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The Impossible Kid @aesoprockwins #HIPHOP

It should be no surprise that I'm a fan of Aesop Rock.  He's the type of hip hop artist that can rap about drawing or painting and I buy it.  Sometimes artists try really hard to be the creative outcast, but most times, they aren't successful (not Aesop Rock).  Since None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock released Skelethon, a few collaboration projects including Lice with Homeboy Sandman and now The Impossible Kid.  The visual artists that created the album art for the last three projects were Jeremy Fish (None Shall Pass and Lice), Aryz (Skelethon) and now Alex Pardee (The Impossible Kid).  Album art says a lot about a project and I follow the work of all three of these artists.

The Impossible Kid was produced by Aesop Rock who has been developing his signature producing skills since I first realized he produced a significant number of his tracks back on the Felt 3 project with Slug and Murs.  Def Jux days had Aesop Rock rapping over El-P and Blockhead beats here and there, but if you've heard those projects, the vibes can be dark, sometimes melancholy and also heavy hitters.  The Impossible Kid isn't as melancholy or dark, but there is still a undercurrent of eerie sounds that make it a continuation of Aesop Rock's overall body of work while reaching into new directions.

Speaking of Aesop Rock's production credits, there is another project that was just released with Blueprint called Vigilante Genesis.  Make sure to check it out as well via the link below.   Vigilante Genesis EP on BandCamp  

 

Ronin

Source: https://i1.sndcdn.com/artworks-00014753382...

Rachael Dolezal.....You Are #Racist

 

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2015 is the only time that the Rachael Dolezal controversy could exist.  The past year has been filled with media coverage of murders of unarmed black men delivered via various police precincts which has been happening for decades; and more recently, gender transition and identity issues have been buzzing around via Hollywood celebrity.  Rachael Dolezal and the existence of her identity issues begs our society to further examine racial identity.  However, sometimes it seems people don't understand what it means to be in their own skin.

Imagine a situation where a black woman was in the media for claiming she was white, even though her skin is dark and she has no family members that were white.  She straightens her hair, doesn't go out in the sun, wears sun block and she works as an accountant for the state of Connecticut to justify her identity appropriation.  It would automatically be disregarded by every white person because her parents are black and her skin is dark.  It would also reflect a sad reality where this confused black woman simultaneously had poor esteem for her own race as well as a lack of understanding for what it means to be her appropriated race.  To expand, there are plenty of white people that are poor, didn't graduate high school and depend on government subsidies to survive.  Our society viciously calls them "white trash".  It speaks volumes to what it means to be white while allowing white people to distinguish themselves from the poor.  If a person who was considered "white trash" excelled in school and made a good living as a result, should they proclaim they are "white" now that they have moved up the economic ladder?  The truth is that the confused black woman in the above hypothetical scenario isn't identifying herself to be connected to the people our society calls "white trash".  She is identifying herself as what white people collectively accept as being white because white people have defined their own image regardless if it contradicts reality with no regard if it dehumanizes impoverished white people.

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Behaviors, interests and career paths are not representative of a race.  The fact that this even needs to be said reflects the sad reality that people accept stereotypes to be true. Just because I am a black architect in training doesn't mean my behavior and speech reflect some desire to be white.  Some black people believe other black people who perform well in school or are well spoken want to be white.  There are also white people that believe the way black people speak is a different language aka Ebonics, when it's just a different dialect of English.  White people and black people alike generalize their own race and what it means to belong their race, but when someone from another race says something about them, only then it's unacceptable and racist.  The truth is that it's always racist to say behavior is determined by the skin color.  Actually, it's the definition of racism.  Black people are racist against black people and white people are racist against white people all the time by limiting what qualifies a person to be accepted into a race.  Take a second to wade through how ridiculous this idea is.  If a white person loves hip hop and starts to reflect the speech in their day to day life, they are called names like "whigger", a "wannabe" or something along those lines.  "Whigger" is an ugly word which not only limits what white people are allowed to do, it also calls black people "nigger" at the same time.  Why can't this person simply be a white person who loves hip hop?  It's not rocket science, but it would require a person to be conscious of what they're saying.  I don't believe many people are conscious enough when it comes to race.

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There are limitations on what people believe is acceptable behavior for their own race.  Rachel Dolezal is a reflection of this unfortunate reality because she thinks she can "pass" for black in order to act a certain way or to have certain interests.  I repeat....behavior is not determined by the color of your skin and anyone that disagrees with this is racist.  This is also an extreme case of white privilege.  Imagine a privileged position where you can simply proclaim that you are a race other than what your genealogy and skin tone reflects simply because of how you feel.  Race is not a status you can change on Facebook.  Ms. Dolezal is taking the steps that mixed or multi-racial people have to go through because they have relatives who look different than them and because they never fully can be considered one race.   For bi-racial people, racial identity is something you process internally and test against the outside world. Bi or multi-racial people have to come to grips that their identity isn't defined by one race.  It can be difficult to deal with because bi or multi-racial people never feel total acceptance because it would mean that you disregard parts of your own family.  Rachael Dolezal isn't going through this process.  As a matter of fact, she tries to parse this whole racial identity discussion by saying she doesn't consider herself "African American", she considers herself "black".......as if it makes it any better to disregard the tangible weight of racism, including harassment, confinement to low income neighborhoods with limited opportunities and to separate that from the consistent factor for all of those things for generations was based on skin color.  You cannot separate the two.  Part of coming of age as an African American is understanding the color of your skin is connected to a history of slavery, discrimination and institutional racism.  It's disrespectful to the history Rachael Dolezal studied so well.

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I'm bi-racial from the Midwest, and I had to realize that the way people perceive me is based on my skin color.  I call myself black because I know that is how I am perceived and that is part of who I am.  When police officers look at me, they don't care that my mother is white.  I also say that I am mixed race because I would never distance myself from my mother and that side of my family.  However, I could never call myself white because my skin has too much melanin.  Light skinned African Americans have to deal with the reality that African Americans with a darker complexion don't consider them to be fully black or are somehow inferior.  This is rooted in a history of slave masters preferring lighter skinned slaves and treating them differently.  Also, light skinned slaves were often born from rape, so the other slaves wouldn't really have the same relationship they would with other slaves.

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For someone like Rachael Dolezal to proclaim to be a race that she has no lineage to is sad and trivializes African Americans experiences with race to a status that simply needs a confirmation button.  I'm not a clinical psychologist but I would bet she has some undiagnosed mental disorder or an unhealthy obsession with African American culture.  Working for the NAACP doesn't mean you are black and it's insulting to everyone (including herself) to make such reckless claims about her identity.  Just because a person has colored sun glasses doesn't mean that the sky is orange for everyone else.  On a clear day, we all know what color it is.

Ronin

A Most Violent Year #blacklivesmatter

Grant, Bell, Martin, Nelson, Diallo, King, Brown, Gurly, Scott, Garner.........and now Freddie Gray.  Outrage faded after all of these tragedies.  Constant reminders of unnecessary deaths with a common thread of black men killed by police, abuse of power and a legal system that fails to protect rights equally have been building up over the past two years in the media, but for decades for African Americans.  The details of the Freddie Gray death will play itself out, but the more times this happens, the less it matters whether the circumstances were justified or not.  People are dying and it becomes more evident that it could happen to you, if you're African American with any interaction with law enforcement.

To deny race as a factor of the Trayvon Martin murder grand jury was the most shady detail in the Zimmerman trial because it established motive.  Zimmerman's bias led to pursuing, confronting, shooting and killing a 17 year old young man.  I could literally go over the Travon Martin killing until I'm blue in the face, but I think 2014 and 2015 are symbolically violent years that should be put in historic context.  It will continue unless something is done by every individual who sees and understands the problem.

Every day is an opportunity to look within ourselves to see if there is anything we can do to make a change.  We won't always be ready for change, but I hope more and more people are moving toward that point with all of the media coverage and now that people are finally paying attention..

Stereotypes based on socio-economic status of young black men is not breaking news, but historically knit into the United States of Amerikkka.  These stereotypes include young black men are poor, uneducated, thieves, violent, "up to no good", hooligans, thugs and dangerous in many ways.  These stereotypes alter the perception of African American men in real life and it's noticeable from body language and facial expressions of other ethnicities.  It's also evident in the reaction of law enforcement to African Americans.  Polls and don't give disclaimers pointing out that not all African Americans fall into their conclusions.  Society at large accepts statistical information and is comfortable using it as justification for prejudging African Americans by all races.  By now, we should be able to know the difference between poll summaries and knowing the circumstances of individual lives. Not all black people are the same and anyone that finds themselves saying, "look at how African Americans act during riots" as justification for police brutality need to unlearn their past.

 Baltimore Riots, 1968

Baltimore Riots, 1968

I don't see anything more harmful than a person that's unwilling to look within themselves when it affects the lives of others.  The main problem with this is that black racism is not integrated into the power structure of the United States and it doesn't cover up patterns of targeted murders of white, Asian or Hispanic people.  Lack of reflection and honestly discussing racial opinions plays a huge part in white privilege being a difficult problem to solve.  Jurors of the George Zimmerman case would have to indict themselves and confront their own racism in order to convict Zimmerman.  I don't see many people willing to do this and it doesn't happen unless it affects their life directly.  The majority of people don't want to fear us when they are out in the world.  Good intentions don't erase fear when people walk down the street and there is a group of young black men walking behind them.  It also doesn't prevent people from being afraid of me when I am walking to a store at night.  I'm a father, artist and an architect, which I would think makes me less threatening, but it doesn't.  It doesn't change the misconception that every black neighborhood is the ghetto either.

Race makes people defensive and outraged but different races manifest their rage and outrage differently.  I am convinced people don't remember what racism is anymore.  It's polarizing effect causes emotional reactions and prevents common sense from taking the drivers seat.  Defensiveness prevents productive conversations that would make all of our lives better, so why can't we move past our own defensiveness in 2015?  President Obama appropriately called for a time of reflection during the Zimmerman trial but our society doesn't really understand why we need to reflect, so it fell on deaf ears.  Racism isn't always an outward hatred of everyone in a specific race.  Having racist thoughts doesn't automatically mean you're a terrible person and that you hate any specific race either.  Racism is making judgements that make race the determining factor for behavior or circumstances.  Identifying racism can be as simple as catching yourself saying something that you know does not apply to a whole race, but may apply to a certain portion of that race.  If you believe race determines behavior, then it's pretty safe to say you're racist.  Saying "all" or making blanket statements about other races or your own is racism.  Once you acknowledge your own racism, it's up to  you to challenge it and make a conscious decisions to change yourself and the important people in your life.  Moving forward, it's up to you to question your beliefs, meet people that aren't like you and to grow past the stereotypes you've learned.  You decide if it passes on to your children.  This isn't only something that white people need to do.  Everyone needs to do this.  African Americans should work hard to not let the racism they feel directed toward turn into racism as a result.  It's easier said than done, but it's one very important step needed for progress to happen.  Not many people are open about having racist views, and while I disagree there is an obligation to wrong the crimes in history, I think it is everyone's responsibility for the cultural stereotypes, prejudice and unfounded beliefs they perpetuate.

Stereotypes are harmful to everyone because they limit our interactions to historic representations determined by how light reflects off our skin.  It narrows the empathy for other races and damages our self awareness.  Being stuck in the past prevents us from being present in our time, our generation and it prevents us from being in control of our lives.  I've seen plenty of black people that can't dance, Asian people that are bad at math and white people that are bad with their money.  Stereotypes are not truth.  If you're curious enough, you will find examples that prove stereotypes wrong, but you won't find these counter examples if you don't look.  Acknowledging stereotypes doesn't bring Trayvon Martin back, however.  Not all stereotypes are dangerous enough to kill teenagers when they are trying to protect themselves.   The truth is the stereotypes of black men being strong, fast, aggressive, poor and uneducated lead people to fear them before they know anything about them as individuals.  How do I know?  I know because I am a mixed race ex-football player, turned architect/artist/designer.  I've talked people through their stereotypes and only became friends when the light bulb went off.  I've been judged, feared and stereotyped before and when you see it often enough, it's easy to identify.  I've heard racist views from black people, white people, Asian, Hispanic and Africans among others.  I work through my own racist thoughts and learn from people I've met from all over the world.

In my opinion, #justicefortrayvon would be if people had honest conversations with themselves and challenged themselves to think beyond the framework of race.  The revolution can't be televised because it needs to happen in the hearts and minds of millions of people.  The expression and celebration of this revolution is what I'm looking forward to.

A Genius Leaves the Hood #jayz #hiphop #film #culture

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Not too often do I watch documentaries about artists that don't feature the artist to tell their own story, when they are still alive.  So, before I start talking about this movie, let me say that the movie is definitely one sided at times.  The filmmaker makes Jay Z look ruthless, cold and opportunistic at times.  They follow this up by doing a decent job balancing negative perceptions of Jay Z with supportive ones.  Some argue that he's brilliant, smart, a genius and amazing businessman; others say he's an opportunist, has no loyalty and is only out for himself.

Its probably better to get my opinion out there and out of the way.  I liked Reasonable Doubt when it came out, but you could easily put it on a similar level as Liquid Swords for one particular reason.  They both were good albums when they dropped, but while they had very different styles, Reasonable Doubt and Jay Z focused on materialistic pursuits of wealth, power and everything associated with it.  Shallow representations of money, women, power, drugs, etc glorified by Jay Z usually make an artist blow up, but Reasonable Doubt didn't blow up in 1995.  It was only considered a classic when Jay Z blew up years later.  The fact that both projects didn't blow up is the only thing that I think makes them similar.  In fact, Jay Z didn't blow up until later, after the Notorious B.I.G. was killed.  Liquid Swords was a dark, lyrical assortment of amazing flows, ability, creativity, production and achieved much more than Reasonable Doubt creatively. The GZA never will receive the type of money Jay Z makes, but the one thing Liquid Swords achieves that Reasonable Doubt didn't is pushing the genre and culture further.  Liquid Swords was ground breaking and Reasonable Doubt was a "safe" conceptual album made for people looking for materialistic, watered down subculture music (aka hip hop).  

Believe it or not, some black people still polarize themselves to field and house "niggas".  A house "nigga' is someone who is supposedly "true" to who they are by accepting their past as a slave and turns that representation on it's head by wearing it as a badge.  This attitude also considers house "niggas" are black people that sell out, don't buy into the narrow perception of how black people have to behave and it's also way that black people are racist against themselves based on how dark they are.  I don't use that word in my vocabulary, but using it metaphorically, Reasonable Doubt and the albums like it tell stories that field "niggas" want to hear by limiting the artist to see themselves as a slave and brag about who has the most expensive chains.  I would never limit myself to this slave mentality.  The one thing that the films does is make you see that Jay Z considered himself a businessman.  A Genius Leaves the Hood hints toward Jay Z selling out for a more corporate direction at times.  The main problem with that is that it is a double standard that is contradictory.  First, for a person to go a corporate direction doesn't automatically make him a sell out.  Also, moving beyond the people from your old neighborhood doesn't make you a sell out either.  What would make Jay Z a sellout is if he preached something and then completely went against everything he said he stood for.  In the end of the movie, one of the people interviewed mentioned that they think Jay Z is going to make his opinions known and try to do some things for the greater good and for his community.  If he does that, he would be a sellout because he's always professed self preservation through dealing drugs and maximizing the money he makes by comparing music to crack and how he's basically playing the same game as he always has.  For him to start talking about what is wrong with the industry, confronting controversy and addressing political issues would be to completely change the logic of his lyrics and career moves.  Actually, the respect that I have for Jay Z would be lost if he did that because it shows a lack of conviction and it sends the message that you only help other people after you get your own.

 

I personally don't go back to listen to Reasonable Doubt often because I think artists need to be more creative and confident about how they present themselves.  For the same reason, I think more African American children need to break out of this slave mentality that Azelia Banks has been spreading lately.  They need to see themselves as being record executives as much as they see themselves as musicians.  Being an executive doesn't mean that you are betraying your community.  I'm an African American architect and if I limited myself to the narrow view of the world that Jay Z tells in Reasonable Doubt, I would probably be in jail after I stopped playing football in college.  By contrast, Liquid Swords gives you a window into another world with cunning lyrics, storytelling by an artist that calls himself the Genius.  Look at the Genius' flow, his stories, his content, imagery, vocabulary and how he presents himself.  That's something I would want people to listen to when they are growing up.  I think the film doesn't dive deep enough to really challenge whether Jay Z is a creative genius.  Obviously, I don't think he is because he isn't creative with how he presents himself, the stories he tells, but he is creative with his vocabulary and use of flow.  I don't use the word genius lightly, so when the film tries to call Jay Z a genius, I really question it and look at it from many different angles.  

When it comes to business, I don't think you can call Jay Z a genius because of the Barclay Center quagmire.  Regardless if you approach the Barclay Center (aka Atlantic Yards Development) where Jay Z thought it was a genuine opportunity to get the Nets to Brooklyn and do something good for Brooklyn or if he approached it as a marketing deal where he gets to attach himself to a large development and project himself as a businessman on a larger, more corporate scale, neither situations make him a genius in my opinion.  A business genius doesn't walk into a large land development for his first venture, become a minority owner and unofficial face of the organization just to be bought out a year or two later.  And if that was the plan, I think the negative, opportunistic portrayal of Jay Z would make a lot of sense.  But I don't imagine it was the case with the Nets.  When you look at how much Jay Z played a role in making the residents of Brooklyn feel comforted by what's going on with the Atlantic Yards development, it would make the whole thing sting.  It makes more sense that Jay Z was excited to be part of a great project that showed a lot of potential for the residents of Brooklyn, but didn't fully understand the down side of projects like the Barclays Center could have on the borough  he wears so proudly.  When you compare it to Rocafella, it seems to be consistent with everyone having their own agenda and Jay Z decides to go in his own direction when it's people's true motives come out.

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With all of that said, I don't question whether Jay Z deserves the money he has made within rap music.  He obviously put himself in the right position to make his money and that's respectable achievement in itself.  He's clearly talented with branding/marketing, taking advantage of an opportunity when it's available and creating those opportunities for himself.  He's an above average rapper, but when I step back and compare him to other artists, I don't end up saying Jay Z is the best just because he is still around.  I'ts respectable, but it doesn't make his abilities more than what they are musically and lyrically.  He's reached a higher level because he associated himself with the right artists from the 90's and he has continued to push forward since his career took off.  I respect him for what he achieved, but I'm not blinded by money.

If an artist values honor, morals, loyalty, integrity, hard work and/or creativity, it makes it's way into the music even if it's not the content of the work itself.  If an "artist" limits themselves to tell their story through the lens of a drug dealer, turned rapper, actor, etc, then they are the only one that can be responsible for the image they portray.  I think people need to distinguish what makes an artist and what makes a pop star.  Being able to sing or rap doesn't make someone an artist.  Jay Z is a pop star and people get to pop star status not because of creative abilities, playing fair and being a stand up guy.  They achieve stardom because they've done something to make themselves popular and they are in the right place at the right time.  So, I ask you, what do you think makes Jay Z popular?  How much of what makes Jay Z popular has to do with his music?  Who thinks Jay Z is the best rapper of all time?

Ronin

@ra_nyc