Mic Dropped

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

broken-mic

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

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

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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.

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!

 

 

The Funk Relapse

Posted on 16th October 2011 in Journalism, R&B

Once you get into P-Funk, it’s hard to get out. Just ask some of the musicians who have been part of Parliament-Funkadelic and its spinoff bands for decades, or their children. It’s also true for people who appreciate the music. The lyrics, riffs, energy and imagery that makes up their catalog is enough to music to keep you under the influence for a long time. If your’re not careful, you might find yourself in funk rehab.

I’ve stepped away from the mothership music for several years, getting my funk fix from rare grooves, modern soul and 90’s hip hop. But last night’s performance by the Original P has me jonesin’ again. Led by the sole original member, Grady Thomas, “Original P”features family members of P-funk greats, such as Kevin Shider, the brother of Gary Shider. Last night they were joined by former members and local guys Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey on drums and vocalist Larry “Sir Nose” Hextal, for two shows at the Richmond Folk Festival.

The first show ran like a old locomotive, slowly chugging it’s way uphill, building momentum but never reaching top speed. The second show made the first look like a dress rehearsal. If I didn’t know so much about the performance history of the band, I would have thought they rehearsed during the four hours between their sets. Songs that sputtered in the first set shone the second time around. The band was tighter, yet more relaxed.


Folk festival organizers should have known that once the funk gets rolling it’s hard to stop. After announcing their departure after “Atomic Dog,” most of the band stayed on the stage, amid cheers of “We Want the Funk.” After their pleas were denied by the festival folk, guitarist Skyntight urged the crowd to take a stand and “Occupy the Folk Festival,” and they did, until his microphone was shut off and replaced with muzak.

Half Amazing

Posted on 2nd August 2011 in Journalism

This week, Style Weekly will publish my interview with, John Oates, the guitar-playing half of the hit-making machine known as Hall and Oates. Below are some outtakes. Thanks for stopping by.

Is this the first time you’ve played Richmond by yourself?

I don’t think I have too many firsts, left in this career, so I’m going to enjoy this one.

What is your creative process like?

Well, it depends, what decade are you talking about? (laughs)

The 80s.

Okay, the 80s. Once we started getting commercial success, it was just a whirlwind, a nonstop whirlwind. We’d write songs, we’d go in the studio record for about two months or so, come out the studio, make a video and go on the road. It never stopped, for about five or six years straight. But we were touring before that too, so we had a lot goin’ on. We toured all through the 70s. Honestly, I never stopped touring from 1972, to almost 1990.

How long have you lived in Colorado?

I’ve lived in Colorado for over 20 years. I’ve been living in Nashvillle, as well.

What is your favorite sample of your work?

I think the original sample of “I Can’t Go For That,” by De La Soul, “Say No Go.” That was the thing that kicked if off. Of course, that song, “I Can’t Go For That,” is probably the most sampled song maybe in the world for all I know. There’s been so many cool versions of it, from you know, using the entire song like Simply Red did, to using parts of the groove and little snippets of the sample. I know that song has been sampled a whole bunch.

Is there anything in today’s music that you find inspiring?

There’s a number of things. I don’t find it inspiring from an influential point of view. But I find a lot great young songwriters, a lot of young passionate musicians who are doing some great stuff and I think that’s what’s really inspiring to me. Of course, the music business is so radically different from when I was in my heyday. It creates different challenges for musicians.

Can you talk about working with David Ruffin & Eddie Kendrick?

We were huge Temptations fans. One of the things that brought Daryl and I together was our love for the Temptations, and their harmonies and everything about them. Daryl had a group called the Temptones, and the Temptations kind of sponsored them. Daryl knew them pretty well, he introduced me to the guys. When it came time for us to do the Apollo theater show, we wanted to do something special. We wanted to show respect to Eddie and David, whose work was so important to us. We asked them to come onto our stage and recreate some of those great songs and they were amazing and they did it. It was just an incredible experience.

In “I Can’t Go for That,” what was the “that?”

A lot of people find that interesting. That song was really about the music business. It was about manger, music business, control, things like that. Basically, we put it in the framework of a relationship, but really what it was, it was a relationship between me and Daryl and the music business. Like we’re not gonna do just what you tell us to do,we’re gonna do what we want to do. At some point, we’re just going to put our foot down an say ‘I can’t Go for That’ and I’m not doing it. That’s really what that song’s about.

Will there be another Hall and Oates album?

Not really. I don’t think so. Not in the near future. Daryl’s got a solo album coming out in October, mine is out now., and I’m working that. We still like playing together and we still play together all the time. We’re going to do a tour in September on the west coast. In the meantime, I think our personal creative juices are flowing in the direction of our individual projects.

Anything else you want to add?

No, man, that feels pretty good. I just hope people come out. If you like roots music and blues, you’re gonna be real happy.

Think you might play “Possession Obsession?”

Nope. (laughs)

I’ll tell you what, if anyone asks from the audience, I might bust it out for you. You never know. That’s the kind of show it is.

DIY Diva Bite Marks Internet

Posted on 10th May 2011 in Journalism


The latest issue of Belle, Style Weekly’s monthly magazine for women that I named during my stint at their Scott’s Addition office, features my piece on I’esha Hornes. Ms. Hornes bills her self as a Freelance Writer/New Media Journalist, Internet Radio Host/Personality, Event Planner/Promoter, Plus Size Model, Social Media Marketer/Brand Manager, and Motivational Speaker. Now that’s a mouthful.

Since Belle is still awaiting it’s proper home on the interwebs, here’s a peek a the article.

I’ehsa Hornes knows you might forget her name, but once you’ve seen her smile she’s made a distinct impression. Since 2007, she’s been known on the interwebs and around Richmond as the “Gap Tooth Diva.” Hornes, a married mother and a former social worker, writes, posts video blogs, hosts an Internet radio show and does it all with her singular smile.

“I have a gap, and I am a diva,” she says. “This is something I aware of, but I embrace it.”

Hornes hasn’t let her diastema or her lack of formal training hold her back from creating Gap Tooth Diva Entertainment, the business behind her blog, Gap Tooth Diva Radio and Gap Tooth TV. Her image and voice are sharp contrast to the polished professionals of regular television, as she comes with freestyle raps, relationship advice and invited guests on her radio show. She says her work is something she was born, not trained, to do.

“I don’t have any professional or journalism or broadcast experience,” the New York native says. “I have Google. … When I wanted to do something all I had to do was look it up. I’m still learning.”

One thing she doesn’t have to learn is how to get her point across. In a video called, “When Poking Goes Wrong,” she explores social media etiquette and recounts a story about a woman who became upset when she found out another woman had “poked” her husband. In the video, Hornes says the married woman’s comments to her husband’s friend exposed her own insecurity and more: “Obviously, the woman ended the conversation looking very foolish, plus she had on a stupid hat in her profile picture. I just want you to know poking can go terribly wrong, if it’s misinterpreted by the wrong person.”

For her radio show, the right people are people like herself, who are chasing their dreams while paying the rent with a regular job. She calls them “everyday people,” but her list of guests is quite diverse, as it includes psychics, a bisexual porn actor/rapper, ministers and indie music artists.

“I get inspired by people who are doing something, “ she says. “I kind of feel like if I put it out there for other people to read about how these everyday people are taking risks and pursuing their dreams, then maybe everybody can be inspired just like I am.”

One of the hazards of having a strong online presence is receiving negative feedback. Horne says she’s only received constructive criticism – until recently.

“I just got my first hate mail last weekend, “ she says. The commenter to be a talent scout and offered a critical analysis of Horne’s future prospects. “They told me I should hang it up.”

But don’t expect one naysayer to derail the diva’s motivation. “If my followers or my haters have something to say, I welcome it all. I even say that on my web site.”

Hornes’ ultimate goal might be the most surprising thing about her. Despite her numerous entrepreneurial streak, she wants to be an employee – albeit a high profile, well-paid one.

“I eventually want to be a media correspondent on national television,” she says.

And what would she say to a producer who wants to prepare her for prime time by fixing her singular smile?

“No. I have accepted it … It’s me. I just can’t imagine looking in the mirror and seeing anything else,” she says.

 

“I am who am. I’m the gap tooth diva. I have tattoos. I love my lashes and weave and I love my family even more.”