On Wondering If You Might Be Too Old — Or Too Smart, Too Responsible, Too Feminist, etc — To Still Love Rap

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I took my fiancee’s nephew (“Derek”) to the YMCA to play basketball. He’s 12. On the way to pick him up, I listened to Fabolous’s Soul Mixtape. Usually, when anyone much younger (nephews, nieces, etc) or older (parents, aunts, uncles, etc) gets into the car with me, I’ll listen to the radio. That day, though, I forgot to make the switch. And, as soon Derek got into the car, a very aggressive chorus of “fucks” came through the speakers. Embarrassed, I quickly turned the music down, and we started talking about Kemba Walker and left-handed layups.

I know I’m not the first person to recognize the unique dynamic of being a rap fan. Well, unique in comparison to other popular genres. When my dad would drive me to school and basketball games when I was a child, we’d listen to Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and Miles Davis and other artists he grew up on. People who grew up on rap—specifically, the ultra vivid and ultra violent rap music from “my” era—will not have that luxury. I can’t image a parent (well, a responsible parent) breaking down “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” the same way my dad broke down “Trouble Man” to me. While not embarrassed (at all) that I’m a fan, part of being a responsible rap fan is acknowledging and understanding that some of the music can be embarrassing if heard around people who don’t happen to be your peers.

Something else recently dawned on me, though. Something that adds another layer to the cognitive dissonance needed to be a fan of a certain type of rap music. The first rap album I owned was LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” But, I didn’t become a “hip-hop head” until maybe 1995, when Raekwon and Mobb Deep and Biggie and Big L dominated the airwaves and the homeroom conversations. And, while I know a part of me appreciated and admired their creativity and lyrical dexterity, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this anti-social and nihilistic music most resonated with me when I was a teen—the time when I was the most anti-social and nihilistic. Although I wasn’t outwardly rebellious, the music connected to the latent rebellious spirit I, like most other teens, possessed.

Considering the content found in most popular rap—and most rap I currently listen to—I doubt I’d be a fan if I was first introduced to it as an adult in 2013 instead of a teen in 1993. Maybe I’d appreciate The Roots and other acts with more conspicuous connections to jazz and/or R&B. But, I’d likely find most of the rest to be noisy, vulgar, and embarrassingly misogynistic. Basically, I’d be my dad.

The preceding passage is from “Hey Young World: You Don’t Have to Be a Kid To Fall In Love With Hip-Hop, But It Sure Helps” — a piece I wrote for Complex earlier this week.

Although I made it clear that I’m still very much a fan of some very vulgar and very violent rap music — and I don’t feel bad in anyway about that status — I do sometimes wonder if I should feel bad about itBasically, should I be more bothered by how easily I do the mental gymnastics needed to compartmentalize the music I listen to as just music?

Also, although I can be a bit robotic, I’m not actually a robot. (Surprise, right?) And, because I’m not a robot, I can’t say with 100% certainty that the music I listen to doesn’t have an effect on both my psyche and my personality. Who’s to say that 20 years of listening to violent, vulgar, and misogynistic rap music hasn’t made me a tad more violent, a bit more vulgar, and a little more likely to have negative feelings about women than I would have if I’d never been exposed to it?

(And yes, everything I just said could also be said by someone about TV and movies. But, music tends to be experienced on a more intimate level, and, generally speaking, I think it has more of an effect on you than something on screen does.)

Anyway, am I alone here? Any other long-time hip-hop heads (or just casual fans of rap music) experiencing the same type of ambivalence? Do you ever wonder if you might be too old — or too smart, too educated, too responsible, too feminist, etc — to still love rap as much as you do?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Non-Conventional Gifts That Make Me Happy During This Holiday Season

Black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow.

Black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow.

Or any season really…

With Christmas right around the corner, I’ve been a bit reflective lately. It’s important to sit back and take the time to realize the little things in life and the tiny blessings that have been bestowed upon from out yonder and up above. If you take a second to truly look at life in all of its glory, you will realize that there is evidence that whoever you pray to was busy leaving little easter eggs all over the place. You know the kind of places where compromise has come full circle.

Yes, that higher power, what a great person. So it is in this season that I thank 8 pound, 6 ounce baby Jesus who don’t even know a word yet (though I happen to prefer mine with a mullet) for the bevy of good tidings he brings for me and my kin. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

With that being said, here a bunch of little blessings to be thankful for during this holiday season.

- unattractive men with big bank accounts

- unattractive women with great bodies

- multi-colorway Jordan’s

- Honey Jack Daniels Whiskey

- short men with great personalities

- overt racism

- Duck Dynasty (even despite the recent comments which to me is just like the Chik-Fil-A kerfluffle a few years ago)

- White Hennessey

- Black Twitter

- White Wegman’s

- Hybrid SUVs

- Cuffin’ season for the cold months

- Summer dresses for the hot months

- Strobe lights for drunken nights at the club

- Sweet & Sour Gummie Bears

- Boxer briefs

- women in wife beaters

- Black Santa

- White Jesus

- White Santa

- Black Jesus

- Beyonce albums when you least expect them

- Beyonce albums when you do expect them

- HBCU pride

- PWI ambivalence about HBCU pride

- Allen wrench drill bits for IKEA furniture

- Kanye West rants

- Answers to questions that Kanye thinks there are no answers to

- All Black everything

- Racks on racks

- The intro to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Foe Tha Love Of Money”

- The intro to Mint Condition’s “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)”

- non-Black women with big ole booties

- big ole booties

- brown paper packages tied up with string

- 2 Chainz

- The reaction of people when you yell 2 Chainz in a crowded room

- Finding dreams that were deferred

- Asinine opinions on music

- Pet rocks to throw at people with asinine opinions on music

- naked cartwheels on hardwood floors

- The Willie Warmer

And with that…I’ll stop. So what are some non-conventional gifts that you are thankful for this holiday season?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. WARM WILLIE aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

On Writing Those Gotdamn End Of The Year “Best Of The Year” Lists

(The Champ’s latest at Complex on the process of writing those “best of the year” listicles you’re going to see on every website in the next few weeks)

The list was due Friday. He was only getting $150 for it. So he didn’t want to spend more than two hours doing it. If he broke it down that way, it meant he was working for $75 an hour. And, if he was working for $75 an hour, he could justify spending $100,000 for his MFA just to spend afternoons writing up top 10 lists in his bedroom. Or bus station Au Bon Pains. Well, spiritually justify. Not intellectually. Or, sadly, romantically. He had a PornHub account. A paid PornHub account. His professors would be proud.

He blocked two hours out of his busy Thursday schedule to write the piece. He liked calling what he did “pieces.” Sounded important. Distinguished. Much better than gotdamn motherfucking “listicles.” Just typing that word made his fingers feel like lice.

He had a game plan. Include four or five major label releases. Two or three more obscure releases. And a couple wildcards to show how irreverent and cool he was. Maybe he’d put Eve’s Lip Lock on the list. He’d hadn’t even listened to it. Shit, he didn’t even know Eve released an album this year until he was on Wikipedia. On Stevie J’s page. But he had decided. It was going to be the “7th best rap album of 2013.” He’d put it right between J. Cole‘s Born Sinner (6th) and Earl Sweatshirt‘s Doris (8th). Maybe Eve herself would retweet the link the piece. Probably not. But still. It’s good to dream. Is Eve even on Twitter? He didn’t know.

Kanye West‘s Yeezus, of course, would be first. He wasn’t smart enough to “get” Kanye’s genius. Or maybe he just knew Kanye was full of shit. Either way, he was smart enough to know that praising Yeezus would make everyone think he was smart. And he did actually like “Black Skinhead.” During that week in July when he worked out for two days, he’d listen to “Black Skinhead” on the elliptical. It made him feel like Tarzan. He needed to go back to the gym. He liked saying that he “needed to go back to the gym” to people.

He’d put Danny Brown‘s Old second. He wanted to like Danny Brown more than he actually liked him. But he did like him. He was also scared of him. Kinda mirrored his feelings about guacamole.

The write-ups were smooth. Easy. Quick. He had a system. Write an average of four sentences about each album. If you write more than four, be more serious. Say things like “deconstruct” and “narrative” and “intersectional” and “pussy.” If you write less than four, be more snarky.

Then, something happened. He was writing about Pusha T‘s My Name Is My Name. He listed it 5th. But it was his favorite album of the year. So much so that he even memorized a Big Sean verse for the first time. Which was easy. Because Big Sean verses are like gym class. In 2nd grade. At a charter school with no gym.

(Read the rest at Complex)

5 Best Black Movie Soundtracks of the 1990s

VIBE-Vixen-Films-600x450The ’90s was a heyday for a lot in the urban entertainment world. We largely consider it the golden age of hip-hop seeing as A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, Dr. Dre, Outkast, etc all got their just due in the early to mid 90s. We had Biggie and ‘Pac. Rap didn’t start, but it took over the game like Kendrick Lamar in the BET Cypher.

Seriously, did you see that joint? You ever hear a verse so insane that you just start laughing and smiling because you have no idea what else to do? That was me watching that verse. Over and over again.

Well, what also caught its stride was the Black movie. From Boyz N The Hood to (possibly the worst ever) Straigh Outta Brooklyn to Juice to Love Jones, it seemed like every year we got some new movie that spoke to some part of the Black experience.

The joy of the 90s Black movie was that it seemed like as much money was spent on the soundtrack as the actual movie, with some cases of the soundtrack being BETTER than the movie that inspired it (High School High, anyone?). No expense was spared on these joints, and because of that, we got some iconic ass music that you automatically think of when thinking of certain movies. Because of science, when more than 2 things are gathered in my name, there will have to be a best. It is what it is, but luckily we’re far enough from heaven so now we all can freak out.

So without further ado and with absolute controversy in mind, I bring you the best 5 Black movie soundtracks of the 1990s. While 2-5 are pretty much about to be a tossup, as the patron saint of 1990s music, Joe, so eloquently said, somebody’s gotta be on top.

1. Juice

When Juice came out I was an 12 year old goofy kid living in Frankfurt, Germany. I don’t know who took me to see Juice but it was possibly a very bad decision. I definitely know I saw it in a theater. And I’m sure there were ta-tas. But what I remembered most and why I BEGGED my father to buy me the Juice soundtrack (turns out for naught) was the song “How I Could Just Kill A Man” that I heard playing in the background at the house party where Q and Bishop were chasing each other. That song MESMERIZED me. I HAD to have it. I was feenin’ for it. It wasn’t on the soundtrack for some odd reason, though “Shoot ‘Em Up” was. But this soundtrack DID have “Uptown Anthem” by Naughty By Nature. And “Know The Ledge” by Eric B. and Rakim. And “Is It Good To You” and “Nuff Respect” and “Don’t Be Afraid”. Too Short dropped “So You Wanna Be A Gangster” and it made me forget there was a song on the album entitled “What Could Be Better B*tch?”. Yep. Either way I’m callin’ it as the best. SEE I BE RIDIN’ THRU MY OLD HOOD, BUT I’M ON MY NEW SH*T.

2. New Jack City

“I Wanna Sex You Up”. “New Jack Hustler”. “There You Go Telling Me No Again.” And the song by alleged woman beater and dead beat dad extraordinaire Christopher Williams, “I’m Dreaming”. Yes you know them all. And even if you don’t, “I Wanna Sex You Up” is all you need to really know.

3. Love Jones

This was the movie soundtrack for the women. And it had “The Sweetest Thing” a song which has somehow become one of the most iconic movie songs. This album featured a bunch of artists that I loved and Trina Broussard put her foot all up and thru “Inside My Love”. Anybody seen her, by the way?? Brand New Heavies. Groove Theory. And the song that REALLY had us feelin’ some kind of way, “Hopeless” by Dionne Farris whose career definitely should have been bigger than it was. You got a love jones. You got a love jones. you got a love jones….oooooooo. Oh…and “In A Sentimental Mood”? Sure it ain’t original, but no idea’s original. Word to civilization.

4. Menace II Society

Those West coast folks know how to put together a soundtrack. Between Hi-Five’s “Unconditional Love” and MC Eiht’s GREAT “Streight up Menace” and the greatest song Smooth ever released “You’ve Been Played”. And if those songs don’t convince you, there’s always the eternal summer jam you forgot even existed called “Top Of The World” by Kenya Gruv. “Computer Love” also played in the movie but that’s just cheating.

5. Above The Rim

I could actually make a case that this is the best 90s Black movie soundtrack of all time by virtue of “Big Pimpin” and “Pour Out a Little Liquor”. But we’ve also got SWV with “Anything”. And the best song ever with the word “hoochie” in the title, “Hoochies Need Love Too” and possibly the BEST song on the soundtrack with “Old Time’s Sake” by Sweet Sable. You can literally run this joint the entire time through. The big deal about it was that it was an East Coast movie with an entirely West Coast soundtrack brought to you by the evil empire (Death Row) at the time. But man does this joint crack.  And of course…one of the best songs of the entire decade is on this joint with Nate Dogg and Warren G. in “Regulate”. Actually, I’m going to go ahead and say that this might easily be the best soundtrack of the 90s Black movies.

Aight…WHAT SAY YOU!?!? WHO THE F*CK WANT WHAT!!!!!!?!?!?!? I’m calling these as the best 5 of the decade. What you got? Boomerang? Waiting To Exhale? Poetic Justice?? Set It Off?

What’s the best 90s Black movie soundtrack?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. I LOVE THE 90S aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

The Very Smart Brothas Guide To The Levels of Blackness

TetrisBetween Meek Mill, Candy Crush, and Very Smart Brothas, levels are having the greatest year ever. The fun part about levels is that they’re something people can understand, unlike Matrix 2 which nobody could understand, well except for the people who claim that they could understand it when nobody else could which makes some sense since, ya know, there’s levels to this sh*t. See what I did there?

By the way, its important to note that, “Levels” – the song by Meek Mill, the most yellin-est rapper of all time – is a smart dumb ninja song. It’s one of those songs that’s not deep at all, but some people will claim its deep, thereby informing you and everybody around you that said person who thinks its deep has either been to jail or is likely to go jail at some point. See also Pastor Troy “Vice Versa”. I do judge people who find “Levels” to be a song with any depth to it.

Moving on up to the east side…

While Champ did such a good job of illustraing the perfect levels of Blackness, it seems almost counterproductive to not discuss the various levels of Blackness that must exist for there to be a perfect level. You cannot have hot without cold which yields you the perfectly docile and splendid, warm. Just like you can’t have The most perfect color in the Republic and/or the Union, pewter, unless you have both black and white at the ends. If there’s perfect then there are various other levels. Like?

Like…

Really Really Black

You know something is real when you use the adjective twice (or adverb, I was never good at American). Things that are really, really Black are those things where pretty much nobody but (we’re talking 95+ percent) Black folks dwell, enjoy, participate in or appreciate like Detroit, Belly, weave pats, Donald Goines novels, Tyler Perry, red kool-aid flavored chicken gizzards, chicken gizzards, shooting dice on the corner or anywhere really, public school system in most major cities, etc

Pretty Damn Black

This level is where you still have a majority of Black people actively leading the charge for independence (what?) but you get a pretty significant number of others involved, and bougie Black folks are present but there’s definitely division amongst the reading ninjas. Such things that are pretty damn Black are: HBCUs, Project Pat, watermelon, Popeyes chicken, “Swahili” names, Kwanzaa, the last half of Mariah Carey’s career, Atlanta, Lupe Fiasco (he’d be more on the other side of Blackness except he’s gon’ full fledge conspiracy theorist lately), conspiracy theories, Final Call, Nation of Islam,

Perfect Level of Blackness

Covered by Champ

Not As Black As You Might Think

This is kind of explanatory. We’re moving to the side of things where there’s definitely some Blackness, but just because its led by the Blackness doesn’t mean that only (or even mostly) the Blacks indulge, though there’s still enough Blackness associated that we could claim them/it in the race draft. Such as? Wu-Tang Clan, Common (hey, he said its just coffee shop chicks and white dudes), hip-hop, Barack Obama, watermelon, fried chicken from Popeye’s, driving hoopties, saying hooptie, the itis, the sugar, the pressure, Bill Cosby, Drake, cognac, Moscato, etc.

And finally…

Not That Black At All (Or Just Black By Default)

This is the category where something is created by or inspired by the Blacks but has pretty much gone so mainstream that they’re just Black by default because they’re..well, Black, but they’ve transcended (though we’re still claiming), like Beyonce, Tiger Woods, Micheal Jordan, or Michael Jackson, Jordan’s, Lil Wayne, Kanye West (currently), crime (I keeed, I keeed), Scandal, The Butler, The Help, The Shoe Shine Boy (you’re saying that doesn’t exist yet? My bad), Soledad O’Brien, well you get the point.

Those are the levels of Blackness I came up with while listening to Meek Mill yell at me and tell me that he was a boss. I mean, there are levels to this since we probably don’t wear the same clothes or feathertickle the same women. It’s true.

So what are the levels of Blackness that you’ve observed? Or did I get them right? WHAT SAY YOU?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka lower.case.p. aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3