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Dopeness Don't Age: Fresh from '12

...'til the break of dawn.

Dopeness Don’t Age: Fresh from ’12

January 12, 2013  |  Culture  |  No Comments

Back before MP3 playlists and CD burners, I would spend the first week of each new year reflecting on the music of the last 12 months. What songs captured the feelings, sentiments and moments of the year before? This was no mere exploration of “hits” or “top tens” this was a 90-minute evaluation of major themes, personal discoveries, and intellectual shifts dubbed and soulbound to a $0.99 Memorex.

Master of My Make-Believe

Master of My Make-Believe

Though I traded my AA batteries for iTunes cards over ten years ago, the tradition remains. Each January, I make the killer mixtape, and as I collect each song, I marvel at the music that has formed the soundtrack of the year before. If you let the old heads tell it, though, Hip hop has not left us much to marvel about in the last few years. (For the record, I PROUDLY consider myself one of the “old heads”.) We all complain that things have changed, that these young kids don’t do it like it needs to be done…

All of these complaints are justified. Almost weekly I’m confronted with some non-rappin’-behind new jack and his cringe worthy release, but I also know that waiting for the next Illmatic like some boom-bap curmudgeon does nothing to maintain the fat-laced Adidas-clad spirit of Hip hop that we swear we all want back.

For those who are angrily waiting for 1993 to come back, those who are relatively new to this movement, or those with tight budgets who demand tighter rhymes. Here’s my sensible-dude’s list of what made 2012 sonically resonant:


R.A.P Music

R.A.P Music

Killer Mike’s R.A.P Music – Notable Tracks: “Reagan”, “Anywhere but Here”, “Big Beast”

“Anywhere but Here” captures the reason why I teach. Seriously. The song is an eloquent status report on poverty in The United States — one of many jewels on this album which runs like a conversation with a trusted friend. In a sentence, this album is what happens when angry black boys grow into thoughtful and capable black men. It represents the perpetual performance of code switching that has defined this generation as we grew through decades of policy, schooling, and police departments that wanted us dead into leaders with passionate fire in our eyes and Hip hop in our veins.

Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange – Notable Tracks: “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”, “Bad Religion”, “Pyramids”

I kept trying not to like those Odd Future kids. I kept wanting to dismiss them as the personification of everything that’s wrong with this cohort. But then Frank Ocean comes along, pouring his soul into my headphones, and forcing me to confront the reality that humanity is too complex a thing to casually dismiss — even a humanity lived as one of the most visible of the visible in this (social) media-obsessed landscape. African music as it has been made manifest in The United States is fundamentally about freedom, and in that regard, Frank Ocean is the freest man on today’s scene. This album is not proof of that fact. It is a byproduct. It’s an album of aspirations. In a better world we would all be as honest, as real, and as committed as this dude. We may have lost our chance, but I take great pride in the fact that we can raise our kids to be this legit.

Channel Orange

Channel Orange

Santigold’s Master of My Make-Believe – Notable Tracks: “Disparate Youth”, “The Riot’s Gone”, “This Isn’t our Parade”

The first few week’s of Soleil’s life, the only other thing I listened to was her cries when she had gas. It would not surprise me if my daughter knows every word of this album, and she can’t even talk yet. When Kass would go to work, I would walk her around Brooklyn, and we (I) would sing these songs. From conception, Soleil knew her mother’s heartbeat. Because of this album, from birth, she knew her Pop’s falsetto. I don’t even know what this album is about — outside of helping urban daddies survive the first 12 weeks of parenthood, that is.

Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City – Notable Tracks: “B!+ch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”

The most beautiful profession of imperfect humanity since Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I was walking to school the first time I heard “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” (the BEST song this year), I had to stop on 2nd Ave., sit on a fire hydrant, and rewrite every lesson plan. This is what it means to be a writer. Eff a standardized test. If I can move students to do it like this, our future is secure. The beautiful thing about our condition is that kids are doing this despite their schooling. The future is here. We are not its ushers. Kendrick’s testament reminds us that we are its protectors.

Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

Nas’ Life is Good – Notable Tracks: “No Introduction”, “Cherry Wine”, “Accident Murders”

Adult Contemporary Hip hop is officially a genre. This is what we’ll be listening to in our nursing homes (or wherever we’ll be when the politicians burn our social security). This wasn’t a return to form for Nas as much as it was for us — the generation that came of age with him as one of our primary spokespeople. We had some stuff to get off our chests this year, and this was the soundtrack to the 80 block walk you probably had to go on just to work it all out. This one is going to save us all some therapy bills, because the Republicans will make sure that the thing (whatever it is) that gets on your last nerve will not be covered by Obamacare.

Super Black!

Miles Morales: SuperBlack

Super Black!

January 12, 2013  |  Culture, Teaching  |  No Comments
2013-01-06 08.00.51

Miles… From where we used to be

I was on the D Train yesterday — with no urgent emails in my inbox, I was overjoyed at the reality that I was going to be able to use my 25-minute commute to catch up on some leisure reading. I had barely cracked open Ultimate Comics Spider Man #17, when the young brother standing behind me exclaimed, “Oh snap! …Black Spider Man!” He pushed his way beside me and gleefully demanded: “Who is that guy?”

Sometimes I forget that not everyone is a nerd like me, so I quickly explained Miles’ whole backstory starting from the death of Peter Parker in the Ultimate Universe. Two stops later, my new friend and I were seven pages into #17 together. His eyes sparkled as he beheld each frame, and I could not help but to remember the first time I held a comic book where the guy doing all the ass-kicking looked like me.

Each page was like a revolution to this kid. When Miles removed his mask midway through the book, my fellow straphanger stared at the set of heroic brown eyes that so brilliantly matched his own. He smiled, and pointed inaudibly. “That’s him…” he whispered.

Batwing -- The Darker Knight?

Batwing — The Darker Knight?

“You can take it.” was my reply. He held the book as if it were an infant, and promised me that he would read it a hundred times. As he left the train we shook hands. His eyes went right back to the book as he deftly pinballed through the boarding passengers.

I’m reminded of how powerful reading can be, and of how important reading choice is for young people. I don’t know what or who that young man will become, but I know that somewhere in that becoming he will reflect on the reality that though heroes only exist as we imagine them, we live in a world where it is okay to imagine them black, brown, gay, whomever… Hopefully he understands that we live in a world where it is okay to see them in the mirror.

If you think you know some young folks who would love Ultimate Spidey, be sure to check out DC Comic’s ongoing series, Batwing, too. With some searching, you can pick up copies of Black Panther, or collected volumes of Static Shock.

Hip Hop

Hip Hop

December 23, 2012  |  Culture  |  No Comments

This week’s #hiphoped conversation has really stuck with me. The discussion of Chief Keef’s music aural filth caused us to realize something significant. We are in danger of failing this generation in some profound ways. The youth have always had something to say. Historically, the resulting question, then, has been “Are we listening?” In the case of this generation, the query that pains me is “Do we even know how to listen anymore?”

I’m officially an old man.

I can hear the insatiable anger in Keef’s music. I even understand why it’s there. We’ve coming off of one of the bloodiest summers on record in his hometown, Chicago – black and brown kids murdered by their peers at a rate that would make the klan jealous. Many of the schools there are more segregated today than they were when The Supreme Court issued the order to integrate in 1954… Read More