Mic Dropped

Posted on 16th September 2016 in Hip-hop, Journalism, video


Style Weekly has been a place to find my writing for almost a decade. They’ve allowed me to write virtually anything I’ve wanted and we haven’t had any major concerns over the years. But things change. Style isn’t the paper it used to be. Like most print publications, the internet has changed the way they do business. Their staff is smaller. There editorial choices are more vulnerable to outside forces than they should be. This has led to Arts & Culture articles written by publicists who were paid by Style to promote their friends and their music. It seemed any rapper with a press release and Youtube account was fit to print. This insn’t the way to build trust, credibility or respect with your readership. I was embarrassed for Style. I questioned whether I should continue to write for them. After this week’s cover story, “WWREHH,” the answer is becoming clear.

But first, a little background. For more than a decade a produced a hip-hop video show called Wavelength for several different local television outlets. I interviewed local rappers and national artists, such as Run-DMC, Gangstarr, Bahamadia and De La Soul. I played cutting edge music videos with some help from friends like Andre Christian, who I’ll get back to later. I did all this with my own money, equipment and tenacity. I quizzed rappers at record stores, nightclubs, on the street, at sound checks and once in a girls locker room. I loved hip-hop and I wanted to see it treated with the respect and critical analysis it deserved. There is a web page of missing videos and busted links somewhere on the internet that can tell you all about it.

Back to this week’s 6,000 word cover story. It’s a rambling, manic article that’s the work of someone who isn’t sure who or what is important, so everything is thrown in. This guy talks to rappers, promoters, historians, journalists, hookers, club owners, producers, meter maids, janitors, mailmen and a guy named “Cheats.” (Okay, three of those sources I made up. But you get the picture.) Imagine someone making a burrito this way, adding all the ingredients they could find (peanut butter, pineapples, cough syrup, string beans, etc.) and sliding it to you on a plate. That taste in your mouth right now? It’s this article. I’ve excerpted some of the more distasteful morsels below.

Richmond is still defining itself when it comes to hip-hop. The music’s history runs deep here. The area was an early stopover for original stars coming from New York traveling Interstate 95. Yet the city never developed its own sound or identity, and never fully integrated its dance floors.

So who were the original stars of hip-hop? Do they matter? I guess not, since there wasn’t enough space in this magnum woepus to mention them by name. This was a chance to provide context and continuity to an article that sorely needs it. We should know that artists such as Stetsasonic, FunkDoobiest, Notorious B.I.G, Black Moon and Yo-Yo came to Richmond, because they are important. And that makes Richmond important. See how that works? It’s as Easy as E. That line about segregated dance floors is something I’m still trying to sort out.

In the article, a caption refers to Mad Skillz making a cameo at an Art of Noise event in July. Anyone who has actually attended one of these events or glanced at this particular artists’ social media would know that he has co-sponsored this event since it’s inception. He’s at every Art of Noise event, for the whole time. He couldn’t make a cameo if he put on red codpiece and hollered “Ow!” It’s like a rapper making a guest appearance on his own album or you being a guest in your own home. He’s supposed to be there! Speaking of Skillz, the article correctly states that he put Richmond on the map for hip-hop in the 1990s. Moreover, he repped Richmond and the Commonwealth throughout his career, which spans over two decades. But he wasn’t even interviewed for this story. Instead we have deep thoughts from artists who are considered underground because not many people like them.

Elsewhere, another picture features three of the members of one Richmond’s most influential collectives, the SupaFriendz. However, only one of them is identified. The missing names are DJs Danja Mowf and DJ Marc. The latter’s name was on the marquee for the event, which is was visible from the heavily-traveled thoroughfare known as Broad Street.

Richmond is known mainly for rapper and ghostwriter Mad Skillz, who also serves as a tour DJ for Nicki Minaj, rapper Nickelus F. and the neo-soul and funk crooner, D’Angelo. The latter has a history of legal problems in his hometown and has done little to promote local ties or area artists — .

Ok, we know that D’angelo is a soul singer. We should also know that he’s not a rapper, so why is he in this article? Is all music created by young black men automatically considered hip-hop? Should Breezy and Trey Songz be here as well? The article states that D’angelo hasn’t done much for Richmond. I question that assessment. Two of his music videos were filmed here, “Lady” and “Send it On.” He could’ve been on a sound stage in L.A. or a beach in Aruba, but he chose the cinematic jewel of Belt Boulevard, Southside Plaza, as a backdrop instead. That’s a hood pass that never expires, no matter how many people you allegedly spit on. Now all that was a while ago, but as any fans of D’angelo know, he’s been preoccupied in recent years. Staying out of jail, producing an album after a long hiatus, touring the world except Richmond, etc. In this article, D’angelo is like the main character in the movie “Clerks,” who ends up at work on his day off and bad things happen. He’s not even supposed to be here.

This is from the article’s sidebar, about an hip-hop historian: ” … and he’s talking to a former employee at Phono Booth record store, once on Laburnum Avenue near the Essex Village apartments, where major hip-hop stars always stopped in the ’90s.”

Again, we have the nameless but “major” stars of hip-hop making an appearance. Another chance to drop a mile marker in this epic trudge of an article passed by. Adding to that is the writers’ assertion that the historian is working with a former employee of the Phono Booth record store. Guess what? That store had one employee, the aforementioned Andre Christian, and he doesn’t know this historian.

While the writer claims hip-hop in Richmond hasn’t found it’s identity, it’s this article itself that’s wandering and adrift. It asks, “When will Richmond embrace hip-hop?”, as if the city is under some Footloose-style bylaw that prevents gatherings of more than one turtable and a microphone. This city embraced rap music decades ago, maybe a few months before the rest of the country. Even now, it’s still a dominant cultural force among young people. So whatcha’ sayin’? If the writer is trying to prove that it’s hard out here for new artists, we got that. But it’s supposed to be hard. That’s what makes you a better artist, if you’re willing to put in the work and suffer through rejection, indifference and criticism. No, it’s not easy and if you’re waiting for someone to embrace you just for uploading your daydream, your arms might get tired.

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Songs about him

Posted on 15th August 2016 in Journalism, R&B, Television


Shortly after Prince’s death, it was announced that the singer’s vault of unreleased music may contain hundreds of completed songs. This wasn’t breaking news to his die-hard fans. The artist fomerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince may prove to be one of the prolific popular artists of our time. But Prince was also the subject of songs, some written by his former associates, rivals and old girlfriends. Here are four songs that are probably about Prince.

1. “Song About” – Wendy & Lisa
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman are former members of Prince’s band The Revolution. This song was on their debut album after parting ways with Prince. The Girl Bros. don’t mention their former boss by name, but with lyrics such as “So strange that no one stayed at the end of the Parade,” a reference to the The Revolution’s final album, it’s pretty clear who this song is about.

2. “Disrespect” – The Gap Band
Prince’s popularity ebbed and flowed, so while he was always an icon, some times were better than others. After a scuffle with paparazzi on a night he was invited to sing on a charity single (“We Are the World”), Prince could’ve used some positive press. But The Gap Band, a trio of brothers from Oklahoma, weren’t about to sing his praises. The video for “Disrespect,” depicts an racially ambiguous cartoon rock star, flanked by ape-shaped body guards who is chased and teased after refusing to sign an autograph. “We dont’ like that!,” lead singer Charlie Wilson sings in one of the song’s few lyrics.

3. “Free World” Jesse Johnson
After The Time, a group that Prince produced, broke up, its talented members went on to make names for themselves. Jesse Johnson, the group’s guitarist, was the first to land a hit record, (“Be Your Man”) along with some unfavorable comparisons to Prince. These comments didn’t sit well with Johnson. On his song “Free World,” he sings, “Nobody Likes the Way I hold my Mike/They say it’s too much like my friend/The clothes that I wear, the way I wear my hair …” Johnson never mentions Prince, but his shadow looms over this cold funk attestation of identity and frustration.

4. “Sister Fate” Sheila E.
Percussionist Sheila E. was frequently coy about her relationship with Prince. Recently, she did confirm that in the heat of a musical moment, he proposed to her. Before that revelation, there was her single, “Sister Fate.” The track is about two people who are rumored to be lovers, and actually could be. Maybe. The lyrics might be unclear, but the music video makes it plain who sister Escovedo is swooning over with a pasted-in shot of Prince from the “Raspberry Beret” video.

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D’angelo’s ex-manager, Dominque Trenier dead

Posted on 7th August 2016 in Journalism, R&B


I only spoke to Dominque Trenier once. I called him in an attempt to land a spot for a drummer friend of mine in D’angelo’s band. It was a good chat and I was left with the strong possibility that it might happen. I’d speak to D’angelo directly a couple of times before the near-certainty faded in to a not-gonna-happen. It was a little consolation that I wasn’t the only one this happened to. At the time, the business side of the singer’s act was a little chaotic, but the likely wasn’t Trenier’s doing. If he hadn’t been around, D’angelo’s early career certainly wouldn’t have been as iconic and memorable as it was.

It was Trenier’s idea for the singer to strip down for the “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” video, which saved his second album, “VooDoo,” which Trenier executive produced. Audiences were left with an enduring image of the singer, naked from the waist up, which wouldn’t be replaced for years. Trenier didn’t abandon his artist during his struggles with substance abuse, but he was eventually separated from in 2005 when he stopped communicating with much of his friends and family as his decent continued, according to Spin magazine.

Treneir’s contribution to D’angelo’s career was invisible to casual fans, but that’s how good manager operates. When D’angelo finally released his third album (“Black Messiah”) in 2015, it was bereft that invisible touch that guided his previous efforts. The cover lacked his picture. There would be no official videos. (No, this doesn’t count.) The album isn’t even credited to “D’angelo.” Good managers take care of the details and make things happen. If they do their job right, you might notice notice they’re around, until they aren’t.

Talkin’ bout Plunky

Posted on 23rd June 2016 in Journalism, R&B


Like any good saxophonist, J. Plunky Branch is long-winded. So some of lengthy conversation for my recent Style Weekly interview about his voluminous memoir didn’t make the paper.

I didn’t set out to be involved in African music. It sort of just happened for me. I started my first band [The Soul Syndicate] in college at Columbia University. I didn’t realize I was so Afrocentric, although I was very politically active, very left wing active at Columbia [University]. One of the guys in my first band had a picture of us playing at the Cheetah Club, one of the first discos in the 1960s in New York, all of the other pictures of the band, we dressed in all black or white ties, we looked like some kind of mafioso take-off, but in this picture, I’m standing there, leader of the band, I’m at the Cheetah Club and everybody else is dressed in that garb and I have on an African Dashiki. I was stunned to see that, I didn’t even remember that.

I went to San Francisco, really for political reasons, while I was in San Francisco, I got involved with an African musician [Ndikho Xaba], who was from South Africa, basically played with him for a couple of years. He was a South African expatriate, basically a political protester against the apartheid system there. And he taught me about African music. He had originally come here as an theater person, so he played music, but he was also very theatrical, very much an activist, so I got involved with that and learned about African music. My basic take-away from that was, in terms of African music and philosophy, was that music was more than just a play thing, more than just entertainment, it could be a political resource, a source of information … a motivator of people, in other words. But that was kind of a happenstance, I didn’t got to school for that, I didn’t plan for that, but I had a rich experience. Again, this is much more minutiae, much more detail than you want to hear about, and you see why my book is so lengthy.

After I left his group, I was part of music group doing the music for a play, by African nationalist by the name of Marvin X, a play called “The Resurrection of the Dead.” Basically, It was a ritual. I went from African music to an African ritual. Then after that I formed my own group called “JuJu,” and we studied African music. Again we lived the kind of life in San Francisco, where, for three, four five hours a day we are doing this ritualistic high energy African music, I recorded an album of it [Mesage from Mozambique], went to NY for a music festival, people were really taken by this because it was it was avant garde and it also had African Rhythm. It was kind of unique and kind of different for that time.

So later years, I forned my own group, came back to Richmond, again brought some of this philosophy back to Richmohnd. Richmond kind of trained me to go back to my R&B roots. Primarily beause Richmond was not New York or San Francisco, It wasn’t so open to the very progressive avant gard jazz. Later I ended up doing albums and tours with Bobby Byrd, toured in Europe … My life was very very interesting, but it was almost by step by step happenstance.

Many of your early records have become valuable. Why do you think that is?

One of the reasons is, not just the what of the music, not just the quality of the music or what the music says. A lot of it, in terms of determining value, is the rarity of the music and the rarity of the recording. If you have a Michael Jackson’s Thriller, even fifty years from now, it won’t be worth anything. There were 18 millon sold and probably 30 million printed. So it’s not going to have much value. But if you’ve got an early Plunky and Onenss album, the first pressing were usually 1,000 copies, and we’re talking worldwide. So when I got to London and I see “Message from Mozambique,” it might be literally 75 to 175 pounds for one of those album. It’s because it’s rare. I think, more than anything, it’s the rarity of it and the fact that I’m still at it.

Is there anything else?

One of the things I say in the preface of the book, is that they’re all kinds of people in this world, and everybody has a story. One of the thing I want to highlight is that I give thanks and respect and props to the people that allow me to operate like I’m some sort of beacon or I’m some sort of inspiring light. But for me, and I don’t want to sound cliche or overly humble, it really is the local people who sort of strive every day, the local musicians who sort of allow me to be up front person and claim all the credit, in all of the situations that I’ve had while, I’ve been the leader in just about every band I was in, clearly I couldn’t have done it without people allowed me to be the leader.

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Sony leaks include School Daze Scoop

Posted on 20th April 2015 in Journalism, video


Plans for film director Spike Lee’s first sequel, a follow up to the comedy/musical School Daze, were revealed in the infamous hack of Sony’s email servers.  If you were hoping for an update on what’s been happening with Half Pint, Dap, Jane and Julian since graduation, this is not that film. School Daze Too, according to the leaked emails from last year, would feature rapper Drake in a lead role, along with comedian Kevin Hart. Drake would play a character called “PE*NIS,” with Hart providing comic relief in his role as a DJ named “DAT NIGGA JIGGA.”  Nope, not kidding.

“I believe in the film both as an entertainment — a college film —  and as a provocative and exciting piece about the conflict of traditional values (education, college) and hip hop/star/celebrity culture,” an agent allegedly wrote to Sony. ” Why go to college to get a job to make money when you can make more money rapping, stripping, and creating salacious music videos even if they demean women?”

The project was budgeted $9 million, according to Wikileaks.


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Lucky Diamonds

Posted on 23rd November 2014 in Journalism, R&B, Radio




I was fortunate to be in the presence of Richmond’s long lost R&B groups, Ebony Diamond this past weekend. Patrick and Carroll Ellis talked about the old days and their unexpected resurgence via  an European record label that released a track from the group recently. This conversation is available on Soundcloud.

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Citizen Kane

Posted on 15th October 2014 in Hip-hop, Journalism


Here are a few outtakes from my recent chat with the Big Daddy Kane. The rest of the conversation can be found at StyleWeekly.com.

Your audience is likely to hold two generations of Big Daddy Kane fans these days. Are there any of your songs that young people connect with more than others?

On Twitter and Instagram, I see a lot of young cats, tweeting or posting stuff about “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” or  “Raw.” You know, the mentality of the young generation, the type of music they like, it’s amazin’ to see that they would be into my music.

You’re doing this show with Rakim. There were rumors of a rivalry years ago, including one about a pay-per-view event, where you were supposed to be battle. 

It never happened. It is what it is.  It would’ve been dope.  I would have loved to done it, but it just never happened. We don’t have no problems, we’re cool. I guess it was just something the people wanted to see.

What did you think about your Unsung episode on TVone? Did you think it was fair? Were you cool with it?

Yeah, I was really cool with it. It was like a real uncomfortable situation for me, because, I think that “Unsung” is such a great TV show. It’s a show that artists really truly need, to make people aware of their legacy. I just hate the name of the show. I think it just should’ve  had a better name. I think that “Unsung” is a bad name for the show. It gives the feeling of that person they’re talking about is someone that never made it. Because you call it “Unsung,” you know what I’m saying’? So I was very hesitant about doin’ the show. You know, until they made the money right and gave me some creative control. But I believe that they did an excellent job with the episode.

Back in the day, when the Juice Crew/BDP beef was in full swing, I always wondered why KRS-ONE didn’t dis you on the “The Bridge Is Over,” since he came at your crew so mercilessly. 

Me and KRS was cool. I mean, KRS-ONE and Ms. Melodie are the ones that came and helped me move out of my parents crib, when I moved into my first apartment, with Scoob, (my first dancer.) Me and KRS was carrying the couch downstairs, Ms. Melodie had the TV.

So it wasn’t that he didn’t want it with you, y’all just had prior relationship?

KRS wasn’t scared of me. I don’t think KRS would be scared of any rapper. To be honest with you, if I had a choice, to battle a rapper between Rakim and KRS, I would choose KRS instead of Rakim.


Because Rakim is dope MC, at saying’ rhymes, but KRS is a battle rapper.  You know what I’m saying’? KRS – that would be some serious serious competition. ‘Cause he’s a battle rapper. He understands the art of battle. There’s a lot of great MCs that say great rhymes, but they can get crushed in one round ’cause they don’t know how to battle. Sayin’ a dope rhyme and battlin’ someone it two totally different things.


Radio Madness

Posted on 8th May 2013 in Journalism, Radio
DJ Mark and Craig Belcher

DJ Marc and Craig Belcher


I’ve worked for newspapers, tv stations, web sites, but I’ve never spent meaningful time in front of a microphone at radio station before. A few weeks back, I finally got my chance. Michael Murphy, the host of WRIR’s Mellow Madness, let me guest host his long running music program. After a few week of practicing, I realized that playing music and talking at the same time wasn’t something I was going to get good at quickly. Fortunately, I was able to secure a professional (DJ Marc)  with years of experience to make me sound like someone who had done this before.

Here’s my playlist.

  • Completeness / Minnie Riperton
  • Mountains / Prince & The Revolution
  • Semi-First Class Seat / Mutiny
  • Spinning Wheel / Sammy Davis, Jr
  • 80’s Joint / Kelis
  • The Oak Tree / Morris Day
  • Hot Line To Jesus / Rance Allen Group
  • Sunday Morning People / Honey Cone
  • Take Me Lord / The Henley Family Gospel Singers
  • Love Won’t Let Me Wait / Major Harris
  • Sea Of Tranquility / Kool & The Gang
  • Please the Pleaser / First Cosins Jazz Ensemble
  • Twice (?uestlove’s Twice Baked Remix featuring Solange Knowles & The Roots) / Robert Glasper Experiment
  • Baby I Won’t / Skillz
  • Girl, I Think The World About You / Commodores
  • Holding Back The Years / Simply Red
  • Funkin’ For Fun / Parliament
  • Do You Love What You Feel/ Rufus
  • Ghetto life / Rick James
  • A Night To Remember / Shalamar
  • I’ll Keep My Light in My Window (with The Combo Barbaro) / Quantic Feat. Alice Russell
  •  Ain’t No Sunshine / The Dells
  • Sweet Talk / Jessie Ware
  • Dare Me / The Pointer Sisters
  • Shifting Gears / Johnny Hammond
  • Westchester Lady / Bob James
  • Seven Minutes Of Funk / Tyrone Thomas & The Whole Darn Family
  • Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone / Scatman Crothers

Wanna hear it? Here it go!



Trouble in Mind

Posted on 18th May 2012 in Journalism, R&B

Joe Quarterman’s coming to town, and there’s going to be trouble. I spoke with the veteran soul man, known for his classic single, ” (I Got) So Much Trouble in My Mind,”  recently for Style Weekly and here’s some of our conversation that didn’t make the cut.

Have you been to Richmond Before?

Many, many years ago. As a matter of fact, when I was going to school at Virginia State College, there was a band I played with called the Magnificent 7, and we backed up The Temptations in Richmond, in the late 60’s.

Your first album turned out to be your only album. How did you feel about it when it was finished and how do you feel about it now?

Well, I tell you, back then I thought it was good enough to be looked at for a grammy, ’cause we gave it our best. It was one of kind, you know? It was a different album. We really put some time in on that album.

How did you feel about it now?

I still feel good about it. I think it was my best effort. I’ve done a few others singles and things like that, but I haven’t done anything as good as the “so much trouble” album.

Your story is different. You didn’t suffer after your departure from the music business with bad situations or bad habits. You just kind of walked away.

I had to. I had to get another life. Anytime the president of the record company, this guy, Larry Newton, he was the former vice-president of ABC Paramount, and GSF records was a spin-off from that, he stood in a board meeting, my attorney there, my manager, Lloyd Price, a whole bunch of other folks, and he said that he didn’t give a damn how many hit records I sang or wrote, they weren’t going to pay me one penny.


Yeah! That cut like a knife, you know? My attorney said, well, you know, these guys are just rip-offs, just try to live up to your end of the contract and once you get out of it and we’ll try to get you another contract. But see that broke my heart. My heart wasn’t in it after that. ‘Cause me and my guys had works so hard to make some of the best funk music that anyone could hear back then, and then to be rewarded with a slap in the face? I was supposed to be bringing the bacon home … they were supposed to tally up. I was hoping I could’ve paid the band members a bonus, take care of my family catch up on my bills, you know what I mean?


But none of that happened. No matter how hard I worked, I was not going to be financially rewarded for it.

Who has the rights to the material?

I have been fighting that battle for 30 years or more. I’ve spent money with attorneys and so forth. They had sold some of the publishing rights to Gandy Music, that’s Sylvia Robinson and Joe Robinson’s legacy.

Oh boy.

Yeah, the Sugar Hill Group. They sold it to this company, Music Licensing, out of the Netherlands. I went after them, and they had sold it to Soul Brothers in London. And I haven’t gotten one penny since 1974. But the truth is none of them own the music, I own the copyrights ans so forth. So it’s a matter of piracy. They know I can’t do a whole lot about it unless I cough up a whole lot of money and wait a long time. They’ve got lawyers who do this all the time, workin’ on their team, that know how to deal with cats like me.

What role has DJ Pari played in your recent career?

DJ Pari has awakened my soul. He put me in Europe, and my reception has been wonderful. My thanks to him for that. He’s kind of shaken me up to generate my interest in recording and doing shows and so forth. I really appreciate all he has done for me so far. I wish we could do more, but I’m sure he’s doing his best. 

Joe Quarterman plays Saturday May 19 at Balliceaux, 203 N. Lombardy St. Tickets are $10-$12.  balliceauxrva.com.


Chuck Brown, Go Go Godfather dead at 75

Posted on 16th May 2012 in Journalism, R&B


Music legend Chuck Brown died today after a bout with pnenmonia, according to the Washington Post. Brown was 75 and had been hospitalized for the last two months.