Notes From the Field: I Really Hope You’re Enjoying The CDs You Stole From Me, Anonymous Dude From Back In The Day

Back in college, somebody stole a bunch of my CDs from my dorm room, and the tough thing about having your CDs stolen is that you don’t always know which ones are gone until you try to listen to something, so every time you look for something and it’s gone, you feel pissed all over again. One interesting side effect of CD theft is that there are sometimes albums that you loved but haven’t heard in years. One such album for me was Bringing Down The Horse by the Wallflowers. Music often means something to us because of the place or time or stage of life, and I wondered: was it just through the foggy haze of nostalgia and memory that I viewed this album so fondly? I was afraid to listen to it, just in case it hadn’t held up. It would be better to remember it as it was rather than see it in broad daylight with all its flaws and foibles, silently feeling foolish for ever liking such crappy music.

But no. I listened to it and it’s still awesome. So, anonymous person who stole my albums which included Ginuwine’s 100% (definitely not going to risk listening to that one for the reasons listed above) and my DMX and a bunch of other stuff, I hope you listened to Bringing Down The Horse on repeat and appreciate it for what it is.  Because the only thing worse than having your music stolen is finding out that the person who stole it is using it for a weed plate.

You Owe Your Whole 80s to Bonnie Tyler; Or, The Importance of Being Earnest

I played Saints Row: The Third, which is crass, juvenile, vulgar, and violent. It’s also a lot of fun. One of the things that makes it fun (besides running errands for pimps, escorting tigers in convertibles, and participating in a Japanese-style game show called “Super Ethical Reality Climax” in which you shoot people dressed as mascots in sketchy warehouse) is the awesome soundtrack. For the most part, the music is delivered to you by virtue of the radio station you choose when you’re driving around the city in your car. The selection is quite good, and it’s where I found out that Talk Talk recorded “It’s My Life” well before No Doubt did. I can also report that, as much as I like No Doubt, Talk Talk’s version is superior. I am biased here–I’m an unabashed fan of all things New Wave. But I’ll let you be the judge.

While most of the music is delivered by your choice of radio station, there are two moments in which the creators of the game take artistic license and interject their own vision musically: first, when you’re parachuting over a cityscape into a penthouse party from a helicopter late at night, guns blazing, they play Kanye West’s “Power.”  It was perfect.  And secondly, near the end of the game, where you have a tough decision and a tough road ahead of you, they play Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero.”  And it’s perfect. You really can’t understand how perfect unless you play the game. But as a standalone, this song goes in and it goes hard. It was originally on the Footloose soundtrack, but I’m a proponent of working this song into any soundtrack…ever. Probably should have put this in The English Patient and The Color Purple. I kid. But in a world where the word epic is overused, consider the fact that the lyrics to this song start off like this: Continue reading

Let Us Now Celebrate Da Brat

The beautiful thing about music videos back in the day is that, more often than not, they depicted places you wish you were with people that you wish you knew doing things you wish you were doing.  And from a hip hop and R&B perspective, people were still on the come up and were really about the music more so than the business of music. So it wasn’t a big deal for other famous people to show up on your album or at your concert or at least a cameo in your video.  At least, that’s how I play it out in my head. In most hip hop videos today, the people in them just don’t look, well, cool. They don’t look so much like they’re doing what you wish you were doing or are with people that you wish you knew. It all seems so contrived; how many Bentleys can you really look at? I don’t want to see Britney Spears singing the hook on a Mobb Deep joint because it might have “crossover appeal.” I don’t even know what that means anymore. Meanwhile, people in the videos of the 1990’s could make a Jeep Wrangler or even a Geo Tracker look like the best time in the world.

And that’s how I felt about Da Brat’s “Give It To You” video. My college roommate and I threw a party celebrating the fact that he had passed calculus (long story) and I had moved out the ghetto (longer story). We hired a band and sent out classy invitations, but we also served chicken wings and red Kool-Aid for which we refused to measure the sugar–basically, we just kept adding sugar until it wouldn’t dissolve in the water anymore. And though we never explicitly said it, we were probably trying to recreate a lot of the feelings felt in this video. Continue reading

The Conspiracy Files: Lauryn Hill’s Tax Situation

“The meeting is called to order,” Okra said in low tones. “As each of you know, the circumstances of this meeting are dire. The arts in our community are in major trouble and damaging the collective psyche of the community. Q, read the report.”

Q opened a dossier, but he seemed to know the content by heart. “We’re in a culture crisis. There’s no doubt that the quality of content in our music has gone down tremendously. We’ve got word that Ray J–”

“You mean Brandy’s brother?” interjected Conspiracy Brother.

“The very same,” replied Q. “He’s working on a song called “I Hit It First”…about Kim Kardashian. Booty injections are at an all time high…some women are even getting them illegally. The phenomenon of making it rain resulted in many Black men literally throwing money away. We’ve reached a point where Magoo–”

“You mean the weak one out of the Timbaland, Aaliyah, Missy, Ginuwine SupaFriends crew?”–interjected Conspiracy Brother again.

“The very same,” said Q. “We’ve done the analysis, and were Magoo rapping today, he would be in the 90th percentile of popular rappers today.”

The room gasped.

“There’s no Claire Huxtable–no Huxtables of any kind, really. No Dwayne Wayne or Whitley Gilbert. Just Real Housewives, Love and Hip Hop, and Oliv–”

“Don’t you say it!” exclaimed Tyler, who had said nothing up to this point. “I love that show! I hashtag everything!”

“We all do,” said Q, picking his afro with his ever present pick. “But face facts: the TV role models for Black kids are sorely lacking. You’ve got Joseline and Mimi fighting over Steebie frickin’ J?  Even the women who they show on Married to Medicine come out looking terrible. It’s not just women. We narrowly averted having a show about something called a Shawty Lo and all his baby mamas…entitled, “All My Baby Mamas.” And we all know that this isn’t the totality of our culture…not even close. But it’s the totality of what’s on television and radio these days. It’s sex, fighting, utter ignorance. And these images are broadcast into the minds of our children, our people, and all around the world. We need an intervention.”

“What do you propose?” asked Okra?

“I’ll leave the details to Conspiracy Brother,” said Q.

Conspiracy Brother leaned in. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. In phase 1, we tried to bring Tupac back from Cuba, and told everybody he was a hologram at Coachella.The media bought it, and we’d hoped to get some more music in the vein of “Keep Your Head Up,” “Smile,” “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” stuff like that. People would ride for Tupac. But he’s not ready…something about a 7 day theory. And he said something about going back to Cuba to defend his godmother. We must be patient with him. We had Derrick Rose installed in Chicago–I think his shoulders are strong enough to carry the city. But with his knee injury, people have already turned on him, forgotten about what he can represent. It’s shaken him. But he’ll be back. Q here has been working with D’Angelo, and that guy is almost back. Shawn and Beyonce are working out far better than we’d hoped, better than Bob and Sheila turned out. But it’s not enough. It’s just not enough. We need to do something…drastic.”

“What are you suggesting?” asked Kevin Hart, who was clapping with every syllable for emphasis. He also was the only person around the table who was standing up, but no one really could tell.

“He’s saying we’ve gotta bring Lauryn Hill back. She can sing, she can rap, she’s smart, she can act, she’s beautiful. She’s brave and speaks truth to power. She can save this thing.” said Q. “But how?”

Conspiracy Brother sighed. “We’ve gotta give her something to write about. For the past three years, we’ve had a shady advisor telling her that she doesn’t need to pay taxes. She believed him.”

Okra just shook her head. “Always pay your taxes. Especially if you’re Black and rich. Like me.”

“We know, Okra,” the room said in unison.

“She’s feeling persecuted,” continued Conspiracy Brother. “Like a modern day slave. And the pressure has gotten to her…she now realizes she might go to jail for real. So she’s in the studio. And she’s been recording. We had Rohan sneak this out to us:”


“Well,” sighed Okra, “it’s a start. But did she have to go to prison, though?”

“We got it down from three years to three months,” said Conspiracy Brother. “And with any luck, she’ll be out in one.”

“I know she got So Much Things to Say Right Now,” yelled Kevin Hart, still clapping. “That tax bill was killing her softly!”

“Too soon, Kevin,” said Okra. “Too soon.”