Category Archives: Feature Article

DJ Rekha hits up NPR for a little chat session

She’s the host of Bhangra and Beyond, and she’s hittin’ up NPR for a fireside chat. DJ Rekha breaks down the world of “bhangra,” including its immense influence on American music. Now used in many tracks from artists such as Jay-Z, bhangra has been taking off largely due to DJ Rekha’s passion.

So feel the rhythm and the beat, and give a listen to the show that can give you a whole new genre to appreciate.


Walmart ‘Helps’ ‘Inform’ Employees

A Walmart employee sent me a link to a website called “Walmart Community Votes,” which allegedly exists to help inform employees about political candidates. This employee drew my attention to a specific page that really doesn’t do much to inform. Really, it appears to exist to propagandize on behalf of the Republican candidate:

I’ve contacted Sestak’s office to ask if: A) He received a questionnaire, and B) If he did, why did he fail to fill it out? It’s possible that Sestak chose not to return the questionnaire, but that seems like a stupid move, especially considering how the Pennsylvania race is tightening.

Ironically, the Democratic candidate Sestak owns stock in Walmart, and the company has recently shifted campaign contributions in favor of Democrats, though historically Walmart has opposed the Democratic Party’s pro-union platform.

But the problem isn’t just on the Pennsylvania questionnaire page. I got the same result when I checked out Georgia’s questionnaire:

There was an identical void of information on Alexander Giannoulias’s (IL-D) questionnaire page:

Aaaand Lee Fisher’s (OH-D) page

If I was one of the 1.6 million Walmart employees that accessed this website, I might think that the hoity-toity Democrats consider themselves too good to fill out a simple questionnaire for the benefit of “real American” voters. Or maybe voters won’t think those nefarious thoughts, and simply “educate” themselves using the available Republican platform. Both scenarios spell death for Democrats.

I’ve contacted all the candidates above to ask if they received the questionnaires. I hope some of them reply.
– Allison Kilkenny

Nature of The Beast

“North Carolina has arrived,” claims Pierce Freelon of N.C. hip hop/jazz quartet, The Beast.

For a state mostly known as a forerunner in the tobacco trade, collegiate sports and sweet tea consumption, to assert it’s now the stage for a musical revolution may seem a tad presumptuous.  All things considered however, it’s not.

On the heels of releasing their latest record, Freedom Suite, a ten-track collection of hip hop, jazz and soul-inspired music performed with Nnenna Freelon, GRAMMY-nominated jazz vocalist (and mother), Freelon describes the significance of their location beneath the Mason-Dixon Line in the conceptualization of The Beast’s eclectic sound.

“Freedom Suite is a statement about the renaissance of musicians coming out of North Carolina,” comments Freelon. “Every guest on Freedom Suite is based in about a 30 mile radius, in the middle of North Carolina. That’s really special. The Beast is at the forefront of a burgeoning scene that is giving other music hubs like Atlanta, New York and New Orleans a run for their money. We’re producing some of the most progressive jazz, hip hop and soul music in the country.”

As tribute to hip hop icon, Guru, who passed away earlier this year, Freedom Suite pairs The Beast with such veteran artists and producers as 9th Wonder, Branford Marsalis, Phonte (of The Foreign Exchange/Little Brother), YahZarah, and Geechi Suede (of Camp Lo) to create a compilation of both new and revisited tunes, interspersed with cultural discourse from Questlove, Herbie Hancock, Amiri Baraka, Christian McBride, James Moody and others. Capitalizing on the recording industry’s trend to bridge genres of music with a common message and aesthetic, The Beast created beats and breakpoints from fundamental jazz standards, soul-infused melodies and bebop-style hooks. The result is something unique in form and fashion, echoing the opuses of one very legendary predecessor.

“With Jazzmatazz, Guru innovated by weaving jazz narratives into his poetry,” describes Freelon. “Even though we’re rooted in hip hop, from a songwriting and arrangement standpoint, jazz is at the nucleus of what we do. It was fun to re-interpret classic jazz standards like “Skylark,” and flip hip hop “standards” like, Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop,” on the same record.”

Many remember Guru as a member of prodigious rap group, Gangstarr, a duo out of New York comprised of the late rapper and DJ/producer, DJ Premier. Gangstarr united jazz and hip hop to establish a distinctive voice in the East Coast rap game of the early nineties. Considered a pioneer of the genre, Guru’s legacy lives on not only through his work, but his charitable foundation and various tributes by artists, like The Beast.

Notes Freelon, “Guru was a double threat. In Gangstarr, he paired a calm and focused flow with Premier’s classic neck breaking drums and soulful samples.”

The Beast aims to do something similar with their inventive narratives and classic-meets-contemporary rhythmic forages. Though unsigned at the moment, the group has no lofty aspiration of scoring a record deal that will lead to fame and fortune, rather they intend to manage success on their own. Exploiting the digital diaspora, they’re happy to grant fans easy access to their work, yet they admit the capricious nature of the field has its pitfalls.

“The internet helps because we no longer need the permission of certain gate-keepers to get our music out,” observes Freelon. “It hurts because there’s no quality control.”

To coincide with the release of their collection, the group will play a series of shows along the East Coast, including the NuBlu Jazz Festival in New York this November. Additionally, in December, Freelon and his mother/collaborator will perform several dates in Angola. All in all, the world will soon be introduced to Freedom Suite’s introspective world of experimentation and cultural integration.

“My first love has got to be hip hop,” says Freelon. “I started warming up to jazz around the mid-nineties when my mother began taking me on the road. We went to Japan and Finland when I was 12, and that was my first taste of life on the road: hotels, back stage passes, tour managers, flights. I loved everything about it, and I got to make good friends with a bunch of eccentric jazz musicians. That was the beginning of my relationship to jazz.”

Now it’s a lifelong bond.

The Beast considers such musicians as The Roots, The Experiment, The Foreign Exchange and Kooley High as leaders in the game, and have no intent on slowing down their movement anytime soon. They’ve formed a solid foundation in their home fort that will indubitably spread beyond its borders, as their ingenuity has already earned them many accolades in the press, including the title “jazz and hip hop juggernaut.”

And if they had a million dollars at their disposal?

“I’d spend it on our next music video,” says Freelon. “Isn’t that what Jay paid to make ‘Big Pimpin’?”

Link to this article:

– Courtney Garcia

Oscar Grant, Greece, and the irrational fear of black America

This is a tale of two stories. One happened in Greece, the other in America.

In 2008, Epaminondas Korkoneas, a Greek police officer, shot and killed Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old student. Alexandros’s execution led to protests and widespread rioting that lasted for three weeks. Rioters took to the streets armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Vehicles were damaged, police officers were injured, protesters were arrested, and students occupied buildings. Rioters set fire to the Kostis Palamas building, which led to the total destruction of the European Law Library. On December 23, thousands of people marched through Athens, and the next day, hundreds of anarchists peacefully gathered in the streets — all parts of the movement to resist police thuggery.

There was a trial and today the police officer was found guilty of murder.

In 2009, Oscar Grant, a 23-year-old black man was shot and killed by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California. In stark contrast to the protests that broke out after Alexandros’s murder, the riots that erupted in Oakland were quickly suppressed. In January, around 100 protesters were arrested by authorities when they took to the streets, smashed car windshields, and another protesters allegedly set a dumpster on fire. Another riot occurred when Mehserle was found not guilty of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Even then, the riots were smaller in nature, lasted a single night, yet oddly enough, resulted in more single-sweep arrests than the Greek riots (78 people were arrested in the second riot).

These two cases of police brutality illustrated some interesting cultural differences. In Greece, the trial of a police officer accused of slaying a fair-skinned teenager from an affluent neighborhood appeared much more justice-oriented whereas the Grant case was suppression-oriented. In Oakland, the immediate arrest and detention of hundreds of protesters (NRO adorably calls them “agitators”) was part of a Quarantine and Neutralize plan that police implemented in response to the failure of the justice system. The goal was to withstand the activist community’s rage just long enough until popular fury diminished naturally on its own.

In Greece, though police were accused of brutality by human rights groups, their collective response was still tame when compared to the single-sweep arrests demonstrated by US authorities. And then, of course, the Greek trial resulted in a guilty verdict.

In one story, activists held genuine power, and in the other, protesters were treated as unwieldy animals as they foolishly defended a poor black man who was too stupid to keep his mouth shut and succumb to police power, and clearly deserved to be publicly executed in a subway because he had a -gasp!- police record. (If you really want your head to explode, go over to Hot Air and Right Wing News to check out the comments on the Grant story. I won’t link to the bile here, though.)

The overzealous US response stems from an irrational fear of black America – that the darks will one day rise up and finally get their vengeance for that whole slavery business (the same fear infested white America during the Rodney King riots). When the world witnessed the Greek riots, they saw thousands of pissed off citizens reacting violently to the failure of the state. When middle America saw the Oakland riots, they incorrectly misdiagnosed the same exact citizen response as the former slave class plotting to invade the suburbs and kill their fat little offspring for sustenance.

I should also add that certain right-wing outlets rose above the immediate gutter-dredging response of depicting Grant activists as black extremists in the spirit of ignoring the story completely. Fox News barely made a peep about the execution and/or the trial, but didn’t skip a beat whilst furiously jerking off to the idea of the Black Panthers taking over ‘Murika.

Link to this article:

– Alison Kilkenny

Shocking Revelation: Tasers Are Bad For Your Health

It seems Taser International has had a change of heart. A while ago, any allegations that their tasers were linked to deaths caused much panty-twisting. In response to all the anti-electrocution propaganda from bongo-pounding hippies, the company helped coin the condition “excited delirium” to explain why people keep dying when they’re shocked in the chests by their product.

It’s really an adorable diagnosis that can be affixed to almost any capital punishment. Maybe we can start saying death row inmates died from “spastic derangement” to shut up all of those protesters.

Following the death of David Smith, a man who died after Minneapolis authorities tasered him, the police have publicly recognized that their electric torture guns are lethal. Taser International apparently concurs because they’ve sent out a bulletin with the very helpful suggestion that officers don’t shoot anyone in the heart.

It appears as though there is a connection between this whole forced electric shock treatment and people dying because Taser has agreed to put out a new model soon that will cap electrocution at five seconds. Current models electrocute citizens for as long as the trigger is held down.

Of course, if you’ve in poor health, five seconds of excruciating pain may still be enough to cause massive heart failure.

Back in 2008, Canada held an inquiry where Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital, testified about the  dangers of tasers. Back then, Taser International’s products were described by the press as delivering “a five-second jolt that incapacitates the muscles.” Even though the jolts in 2008 were documented as lasting no longer than five seconds, which apparently wasn’t true in all taser-related incidents, Janusz still said, “”Tasers must be regarded as being capable of causing cardiac arrest.”

Back then, Taser International denied any link between their product and cardiac arrest, a denial that didn’t really impress Janusz.

“This creates a problem with credibility of the company and could lead to difficulty in dealing with the company in matters of safety standards and training requirements,” Janusz said.

Right. The credibility thing. It makes it difficult to take Taser Int’l seriously when the company denies the linkage to cardiac arrests, then coins a stupid phrase to explain away all the death, and now says it’ll come out with a new model of their weapon that will cap torture sessions at five seconds, which is what the cap has supposedly been this whole time…while people have still been dying.

Side-note: People have known about the five second cap problem for a long time. Australian police launched a search for an alternative to Taser International’s guns back in 2009 for the expressed purpose of finding another brand which “limits each Taser cycle to five seconds … in the wake of a report recommending changes to their use.”

Taser International has had several years to get over the shock (no pun intended) that people have a problem with police being armed with guns that can electrocute them until their hearts explode. Apparently, all it took for them to tweak their product was several years of public outrage, international governmental inquiries, and some lawsuits. Rand Paul is right, you guys. The private sector always does the right thing…when eventually hunted down by a torch-wielding, carrying-some-of-their-dead mob.

You’ll have to excuse me if I’m unprepared to tongue kiss Taser Int’l just yet. This sort of reminds me of when the cigarette companies started toying with lowering nicotine and tar levels when an outraged public accused them of peddling poison. The basic product still sucks, and all of the tweaks and marketing bullshit are superfluous window-dressing.

Link to this article:

– Allison Kilkenny

America’s Addiction: Currently, in Los Angeles, there are over 40,000 men and women in gangs; in the United States, close to a million.

America’s Addiction

Currently, in Los Angeles, there are over 40,000 men and women in gangs; in the United States, close to a million.

“A house divided cannot stand,” observes Cornell Ward, Executive Director of the Unity One Foundation and former gang member. “When I first got into it, I had my brother with me; we grew up in the neighborhood together and then drugs came into the picture. Suddenly, he wants half the block to sell his drugs, and we’re against each other. Then, two others want part of the block; there are four of us. It spread in that way. Now there are over 9,500 gangs in L.A.”

When Ward turned 19, he became affiliated with Rick Ross, a.k.a. “Freeway Ricky Ross,” (drug lord not rapper), an L.A. narcotics trafficker who transformed the cocaine trade by mass -producing crack through Central America. Ross reportedly earned $2 million dollars in one day while also furthering his trade into other cities across the U.S.

Ward was Ross’ top lieutenant.

“I was the youngest kingpin in the area,” notes Ward. “I remember when I was ten years old. I walked in and saw my uncle smoking a pipe and I didn’t know what it was. Ten years later and he’s my first client. That’s how it works. We are conditioned to chase the root of evil.”

Some claim it’s a territorial matter or lack of good policing, but, according to Ward, the relationship between drugs and gangs is a marriage. One almost couldn’t exist without the other. He now works for the Unity One Foundation, creating programs that translate street skills into business tactics, as a way of reforming youth by redirecting their intellectual assets. What clever sales strategies they’ve developed through drug trading can effectively be applied in a corporate setting; where they used to “re-up” on drugs, they can instead do with stocks.

“There is not a gang problem, there is a substance problem,” adds Ward. “It leads to depression, lack of education and understanding. Even if you’re just producing crack, you get high off the slightest touch or inhalation, and it leads to a confused state of mind. You don’t go out and do a drive-by shooting in a right state of mind.”

Ward equates gang proliferation with a state of modern slavery, the role of slave and master defined by substance and abuser. He also points to the fact that the U.S. government negates the urgency of the problem, allowing it to exacerbate unnoticed. In fact, statistics show that over 50% of homicides in L.A. are attributed to gang violence, likely the result of mass drug funneling from the border.

“The government has satellites monitoring the moon in outer space, yet they can’t tell us how much dope is being shipped in,” comments Ward. “People don’t care because they think it doesn’t affect their families, but it’s a source of money that feeds into everything. Wall Street’s driven by it. Miami’s built on it. Everyone blames it on kids and poverty, but gangs wouldn’t survive without drugs.”

Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan are living proof of the prominence of cocaine within Hollywood’s elite, and a CNN report last year on Bernie Madoff’s notorious firm displays evidence of corruption with American business. As stated in the report, Madoff allegedly financed a “cocaine-fueled work environment,” diverting money abroad when “federal authorities were closing in at home.” Additional accusations assert employees were sent as runners so commonly that his office earned the nickname, “The North Pole.”

Where there’s demand, there must be supply, yet it is America’s unsung, impoverished neighborhoods which feel the greatest burden. Everyday children are born into homes where drugs are a way of life, and die because of competition to sell. The recurring stories of death in Mexico provide further testament to the necessity for U.S. officials to review both drug policy and prevention techniques.

“There are no success stories unless you can get out, and you can only get out when you reach a spiritual understanding that the dope game destroys everything you love,” comments Ward. “When my child was born, my wife had a heart attack and my baby had its bladder hanging out. I had to give blood so my wife could have a transfusion…Most people don’t get a chance to see it…Kids don’t even believe you can survive on the streets without going to jail.”

Subsequently, the trade proliferates in jail, as traffickers are able to increase cliental and many don’t make it out alive. Ward suggests the only solution is to “speak life” into youth.

“It can be like palm trees though, which take five years to sprout after you plant the seeds,” he adds. “By the first year, there’s nothing. The second year, still nothing.  The third year, nothing again, and then people give up. Most people give up before anything can happen.”

Link To Article:

– Courtney Garcia

Hope In The ‘Hood

The streets may raise a man; they may haunt him; but they will never define him. Whoever doubts the strength lurking in America’s underworld should look towards up-and-coming rap-duo, The HoodStarz, whose fortitude, drive and eagerness serves as ample proof that a way out really does exist. The group, which will release their fourth album independently this October, consists of two childhood friends from the Bay area, who formed a musical alliance after years of roaming neighborhood corners. They pushed themselves through school, and eventually, after studying hip hop cohorts who were making a name for themselves in the game, began their creative work.

“We’ve been together since knee-high,” says Band-Aide, one half of the group. “We got into a little of the bad stuff, but were always inspired by other rappers in the ‘hood who were making a lot of noise. We followed them around and eventually did our thing.”

The HoodStarz have released three albums in the past, enabling themselves to establish a distinct following in the business. Along with touring and musical collaborations, the rappers circulated several music videos online and through major outlets like MTV, which brought their visibility to a larger platform. In 2009 however, Band-Aide was arrested following a police raid in the South Bay, and the duo hit a breakpoint. The investigation led to the detainment of 42 people in 14 cities, including Band-Aide, all of whom were accused of various criminal activities associated with a gang known as “The Taliban.”

“We (The HoodStarz) have been missing for awhile cause I got caught up in all that,” he comments. “Some people got let off, some people are doing time, some people are still pleading… I got out of it, but you know, I don’t like to talk about it much. I’d rather focus on what’s positive.”

Positive being a new album out, appropriately titled Controversy, that’s already generating buzz online. The 17-track record features guest appearances by such signature rap talents as David Banner, E-40, Gucci Mane and Big Rich.

“We went on the road with E-40 and we started meeting a lot of people,” explains Band-Aide. “This album is built from our relationships with other artists and producers.”

The guys describe Controversy as “street,” meaning heavier production than a mixtape, but with a “no holds barred” approach to promotion and design. Every song is original. Every song meant to be emblazoned in the minds of listeners. Every song made with its own theme and ideal, from street life to clubbing, narcissism and greed.

“We were in the middle of a situation over the past year so there are a few songs which address that,” comments Band-Aide. “But then there are others just about sippin’ Patron at the club, there are some about people yappin’, you know talkin’ when they don’t need to be talkin.’”

They’ve built a life from hardship, and continue to use positive energy to keep them moving in an upward direction. “The hardest part of keeping out of the streets is temptation,” says Scoot Dogg. “You have to find a way to do something else.”

Adds Band-Aide, “For me, it’s having so many friends who I grew up with that are still in that situation. They haven’t been able to tour and see the world and they don’t understand why you can’t go back to the block. They think you’re acting too good to be there, but they don’t understand the risk. I’ve got too much to lose.”

The HoodStarz claim poverty is the number one cause of dysfunction in urban “ghettos,” and feel the creation of jobs is the only route to a better life. For them, of course, it was through music. Their latest record contains elements of gangsta rap, hyphy, and even pop music, as the duo doesn’t want to limit themselves to one genre. Their musical penchants are equally diverse, mentioning artists like B.o.B, Miles Davis and Green Day as some of their favorites. When asked about teen phenom, Justin Bieber, the guys say they dig it.

“We like everything. We want to push our music as far as possible, till we can’t any longer,” says Scoot Dogg, “And then we want to do other things. Artist development, movies. We want to do a lot.”

With their latest work, they plan to remind listeners of who The HoodStarz are as a group. After that, there’s no telling. Though the over-saturation of mixtapes and free multimedia may prove a difficult terrain to navigate, the duo looks to their predecessors for constant motivation. After all, what brought them out of the grime could also lead to higher peaks.

“If I could meet anyone, it’d have to be someone like Master P, Jay-Z or Puffdaddy,” says Band-Aide. “Somebody who began their own company and runs with it.”

Link to this article:
– Courtney Garcia