Having The Birthday Cake And Eating It Too: A Collection of Conflicting Thoughts About Chris Brown

Ever since his infamous assault of then-girlfriend Rihanna, I’ve been captivated with Chris Brown, Rihanna, the myriad different stances people have adopted in regards to them, and the “Whys” behind these stances. Case in point: Along with my recent piece at Ebony, I’ve written about them — well, him in particular — at least four times in the three years since.

First there was “naked: chris brown and the sad plight of the scorned man” — an entry where I used their situation as a convenient segue to talk about how men dealing with effed up relationship situations usually don’t have any proverbial “shoulders to cry on.”

I followed that a few months later in something written about Tiger Woods and his wife, where I made mention of the fact that it seems like some of the people excusing Chris Brown for his role in the incident may not realize exactly how much bigger he is than Rihanna. Not that it should matter. A 5’6” man can inflict just as much damage as a 6’6” man can. But, I thought (and still do think) that some people hear the name “Chris Brown” and immediately think skinny, dancing-ass, teenage pop star, not 6’2” man with muscles formed from years of dancing and working out. Basically, in their minds, him vs Rihanna was a fair fight, but in actuality he dwarfs her in size.

Next, I made mention of them making a “movie” together in “A Sneak-Peek Into “Tyler Perry’s Love Jones.”

And, by the time “Seven Reasons Why I’m Totally Not Upset About Steve Harvey’s “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” Movie” was written a few months ago, you could begin to sense my exasperation with this discussion. In a matter of a couple years, I went from “this is some serious sh*t” to “I know it’s serious, but I don’t really give a damn anymore”

“Back to Blonde Breezy. Although I’ve been very critical of Chris Brown’s “redemption” in the past, I think I’ve officially reached the “not a single f*ck was given” point regarding whatever the hell happened that infamous night on the way to the Grammys. Apparently, time heals all wounds and all self-righteous indignations.

But, what remains completely fascinating is how both him and Rihanna have gotten progressively weirder and progressively more famous since that night. Maybe instead of a fight that night, they actually went through the Illuminati’s application and pledging process. Who knows?

I do know, though, that somewhere out there (probably on Mars), Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu are kicking themselves. They already had the weird part down pact. Who knew that all they had to do to keep people actually buying their albums was jab each other a couple times while riding in one of their spaceships?”

I guess today’s entry is me coming full-circle. As you may have guessed, I am fascinated again. Now, though, the best word to describe my feelings about Chris Brown is ambivalent.

From the perspective of a person who follows, studies, appreciates, and, sh*t, depends on pop culture, I’m elated that Breezy and Ri-Ri are making music (and, possibly, love) together again. I don’t give a damn about the “Birthday Cake” song itself (I haven’t even listened to it yet), but I will be tuned in to read, watch, listen to, and attempt to deconstruct people’s reactions to it. For a person who writes about pop culture for a living, you couldn’t ask for a better, more layered story.

But, from the perspective of a man who used to be an educator and knows exactly how damaging the latent message of “It’s ok to beat up your girl as long as you’re handsome and popular because everyone, including her, will forgive you shortly anyway” can (and will) have on their millions of young fans, their very public reconciliation rubs me the wrong way.

Right now, Chris Brown is having his birthday cake and eating it too. And, along with the Gotdamn Idiot factor, I think much of the push back is due to the fact that it just doesn’t seem fair for him to be able to do that. People upset at the situation are interested in and deeply invested in concepts like justice, and karma, and comeuppance, and seeing a person do dirt and still succeed in spite of it is a severe rebuke of the way they see the world.

On the other hand, that — Life just aint f*cking fair. Get used to it. — could be a teachable lesson in itself. Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to teach kids at an early age that popular guys and pretty girls will have advantages that normal folks just don’t. I mean, I’m sure they see it play out in front of them every day, and they’re probably tired of hearing “all people have the same chance” from their teachers and parents anyway. Why not be real with them now instead of setting them up for a lifetime’s worth of disappointment?

I don’t know. I don’t have any answers to any of these questions. I don’t know which side of me — the writer or the human — will win out. Sh*t, I don’t even know if the writer and the human are separate entities. I do know, though, that this will not be the last time I devote space to Chris Brown, and I’m concerned with how easily I’m beginning to be able to write something and feel nothing.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Rhythmless & Blues and Fistpump Soul

The future of Black music.

Happy Black History Month.

And since we’re talking about Black history, you ever notice how disposable R&B is nowadays? It’s no secret that one of my favorite songs of like for-f*ckin-ever is Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, a song about absolutely nothing and everything at the same time. It’s like there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited…but then the police show up. Aww.

Well I haven’t heard this song in probably two weeks now and I don’t miss it at all. You know what I do miss? That snake playing the bongos I saw down by the riverside. And this is a song that is still a Top 5 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. And yet, it’s completely disposable. So is Rihanna for that matter. In fact, you could take every song that Rihanna has made and put somebody else on them and there’s a good chance the song would be as good if not better. Would they be as successful? Probably not. When you’ve got a trainwreck wrapped in a pretty package leading the charge people are going to lineup to contribute to her downfall. Hell, I bought two copies of Loud for that reason. I’m convinced she’s a lesbian skydiving future rehab recidivist waiting to happen. America, f*ck yeah.

What’s my point again? Ah.

Ever since R&B gave way to this merger between pop and club music artists have been making more and more music that sounds good for a week in the club and then pretty much loses all steam once it fades from the charts, and by default, pop radio. Two of my favorite songs of last year were Chris Brown’s “Beautiful People” and Black Eyed Peas “Just Can’t Get Enough”. Do you know that I had to look up the name of the B.E.P. song?

Think about that, I couldn’t remember the name of my favorite song from last year and the group performing it features a white woman, a Black man who dresses like a white woman who dresses like a gay astronaut, a Mexican and something called Apl.de.Ap. At best, ONE of them actually eats black eyed peas. If that’s not memorable I don’t know what is. But it isn’t. Hold me. Pop music has long been moment music and short-term fix sh*t. But now that every damn R&B song has the same format and features a random assortment of various artists, nobody will be caring about this music years from now. Or weeks for that matter.

Now, I know I sound like an old grandpa complaining that music has lost its way blah blah blah. So what, f*ck your couch. Eat the pound cake n*gga. But I do kind of wonder what the hell folks will be listening to a few years from now. Granted music tends to be cyclical, but it really has been a while since any artist made a contribution to R&B that might actually be listenable a few years from now.

Nope. Now I’ve got nothing but fistpump soul. You know what that is. You ever been to a party with a bunch of white people and everybody just keeps jumping up and down and pumping their fists in the air. Real spit, white people are some real athletes. They do that sh*t for hours on end. It’s actually pretty impressive if you think about it. Black folks get it in for a minute then we all take breaks so the guys can regain their composure and the women can do the weave-pat.

And since “neo-soul” tends to suck as a rule – including Jill Scott’s later output, yeah I said it – its no wonder Black people keep losing our stronghold on all of our music. Let me be clear though, I love most pop music and listen to it with reckless abandon in my car. I’m the Black guy in the d-boy car that’s confusing you at the light because he looks like he may rob you but he’s singing what sounds like a Taylor Swift song.

Oh who am I kidding, its totally a Taylor Swift song.

But pop music is not R&B, and its not soul. But when all of your R&B artist and “soul” artists abandon ship in order to attempt to keep up with the Jones who are making songs at 185 BPP with the exact same drum pattern but a different melody, then the entire genre is going to lose itself like Eminem in a movie with Mekhi Phifer wearing a mop.

So what’s the point of all this randomness that you just read? Glad you asked. It’s this, what the f*ck happened to R&B? When D’Angelo lost his sh*t did the entire genre lose it? Usher’s Confessions is the last album that I can remember that was both a blockbuster AND was a really good R&B album. And that was in 2004.

So I ask you the same thing that Kanye asks himself after he lifts weights: does anybody make real sh*t anymore? Or is mainstream R&B a thing of the past? Is anybody making music that we’ll be listening to a few years from now?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

Poor Freddie Jackson. RIP Don Cornelius.


4 Thoughts About Rihanna and Her “Man Down” Video

1. The rape-revenge fantasy that takes place in “Man Down” is one of the oldest and most effective ways to tell a story. A person is wronged, and they spend the rest of the story tracking down and paying back those who’ve wronged them. We root for the protagonist, and the villian’s comeuppance is cathartic to the entire audience.

In fact, two of my favorite movies — the Kill Bill series (which I count as one movie) and Inglourious Basterds — revolve around this concept.

What separates “Man Down” — and what is probably causing much of the negative attention it’s receiving, not racism or sexism – is the fact that the villain’s payback comes at the beginning. When his gruesome murder is the first thing you see when watching the video, it’s hard to sympathize with the hero. Yes, we eventually see that he was responsible for a rape, but he’s already a dead man so we just don’t care as much.

Just imagine if Kill Bill began with The Black Mamba slicing and dicing through O-Ren and the Crazy 88. The entire movie changes, and Beatrix goes from a wronged woman on a mission to a mass murderer with a stupid name in a stupider jumpsuit.

Still, it’s a f*cking five minute long music video. Who the hell cares if it sends the wrong message about…anything. Maybe the story should have been shown in a sequential order. Maybe Rihanna could have had the guy arrested instead of murking him. Maybe she shouldn’t have gone to a party dressed as Cubana Lust and twerked on a guy with a buck 50 across his face. Maybe they could have included 5 minutes of gratuitous boob and nipple shots instead of three. Who f*cking cares?

Just enjoy the video…or don’t enjoy the video, but don’t call for it to be banned because one idiot out of the billion people who’ll watch it might decide to go Charles Bronson on a rapist.

2. I have to admit that I don’t watch very many videos. In fact, before “Man Down,” Kanye’s “Runaway” was the last one I’ve watched in its entirety, and I honestly can’t remember the last one I watched before that.

I wonder if this apathy is unique to people like me — people who’ve aged out of the music video target audience range — or if videos themselves have just lost a bit of their cultural relevance. They just don’t seem to be the same star-making vehicle that they were a decade ago. More importantly, I’m not certain if kids today anxiously await videos the same way we did for the premieres of songs like “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” “California Love,” and “Triumph,” but it really doesn’t seem like they do.

Anyway, I’m making this point because what happens at the 26 second mark is the most graphically violent thing I’ve ever seen in a music video, and I can’t tell if this was unusually graphic or just par for the course with today’s fare.

Sure, I’ve seen videos with implied violence — “99 Problems,” “Many Men,” and “Stan” immediately come to mind — and I’ve seen hundreds of videos where the artist rapped about violent acts, but I’ve never seen something as graphic as when Rihanna steps out of the shadows and shoots a man her rapist in the throat; a shot that clearly jerks his head back and splatters his blood before it kills him.

(Also, Rihanna — or, rather, this character Rihanna is playing — must be a Navy Seal or some shit, because those are the only people on the planet skilled enough to be 20 feet away and still hit a moving target in a crowd with a freakin revolver. When she’s done serving time for murder, we need to send her ass to Afghanistan)

3. Rihanna has slowly become everything fervent Beyonce critics have always (and unfairly) wanted Bey to be. Basically, she’s, well, interesting, and this interestingness (even at the expense of actual talent) makes her compelling in a way that the ridiculously talented and hard-working Beyonce can never be.

She has an interesting voice, she dresses in an interesting manner, she makes interesting videos, and she says interesting things (her “Cuz I’m black bitch!!!” Twitter take down of a critical fan might be one of the most surprisingly awesome things that’s ever happened on the internet) But, her appeal mainly lies with the fact that she’s a moth — a pretty girl attracted to the flame.

Unlike uber-attractive women who appear to be completely vapid (ie: Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, etc¹) completely normal (ie: Nia Long), or completely burdened by their beauty (ie: Hallie Berry), the moth (ie: Angelina Jolie, Marilyn Monroe, etc) resonates and transfixes through sheer force of personality and the fact that their knack for questionable decision-making humanizes them. They are “The Blower’s Daughters,” the women we just can’t take our eyes off of because we don’t know if they want to f*ck or murder us (or both)

In Rihanna’s case, this even affects how we perceive her music, which, despite her megastardom, remains relatively “eh.” We all know that she doesn’t have the best vocal range or sing the most compelling songs, but her Rihannaness has a way of making her songs interesting by osmosis.

I mean, “Man Down” could have easily been a throwaway track on any of the several Reggae Gold CDs I owned in college, but because Rihanna and Rihanna’s boobs are involved, this song will probably be a hit.

Speaking of boobs…

4. One of my favorite “Seinfeld” episodes revolves around whether Jerry’s girlfriend’s boobs are fake. He finds out that she frequents the same gym as Elaine, and he asks Elaine if she can somehow verify for him while they’re in the locker room. Elaine agrees, chaos ensues, and the episode eventually culminates with Jerry’s girlfriend finding out about Jerry and Elaine’s plans.

Obviously upset, she storms out of Jerry’s apartment, but not before leaving one parting shot.

“And by the way, they’re real, and they’re spectacular

Those who remember my 181 word ode to Erykah Badu’s death-defying ass are probably expecting me to write something similar about Rihanna’s boobs. But while tempted to expound, all that really needs to be said about them is they’re (hopefully) real, and they’re f*cking spectacular.

¹To their credit, I think this vapidness is an act

—The Champ

Please help keep Panama off the block, and The Champ on the wagon and buy “Your Degrees Wont Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime”

Pierced Ears: Great Terrible Singers And You

Once upon a time in the projects, singers used to be able to sing. Hell, for a whole slew of ugly mofos, singing and musicing was their only way to guarantee the continuation of their family name.

Ike Turner, I’m looking at you. Or at least I would be if you weren’t dead.

Suge’s married nah? You’s dead nah. R.I.P.

So I’ll just look at Al Green, who based on the Soul Train re-runs BET’s Centric is running, looked like a slick talking pimp and was the posterchild for celebrity-based panty procurement. What a voice though.

Ah yes, the voices. So back in the day, ninjas could sing. Nowadays, a certain look and a voice that sounds like a** being sandpapered can get you by. Now it’s not to say that non-singing arse ninjas weren’t cutting records, because they were. The dusty vinyl racks in most thrift stores can attest to that, but it seems like the singing folks were the stars in the 50s through 70s. We’re talking Aretha, Aretha’s areolas, David Ruffin and his drug habit, Al Green, whatever a Vandella is, Marvin don’t call me Pence, Diana, etc. The list goes on.

Nowadays? Well, nowadays we get…

1. Rihanna

If I could ever pick a voice not to have and still claim to be a singer, it would be hers. Lucky for me I don’t sound like a robot that ran away from home who just ate glass on a Tuesday after a hurricane. You know who does though? Rihanna. She’s bad as hell though. Though I kind of guess she’d have to be to come back swinging (no pun intended) from the beat down of the century, cut her hair, and realease an album with less certified hits on it than crackpipe at the Pope’s house and still stand out as a force to be reckoned with.. In case, I’m not clear though, she cannot sing.

2. Ashanti/Ja Rule

I include them as one entity since well, where would he be without her? Exactly where he is now, more absent than Penny’s parents on Good Times. While Ja Rule is technically a rapper, his biggest hits came with him attempting melody. I say attempting because he sounded like Cookie Monster with a recording deal. And while I do like Ashanti and loved a few of her songs, the fact is, nobody would call her and ask her to sing a solo just because. Not in a car, not at a bar. Not on a train, not in Spain. Thing is, what they did worked. Folks LOVED their songs. Great terrible singers.

3. T-Pain

Has anybody actually heard his real singing voice? Let me say this here, I always found it odd that T-Pain would take issue with folks using auto-tune when he basically jacked Teddy Riley’s schtick who jacked Roger Troutman’s schtick. Anyway, despite any discernible actual vocal talent, T-Pain has crafted some of the best damn songs of the past 5-years. “Buy U A Drank” was poetry in motion and let’s not even talk about the grandiose complexity of “Bartender”. Oh I can’t contain myself. Let’s talk about it. “She made us drinks…to drink…we drunk ‘em…got drunk.” Shakespeare was a mere dolt compared to Tedddy Pinnned Her Ass Down.

4. Carl Thomas

Carl Thomas is the posterboy, mascot, and CEO for great terrible singers. He somehow duped an entire legion of diehard fans into thinking that “Summer Rain” was a good song and that it’s okay to be a b*tch a** ninja (“Emotional”). I’ve had full blown arguments with women people trying to convince me that he can sing. He cannot. Stop it. Especially not with all his s-curl juice running down the side of his face during shows because of the heat from the lights; yeah he’s from Chicago.

Controversial pick time:

5) K-Ci/Wanya Morris

I love these guys as much as the next man – I grew up on Jodeci and Boyz II Men. But have you ever seen naturally good singers (like Johnny Gill’s oversinging behind) have to actually shake their heads up and down to get the vibrato effect? That was K-Ci and Wanya’s calling card – head just a bouncing all over the stage like two strippers who spotted a dollar on the ground in a K-Mart parking lot. Just saying, they can sing, but they can’t sing either. It’s a fine line. They were the inspiration for bobbleheads – who sang great bobblehead songs.

6. Ciara

Oh wait, she just sucks all around.

Good folks of the VSB kingdom, its Friday, make it rain on these hoez, who are some other great terrible singers?



Admin Note: Next Tuesday, April 13, 2010, from 530-10pm at Sutra Lounge in Adam’s Morgan, Panama Jackson will be one of several DC-area bloggers hosting a happy hour brought to you by Elevated Entertainment and Usual Suspectz. Come hang out with VSB P the Certified 3 and a slew of other popular DC bloggers like Leon from Listentoleon.net, etc. Admission is free. The address is 2406 18th Street NW. Come one, come all…holla at a playa when you see me in the street trick. Nuts.

Havin’ Hard Times: Best Jobs To Get When Times Are Tough

I came across this fascinating, yet seemingly hyperbolic, article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about difficult economic times are increasing the number of women trying to get on the pole. And people say the recession is a problem; anything that puts more women on a pole is alright with me. While I think that some of the financial “facts” are indeed debatable, the fact is, strippers get that dough – especially in Atlanta. In fact, in Black America when people think stripping they think Atlanta. Gentlemen, guard your daughters. If she really wants to move to Atlanta but has yet to apply to Spelman, I hate to tell you but she’s gonna be making it clap more than 40 Negroes at a houseparty when Soho Earth People’s “Hot Music” comes on.

Hot muuuuuuuusic. (Anybody else notice that this song always sounds better when followed up by Aly-Us’s “Follow Me”?)

Here’s a snippet of the economics in the article:

The strip club economy

Clubs: U.S.: 3,829

Metro Atlanta: 19

Economic impact: U.S. $15 billion

Metro Atlanta: $240 million-plus

Employment: U.S.: 500,000

Estimated annual earnings of Atlanta dancers: $20 million

Anybody else surprised that there are only 19 strip clubs in metro Atlanta? Me too. But if true, damn that’s good money.

Well this got me to thinking. People often joke that when times get tough, women should start stripping. Truth is….that’s true. There are so many upsides and really the only downside is that whole self-esteem, sense of self-worth bull malarkey. Face it, pride and options are for rich and beautiful people. If you were either, you wouldn’t be thinking about stripping, now would you?

Oh, the upsides: cash business (avoid some of those pesky taxes through self-reporting), you get to meet really nice people who really care about you, you get to stay up on the newest music, and the coup de grace, you get to TOTALLY be a dancer as your profession! Take that Alvin Ailey.

As if.

While I’d totally suggest to any woman out there to hit the pole when times get tough, there are other job options when times get tough, and there not all just for women. Men are feeling the brunt of the storm too. Right now, it really is hard out here for a pimp. Which brings me to number one.

1) Prostitute

Most women claim to love sex anyway, might as well get paid for it. And not with fancy dinners to Olive Garden, either. Of course, you might have to pay a cut to some guy with a perm, a pinky ring, and really long fingernails, but every job has its issues. Though I can’t lie, having a boss named Sweet Curly Gloom Hand Jones might make me rethink that whole hoin’ thing. Luckily, I got one hangin’ and two swangin’.

2) Customer Service Representative

Preferably for Verizon or some other such f*ckery of a company. While I realize that most people loathe customer service, there is no better job security right now. With nearly everything going digital, people are prone to have issues. There’s ALWAYS a job available because in effect, people don’t know how to properly plug sh*t in. Of course, you’ll have to move to India or Kazakhstan and name yourself “Bobby” or “Mary” but whatever, it’s for the kids.

3) Funeral Home employee or director

When times get tough, people start kickin’ off faster than three Brazilians with a ball and an open field. Much like taxes, death is the only other guarantee in life. Even crappy funeral homes get business because wheredeydodatat? Crappy parts of town. Of course, the “I see dead people” joke probably gets old 2 seconds after you start working there but you get to totally lay in caskets and pretend to be a vampire. Rar.

4) Bartender

This one is surprising because people tend to drink less, well, less expensively during an economic downtime, however, if you’re the bartender and your life is sucking, you’ve got all the liquor you need at your own disposal to drink away the pain. You might get fired for drinking on the job, but hell, you could always go strip.

5) Pedi – cab operator in NYC

If you live in Boise this is probably not an option, but these cats ALWAYS have customers. It’s probably because there are a lot of sadists out there who get some kind of sick pleasure out of making some guy work his heart out for 10 bucks and 2 blocks. Of course, if you do take this kind of job you’re probably a bit masochistic anyway so its a perfect match since S & M go together like Rihanna and eye jammies.

Those are a few suggestions. Good workers of VSB, have you any occupational suggestions for our economically strapped community members?

Put it on the glass.