Noname Takes Us Into Room 25

Noname is back. After a 2 quiet years and, relative to the social media era, relative media silence, Noname dropped her debut album Room 25 last Friday. If you haven’t heard it yet, close this blog, go listen and come back. Or shit read this first and see what you’ve been missing.

In another era, Noname would be a poet, likely penning notebooks full of feelings and musings on the world around her only to die poor and have her art discovered posthumously as she’s labeled one of the great observers and minds of her time. Instead, she’s the young lady who brought her poetic flow to the cypher and had the boys laughing at her clever bars and announcing “ohh shit shorty can spit”. With a flow that damn near makes you feel good inside, Noname gives us those feelings and musings on the world around her over mostly relaxing beats. She opens the album with “Self” which establishes 2 important things about Noname in it’s 95 seconds.

“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car. When you driving home late at night. Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches.”

“Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music. My pussy teachin ninth-grade English. My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism in conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus. And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?”

1. Room 25 will be best served for those quiet moments when you’re reflecting, thinking and processing your life, your world and your feelings.

2. Noname ain’t come to play with you niggas. Since Telefone her confidence has grown and her content has matured. Not only is Noname now more willing to talk about her relationships, sex and the quality of her pussy, but she’s flexing on us with it. “My pussy teachin ninth-grade English” is probably the best bar about quality pussy this decade.

Noname sets the tone, albeit gently, and doesn’t let up throughout the remaining 10 songs. She expands her rapping chops on the next 2 tracks, “Blaxploitation” and “Prayer Song” by upping the tempo and spitting bars with the speed of her Chicago predecessors. As per usual Noname doesn’t let up on the political thoughts but with the special quality coming from the Midwest right now, it never sounds forced. Across those 2 tracks she calls out Hillary Clinton, the police, niggas who have left their neighborhoods to go play black with the hipsters and muses on the general state of black people, and at no point does Noname give off the vibe that she was trying to make “conscious” songs or put people on to some knowledge only she has. She’s just a conscious woman rapping about what she sees and those observations involve shades of consciousness.

After telling us how she feels on the world, Noname redirects the album back to self and a new topic for her, sex and relationships. On Telefone we got very vague references, if any, to Noname’s romantic/sexual partners. She approached discussing love and sex with the hesitance of a young person unsure of what to share but knowing they don’t want to overshare. However, on Room 25 she speaks quite candidly about both with the comfort and maturity of a woman in her mid-20s with nothing to lose in owning her heart and her sexuality. On “Window” and “Montego Bae” we’re given the highs and lows of self-aware sex without love and the freedom of sex and intimacy without consequence, a unique sound and hook from fellow Chicago woman on the rise Ravyn Lenae and most importantly, a great dichotomy of bars between Window:

“So you really don’t think about me? And you really don’t miss me? The way I lullaby your brokenness, believe me I’m Ripley The way you struggling to love yourself, believe me that’s karma. You want a nasty bitch, psychiatrist that cook like your mama. And all you got was me-me-me. But I love you even though we’re not meant to be, I still love you”

and Montego Bae:

“Reading Toni Morrison in a nigga canoe. Cause a bitch really bout her freedom, cause a bitch suckin dick in the new Adidas. And yes and yes, I’m problematic too. And yes and yes, I lick ’em up, oh yes I really do.”

From “Ace”, my personal favorite song (because Noname+Smino+Saba is the greatest hip hop combo of the last 5 years, see the following songs for evidence: Amphetamine, Shadow Man, World in My Hands and Church/Liquor Store) through “With You” Noname continues flexing her skills and friendships with an assortment of features from Hip Hop’s newest cool kids (the young artists from the Midwest’s Zero Fatigue and Chicago’s hip hop scene like Saba, Smino, Ravyn Lenae and Phoelix) and bars ranging from those woke reflections on the United States to the quality of vegan food to the state of hip hop and the influence of labels on the art. She brings the album to a close with “no name”, a brief verse over a slow beat, riding her thin line between spoken word piece and rap song featuring an almost gospel-esque outro from Yaw and Adam Ness true to Noname’s roots. She only raps for about 75-80 seconds of the 4 minute song but in that we’re given a glimpse at why she goes by the moniker, Noname. Like the intro it’s slow and reflective, with a beat that falls right in line with the theme of “something you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night really questioning…”. As the beat fades out instrument by instrument (voices included), the album feels appropriately done.

Across the entirety of the album, Noname always raps like she’s enjoying what she does, even when she raps about darker topics or her own pain, a unique characteristic that makes her flow not only quality, but a pleasure to hear. You can physically hear her smile, and in some cases a laugh, as she finishes some verses because, in the words of her Chicago hip hop comrade Chance, she’s just having fun with it. Noname is an artist in the purest sense. She’s not just a rapper or a hip hop act making money in a career, but an artist who, if hip hop never existed, would still be expressing the deepest confines of her mind with her words and a pen. The best summary of her career comes from her own lips on “Ace”:

“Labels got these niggas just doing it for the clout, I’m just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out”

Noname has continued to grow as an artist and her content has matured with her. Whether a casual remark about her pussy or capitalism, nothing ever feels forced. Noname isn’t marketing sex or consciousness, she’s marketing the authenticity of Fatimah Warner. Room 25 is part 2 of what will hopefully be a long career for Noname, and a discography that is setting up to go down as all time, not only among female emcees (which she has mentioned she hates as a qualifier) but among emcees of all sorts from the millennial era and most importantly among the Midwest’s poetic crop of young kids following in the footsteps of the *old* Kanye. Noname stands firmly in the upper echelon of whatever subgroup of hip hop you decide to place her in.

And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?

 

 

*Fun fact: I waxed eloquent about her last summer during the first round of Cardi v. Nicki because I believe her to be the real heir to the throne of queen of rap (read here: https://turtlewithapen.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/the-noname-you-need-to-know/). In an act of pure coincidence Room 25 dropped about a week after Cardi v. Nicki round 2 and the infamous flying shoe.*

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RIP to the kid Mac Miller

I had plans to write something else this weekend. Then, tragedy struck, and I write when my feelings are too much to process in my head. I’ve never hurt over a celebrity before but this drew real tears from me.

Mac Miller was my favorite white rapper. It wasn’t a secret. I frequently tweeted that he was the best white rapper to ever live. And beyond that, he stood up for his black peers, challenging white privilege and the myth of reverse racism. He was everything I needed from a white boy in hip hop: full of bars, respectful, loud, a little crazy and most importantly, original. That nigga was an original.

He got me through a lot. I cried to his music. Laughed to his music. Vibed with my homies to his music. And I always saw that my favorite figures in hip hop respected him. He had collabs with Odd Future, TDE, Anderson .Paak etc. He produced beats as Larry Fisherman for artists across the spectrum. And I’ll never forget when Jay Z was on Twitter shouting out a ton of black musicians and then tweeted “black people really magic . Mac Miller nice too though”. What a fucking tweet to be included in. So goddamn important that Mac had it FRAMED. He was in tune with the culture in a way that he also knew how important that tweet was. That’s how much respect Mac had among his peers. He wasn’t a token or some white rapper radio commodity. He was a part of hip hop culture. He was a respected member, and one who paid his dues and acknowledged what whiteness did for him. He knew it was just special to be white and be counted among OUR shit. And never violated.

It feels weird that he’s gone. There won’t be another Mac Miller album to get me through a bout with depression. Swimming held me down THIS YEAR, literally one month ago, as I was going through it hard. The Divine Feminine will forever make me think of the love of my life (she knows who she is). GO:OD AM and Watching Movies With The Sound Off carried me through weird existential days while I wondered what the fuck being alive means. Blue Slide Park and Best Day Ever we’re soundtracks to some of my favorite days riding around watching the sunset and trying to capture all the good feelings I could. Mac is gone. It fucking hurts.. But he left us with enough art, not just music but art, to appreciate til our own times come and to be the theme music to the fights Mac ain’t here to fight anymore.

That’s all I got. Here’s to him no longer having to fight those demons. Shoutout to the kid, Mac Miller. Forreal. I’ll be crying and spinning Watching Movies With the Sound Off and Swimming til further notice.

No lyrics this time. Just go play Swimming on repeat for me. 2009 specifically.

Another Day

This is my third personal blog. This is also my third time writing about the bout with depression I had this past summer. I’m hoping it’ll be the last time for a while. The calendar has turned to September (cue Earth, Wind and Fire) and my grind to get my life back together has gone well for the most part. I don’t even want to dive into the depression itself, not again. I want to talk about something I learned from trying to maintain a relationship throughout my depression. Which will probably involve some diving into the depression itself I guess. 

Dating while depressed is fucking hard. Dating another depressed person while you’re depressed is REALLY fucking hard.

That’s it. That’s the lesson. That’s what I learned this summer. I learned that love isn’t always enough. That the dark and low portions of the individual roads two people walk sometimes cross in ugly ways. That doesn’t mean we were ever meant to each other. We never took our individual struggles out on each other. There was no lashing out or harsh words exchanged. It was quite the opposite in fact. We held each other down as best as two people with the same demon could. However, even two people with the vulnerability required to make a relationship effective can become exhausted.

The harsh reality of vulnerability and depression is, you hide your struggle from most of the people around you, trying not to be peppered with questions about if you’re okay and judged with assumptions about what your individual depression looks like, because not everybody battling depression is suicidal or sitting in dark corners. Sometimes it just looks like not writing for months because the passion isn’t there. Sometimes it’s napping instead of socializing because you can’t muster the strength to leave the bed. However, most of the people around you manage to get the little bit of energy you do have, if only to avoid conversations about why you’ve been so down and distant. Those things are just the nature of the battle. The downside to a vulnerable and open relationship while dealing with depression is that person with whom you’re most vulnerable and open takes the brunt of the negative feelings you’re holding inside. They see depressed you. They have to cancel plans when you can’t get out of the bed, because they understand. They have to try and enjoy your company despite the emptiness and frustrations you’re having vent to them. They see unenthused you. They deal with dissatisfied you. While your friends and family may see glimpses, the nature of vulnerability is your partner sees the full effect depression is having on you, and they have to not only love you anyway, but feel that pain you’re feeling because they love and empathize with you. It’s hard when most of your time together is the rough shit. The energy to be fun and passionate you had months ago just isn’t there, and not for lack of desire. It’s exhausting and, in some ways, damaging to the love you share.

People have asked me a million times about my breakup and if breaking up because the mutual depression was too hard is quitting. I don’t know to be honest. Maybe it was. However I liken it more to submitting/tapping out then quitting. Tapping out (for my never engaged with any form of wrestling, fighting etc. readers) is what you do when the pain is too great and withstanding it any longer will result in a serious injury, like being in a chokehold and tapping out before your brain does it for you by blacking out from a lack of oxygen. We tapped out because months or years more of trying to hold each other down the way we were would’ve permanently injured the love we have. It was hard as fuck to do. Pride and passion tell you to fight through it, but that’s how you end up broken and resentful. So we tapped out. For now. Today’s fight was a loss, but there’s other days. In the words of everybody’s favorite black tv/movie father, “you win some, you lose some, but you live, you live to fight another day”. 

win some lose some

That isn’t exactly the context the quote comes from but I think the principle applies here. Not every fight is life and death, nor does every fight have to be. Sometimes you just lose for now. And that’s a hard fucking lesson to learn.

***Oh and if you’ve never seen Friday (the movie where the quote and gif above stem from), don’t read any more of my blogs til you go find a bootleg or pirated version somewhere and enjoy a black cinematic masterpiece***

“I fucked things up, I see it in this cup, I didn’t mean to suck, I’m stuck. Sometimes I’m just too honest, admitting that it’s common, I should’ve used my common sense, so now I gots to vent.”

-Amine, Together

Mac’s Swimming in the Deep Waters

I’m gonna let ya’ll in on my deep dark reverse racism secret.

*whispers* I don’t trust or really listen to white rappers. Eminem seems like his goal was to be the school shooter soundtrack, Macklemore is the white guilt artist of the decade and Post Malone looks like what I pull from my drain when I finally decide to clean my hair out of it. There is one exception though. Mac Miller. Through a handful of mixtapes, features and albums (and a few tweets about how reverse racism isn’t real and how black lives do matter that got his fellow pale people VERY UPSET) he’s proven he belongs in the hip hop community, and not just as the token white boy in the cypher who raps excessively fast to sound like Em.

Mac Miller’s most recent project, Swimming, is his second in a row that doesn’t just flex his rapping chops, but takes us on an emotional journey as a complete artistic body of work. The Divine Feminine made me feel good as Mac waxed eloquent about the beautiful love he found in a woman. However, Swimming made me feel seen. Mac took us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions from self-loathing to authentic rejoicing and back down to a hard to grasp peace. The album essentially runs in 2 halves. The first 5 songs make up a sporadic and scared first half and the final 8 songs making up the more focussed and determined second half. The 2 halves come together with a clear message, the kid Mac Miller is going through it. Depression is the theme throughout the album, but not in a dark Earl Sweatshirt kind of way. It never sounds like Mac Miller wants to kill himself or others (looks at you Eminem). It does however feel like he’s swirling in a whirlpool of emotions and fighting to keep his head above the water with both unhealthy (first half) and healthy (second half) habits and coping mechanisms.

The first half of Swimming goes up and down for 5 tracks. Mac opens with the intro “Come Back to Earth” wherein he slowly croons “my regrets feel just like texts I should have sent” and “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head”. He sets the tone early that he’s drowning in his depression but is looking for a way out, no matter what it looks like, which is a feeling any person who’s gone toe to toe with depression can understand. Even on the first half’s lighter track, the immensely funky “What’s the Use which features the G-Funk OG Snoop Dogg, Mac sings lyrics like “What’s the use? Never superficial you don’t know it when it hit you. Get a little sentimental when I’m off the juice”. The song is fun and makes me want to get up and 2 step like I’m at a skating rink or a 90s house party, but the lyrics are more reminiscent of being drunk and doing that 2 step knowing when you get home from having fun, the demons are coming back, because you can’t be drunk at the party forever and it hasn’t fixed the pain inside. After  the funky 2 step that is “What’s the Use” is the come down in “Perfecto” then the relatively quick and panicked “Self-Care”, a song of 2 halves. The first half sounds like running through dark thoughts then finding peace in the drugs as the beat switches to a much lighter tone, while the lyrics still match the depression, with bars like “Let’s go back to my crib and play some 45’s. It’s safer there, I know there’s still a war outside. We spend our nights all liquored up, our mornings high. Can you feel it now?” and “it’s a beautiful feeling in oblivion”. Mac sounds less sad but not less depressed, like he’s just hit the blunt after the club so he can fall asleep peacefully and push his demons back for a few more hours. However after this somber nap in oblivion comes what essentialy acts as a second intro, introducing us to the part of the war where our hero Mac Miller accrues some victories.

“Wings” opens with a very slow and empty beat, mainly scattered snares before building up to other instruments. Mac raps “I got a bone to pick like roses (roses), I ain’t feelin’ broken no more” over those snares setting the tone for the second half. Depression isn’t a feeling that comes and goes, but it is a battle that ebbs and flows with the tides of life and Mac is about to start gaining some control in the water, swimming instead of being pulled around. He sings softly “The sun is shinin, I can look at the horizon. The walls keep getting wider, I just hope I never find ’em, no, no”. A dramatic shift from the first intro’s “I just need a way out of my head”. The walls have reversed course and are giving Mac the space he didn’t feel a few songs ago.

Over the next 7 tracks Mac’s tempo and tone still goes up and down with the waves, but the lyrics showcase a more hopeful Mac Miller. “Ladders” brings back the funky energy of “What’s the Use” but with optimism and a faster flowing Mac. Mac concludes that 2nd verse with “Just might slip into the sea, Fuck it all if it all ain’t me. Maybe we inside the maze. Somehow we gotta find a way, okay”. I want to post the entire second verse and hook of this song to show how much more optimistic the lyrics become, but it would be a disservice to ya’ll, so you should play it yourself. The album slows back down through “Small Worlds”, “Conversation Pt. 1” and “Dunno” but they’re slow in a self-reflective way rather than a somber one. To me they feel like writing in my journal, encouraging myself to acknowledge my depression, but to also count my victories, make real attempts at my dreams and  to find peace in the healthy relationships in my life. The tone may not be glowing optimism, but that also isn’t the end goal of a stint with depression, Mac evokes steadiness, peace and contentment, which often prove to be much more stable feelings.

He picks up the pace one last time on “Jet Fuel”, my personal favorite track. The tone is still somber, but the feeling it evokes isn’t dark. It sounds like high-functioning depression in music form, like a fight scene that you know the hero won’t lose. After 3 tracks full of victories and somber optimism, it sounds like the depression from the first half of the album has returned, but Mac isn’t submitting to it, or in his own words “Like 25 years I’ve been high and no less. Shit, I know, I don’t guess. Rather glow, I won’t stress.
Better say that shit with your chest.” Mac still muses about getting faded and feeling isolated, one of the most biting products of depression, but he isn’t drowning. The water has gotten rough again, but he’s swimming his hardest til it slows back down. I love Jet Fuel because it’s a reminder that all the positive energy and musings of the previous 3 tracks aren’t the end of the story for the depressed person. There will come another battle, but the lessons from the victories you’ve already achieved, and even from the losses you took, will help you do better the next time. The water will continue to change, but *cliche alert* what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and when the waves come back you’ll be a better swimmer. Mac follows up the war that is “Jet Fuel” with the first truly positive song, “2009”. It actually feels happy. Not hype or high, but happy. Over snaps and a peaceful piano Mac raps like he’s performing a spoken word piece. Similar to “Ladders” the entire second verse is worth quoting, but you’ve got to listen to it for yourself. The final lines of it summarize the message clearly though, “Now when it gets hard, I don’t panic, I don’t sound the alarm.” Anybody who has spent time in water they couldn’t handle will tell you panicking makes the situation infinitely worse. Mac knows the water will get choppy again, that’s a given, but he has become a wiser swimmer. When the waves crash, he now knows he can survive, so he will swim and continue swimming until the water calms itself again rather than lashing out in a panic that could ultimately drown him.

Now that would be a beautiful ending to an album about depression, but there’s one more track. Less positive than “2009” but still fairly light, the outro is “So It Goes”. The general tone of the beat and lyrics is still optimistic, but it’s a come down from the happiness of 2009. It’s incredibly fitting because the end of a battle with depression isn’t overwhelming positivity and glee, emotions we all know to be fleeting, but the peace and contentment of a victory well-earned, knowing you’ve lived, not to go be unstoppably happy forever, but to fight another day when that next wave comes. It’s real. It isn’t the storybook ending, but the real one, the one that the listener can see themselves in. Mac has taken us on a journey, throughout Swimming and the journey concludes not with the sunset, but the sunrise, and the start of the next journey on a new day.

“Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind
And she don’t cry no more
She tell me that I get her high ’cause an angel’s s’posed to fly, and…
I ain’t askin’ “Why?” no more
Oh, no, I take it if it’s mine, I don’t stay inside the lines
It ain’t 2009 no more
Yeah, I know what’s behind that door”

-Mac Miller, “2009”

“They sayin’ I been gone too long
I could just tell ’em fuck you, but that come on too strong
My god, it go on and on
Just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from”

-Mac Miller, So It Goes”

Wasn’t Supposed to Make it Past 25…

“Jokes on you we still aliiiiive” sings the choir from Sister Act 2 (in my head).

If you didn’t get that one, go check out We Don’t Care by Kanye West (RIP old Ye). It applies to both my life and this blog. Also go watch Sister Act 2 because you missed a gem.

I struggled with whether or not I was going to write this one in my personal journal or if it would end up online in the archives of personal blogs, but my ego demands an audience so here it is. Also this 25 years of life reflection as my 25th blog post thing was too good to pass up.

It’s officially the end of my summer (I know summer isn’t technically over until like October but we don’t have conventional seasons in Florida, the school year started Monday and “summer’s over” sounds better thematically than “random Tuesday mid-August” so let me cook). Summer’s have historically been rough for me. Some combination of something in the universe astrologically and a historic drop off in income in the summertime (mom worked at a school growing up, I wouldn’t get my student grant/loan refunds in summertime etc.) usually accounts for a hard time from May-August every year. Somehow after 25 years though, this summer has been the fucking ass whipping of all ass whippings. It’s hit me with the illest South Korean kid beating your ass on Marvel vs. Capcom at 2 am combo I’ve ever experienced.  Needless to say I don’t feel like I won the summer. From graduation to this past Sunday before the school year started at my new job I’ve:

  • struggled to pay off my final bills at school
  • worked 2 months at my worst job ever (not my new one)
  • ended my quite fulfilling community work-based internship
  • gotten in a car accident
  • ended my relationship with my girlfriend
  • dealt with the reality that I won’t be a high school history teacher this year
  • turned 25, sparking the existential crisis of real adulthood where I’m forced to seriously contemplating marriage, children etc.
  • dealt with post-graduation depression, likely fueled by all of the above

If the written Marvel vs. Capcom reference didn’t do it for you and my list of personal struggles felt insufficient, here’s about how it felt:

If you sat through more than 30 seconds of that to get the picture, I appreciate your commitment to video game streaming or envisioning my personal trauma, either way, bravo.

3 months of haymakers without a combo breaker to be found. Turning 25 has been a bitch. This summer has been a bitch. Life has been a bitch. The weirdest part though, I don’t feel any inclination to back down and take my L. I feel like the protagonist in every boxing movie who’s clearly outmatched, getting his ass kicked in the final bout of the movie then remembers all the mountains of shit he had to shovel to get there and finds some vague and probably unrealistic inner strength to overcome their opponent.

Something about the very act of surviving this summer with my head on straight, a finish line to my economic struggles in-sight and meaningful employment in the field I wanted  has me standing up like some type of masochist begging life for more. Similar to the last personal blog I wrote (https://turtlewithapen.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/shit-i-aint-worried-though/) there’s some type of strange relief in accepting where I’m at in life right now and surviving what feels like the worst bout life’s given me. This summer beat my ass. But it didn’t kill me. Life runs in cycles and the work I put in surviving this summer and setting up a foundation to harvest this fall feels worth the sweat and tears 25 pulled out of me thus far. I feel better able to handle the anxieties of getting older, the disappointments of my career taking more time to take off and the heartbreaks depression can deliver unexpectedly. Beyond all that, I feel more inspired to write*. Niggas not supposed to make it past 25 in the first place, so if this is the worst that 25 has to offer, I’ll be okay.

“Kids sing, kids sing”

“We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25, jokes on you we still alive”

(hopefully by this point you googled that Kanye song in another tab or you’re still lost)

“Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere, self care, I’m treatin me right, yeah. Hell yeah, we gonna be alright”

-Mac Miller, Self Care

*expect some artist/album reviews and political musings coming from me among these personal blogs going forward, starting with the Mac Miller the line above came from

 

 

Shit, I Ain’t Worried Though

I been saying I was going to start writing again and maybe delve into some personal blogs. I’m hoping I do one a month for the rest of the year, but I’m trash at keeping up with writing so don’t hold me to that. But since I’m not writing anymore papers maybe I’ll be more consistent.

I haven’t written anything in a minute because life’s been crazy. I graduated from college, finished all my teaching certifications, already blocked Sallie Mae’s number for when she calls up about these loans and am currently 2 months deep into the standard post-college millennial tailspin because I’m still getting paid minimum wage since the job market is flooded with baby boomers who won’t retire or die and I’ve gotten no calls for a teaching job yet. It feels great.

I’m not worried though. I accepted that I’m broke a long time ago. If you’re broke in America it’s thrown in your face at pretty much every available opportunity. I knew each time bills or emergencies came up and we had to “borrow from Peter to pay Paul” as my mom often says and every time we figured it out like my dad said we would. I damn sure knew when I was the only roommate in my college apartment with a job last year and when I could only afford to take on paid internships because a nigga didn’t have wiggle room to work for free and when my car broke down for the 7th time. I guess I thought when I graduated it all ended though. I’d magically ascend to middle class comfort as soon as my diploma came in the mail, as it clearly states in the college handbook and all my loan agreements. I did everything they told me to do and I woke up this morning 25, broke, unemployed, no different than most of my family before me but with a degree, educator certifications and some optimism. Because shit, if you’ve got a degree at least they pay you more for most of the jobs we already been doing.

The fear most of my peers feel is the chance at falling out of the middle class their parents started in because the economy is terrible and their job options are lacking. But the economy has always been terrible for broke people and jobs are always scarce when you’re broke or a nigga and dammit if I’m not both. The day to day anxiety of a low-paying job you don’t like and one emergency too many putting you in the red is just Tuesday over here. Millennials every spring are finding out they might be broke for a while and having existential crises that lead to terrible NYT Opinion pieces. For the rest of us who’ve never even seen the imaginary middle class they told us our degrees would take us to, we’re just rectifying with the fact that cyclical poverty isn’t something we get to just wake up from, something we mostly already knew. It’s rough to hear, but none of us are special, not even if you were the family’s “smart one”. For us, there is no panicked joining of a hippy commune to reject capitalist expectations or blogging our experiences backpacking across the country on our parents’ retirement fund hoping to god we get a Buzzfeed feature. Nah. For us it’s the same plan it’s always been. The same plan that’s been passed down through generations of broke people: Step 1. Get a Job and the really tricky part, Step 2. Figure It Out. That’s it. It’s what we’ve been doing and what we’ll keep doing until a breakthrough comes.

I’m not where I think I’m supposed to be, but I’m doing pretty good relative to where my options have allowed me to be. And shit, that’s okay.

“Some days it ain’t sunny but it ain’t so hard.”

-Lupe Fiasco

The Noname You Need To Know

Noname is the best female rapper in hip hop right now. She may be the best technical female rapper in terms of lyricism and flow (which I define as your ability to rap like another instrument on the beat rather than a competing force) in a decade. She might also be a top 5 rapper out right now*. Her mixtape Telefone dropped in 2016 and delivered one of the most complete projects of the year. She’s done features for her fellow Midwestern up and comers Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Saba and Smino and has routinely stolen the show on their songs. She was also excluded from both the 2016 and 2017 XXL Freshman class as well as nowhere to be seen when BET announced their nominees for the Best Female Hip Hop Artist award despite dropping a notebook’s worth of significantly better verses over features and an album than the likes of Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj or Young M.A. Like her accidental counterpart Chance the Rapper, Noname is also an independent artist who has refused to sign her art and soul to a label which I would suspect has something to do with her lack of industry recognition.

Why am I telling y’all this? Because you should be listening to Noname if you’re not already along with a cadre of other young Midwest rappers. More than just a technically sound rapper whose talent can hang with the fellas whose flow will remind you of an old school Def Jam Poetry performance, Noname’s lyrics create the most impact. Her flow has the soft power of a spoken word piece and the words she chooses come across with the depth of one as well. Which makes sense because Noname was a spoken word artist growing up in Chicago before developing her talent as a rapper at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago where she crossed paths with other young Chicago musicians like Saba, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Donnie Trumpet.

Like many of the artists I’ve named in association to her, Noname says “woke” things casually in her music. Unlike artists like Kendrick Lamar for example who make albums with overarching racial themes to address the experience of black people in America, Noname and her counterparts drop lines or verses that make you pause the song and contemplate the white patriarchal power structure around you. A verse will be about her own life and experiences but the intellect with which she sees her own life events force you to see and hear her story but also beyond her story, and what makes her experience the way it is. On “Yesterday” Noname recounts her granny’s funeral and advice she was given:

Fill the lining in the pine box, my granny fill the time slot

“Don’t grow up too soon

Don’t blow the candles out

Don’t let them cops get you”

My granny almost Sparrow I can see the wings

The choir sings

And la da di la di da da da, dah

Only he can save my sou

 She didn’t make a song about police brutality or the African-American tradition of elders passing on knowledge to the youth on how to be black and alive in America, Noname casually threw out the advice from her grandmother. Almost a quiet nod to other black people, a line that can be felt deeply by those who have lived that experience and would be met with a puzzling look from everybody on the outside. Earlier on that that same song she makes a casual remark about the nature of club dress codes and their biases against black people as she says “I only wear tennis shoes to clubs with dress codes ‘cause fuck they clubs.” To a listener it’s just a casual line about bucking authority, but to the black listener, the audience her music is aimed at, it is a remark about a feeling that we have all experienced or seen as the dress code is enforced as soon as our turn hits in line. Noname with her clout as a rapper now can break those dress codes she knows are intended to discriminate against her and people who look like her “cause fuck they clubs!”

What comes through in Noname’s art is not that she wants to educate and make songs about the black experience, but that she is a black woman speaking on her life in an educated enough way to see the larger patterns of oppression that are a part of her experiences. She isn’t taking us on her journey to self-discovery like recent Kendrick Lamar albums, so much as her recounting her own stories through an already aware lens. True to black women, Noname already has the answers if anybody would listen up. Bars on gentrification, consumerism, and the school to prison pipeline without the usual weight of conscious music wrapped in tales of granny, momma and her friends, and that’s just on her average feature. She paints pictures with her words like the spoken word poet she is and alludes frequently to experiences special to growing up black and aware.

In 2004 on his debut song Kanye West said “What if somebody from the Chi’ that was ill got a deal on the hottest rap label around? But he wasn’t talkin about coke and birds it was more like spoken word, except he’s really puttin it down?”

We’ve often said the “Old Kanye” is gone. Well he’s back. At least the spirit of that young soulful nigga from Chicago is back. The children of Kanye are bursting out of the Midwest, a crop of young emcees that are mostly unsigned to labels who are really putting it down, except it’s not about coke and birds but more like spoken word. People have often compared Chance the Rapper to Kanye West, calling him the second coming, the heir to that soulful throne, but he isn’t alone. The princess of that great Yeezus kingdom is Noname. The knights are Smino (of St. Louis), Saba, Vic Mensa, Monte Booker and Mick Jenkins. You miss the old Kanye? Check out the heirs to his musical legacy.

I’ve left some Apple Music links below with both a Noname playlist and a “More Like Spoken Word” playlist so y’all can hear what I’ve been hearing and get hip:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/noname-kanye-kids/idpl.u-e98lAdKuzMVWjdY

https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/midwest-it-was-more-like-spoken-word/idpl.37eca5ac21234a09a6e4c3d392b3247e

 

*Before you ask, in no order it’s Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Vince Staples, Noname and Young Thug.

“They sold prison the way they pipeline, systematically lifeline erase all niggas, they so bulletproof from the law. Law abiding citizen shot, Willie Lynch do crack now. Made the new letters shiny, now we pray King Kunta.”

“They gentrified your neighborhood no need for cops, watch. Look at the yoga pants, coffee shops and yogurt stands. Cosumersim, holy land. And on the other hand my momma land…

It look like funeral home, church, church, liquor store, corner store, dreadhead, deadly…”

-Noname, featured on Saba’s Church/Liquor Store

“Mississippi vagabond, granny gon turn up in her grave. You said my granny really was a slave for this? All your incompleted similes and pages ripped? You know they whipped us niggas, how you afraid to rap it? You went to heaven after so we could free them now. Ain’t no ocean floor when you can be a Yeezus now.”

-Noname, Reality Check

An Ode to Bigotry

American conservatism is a farce. It is and has been the wealthy paying politicians to protect their wealthy interests (i.e. less worker’s rights and tax cuts), hiding behind the vote of one of the largest constituencies in the country: poor and middle class white people. We know this because Republicans (although it’s more about the ideology of American conservatism than the party name) have been utilizing a documented strategy of bigotry since at least 1968, the Southern Strategy. Let’s walk through the Southern Strategy and what it means quickly:

1968_large

 

Above is the electoral map from 1968. As you can see much of the Deep South voted third party, an anomaly in the history of American politics. Who was this third party candidate that resonated with Americans in the South at the end of the most radical decade in modern American History? George Wallace, running as the candidate of the American Independent Party. You know what his platform was? Segregation. He didn’t win, but his impact was staggering. Winning 5 states and a rogue elector from North Carolina. The Democrats had staked their claim as the progressive (for the day, relative to America) party and Republicans saw an angry and left out group for the taking, racists in the South. From 1968 Nixon and Republicans appointed segregationist judges to federal positions, advocated for law and order in response to the protests from oppressed groups and antiwar college students and delayed desegregation efforts in the South with his outright opposition to busing, all while never admitting to the existence of a Southern Strategy. He made appeals to racists without ever saying “I’m a racist”. Sound like any other presidents we know? In 1972 Nixon won in a landslide, and the states that Wallace won in 1968, along with much of the South have gone Republican in the majority of state and federal elections since.

So now that we understand what Republicans do and historically have done to continue winning the South, and by accident much of the similarly branded Midwest, we can talk about how the Republican message has evolved over 50 years. Republicans used to be the party of small government and fiscal conservatism, they’ve morphed into the party of “social conservatism”. Fiscal conservatism does little to help anybody but the most wealthy, which of course means it hurts the majority of their voters (see the masses crying about the health insurance they’re losing after asking for 8 years for it to be stopped then repealed). Many of their voters aren’t actually fiscally conservative. Poor white people use their share of social welfare programs and never seem to decry the bloated military budget which makes up more than half of discretionary spending. They aren’t truly believers in small government or personal liberty because they beg and plead the government to stretch its powers on the grounds of Christianity or for the bold outright bigotry to make it illegal for Americans to have abortions and access birth control if they want, marry who they want, do what drugs they want or believe in who they want. So what makes them conservative? Why do they vote Republican? Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. That’s it. The american political spectrum is so skewed right that our party on the “left” isn’t decidedly pro universal healthcare, criminal justice reform or free or subsidized post-secondary education. In the real world, according to the real political spectrum Democrats are political  moderates. What does that make Republicans? It makes them stand on the border to right wing and under Trump they’re flirting hard with fascism. The bigotry, masked as misunderstanding, religion and family values keeps their voters ready and active. They’re not FOR fiscal conservatism or FOR small government, just against whatever they perceive to be liberal, which in America has become the word for not a bigot.

Now comes the fun part. We know Republicans have had poor white people voting against their interests for decades, the real question is how? How has it been 50 years and half the country still flocks to the polls to vote against all of their own interests? Let’s talk about it.

States run by Republicans tend to be among the worst nationally in health, education, and access to the internet. They are the best at being religious and/or bigoted. Republicans flood them with propaganda via Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative “news” outlets, continually worsen their schools and health so they don’t know any better and have left much of the rural South and Midwest out of the broadband internet boom so while the rest of us are fact checking Donald Trump and Paul Ryan to the minute, they eat up their lies and propaganda. The people with the least access to quality education and information, the most background in racism, sexism and homophobia and the deepest religious ties, see this combination of social circumstances manipulated by the wealthy/Republicans to keep them voting against science, statistics and data, against reason, logic and humanity. The reaches of the propaganda machine go beyond bigotry and teach myths about scientific phenomena like global warming or to feed irrational support of the military. Quite literally Republicans sell the perspectives of their voters to the highest bidder. Alongside these voters red states are full of suppressed voters kept from polls due to over the top requirements, restrictions for felons and the closing down of polling stations and locations to get valid identification in and around black and brown communities*. When you restrict the vote to only your own deceived voters and redraw the lines so they run every district, well, you win.

Now what do Republicans gain from this? Are they just evil to be evil? Of course not. What they get is job security, their pockets lined by the extremely wealthy who vote for and pay Republicans to see their their own taxes cut (i.e. the backside of the Republican healthcare bill that will strip millions of healthcare is it also cuts taxes for the extremely wealthy). Those same extremely wealthy people who run multinational corporations that employ mostly underpaid minimum wage workers ALSO get a tired, stupid and sick workforce who have limited rights in the workplace and can work until they die early from limited healthcare access and never collect the Social Security they pay into (that the government borrows from until it bleeds dry). This is the picture perfect scenario for extremely wealthy capitalists as it maximizes profit while using people as a disposable resource, another number on the books. As I mentioned in my Black Dollar blog, capitalism doesn’t have a human element, it puts profit over function.

Now this is not an excuse for Republican voters. They are adults and have a responsibility to critically think for themselves, but choose the easier route of blaming their financial and social woes on whatever group Republicans have designated the enemy, today it’s Muslims, Mexicans and Black Lives Matter thugs. This is also not a pat on the back for the moderate Democrats who have kept the vote of the left purely by being the only “liberal” option. This is merely an explanation for why we’re here. It’s the evolution of 50 years of bigotry masked as “social conservatism” becoming the only identity for a political party that is very much for sale, even to the Russians apparently. This is so why we can stop asking “who are Trump voters?” and stop calling them the economically anxious (as if we aren’t ALL economically anxious). They are a product created by extensive market research, a group whose identity and sense of self-worth comes from their social status above oppressed groups. Many of them can’t explain policy to you and most repeat the same rhetoric when they argue. They believe their propaganda more than history or data. How do we stop them? Can we save them? I don’t know. I’m a cynic so I doubt it. 60 million people willing to vote for a bigot who mocked a disabled man and laughed about sexual assault aren’t going to be swayed now if they weren’t swayed before. We can only identify them and try to keep their politicians out of office because they stand for nothing but opposition to progress and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Bigotry is NOT a political stance. Racism and sexism aren’t political opinions, that includes the wave of Blue and All Lives Matter defenders, the vocal opposition to abortion, planned parenthood and voting rights for minorities. Homophobia and an irrational belief in some “gay agenda” is also not a political stance. These are social beliefs. Wherein an even semi-functional government should not be enforcing oppressive social beliefs, America historically specializes in it. Under Obama we claimed to be post-racial and to have made bigotry into a social stance worthy of exclusion. Well here we are, polarized as ever and watching bigotry be given the spot on the platform that is should be assigned to whatever actual conservatism should be (looking at you guys libertarians).

Sidenote: Watch Democrats over the next 4 years closely. Watch if they try to inch themselves to the right to attract this passionate voting group or if they commit to being progressive and make attempts at inspiring the 90 million Americans who did not vote at all or defending their millions of voters who have had their votes suppressed. Watch to see if the Party splits over it. We live in a politically exciting time and I’m eating my popcorn from the sidelines hoping not to get caught in the crossfire.

*for example, in Florida https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/06/21/voter-suppression-and-election-integrity-commission/

 

“This is business: no faces, just lines and statistics. From your phone, your zip code to to SSI digits. The system break man, child and women into figures. 2 columns for ‘who is” and “who ain’t niggas’. Numbers is hard and real and they never have feelings. But you push too hard, even numbers got limits.”

-Yasiin Bey, Mathematics

Stop Lying On the Black Dollar

The most common solution I see presented for the woes of the African-American community is an investment in black businesses and the development of a black self-sustaining economy similar to that of the Jewish, Chinese, Indian etc. peoples who have immigrated to this country. For a number of reasons this solution is destined to fail if our purpose is to see economic and social freedom for all black people. As a historian, I cannot help but think about the history of free black people dating as far back as the American colonies long before the revolution. There have always been black people with some money, although their number has been tiny, they have existed. Today we have black CEOs, a former black president and a bevy of black entertainers and athletes all with enough wealth to invest in black communities and create thriving economies. Why don’t they? How far do millions actually go? And are their investments equating to a change in the black condition? Recent numbers on the racial wealth gap show black people quite literally centuries behind their white counterparts in terms of median household wealth.* Why is community investment and buying black not enough? What’s stopping us from being the Jewish or Chinese communities?

Racism. Were you expecting more?

Yes, other communities have faced racism as well, and some continue to face racism, but there’s will never be the brute force of anitblackness because there’s is a residual racism, determined by their proximity to whiteness, both literally and culturally. Many have assimilated into whiteness over time (see Italians, Irish and White Latinos today *stares angrily at Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz*) or used antiblackness as a way to get ahead themselves (see all the Asian owned property in the ghetto and look into the amount of Jewish people run major industries that still discriminate against black people). See, the issue at play here is capitalism is inherently exploitive. Capitalism preaches that if one works hard enough they too can achieve and rise through to the upper class. Trends show us social mobility in the United States is incredibly difficult** and there is a finite amount of dollars and property to be had in this country, and certain groups got a two to three hundred year headstart on the landgrab (after destroying Indigenous communities whose land it was). Wealth primarily transfers from generation to generation. Black people could spend the next two hundred years investing in our own communities and “buying back the block” and still not see a dramatic shift in those trends. The deck is stacked against us.

Capitalism requires a group to exploit for labor. The United States of America became an economic superpower during the 19th century on the backs of FREE African-American labor. Over time the capitalists (those who own the means of production, not people who support capitalism) have resisted raises in wages and the rights of workers so they can pay as little as possible for labor. Fair and equal payment for labor would leave capitalists with little profit, or at least little excess, and that contradicts the nature of capitalism, a system fueled by human greed and exploitation. In the United States, the very foundation of our system is the African-Americans as the mules. We can fight our way into the system, but somebody has to be exploited. How much time would it take for black people to be so fully represented in all aspects of American society that they are no longer the assumed group to be exploited? And what would happen then? We would exploit the less qualified, unlucky and those born into poverty the way white capitalists do the poor white people now, in what we PERCEIVE as a just meritocracy instead of discrimination and abusive cycles of poverty used to fatten our pockets. I don’t believe true meritocracy can exist because humans are flawed. We are biased from the day we begin socializing, we see groups as “us” and “them” and we will translate those biases into any system we create. What’s the end goal of black capitalism? It cannot by the very nature of capitalism be the economic and social freedom of ALL black people. It has not been and will not be. The black American capitalist of old sold or transported his fellow black people as the exploited group then and they will exploit the labor of their fellow black people today.  Power in capitalism is not a righteous power, it exploits and destroys and to chase that power as a people group only ensures we’ll discriminate if everything went right for us and we could even hold that power. Capitalism requires somebody have poverty inflicted on them. Poverty is violence. 

As a historian in the making, I refuse to repeat failed propositions to free black people. History tells us what works and what doesn’t work. It shows us failed attempts, where systems are weak and where they are strong, and most importantly how incredibly adaptable the American system of racism is. We fight for a seat at a table that is constantly being moved, rearranged, taken apart and rebuilt whenever we figure out its location. It’s a game we cannot win. History tells me so. Activists and revolutionaries of old tell me so.

“We got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”

-Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Black Panther chapter

Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.”

-Bobby Seale, Black Panther co-founder

 

Now I will add to Bobby Seale’s statement that although the larger struggle is a class struggle, racism is still possible even if capitalism was done away with and needs to be done away simultaneously or not at all. However it is evident that those who studied and fought for freedom in the most visibly radical way ever seen in American History, knew black capitalism was not the solution. They knew their enemy was not just the rich or poor white racist, but the white capitalist manipulating the white racist to enjoy his social status over black people more than he despises the poverty he’ll never escape. There is a history of African-American leftism in the United States that predates World War II. And a history of communal living in certain African and Indigenous groups that predates the very term “socialism”. It, like much of American leftism, has been scrubbed from our history books. It would be a disservice to the freedom fighters of old (dating back to before the Red Scare that forced the Civil Rights movement to go nonviolent and Christian, i.e. MLK) to disregard the labor they put into analyzing the black struggle and drawing conclusions for us to spout made up meme facts about black buying power and fight for black capitalism, a system we have been shown and told will fail.

I don’t think I have the answers. I have no idea how to achieve the goals set by activists of old. But I know what will not work when held side by side with history. For now I resolve to study works by black ideologues, activists and revolutionaries. If we want solutions, we would do well to start from where they left off rather than repeating their path only to arrive at their same conclusions a decade late because we didn’t trust their labor and analysis enough. Or didn’t care to read it.

 

“Sorry ‘merica, but I will not be your soldier. Obama just wasn’t enough, I need some more closure.”

– Joey Bada$$, Land of the Free

“If you put crabs in a barrel to insure your survival you gon end up pullin down niggas that look just like you..”

-Ironically the black capitalist himself in a song where he advocates black economic excellence lol, Jay-Z, Murder to Excellence

*http://www.epi.org/blog/the-racial-wealth-gap-how-african-americans-have-been-shortchanged-out-of-the-materials-to-build-wealth/

**https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/02_economic_mobility_sawhill_ch3.pdf

Be Humble Black Man

Kendrick Lamar released a new song and accompanying video last night. Naturally it set the internet ablaze. The song was a combination of aggressively arrogant lyrics over a booming Mike Will Made-It beat, the video a barrage of imagery that deserves hours of analysis. I don’t want to do any of that analysis. Quite simply I don’t have the range. It deserves advanced depicting.

I do want to discuss one particular scene from the video, the only scene not repeated throughout the video. At the 2:16 mark Kendrick Lamar is seen from the outside of his bedroom window, aggressively rapping lyrics and gesturing at police with flashing lights and most importantly, roughly 22 red lights pointed at him as the police take their aim. What struck me wasn’t the police presumably aiming their guns at a rapping Kendrick Lamar, we know police kill black people, it was the attitude with which Kendrick responded. Leading into and during the 6 second scene Kendrick raps “Watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk, aye. If I kill a nigga it won’t be the alcohol, aye. I’m the realest nigga after all. Bitch be humble.” As he raps he does two motions every black man recognizes, he grabs his nuts and he beats his chest while staring down 22 scopes. This image has stuck with me.

image_6483441

As a 24 year old black man guns are a constant threat. The most likely cause of death for black men 15-34 is homicide.* Black men’s homicide victimization rate is a little over 7 times the national average.** Police murder black people at a higher rate than white people.*** The ways in which a gun can end my life are numerous. It could be at the party because the wrong nigga got mad and I bobbed when I should have weaved getting out, could be on the car ride home because the police officer who pulled me over for speeding is one of the white people who finds my skin threatening**** or one of the white supremacists who has infiltrated local police (about 100 years too late on this one Feds)***** and after I dodge the fear of death by hands of my brother or my overseer, it still could be the trigger-happy emasculated white man who mistakes me for a threat as I walk home from the corner store because I was craving an Arizona, word to Trayvon Martin,  murdered in Sanford, FL ten minutes down the road from where I grew up. I haven’t walked to the gas station the same since…you get the point. I’m always aware, especially in the South, that guns are ever present. And for the possibility of being shot by a white man, badged or not, the fear is laced with anger at their perceived right to my body. The wrong act of pride or expression of culture by me can be perceived as a threat by them.

That’s why the image of Kendrick grabbing his nuts as he refuses to be humble and stares down a barrage of barrels held by the overseers is powerful. It’s fearless. It refuses to be silenced. Kendrick raps that he’ll let his soul speak and won’t blame his actions on the alcohol because he is the realest nigga. He owns his words and doesn’t need to explain or excuse them. He said what he said. He will not suppress himself for them, even with their ultimate threat at the ready. When I see Kendrick aggressively spit his soul in the form of bars at the police, an institution historically hellbent on silencing him, it makes me feel like I can do the same. I won’t give them sovereignty over my body as they’ve traditionally taken. If they take it by force, then they won’t have my psyche. I won’t fear their force. 

I recently was asked to discuss then write about what is “art”.  The best answer I could surmise was anything you experience with your senses that makes you feel something. That 6 second clip, the still image I made my wallpaper, that symbolic “fuck you” indeed made me feel something. All these thoughts and feelings of rage and pride flooding me as  I take in the image.  
image_6483441 (1)

“Ah yeah, fuck the judge. I made it past 25 and there I was, a little nappy-headed nigga with the world behind him.” – Kendrick Lamar, King Kunta

“Grown man never should bite they tongue unless you eating on p***** that smell like its a stale plum.” – Kendrick Lamar,

(Crazy. As I’m writing this somebody fired shots at the basketball court on campus around the corner from where I’m sitting in my bed. Wonder if the target was a black man?)

*https://www.cdc.gov/men/lcod/2014/black/index.htm

**http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-sugarmann/the-gun-violence-epidemic_b_9540258.html

***https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/?utm_term=.c5ea941657c7

****https://massappeal.com/study-black-males-size-overestimated-whites-view-threatening/

*****http://www.salon.com/2017/01/31/fbi-investigating-white-supremacists-infiltrating-law-enforcement-agencies-report/