Monday, April 30, 2007


Charles Burnett is an extraordinary filmmaker. I was first introduced to his work via, "To Sleep With Anger" which is one of my all-time favorite flicks. I've also had the pleasure of viewing Burnett's critically acclaimed and award-winning "Killer of Sheep." As a matter of fact, if I might be permitted to brag, I personally helped bring that movie to Memphis in the early 90's . . . but more on that in a moment (smile).

"Killer of Sheep" was Burnett's graduate student thesis film at UCLA. The film, which casts a harsh spotlight on life in Watts during the early 70's, has been deemed a national treasure by the Library of Congress and the National Society of Film Critcs called it one of the 100 essential films of all time.

Unfortunately, due to legal problems with music rights and the film's poor print quality, "Killer of Sheep" was never seen by a wide audience. But all of that is about to change, thanks in part to Milestone Film & Video. Not only is the movie being released in theaters, but it will soon be availabe on DVD.

My personal connection? Back in the early 90's, I was asked to help organize a Black film festival for the Memphis & Shelby County Public Library System as part of the library's programming for Black History month. The festival was free and the movies were screened on a one-night only basis at the Circuit Playhouse. I am proud to say that Charles Burnett's "The Killer of Sheep" (1977) was the feature film I selected for the event and the turn-out exceeded expectations. The other two short films were "Illusions" (1983) by Julie Dash and "Hair Piece: A Film For Nappy-Headed People" (1985) by Ayoka Chenzira.

In case you're wondering, that last film "Hair Piece" is an animated flick and one that a lot of folks, Imus among them, could probably benefit from seeing right about now (LOL). Seriously though, I'm loving forward to seeing Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" again and I can only hope that the DVD will include commentary from the filmmaker.

If you're interested in seeing if "Killer of Sheep" is scheduled to appear at a theatre in your city (or one near you), this site contains a list of dates for screening locations and other information about the movie and its maker.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

THE DEATH OF HIP HOP . . . PART IV (A Few Graveside Remarks)

Just the other day, the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, led by Russell Simmons and Benjamin Chavis came out and urged the industry to ban the use of "nigga, bitch and ho" from all so-called clean versions of rap songs . . .

"Our discussions are about the corporate responsibility of the industry to voluntarily show respect to African Americans and other people of color, African American women and to all women in lyrics and images."

Ah . . . yeah . . . right . . .

I'm sort of inclined to agree with Joan Morgan, the author of "When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost." She said the recommendations were, "shortsighted at best and disingenuous at worst." Really, it does still sound very much like yet another royal passing of the buck. Cha-ching! I guess some of us still don't want to own up to being complicit in our own degradation . . . "Can I get a, What?! What?!" (smile) Yeah, I said it. Meant it too.

Even though Simmons and Chavis merely SUGGESTED that the industry VOLUNTARILY show a bit of respect toward the folks they ritualistically and habitually demean and malign and with such zeal, a lot of folks are outraged. They look at the REQUEST as a giant step toward CENSORSHIP and a violation of FREE-SPEECH. "If you don't like it, don't listen to it," they say. "If you don't want your children to hear it, turn off the radio. Do a better job of monitoring what your children buy and watch on TV." Yup, that's what they say, all right.

Hmm . . . Well, couldn't that very same logic have been applied to Imus? Or Richards? Or any other nutcase or fool who opens his mouth and barfs up hate? How come it's okay to wanna shut up and shut down folks, that aren't too many of US listening to anyway, but it's somehow NOT OKAY to ask the brother from around the way, the one who looks like you or who could very well be your son, sibling, uncle, nephew, cousin or spouse . . . how come it's not okay to POLITELY ask that brother to refrain from the constant use of the very same words?

How come we really think it's okay for us to wanna have it both ways? Hate speech is hate speech, isn't it? Or is SOME hate really more excusable . . . permissible . . . or perhaps, simply more lucrative than some other?

I think it's ironic, if not incredibly revealing how so many of the folks, who in the aftermath of Michael Richard's public moment of insanity were all too willing and eager to place a universal ban on the use of the word, "nigger" (and all of its colorful variations) are now suddenly incensed at the thought of not being able to hear or spew--when, where and however they might please--a constant barrage of bitches and ho's.

I bet Dave Chappelle could put together one heck of a funny skit behind that particular brand of madness. Can't you picture it? Some blinged out, platinum grilled rapper, who's got two scantily clad women on choke-collars and dog leashes, crawling around at his feet. And the rapper, let's call him, MC Ignant Azz, is crying, rubbing his eyes and pleading, JB-style to some faceless, cigar-smoking fat cat figure who's sitting behind a desk, "Please, please, please Mr. Big Man, Suh, I done already give you my boy, 'Nigga.' Why you wanna go and take my gals, 'Bitch and Ho?' Oh, Lawd, Mr. Big Man, Suh, please just let me have, 'Bitch and Ho!" How else is I suppose to make my bens and my ends meet?!" Hmm . . . it's kinda got a nice antebellum-like ring to it, don'tcha think? (LOL)

For the record, I don't believe in censorship. Snatching books out of schools, pulling records/cds off shelves and setting bonfires to material deemed offensive, all seem kind of Nazi-like to me. I would never advocate an outright ban on the use of any word . . . not nigga, not bitch, not ho. Should we ban the word, "Fire" just because some idiot thinks it's funny to scream it in a movie theatre? But then again, if some idiot does scream "fire" in a theatre where there is none, I don't mind at all in assisting in putting his behind out.

As I've stated elsewhere, for some of us, the issue was never about censorship, it was and is about RESPECT. Yeah, remember that song, and the line, "R.e.s.p.e.c.t. find out what it means to me," that Aretha made famous, way back when? Yes, as much as some of y'all ain't trying to hear it, along with the freedom of expression comes something called responsibility . . . responsibility towards one's self and one's community.

Anyway, back to our skit . . .

"Respect and responsibility? Oh, Lawd, No, Mr. Big Man, Suh, what is I'm ever gone find to rhyme with that?"

Finally, Mr. Big Man, Suh stands and speaks, "Well, MC Ignant Azz, I guess we both gone have to find us something else to exploit."

The two of them, Mr. Big Man, Suh and MC Ignant Azz bump fists and pat each other on the back before walking off side-by-side into the sunset.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

THE DEATH OF HIP HOP . . . PART III (Notes & Comments On The Hearse Ride To The Cemetery)

SIGH . . . The other night, I watched the 2nd half of Oprah's "After Imus: Now What?" town hall discussion. All I can do is shake my head. It truly saddens me to see & hear so many smart & talented Blk men speak & act as if they were in complete denial about a phenomenon that adversely affects so many of us.

For the most part, these men, all of whom are in positions of leadership, came across as a bunch of belligerent, whiney, 3 year-olds. Okay, here's a clue. When a grown azz Blk woman says, "Listening to rap artists call me and folks who look like me (be they nappy-headed or not) all kinds of bitches and ho's 24/7 is both insulting and demeaning," the proper response from a grown azz Blk man ought not be, "Uh-uh! No, it ain't! You're not the boss of me!" Sheeesh . . .

Russell Simmons. I don't know brother. I think you are a brilliant business man. I love what you're doing with Def Poetry. But the statement you made about Hip Hop doing more for race relations than the entire civil rights movement is A BIG, FAT LIE, plain and simple. If you actually believe that mess you are either sadly deluded, incredibly mis-educated or a mad man. Yeah, I said it. Meant it too.

Something tells me both Mr. Simmons and Kevin Liles, the entertainment executive who appeared on the show, have both bought into their own hype and now want us all to drink the Kool-Aid. Mr. Liles went into what can only be described as the Black male version of the neck-swerve when Stanley Crouch used the word "clown" in reference to the folks reponsible for the distribution and perpetuation of this demeaning garbage. The brother's near hysterics would have been comical were the situation not so sad.

No, Mr. Liles you're not a clown . . . you, sir, are the freaking RING-MASTER if you are sitting up behind a desk somewhere ALLOWING this crap to go on, as the one sister said, ON YOUR WATCH. And your little speech about going from intern to executive, I mean really, what is that? Another tired version of the "don't hate the player, hate the game" type of ignorance? Just so you know, for what it's worth, that's like telling folks you went from being a two-bit street corner pimp to running a brothel. And hey, that just might impress some of the simple-minded folk you obvioulsy run with, I don't know.

Common, I ain't mad at you bro. Matter of fact, I'm jamming "The Food" from your cd "Be" as I type this. I understand and appreciate your desire to elevate the "game" and represent another side of the discussion. Like I've stated before, censorship isn't a bandwagon I'm fixing to jump on for NOBODY. I appreciate both the beauty and power of words. And within the proper context, I don't object to the use of even the most vile of them. Now, when they're repeated hurled as weapons and they're used to hurt, malign and defame, that's another story.

So, Common, all I ask is that if you're going to continue to ride with those other clowns and fools, try to steer them away from the gutter and the drainage ditches. And for heaven's sake, if you see that those jokers are about to ride off a cliff or down some other street of no return, step off and tell 'em "later." Keep in mind, "thug solidarity" is what killed Tupac. Ain't no need of you going out like that. And oh, for the record, a lot of sisters, elders and quite a few brothers too have been trying to critique y'all in a spirit of love, but the knuckle-heads and puppet-masters in your crew ain't been trying to hear it. So, now we got to go summon up the ghosts of John Henry, Harriet Tubman and 'Nem and come back at 'em with the Hammer.

So, if nothing else, try to stay true to your own verses Common. Like you say in Chi-City" ... "it's a war going on . . . you can't fake being a soldier" and what's that you and Kanye say in "The Food" . . . "I know I . . . I could make it right, if I could just swallow my pride . . ." That's right C, keep "writing FREEDOM songs for the Real People."

Ben Chavis. I'm disappointed. But then again, maybe I ought not be. Didn't he get run out of the NAACP for improprieties with women? I'd hate to think this was yet another case of the Blind, trying to lead the Blind. But when you KNOW BETTER, aren't you supposed to DO BETTER? Yeah, I guess that's just another one of those things I learned back in the day that folks obvioulsy don't believe in any more.

Henry Louis Gates? Wait, wasn't he one of the chief defenders of the misogynistic filth being spewed by the likes of 2 Live Crew back in the early 90's? Please. With all due respect, he's a part of the problem. An academic hustle, is a hustle, none-the-less.

The only brother who really represented and came correct on Oprah's show yesterday was the attorney, Londell McMillan, the young man who said he'd represented a lot of the rap artists from Lil Kim to Kanye West and all those folks in-between. Big Ups to this brother for his poise, his leadership and his clarity.

Mr. McMillan said there were a lot of responsible parties who needed to be called to the table and held accountable for the misogyny and demeaning imagery in Hip Hop, among them the rappers themselves, producers, label heads, artistic development folks, consumers and radio stations. He dismissed this "oh, but they're poverty stricken and don't know any better" line of bull Simmons and Liles were trying to pitch. Like we don't know some of the worst of these fools come from middle class backgrounds . . .

Anyway, Mr. McMillan mentioned how some artists feel boxed in, obliged and are often aggressively encouraged to go the whole, "nigga, bitch, ho" route in their music. What's that I hear? The resounding echo of a "Whoop, There It Is!" Tell 'em 'bout it LM. In the Good Old USA, money is always the bottom-line. ain't it? The entertainment industry heads have latched onto this whack-azz formula and as long as it's fattening their wallets, they're not about to let it go without a fight.

Mr. Simmons, Mr. Liles and Mr. Chavis . . . it's not about hating Hip Hop. A lot of us love Hip Hop, we're just ready for all the blood-letting, name-calling, half-naked boot-shaking, stripper club behavior, pimping and thuggery to be over and done with. We're just tired of all the lame azz excuses and historically incorrect rationales for why it's okay for Blk men to call Blk women out of their names.

We're just tired of mourning what really and truly could have been a beautiful thing had not a bunch of greedy, opportunistic hustlers been allowed to muck it up. HELL, We're Just Tired . . . SIGH . . .

Sunday, April 15, 2007

THE DEATH OF HIP HOP . . . PART II (Musical Selections) . . .

For Part I (The Eulogy) see previous post

Before any final, closing remarks, I have several musical selections I'd like to propose for The OSM's Hip Hop Home-Going. I mean really, what's a funeral without music, right?

Anyway, for the opening selection I suggest a duet, let's say, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You."

Perhaps we could follow that with a solo by India Aire. Oh yeah, you know it's got to be "I Am Not My Hair."

Then perhaps we ought to throw in something by the heavily sampled Godfather of Soul. I'm thinking JB's, "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)."

Well, before the last viewing of the body, how 'bout we turn the party out with some of Heavy D & The Boyz' "Nuttin' But Love."

Then to end on a proper note, I'm think we oughta totally flip the script and do something more traditional. I'd dare say, The Wynton Marsalis' Septet's "Recessional" (from "In This House, On This Morning") would be most approriate for our final hymn.

Would do you think? I mean, beside the fact that I'm tripping (smile). Do you like my choices or would you have opted for something different? Feel free to share your suggestions and comments . . . just remember to keep them brief because we've got to hurry up and bury this bad boy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

THE DEATH OF HIP-HOP . . . PART I (The Eulogy)

The ball park is not my favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon. But thanks to my son's interest in baseball, that's exactly where I found myself several Sundays ago. The unseasonable nip in the air had me sitting in the car with the Sunday paper rather than somewhere out on a bleacher feigning interest in the action on the field. Of course, had it been something other than a practice, I would have most certainly been out there shivering and cheering alongside all of the other little league parents. . .

So, I'm seated in the my car with the two front passenger windows barely open an inch when I hear it . . . the loud, repeative thump of a hip hop beat. Make no mistake, as an African American woman who attended an historically Black college in a predominately Black city during the 80's, I've loved hip-hop and rap since it first hit the scene with folks like Curtis Blow, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and broke into the 9o's with the likes of Doug E. Fresh, Brand Nubian, Big Daddy Kane, Eric. B and Rakim, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. . . you know, all the folks now considered "old school."

But this song, the loud, repeatively thumping one I hear while I'm seated in my car, in the park, on a Sunday afternoon with my windows rolled durn near all the way up ain't nothing like the fun-loving, playful, braggadocious or even the socically-conscious and politically-infused music I bumped, jammed and used to hear coming from La-dee, Da-dee and some of everybody's boom box back in the day. No, this particular song apparently has only one lyric and that's the socially unredemptive "mother-f$%&er . . . mother-f$%&er . . . mother-f$%&er."

Okay. So, I sit there with my teeth rattling from the mind-numbing bass as the loud music draws closer and I think to myself, "Surely, there isn't really a song out there called 'mother-f$%&er?' is there? And if so, why on earth would anybody in their right mind want to listen to it THAT LOUD . . . much less ride up in a park and treat everybody else to it on a Sunday afternoon?

I watch from my rear-view mirror as the car with the over-powering bass and the offensive music finally pulls to a stop and four laughing, loud-talking African American youths spill out. They look like young men in their late teens or possibly their early twenties. For a moment, I think perhaps they've come to the park, like my own young son, in order to spend some time working on their swing and their ball-handling skills. I think perhaps, in a moment they will turn off the music and restore the peace of the ballpark that on that Sunday afternoon is filled primarily with women, children, young families and older couples.

But no, after changing out of their long, over-sized t-shirts and into other long, over-sized t's in the middle of the parking lot, these young brothers show off dance steps, laugh and rough-house and all while engaging in a conversation loud enough to be heard over the delightful sounds of the tune, 'mother-f$%&er' which is still thumping away in the background . . . a conversation loud enough to be heard several yards away and in a car with the windows barely cracked . . . a conversation riddled with the same word that got Michael Richards in so much trouble not so long ago. Really, I kid you not, every other word is, "nigga this, nigga that . . . nigga, nigga, nigga." Matter of fact, as loud as they're speaking, "nigga" is the only word clearly distinguishable in their entire conversation.

Unlike some, I don't believe in banning words or censoring music. As one who loves art and appreciates the freedom of self-expression, that's hardly a bandwagon I'm about to jump on. But nor do I believe it's necessary to disrupt the peace and quiet of a park filled with women and children and old folks on a Sunday afternoon or any other afternoon for that matter with a loud litany of "niggas" and a trifling chorus of "mother-f$%&ers." Come on . . . has it really come to that? Do we really not know or want to do any better?

According to Nas, "Hip-Hop Is Dead." According to some others, the rappers from the Dirty South should be held responsible for having killed it. Please. If in fact, Hip-Hop is dead, the primary thing that killed it is/was that always potentially lethal, and all-too American combination of ignorance and greed . . . a combination in which for far too long many us have either collectively reveled, or else have avoided openly critiquing.

"Hip Hop is Dead?" Wow, what a stunning revelation. It ain't like hip hop hasn't been stinking to high heaven and spinning in it's own rot for years now. Had we any real respect for ourselves, much less the dead, we would have closed the casket and buried the corpse a long time ago.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Lorraine Motel
Memphis, 2004
Lori's Pic Collection

"Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity it has dignity and it has worth.

From MLK's speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN,

March 18,1968

While I was much too young (preschool age) to remember most of the details surrounding the event, I was living in Memphis during the Sanitation Workers' Strike of 1968. I want to say I remember hearing the now famous "Mountaintop Speech" on the radio the night before King was gunned down. For years, I've been able to conjure an all too vivid of image of myself as a little girl, listening to the rise and fall of that distinctive voice as I stared up at the ceiling in the darkened back bedroom of my grandparents' North Memphis home . . . Though, I must admit, the memory could very well be a false one that willed itself into creation over time.

But there is one thing I do remember with regards to that sad and brutal event--a memory equal in intensity only to the one I've held since I was three and the middle finger of my right hand was accidentally crushed in the unexpected slam of a car door.

On the day of MLK's funeral, rather than make herself comfortable on any of the available den furniture or even the floor, my mother choose to squeeze herself into my little red rocking chair. Positioned there, in front of our 16-inch black and white TV set, she sat and rocked with tears streaming down her face as she watched the slain civil rights leader's home-going. Barring the onset of Alzheimers, that image of my weeping mother is one I will surely carry with me to my own grave. As an adult, the image permits me to not only look back and see "the big picture" but feel it on a more emotional and personal level as well.

"If you bend your back, people can ride it. But if stand up straight, people can't ride your back. And that's what we did. We stood up straight."

Taylor Rodgers, an organizer with Local 1733 AFSCME & a participant in the Sanitation Workers' Stike of 1968

Due to my father's military career, most of my early years were spent moving in and out of Memphis. Shortly upon my return to the city in the early 80's, a friend I'd met at college (LeMoyne-Owen) drove me by the Lorraine Motel late one night. This was in the days just prior to the motel's subsequent resurrection as The National Civil Rights Museum, when it still looked like the run-down and abandoned building that it was . . . a place more befitting the likes of pimps and their two-bit hookers than a King and his humble entourage. Anyway, my friend talked about his memories of the '68 strike, when, if I'm not mistaken, he couldn't have been more than 9 or 10 years old. He said he'd never forget the sight of tanks rolling past his house. To him, it looked like something out of a movie. He talked about the confusion and outrage he felt at the city father's decision to send armored vehicles into his peaceful, working-class Black neighborhood in the hours/days after King's death.

My friend YN (who teaches at the small liberal arts college in Atlanta I mentioned in a previous post), was also living in Memphis during the Sanitation Workers' Strike of 1968. She was a preteen when she stumbled upon the "I AM A MAN" sign her father, a self-employed landscaper, had tucked away in a closet. I can still remember the sense of pride and awe I felt, as a 20-some year old, when my friend introduced me to her father and afforded me the opportunity to shake his hand.

It's all right to talk bout the new Jerusalem, but one day God's preacher must talk about the "new' New York, the "new" Atlanta, the "new" Philiadelphia, the "new" Los Angeles, the "new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do."
from MLK's "Mountaintop" Speech
at Mason Temple, in Memphis, TN
April 3, 1968

Not too long ago, a writer, whose work I admire, wrote a piece that implied Memphis harbors some sort of "collective guilt" over the death of MLK. As one born and nurtured in the Bluff City, not only do I respectfully disagree, but I must add, that even to suggest such is to exhibit an unfamilarity with either the old or the prevailing Black Memphis "mindset" (LOL). We simply aren't those kind of people. So, don't let the masks or the Hollywood distortions (via Craig Brewer's twisted lens or 3-6 Mafia's ignorant madness) fool you.

The truth is, we harbor about as much "collective guilt" over Martin's death as the African American residents of New Orleans do over the breeching of the levies. And why should we? The tragedy that occured in Memphis on April 4, 1968 was not of our making and could have just as easily happened in any other dark, neglected, impoverished corner of these United States.

The truth is, like so many others, I am but one generation removed from Black folks who farmed, slaughtered hogs, picked cotton, worked in the mills, toiled on the river . . . Southern born men and women of color, who after years of contributing to the wealth of this nation with their hands and their backs, like their mothers and fathers before them, stood their ground and said, "Not me boss. I ain't running . . . not North or nowhere else. I earned this here piece of the Delta. Done paid for it ten times over already with my blood and my sweat and my tears, same as all the kin who come before me . . ."

And while we certainly do salute Martin for coming to Memphis and sacrificing his life in the Struggle, I'm sorry, but guilt over his death is not even something we ought to feel. Righteous indignation, perhaps. But never guilt.

Recently, I heard a truly gifted poet/spoken word artist from New Orleans, a woman by the name of Sunni Patterson. Oh, this sister is fierce! Near the end of her piece, "We Made It" (check out the clip) she spins a bit of truth about how some of us have come to view death.

" . . . Death don't come in vain

Not for us to remain in enslaved

Or our spirits to remain in cages

It comes so we might be courageous

To fulfill our obligations to our God and all creation

And stand here in determination

Able to look Death in the face and say

We made it . . . We made it . . . We made it . . ."

from "We Made It" by Sunni Patterson New Orleans poet/spoken word artist