Category Archives: Music

Beauty and the Beast: Part I

A Beauty in Brooklyn

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For a person who’s as social as I am, I can function quite nicely as a lone wolf.  It ain’t uncommon for me to go out midnight marauding by my damn self, whether it’s because I just need some time alone with the man, the myth, the legend (that’s me, for those of you keeping score at home) or everybody else was just lame as hell and couldn’t motivate.  The kid will make something happen if that is what he so desires, and it was on just such an occasion that I met one of the most interesting characters that I’ve come across in New York.

I was fresh from downing my second or third Five Points (think Long Island Iced Tea but for people with class) at 67 Orange Street in Harlem, walking down Frederick Douglass Blvd.  By the way, I mean literally walking down the middle of the street – Five Points is no jizzoke – when my gaze ran across this slim, caramel woman with a whole lotta gams and, to literally top it off, close-cropped blonde hair.  She was working at the beer garden across the street.  (Yes, there’s a beer garden in Harlem.)  Before my internal cop could say, “Move along.  There’s nothing to see here,” I saw her see me.  Then she did the unfathomable: she yelled out, “Come on in!”  Apparently, my internal perp was still a bit skittish, ’cause I yelled back, “Who, me?” as if I were getting fingered blamed for some crime that I had yet to commit.  “Yeah, you!”  Was the retort, complete with hands-on-hips action.  My ass was across that pavement before you could say, “Lederhosen und hefeweizen.”

We became fast friends.  I say “fast” because within 10 minutes Shahi was asking me to accompany her on a boat party the next day.  Oh, and I say “friends” because within 11 minutes Shahi had disclosed that she was married to a man who was back in Toronto.  But she needed somebody to go on this cruise with her!  And it was going to be so much fun ’cause it was a soca themed cruise!  Yay!

Have I mentioned, dear reader, that I get seasick like it’s my government job and that I HATE soca almost as much as I HATE reggaeton?  How about the fact that I can swim about as well as the sperm of a 75 year-old former cyclist?  No?  Well, yeah.  All of that.

A Beast and His Teeth

So, did I go?

You’re gonna have to tune in next week to find out.  In the meantime, I’ve included a little something to get you fiends over the hump and soothe the savage beast.

It turns out that one thing that Little Miss Mrs. Shahi didn’t disclose within the first 11 minutes of our meeting was that she can muphuckin’ sing.  I mean, I look up on Twitter one day and all of sudden I see that she’s mentioned me in a tweet with a link and lo and behold, babygirl has auditioned for “Canada’s Got Talent,” singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”  (Watch the audition here.)  As soon as I heard it, I knew that I was gonna have to get in there (Ahem.  AHEM!) and snatch those a cappella vocals, then put ’em on track that I’d build from the ground up.  I wanted to flip it so that it would put a totally new spin on a pop standard…and show Shahi that she wasn’t the only one that can do damn surprises around this joint.

I did this totally without her input or knowledge initially, ripping her vocals directly off of YouTube, so blame any shortfalls on me.  But if you like it…give me like 75% of the credit.  OK, OK.  60%.  Check it!

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Filed under Music, Scissormusic, Scissortales

Fists and Fury: Chris Brown and the Limits of Rage

Love...in a hopeless place.

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What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?  Maybe you had one, two…maybe two more drinks than you shoulda had before whippin’ the front of daddy’s S-Class into the back of a K-Mart.  Perhaps Alex from Finance caught you fudging the numbers just a tad on that expense report from the last convention in Vegas.  You know, the one when you and Rick snuck away from the group to hit up Peppermint Hippo and he told you he left his corporate card back at the hotel…after ordering two bottles of Armand de Brignac and putting like 7.6 lap dances on credit.  Or maybe you did something that was a whole lot worse.  Maybe your biggest mistake was not only stupid, but also despicable.  If so, you’d be rolling in the deep with Breezy himself, Mr. Chris Brown.

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a dude sleeping under a rock in the Mariana Trench, you know that Chris was accused, plead guilty to, and was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend Rihanna.  For this offense he was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of community service.  More importantly, he was rightly strung up by the public and the media and forced to endure a well-deserved gauntlet of castigation and ridicule.  Oh, and he was unofficially banned from the Grammys, which is widely touted as the biggest night in music.

That Grammy embargo was lifted this year along with the lid on Hell, apparently.  I mean, muthaphuckas was UPSET.  For many folks, dude’s appearance on that stage was like bringing a pork chop sandwich with melted cheese into the Holy of Holies…on a Saturday.  In their minds, Chris Brown should remain persona non grata for the remainder of his life, and anything less is a (gulp) smack in the face to women everywhere.  They would have us accept the view that the stain of domestic violence is one that cannot be erased from the abuser’s hands.

I believe in the primacy of justice in a good society.  Therefore, I cannot do that.

Think back again to that stupidest and/or darkest deed of yours.  Now imagine that instead of it being someone’s moderately embarrassing  joke on Thanksgiving, or a grimy spot blessedly obscured by the sands of time, it occupies a massive stage, leering at you beneath an ever-blaring spotlight.  While this description fits Chris’ situation perfectly, it also applies to those of hundreds of thousands of other African-Americans who made mistakes big enough to put them in the grasp of the grinder that is the American criminal justice system.

According to the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment, up to 60% of the formerly incarcerated in New York State alone are still unemployed one year after they make it home.  On top of that, many states don’t allow those with felony convictions to vote, thereby denying these individuals of the very essence of citizenship.  Once you consider the fact that black males are incarcerated at a rate that’s seven times higher than white men, the Instagram I’m sending should be hittin’ the top of your goddamned feed.  One man described his utterly pitiful situation this way: “You can’t get a job. You can’t vote. You can’t do nothing even 10 or 20 years later. You don’t feel like a citizen. You don’t even feel human.”  This is changing, but not nearly fast enough.  Whether it’s due to a warped sense of morality or a willing indulgence in vengeance, too many people refuse to give these individuals a second chance, and that ain’t justice.  That’s just bigotry wearing a self-righteous mask.

I am in no way suggesting that we should just toss homeboy’s offense into the sea of forgetfulness and pretend that it never happened.  While none of us were there and as such cannot know exactly what went down, we know that Chris admitted to wrongdoing.  And since he’s a celebrity, what HE should know is that his personal life will always be somewhat public.  (Sorry, kid, but that’s the cost of doing business.)  As such, I have no problems with reporters asking him questions about the incident and its aftermath or comedians taking the piss out of him during routines.  But banning him from any public appearance?  Blowing up Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere with rants that suggest his Grammy appearance and win were like, the equivalent of Bull Connor hosting the BET Honors and winning an NAACP Image Award?  I think notly.

Dude is trying to pick up the pieces.  Keep in mind that he was 19 years old when this went down and that he’s still only 22, attempting to deal with the onslaught of a force that won’t take “I’m sorry” for an answer.  Take a second and reflect on how befuddled thou were in thine own mind at that age, then give Chris Brown a similar chance to learn from his mistakes and become a better man.  Yeah, he occasionally has verbal and electronic outbursts, or breaks a window or two, but this is to be expected from a still maturing human.  As long as he keeps his hands on a mic and not on a woman, we should let this man live.  Odin knows, none of us are without sin.  So back away from the stones, or don’t be surprised if that glass house of yours suddenly gets a little draftier.

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Stockholm Syndrome

Back in May, I was listening to two of my best friends ramble on about how I needed to roll on this excursion that they were planning for the summer.  It had been a tough winter, replete with personal and professional drama, and I was told that I needed to reward myself for making it through by going on a crew trip.  We’d party, we’d bond, we’d hang out with pretty girls, we’d embarrass our nation, etc.  It all sounded well and good until they told me of the vacation destination that they had in mind: Stockholm, Sweden.

Cue the Ben Stein face.  “Dude.  Sweden?  Really?  You want me to spend thousands of dollars for a week of blonde women and meatballs?!”  Mind you, I don’t have a problem with either of those things, (although one of them is imminently more appealing than the other).  It was more a question of whether Stockholm had anything else to offer besides Aryan lovelies and spheres of gas-inducing beef.

I need to clear up how wrong I was, for the record.  Literally.  Stockholm in the summer was so much fun that I had to write a song about it.  You can check it out at the bottom of this post.

Of course, it could be argued that the feel-good, synth-hop track that spilled out of my ticker and noggin paints a somewhat lopsided view of things.  I mean, it’s basically all about partying and women…but hey, it’s rap music.  Everybody knows that hip-hop ain’t capable of exploring such profound notions as the grandeur of cultural exchange or delight in the brotherhood of man, right?  Shut the fuck up, Donny.

Seriously though, Stockholm is a fantastic place, full of warm, friendly people.  I think I met one mean person the entire time I was there, and that was a clerk at a convenience store.  Since society apparently values me more than it does her, I’m not even going to count that little unfortunate blip on the Scandinavian radar.  Plus, the gorgeous, extravagantly welcoming women who served as our hosts more than made up for her stank ass.  Tack mycket!

Anyway, I hope you dig the track.  Imagine that you’re in your own happy place as you listen, and you’ll get the feel for what Stockholm means to me now.  Of course with my luck, the next time I go there I’ll get beaten by poliser or blown up by an anti-terrorist terrorist or something.  Whatever.

In the meantime, I miss you, Stockholm.

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Filed under Living, Music, Scissormusic

Too Soon: My Pain Is Your Pleasure

You do NOT want to be mayor of this place.

One of humanity’s most fascinating and cherished features is our ability to fashion beauty from tragedy.  Such was the case in 1997, when two of my college classmates and best friends died on an Independence Day weekend road trip.

A few of us were in a rap crew at the time (long live The Myth) and decided to pen a song called “On Your Journey (Too Soon)” as a soundtrack to our sadness.  Recently, I decided to completely remake the track so that we could lay down new vocals – the idea was that rallying around this project would give us an excuse to reunite.  After I dived into it though, it became apparent that my emotions had other plans in store.

Let me just say that the last several months have been a dark time for your hero, O my brothers and only friends.  I’ve been in a protracted war with the forces of evil across multiple fronts for a while now, and the nature of the eventual outcome isn’t at all clear.  When the anniversary of my father’s death came around, I could almost taste the darkness that was threatening to envelope me on all sides.  I had to do something.

For me, that something consisted of embracing the pain.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that I’d romanced a serious bitch.  It was about time I got something out of this particular abusive relationship.

So, I slightly reworked my verse from the original song and dropped it on the new instrumental.  Thankfully, the lyrics were just as poignant to me in 2011 as they were in 1997.  Now what?  How could I follow that?  Over the course of the next couple of days, I realized that while those lyrics had a specific contextual meaning regarding the death of dear friends, the overarching significance was profound loss and its aftermath.

When I realized this, two new verses poured out, each addressing a different aspect of that unavoidable component of the human condition.  The second verse is about a woman who didn’t know herself and therefore, never fully knew me.  The final one deals with my first and greatest loss – that of my father.  To be honest, I wondered if the whole “black boys need their dad” thing was a little trite, but then I remembered that no one else can tell my story but me…so anybody that mistakes it for a cliché can kiss my muscular ass.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to the fight.  Please enjoy the pain.

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Sex and Candy…Remixed

 

I doubt that Jay-Z spent any time near this Marcy Playground...

This joint is my remix of Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy”.  I’ve always loved the way that song perfectly captures how it feels to want someone…bad.  I took that and added a little bit of a creepy stalkerish vibe by way of a dark synth and a new rap verse featuring yours truly.  Couldn’t resist!

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The Policy of Truth: Morality According to Depeche Mode

I thought the truth was supposed to hurt...

Now you’re standing there tongue tied
You’d better learn your lesson well
Hide what you have to hide
And tell what you have to tell
You’ll see your problems multiplied
If you continually decide
To faithfully pursue
The policy of truth

– Depeche Mode, “Policy of Truth”

Anyone who knows me well knows that I grew up in a Pentacostal household. Unfortunately, the many hours that I spent in church, listening to preachers yell until they were hoarse and watching otherwise sober-looking women launch into full-body convulsions, failed to produce any long term religious fervor in me (my God-shaped hole is HUGE), but I did learn a thing or two about morality.

One of the biggest lessons I gleaned was that a lie, whether an omission of an uncomfortable fact or an outright prevarication, was a bad thing.  My grandmother used to always say, “There are two types of people I can’t stand—a liar and a thief.”  I’ve come to understand that her equal distaste for those social pariahs proceeds from the fact that one simply can’t trust either of them.  And without trust, well, you have no way of establishing a relationship that any well-adjusted human would call healthy.  I went through life letting that precept shape my discourse with others…usually.

That I employed the word “usually” above should be a big hint that my perspective on truth-telling did became more sophisticated over time.  For example, I grasped fairly early on that there were occasions when avoiding the truth was actually one’s moral duty.  Case in point: if you’re living in Amsterdam in 1944 and a man with a funny cross on his arm asks you if you’re hiding Jews in the attic, and you are, you should politely reply in the negative.  That’s extreme, I know.  “Do I look fat in this dress” is a more common, yet equally life-threatening example.  The point is, sometimes you have to lie for the sake of the greater good or to spare a person from unnecessary hurt.

What has shocked me is just how broadly many people’s concepts of “appropriate” and “obligated” lying reach.  I’ve been personally admonished for being too honest with women early in my relationships.  On one occasion, a female friend actually asked me if I was purposefully trying to sabotage my efforts with one lady, all because I acknowledged that I still cared for a past girlfriend.  This was in spite of the fact that my other words and actions clearly showed that these emotional remnants weren’t a hindrance to our romantic progress.  In another instance, a friend recently complained to me that it was commonplace for folks in his company to willfully mislead potential clients about the readiness of product features.  The argument was that if the deals went through, they’d just “find a way to make it happen.”  WTF?!

As I see it, the problem with this expanded notion of the appropriate lie is that it can distort the fabric of our relationships.  We get locked in a kind of arms race, with lies as the weapons of mutually assured destruction.  We begin to lose trust in everyone, all the time, and in turn we start to feel increased personal pressure to hide the truth.  Taken to its extreme, I posit that we slowly lose our ability to even distinguish the valid from the invalid.  We could be staring truth in the face, but because we’ve become so blinded by the darkness of deception, we can no longer discern the difference between it and its twin.

Perhaps that’s just the way the world turns, and I should just get with the Depeche Mode program.  (God knows they were on point with “Personal Jesus”.)  All I know is, I’m tired of playing by the rules, only to find out that hardly anyone else does.  What’s worse, some even consider me the social deviant for doing it!  It seems that yet again, my idealism is costing me…I just hope that I don’t end up morally bankrupt.

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Filed under Music, Philosophy

Always Will?

The Southern Hummingbird

Ever heard Tweet’s “Always Will”?  It popped up on my iPod yesterday and I couldn’t help but play it ’bout fifty-leven times.  The sparse, acoustic guitar-heavy instrumentation combined with the smooth, almost celestial background vocals and Tweet’s heartfelt delivery are guaranteed to get me every time.

Not familiar with it? Here’s the basic gist:

Tweet loves someone, and she believes that this someone loves her.  In fact, she loves this someone so much that she declares that no matter the obstacles in their way, even if the distance between them is literally cosmic in scope, she bets that she “always will.”  And she ratchets the wager up a notch by proclaiming that this someone “always will” love her just as much.  It’s quite touching.  Really.

It’s too bad that it’s probably not true.  I mean, when you really think about it, to how many people have you personally said, “I’ll always love you,” or something similar?  C’mon, be honest.  I’ll wait.  Now how many of those promises rang true like, by the time you finished first semester in b-school?

Exactly.  Even if you meant it with all your heart and soul and being at that time, chances are that by now you’d cringe if you could do a Marty McFly and stand next to yourself when you lovingly whispered that sweet nothing in the ear of your boyfriend of four month’s time on a Holiday Inn couch after Senior Prom in 199X.  Crap, you’d probably even grimace when you think about the last time you said it.  When was that?  Last Valentine’s Day?  New Year’s Eve after that last shot of Henny (or Vodka Redbull for all my white folks)?  Your wedding day?

It’s OK though.  You can’t help it.  Human beings have an unrestrainable need to feel as though they have control over their own futures.  That’s why millions of us faithfully read horoscopes, wear lucky underwear before a big game, and (gasp!) say our prayers.  They’re all just as futile as trying to end interracial dating in Minneapolis or Seattle, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it.  There’s just so much in the world that’s out of our control, whatever little bit we can do to feel that we’ve taken some power back from the Lords of Chaos does our pitiful little souls good.

So we try to will ourselves into infinite romantic love.  I mean, what human condition is a better target for our self-protective efforts than the steamy, shivers-up-the-spine, daydreamy emotion that drives everything we do in our waking moments?  Yeah, I said it.  When we’ve got it, we can dance under water and not get wet, and when we lose it, a lot of us just drown in tears.  Who wants to deal with the latter?  I don’t.  Hell-to-the-damn no!  I saw “The Secret”!  Let’s just speak our love into perpetual existence!  If only it were that simple.

Wish on a star, wish on a full moon—crap, wish me love a wishing well—but love can no more be controlled than thunderstorms, or heat waves, or tectonic plate movements, or [insert force of nature here for dramatic effect].  Even R&B, for all of its syrupy, hyper-optimistic expositions on the subject, grudgingly recognizes this as the truth.  Think “I Keep Forgettin,'” “I Miss You” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, not Aaron Hall) and the best example: “Love Don’t Love Nobody”.  In the end, when it’s over, it’s over…and more often than not, it doesn’t take death to part you from your lover.  A nice smile or a nice fatty can work just as well, let alone the thousands of miles Tweet was singing about.

Did I convince you?  No?  I doubted that I would.  See, you believe that “real” love is eternal, despite the fact that 50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce and 75% of those who don’t are mostly unhappy.  You believe that sheer will power will keep you in love indefinitely.  You believe that you needn’t worry that your love could simply vanish – FOR NO REASON AT ALL.  And why not?  It feels good, don’t it?  Keep it up.

I bet you always will.

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