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

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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/

The Father of Rock and Roll

Of course, it’s Black History Month. History is my favorite subject. It’s what I major in. It’s what I plan to teach, and it’s my nerdy pleasure. So to celebrate BHM, I’m going to write a feature in Black American History each week (UPDATE: haven’t had Wi-Fi for a few days, so this first one will be Wednesday, the rest on Monday). We all learned in school about George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, MLK and Malcolm X. Although many of their stories have been whitewashed and made safe for elementary age children, they’re important figures nonetheless. But I want to focus on contributions people don’t always expect. Moments in history black people are not often given credit for, or that are more complex than on the surface:

Most will credit black people with Jazz, Blues, R&B, and of course Hip Hop. Innovative genres that all played into the next, a mirror of our history so to speak. Of course certain genres are acknowledged to be founded by other cultures in America. Nobody is rushing to credit us with Country music, although we are represented in that space in modern times. Most casual music fans chalk up the start of Rock N’ Roll to the wave begun by Elvis Presley in the 1950’s and 60’s. The logical end to the swing and miscellaneous dance crazes of the WWII generation spurred out of the Roaring Twenties. Music evolves with the times, so Elvis was just the next logical step for that genre, birthing Rock and Roll.

But that isn’t the whole story. Rock and Roll started before Elvis graced stages and melted the hearts of women. Before Elvis, was the inventor the duckwalk, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member, and the first to put Rock music on wax, so to speak, Chuck Berry.

Charles Anderson Edward Berry was born in St. Louis in 1926. He served three years in prison from age 18-21. He was a father of four. He had a college educated mother, and a self-reliant carpenter for a father. Chuck Berry lived in a highly segregated community, in the south, in one of the most oppressive times in American History. These are the quick highlights. The facts you can find on Wikipedia really quickly. Down to the real story. How we ended up with Rock N’ Roll.

Playing jazz songs by guitar in the Sir John’s Trio in 1953, a band started by a high school friend, Jonnie Johnson. Playing in local nightclubs, Chuck gained a reputation for his lively performances and showmanship, while also mixing in upbeat country songs along with their jazz and pop set. This style of music, a black man performing traditionally white songs and putting on a show, attracted an increasingly segregated audience. With growing popularity, Chuck Berry began making trips to Chicago in order to attract the attention of record labels and eventually sign a contract. After meeting blues performer Muddy Waters, he was directed towards Chess Records. He presented the record label with his song Maybellene, signed a contract and recorded his eventual #1 hit on May 21, 1955. The first rock song was recorded and distributed.

Chuck Berry would go on to put out 18 studio albums, 45 singles (only one went #1, although many spent weeks on the charts), and was still performing as recently as 2014, at the age of 87. As described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “he played western guitar licks over a base of rhythm and blues. The distorted sound of Berry’s guitar captured the rough, untamed spirit of rock and roll.” While tame compared to today’s rock stars, without Berry’s foundation, The Rolling Stones and Beatles might have been singing bluegrass. A genre not often associated with the history of black people in this country, but an important figure in musical, and our history nonetheless.

 

 

*Duckwalk can be seen at 1:15 mark of video

“Elvis Presley ain’t got no soul, Chuck Berry is rock n’ roll, you may dig on the Rolling Stones but they ain’t come up with that style on their own.”

-Mos Def, Rock N’ Roll

 

**I own none of the photographs or videos linked in this post

Dr. WIlliam H . Cosby Part 2

Does the evidence defend, or condemn him?

First, the total number of women who have accused Bill Cosby is over 50. Various sites report various amounts, but it is consistently above 50. That alone is staggering. Some say it is so many, some must be lying. I agree. There’s a good chance not all of the 50+ are telling the truth, some no doubt looking to gain exposure or money from this situation. Whether that applies to 1 or 49, does it matter though? 1 rape makes a rapist. 50 makes a serial rapist. The numbers matter. But I don’t assume 49 women are lying. I will not deny their right to be heard. Some may be lying, but that is not for me to discern when the evidence is stacked against Cosby.

In seeing opinions fly across the internet, I kept seeing people reference a deposition* from 2005 when Cosby stood accused by the same Andrea Constand of sexual assault. Our courts are open to the public for a reason, things go on record for a reason. A deposition isn’t hearsay, it isn’t blind accusations. It is the exact questions and answers given by Cosby, on the stand, under oath. I’ll be blunt, this deposition was damning. In it, Cosby acknowledged getting a prescription for Quaaludes, but that he did not intend to use them for himself. He said the drugs “made him sleepy”, and that he gave them to women he intended to sleep with. He likened it to buying a drink for a woman.

Buying a drink for a woman is a normal social act, however intentionally trying to get a woman drunk so that she cannot consent, then having sex with her is rape. Cosby acknowledged that the drugs made him “sleepy”, then gave them to women he wanted to have sex with. Sleepy from drugs, of course, is not the same as sleepy from exhaustion. The women claim he would offer them medicine for a headache, or other ailment, then woke up after having been sexually assaulted, not having given consent, and even if they had they were no longer conscious. He goes on in the deposition to say he only gave Andrea Constand Benadryll, then offered to pay for grad school for her, after she said all she wanted was an apology, and the name of the drug she was given.

That is a damning circumstance, multiple women with similar stories, and Bill Cosby’s own words stating he bought drugs and gave them to women he wanted to have sex with. The stories are not verbatim, but they carry dangerous similarities. Accusations aside, the predatory nature of giving women drugs to sleep with them is very questionable.  I have yet to see Dr. Cosby defend these actions, or deny them. Until then, I cannot stand behind him. The evidence is there to support their stories. We can watch how it plays out in court, but the deposition speaks volumes for me. Cosby has done nothing to prove the accusations wrong. I hope he does, but he has not and until then, I can only make logical conclusions based on the evidence presented.

 

Who is Bill Cosby, beyond his art?

            I planned on writing more about who Bill Cosby is as a person, in my eyes. About the Pound Cake Speech and his stereotypical patriarchal views. But we have Google. I’ll leave the personal opinions of him to you. The case against Cosby is about rape, not his disagreeable conservatism.

 

However, a man standing accused of drugging women to sleep with them, admitted to buying drugs to sleep with women on record in 2005. That speaks volumes. How we interpret the information, that speaks volumes as well.

 

“Even the sun goes down, heroes eventually die, horoscopes often lie, and sometimes why, nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, nothing lasts forever.”

-Outkast, Aquemini

 

 

 

*http://deadspin.com/here-are-the-documents-bill-cosby-didnt-want-you-to-rea-1716083975

Dr. William H. Cosby Part 1

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but life. Dr. William H. Cosby has been charged with aggravated indecent assault in relation to sexual assault allegations from Andrea Constand*.  These recent allegations have been a point of dissention, as many are conflicted as to whether or not they are true. Various rumors have surfaced as to why these allegations are being made now. Some argue it is to destroy Cosby’s legacy, to tear down a hero of sorts in the black community. Others say it was to stop him from making a bid to purchase NBC** and others believe he committed the crimes.

When I first heard about this, I was shocked and defensive like we all were. I loved A Different World. The Cosby Show meant a lot to many (personally, I was more of a Fresh Prince, Bernie Mac, My Wife and Kids fan in regards to black family sitcoms). However, I was asked a few tough questions in regards to why I was defending him. Why did I want him to be innocent? Did the evidence defend or condemn him? Who is Bill Cosby, aside from his art?

Think about those questions, adequately research them. The answers weren’t pretty for me.

Why do I want Bill Cosby to be innocent?

I wanted Bill Cosby to be innocent because he was the creator of so much important art, an innovator in comedy and an important figure to the generation above me. Because Dr. Cliff Huxtable was a doctor on television, and Dr. Bill Cosby was a doctor in real life, which meant I could be one too. Because Bill Cosby created a space for black people on television where previously they only made shows to mock us. It may not have all been realistic, but neither was anything else on TV, so why not get to see people who look like me (although not like my family lol) exist in a fantasy world like everybody else.

I wanted Bill Cosby to be innocent because they can’t have him. They can’t tear down another black man with accusations of being a monster, a rapist (see Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, etc), a narrative that has been used to do a lot of evil historically. But, historical narrative aside, sometimes black people can do evil too. Sometimes the criminal justice system is right and sometimes its wrong. I don’t believe Kobe did it, but I think (know) R. Kelly did. Michael is innocent, but OJ was not. I don’t trust the American justice system to adequately accuse and charge minorities in this country, so I don’t look to its verdicts to make my judgement. Every accusation against a black man isn’t true, but each isn’t a lie either.

His legacy is being tarnished, conviction or not he is a rapist in the minds of many to this point. He never will be to others. But his legacy does not determine whether or not his art was important and a display of Black Excellence. The art stands for itself. But the art and artist have to be separated, most of our favorite musicians, actors, artists etc. have done bad, terrible, and sometimes evil things. They’re human like us. Their art still stands.

What about the women? Why now?

In a culture like ours, where women’s sexuality is treated like it’s not rooted in their own choices, coming forward about rape is difficult. Statistics say many rapes go unreported, followed up with questions of were you drinking?” and “what were you wearing? Did you lead him on?” as we look to absolve men of sex without consent, because consent is debatable (its not, consent is very clear but our culture denies it). I have never experienced such a pain, but that doesn’t mean I can flippantly dismiss those who have. If you know anybody who is comfortable talking about a sexual assault experience, let me know because most are damaged from it, those who do speak about their experiences will cite how hard it was to acknowledge it. As we all debate and discuss why they were drinking with him if they didn’t have sexual intentions, some even calling a few of the women “un-rapeable” (ignoring the fact that rape is often about power, not physical attraction), calling these women sluts and liars and whores and all kinds of terrible things, it becomes painfully evident why they didn’t come forward before. Why it took one women to open those floodgates. If they’re being attacked and dismissed now, imagine in the 70’s and 80’s.

To be objective in this case, Bill Cosby cannot be placed on a pedestal, nor these women placed in the mud. Bill Cosby stands accused. Money and legacy aside, he stand accused. These women are his accusers, race, color and narrative aside, their experiences count. Now that both sides are addressed and have been given even playing field, let’s look at the evidence.

 

 

*As of the time I am writing this, there has been a hearing set for February 2nd to dismiss the charges due to a deal made in 2005 with the District Attorney.

**I have yet to find any documentation that this is true. If you have anything with cited sources let me know.