confused for a “natural” like a Nas or even a Scarface. And, by the time “The College Dropout” was released, the emotive eccentricity and eclecticism he’s known for had already been “done” (and, arguably, done better) by Andre 3000. He’s basically an HD compatible betamax.

The insane buzz over his two relatively underwhelming new singles (“Power” and “Hear Me Now”. Although, I have to admit I love “Hear Me Now” and the “Power” remix) have helped me figure it out: It’s not Kanye himself as much as it’s the idea of Kanye–and what we think he’s capable of–that matters so gotdamn much. This explains why each of his albums (even the sucky ones I eventually allowed to grow on me) are cultural landmarks even among those who love hip-hop but hate him and/or his music. This helps me understand how we’ve allowed a man who has made entire albums based around the idea that college is a sham and publicly admitted to not reading books (ha!) to be the de facto musical spokesperson for the young and college educated African-American. This even explains why (many) women are completely infatuated by him despite the fact that they probably wouldn’t sleep with him if given the chance.

With Kanye, it’s not so much about who he is or what he’s accomplished as much as it’s who we want him to be and what he just might do. While he has definitely produced, the power we’ve given him lies in the fact that his otherworldly range of personality makes him potential personified, and this makes him completely unstable and completely impervious to prediction—exactly like culture. He’s a living and breathing cultural cipher for our Id’s and expectations (whatever they might be), and he matters so gotdamn much because we need him to.

—The Champ

***By the way, If you haven’t done so yet, check out “The Black Blog Tea Party“, The Champ’s latest piece at Clutch Magazine***

The VSB Files–Episode 005: Montana Fishburne, Kanye West, & Intimidating Women

What’s up everybody!

We’ve decided to bless you with another episode of the VSB Files. Join Panama Jackson, The Champ and Liz as we talk a little bit about what’s on our minds. Some thangs we cover in this episode: Continue reading