free website hit counter Spiced Tea & Letters: October 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

Black journalism in the pages of the 'Voice'

(there was a point in time where I wanted to wed Mr. Greg Tate, lol, until I met his daughter and she was my age!)

License to Ill

Black journalism in the pages of the 'Voice'

by Greg Tate

I began reading the Voice because of Stanley Crouch, who in 1977 was the epicenter of frontline jazz criticism in America at the most auspicious moment in the music's progression since the early 1960s. That period saw the communal clustering in New York of the music's last generation of rebellious, high-concept pioneers and Crouch pretty much kept those of us interested parties in the hinterlands up on what they were doing night to night in various lofts, dives, and haunts. Besides his wartime dispatches on the '70s avant-garde, though, Crouch also produced long-form gems like "Bringing Atlantis to the Top," his epic essay on the promising way newjacks like Olu Dara, David Murray, Henry Threadgill, and Julius Hemphill were commingling funk, avant-garde, and other Afro-diasporic forms. "Atlantis" was as significant a thesis on the topic as had been written since Amiri Baraka's "The Changing Same (R&B and the New Music)"—and one that only would have appeared in the Voice.

Having been inducted into the ranks of Voice readers by Crouch, I also got to read the first major piece on hiphop and dance when Sally Banes's breakthrough article on breakdancing was published here in 1981. Being down with the VV in those years also meant reading the scant but intimate work on the 'hood and its tragedies by an amazing and forgotten sister named Ianthe Thomas, Clayton Riley's innovative and comparative analysis of improvisatory technique in basketball and bebop, and a Thulani Davis screed on James Brown—all of which said to me that the Voice was where it was at for an intellectually curious young Negro like myself.

It was largely due to Thulani Davis's encouragement that I sent my first demos in 1981 to Robert Christgau, whose response was, "The more writing like this I get in this paper the more I'll like it." Talk about a license to ill. Christgau became a one-man affirmative action committee in the 1980s, largely responsible for the paper recruiting and employing not only moi but Nelson George, Barry Michael Cooper, Thulani Davis, Carol Cooper, Pablo Yoruba Guzman, and Enrique Fernandez. His roster also included those impressive Negro sympathizers Gary Giddins and Chip Stern—all because he believed Afro-diasporic musics should on occasion be covered by people who weren't strangers to those communities.

When Lisa Jones joined the paper in 1984 she became a one-woman Ivy League affirmative action conduit for a whole generation of predominantly Yale graduate African Americans who gradually invaded the paper as copy editors, writers, and editors—these notably including Lisa Kennedy, Ben Mapp, and Donald Suggs. (The Yale mafia also included Voice luminaries Joe Wood, Erik Davis, Joe Levy, and Julian Dibbell.) The twentysomething group also came to include James Hannaham, Scott Poulson-Bryant, and Public Enemy's media assassin Harry Allen. The Voice's coverage of Black culture and politics became the most trenchant and erudite to be found anywhere in the country, thanks to the aforementioned and to the arrival of Peter Noel and his exceptional coverage of the grassroots Black politics that dominated New York progressive politics in the late '80s and early '90s. So when hiphop and the new Black nationalism were transforming the zeitgeist, the Voice's incredible cadre of young African American writers were thinking deeply about the meaning of Black identity, culture, and politics as emerging figures like Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates, bell hooks, Tricia Rose, and Michele Wallace were bringing their brio to a resurrected Black Identity debate, and as equally dynamic figures from Black bohemia like Spike Lee, errant

Voice contributor Vernon Reid, Tracy Chapman, Chuck D, Trey Ellis, the Hudlin Brothers—all of whom were prominently covered in the paper before and after they became household names—began to make work that helped elucidate and complicate that same debate.

The attrition of that corral of talent was to some degree inevitable. People like Lisa Jones and Barry Michael Cooper became players in the film industry; Nelson George focused on film and book projects; others departed because of burnout. Vibe and The Source emerged to become the more logical choices for the next generation of hiphop writer-activists like dream hampton, Karen Good, Robert Marriott, and Paul Miller, who all the same helped keep the paper's hiphop coverage vital and informative.

The Voice never stopped featuring hiphop, but as it became a more dominant staple of American popular culture and developed its own reportorial outlets, the paper's coverage became less central to the discussion—certainly far less than it had been in the early '80s when George and Cooper pretty much single-handedly invented hiphop journalism, and I became, by default, the crackpot inventor of hiphop semiotics (there being few Black writers around at the time who gave much of a damn about either deconstruction or theories of boom-bap-itude).

When I moved to New York in 1982 I got a call from Crouch, who pointedly asked me, what did I see myself as trying to do in New York? I puckishly replied that my intention was to be a moving target. The nature of the Voice easily made that radical pipe dream of a career plan a reality. I can't think of anywhere else my impudent ass would have been able to do the history of Harlem one week, George Clinton and hermeneutics the next, or routinely be encouraged to dispense my arcane opinions on Bootsy Collins, King Sunny Ade, Cecil Taylor, and the Bad Brains, or be given major space to theorize on the trial of eight Black revolutionaries whose sympathies lay with members of the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground.

This doesn't even begin to talk about the utterly outrageous liberties I got to take with the English language high and low here because, as was explained to me—by that amazing staff of editors who midwifed and made the paper sing in the '80s: Christgau, M. Mark, Kit Rachlis, Vince Aletti, Ross Wetzsteon, et. al—the Voice was a writer's paper, where editors were encouraged to help you say what you wanted to say in the way you wanted to say it and stay vaguely consistent with the style manual. The degree to which I and others were able to take this notion and run buck wild with it was confirmed for me years later when Vernon Reid told me that upon first encountering my early work here, he didn't know what the hell I was talking about but he knew I had to be a brother. Point being that for myself and Nelson, Stanley, Barry, Lisa, Thulani, and others, the Voice was once upon a time a place where you could actually get published (and get paid) to think long and hard about the meaning of being Black in a style and form that was racially motivated, and maybe even racially overdetermined for some overwhelmed readers' tastes, but never dull, if only because of how furiously we were all riding our own prose dilznicks and cliznits. We were the sheet, knew it was our time, and let the record show, we all wrote as if we knew it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Casanova Brown

Teena Marie's Casanova Brown
(a great breakup song, by the way)

My baby's fine
He always keeps me guessing
But never keeps me guessing about his love
He's had more girls than Howard Hughes had money
and you may think it funny when I say he loves me only
and who are you to say what he did when I was not around
just because I fell in love with Casanova Brown
Act 2 scene 5 is my command performance
my name is clairvoyance and it's all too clear
I was the one
who said tune in tomorrow
I think about tomorrow, even when I am asleep and
who are you to say
what I did when you weren't around
just because I fell in love with you
Casanova Brown
standing room only, the concerts so loud
everyone's there for the party
the hush turns to a shout
everyone's got a piece
of the pie
of you and I
but nobody knows when the lights go down
that the tears fall harder than the whole dam crowd
throw it down my love
is just about all I can do
wasn't I the one who said
I'll have my cake and eat it to
just couldn't wait any longer
you pushed till I was through
I love you so
It hurt me but I had to let,
let you go
Did you hear me crying, baby
It sounded a little bit like this
You didn't have to make me cry
tell me again and I'll tell you why, It's over.
It's over
It's over
Over before the love turns to hate
let's let it end and let's still be friends
oohhh ,oohhh, oohhh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fine Art and Fine Men

Aight! Whoo! Been soo busy! But, guess who came to my photo exhibit yesterday?

Yup, Mr. Boris Kodjoe himself. This is the actual picture from the event, taken by Mr. Ray Tamarra. Boris is soooo tall. Like a tree or totem poll. He just showed up out of no where. Of course his wife, Nicole Ari Parker and their child came along too. Actually, I saw her first, but I couldn't believe one of the Soul Food stars would show up. So, of course I'm like, yo!!! That's Boris. I just said hi and thanks for coming. The gallery was too crowded, to capacity, to say anything else. All the media was there, NY Times, Vibe, Vixen, King, Essence, etc. At one point they stopped letting people in, hundreds of people was there already. All in all, I must say it was a great show. And, my piece sold too!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I've been so tied up that I haven't blogged in a week. This morning I received an email from someone literally on the other side of the earth who gave me a job as a babysitter when I was 18 years old. I was so offended by her email. And, when my anger went down, I felt my heart breaking. I felt judged. I hate to feel judged by those who you consider your friends, sisters and brothers. I had a conversation the other day with someone who I am trying not to love as much. He asked me something that I took with great offence because I felt he was judging me. I didn't let him know because I didn't want to seem silly or confrontational, plus it was probably all in my mind, but my hurt feelings were real and brought forth real tears.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Passing him by

I remember the first time he asked me out. I was living on campus, it was spring 2002. We just met one day, he seemed like a cool dude. But, I was so shy, I turned him down. Second time was during that winter: still shy and I lost a little interest. Plus someone else was on my mind. The third time he asked me out I was running to the subway. I was on my way to cover a Roy Hargrove show. We rode the subway together and this is when I learned about his immense knowledge of jazz. But, I was so broke and self-concious, I wasn't in the mood for dating of any kind. I passed on his offer.

I didn't see him for months to follow. Then I saw him again in 2004, he asked I wanted to go the Blue Note, I forgot who was playing but he proposed a very nice evening. I couldn't go, I was leaving for the Gullah Islands and then Morocco and I had crazy things to take care of, including finding a place to stay in Fez - I didn't want to be homeless in another country!

Earlier this year he caught me right after I came from Los Angeles. Asked me out again. I was getting to know someone at the time and I don't juggle men. I had to turn him down.

Today, coming from the printer I see him. I tell him about the new Coltrane and Monk CD. He's like, what are you doing Saturday? Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet at Jazz @ Lincoln Center. I know. But, Ramadhan is starting this week and I'll be engaged with that; I don't want to do so much extra stuff.

The look on his face.

I'm sorry!!!

What can I do? What a wack feeling...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Young Kanye & Photography

Before he became a monster! What a mookie! He's so cute!

I'm looking for the negatives for this one particular picture. This always happens before a show. The negatives conspire against me and hide. I have to get it re-printed, on better, nice archival paper, plus I have to lighten up a particular area on the print. I'm not going to do all that dodging and whatnot, I'll let these folks do it.

I gotta come correct cause the next exhibit will include giants in photography like Gordon Parks, Renee Cox, Deborah Willis, Barron Claiborne, Delphine Fawundu Buford, etc in the show. It's gonna be over 60 photographers, I don't even know the other people. I know it's gonna be mad people from this photo-anthology my stuff was featured in (by the way, thank you for that) So, I gotta step my photo game up. I gotta step my game up anyway, I'd like to do important things with my photography in the near future so I gotta start now. No more running to Adorama - well, maybe. I gotta find that darn loupe, too. I think I was drinking espresso out of it...

Aight, poof, I'm gone...