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Did Stephen A. Smith’s Comments on ESPN About Media and Race Offend Asian Americans?

Posted on : 22-02-2012 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Sports


Let me state right off the bat that I have great respect for Stephen A. Smith, an accomplished sports columnist and commentator. But I do take issue with recent statements that he made during a debate with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take today. An ESPN editor was fired and an ESPN anchor was suspended due to language used to describe the “down to earth” performance of New York Knicks sensation, Jeremy Lin, against the Hornets last Friday night. Moderated by Jay Crawford, the debate between the two outspoken sports pundits was about instances of insensitivity within the media coverage of Jeremy Lin, who is Asian American.

Instead of taking on the topic of the media and its coverage of Jeremy Lin, Smith chose to use the debate as an opportunity to criticize the ultra-sensitivity of black folks. The gist of his argument is that the black community’s ultra-sensitivity has created an environment in our society that has led to lost jobs and ruined careers in the media and now other “groups” (such as Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Gay & Lesbian Americans) are basically following in our footsteps in terms of their outrage over racial statements in the media (by the way, I’m African-American).

Now, I disagree with Stephen A.’s arguments on many points, in fact, I find much of what he said quite insulting to African-Americans. But what I found most troubling about his statements, is that they could easily be seen as insulting to Asian-Americans. Why? Because the original topic of the debate he and Bayless were having this morning on ESPN’s First Take was not about African-Americans, it was about the insensitivities in the media about Jeremy Lin, who, the last time I checked is an Asian-American!

The fact that Stephen A. Smith would take a debate about the coverage of Lin (an Asian-American) in the media and turn it into an indictment of black people’s “feelings”, really demonstrates how many of us (African-Americans) always want to make discussions about race and civil rights about us. When we do this, as Smith did this morning on ESPN, it’s as if we’re being dismissive of how others feel about issues that impact them as much as it impacts us. Other minority communities such as Asian-Americans have their own voices and can (and should more often, I might add) express their own thoughts about issues of race, especially in the instances when those issues directly involve them!

I understand why we as African-Americans are often front-and-center in regards to the issue of race. Our history in this country makes us (justifiable so) very loud and strong voices because, arguably, we have suffered the most when it comes to racism in America than any other group. But (and this is a ‘BIG’ “but”) our country has gone through a dramatic change demographically. We’re not the “only show in town” sort of speak, when it comes to racism. Hispanics are the largest minority community in the country. Asian-American are one of the fastest growing communities in this country. To make every debate concerning race about African-Americans is condescending to others and frankly, arrogant.

Though I’ve been critical of Stephen A. Smith in this piece, he is actually one of my favorite commentators because he’s one of very few blacks in the media that keeps it real. He tells you what he thinks and you can’t help but respect that. I tend to agree with Smith on a lot of issues. But not this time. To be clear: I don’t disagree with everything he said during his debate with Skip Bayless but I believe that Smith made the wrong argument at the wrong time this morning on ESPN’s First Take.

While Stehen A. thought he was making such a passionate and profound statement that would enlighten and serve as a dose of “tough love” to the African-American community, it’s more likely that his argument was tuned out by those in the Asian-American community who were turned off by his audacity to use a much needed debate about Jeremy Lin and the media as just another opportunity to single out the thoughts, feelings and actions of black folks.

In Defense of Floyd Mayweather

Posted on : 15-02-2012 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Sports


I know that the Book of Hov is supposed to be about the lyrics of Jay-Z, but I have something that I want to get off my chest. In a way this piece is an indirect connection to Jay-Z and Hip-Hop. I want to talk about the controversy that surrounds boxing superstar, Floyd Mayweather. Floyd is a lightning rod, one of the most polarizing figures in professional sports. He is without a doubt, one of the greatest boxers of our generation. Undefeated at 42-0, Mayweather has dominated the boxing game yet he doesn’t get the respect that I think he deserves. He recently made some ‘controversial’ statements on Twitter about Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American breakout point guard with the New York Knicks. Reactions to Floyd’s statements on Twitter have been harsh. I believe that there are many factors that contribute to the ‘hate’ Mayweather receives. But the two major factors are: race and generation.

In response to the hype surrounding Knicks point guard, Jeremy Lin, Mayweather tweeted:

Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.

While this is a rather blanket statement, I think Mayweather makes a valid point. Lin’s ethnicity is certainly not the only reason why there’s so much hype behind his performance, but it has definitely played a major role in the media hype and fan excitement. It’s not a negative assertion; it’s simply an honest assessment. I agree with Mayweather, Lin is a good player. He has taken advantage of his opportunity and he’s balling. It’s a great story. Sure Lin has performed well. That’s a given or there wouldn’t be media hype at all. But anyone who fails to acknowledge that Lin’s race is playing a large role in all of the hype is either incredibly naïve or in severe denial.

If a black hockey player, came out of nowhere, and performed the way Lin has done in that sport-in New York City, and a white pro boxer stated that the media coverage is largely because the hockey player is black, I would completely agree with him.

Anyone who has paid attention to the media coverage of sports and every other aspect of life knows that race almost always plays a role. The issue of race is one of the most compelling elements of any story. The media and society as a whole are absolutely obsessed with race. There are several aspects of the ‘Lin-sanity’ story that is compelling. The guy has a unique background. He’s a little-known Asian-American player who went to Harvard and has become the most exciting player in the NBA this season. Lin is an underdog that is now a hero in New York City, the basketball Mecca of the world.

As I stated, it’s truly an amazing story. But what’s intellectually lazy is not Floyd’s statement, but the dismissive reaction to it. I hope Jeremy Lin continues to do his thing, helping to make the Knicks relevant again because that’s good for New York, the NBA, sports, Asian Americans and pop culture. But to think that race is not the leading, driving force behind the hype is just delusional.

Here’s what else Mayweather tweeted:

I’m speaking my mind on behalf of other NBA players. They are programmed to be politically correct and will be penalized if they speak up.

Well, I don’t think NBA players need Mayweather to act as a spokesman and I wouldn’t say that NBA ballers are “programmed to be politically correct” (otherwise some of them wouldn’t routinely make statements that are not politically correct) but I do believe that too many black pro athletes are either too reluctant, too ill-informed, too ignorant, too afraid or just too arrogant to “speak up” about issues of race in sports and other areas of life. They don’t want to get “penalized” and often don’t seem to care enough as long as the big paychecks keep coming.

Mayweather is not afraid to “speak up”. Whether you agree with his perspectives is based on your own opinions, experiences and prejudices (we all have them). I don’t agree with everything Mayweather says but I respect his courage to say what’s on his mind, particularly when it comes to issues of race and America because I understand where he’s coming from.

The following tweet by Mayweather really gets to the heart of the issue of race and sports in America:

Other countries get to support/cheer their athletes and everything is fine. As soon as I support Black American athletes, I get criticized.

I think this statement indirectly addresses a personal (and I believe justified) ‘beef’ that Mayweather has with the media and sports fans in America. This personal beef is indicative of how the media and society view the black pro athlete and black males in general. The above tweet is not about Jeremy Lin. It’s much bigger than that kid. It’s about Manny Pacquiao.

Ever since the explosive growth in popularity and performance from Manny Pacquiao, it seems that the whole world is desperately waiting for a superfight between him and Mayweather. The fight, if it ever happens, will easily be the biggest fight of our generation. The fight hasn’t happened (in fact, both boxers are slated to fight Cotto and Bradley in May and June, respectively) and if you ask both camps, the other fighter is solely to blame.

The back and forth is common in the boxing game and people will choose sides. Is Mayweather just scared to fight Pacquiao? Is Pacquiao trying to avoid Mayweather’s requests for blood testing? What about the roles that legendary promoter Bob Arum or Golden Boy Promotions is playing in all of this?

Here is what I believe has angered Mayweather: The American sports media clearly seems to be rooting for Pacquiao if and when the fight takes places. The general consensus is that Pac-man will destroy Floyd but this stance by many fans and those in the media seem to be driven more by wishful thinking than objectivity.

I think Floyd is astonished by the amount of hate he receives when it comes to his on-going drama with Pacquiao. Mayweather was born and breed in the U.S., an outstanding fighter who is a master in the ring. His skills are impeccable. His career has been illustrious. He has style and charisma. He’s smart (in and outside of the ring) and funny. He’s the cream of the crop in terms of prize fighters and yet it seems that the vast majority of American boxing fans and American media persons want to see him lose badly, to Pacquiao, a less charismatic and less skilled foreign fighter from the Philippines.

Why is that?

For the record, I love Pacquiao. I think he’s a great fighter. I would love to see him and Mayweather square off. It wouldn’t surprise me if Pacquiao won and I wouldn’t be suicidal or anything if it happened…but I’m riding with Floyd, every day, all day. And why shouldn’t I? I can guarantee you there’s not a Filipino man, woman or child in the country of Philippines that’s rooting for Mayweather if the fight was to happen.

I think it’s downright offensive and pathetic that so many American sports fans seem to be clamoring for Mayweather to get knocked out by an exciting, likable but foreign fighter. Sports have historically been an outlet to demonstrate pride and patriotism. The fact that an American sporting audience would blatantly root against an American born and bred fighter is mind-boggling to me. Filipinos in the Philippines rooting against Pacquiao would be banned from their country!

(To be fair, I can understand ethnic pride on the part of Filipino-Americans and other Asian Americans, but the truth is Mayweather probably has more in common with many of them than Pacquiao does).

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: “Duane, you’re trying to make this a black vs. white thing”. Well, that’s far from the truth. In fact, I’m totally astounded by the hate and lack of respect for Mayweather by some black boxing fans and black members of the media. Example: Michael Wilbon, who I actually have a lot of respect for, has publicly called Mayweather a coward several times for not fighting Pacquiao. Huh?? What?? How can a man in his 50’s that has never in his life stepped in the ring, call a younger, stronger and faster man-that I would bet any amount of money could beat his ass with one hand-a coward? It seems to me that an old school cat that likes to talk so much about how he’s from the “Southside of Chicago” would be much more street smart than that.

See, I think the lack of country support for Mayweather speaks to a deeper-rooted issue in America: There’s a deep resentment of young black males in America and this is in full display with the young black pro male athlete. Sports is a microcosm of society, and young black pro males athletes represent all of us in the eyes of the media and face the scrutiny and character assassination that we all face every day- times 100.

The resentment of the young black male is not absolute or exclusive to a certain group. In other words, I’m not saying, for example, that all whites or only whites hold resentment for young black males. Quite the contrary, in fact, there appears to be a significant portion of older blacks that resent our generation. It’s more than just a generational gap- it’s a generational war! The plight of the young black pro male athlete in terms of favorability in America, is only complicated by the refusal of older black fans, media persons and former athletes to defend him, instead, they choose to stay silent or even far too willing to join in the fray of throwing stones at him!

The media hype and fan excitement behind young, professional, non-black athletes like Jeremy Lin or Tim Tebow are partly substantiated by their performances and partly driven by people’s insatiable desires to put on a pedestal someone that “looks like them”…along with their resentment of young black professional athletes.

“Anyone but another black guy”.

I’m only 35 years old, but I can faintly remember (and have constantly been told of) a time when black people supported, defended, celebrated, uplifted and compassionately criticized each other. We celebrated the smartest, toughest, strongest, funniest and most talented among us. And we carried the weakest among us and pushed them until they got stronger. Now generations in our community are so harshly divided based on such trivial things such as the choice of music, clothes, language, location, class, etc., that we no longer feel connected to each other from a cultural sense. We don’t root for each other. We hate and pray for each other’s downfall.

I can understand the resentment of the young, black male athletes like Floyd Mayweather by the ‘larger’ society. I don’t condone it, obviously, but I understand it, because it’s consistent with the ‘larger’ society’s M.O., sort to speak. But I will never understand or accept how older black sportswriters, former players turned analyst, doctors, lawyers and janitors can routinely throw young black male athletes under the bus on television, on radio, in print, online in discussion boards, in barbershops and on street corners.

More black men (under the age of 40 and from a variety of backgrounds) need to stand up, step up, speak up and speak out in defense and support of themselves and each other. The way I’m doing for Floyd Mayweather. Because it’s clear that not too many others will.

Mayweather’s recent tweets and many of the statements he has made in the past reflect a sentiment shared by many pro athletes and “regular” young black males alike. There’s a phrase popularized back in the day in Hip-Hop culture: “Keep it real”. It’s been overused and misapplied, but it’s still one of my favorite sayings. Truth can be subjective but honesty is authentic. When one keeps it real, he’s brutally honest about how he feels and isn’t afraid to speak his mind even if he gets hated on. Few black pro athletes truly keep it real for themselves, each other and all of us. Floyd Mayweather does.

Open Letter to Jay-Z

Posted on : 25-01-2012 | By : Duane | In : Editorials


Dear Jay-Z, Congrats on the birth of your daughter, Blue Ivy. The joy I felt when my son Jalen was born was indescribable. The birth of a child is a blessing from God. Welcome to fatherhood. I’m writing you this letter because I think your lyrics from H to the Izzo (H.O.V.A.) is truer today than it was back in 2001. “Can’t leave rap alone/The game needs me” is a simple but powerful line. I think the rap game needs you in 2012, but I also believe that you need the rap game. In fact, I think the true impact of your legacy is intrinsically tied to the state of the rap game.

Your song, Glory, dedicated to your daughter, has already made an impact and brought on discussion about fatherhood in the black community. We all know that fatherlessness among the black community is high. Your fame gives you a global stage that can be used to inspire black fathers all over the U.S. (and around the world) to “man up” and as Ed O.G. said back in the day, “be a father to your child”. Glory isn’t a social awareness record, it’s a personal one, but its sentiment speaks to the needs of boys and girls in our communities to have strong, smart, tough, hard working, cool but firm fathers in their lives.

With that said, I think the direction your career has gone in along with your love of culture and family puts you in a unique position to take Hip-Hop to the next level. But it all starts with your own continued evolution as an artist. No artist is perfect, I have watched you have some missteps, but clearly your career has reached levels unheard of for a Hip-Hop artist- and you’ve accomplish this with credibility and a sense of swagger that should make any hustler proud.

Though I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of your music catalogue, I consider your debut album Reasonable Doubt a masterpiece and I spent years waiting to hear Reasonable Doubt 2.0 (though Blueprint certainly came close). But you said it all in On to the Next One: “Niggas want my old shit/Buy my old album” The message is loud and clear: Instead of looking back, we must look (and move) forward.

Just like you’ve done with the song Glory, you have the ability to tackle, head-on, issues that affect our generation…if and when you want to. You bring a perspective to these issues that even the above average MC doesn’t have. You dealt with relationship issues from a ‘selfish’ male perspective in Song Cry. You’ve confronted government inaction and racism in Minority Report. You shared your mentality on the pursuit of personal ambition on countless number of songs. Real Jay-Z fans know that your music is much more than just “money, cash and hoes”.

As you move forward in your career, I would like to challenge you to challenge yourself….lyrically. Not in terms of skill (you’ve got that mastered) but in terms of substance and depth. And this is not to say that you don’t drop words of wisdom. I wrote a book, I Will Not Lose! The blueprint for greatness when good is not enough, which reveals just how profound some of your song lyrics are. But I truly believe that you haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to giving fans a more detailed look into your intellect. The role your music can play in the “come up” of an entire generation can’t be understated. Your music has already inspired millions, but it has even more potential to take us much higher.

Let me show you where I’m going with all of this:

Remember Boogie Down Productions’ classic song, My Philosophy?? The song is the epitome of what Hip-Hop music and culture is all about. The record showcased KRS-One’s intellect and street cred, along with his love, appreciation, respect and protectiveness of Hip-Hop culture. When My Philosophy came out it was a different era in Hip-Hop. MCs like KRS-One (and Chuck D) were not just the most respected MCs, they were widely considered to be the hottest! KRS-One (who was one of many during that time) made music whose messages were bigger than his 16 bars and yet his reputation as the “real deal” in terms of street cred was (and still is) undeniable. KRS-One went on to embrace a triad role within Hip-Hop culture- as a teacher, an ambassador and a soldier.

Jay, you need to make your My Philosophy- the album. You need to make an album that takes Hip-Hop back to its roots and yet very much moves it forward. Yes, the game needs you. I see and hear great potential from the young cats, but I think the new generation of artists and fans needs to connect to the true essence of Hip-Hop exemplified in songs like My Philosophy.

I also believe that old school Hip-Hop artists and fans need to be rejuvenated and revitalized. But of course they must feel that their life stories are still relevant and that their maturation is respected. Whether old school or new school, the music you make in the future has to better connect with our realities and yet give us more of what we need and less of what we think we need. We need to hear less about the particulars of your lifestyle (one that more resembles the 1% than the 99%) and more details about the life lessons you’ve learned that have gotten you to where you are today.

I’m convinced that you’re the only MC on the planet that can recapture Hip-Hop’s Golden Age and yet do it in a way that is fresh and new.

You can say things lyrically that other MCs can’t say or don’t know how to say. Your song, Death of the Autotune addressed the lack of creativity and originality in Hip-Hop but I think the sorry state of the game is systemic in nature and is in great part due to the erosion of the MC, as well as the decline or even extinction of other elements within the culture.

Of course, you’ve made great records that tapped into your intellect, songs that truly elevated the awareness and understanding of the listener, such as Public Service Announcement (Interlude) and the Intro from the Dynasty album. I think you’ve made at least two classic albums. But can you make an album that will lead a revolution in Hip-Hop?

Our little brothers and sisters aren’t graduating from high school. Our little cousins aren’t going to college. Our nieces and nephews are struggling to find employment. Young brothers (and older ones that we grew up with) are caught up in the system, going in and out of jail as if the cells are revolving doors. The cycle of violence continues to destroy inner-cities (and even some suburbs) across the U.S. and all over the world. This is a generation in need of a revolution!

You and I both know the role music can play in fostering change. Some would argue that you’re a MC who is least likely to create a “new Blueprint” for Hip-Hop. But I know better. You’re the most capable of elevating the game. When you rhyme, people listen. Whether they love or hate, they listen. Every one of your releases is met with great anticipation from the celebrators and the haters. Give them your What’s Going On? or Songs in the Key of Life.

You’re one of very few MCs who can make the kind of album you want and still have the big promotional push and resources to maximize worldwide exposure. The greatest restraint would be the one that you give yourself. To make this album, you would have to give more of yourself and less of yourself at the same time. Follow me?

Jay, the rap game still needs you but it needs to be redefined even more. I’ve studied your career over the years and I’ve come to the conclusion that your greatest strength has also served as your greatest weakness. Because the art of emceeing has come easy for you, you’ve only given us a fraction of what’s in your head. You’re holding back on us, homie! And this is coming from a guy who penned a detailed scholarly like work about the intellectuality of your music.

It’s been one year to the day since the release of my book, I Will Not Lose!, which is inspired by your song lyrics. Though I’m an obviously a fan, I didn’t write the book or publish this blog for the sole purpose of advancing my career. I write about your lyrics because I want to play my part in elevating the game. I want to see Hip-Hop seen in the same light as Jazz from a cultural standpoint. I chose to make my contribution to the game an in-depth analysis of your song lyrics because I think your words best speak to the success and struggle of our generation, BUT, your music can and MUST do more.

I simply believe that there’s a greater purpose to your hustle (lyrically) that has yet to be realized through your music. There have been certain albums in the history of music that were transcendent and still were true to the artists’ core (Michael Jackson’s Thriller comes to mind).  You haven’t made this type of work yet (99.9 % of artists won’t) but I’m confident that you can. You just have to make sure you leave your ego at the door and keep it 100 for Hip-Hop.

The birth of your daughter could also mean the birth of a “new” Jay-Z, a great MC  that will lead a great renaissance in Hip-Hop culture.

Your greatest work is yet to come…if you’re able to face and overcome your biggest challenge.

What’s that? Well, here it is in your own words:

I’m losing myself. I’m stuck in the moment.
I look in the mirror…my only opponent

Yours truly,

Duane L. Lawton
Book of Hov

Studying Jay-Z: Sociology Course Incomplete Without the Book of Hov

Posted on : 17-10-2011 | By : Duane | In : Announcements, Editorials, I Will Not Lose! self-help book


Last night I was visiting one of my favorite websites, BlackElectorate.com when I saw an article that grabbed my attention. Apparently, Michael Eric Dyson, author, television political/social pundit and college professor is teaching a sociology course at Georgetown University about the social and cultural significance of Jay-Z’s music and career. Of course, when I heard about this I literally fell out of my chair. It’s quite remarkable to see just how far Hip-Hop music and culture has come. For much of its history, Hip-Hop has gotten very little respect but now it’s being studied in the halls of higher education.

Jay is not the first MC to have his work critically analyzed and lectured in universities (I heard about courses being taught about Tupac), but clearly Jay has reached a level not seen by any other MC and his music is arguably the most deserving of dissection by Dyson at Georgetown University. I’m a fan of Dyson. I’ve read a few of his books (I’m a big fan of Marvin Gaye and Dyson wrote a book about the legendary soul singer’s life).

Dyson is critical but also very fond of Hip-Hop culture. He’s often in the media defending Hip-Hop from the critics and educating the mainstream about the genius within the culture. I have a lot of respect for him and his work. He’s probably most qualified professor in the world to teach a course about Jay-Z. But, if there’s a course about Jay-Z’s music and career being taught anywhere in the world, my question is: Why isn’t ‘The Book of Hov’ on the required reading list?

Jay-Z’s Decoded, Greenburg’s Empire State of Mind and Bradley’s Book of Rhymes are on the required reading list for students taking Dyson’s course. I read Jay-Z’s and Greenburg’s books and they both are excellent. I’m sure Bradley’s book is a good read. With that said, I hate to do a ‘shameless plug’, but…my book, I Will Not Lose! and writings published on this very blog would be a valuable contribution to the coursework about the impact of Jay-Z. Hey, Professor Dyson: Like we used to say back in the day…”Holla at your boy!”

VH1′s Planet Rock Documentary: Old School, New School Need to Learn Though

Posted on : 15-09-2011 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Videos


Anyone who reads this blog or have read my book knows that I write extensively about how Jay-Z’s lyrics serve as a blueprint for greatness for the Hip-Hop generation. The thing is, Jay rhymes as an ex-street hustler and his lyrics reflect the principles of “the game” or “the life”. MCs like Jay-Z, Raekwon, Ghostface and Biggie hipped my generation to what was going on in the streets and the connection this had to Hip-Hop culture and the world. Either you lived it, respected it or rejected it. Nowadays, the new school of Hip-Hoppers most likely didn’t live it and don’t care one way or the other to respect or reject it. They “have the tattoos but not the true scars”. Follow me?

VH1 premieres a documentary, Planet Rock: The Story of Hip-Hop and the Crack Generation on Sunday, September 18 at 10pm (est). Narrated by Ice-T, it looks like it’s going to be a great watch. It’s must-see for those of us who truly respect the game because it wasn’t a game, it was real life for so many. It’s important to make and understand the connection between 80′s street economy (crack cocaine trade) and street culture (what we now know as Hip-Hop). I do think this connection, and, explicitly, the impact it has had on a generation and the world, has been underexplored at least in certain forms of media such as print and film. Of course, the connection has been explored in great detail in some of the greatest Hip-Hop albums ever made such as Big’s Life After Death, Nas’s Illmatic, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt.

I’ve heard some fans (who I suspect would be considered “new school”) diminish or downright diss the aforementioned classic “criminality rap” albums and other rap music masterpieces that brilliantly provided the connection between the crack generation and Hip-Hop culture. I’ve heard both new school and even some old school fans dismiss classic Hip-Hop albums as overrated…or, even WACK! Hearing this kind of rhetoric makes me want to throw up or pass out! But seriously, some of us are listening without a clear understanding of the time period in which MCs like Jay-Z emerged from. When we listen to these game-changing and culture-defining albums, some of us don’t get it because we didn’t live it (never was in the streets), wasn’t there (too young or not even born at the time) or just don’t care (we were around yet we reject the “tragic greatness” of that era).

I didn’t “live it” but I was around it to a certain degree and I definitely respect the era and claim it as my own…

I have high expectations for the Planet Rock documentary because from an artistic perspective, I think Hip-Hop culture deserves greater depth in terms of documentation, analysis and debate. Hip-Hop artists were (and are) inspired and influenced by what was (or is) going on around them just like other artists have been (and are) in music, film, photography, painting, publishing, etc. But Hip-Hop artists and culture don’t receive the kind of “serious” documentation that other artistic trades such as Jazz enjoys. I’ve always admired the great level of music criticism and respect Jazz has received. I think as Hip-Hop music and culture gets closer and closer to 50 years in existence, more work like the Planet Rock documentary (and dare I say even my book, I Will Not Lose) needs to be created and put other there for the masses-to not just further legitimize the culture-but to put it in its rightful place as one of greatest global movements of all time.

For us and by us….

From an intellectual perspective, I hope that Planet Rock serves as a historical visual document of a defining period of a culture a couple of generations removed from the Civil Rights era. Our generation has been the target of very harsh criticism (some of it justified) from those who came before us but a significant part of what defines us is a direct result of a dynamic that we didn’t control-the 80′s crack epidemic-a period of time that began when most of us were kids or teens being the products of single-parent households, attending under-performing schools and living in war zones.

And still we rise…

I’m sure the VH1 documentary will be enlightening and entertaining. Some controversy has already sprung up due to Ice-T’s comments about what he sees as the lack of accountability in Hip-Hop today and his issues with the authenticity of certain “new school” artists like Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Ice-T has always spoken his mind and that’s what I love about him but I hope his comments don’t veer the conversation into an unproductive direction.

We can debate the “realness” of “this guy” or “that guy” but oftentimes the division will be generationally or even geographically driven. I don’t necessarily hear or see the epitome of authenticity in Rick Ross but I don’t necessarily hear or see a fraud either. Ross’s music is a product of the 80′s crack epidemic just like Jay-Z’s music is, but not in the same vein. I might actually give my perspective on Rick Ross in a blog post sometime soon because I think his artistry and imagery is not black or white, but gray….

But anyway, let me conclude by encouraging you to check out Planet Rock on VH1 this Sunday. I’m sure I’ll post a piece on the blog to share my views on the documentary. The new school has the future of Hip-Hop in its hands. Ironically, as Jay-Z said on Lil Wayne’s song, Mr. Carter: “Go farther. Go further. Go harder.” Just remember that it’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Jay-Z vs Lil Wayne Reveals Hip-Hop’s Generation Gap

Posted on : 09-09-2011 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Jay-Z's rivals


Lil Wanye sold close to a million copies of his Tha Carter IV album in the first week of its release. Congrats to Weezy. It’s a great accomplishment for the young MC. Clearly, Wayne is the hottest MC in the rap game right now. But some people have jumped to conclusions about his status in Hip-Hop and true standing in the pantheon of great MCs. Some have basically anointed Lil Wayne as King of Hip-Hop. Case in point: I’ve heard some fans and critics claim that “Jay-Z’s reign is over”. Well, allow me to put Lil Wayne’s success, Jay’s legacy and their recent conflict with each other in perspective.

Here’s a news flash for the Hip-Hop community: Jay-Z’s true reign on top of the rap game faded years ago. I think Lil Wayne has been on top of the rap game since the release of Carter III and the emergence of his Young Money crew. These statements might surprise some of you being that the words are coming from me- a big Jay-Z fan who has written a book about his lyrics. True, Jay is without question my favorite Hip-Hop artist but I’m a fan of Hip-Hop itself- first and foremost. Besides, my statements are not a slight against Jay-Z, it’s simply the way it is. Let me further explain:

While Hip-Hop music and culture is not confined to the youth, its core demographic (for a lack of a better word) are “kids” between the ages of 16-24. This doesn’t mean if you’re older than 24 you can’t live Hip-Hop culture and listen to Hip-Hop music. I’m 34 years old and I still have love for Hip-Hop. But, the truth is the future of the culture is in the hands of the youth. Even those who are most committed to the culture are basically forced to play a reduced role as they get older, mature and become involved in other interests.

Jay-Z still has love for the rap game but his personal and professional interests stretch beyond the recording studio and the stage. Jigga is in his early 40′s. Do any of us really expect him to be completely focused on rap music domination? Hell, the fact that he can still compete is remarkable. Jay often compares himself to Michael Jordan, which I think is a near perfect comparison because the latter stages of Jay-Z’s music career and the emergence of his business career mirrors Jordan’s accomplishments in sports and business. Like Jordan did, Jay-Z can still give you “30 or 40 points” anytime he steps into the booth or on stage. He can still be the best MC on the mic on any given performance right now, the way Jordan could be the best on the court on any given night when he played for the Wizards at the end of his career.

Jordan wasn’t the best player in the NBA in his last few years but in no way did it taint his legacy as arguably the best ever. Jordan retired from the NBA as one of if not the best ever and that status hasn’t changed. Jordan’s business career has made him even more successful than when he was playing. I think the same can be said about Jay-Z and Hip-Hop.

I believe that the last time Jay-Z was truly on top of the rap game, the hottest MC on the mic, was 7, 8 years ago during the release and promotion of the Black Album. At the time, I thought the Black Album should have been Jay’s last musical effort. Why? I figured Jay-Z should retire and leave the rap game on top.

Jay-Z’s overall career has flourished since the release of his “retirement” album. The Black Album was supposed to be his last album but he has gone on to release three more solo albums and two collaboration albums, Watch the Throne, his album with Kanye West being his latest. Jay-Z has remained on top of his game but not necessarily the hottest MC, yet his profile globally has gotten much bigger. In fact, I would dare say that he’s the biggest Hip-Hop personality in the world. On top of the rap game? Jigga has been there, done that. Does he really need to be on top of the rap game if he’s on top of the world?

Peasey head still get paid
I’m combing through G’s
Please, we ain’t focused on naps
Cause I don’t run rap no more
I run the map…

What We Talkin About

Jay-Z’s career is far more than just his music. He has achieved great accomplishments way beyond platinum albums. But he’s not on top of the rap game anymore not because he fell off (he didn’t), but simply because the youth movement (the 24 years old and younger crowd), which is the driving force of Hip-Hop’s future, is rolling with Lil Wayne and other MCs.

Lil Wayne is on top of the rap game…but his career is still years away from even coming close to Jay-Z’s.

As a Jay-Z fan, I think Jay has had an incredible run that does not appear to be ending any time soon. Watch the Throne is a good album that has performed well in terms of sales and buzz in its own right. One listen to the album and it’s clear that Jay hasn’t lost a step. Lyrically; he still has it. Musically; he still has it. Swagger; he still has it. Insight; he still has it. Influence; he most definitely has it….

But things have changed- sort of. Jay-Z’s core fan base (like myself) have gotten older while rap music’s core fan base has stayed the same (in their teens and 20’s). Lil Wayne now appears to be the leader of this new school of Hip-Hop.

I’ve written before about how I was surprised and impressed with Lil Wayne’s rise. Lil Wayne (who is damn near 30) has been around almost as long as Jay-Z. He came into the game as a kid and is much younger than Jay. He may be the leader of the new school but he’s a veteran in the game who has paid his dues. He’s a prolific recorder. It took him awhile to have a career-changing breakthrough but clearly he has now claimed his spot at the top. He deserves his success.

With that said, personally, I’m not really a big fan of Wayne’s. I like his music but I don’t need a “daily dose” of it like I do Jay-Z’s music or Nas’s. I respect Wayne’s lyrically ability but I can’t get with his swagger. What do I mean by this? Lil Wayne is talented but I think he’s too caught up in trying to be a rock star opposed to a rap superstar. In other words: Lil Wayne’s seems to be following the 80’s rock star model (exhibit A: His performance on MTV’s VMA).

I came from an era where Hip-Hop stars shined brightly for our culture. Hip-Hoppers didn’t want to be Rockers, it was the other way around. Many of today’s artists, led by MCs like Lil Wayne, seem to embrace transforming themselves into rock stars who rap and sometimes sing…in autotune (we can hear it in the music, and see it in their swagger right down to their clothes and shoes). I just don’t recognize some of these cats as Hip-Hoppers anymore. In my day, MCs and street hustlers looked and sounded the same. Nowadays, youngins be on some other ‘ish. But, to be fair, I understand that it’s just a generational thing.

I think Jay-Z and Lil Wayne’s so-called conflict (if it actually exists) is evidence of the generation gap in Hip-Hop. Those of us well into our 30’s and older are rolling with Jay. Why? Because he’s really one of very few still standing in Hip-Hop in terms of our generation. He looks like us. He sounds like us. He thinks like us. He represents how we grew up; what we saw and what we did. Those who are under 30 are rolling with Lil Wayne because he seems to be the one leading (or following- take your pick) what’s hot on the streets nowadays in terms of style and swagger.

Now, there are plenty of Jay-Z fans under the age of 30 and plenty of Lil Wayne fans over the age of 30, and both of them have fans of different ethnicities and nationalities. But Lil Wayne’s typical fan is in a different place in his life than Jay’s typical fan. The typical Jay-Z fan has a different mindset than a typical Lil Wayne fan. The typical (or at least the most loyal) Jay-Z fan has lived Hip-Hop and listened to rap music for well over 20 years. He is Hip-Hop personified. But, the typical Lil Wayne fan is the future of the culture and have the passion, influence, expert use of technology and sheer strength in numbers to redefine the game.

That’s what we see happening right now. The youngins are changing the face of the game, which is why brothers like me don’t recognize it anymore. But like Tupac said, “I ain’t mad at cha”.

See, fans and critics alike want to turn Jay-z vs. Lil Wayne into a battle for Hip-Hop supremacy. “Who is the King of Hip-Hop?” That’s the question many think should be answered based on diss records and statements in interviews. But the bottom line is: Jay-Z and Lil Wayne are not even in the same league…

They want me to disappear, like it’s gon’ shift for them
They say that I’m in the way, they want me to sit for them
But what they admitting is, they ain’t got shit for him
And really the fact is, we not in the same bracket
Not in the same league, don’t shoot at the same baskets
Don’t pay the same taxes, hang with the same bitches
So how am I in the way?
What is it I’m missin’?
Nigga, I been missin’
Nigga I been gone…

Already Home

When Watch the Throne came out and received so much buzz and critical acclaim, I told someone that today’s MCs must be really tired of Jay’s “old ass”! Of course, he’s not all that old to me because I’m in my mid 30’s, but my point is: I can see how the leaders of the new school like Lil Wayne might be irritated with Jay’s current standing in the rap game. He’s not on top like he was ten years ago in ’01, but he’s still very much relevant. His staying power and legacy looms over both established and up-and-coming MCs who think it’s their time to shine.

I think some in the new school respect Jay-Z but wishes he would just go away…

Now, let me be clear: Lil Wayne is doing his thing. I have respect for him. I’ve basically watched him grow up in the game. No one should sleep on that dude on a lyrical tip and he has a lot of room for growth. I will say though, I think he delivers lyrics that are full of wit but empty of insight. Does that last sentence seem contradictory? Here’s my point: Lil Wayne’s lyrics have that “rewind factor” but you rewind to admire his cleverness and not necessarily to absorb his profound perspective about success, struggle and hustle. Lil Wayne’s lyrics amuses more than it inspires. But that’s ok because his core fan base does not have the kind of “lofty lyrical expectations” (meaning: they don’t expect to hear the “blueprint for greatness” in his words) that Jay-Z’s core fan base demands. Lil Wayne lyrically delivers what his fans want; he just rarely gives them what they need.

(To be fair and to keep it real: Many critics have said the same thing about Jay-Z’s lyrics, which partly is what compelled me to launch this blog and write my book. I think that as Wayne grows lyrically- beyond clever punchlines-his fans’ growth will follow. Who knows- maybe one day someone will write a book about his lyrics.)

Lil Wayne will be very fortunate (and lucky) if he gets close to having the overall career that Jay-Z has had. Frankly, it’s very unlikely that anyone currently in the rap game will have a career comparable to Jay’s. Jay-Z’s run is a once in a generation…or two, kind of thing. He’s the “Michael” (“Take your pick: Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6”. Jay’s lyrics from Niggas in Paris) of the rap game and Lil Wayne is like Hip-Hop’s “LeBron James”-he’s the best in the game today but he’s still “ringless”, trying to win his first championship. He’ll eventually win 1, 2; maybe even 3- in a row! But as of right now, when it comes to Jay-Z, Lil Wayne can’t be “mentioned in the same breath as him”.

Murder to Excellence (Part 2: Black Excellence)

Posted on : 01-09-2011 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Watch The Throne


Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Murder to Excellence reveals the great spectrum of the black experience in America. There’s the tragic epidemic of violence and homicide that goes back generations but there’s also the greatness of achievement in Black America that goes back since (and before) we were brought to this land as slaves. In part 1 of this series, I wrote about the media’s role in sensationalizing black-on-black homicide in America and how I believe that the local media is in the most powerful position to give greater prospective to what’s happening in America’s urban communities. Well, now I want to talk about how Black excellence in America is a story that needs to be told with greater depth in the media in order to inspire us all.

Success never smelled so sweet
I stink of success
The new Black elite…

I didn’t grow up in a predominantly Black community. Most of the neighborhoods that I lived in and the schools that I went to were “diverse”, which means that Blacks were present but we weren’t the “deepest”. I was never the only black kid on the block or in the classroom, there were plenty of us, but there were just as many Hispanics and more Whites (Asians and other groups rounded out the rest of the population). My connection to the black community from a cultural sense, was through my relationships; with my relatives, my tight-knit group of friends and members of my church.

My father was absent from my life when I was growing up, but I had examples of positive and productive men- my uncles (my mother’s brothers), my grandfather, brothers in my church, and, once my mother remarried, my stepfather. This is not a diss to my father. It’s just the truth. It’s the way it was back then. We actually have a decent relationship these days. The point I’m making is that even though my own father was MIA from my entire childhood and adolescence, I could hear, see and reach out and touch black men who were productive in life as husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, professionals, etc.

Even I was going through personal turmoil (due to the reality of being abandoned by my father), I saw black achievement around me in various ways. I’ve always respected black achievement and I never limited it to who or what I saw on television, heard in music or even read in books.

Speaking of books: There two books that helped to shape my thinking about black excellence. Success runs in our race. I love sports and entertainment, but don’t get it twisted-we have an even greater History of black business in America.

Only spots a few blacks the higher I go
What’s up to Will?
Shout out to O (Oprah)
That ain’t enough…we gonna need a million more

Black excellence is real. It’s seen and heard in the lives of real people. There’s a tendency in the media to equate black celebrity to black excellence thereby confining “important” black achievement to Super Bowl rings, NBA championships, blockbuster summer movies and platinum albums. Our society is obsessed with celebrity and it has had an impact on black youth. Obsession of anything is not good, but I would rather be obsessed with excellence than celebrity. Black success is diverse, coming from different talents and skill sets and from all walks of life just as with any community. We have models, examples and blueprints of black excellence not just in sports and entertainment, but also in medicine, law, science, engineering, in education and in industries such as finance and technology.

And here is a “little secret”, young brothers:

You have much a better chance of becoming a doctor than a platinum-selling rap superstar.

Black excellence
Tuxes next to the president
I’m present

Even when Barack Obama became the first Black President of the United States, I told others that as proud as I was of this great achievement, it really amounted to nothing more but great symbolism for black people and America. Realistically, we’re not in a post-racial era, and there’s not a young brother from Compton to Camden who can become President of the United States. Obama’s presidency is incredibly inspiring but it’s far from a realistic aspiration for black youth…

Being President of the United States: Powerful symbolism.
Being a Lawyer (which is what Obama was before he became president): Life-changing realism that can have a great impact on your household and community.

I believe that the local media can do more to tell the story of Black excellence in its communities. Black excellence is not about who is or what is great from a distance- it’s about who or what we can reach out and touch in our own communities. I don’t know how many times I’ve turned on the local news in my area to hear about a murder in Southeast, D.C. and then a “fun and family-friendly” event in Bethesda. I think the local media in areas throughout the country need to show real black excellence that black youth can reach out and touch.

I think local media has a lot of power to influence and inspire because it’s the medium in which we receive information about where we live, work and go to school. We know about the bad news, but where’s the good news?

Who got shot?
How about telling us: Who graduated…with a 4.0?

Who’s been fired or laid off? (Unemployment rates)
How about telling us: Who got promoted? Which black entrepreneur launched a new business or opened a branch office and now hiring?

Where did the latest Flash Mob take place?
How about telling us: Where are the real Flash Mobs-social and professional gatherings of young brothers with exciting jobs and who own businesses?

The escape of the struggle continues in Black America but so does the pursuit and attainment of success. There’s a lack of balance in regards to how the media (at the local and national levels) report the black experience in this country and around the world. The same can be said about the brown experience of our Hispanic brothers and sisters as well.

The images and quotes of black excellence should not be limited to your favorite rapper or my favorite NBA point guard. Even if a kid lives on the most dangerous block in this country, not too far from him (no more than a short bus ride) are regular, everyday black people doing big things. The local media can help bring them together or tell the story of their relationship once it’s been established to inspire others.

The local media can be a difference maker or it can be a difference highlighter or even agitator.

By the way: The words and actions of the most successful black people of all time are documented just a hop, jump and a skip from any ‘hood in America-at the local library.

I’ll be a real man and take care of your son
Every problem you had before this day is now done
New crib, watch a movie
‘Cause ain’t nothing on the news but the blues
Kanye West

I do have to say that I have found that the truly best and brightest in the Black community are often sitting down and the quietest. Stand up!!! Speak up!!! Too many of our most successful and most stable, shun the spotlight and choose to remain in the shadows out of shyness or selfishness. I think Black America has a unique condition; therefore, the best in our community have a unique responsibility. It’s time to stop blaming rappers or athletes for being “bad influences” on “our” kids and it’s time to start letting “our” kids know that you even exist! What better way to do that than to use the power of the local media?

Some would say that my expectations for the media are not realistic because of the way the media works. That’s probably true. My challenges to the local media would require completely revolutionizing the way the local media operates.

It just seems as if too many black youth think black excellence is only seen on television, movies and heard via iTunes downloads. And too many white youth (and frankly, their parents) think black violence and homicide is just what you watch on television or hear in music instead of real tragic events that are actually happening in the lives of real people.

We all need a greater perspective on the tragedies and greatness that is happening every day within Black America and the African Diaspora around the world for that matter. Watching CNN is fine (Fox News- not so much), but local outlets and affiliates are the best media sources to humanize both tragedy and excellence within the black experience.

Murder to Excellence (Part 1: Black Murder)

Posted on : 17-08-2011 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Watch The Throne


My favorite song off Watch The Throne is Murder to Excellence. It’s truly a powerful song. I would say that it’s the most profound rap song that I’ve heard within the last 10 years. The subject of the song, black-on-black homicide, has been tackled extensively in Hip-Hop music, but Jay-Z and Kanye shines a much brighter light on the issue because of their high profiles and the depth of the song’s lyrical content. Another thing that makes the song unique is that Jay and Kanye “report” the grim state of Black America in the first half of the song and then celebrate the great achievement and excellence in Black America in the second half. I’m going to do the same in this 2-part blog post.

I want to highlight some of the lyrics from Murder to Excellence but I want to use the subject of the song as a catalyst to make an argument on what I think needs to happen to bring about more peace in the streets.

The Paper Read Murder

Black-on-black homicide is an epidemic that I personally think doesn’t get enough real substantive coverage and discussion in America. That’s why a song like Murder to Excellence is so important because just maybe it can spark more debate.

It’s time for us to stop and redefine black power
41 soul murdered in 50 hours.

Kanye West

The homicide rate among young black males is the highest than of any other group in America. All you have to do is turn on the TV and watch your local news. All local media in your area plays a vital role because it provides a gateway to information and gives a variety of answers to the question “What’s going on?” in regards to your community. Television is still the most powerful form of media because it’s visual and it has the greatest reach.

The younger generation prefers consuming information on the Internet through their computers and mobile devices. That’s cool- I do too. We don’t read print newspapers. We don’t listen to the radio for information; we listen for entertainment. But I would urge the up-and-coming generation to hold back on abandoning television altogether….

The local television broadcast media is the most powerful and at the same time the most underutilized resource in fighting black-on-black homicide.

It’s not the police, politicians, community activists, educators, business leaders, rappers, religious leaders, parents, and certainly not the black youth themselves who have the most power.

There is not a greater resource available to residents in your city or town to effectively expose and deeply explore the epidemic of black-on-black homicide than the local broadcast media.

It’s a war going on outside we ain’t safe from
I feel the pain in my city wherever I go
314 soldiers died in Iraq
509 died in Chicago

Kanye West

Here’s a homework assignment: Watch your local news every day for the next 7 days. It really doesn’t matter where you live in this country because the local news is all the same…

The paper read “murder…black-on-black murder”
The paper read “murder…black-on-black murder” again

Kanye West

Local news reports a black-on-black homicide as if it’s “just another” black man (or teen) killed by “just another” black man (or teen). Straight, no chaser. Black-on-black homicide happens so often in locales throughout the country, that the lives of both the victim and suspect become “just another” number. Black-on-black homicide is reduced to a statistic. Black life is devalued in the streets and on the news.

But have you noticed what happens when a white resident in your area is killed by violence?

When a white person is killed in your city depth is added to the local news’ reporting. The reporters and anchors show a little emotion, don’t they? Viewers get real quotes from the victim’s family members right down to random neighbors or just people passing by in the community where the victim lived. You might hear people make a statement like this:

“This kind of thing never happens in this neighborhood!”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that.

The murder of a white resident in your area is very likely to garner days or even weeks of coverage in your local news. A black homicide is likely to receive maybe 2-3 minutes.

Summary of the typical media coverage of black homicide in your local area: “He was young. He was black. He lived in the hood. He got shot. He died…on to the next story.”

Summary of the typical media coverage of white homicide in your local area: “He was young. He was smart, talented, funny, friendly and just about any other adjective that positively describes an individual. He lived in the “nice” suburbs and raised in a “good family”. He was on his way to college. He “tragically” lost his life….the entire community is mourning his passing.”

See the difference? Think I’m wrong? Watch your local news and reach out to me in a week (though it might take much longer than that before a white person is murdered in your area).

The local news will make a very deliberate effort to put a face to the white homicide. It’s not “just another” statistic. In the hands of your local media it’s a real-life story that needs to be told.

If the suspect or perpetrator of a homicide in your local area is black, the details of his life presented to you by the media is pretty much as cut-and-dry as the victim’s…

“He was young. He was black. He lived in the hood. He was arrested. He got 100 years in prison….on to the next story.”

Not so when the suspect or perpetrator is white.

Just as in the case of the white victim, the life of the white suspect or perpetrator is reported with depth. Yeah, he committed a terrible act, but his life still has value. Viewers learn about his family and background. Quotes are sought after from family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors who are “shocked” that he could do such a horrible thing.

The local news coverage of a white homicide suspect or perpetrator can be summed up like this: “He’s not “just another suspect”, he’s one of “our kids” in “our community”. Yes, he did or is suspected of committing a horrible crime, but there’s has to be an explanation for it, right?

Black murderers often get demonized while white murderers often get psychoanalyzed.

And they say by 21 I was supposed to die
So I’m out here celebrating my post-demise
If you put crabs in a barrel to insure your survival
You’re gon’ end up pulling down n*ggas that look just like you


Some white homicides get national or even international coverage, but remember, the coverage of these same real life stories began at the local level where they occurred.

True Crime Sells

I’m a fan of true crime stories. I don’t read true crime novels but I like watching programs like CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery or NBC’s Dateline. But I go deeper than that. I watch true crimes programs on the ID Channel and TruTV. My wife teases me about my “obsession” with these types of shows.

Programs like 48 Hours Mystery uses investigative reporting to document true crime stories. Most of the stories are about homicides and the vast majority of them involve white victims (often female) and white murderers (often males). I like these shows because as I stated, I’m into the true crime stuff. But I often get irritated with the fact that true crime stories involving blacks are rarely covered on these programs.

The news reporting that you receive in your local media will give you the basic details- the who, what, where, when, why and how of a homicide. Yes, as I have already talked about, the local news will give you more depth when it comes to white homicide, but there’s only some much background and analysis that you’ll get from the local news about anything that happens in your area.

Investigative reporting is much more thorough. This kind of reporting will dig deep into the background of a homicide and basically tell the life stories of those involved in the crime. The goal of these programs is to tell a compelling story that connects with viewers. After you’ve seen a 48 Hours Mystery story, for example, you feel like you actually know the victim and his or her family and friends. You even feel like you know the murderer and his family.

These programs are so good at telling the story that viewers develop an emotional connection with its cast of characters. You may have not known anything about the people involved in the story before you watched it, but all of a sudden you’re saying…

“That guy could be my son, brother, friend, co-worker or neighbor.”

“That young woman could be my daughter, sister, friend, co-worker or neighbor.”

These programs utilize master investigating reporting and storytelling.

Black Mothers Need to Be Seen and Heard

As I stated earlier, I watch a lot of true crime programs and the element of each story that always seems to make the greatest connection with viewers is the pain felt by the mothers who lost their sons or daughters to violence. I watch these programs and see mothers (most of them being white) speak with so much pride and pain about their murdered son or daughter and it makes me think about all of the black (and brown) mothers all over this country who are losing sons (many of them just in their teens) every single night to violence.

Why aren’t we hearing more from these mothers? They have lost sons, too, many more of them in fact at an alarming rate. These mothers are losing beautiful daughters too. These mothers won’t be able to see their sons or daughters graduate from college, get married and raise families. These mothers won’t have grandchildren or have to watch heartbroken as their grandchildren grow up without their mother or father.

Just imagine how the media coverage would be if white mothers were burying their sons at an alarming rate due to violence on the streets of America?

America mourns-sometimes for years-with white mothers when they tragically lose their sons and daughters to violence. Yet, “just another” black mother gets 2-3 minutes coverage of her baby in the local news…and then it’s on to the next story.

The media knows it can do better than that.

See, when you “humanize homicide”, the victims and murderers are no longer statistics; they’re real people and so are their families. In the midst of tragedy, complete strangers feel genuine empathy with others who are suffering due to a homicide in their city or town or even if in locations thousands of miles away in another part of the country.

The Great Disconnect

And I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital
Heard about at least three killings this afternoon
Looking at the news like, “Damn! I was just with him after school”
No shop class but half the school got a tool
And “I could die any day”-type attitude

Kanye West

I think this country is not as much divided as it is disconnected. The disconnect is as much about class as it is about race. Most black (and brown) homicide happens in what we call “urban” areas, which quite honestly simply means: communities where poor black and brown people live. If you don’t live in one of these areas, regardless of race, it’s fairly easy for you to become disconnected from the pathology of violence happening damn near every night in these communities.

Guess what?

The disconnect you feel is normal and understandable considering your day-to-day routine versus what’s going on day and night in the ‘hood.

But…guess what?

The disconnect you feel is widespread throughout this great country of ours, and basically holding us back from being even greater.

As long as a significant percentage of “our people” (not my people, or his people, not Jay-Z’s people or Kanye’s people- OUR people) are stuck in a permanent underclass and written off to be murdered in the streets or incarcerated for decades at a time or for life, this country, OUR country will NEVER come close to being as great as we can and should be.

Making the Connection

Everyone from the President to the community leader play a role in getting Americans connected to each other, regardless of race, class, age, sexual orientation or social status. But I believe that the broadcast media, starting at the local level, MUST use its all-too powerful resources to connect us to each other.

Any person, group or entity that has united us or divided us has shrewdly and successfully used the media to do so.

The media needs to be used to connect people with the stories of other people who often live just minutes away.

The homicides may not be happening in your neighborhood but it is happening in your community.

The Challenge (Part 1)

Power to the people
When you see me, see you


I’m not a media expert. I don’t have the inside information on what it takes to produce news or documentaries. I’m not a reporter or a producer in broadcast news media. I have never worked in the media biz. I just know what I see and what I don’t see.

I’ve heard people in the media say that when it comes to local or national stories, they’re simply giving the public what it wants to see. The position seems to be: If a young white woman from the suburbs is tragically murdered, it receives more coverage in terms of frequency and depth because of “public interest” (in other words, white people just can’t get enough of the story).

You’re not really buying what the media is trying to sell you, are you?

I strongly suspect that the media drives our interests and not the other way around.

But let me show you how the power of the media can be used to make real impact:

I remember watching a special on Dateline, America Now: “Faces Against Violence”, about the teen homicide epidemic in Chicago. Reported by Lester Holt, the program was excellent. The special put human faces to the violence in the streets of Chicago where kids are killing kids. They’re not statistics, they’re kids who have mothers, fathers, grandmothers, brothers and sisters who love them.

But not only that-those kids could be your sons, right?

After the special aired, Dateline “received a lot of inquiries about how to get in touch with the Chicago organizations”. Why? Because Americans from all over the country wanted to donate money or other resources to these organizations to help the cause to stop the violence in Chi town’s inner city streets.

Dateline used its expertise and resources to produce a documentary that exposed and deeply explored a deadly epidemic in one of America’s biggest and greatest cities. The special sparked debate and action.

The violence in the streets is not just a law enforcement issue. It’s not just a political issue. It goes far deeper than parents being responsible for their children. This country is full of people with ideas, expertise, resources and networks. The solutions to our problems, such as “urban violence” will come from our collective thoughts and actions. We can’t have a “that’s happening in their neighborhood, not mine” type of attitude. Documentaries like the report on Dateline can’t solve the problem but they can tie us all together so that we can contribute to the solutions as one big community.

America has the greatest heart, mind and assets but suffers badly from a great disconnect.

The media may highlight the disconnect but doesn’t actively do its part to tie us all together. The reality is most of us are not activists, we’re residents in cities and towns. Our day-to-day experiences outside our homes are limited to work, school, dining, shopping and entertainment. The average person doesn’t “visit” neighborhoods regardless of the where it is unless they know someone who lives there. This is how disconnect happens.

People who live in affluent areas in Chicago that watched that Dateline special were just as disconnected with the inner city violence happening there as I am sitting on the couch in my apartment in Northern Virginia. But ultimately, because they’re in Chicago they share the same sense of pride in the city and have the greater ability to make a greater impact on Chicago’s inner city youth than I do.

It’s not to say that residents of Chicago who don’t live or go anywhere near the inner city weren’t already aware of the violence. But while the local news dryly reported the violence, the Dateline special gave it a powerful narrative through compelling stories of real people and places. The special made the connection.

I want to issue a challenge to local media organizations and their suppliers of content:

Produce features, documentaries and special reports that tell compelling stories about the people caught up in the deadly cycle of violence in your area’s most troubled communities. Connect to the broader community the “random” names and faces of black-on-black homicide. You can’t tell everyone’s story but the ones you do tell can make an impact on how all of the tragedies in your area are viewed by the public.


I truly believe that if those who “run the show” in local media organizations make a commitment to investigate and report black-on-black homicides with as much depth as is given to the less occurrences of white homicides, this country, from the top-down will have a greater connect, which will give us the will to fight what I think is our nation’s greatest tragedy.

Coming soon: “Murder to Excellence (Part 2: Black Excellence)”
How and why the media needs to tell the true story of success in Black America

Don’t Hate If You Haven’t Yet Escaped

Posted on : 14-08-2011 | By : Duane | In : Editorials, Watch The Throne


On August 9, 2011 Jay-Z added a chapter to the “Book of Hov” upon the release of the album, Watch The Throne. This chapter in Jay’s music catalog has a very worthy co-author, Kanye West. Though I’m a big Jay-Z and Kanye fan I didn’t purchase the album on the 9th. I let several days pass before I purchased the physical CD (yes, I still listen to CDs). It’s now August 14, early Sunday morning, and I still haven’t heard even half of the album yet. I’m stuck on the third track, N*ggas in Paris. I was aware of the buzz surrounding this song before I heard it. Fans love the song for the same reasons others hate it- Jay and ‘Ye bring a lot of swag and style to the track, quite frankly, boasting about the lifestyles they live. Both the haters and lovers of this song are mostly likely listening but not truly hearing its message.

I think the root cause of hate is personal resentment. A ‘hater’ is unable to deal with the internal struggle that he or she goes through, the struggle that is often due to his or her external conditions and mental flaws. People who hate on others’ success actually hate on their own failures even more. I have to keep it real: I got 99 problems but hating ain’t one. Why? Well, I’ll let Jay-Z’s lyrics from N*ggas in Paris explain it to you:

I ball so hard, muthaf*ckers wanna fine me
But first n*ggas gotta find me
What’s 50 grand to a muthaf*cka like me
Can you please remind me?
Ball so hard, this sh*t’s crazy
Yal don’t know that don’t shit phase me
The Nets could 0 for 82
And I look at you like this sh*t gravy
Ball so hard, this sh*t weird
We ain’t even supposed to be here
Ball so hard, since we here
It’s only right that we’d be fair
Psycho: I’m liable to go Michael
Take your pick…
Jackson, Tyson, Jordan…game six
Ball so hard, got a broke clock
Rolleys that don’t tick tock
Audemars that’s losing time
Hidden behind all these big rocks
Ball so hard, I’m shocked too
I’m supposed to be locked up too
If you escape what I’ve escaped
You’d be in Paris getting f*cked up too
Ball so hard, let’s get faded
Le Meurice for like 6 days
Gold bottles, scold models
Spillin’ Ace on my sick J’s
Ball so hard, b*tch, behave
Just might let you meet ‘Ye
Chi town’s D. Rose
I’m moving the Nets to BK

Oh, Jay definitely comes with heavy swag on his verse. The truth is at least 75% of the lyrics in his verse are straight up braggadocio. But that’s ok- if you’ve listened to Jay-Z for as long as I have, you’ve come to expect that. It’s the 25% of the lyrics in this verse that puts the rest in proper context. I want to put an extra bright spotlight on the part of the verse that I believe is most profound, but let me set it up with these lines first:

Ball so hard, this sh*t weird
We ain’t even supposed to be here
Ball so hard, since we here
It’s only right that we’d be fair

Here, Jay takes a moment to “admit” that their lifestyles are “weird” in the sense that they “ain’t even supposed to be” where they are. Some of the most successful people have come from some of the most humble beginnings. It’s hard for them to imagine that they would be where they are. Jay and Kanye may have the look and sound of swagger, they may carry on as if they knew things would play out the way it did, but they know full well that where they are in life is not a likely outcome, and frankly, not completely of their doing. There are external factors that explain their success.

In some ways, Jay shows a bit of humbleness in these lyrics. But regardless, these lyrics should give us some insight on the mindset and motivations of those who are very successful at whatever they do. As ambitious as some of us are, very few of us are able to accurately predict just how successful we are to become.

Here’s the part of the verse that I encourage you to really focus on…

Ball so hard, I’m shocked too
I’m supposed to be locked up too
If you escape what I’ve escaped
You’d be in Paris getting f*cked up too

Jay tells us that he is as “shocked” by the level of his success as his supporters and haters alike. Why? Because based on where he came from and things he was involved in, he was “supposed to be locked up too”. Jay’s words reaches people from all over the world, of all races, classes and ages, yet he is directly speaking to the streets in these lyrics.

He’s saying, “I came from the kind of conditions that you came from. I hustled in the streets just like you hustled in the streets. I was supposed to meet the same fate that many of you have (or will) meet-incarceration or even death. But something happened…I escaped.”

We all know that if you get involved in certain activities you’re likely to end up dead or in jail. The truth is you can change your outcome if you escape. Your outcome depends on your income and I’m not just talking about money. Before you can increase your bank account, assets and material things, you must first increase your knowledge, motivation and hustle. Jay-Z sold drugs but he didn’t escape his condition because of illegal activity. Ultimately, a career in music was his way out.

Regardless of what you’re led to believe, keep in mind that there is not one, two or three ways to overcome your struggle. There are many legitimate ways to escape your situation. To “escape” doesn’t mean to become a platinum selling rap artist/music mogul- it could mean simply getting your high school diploma, going to college and starting a legitimate career that allows you to take care of yourself and provide for your family.

Jay is acknowledging what we already know: Based on the life he lived (the kind of life that some us have lived or are currently caught up in), he could easily be in prison or worst right about now.

Some of us choose to celebrate while others choose to hate.

Regardless of where you are right now, whether you’re in the streets, in prison, unemployed or just living a “normal” life with a nine-to-five job, I want you to do something for me:

When you’re not around your friends, when you’re not frontin’, I mean “stuntin” hard for your girl-when you’re alone and free to think your own thoughts without being influenced by a herd mentality, ask yourself this question:

If you escape like Jay-Z escaped…would you be in Paris getting f*cked up too??

Now give yourself a honest answer.

It’s a “yes” or “no” question, don’t add “but this” or “but that”….

If your answer is “no”….keep hating.

If your answer is “yes”…stop (or don’t start) hating and keep (or start) grinding until you escape your condition.

And by the way: “Getting f*cked up in Paris” is just a line that reflects a certain kind of lifestyle. Ballers ball because they can. You could be “getting f*cked up” in Idaho if you so choose, as long as you’re living the life that you want to live. Your answer to the question I’m posing to you should not be based on your morals, values or lifestyle preferences versus Jay-Z’s. What I’m asking:

If YOU were to reach YOUR ultimate definition of success in YOUR life, would YOU enjoy the rewards of that success as much as Jay enjoys his?

The “true” haters won’t answer the above question honestly because they’re so overwhelmed by their own failures and setbacks that they’re simply unable or unwilling to find validity in others’ success.

Most of us who go through struggles aren’t “true” haters, we just haven’t escaped…yet. The combination of great desire in the midst of great struggle often causes some of us to fall victim to hating on others who are in a place in their lives that we haven’t yet reached or may never reach in our own lives.

You have to find your own place in this world. You might not move as fast and you might not move as far as someone else, but you just have to keep moving. You may never “ball so hard” in Paris, but you can escape your struggle and “ball so hard” in a way that is meant for you.

Jay’s verse in N*ggas in Paris is classic Jigga; he’s boastful yet insightful, line-by-line. Less than 1% of his listeners can relate to his lifestyle but nearly 100% (hopefully) of us can relate to his determination to succeed and “ball so hard”.

One thing Jay-Z didn’t really touch on in N*iggas in Paris are the details of the actual hard work that it took for him to get to where he is today. But, really, does he have to state the obvious? You, as the listener, should be able to fill-in-the-blanks and read between the lines.

Where do you want to be in your life? How are you going to get there? Be honest with yourself: Are you truly taking the steps toward reaching the goals you’ve set in your life? Or, are you simply fantasizing about how your life would (or “should”) be if you lived like “this guy” or “that lady”?

Consider this: Before you hate on others, if you were in their shoes, would you “ball” just as hard? If your answer is “yes”, then their success should serve as inspiration as you work hard to reach yours.

There Would Be No Jay-Z If Not For Big Daddy Kane

Posted on : 28-06-2011 | By : Duane | In : Editorials


When I was a kid in grade school and junior high, I thought the coolest man walking and talking on the planet was Big Daddy Kane. True, Doug E. Fresh was my very first favorite MC when I started listening to Hip-Hop in the mid 80’s, basically off the strength of his performance on his signature record, “Keep Rising to the Top”. But by the time Kane came out with his debut album in the summer of ’88….he was undoubtedly in my eyes the best MC alive. Fast forward to the mid 90’s, I’m just out of high school, Kane’s career is in decline, and my favorite MCs at that point (and to this very day) are Jay-Z, Biggie and Nas. My love for Jay & Big in particular, and respectively, comes directly from my near idolization of Big Daddy Kane when I was a kid. Lyrically; no one could touch him. Style; no one could touch him. He was smooth, tough and smart all at the same time and that’s what I aspired to be, and still do. Kane was younger than my parents but had enough years on me that I looked up to him without feeling like he was ‘old’ and out-of-touch. His influence on me is undeniable.

Last night I watched one of my favorite programs, Unsung, that paid tribute to the career of Big Daddy Kane. I never thought of Kane as being ‘unsung’ before, but the more I thought about it, I realized that Kane hasn’t received the credit that he truly deserves for the impact he made on Hip-Hop. The same can actually be said about several MCs from his era. I really hope young fans of rap music and purveyors of a more commercialized and watered down Hip-Hop culture, watched last night’s Unsung on Kane…and if you missed it, it’ll re-run again if you want to check it out.

I often say that today’s rappers are greatly influenced by legends like Big, Pac, Nas and Jay-Z. But the truth is Big Daddy Kane influenced them! Kane is THE favorite rapper of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. You follow me? I can tell you with absolute certainty that there would be no Jay-Z or Biggie if not for Kane. Don’t think so? The ‘Brooklyn connection’ is obvious, but just listen to Kane’s music, check out his style and watch his performances with Scoob and Scrap back in the day…and then stop, look and listen to Jay-Z and Biggie’s respective styles. The influence is profound.

Of course, Kane brought something to the game that was “original”, that hadn’t been seen or heard before him and haven’t been seen or heard since. I put the word original in quotes because Kane was clearly influenced by singers, comedians, and actors before him, which he talked about on Unsung. But Kane brought his own flavor to the styles he borrowed. He made it his own. He made it Hip-Hop. He may have singlehandedly redefined swagger to fit what would become the unstoppable force of Hip-Hop culture.

I hate to be a prisoner of the moment, influenced by the fact that I just finished watching Unsung, yet, even though Kane is number 8 on my top 10 MCs of all time list, he’s arguably the greatest “pure” lyricist to ever grab the mic. His position is easily several spots higher on my list if the second half of his career would have played out differently. I think the Unsung documentary, which included interviews with Kane himself, laid it all out thoroughly. Taking his music in a direction that was about 75% geared for the ladies turned out to be a career killer for Kane. I don’t want to offend the ladies, but Kane was just too talented of a MC to devote damn near entire albums to his female fans. He was influenced by Barry White (who I also happen to be a big fan of) but he wasn’t Barry White! Biggie, and later Jay-Z, was able to find that balance of making records for the ladies, records for the brothers and records for everybody, that Kane got away from doing by the time he was on his fourth album.

The Unsung documentary also put forth a very interesting yet controversial perspective insinuating that Kane’s career was derailed not just by his own artistic choices, but by the direction rap was going in the early 90’s led by West coast artists, namely N.W.A. and then Dr. Dre and Snoop (Death Row). It’s a very provocative argument to make that the emergence of ‘gangsta rap’ literally ended the careers of Big Daddy Kane and others from his era. I never really thought of it in that way but there might just be some truth to that position.

Kane was tough but he wasn’t a gangster, and he was more player than pimp. In other words, he was R-A-W, but he wasn’t dangerous. Young fans may “take for granted” the hardcore stuff they hear right on the radio these days, but back then that gangsta ‘ish literally scared the hell out of America! Kane was already losing a lot of his most loyal fans when he started making more “bring-the-bed-out-onto-the-stage” music, but when the gangsters and the wanna-bees starting taking over with music that was so explicit that you couldn’t play it while your mama was in the room, he didn’t have a fighting chance in the battle for the streets.

The truth is though, no one that came out of that gangsta era, from either coast, down south or anywhere else between, could mess with Kane lyrically. No one wanted to see Kane on the mic, rhyme for rhyme. But by the early 90’s rap music became less about skillful lyricism delivered with infectious charisma, and more about ‘dumbing down’ while engaging in thinly veiled posturing.

And yes, some of your favorite MCs (and mine) were 100% guilty of it…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing any MC in particular nor am I condemning the 90’s decade in which I grew up. The 90’s is my era, and I believe, the greatest decade of Hip-Hop. The last couple of years of the ‘golden age’ of Hip-Hop were in the first couple years of the 90’s. But MCs “who were there” from the very beginning of Hip-Hop in the late 70’s, to the ones who were in their heyday throughout the 80’s, like Kane, were the architects of the true elements of Hip-Hop. They represented it well, with the upmost of authenticity and the highest level of mastery that has never been matched thereafter.

When we talk about the greatest of anything related to Hip-Hop, we dare not forget about those who were doing their thing when I was just a kid and when some of you weren’t even born!

Example: I made the bold claim several months ago that “Can I Live” by Jay-Z is the greatest rap song of all time. Well, allow me to raise more eyebrows by stating that Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw” is the greatest lyrical performance of all time (much love also for Kool G. Rap)-and there is a difference between the greatest rap song and the greatest lyrical performance.

(By the way: The second greatest lyrical performance of all time? KRS-One on “My Philosophy)

(Another ‘by the way”: Everyone’s taking sides in the beef between ‘new school’ Nicki Minaj and ‘suddenly old school’ Lil’ Kim, but neither one of them would want to see MC Lyte when she was in her prime! Don’t let the announcement gig on the BET Awards fool you!)

Well, maybe I’ve ranted and raved long enough about Kane and how Hip-Hop was back in the day. This blog post is not about widening the generation divide in Hip-Hop, it’s about bringing us all together to pay tribute to a true legend. Watching Unsung last night just took me back to the days when I was a kid. I definitely had feelings of nostalgia checking out the story of Big Daddy Kane. The well-produced Unsung does a great job with its documentaries but the series focuses primarily on R&B/Soul artists from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The 90’s, in terms of black music as a whole, and old school legendary MCs like Kane, don’t get enough shine on radio, television, print, film or online.

I’m glad Unsung did a documentary on Kane (and the one on The Fat Boys from last season), but I would love to see a series that focused exclusively on documenting, in detail, the legendary careers of MCs, DJ’s, producers, graffiti artists, break dancers and the businesspersons who built Hip-Hop culture.

As much as fans from my generation love Jay, Big, Nas, Snoop, the Wu, Lil Kim and Pac…and as much as fans from this generation love Lil Wayne, Drake, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and whoever the hell else…

…We all should “do the history” and pay ‘nuff respect to the true pioneers and legends like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One, Run-DMC, L.L., Ice-T, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and others, who all together created a music and culture that has completely shaped and defined who many of us are today.

Update: It’s official-Kane is now #4 on my greatest of all-time list. Want to know the MCs on my top 10 list, and why I moved Kane up 4 spots? I’ll share it in the next post. (I’m sure you don’t even have to think about who I’m going to say is #1, but the order of the rest of the list may surprise you.)