Why hip hop needs a voice on Zimmerman verdict

[Originally published in thegrio.com]

Since George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin, the reaction within the hip-hop community has ranged from long-winded Twitter rants to total silence.

While rappers like Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique and Phonte have been vocal about the verdict and what it says about the value of black life in this society, far too many high-profile stars have said nothing.

Kanye West, for example, positioned himself as a new age revolutionary on Yeezus, but his revolutionary spirit seems to have disappeared since he stepped out of the booth; his last tweet as of this writing was a link to a GQ article about his new creative direction.

Jay-Z recently took to Twitter to connect with fans as a promotional stunt for Magna Carta Holy Grail, but we haven’t heard a peep from him about arguably the most important court decision of our generation.

Continue reading “Why hip hop needs a voice on Zimmerman verdict”

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More to Molly than meets the eye: A look at rap’s latest drug trend

Move aside Mary Jane, and make way for Molly.

Once associated primarily with weed, hip hop has cozied up to a party drug with a cute name, a mysterious identity and a potentially lethal set of side effects.

Artists such as Kanye West, Juicy J and Trinidad James have all name-dropped Molly, and Rick Ross’ Molly-laced date rape lyrics (“Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”) caused an uproar and got the rotund rapper dropped from Reebok.

Some emcees have dedicated whole songs to rap’s new designer drug — take, for example, Tyga’s “Molly,” which has racked up over 7 million views on YouTube and features Tyga-as-cyborg rapping “I show up in that party like where the f*ck that Molly?” A robotic female voice chants “Molly” during the chorus, and Wiz Khalifa offers up more drug references during a guest verse — “Got champagne and we pourin it/she poppin it and she snortin it” — while images of pills flash onscreen… Continue reading at RapRehab.com.

Stevie Nicks steps onstage and back in time on new tour

[Originally published in the Boston Herald in June of 2007.]

Some stars reflect on past mistakes and claim they wouldn’t change a thing. Not Stevie Nicks.

The rock goddess, who plays the Tweeter Center tomorrow with Chris Isaak, may weave layers of ambiguity through her songs, but she’s straightforward about her desire to erase almost two decades of drug abuse.

Nicks battled a cocaine habit from 1977 to 1986, and almost immediately after, an eight-year addiction to the tranquilizer Klonopin.

“I would absolutely do it differently,” Nicks said from a tour stop in New York City. “Cocaine almost ruined my life. And if I hadn’t done Klonopin, I would have made two or three more fantastic albums. I lost most of my 40s to Klonopin and that really makes me mad, because your 40s are great. Maybe that’s why I see through 40-year-old eyes, because I lost my 40s, so I’m trying to get a little of my 40s back.”

If Nicks is making up for lost time, she’s doing it in style. For her Crystal Visions Tour, the singer/songwriter has a girly new wardrobe that helps her slip into the persona of an ageless rock star even as she creeps toward 60.

Continue reading “Stevie Nicks steps onstage and back in time on new tour”

Bigger than Rick Ross: Hip-hop has to take responsibility for its objectification of women

[Originally published on thegrio.com]

Rick Ross has rightfully caught flak for lyrics that allude to date rape on the song “U.O.E.N.O. (You Ain’t Even Know It),” a track from Atlanta rapper Rocko which also features up-and-coming artist Future.

Amid talk of having “a hundred rounds in this AR” and “a bag of b*tches,” Ross raps: “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it,” offering up a virtual instruction manual for how to drug and rape a woman.

The lyrics have prompted a justified backlash on multiple fronts. Petitions have been launched on RapRehab.com and Change.org denouncing Ross’ lyrics and calling for the music industry to take greater responsibility for the content it promotes.

Another petition demands that sneaker and fitness apparel giant Reebok drop Rick Ross as a spokesman.

Continue reading “Bigger than Rick Ross: Hip-hop has to take responsibility for its objectification of women”

Lil Wayne, sizzurp and rap’s drug problem

Lil Wayne

Syrup. Sizzurp. Lean. Purple drank. Texas tea. Whatever it’s called, the recreational drug made popular in Southern circles is now making headlines with the recent hospitalization of rap superstar Lil Wayne.

Weezy, who is reportedly “recovering” after suffering multiple seizures, is a self-proclaimed sizzurp fiend who has alluded to his penchant for purple in numerous songs. In 2008, he told MTV News that quitting the drink — which typically includes soda, Jolly Ranchers and prescription-strength cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine — “feels like death in your stomach when you stop. Everybody wants me to stop … It ain’t that easy.”

Wayne’s hospitalization has thrust sizzurp into the spotlight, but the drink has been creeping into the mainstream since it originated in Houston, Texas, as a companion to the “chopped and screwed” subculture invented by DJ Screw in the early ’90s…continue reading at RapRehab.com.

Justin Timberlake and the disappearance of black R&B artists

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake is everywhere. Or at least he seems to be.

The actor and pop/R&B phenom recently hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the fifth time — a historic event that drew appearances from comedic heavyweights like Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase — and followed that up by co-hosting “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” for a series of consecutive nights dubbed “Timberweek.”

In February, he was named the creative director of Bud Light Platinum, and a slick new commercial for the beer features the crooner performing his comeback single “Suit and Tie,” which he also performed at the Grammy Awards alongside rap mogul Jay-Z. This summer, JT and JZ will embark on a joint stadium tour that stops in 12 cities. 

And this week, Timberlake drops his much-hyped third album “The 20/20 Experience,” which follows up his 2006 multi-platinum masterpiece “FutureSex/LoveSounds.”

With the barrage of well-timed advertisements, performances and hosting duties, the superstar’s return to music after a seven-year hiatus feels like a pop culture tidal wave. And the excitement is — ahem — justified, because his genre-bending brand of R&B fills a massive void left by artists like Rihanna, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo and Usher. All of them launched their careers in R&B to one degree or another, and all of them have since switched to a dance-pop sound that inspires fist-pumping sessions and dominates club dance floors, but leaves little in the way of lasting impact.

Continue reading “Justin Timberlake and the disappearance of black R&B artists”

I tried calling my mother last month

I tried calling my mother last month. I sat in the press box at Gillette Stadium before the Patriots-Texans playoff game, eating lunch at a table with two other journalists and vaguely listening to their conversation about a failed relationship. And I thought of my mom.

I wondered if I still had her number in my phone, scrolled through my contacts and found that I did. I wondered what would happen if I called her. Would I hear her voice again in that message where she always sounded so awkward and uncomfortable? Would a robot tell me this number was not in service anymore? Would the line simply go dead?

My mother’s been dead for over two years now. I dialed her number and the phone rang.

Continue reading “I tried calling my mother last month”

Hip hop reality check: A brief manifesto on Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and betrayal

Hip hop fans, let’s be clear about a few things.

Wiz Khalifa can’t rap for shxt.

Rick Ross is an impostor whose fabricated identity is based on betraying his own people.

And 2 Chainz has little to offer besides swag and stereotypes.

And no, this is not hate, this is the informed opinion of a hip hop junkie who has watched the art form devolve from a beautiful display of skill and innovation, an outlet for a wide array of black perspectives, a voice for a community that previously had none, to a collection of negative stereotypes that send destructive messages about who we are and what we should be as black people. Continue reading “Hip hop reality check: A brief manifesto on Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and betrayal”

When is it acceptable to use the n-word?

[Originally published in the Bay State Banner.]

It was the tweet heard ‘round the world — at least the portion of the world that pays attention to Twitter.

One weekend in early June, actress Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted a picture while onstage at Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” concert in Paris, with the caption “Ni**as in paris for real” (the asterisks are Paltrow’s).

It was a reference to the rap duo’s wildly popular song, “Ni**as in Paris.” And naturally, chaos ensued.

Continue reading “When is it acceptable to use the n-word?”