“Searching, searching. I just wanted to dance…”
The art of making love…is definitely an abstract art. What stimulates and pleases you may differ from my personal desires, but one thing we can come to a consensus on is that good and great love making music definitely accentuates the affair. Even I, wordsmith extraordinaire, cannot accurately word the feeling that good love making music brings to love making. Youngn’s, I can’t call it. Most of the music I hear today in the R&B department is underwhelming, to say the extreme least. There are some good artists out there who make good love making music, but they have subjected themselves to a format that forces them to be overly sexual and even explicit. I fux with Jodeci and Robert Kelly since back when, as most of all us do, but their sons and grandsons have largely failed to accurately mirror that same classy yet raunchy grandeur that made their music accepted, loved, and even tasteful (different strokes for different folks). Most just make tasteless, corny, contrived material that sounds ridiculous. But once upon a time, good love making music was superfluous; it was a staple of an R&B artist. The list of greats goes on and on, but my subject of discussion tonight is the great, late Luther Vandross.
Born in the greatest city on earth, Luther sang background vocals for heavy hitters as well as commercial jingles as a young adult. He served first as president of Patti LaBelle’s fan club, then as a backup singer. Legend has it that it was Patti who pushed a young Luther out of the nest; she foresaw his eminent greatness. In 1980, he joined a pop-dance group named Change, assembled by businessman/producer Jacques Fred Petrus. His voice exploded onto the music scene with the group’s second single, “Searching” (shouts to my brogod @melvvillain for the motivation for this blog), a medley which still amazes me to this very day. For me, it’s the exuberance in Luther’s voice that does it. It’s just like the first time I heard Mary J. sing “You Remind Me.” It’s that eager young happiness, that “I’m here” spirit that makes you take notice. You know at that exact moment that you first hear it that it’s a game changer. That’s what Luther’s voice brought to the R&B world. After another great single in “Glow of Love,” Luther decided to part ways with Petrus and Change, seeking a just pay day. He signed with Epic Records and released his debut album, “Never Too Much” (my personal favorite project outside the Best of… double disk), and the rest is history. He dropped the title track along with the oft forgotten gem “Don’t You Know That?” and one of his signature covers, the iconic “A House Is Not a Home.” These three singles are examples of what endeared Luther to us: the feel good party/cookout anthem, the A-1 contemporary radio love song, and the domineering power ballad. From there Luther’s star continued to ascend into the strata, with songs like “If This World Were Mine,” “Any Love,” “Bad Boy/Having a Party,” “Promise Me,” “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me,” “So Amazing,” and “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” to name a few. Then, in 1989 (mid-career), he dropped a compilation album titled The Best of Luther Vandross…The Best of Love, a menagerie of greatest hits up to that point. The compilation included a new track titled “Here and Now,” which immediately became a fixture in weddings of diverse cultures. This was the start of several Grammy Awards that reached an apex in 2003 when his album “Dance With My Father” basically took every R&B Grammy on the books that year, including best R&B song and album for the title track and LP. Sadly, we lost Luther on 7.1.05, months after a stroke that abruptly and effectively ended his career.
Almost every Black child my age was raised on Luther; many Black children born five to ten years after me were likely conceived to “Loofa’s” music. To me, there are a handful of male voices in the history of R&B music that immediately claim your attention when their music is played: Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonderful (my favorite in any genre), Donny Hathaway, and Luther. These men have the ability to stop you in mid-sentence, mid-step, no matter where you are or what you’re going through at that particular moment you hear one of their classics. What made Luther so special, to me, is how he dominated the ‘80s. Marvin passed in ’84; hip hop in NYC had already begun to dominate Black culture. The ‘80s was a hustle decade, yet Luther managed to forge his own niche in Black music. So many of my good childhood memories have a Luther track playing somewhere in the background, because he was always being played in my household. And who will ever forget “Bad Boy/Having a Party” as the open to the Black classic film House Party? None of us will. I’d like to thank the Vvillain once more for the motivation for this blog, as well as my mommy Shareon for introducing me to the dominant voice of my lifetime. That’s all for now, folks. Catch me on the blocks, either the 4th Ward of Englewood or those 100Blocks of Harlem and the X.
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Thursday Night Retro
Once upon a time, Thursday nights in Black America went “Martin” at 8:00, “Living Single” at 8:30 and “New York Undercover” at 9:00. Once upon a time in Black America was the mid ‘90s, my high school era, the era of Nas, the BIG Fella, the Tribe, Wu, Buckshot & BCC, Mary J., Snoop & Death Row, Boyz II Men, Mariah, Toni Braxton…you get the point. New York City was still New York City. WTC stood tall, even after a mostly unsuccessful though fatal terrorist attack (people tend to forget the first terrorist attack at World Trade Center). Most of the terror came from domestic hands (Waco, Ruby Ridge, the OKC Federal Building bombing, the Unabomber, and Atlanta Olympic park bombing). The catch phrases were “Represent” and “Keep It Real,” and your word was still your bond. If you talked it, you had to live it. The FED and individual states were still giving stupid amounts of time away for drug cases. Bill Clinton had the country flowing along real smooth like. Beepers were the chief form of mobile communication, and reefa was chocolate, skunk, chunky black, Cambodia, red haired sess, and a bunch of other names I’ve long forgotten. Whether you were in the projects in East Harlem or a private house in South Boston, Virginia, the vibe in Black America was pretty much the same. And it all congregated at a single location on Thursday nights.
FOX-TV has always been the quintessential avant-garde television station (excluding news), but it hit its apex in Black America in the mid ‘90s. In both my unbiased and biased opinion, “Martin” is the greatest sitcom in television history, with the slight nod over “Seinfeld,” “The Cosby Show,” and a few others. I objectively feel it is the best comedy ever, but it’s also my favorite show of all time, so I’m both unbiased and biased simultaneously. We all know Martin Lawrence is a genius, but what he and his camp put together for that five year run (minus the end when he and Tisha were feuding) has no parallel in the history of television. The comedy was fresh, urban, and hip hop. He made episodes that dealt with #RNS (real nigga shit), like ordering the fight and charging at the door, spending a whole damn day at the DMV, a Player of the Year Contest, and countless others that are a part of our culture forevermore. Damn it, he even fought the legendary Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in the ring. He personally transformed Flip Wilson’s Geraldine concept and adapted it to the times, making himself Sheneneh, a take no shit, slick talking ‘round the way girl with a good soul, as well as other unforgettable characters like the surly “Perfect Weapon” security guard Ole Otis, foul-mouthed, snotty nosed juvenile Roscoe, Blaxploitation movie legend King Beefy, inept martial arts instructor Dragonfly Jones, and the indelible Jerome, a self-professed player from the Himalayas. I could go on and on, but “Martin” is on television every day. If you don’t already know, you can see for yourself.
“Living Single” was more than just an excellent television show; it was an inspiration to women of color across the globe. Set in New York City, there were three young professional black women under one roof with a fourth who was always around. There was the media queen, the lawyer, the Diva, and the adorable comedic foil. Throw in two quirky male neighbors and you had a fresh view of New Jack Black America from a ‘90s perspective, chemistry on 100%. Much like “Martin,” the format of the show and the time period allowed for a plethora of guest stars which time stamped the period in popular culture. “Living Single,” again much like “Martin,” was an inspirational breath of fresh air. None of the ladies were promiscuous, none were on the “begging and pleading line,” and they were all educated. I’d say it was an accurate assessment of the state of Black women in America at the time, and an indelible piece of Black Americana.
9:00 on Thursday nights back when was the unquestioned showstopper, as “New York Undercover” graced our television screen. We had a first in television history: a duo of ethnic police set in midst primetime. There was the brother, Detective Williams, and the Boricua, Detective Torres, whose playground was uptown NYC (often East Harlem, home base for my family for 40 years). They were a complete shift from the image of the tight-assed, uniformed police or suit, tie, and fedora donned detective seen on television before. Their “covers” allowed them to be draped in the popular urban wear of the day (Tommy Hilfiger, Girbaud, Timberland, etc.). There was also a pretty but tough as nails female Boricua co-worker and a Caucasian, no nonsense female Lieutenant. Their hip hop musical scores (popular east coast rap music of the period) exploded onto the cold intros of each episode and were superfluous throughout. Popular and legendary R&B musical acts graced each episode via a fictitious night club named “Nathalie’s,” hangout for the detectives and their co-workers. The detectives dealt with issues not only pertinent to uptown NYC, but urban America as a whole at the time. Sadly, a bitter contract dispute between stars Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo and the purse holders at FOX coupled with a decision by show execs to drastically shift the format of the show from ultra-urban to a mainstream feel permanently crippled the show, with the last couple of seasons being largely forgotten outside of syndication. Nevertheless, those first couple seasons left an indelible mark on urban culture that is still celebrated to the day; no other show since has even come close to its impact and legacy.
FOX television’s Thursday night lineup was indicative of the time period of the ‘90s in which hip hop and rap music had evolved from being the bastards of American culture to the celebrated Cinderella, as Madison Avenue and Hollywood both realized the power of the urban dollar. As soon as white kids adopted hip hop in large amounts, the powers that be quickly began to pay attention. I’m not at all mad at that, this helped to take hip hop and rap to the top of the globe. For those of us who go back to its humble origins and/or early stages, we, as the late BIG Fella said, “Never thought that hip hop would take it this far.” The FOX Thursday night lineup from the mid ‘90s deserves its due respect for its contribution to this success. I’m just thankful I was around for the original run.
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A very interesting question was posed today on the Twitter. The question was, “Did baseball’s Jackie Robinson do more for Civil Rights than MLK?” (Big ups to the homie @iLetsPlayBall) I sat back for about a minute in real time to ponder the question, and then I replied, “Yes & no. Jackie was a precursor to MLK. 2 doesn’t happen w/o 1. W/o Jackie there’s no Brown vs. BOE, no nothing. (BOE is the Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, which will be further addressed later in the blog) I then waited to see other responses. The two I saw were in complete contrast to mine. The homie shortly thereafter RT and Favorite my response, then tweeted me with his appreciation for me being the only one of the respondents to look at it objectively and rationally. I truly appreciated that. Anyone who knows me can attest that I attribute my “50/50, Straight Up & Down” mentality to my formal education in all aspects of Journalism and our only objective being to present news in a straightforward, objective manner. That overflows into the way I view life. So, I’m asking those who’ve already damn near had a heart attack over the mere thought of this topic to bear with me. To my faithful, love you much; you already know my format. Buckle up.
With today being 4.15.2014, 67 years ago to the day that Mr. Jackie broke the color barrier in professional sports, this question was obviously pertinent and relevant. My homie heard the question on ESPN Radio and figured he’d ask the Twitter world. Like I said, the responses weren’t at all favorable. With respect to those persons’ rights to opinion, I do feel that Mr. Jackie having done more for Civil Rights than MLK is at the very least a plausible topic of discussion. We as black people (deservedly so) have placed Dr. King on a plateau that no single black person could ever ascend to. Not even Michael Jackson/Jordan, Ali, Oprah, or President Obama. We know that MLK literally gave his life for the cause. We know. But, have you ever taken the time to fully consider Mr. Jackie’s contribution to us, black white, and all? Mr. Jackie desegregated AMERICA’S pastime, a game that has existed for well over a century and has even been played through two world wars. Baseball was the white man’s pride and joy, and unwilling to open the door to Blacks and Hispanics for as long as it saw fit. Jackie was hand-picked by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers to do what had never been done. Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige were flat out better players, but not the best fit for various reasons. Mr. Jackie, in Rickey’s eyes, was the ideal candidate. Rickey had confidence and Jackie’s word that he would endure everything that came his way without retaliation, the only way to make his story a success and open the door for more great players of color so they too could get their opportunity to live the ultimate dream. That alone is the ultimate test: to not fight back even though you’re more than sure you’d win, because your win would be tantamount to loss. If Jackie couldn’t have kept his cool, he wouldn’t have made it in the Big Leagues, and the time before the next brother got a shot likely would’ve been well in the future. Everything rode on Mr. Jackie’s ability to get his Gandhi on, to just stay on his Exodus 14:14 and play his game. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt. Marvin wasn’t even old enough yet to sing “Makes Me Wanna Holler”. But Mr. Jackie did, and he did it alone. Let’s not forget that. How many of us know how it feels to be the ONLY Black man in a controlled setting/environment? I don’t care how cool you are, that shit gets OD awkward at times, unless you’re some type of Wayne Brady or something. And that’s in today’s time, when we and white folk and pretty much all of us under the rainbow get along from day to day. Imagine how it was for Mr. Jackie initially, when he didn’t even have teammates who showed love (they would eventually). He was ALL alone; just himself, his thoughts, and the game. Mind you, he couldn’t stay in the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as his teammates initially, either. That’s the hard knock life. But he did it for all of us. He had his eyes on the prize. Just like Dr. King. And no, Mr. Jackie was not assassinated, but he did die relatively young. He was only 53.The massive amount of stress he endured almost certainly contributed to his diabetes and heart disease. He gave everything he had.
Jackie’s arrival to MLB in 1947 predated the Civil Rights Act by 17 years, predated Sis. Rosa Parks arrest by eight years, and the Brown v. Board of Education decision by seven years. All of these events were integral parts of the movement. But Mr. Jackie started it all. Like so many others, he gave the best of himself so we would be able to freely exercise rights such as speaking freely about this as we are right now. So, in conclusion, I stick by my initial tweet reply of yes and no. I truly don’t feel you can have Dr. King without Mr. Jackie, and without Dr. King, we wouldn’t have had anyone as vocal to carry the torch Mr. Jackie lit. Praise both these men, eternally. God bless them both and God bless the game of baseball.
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“I trust me.” Wiser words have yet to be uttered. At the end of the day ultimate and complete trust must be attained of one’s self in order to reach the desired goal. You can’t be expected to trust anyone if you can’t trust yourself. What if you sit back and evaluated the direction you were about to choose before you decided to go that route? Look at it as if it were somebody else’s dream and they were trying to get you onboard, would you buy what they were selling? I think that’s what “I trust me” boils down to in the modern world; the world where the lowly barkeep can become one of the richest men in America. Do your research, stranger things have happened.
Speaking of stranger things has anyone else been keeping up with “The Following”? That show is getting kind of serious, I love that it’s on Fox; a network that will allow it to pursue its artistic integrity and not have to compromise the quality of the show for the sake of being on basic cable. I just hope that people are mature enough to understand that it is just a show, you know there are folk out in the world that look at television as a blueprint for life. I don’t want to see any breaking news reports about a person/ group of people that decided to wild out on the subway, even though I’m sure a genuine New Yorker would not allow him or herself to be the second, let alone the fourth or sixth, person to be stabbed in some cult’s vile stunt. Hopefully it won’t get that extreme. I wouldn’t be surprised either way to be completely honest with you.
Back to the issue of trust. Every now and then one must drink a dose of their own Kool-Aid, per say. When feeling down you must not relent, the battle is never won from the ditch, only from the frontlines where the blood, sweat, and tears are the most prevalent. If you say something subliminally backwards, do you have to say it contextually backwards as well?
Don’t worry I’m not going to go on a tangent tonight with how hard you have to work and how much you have to believe in yourself. That’s a sermon from another pastor at another time. And I’m not even going to elaborate on that subliminally backwards question. I’ll let you ponder on that. As always, all comments are welcomed and appreciated, be sure to check our apparel out. It’s getting warm outside time to alacarte some unBearables to go with those sneakers you’re plotting on. Be sure to follow us on twitter @crewunB as well as our Bloggers @tymonday and @themisterceizzo & check us out on instagram Theunbearablescrew #beunBearable.
If you fight to the death, what’s left to fight? Ponder that.
Much love to all my folk in South Boston, VA, including my mother Shareon and my step pops Sam. Love y’all. When they give me my Pulitzer (it’s coming), I’m taking it to 307 Nottingham Drive. That’s for moms.
Just let the pain out (Troy Ave. voice)…
I thank the Lord for my family every day, as I’m certain you all do with your respective families. Sly said it best himself, “Blood is thicker than mud.” Personally, I ride and die for mine no matter what. You touch one of mine, you already know the MF rest. We police ourselves no matter what, and we never put our business out in the streets. All beefs are settled in-house; we don’t need any judge or arbitrator. One thing is for damn certain; keep our names out your mouth. Don’t ever speak on shit with regards to my family because even if you’re looking through the window, you are still outside. You are an outsider who can’t hear anything that is said. Your nosy peering into our lives can never tell the complete story because you aren’t equipped with the dialogue or its context. Again, I’m certain that all of you beautiful people reading my lil blog right now feel the same way, agreed? Agreed. But I’d like to take this conversation in a bit of a different direction, being as though we are all on the same page, same line, and all. We’re gonna stick with the family motif, but we now are gon address a different reality pertaining to family, especially black families. For all my White, Hispanic, Asian, and indigenous African folk who read my blogs (thank you so much, by the way), this may pertain to you as well. I don’t want to exclude you all, but my focus is on my folk, those of us who are black on both sides. If you can relate, that’s even better because at the end of the day, a person is a person. But this is something that I’ve seen all too often in black households, being that I’ve been around colored folk my entire life. So, with no further “to do,” let’s get it. Buckle up. You know the rules.
I’d like to begin this train of thought with the following statement: there is so much pain in black families and households. That sounds pretty rudimentary, I know. I suppose it is at the end of the day. Most people immediately think about our higher than normal rates of incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, and disease of diverse causes. Sure, they are factors in the equation. They play a huge role. But even greater than that, in my highly qualified opinion, is our perennial need to remain silent about our issues. What I’m getting at is the way we are so prone to keep quiet about things within the household, the way we seem to have blind eyes to serious matters within the household. I know personally that in my era, children were to be seen and rarely, if ever, to be heard. You had no opinion; one was given to you when necessary. That was just the custom. But what did that lead to, often time? That led to so many children remaining quiet through sexual and physical abuse from family members and trusted adults in their lives. They remained quiet because that’s all they were ever taught. Meanwhile, evil people were allowed to continue with unspeakable acts of fuckery whose lingering effects have damaged lives, families, and communities all over. If children back when were just given the opportunity to express their feelings, to speak freely (albeit respectfully) without feeling fear or shame in speaking on misdeeds they suffered, I’m certain so many horrible persons would have been put away and wounds would have been allowed to mend so much faster. So many are scarred for life as a result of remaining silent on atrocities they were forced to endure. I’m certainly glad that, through all the new millennium “modern” bullshit we face today, children are on a large scale not only allowed to speak their minds, but encouraged to do so. I’m certain that many acts of abuse have been preempted because children have spoken up. That’s a great thing. Y’all know me. It’s all about our youth, our future. Each one teach one. Never make your child, student, relative, etc. think it’s not okay to sit with you and express whatever is on their mind. That also helps to cut suicide off at the pass. That’s all some people need to know; that they will be heard and embraced.
I’m also not at all big on our tendency as black folk to remain hush-hush on calamities that have occurred within our households, all because we don’t want our business in the streets. Sure, we want to keep our business in-house, but not if failure to speak on it to proper outlets harms one of us in the house. Families have been reluctant to bring justice to people who have done certain family members wrong out of fear that if news of the act is relayed to the community, the community subsequently will look at them a certain way, that the situation will bring shame to the household and family. Meanwhile, the family member, who has been victimized, continues to slide down a slippery slope to his or her demise because he or she has had to suppress everything as if it never happened. The mind has its own system of Volume and water displacement. If our pool of thoughts is bombarded with enough mass it will eventually overflow. You may not be able to clean up or repair the damage afterward. And oh yeah, stop being ultra-ignorant black folk with regard to mental health. There’s nothing wrong with consulting a psychiatrist or psychologist. If you break a bone, you go to a doctor to mend it, right? The same holds true with the mind. Earl Simmons said it best, “The mind is so fragile.” Y’all go on ‘head and chew on that. I’m through, mane (Sly voice). 100.
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MNF (Monday Night Finesse)
There’s something about the horns on Roy Ayer’s “The Third Eye” that truly mesmerizes me. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mr. Ayers is a master of the vibraphone, a percussion instrument that (to me) sounds just like a xylophone. With his masterpieces, it’s usually the vibraphone that takes me to another galaxy. But the trumpet is actually played by a young Charles Tolliver. Or maybe it’s just Roy’s soulful ‘70s vibe and its continued endurance in popular rhythm and blues music. Mary J. herself scored one of her most beloved works of art (“My Life,” the title track of her classic album) to Roy’s legendary “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” and even featured Roy himself on the track “Searching,” a song titled after his own masterpiece of the same name, on her Share My World LP. Back in my time, a group named Ed O.G. and the Bulldogs used the well-known saxophone sample from the same track as the background music to the hook for their “Be a Father to Your Child.” But back to Tolliver’s trumpet on “Third Eye.” For me, there are times when music manages to transcend anything we previously thought we knew or felt. At that point, what we hear is more than just music; it’s our very life force, like oxygen or water. Personal examples for me include Marvin Gaye’s polar icecap melting mastery of soulfully intertwining main vocals and adlibs on the vocal version of “After the Dance,” Kurt Cobain’s wonderfully haunting guitar solo on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the best video EVER, ANY GENRE & single most defining song of my culture after Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”), Nas’ cinematic stark reality on the third verse of “One Love,” Earth Wind and Fire’s indelible “ah” crescendo at the end of “Can’t Hide Love” (y’all gotta feel me), and Mary’s ultra-soulful and passionate pleading thru her repetition of the hook during the heart of “Mary’s Joint,” to name a few. But that trumpet after the vocals and vibraphone, Mr. Ayers…it, like those tracks I just mentioned as well as countless others I wasn’t able to name on this blog, takes me places that no automobile, train, or airplane could ever take me. It takes me deep within my very own mind and soul, often to places and events that could never be replicated or duplicated, except in my mind. When I hear that trumpet, I go there. Ola Mae and Neil (my grandparents Thompson) are still living, playing that very record in 17A on 1500 Noble Avenue in the X. Friday night in my crib on 207th and Post Avenue uptown was a slice of pizza, Kool-Aid, and cable in the back bedroom while my folk partied all night long out front. MTA turnstiles were wooden and rotated like helicopter blades and moved by $1.00 tokens with a hollow middle…and I was inhaling everything…just me…hey, young world. Those were days of innocence. Shortly thereafter innocence was forever taken away. I wish I could properly express through words how I miss those days from time to time. To me, that’s what getting older is all about. It’s the realization that some of the best times you’ll ever experience in this precious lifetime are way in the rear view of your life’s mirror. At times you can capture tiny glimpses, but for the most part they are an eternity away. The crazy part about that part of life is that, just like O.C. said on “Born to Live,” “…It didn’t seem important or serious, it just seemed curious. It was about, waking to a bowl of cereal. Cartoons on Saturday, karate flicks and like…” We have no idea that the formative era of life is often what we retreat to when the stark reality of life as an adult affects us in various ways. For some reason, we go back to those “stolen moments” for a certain good feeling or a temporary refuge from the ills that often occupy our adult minds. God bless the kids of every race and culture. They are our future. Those same thoughts we had back when they are thinking right now. Let’s just pray that these memories that are being created for them aren’t transformed into nightmares, that their innocence isn’t stripped from them too soon. They deserve better. They don’t deserve to grow up bitter like so many of us (self-included) because their childhoods were taken from them while they were still trying to figure things out. That, to me, is a heinous crime. The kids are our most precious resource. We have to return to the standards that existed in previous times. We owe it to them, all of us. A great lady by the name of Elizabeth “Liz” Dennis told me to pay it forward. That’s been one of my daily goals every day since being blessed with that jewel a decade ago. Like I said on the last blog, I’m not here to preach, #ijs. Y’all be cool how y’all be cool. By the way: I turned out pretty ok, I guess. All that credit belongs to God himself.
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