Archive for the ‘Real Talk’ Category

Written by Camille Michelle Gray

Summer is upon us. The atmosphere is warming, the sun is out for longer, and the humidity is ruining everyone’s hair. Along with the change in weather comes the change in wardrobe. I love summer clothes. I love shorts and skirts, and showing off the arms that tennis hath made. Summer dressing is effortless. The way a brightly colored chiffon maxi skirt flows with your legs as the sun shines down on you is one of life’s small yet potent pleasures, like a cup of tea at the end of a long day or a giant lick of love from your pet.

So there you are, walking down a golden-lit city street like a Grecian goddess, certain that your confidence is parting the clouds and curing someone’s cancer, beaming like the sun, settling at the apex of self-assuredness, patting yourself on the back for enduring a long winter (for surely this is the reward after months of parkas and shoveling), firmly rooted in the joy of the summer season…and then you hear it:

Aye girl, I’m tryna see what’s under that skirt! *snicker*

Mood=ruined. Smile=gone. Confidence=eviscerated. Sudden need to run away and hide in corner=maximized.

‘Tis the season for street harassers! They mostly hibernate during the cooler months, hiding just below perception like cicadas under your lawn, unable to be bothered with trying to sexualize a woman in a floor length coat and a balaclava. But distress not, ladies! They are back in full force to make sure you feel slightly disgusted in yourself, in them, and in the world at large. Yes, as legs, arms, and abs start making their annual appearance, this certain breed of man will emerge, giddy and restless from a skinless winter. They are ready, able and enthusiastic about making sure you think twice about wearing your favorite skirt to work, less they mistake you wanting keep cool and look cute in the sun for an invitation to have a one-sided and explosive conversation about your sexual validity.

This bout inappropriateness is so predictable that it almost doubles as a summer solstice. It’s not summer in Washington D.C. until you’ve been leered at a little too long or catcalled on your morning run. Like the first snow of the season christening winter, the first Aye girl, Hey baby, or Mmm girl lets you know that, surely, summer has arrived.

I could go on and on about the vastly creative harassment I endure on a daily basis during these summer months. I could wax poetic about how this patriarchal merry-go-round called America creates and tolerates this behavior. I could even devolve into a righteous rage about how what to men may be intended as an innocuous compliment could be easily misconstrued as a violation of self on the behalf of the woman. But all these blogs have been written already.

I want to talk about something else—something much more insidious, something that is equally as disturbing. I want to talk about the female enablers and apologists of street harassment. Yes, they exist. You may even be one of them. If you’re already reading this with a meh, it’s not really THAT bad type of disposition, then you are part of the problem sister girl.

Female apologists of street harassment frequently hide behind the same versions of arguments over and over:

1)      You should be grateful! When you become old like me and all the catcalls dry up, you’ll wish you cherished them while you were young!

2)      I don’t get street harassed. And because it’s not happening to me, it ain’t important to me and you’re just complaining.

3)      Where’s the harm if they’re just looking? Gosh, let them look. It’s not like they can touch.

4)      Blargh, beautiful women complaining about how HARD is it to be beautiful again. Wow, I’m so sorry that you’re so pretty and men yearn to let you know. Stop the complaining!

Personally, I have been issued the you’re beautiful, get over it, I wish men fawned at me like they do you, you’re young, it’s harmless, it should give you confidence card over and over and over and over again. Certainly at one point in my life I didn’t mind street harassment. I did think it was kind of like an affirmation of self, an affirmation that, Hey, maybe I AM pretty! YAY! But as I grew older, the “compliments” grew overtly sexual and perverted in nature, physical boundaries were absolutely crossed (STRANGER DANGER!), and the novelty of it all wore off gradually and then very suddenly as I shed my naivety and realized my powerlessness in it all.

Allow me to debunk all this bullsh*t:

1)      No. I won’t be grateful for some guy 35 years my senior calling me babydoll (condescending much?) and inquiring about what’s happening under my skirt. Won’t be grateful for a young male stranger grabbing onto my arm, threatening not to let go until he has my phone number. Won’t be grateful for a group of men publicly objectifying me in a Subway Sandwich shop, leaving me with palpable embarrassment and weakened pride. None of these things are to be cherished. None of these things uplift me as a woman, make me feel valued or beautiful. The attitude that I should sit back and take it because one day it will all be gone is nonsense if not only because I WANT IT TO ALL BE GONE NOW. No woman should derive self-esteem from outward validation anyway, especially if it’s as crude and disgusting as the brand of street harassment I know all too well. It bothers me that this simple Self Esteem 101 introductory lesson is lost on some older generations of women. Moreover, the idea that what is young is more beautiful than what is old, and the blindness in which some older women act as accomplices in their own devaluing, so much as to wish that they could be a victim of vile street communication if only to feel beautiful again is a web of f*ckery that only years of school and a doctorate degree can explain. Next!

2)      This argument reminds me of Jon Stewart’s beautifully snarky Global warming isn’t real because right now it’s cold where I am sound bite. Yes, so because no one–thankfully–yells at you on the street or catcalls you, it must not be a thing or, like, a super bona fide systemic failure of patriarchal society. This is called negative denial. It is looking upon an issue and denying its efficacy based on the fact that it’s not impacting you directly. And, hey, if it’s not happening to you, why care? Only boo, that’s a sh*tty argument. All women should care if even ONE woman is harassed because if they don’t, it gives a kind of cosmic permission for more street harassers to feel okay about their behavior. Hey, as long as no one is tattling, it must be condoned right? Whatever happened to this idea of sisterhood, of bonding together? Okay, so YOU aren’t a victim of street harassment, but what about your friend/sister/aunt/niece/daughter/girlfriend/mom/co-worker’s aunt’s sister’s friend that IS? Are their concerns kind of watered down just because you don’t see it as a true issue? As long as we aren’t completely unified in our assertion that street harassment isn’t okay, street harassing men will continually find loopholes to slip through and it will never stop.

3)      You can look but don’t touch! This concept makes sense in some contexts like buying expensive jewelry or walking through a museum of delicate artifacts. But it’s a bit more gray when it comes to human looking and touching. First of all, there is a world of difference between a harmless glance and the territorial terror that a salacious leer can invoke. A man staring at me for three seconds because he is walking by me on the street? Fine. Whatever. (Cue the I woke up like dis choir). But him staring at me and then craning his neck to stare some more, or turning his vehicle around to drive back and stare even more (this happened to me) or him slowing down an entire metro train to stare at me jogging around the adjacent lake (also happened to me)? NO BUENO AMIGA! It’s only humorous in retrospect. But in the moment, what’s to stop me from feeling like that staring man may not follow me back to my car or to my house where he will have the physical upper hand? Some women (and men) would be quick to offer that perhaps I am a meek little mouse who is afraid of the big mean world, always looking out for a potential predator even where there is none. But, in all of the aforementioned circumstances my fight-or-flight sequence was initiated. The most primal signifier of danger lit every cell of my body, as if to warn me that even if a salacious stare didn’t lead to assault, that the body language in which it was administered was disturbing and off enough that I need to proceed with caution. So what am I to believe? People who downplay feeling the danger of being stared at a little too long, or my natural biological wiring that has hundreds of thousands of years of finely tuned accuracy on its side? Next!

4)      I hate this last argument. It’s so delicate. Feelings get hurt, wires get crossed, self-esteem hangs precariously in the balance. It’s awkward because the perpetrators of this limp, pseudo-compliment laced in obvious jealousy and sarcasm often feel that they are not beautiful themselves. And thus, to pander to their low self-esteem, The Beautifuls of the World must hang their heads in shame and accept that having a symmetrical face and/or well-endowed assets has irrevocably tied them to a fate of being harassed. It’s just how the world works, ahh the pity of the gorgeous. Are tiny violins playing yet? This argument is crock. Women who tragically and incorrectly perceive themselves as average or God-forbid, ugly, who don’t ever get harassed or cat called, may wish to ignore the issue of street harassment all together, seeing it as justified punishment for some dare having won a genetic lottery. It’s a little sick and sadistic, as if any woman truly deserves to be sexually objectified regardless of how they look. It also ties back to my earlier observation that yearning for outward validation is backwards in and of itself. According to this argument, if you’re beautiful, you have it made, so you should shut the f*ck up and go put some lipstick on. You’re not allowed to feel violated or sexualized because you being very good-looking is prize enough. The self-perceived Uglies of the world will not fight on your behalf to feel respected while walking down the street because the world has denied them the privilege of beauty, or so it seems. And so very subtly, these women crying that we all shut up and get over it have joined allegiance with our male street oppressors and they don’t even realize it. They want to silence our voice, they want to categorize the whole thing as a non-issue, they want our complacency and our mollification. Yet another example of how women turn their backs on each other, allowing personal webs of self-identification and esteem to trounce the collective soul and goals of the oppressed woman. They step in and out of the sisterhood when it’s convenient for them.

And so there it is. This is how some women tacitly play into the continuation of street harassment. Is it their fault? No. I am sure street harassment apologist theories wouldn’t even exist if not for the patriarchal conditioning of this society. We are all bred into a system that values women first and foremost on how they look. And as long as you are validated by a man, no matter how or where that validation comes, you’re winning right? You should be grateful, right? You should cherish it, right? You should stop complaining about it, right? Just let them look, right?

WRONG. Unapologetically wrong.

This isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad or riled up. It is, rather, a call to consciousness, to observe the pathologies that silently plague perspective and distort our awareness. Sure, to some, street harassment is far from the civil rights issue of the century, but to deny its existence or its power over the everyday lives of everyday women is to allow injustice, even small injustices, to survive and thrive in an underbelly of American ignorance. And as was once so eloquently stated: injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I’m going a different route this week. My normal “TWIHH” will return next week.

Let it be known, first and foremost, that I love lyrical music. I love being able to think on a bar or a verse and come up with several annotations on it. I enjoy learning something with the lyrics I hear. And, obviously, I love to impart wisdom through my own bars. It’s partly why I love sites like RapGenius. But, A few years ago, Waka Flocka (Flame)–now of Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta (see, it’s still kind of related to current events)–said that “nobody wanna hear that damn dictionary rap.” This interview may be a bit NSFW, so viewer discretion is advised.

 

But is he right? Do we, as artists and fans, want to hear more simplistic lyrics or something that sounds like it’s taken from a graduate school-level philosophy textbook? Do we want “smart rap” or “dumb rap?”

It’s a question I’ve thought of a lot as an artist. Let’s dissect a bit. Some of these so-called “dictionary rappers” will spit bars that are mechanically impressive, but stunted. Why? They get so wrapped up in proving their knowledge, they start to lose the audience (“intellectual” or otherwise). I’ll probably get a lot of flack for this, but a prime example of this is Canibus. While he pulls references to Greek mythology, space-time, and so on out of thin air, he doesn’t really say or do much with it outside of a simple simile–or rattle off alliterative lyrics for the sheer fact that he can. Case in point: his 2010 track “Pine Cone Poem” from C of Tranquility.

 

All in all, the song refers to an elevated state of mind, but that sometimes gets lost in his tangents. This sort of “anti-‘mainstream'” lyricism has created some great lyricists. ‘Bus, even with his flaws, is head and shoulders above some of his contemporaries. When he’s making sense with his lyrics, of course. Inversely, because so many so-called “underground” artists are quick to embrace “anti-mainstream” philosophies and approaches, we get a bunch of artists that feel that this sort of thing will get them noticed.

They’ll rattle off alliterative, multi-syllabic lyrics such as this (and these are real bars I’ve heard):

“My animalistic atrocities, rock these ‘metamorphosized’ philosophies/
Like the eye of Horus, explore this, man-made camaraderie.”

Again, it’s a nice couplet, in terms of thinking outside the box. It’s dope in regards to the wordplay and the twisting of words. But, intellectually, it doesn’t make much sense. It’s fundamentally flawed.

The Eye of Horus is representative of the “third eye,” if you believe that sort of thing. If you’re elevated mentally, you’ll not have animalistic tendencies, much less commit animalistic atrocities. Also, the belief of the Eye of Horus being representative of the “third eye” is, in itself, a man-made philosophy. It’s derived from “metamorphosized” thoughts, new age wisdom and healing, and anti-“Illuminati”/pro-awakened mind teachings and thought processes (also presented in the above Canibus song). Hell, try spitting that in a verse. You’ll possibly outrap the beat and sound incompetent. You’ll force it out and it’ll sound unnatural, flow-wise.

In other words, if you really think about some of these dictionary bars, they’re worse than a rapper that spits “ignorance.” Even if it’s not elevated or “smart”, something like: “I rock the boat…Aaliyah/Mess with me, I got the Eagle on ‘heat seaker'”still makes sense on a fundamental level.

So is “dictionary rap” or “super smart rap” bad?

Simply put, no. It’s fun and impressive to think of new, outside-the-box ways to speak your thoughts. But, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. If you sacrifice common sense for squeezing a million tangent-worthy microthoughts into a verse, you’re performing a disservice to hip-hop. If you’re focusing more on your rhyme schemes than what you want to say, you’re performing a disservice to hip-hop. If you’re an artist and you want to get on/get noticed, be sure you know the basics before you start rattling off so-called “smart rap.” If you don’t, you’ll look dumb.

As artists, we always want to make ourselves better than the people out there. But, if you lose focus of the fundamentals, you’re screwed and destined to be clowned for it. Don’t dumb down, but don’t try to be overly smart and just sound like a jacka** when it’s all said and done. It’s all about balance, people. You can be “smart” and not alienate, just like a person could spit “dumb” rap and have it so lyrically impressive.

Not too many artists have this, though. But, as always, that’s just my opinion.

This week in hip-hop saw yet another salvo fired off in one of the longest-running quasi-feuds in hip-hop. After Drake, in a Rolling Stone interview, called Jay Z’s many, many, many references to Basquiat, Warhol, and other visionaries–a word thrown around way too much for way too many people, but that’s another post for another time–“wack,” Jay fired back on Drake’s own Soulja Boy’s song. Judge for yourself, but as is typically the case, the lyrics are pretty NSFW. Although, we do get an appearance from hip-hop’s resident hermit, Jay Electronica–that’s coming from a Jay Elec fan, by the way.

Since at least 2007, Jay and YMCMB/CMR have traded bars with each other. Honestly, I enjoy the “shots” because it takes hip-hop back to those old-school days when Big and Pac were still living–or even when Fiddy went at everyone. You know, the days when rappers weren’t afraid to just throw shots at each other in a competitive nature to keep their competition on their toes–and their own buzz up. As long as it creates some “DAMN! REWIND DAT!” moments, without, you know, the fisticuffs of a Source Awards or something I’m all for the back and forth. It doesn’t seem to really be anything more than friendly competition at this point–unless we start getting “Control”-like responses from people.

Man, that song got on my nerves.

*****

Cole Alexander Hates Drake and Loves His Rap “ignorant, ratchet, and ghetto.

This is Cole Alexander, guitarist for Black Lips, a rock group out of Athens, Georgia.

cole-alexander-black-lips

I’ve never bothered to listen to Black Lips that much. I remember they had a song on the Scott Pilgrim movie soundtrack and had a sort of southern punk vibe to them. They’re the type of band hipsters love, as evidence by Alexander being chosen to talk to A.V Club about his “hatesong.”

Here’s the thing: there isn’t anything inherently wrong with a white guy liking “ratchet” rap. That’s fine and dandy. People are allowed to like what they like. What is kind of crappy about Alexander’s opinion is that it places a white, male gaze on a genre created by “minority” artists. That, plus his whole, “white people now usually don’t have to deal with racism, so they allow blacks to make racist jokes as ‘payback’ for their ‘white guilt’ and stuff” diatribe on Macklemore, whom he seems to channel in the above photo. I’ve got two sets of three words for this guy, but I can’t say them on here. So…Why The Face?

I guess I’m going to have to bring back my “Fail of the Week.” Also, Modern Family FTW.

*****

Elle Varner Doesn’t Want Anyone to “See [Her] Tonight”

Back when Elle first came out, I had a bit of a Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW) going for her. She, musically, had that Chrisette Michelle thing going for her, but “cooler.” Now while her debut didn’t move the numbers some predicted (honestly, it was epic, but still had a lot of boring and/or misguided moments), it was a decent debut. Her second album, slated for a late-2014 release, seems destined to silence doubters–or die tryin’. This song captures her “Only Wanna Give It To You” vibe, splashes it over a song about rejection, and succeeds. It, in some ways, sums up her first album in about five minutes. “I’m attractive and relatively famous, but I still get antsy about being rejected. And when/if it happens, like anyone else, I get kind of sad about it. And when I get sad, I may shed a tear or two…and I don’t want people seeing that because they see me as strong and powerful and stuff.”

 *****

Indie Spotlight of the Week, “Art in Reality” by True God of #TeamDAR (Prod. by Speed on the Beat)

(Lyrics NSFW on both of these) Yes, yes, I’m tooting my own horn on this one. Sue me. The first track I’ve worked on myself since my own #MoneyWhereYoMouthIs, it speaks on True’s journey through music and music’s state as a whole. It’s a pretty awesome track that utilizes a slightly unexpected sample. Also, this:

(Sorry, Arteest, my dude. I had to. Everyone, #SupportIndieMusic)

Until next time.

-Speed

 

Written by Camille Michelle Gray

I am on the heels of releasing my debut EP ‘Street Cinema.’ Here is my shameless plug: go to www.camillemichellegray.com to download the EP for free and to watch the two music videos I put out in support of it.

I promise that has something to do with the rest of this post.

Yesterday I had an invigorating debate with a friend on the topic of a selfless career. We careened intelligently back and forth about our goals, dreams, and dispositions towards a fulfilling life in the snappy and excitable way that twenty-somethings often do. We both agreed that we want our careers and ultimately our lives to make the world a better place once we’re gone. It’s a very lofty goal. I know you may be thinking Yeah, yeah that sounds nice but that’s just something people say. Surely it may seem grandiose to want your presence here on the Earth to contribute to its arc towards love, positivity, happiness, and all things lovely and fluffy. And it’s trendy to be cynical about the future and rebuff gentle sentiments like the one stated above as delusional dreams of the dangerously optimistic. You may be thinking Whatever. I just want to do ______ for a living. I’m not out here to change the world. I’m just one person anyway. But oh, dear hardened reader, you CAN make the world a better place from you having been here, and it’s deliriously simple to do.

When you go after that which makes your heart sing, which gives you joy, which leaves you satisfied and contented, you show up brighter in the world. When you show up brighter and live from this energizing space, you subconsciously give others permission to do the same. People yearn to be around those who are chasing their dreams. There is something spiritually seductive about a person who owns their passion, and continuously shows up for it. Those stymied and frustrated souls look upon those who have the gusto to go for their goals and unconsciously or consciously feel invigorated to do the same. And should we all have the guts to go after that which makes our hearts sing, the world sings. Therein lies the secret to changing the world.

You may think that having a selfless career means you have to be doing something to help others in a very tangible way like build schools or nurse premature infants. And while these professions are needed and do indeed increase the quality of life and the quality of the world, so do simple things like writing a book, being an engaged customer service agent, singing a song, or cooking a dish.

There is a woman who always passes out newspapers at the metro station in the morning, who greets people with a jovial GOOD MORNING or HOW YA DOIN BABY, who appears to be so completely enthralled and in love with the task of getting to speak to people. She always has a huge smile on her face, and often engages in quite hilarious rapport with her coworkers or those walking by. It’s such a delight to witness, and in the course of several seconds, whatever dim emotions I was allowing to swell up in my bones before dissipates and I offer my own smile and my own well wishes to her. The entire arc of my day changes in that instant. Perhaps without her sunny smile and willingness to engage hurried strangers I would have carried those unruly emotions with me into my day. But there is a sweet oneness in interacting with someone who so enjoys their work. It penetrates my nervous system and allows me to show up brighter than I would have. Worldly eyes would look upon her job as menial and meaningless, but showing up passionately for the task at hand creates visceral ripples. And so it is that any job, any creation, any task holds within it the maximal potential to affect the world around it. And in turn, the world changes.

When I talked about this with my pal, it was suggested that this outlook on your career is perhaps arrogant. To go into your career with the hopes of changing a life or producing inspiration perhaps could be seen as a delusion of grandeur. Like How dare I think I can change the world. I’m not God. But this is incorrect thinking. To intend to change a life, create a smile or a laugh, make someone think differently, or make someone happier all because of your solo efforts is not arrogant, it’s selfless. When you show up for your career hoping to inspire or change, you are living from a space of service. You are looking at your talents and competencies as things to be shared for mutual enlightenment and enjoyment.

Many people do the opposite thing. They go into a job, a career, a profession from a stand point of what can I get out of this? They design their dreams around what will give THEM the most happiness, joy, love, comfort, money, self-esteem, et cetera and everyone else plays second fiddle to this drama. THIS is arrogance. A singer who sings so they can get a record contract and a yacht does not show up brightly at all. In fact their energy is desperate, and their capacity to change the world favorably is diminished no matter how many dollars they earn, no matter how much they may be using their given talents. It’s arrogant to think your actions, your career somehow happens in a vacuum, like you’re in this world alone and don’t affect anyone or anything. Like your feelings and security are the only things of import.

I am certainly not saying that every corner of this world is a safe place to speak your truth, and that you should proclaim loudly all over the place: I’M GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD! No. Rather, adopt a quiet and centered place within yourself where you know that this is your intention. And that silent conviction will carry you, and remind you gently on those bad days that you’re in this for real, and owe it to the world to play big. Humility is gorgeous, but when used to shrink down, play small, and think things like Who am I to think I can do this, can be fatal and unproductive. A healthy sense of self and purpose is composed of both humility and grandiosity in equal measure. Too much of either distorts the dream.

And so I have released my first EP with all of this in mind. It’s human to feel afraid of going for your goals, and to let people in on that process. I exhausted myself trying to get the songs perfect, and envisioned nightmarish outcomes of people hating it publicly. But fear is never in alignment with your highest truth. And so on the eve of my EP’s release I remembered why it is I’m doing this. I reminded myself that should this EP, or even one song on the EP, reach just one person in a real way and make them smile, ponder, nod their head, or just generally release themselves from those things that bog us down in everyday life for even four minutes, then that will be enough, and the effort will be worth it. No job is too small to the powers that be. Of course this doesn’t mean I should just settle and sing for an audience of one my whole life and then die in poverty. Rather, it’s an invitation to remember why I’m here and to respect the process. Living abundantly, giving freely of my talents with the highest of intentions, and being grateful for every listening ear opens me up to receive even more. The world always mirrors back to you what you give it, and should we show up bright in whatever it is we do, then we can live with the conviction that our wildest successes will be held in trust for us, waiting to be downloaded at the right time.

A song can lift a spirit. A meal can deliver satisfaction. A dress design can bolster self-esteem. A photograph can inspire wonder. A movie can produce catharsis. A building can create a home. A speech can energize an audience. An intention can change a heart. And if you know what changes a heart, you know what changes the world.

HipHopDX

On the heels of promoter Damon Feldman’s decision to cancel “that” fight (then potentially reneging on that decision), I began to think a bit about how far Dark Man X has fallen over the years. When I was younger, though I probably should have been listening to something more “kid-friendly,” DMX was one of my favorite artists. I thought, even though he was darker than your average mainstream artist, that his career would burn brighter than some of his contemporaries. His way with words, his bluntness on tracks, the unhinged aspect of DMX’s delivery. All of those things, to me, were keys to success. Heck, some of them inspired my own musings. But, alas, like many tormented musical geniuses, it was not in the cards for Mr. Simmons to become as legendary as his early discography would have one believe.

Somewhere along the way, between The Great Depression and (maybe?) knuckling up with that Floridian, he lost it. Granted, DMX was never really an artist that had it all figured out, as his rap sheet is longer than his rap accolades. But, it’s a sad descent nonetheless. With arrests ranging from using indecent language at a concert to speeding to animal cruelty, you’re probably asking me “Speed, why the hell do you feel sorry for this man? Why do you wish that he’d get it together? He’s obviously a lost cause!” And while those things could very well be true, DMX’s descent sticks out in my mind for a couple of reasons.

First, I grew up in Baltimore during the late 1980s and 1990s. I came from an environment where I’d see DMX-like situations pop up almost daily. So, as much as I loved his music, I wanted to do more than just sell dope or rob people or whatever. In some ways, I felt that, somewhere deep down, he spoke on all these issues to shine a light on them. In other words, “don’t do these messed up things if you actually want to get out and make something of yourself.” Which leads me to my second (obvious) point: I wish that DMX would’ve practiced what he (subconsciously) preached instead of practicing what he consciously preached about (in other words, doing a ton of dirt and ultimately, getting screwed up because of it). DMX could have had a Jay Z-like career (in terms of relevancy and the like), but instead allowed his demons to take him under.

Artists, if you take one thing away from this, know the following. Yes, you can come from dirt, you can start from the bottom. But, eventually, you’re going to have to keep yourself from dropping back down to the bottom, regardless of what it takes. If it means switching up your whole demeanor, your circles, or whatever. You want to succeed in this game and not allow yourself to be an artist with infinite potential–and infinite criminal charges against you? Look at DMX’s life as a motivator to do better.

It may be, in some ways, too late for him, but it’s not for you.

The Inadequacies

Many people say, “Money Is The Root of All Evil!” But, many more would probably disagree. I, on the other hand am here to tell you that money doesn’t matter. Yes, it does matter in a, “Bills need to get paid. Food needs to be in the fridge type of way.” But, as the saying goes, “Money can’t buy you love.” And like my father told me many years ago, “Money can’t buy you happiness.” I know you are probably thinking, “What does this have to do with perception being reality?” Well, hold your horses there sport. I will get to that in a minute. Just follow me down the rabbit hole for a second and enjoy the ride.

moz.com

The American Dream

As I was saying, money can’t buy you happiness. You’re probably thinking, “You’re wrong! Most of my unhappiness stems from financial problems therefore if I had money I’d have NO problems.” And the reason I make this assumption about YOU is because I thought this way for a long time when I was growing up. I thought about all the things I wanted. All the things we didn’t have. All the things we could have, if only we had more money. I would immediately smile while visualizing the list of the many new and improved things I could possess. No, we were not poor growing up. There were no days of hunger. We always had decent clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet and a comfortable bed to sleep in. In fact, my grandmother would buy us a new gaming console just about every time one debuted. Yet, I knew we were not rich and I always yearned for more, thinking that more things meant more happiness. Little did I know at the time that my idea of The American Dream was a life of excess and materialism.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The Beach

Well folks, after many years of living and truly experiencing what money can and cannot do, I have  finally realized that what my dad said those many years ago is true. Money can’t buy you happiness. Here’s how I know. As someone who doesn’t have an exorbitant amount of money I know what it is like to fantasize about the many things I could do with my winnings if I ever won the lottery. Here’s the thing; those brief moments of splendor I experience while visualizing myself at an exotic location, sipping an exotic drink with some exotic woman actually send real signals to my brain to tell my body I am happy. No, this beach visualization happiness isn’t permanent. But, it IS enough to hold me over for an adequate amount of time. And although it felt like a dream, it is the possibility and anticipation of the beach concept one day becoming a reality that fuels that temporary burst of real happiness.

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The Matrix Possibility

Now, think about a time of great happiness in your life. Maybe you took a vacation across country, went skydiving, spent a week on a family cruise, etc. When you think of this situation the thought of it probably still fills your body with happiness. But, it’s only temporary. In fact, at this point, the event you thought of might even feel like a dream, similar to my aforementioned imaginary beach trip. Of course, the time you spent on your memorable event actually happened. But, did it? Your perception is that it was more than just a dream. Your perception of the food you ate, the music you listened to and the people you partied with while you were there says it was a real experience. Yet, you could still ponder the possibility that it never took place. In other words, your perception makes that memorable event reality. To further my point, let’s talk about real dreams.

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The Positive

In dreams, do your feet running across a field feel real? Does the object of your affection come to life in those brief moments? Can a passionate kiss not feel like a genuine experience? So real, that it could even result in your body physically reacting outside of the dream? I once had a nightmare that I perceived to be so real I woke up yelling in the middle of the night. Perception is reality folks. So, “What’s the purpose of this concept and how does this help me?” you might ask. Well, it all comes down to the notion that your body responds to your demeanor resulting in perception becoming reality. If you think negative thoughts your body will respond accordingly. People with illnesses who maintain a positive outlook during their illness have a faster recovery rate than those who don’t. To refer back to the monetary issue. You don’t need money for happiness. And the major problem is that so many people focus on what they don’t have that they forget what they do and end up unhappy. If you perceive a walk in the park to be comforting or associate spending precious time with a lover, friend or soul mate with happiness, you will be happy. We must rewire our thought processes.

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The Power

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is real power in money. It can and has done wonderful things for many people. But, maybe we should take the emphasis off of money, materialism, and the attainment of things in our everyday lives and overall culture. Maybe we should focus more on how we perceive our situations. Maybe we should search for and value that which is most important: our time and our emotional well-being. True power comes from the ability to balance and achieve harmony. Perception is Reality folks! What is your perception of the your current situation?The world? Your day? This moment? And do you agree that perception is reality or feel otherwise? Leave a comment in the comments section and let me know what you think.

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Just when I was starting to somewhat get over the injustice displayed in the George Zimmerman verdict, I discover Zimmerman himself wants to take up Celebrity Boxing. As if his many antics and outright despicable behavior in the weeks and months following the highly publicized trial weren’t bad enough, this guy has the nerve to try to profit from his victim’s death at the expense of America’s morals, ethics, and values.

While I admit my initial reaction to the news that Zimmerman wanted to box anyone…even a black person (I’m paraphrasing what he said), all of the rage and resentment toward this man wanted to see him finally get what he deserved. However, after some time passed and I saw how the media (social and informational) sensationalized this event and has been going to great lengths to exploit the death of Trayvon Martin, I began to feel bad, dirty even. I came to my senses and began to think about my humanity and the emotions that flowed throughout my being as the verdict of the trial was delegated. I began to think this boxing idea was not such a great idea. In fact, I began to think of it as quite disgusting.

Here we have this man who shot and killed a defenseless young adult. A man who despite the faulty evidence and testimonies of the trial that left many potholes in his story, gets a not-guilty verdict. A man who after literally getting away with murder concocts a story of him being some sort of superhero which we later discover was completely faked and false. A man whose own wife left him after the trial because of his crazy, aggressiveness toward her and her father i.e. the iPad, gun incident. A man who finds countless negative ways to make headlines and place himself back in the public eye, yet never gets reprimanded for his irrational and dangerous behavior. A man who makes a mockery of the judicial system. Are we really going to support this man by providing him the opportunity to further mock the American people and take advantage of a life he took to help exploit his superiority complex, his need for attention, and his and fight promoter Damon Feldman’s personal greed and shamelessness?

I think we must take into account the ripple effect of such an event and we must keep in mind that no matter the outcome of the fight, if it is to happen, no one really wins. The viewers of this fight won’t win. Even if he wins the fight, it won’t make DMX a hero. He won’t be immortalized or placed on a pedestal and whether he wins or not it won’t bring Trayvon Martin back and Zimmerman is still a free man roaming the streets. The people who didn’t like Zimmerman before will still dislike him. Zimmerman supporters will still support him. No one will be vindicated and those feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment brought on by the verdict of the trial will still linger on in our memories and in our beings. So tell me America, is this the way we do things? Do we give murderers the spotlight and allow them to completely make a joke of a horrible situation? Do we allow known killers to profit from death and possibly spark up more racial tension in America?

I think we are smarter, more sensible, more sympathetic and understanding than that. I think this fight should not occur and this is why I have created a petition to prevent it from happening. And I am not alone. If you agree with me and the citizen who created the petition to thwart this fight, please sign it and show your support. Together we can make a difference. Let’s prove our humanity! Let’s show that we do not support race baiting and death profiting!

PETITION

1. Change.Org – Petitioning Damon Feldman: Stop the George Zimmerman Celebrity Boxing Match (Name/Address needed to sign petition)

https://www.change.org/petitions/damon-feldman-stop-the-george-zimmerman-celebrity-boxing-match

Greetings, all.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple days, you’ve probably heard the news about Macklemore taking home everything but the kitchen sink quite a few Grammy Awards this past Sunday. This post isn’t about Macklemore’s win. More power to the guy, even though I’m not the biggest fan of The Heist. This post is more about two things. First, the Grammy system and then the average hip-hop fan. This is going to be a mouthful, so bear with me.

Welcome to Speed on the Beat's "Understanding the Grammys."

Welcome to Speed on the Beat’s “Understanding the Grammys (Kind Of)”

In order to speak on the Grammy system, we must know how it works. I won’t go into every nook and cranny, but here’s the gist of the main process. The Recording Academy indicates that, for this past cycle, the eligibility timeline was between 10/1/12 and 09/30/13. After that date, the Committee filtered through the submissions and began the nomination process around November (these sorts of things are usually capped off with a big concert shown on CBS). After the nominees are picked, over the next few weeks, nominees are voted on again (a person can only vote for 20 individual fields and the “Big Four,” Album/New Artist/Song/Record of the Year). Once all votes are cast, ballots are “tabulated by the independent accounting firm of Deloitte,” to have the winner revealed at the Ceremonies.

Personally, I’d like to see the timeline changed to reflect a calendar year. For instance, the 57th Grammy Awards in 2015 would showcase releases from the calendar year 2014. That way, albums that were released at the end of the year can be considered just as much as ones from the beginning. Sure, it’d push the awards back a few weeks, but a simple Google search shows earlier ceremonies (even up until the early 2000s) took place anywhere between late-February and early April. So, it (potentially) wouldn’t take much to allow this change. Heck, CBS could even show the nominees show around the Super Bowl season to maximize on viewership (that time is usually a dead time for broadcasters anyway, due to midseason breaks, etc.)

Secondly, after the overhaul of 2012, many awards were merged together. For instance, most R&B album categories were combined to create the blanket “Best R&B Album” and “Best Urban Contemporary Album” categories. What that means is that Rihanna will appear in a category with Tamar Braxton (Urban Contemporary). This is not meant to be ageist, even though it undoubtedly will sound such, but Tamar and Rihanna are on different planets (no matter how much Tamar you hear on WKYS). Heck, you could even argue that Rihanna’s album(s) have been more pop than anything. This argument actually gets to the root of my issue with the Grammys. They’re not racist, per se, but the way categories are voted on and put together is archaic. Yes, we can lump ten categories into one to save time, but it ultimately perpetuates a mindstate of conformity. It also paints artists with broad strokes, rather than honor them for what they did with their works. It limits the open-mindedness of the audience, as listeners will begin to believe that all “urban contemporary” sounds like Rihanna (or even a Tamar) and shun acts that don’t conform to that idea.

Thankfully, almost any artist can register to become a member. So, if you’re an artist that doesn’t like the way things are going down. Make sure your liner notes are on Discogs (that’s something I need to do myself) and that your albums are available for worldwide consumption. After that? Submit your application, hope you get accepted, then enact that change.

Hii-Fivver

…and hopefully, you’ll get to high-five your way to success(fully changing the mindset of our world)

Now, my next point? I’ll keep it brief, but I’d like to talk to my hip-hop heads. Yes, you, the ones that are fake mad at Macklemore for beating Kendrick Lamar. Let me break it down to you like this. Even if we get a Grammy Selection Committee that’s full of people like me and you, there’s a chance that your favorite album will still be ignored. Why? Well, to be honest, it’s a numbers game. You, my friends, have to support your favorite artists (buy their music, tweet about them, tell others to buy their music, etc.) or no one else will. These artists, they’re doing fine with or without a Grammy. But, if we, as fans/fellow artists, want to see change and see more recognition for “The Real,” then we’ve got to recognize it ourselves. Plain and simple.

Finally, be sure to check my own new song “Thanatos (Stories Through Music)” out. A portion of all sales/paid streams from it will be donated to charity efforts in the DMV, such as Will Rap 4 Food, Inc., and to promote education efforts in the area (including a college fund for my own little one). Like I’ve said time and time again, we’re all we’ve got. So, be the change that you seek.

Until next time.

Related Articles

Greetings, all.

In between the snow, wind, rain, and so-on of the past seven or so days, I legitimately haven’t had much time to peep some of the hip-hop happenings of this week. Add in the fact that I’m also working on my own musical projects at the moment (Ed. Note: #Thanatos128 is the first single from my next album, and it drops everywhere on 1.28.14) and I’ve had my eyes and ears away from most music that doesn’t contain a “Speed on the Beat!” dropped in there somewhere. Thus is the tragedy of a hip-hop blogger/artist/brand manager. Sometimes, you get overwhelmed and miss some stuff.

But, enough about me (I’ve got all next week to rave about me). This week, I want to talk to the aspiring artists out there. No, this won’t be a retread of my “Dear (Internet) Rappers” series. Because those, well, those are for the rappers who just started out, or those who have the business sense of a fresh-in-the-booth artist. Today, I want to talk to the rappers who’ve done everything right, but still find themselves losing out.

You may find yourself asking, “Why can’t I get on?” especially if you’ve dropped tape after tape after tape of halfway solid material. This can lead to a lack of faith, resulting in you switching your style up completely (in other words, you go from Kendrick Lamar to Gunplay in a matter of seconds) because you feel that style B is more complementary to what’s “hot.” That is the first step to failure. If what you’re doing isn’t reaching an audience, perhaps you should try a different audience.

Take for instance, myself with the whole “no-fi” thing. A lot of traditional rap blogs/fans were a bit hesitant to embrace it. Heck, who can blame them? I was making music that intentionally sounded like I recorded it underwater in the 1990s with 1980s equipment. I was distraught when I received my first couple rejection notices. But, then I thought to myself “hey, since ‘no-fi’ is more of a grunge-type of approach to music, I should find bloggers that know about grunge and hip-hop.” Surely enough, I began seeing my name appear on more blogs and saw the Speed on the Beat brand grow as a result of fine-tuning my efforts. Yes, casting a wide net is cool, but you’ll often end up with more water instead of fish. If you’re as dedicated as you say you are, you’ll find blogs and fans that are more likely to be receptive to you. If you can amass a large enough following from the so-called “little guys,” eventually the bigger fish will have no choice but to follow suit.

Simply put, the indie artist is Daniel Bryan to many a “big blog” (Ed. Note: I would’ve said CM Punk, but Bryan’s appearance is more “everyman” and therefore further illustrates the connection).

And just like DB, the indie artist may very well want to kick someone's head off.

And just like DB, the indie artist may very well want to kick someone’s head off.

Sure, the indie may be technically sound. The indie artist may have a decent fan base and a small amount of recognition from some prestigious places. The indie artist may even be the so-called antidote to what ails “mainstream” hip-hop. But, some bigger blogs feel that they’re just like the next small guy to approach them. This is often because many indie artists do exactly the things that I, and others like me, advise against. If those faux pas aren’t committed, then it’s up to the artist to make an effort to get himself recognized, if even for a catchphrase, by the big boys. Then, it’s up to both the artist to make himself known and accessible and the bigger blogs to find smaller acts to replace/complement the bigger ones. Let’s face it: Lil’ Wayne still draws views and hits, but Lil’ Wayne will not be around forever.

However, if this route doesn’t work, even after you’ve followed the “Dear (Internet) Rappers” posts to a T? If no one, and I mean NO ONE, has responded to your inquiry about hosting your song on their site, then it may be time to give it up. And while many of you may not want to hear that, it’s a simple fact. If you follow the “rules” and “etiquette” to a fault, build a fan base, build a rapport with artists/bloggers/etc. and still can’t get an iota of shine, you wouldn’t have been long for the music world anyway.

Most of us have it in us somewhere to be great. Others, well, don’t.

Written by Camille Michelle Gray

One morning this week I found myself on The Huffington Post, as I most often do to ease myself into the workday. I clicked on an article titled “11 Body Image Heroes of 2013.” This article cataloged all the women in 2013 who spoke out against fat shaming, conducted brave social experiments, and created provocative art, amongst other things.

When I read these women’s stories and quotes my eyes kind of glazed over suspiciously. Starlets like Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley condemned the media’s treatment of famous women.  Plus size supermodel Jennie Runk and pageant queen Elena Raouna spoke out against restrictive norms in the beauty industry. Many others, artists and advocates alike, shared their own stories and projects that aimed to tackle down and suffocate the notion that only skinny women are attractive.

Though I appreciated these brave women for taking a stand through the medium suited best for them, by the time I reached the end of the article I was shaking my head. Only ONE of the “heroes” was a woman of color. How is it that those who promote body image diversity (in this case, the writer of this Huffington Post article) fail to realize that they’re not being diverse at all? You cannot be for body diversity and then only use white bodies. 

Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley are the norm. They are white and thin. Forgive me when I say that I throw up a little when I hear a blonde hair, blue-eyed woman lament beauty culture while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that this beauty culture has deemed her aesthetic to be the most attractive. Most of the women featured as “heroes” were white and while some were heavy, that still doesn’t mean they can speak succinctly or even accurately on what it is to be oppressed by beauty norms. Their pale and ivory skin has shielded them from fully experiencing the short side of the beauty culture stick, yet they speak as though they understand the pain, and are celebrated as martyrs and mavericks.

It reminded me of that Twitter hashtag that went viral: “#solidarityisforwhitewomen.” We can celebrate bodies, but they can only be white bodies. I’m sure the women who play into this seemingly positive meme don’t have exclusionary intentions, but the fact that no one seems to notice the homogenous nature of it all is disturbing. The masses are so used to only digesting white women’s bodies (they appear more in print ads, television ads, television shows and movies than any other type of woman), that the obvious absence of women of color is not a red flag.  The painful irony of being pro body diversity and then, in turn, not being very diverse at all is a great cosmic joke.

Everywhere I turn on the Internet, there is some project or Tumblr page or advocacy group dedicated to honoring larger women, and the pictures are all of white bodies. When I mentioned this discrepancy in the comments section of the Huffington Post article, it was quickly favorited by many, but I had to put up with one retort that I found particularly depressing. A white woman responded:

“I think the body image problem is far more prevalent within the white female community than within other backgrounds. I think females from other ethnic backgrounds are far ahead of white females when it comes to this issue…”

What a dangerous thing to think. So because I am black, I am automatically immune to all societal conditioning, and am a beacon of self-confidence and worth? So because women of color are somehow so much stronger and resilient, our bodies don’t deserve to be celebrated as well?  (On a tragic side note, since it has become a collective misunderstanding that women of color, namely black women, are not vulnerable to body image demons, medical professionals routinely misdiagnose and ignore symptoms of eating disorders in us. We are left untreated and uncared for.)

This is why the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag was created. Some white women actually think (unconsciously or not) that empowerment is a fight to be fought amongst themselves, rather than a journey to be experienced by all, for the uplifting of all.  The body image heroes of 2013 do not look like me and cannot sufficiently make me feel better about myself, speak on my behalf, or be a source of empowerment because they only tell one side of the story. When will my story be told too?

There are many women of color who are hurting when it comes to how they look.  Some of us think we are fat as well. To see ourselves being embraced by body image movements could be such a great point of pride for us. To see body image heroes that not only mirror our size, but also our complexion is a surefire way to expand the story of body diversity, normalize different colors and shapes, and validate ALL of our struggles.