Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reading with Thugs

My next post for Black History Month is more about someone making Black History.  In high school, we all had to read the classics: To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, 1984, Hamlet, Beowulf, and so on and so forth. Like most high school students, you were not excited to read them.  And also like most high students, you did as much as you could to get the gist of the story without actually reading the story.  Some looked for summaries online and others bought the CliffNotes.  But even the CliffNotes could be a bore.  Unless you had one of those teachers that made reading Pride & Prejudice seem like an action movie, 10th grade English was the most dreadful time of your high school years.

The Sparky Sweets Source:thug-notes.com 
Well, there is someone that is making the classics gansta... literally.  I present to you Sparky Sweets, Ph.D.  He is the host of the YouTube series, Thug Notes.  He basically breaks a book down in 3 minutes and then gives you a 2 minute analysis.  And he does all this while wearing a du-rag, chains, tank top, and shorts speaking with street lingo.  And the crazy thing is the videos are surprisingly good!  Don't believe me? Here is just one of his great videos:

Is it just me or did he give To Kill A Mockingbird the most street cred?  After watching most of his videos, he made me want to go on a classical book reading binge.  I was ashamed by this thug that I hadn't read more of these books.  But if I'm being really honest, I wish I had these videos in high school.  Unfortunately, YouTube wasn't a site until 2005 and even then it was mostly videos of people falling and kittens.  So yea, I was stuck having to read Romeo and Juliet on my own and do my best to decipher Shakespearean jargon.

Sparky has said that his initial reasons for making the videos were to bring classic literature to the masses.  He realized that those who were teaching literature were not making it accessible to all but making folks feel they had to step up a social level to appreciate great literature.  He breaks it down as simple as possible and after those 5 minutes there is no reason you shouldn't understand that Of Mice and Men is about how no matter how hard you work your dreams will always be a dream because the rich is always holding you down.  Dang the rich.  

He also helps us realize that those books our teachers tried to make us read were not as boring as we thought.  He explains these books go beyond the plots we read and how they still ring true today.  Dante's Inferno and The Picture of Dorian Gray dive into our fight with sin and purity.  McBeth and Romeo and Juliet tackles fate and asks the question, do we really have control of what happens to us?  Yall thought our teachers were trying to torture us but they were trying to get us to explore deeper truths. 

So support this brotha in his efforts to bring the classics to the hood and be sure to visit Thug Notes on Youtube.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Black Planet: The OG of Social Networks

In my next Black History Month post, I want to take some of yall back... alllllll the way back.  Back when dial-up was our main source for Internet, this was that site.  You were constantly updating your page with ratchet graphics and tacky backgrounds.  Have you guess what site I'm talking about?

If you said Black Planet then you guessed right.  Black Planet wasn't just any site.  It was Instagram but only with selfies (before selfie was in the dictionary).  It was Facebook without the annoying status updates every 20 minutes.  Your page painted a picture of who you were.  I know I wasn't the only that worked hours at making my page look perfect.  You made a wordy description of yourself where you felt a need to tell people how fine you were however you were only looking for "friends".  You would come up with a color scheme (usually pink, purple, or baby blue if you were a girl) and everything on that page had to be that color.

There was a science to making the perfect page.  After you picked the color scheme, you then had to add graphics.  And not just any graphics, but graphics that explained my 16 year old self.  I had a glittery graphic that said "Sexy", purple one that read "Angel", and green camo graphic that boldly said "BabyGirl".  Then to top it off, you had to make sure you added a graphic that reminded people to "Show Your Page Some Love".

Why were we blinded to the fact that this stuff looked horrible?  Why did we think we had the flyest pages?  I wish I could take a screen shot of my page from 2005.  I would be ashamed of myself.  One thing I can say is that I'm surprised that more black people from this era did not become graphic designers.  We were most definitely getting hours of practice.

What puzzled me was what exactly was I supposed to be doing on Black Planet?  My mom had scared me straight with numerous 20/20 and Dateline Specials so I knew better than to give my number to an online lurker.  But for the brave who ignored 20/20's warnings, did  anybody meet someone over Black Planet and actually have a lasting, loving relationship.  When Jerome and Takesha renew their vows at their 20th anniversary will they reference Black Planet as the place they found true love?  Will Jerome tell his kids how he couldn't live another minute without Takesha once he saw her page with its Cash Money Millionaire background?  I hope so.  I want true love for Jerome and Takesha.

All jokes aside, Black Planet was a simpler time.  We were just learning what social media was.  We had no idea the power social media had yet we still had an understanding of just how much we should share online.  You didn't hear numerous incidents about bullying on Black Planet.  You basically looked at someone's fancy page and moved on to the next.  There were no trolls or stan wars.  You didn't get into online battles with racists idiots whose profile picture is Darth Vader. No crazy names like Takesha BoutMyMoney James.  Instead, you had B@byGirl1988.   It was just simple page browsing.  Sounds boring but at least we didn't have the problems we have online now.

Just like how Elvis stole Rock n' Rock from Little Richard, Facebook stole social media from Black Planet.  Now poor Black Planet is a wasteland full of ratchets and ratchettes.  I recently went by the old place just to see how it was doing and found out they have an app!  Good for you, Black Planet, for fighting the good fight.

Do you all remember your Black Planet Page?  Be honest, is it still active?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Where's the Unity in Black Music?

Cold. Irrelevant.  Flop.  These words are regularly tossed around on Twitter describing artists who no longer on top.  Artists are scrambling to put out music that sounds like everything else on the radio just to keep themselves on the radar.  All artists are continually be compared to the one artist on top.  Needless to say, it's not easy for up and comings or the veterans.  But was it always like this.  Let's hear what legendary producers, Missy Elliot and Timbaland, have to say:

Back in 2012, Missy and Timbaland did an interview at The Breakfast Club and what they said still rings true two years later.  Around the 23:00 mark, Missy and Timb drop some real knowledge about the current situation of black music today.  

Charlamagne, one of the host of the Breakfast Club, is infamous for calling artists out for being away awhile, or "cold" as he calls it.  I love how Timb shuts him down by saying that back in the 90s they didn't call artists cold.  Timb explained that you waited for artists to come out with new music, not cut them down for being absent.  Missy gave a heart felt explanation about respecting artists, past and present.

After watching this interview it got me to wondering: where's the unity in black music?  I understand that the business is a competition.  Everybody wants to be number 1 on the charts and I get it.  But as Missy brings out in the interview, you still show respect to those who came out before you.  Nowadays, these new folks pay no homage to the legends.  There is no appreciation for those who made a way from them.  All you got now is a lot digs and shade.

You never heard Tina Turner coming at Aretha Franklin.  You never heard The Temptations talking trash about The Four Tops.  There was a mutual respect.  Behind closed doors they probably did talk smack about other artists but in public it was all kosher.  Even in the 90s (beside the whole west side, east side feud) artists gave each other respect.  There was no bad blood between En Vogue and SWV.  Now, you got K. Michelle and Tamar on Twitter beefing about wigs or something.

A major reason for this issue is social media.  Yes, I said social media.  I don't know where the PR people are but they're all slipping.  I say this because artists have no chill when it comes to Twitter.  Keyshia Cole coming for Michelle Williams.  Brian McKnight coming for Chris Brown. Rihanna coming for Ciara. When is the last time you saw Taylor Swift tweeting Selena Gomez about who sold out more arenas?  I hate to say it but these pop artists understand there is power in major collaborations and crossovers.  You can't be moving up in the world if you going back and forth on social media. At all times, you want people to be talking about your music, not your latest tweet.  The reason why Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z have longevity in this business is because they're not putting energy into the petty stuff.  These new ones better start taking notes.

And do not get me started on these stans.  Back in the day, hardcore fans use to cry at concerts and make posters for their favorite artists for TRL.  Fans are no longer just crying, but these STANS (stalker/fans) are taking things to another level.  Stans wish death upon those who speak ill of their favs.  They have created a negative energy around a lot of artists.  You got the Bey Hive (Beyonce), The Navy (Rihanna), Barbies (Nicki Minaj) and they're all beast behind a key board.  If you tweet that you thought  Rihanna was a little pitchy during a performance, you better get ready because the Navy is coming.  For the next 4 hours, stans will drag you on social media.  I know that artists can't control this but I can't help but feel that these stans affect how they artists treat each other.

It's crazy how much the music game has changed in the last 10 years.  It's no longer about making good music, it's about throwing shade to prove you are the best.  Newbies no longer have respect for the legends.  Missy and Timbaland dropped some real truth that will unfortunately go over the head of these newbies.  I look forward to where black music is going but I can't help but be believe that unity in black music will continue to look bleak.

BTW, Happy Black History Month!  Stay tuned because for the rest of the month I will be dedicating a post to Black History Month.