The Riff - November 2010

Black Harvard-Yale Alums = Gangbangers?

| Tue Nov. 30, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Racial profiling has hit the Ivy League. Again. A party for black Harvard and Yale alums at a Boston club was shut down last weekend because the club owner was afraid that a long line of black people outside could "attract the attention of local gangbangers."

It all started when a group of recent graduates sold advance tickets for a party at a new Boston club, Cure Lounge. When the night of the party came, club management claimed some of the folks waiting in line were "local gang bangers," despite the organizers' strict guest list. Management then demanded that every guest show student ID, which the organizers argued was impossible since alums usually don't carry their old student IDs around. Eventually, on the basis that a line of black people would attract the "wrong crowd" (no joke), the owners shut the entire club down. Michael Beal, one of the organizers of the party, wrote in an email apology to the guests that "regardless of our crowd representing the pinnacle of academic achievement as Harvard and Yale College alumni, Law, Medical, Business and PhD students, we were perceived as a threat because of our skin color." Sounds right on. (You can read Beal's email in its entirety here.)

Writing about all this over at the Grio, blogger Lori Adelman makes a great point:

This incident is more than about entrance to a party, or how infuriating it is for black ivy league alumni to be perceived as a "local gang-banger," or discriminated against by way of "visual affiliation" (see: skin color). In fact, it should serve as an opportunity for us to examine the ways in which we as a black community can and must view our struggles as more connected across lines of class and education, now more than ever before.

Agreed. Obviously racism is class- and education-blind, as last year's arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was just trying to get into his own house, confirmed. It's not just Gates: Ex-Harvard (and current Princeton) Prof. Cornel West has spoken to Tavis Smiley about being stopped and questioned by Harvard police while on his way to lectures, and black Harvard student groups picnicking on campus were recently questioned by campus police about their presence at the college. But as the Grio's Adelman points out:

Perhaps we might focus less on the offenders' inability to distinguish who deserves to be treated with dignity and fairness, and more on why there are criteria for such treatment in the first place.

Based on Cure Lounge's depreciating Yelp score and the calls from the blogosphere to boycott the place, it won't get away from the scandal unscathed. Too bad the same can't be said for racist institutions that target black folks who don't have degrees or money.

(h/t: Jezebel)

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Anthology of Rap: The Unofficial Index

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 7:35 AM EST

The much anticipated release of The Anthology of Rap has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. The project, which features a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., has drawn criticism for the abundance of transcription errors—and in hip-hop, the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between, well, George Wallace and Gerald Wallace (an actual mistake in the book). That's a shame because, errors aside, it's an awesome compilation: 920 pages of some of the baddest, phattest, flyest tracks ever dropped.

And that, invariably, means plenty of preposterous pop-culture references. Unless you rolled with Junior M.A.F.I.A. back in the day or hail from Queensbridge, you're probably not included in this book. But plenty of totally random people (and things! and historical events!) are. So what exactly shakes like Smucker's grape jelly? What's the best way to hijack a space shuttle? And what does Nas really think about Calvin Coolidge? We've got you covered. Here's our unofficial, abridged political and pop-culture Anthology of Rap index.

Attila the Hun

  • is not LL Cool J, p. 216

Bambi

  • mad phatness of, p. 312

Bicentennial Celebration

  • boringness of, p. 419
  • similarities to Arsenio Hall Show, p. 419

 Booth, John Wilkes

  • as second-grade icon, p. 358

Bush, George H.W.

  • as real estate agent, p. 424
  • worth less than a bird in the hand, p. 424

Bush, George W.

  • a natural ass, p. 699
  • did 9/11, p. 751
  • not a Seminole Indian, p. 715
  • treatment of blacks relative to treatment of trash, p. 699

Clinton, Bill

  • hanging in strip club, p. 681
  • slanging crack, p. 485
  • smoking up, p. 681

Coolidge, Calvin

  • suspected black ancestry of, p. 469

Dahmer, Jeffery

  • consumption of dogs, p. 485
  • consumption of mail-order brides (hypothesized), p. 647

Etch-a-Sketch

  • as matter of life and death, p. 180

Falwell, Jerry

  • as funky dope musician, p. 136

Gandhi

  • as serial killer, p. 389

Goodyear Blimp

  • says "Ice Cube's a pimp," p. 426

McCain, John

Mephistopheles

  • as metaphor, p. 361

NASA

  • hijacking of space shuttle with a .38, p. 389

Nixon, Richard

  • wickedness relative to Ghostface Killah, p. 548

Nobel Peace Prize

  • awarded to Canibus, p. 352
  • passed up by Canibus, p. 352

Obama, Barack

  • as pen pal, p. 760
  • complexion of, p. 717
  • merits of putting on $5,000 bill, p. 717

Peloponnesian War

  • lack of respect for science or intellect, p. 159

Picasso, Pablo

  • similarities to Kool Moe Dee, p. 204

President

  • complexion of relative to a Maybach, p. 438
  • dead, p. 427
  • dead, with sprinkles, p. 428
  • fuckin' dead, p. 428
  • efforts to combat Chinese expansion, p. 755
  • Eric B. is, p. 170
  • future employment as, p 391
  • impeachment of, p. 255
  • is black, p. 715
  • is half-white, p. 438
  • never did shit for me, p. 716

Reagan, Nancy

  • sexual intimacy with, p. 298

Reagan, Ronald

  • employment of Too $hort as economic advisor, p. 298
  • selling cocaine in the White House, p. 298

Republicans

  • not fuckin' broke, p. 424
  • should be disabled, p. 341

Senators

  • getting high, p. 424

Shaft

  • shafting like, p. 223

Sharon, Ariel

  • odds of showing compassion relative to odds that Immortal Technique will stop blastin', p. 655

Smucker's

  • shaking jelly like, p. 530

Steve, Scuba

  • respiratory struggles of, p. 635

Swayze, Patrick

  • is Method Man, p. 539

Tastykake

  • as artificially flavored equivalent to Ol' Dirty Bastard's rhymes, p. 545

Truman, Harry S.

  • dapper as a rapper, p. 135

Tyson, Mike

  • Knocked-out like, p. 61
  • Knock you out like, p. 215

Voting

  • decision to spend dough on hoes instead of, p. 717

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Going Androidgenous With Janelle Monáe

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 7:32 AM EST

The red-hot R&B revivalist Janelle Monáe takes cyborgs, and her career, pretty seriously. She's been compared to, among others, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Prince. Which is an indication both of her talent—Sean "Puffy" Combs called her one of the most important signings of his career—and her wide range of influences, from Stevie Wonder to Salvador Dalí to Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis (hence the cyborgs).

Monáe grew up doing musical theater in Kansas City and helped create the Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society, which released her first EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite. Her next album continued the story of Cindi Mayweather, a time-traveling ArchAndroid sent to free the citizens of Metropolis from their dystopian world. Her songs might be viewed as a metaphor for race and gender discrimination—but Monáe also wants you to take them literally: She insists that they're a preemptive call for the equality of cyborgs. Even her usual outfit—saddle shoes, pompadour, tailored tux—is not so much an artistic statement as a practical move; tuxedos are a timeless look, she's said, and so a natural choice for a time-traveling robot. Most recently, her song "Without a Fight" appeared on the For Colored Girls soundtrack. We recently spoke with the cyberfunkstress about tuxedo politics, her journey to fame, and her favorite holiday music.

Mother Jones: Did you hear that Bradford Cox of Deerhunter is calling you the next David Bowie?

Janelle Monáe: No. I'm sure he meant well, but that isn't my goal. I like David Bowie though. I guess if I got a sex change, that could work out.

Teachers Respond to 'Waiting for Superman'

| Tue Nov. 23, 2010 9:15 PM EST

-Mark Murrmann, Mother Jones-Mark Murrmann, Mother JonesBy now, you've probably either seen or read reactions to the most controversial education documentary of the year, "Waiting for 'Superman'" (WFS) directed by Davis Guggenheim. (In case you missed the brouhaha, my favorite in-depth, opposing views on the film are here and here.)

I plan to spend a lot more time in the schools before I dig deeper into some of the claims in the documentary, but I am always skeptical of silver-bullet solutions. Meanwhile, I have been trying to rally some veteran public school teachers to go see WFS with me. So far, I haven't been able to find one taker. The teachers tell me they think it's an attack on them, and are boycotting it.

Turns out, Guggenheim also wants to hear from teachers. Last week, he put out a call in the form of a blog post on HuffPo, "Teachers: Tell Me What You Think," and got an earful. The interesting thing is that out of 87 comments, as of today, not one is positive. (Well, there is one, but that comment is clearly an advertisement.) All comment writers say that they are teachers, some with decades of experience, and there are some important points. I read through all comments, and here are a few excerpts that seemed representative of the main themes and sentiments.

So far, Guggenheim hasn't responded.

Have you seen "Waiting for 'Superman?'" Really curious to hear what MoJo readers think of it.
 

Girl Talk's Personal Mixtape

| Mon Nov. 22, 2010 7:48 AM EST

Gregg Gillis, better known by his DJ alias Girl Talk, has been a long-time favorite of hipsters and hip-hop enthusiasts. In performance, he hunches over his laptop, sweating and rocking rhythmically. By the end of his set, he’s invariably shirtless and surrounded by fans who are equally sweaty from all their booty popping, arm waving, and moshing. Girl Talk's distinctive style relies on the irreverent juxtaposition of pop sweethearts and public enemies—or new dogs and OGs—and the resulting mixes are are fresher than the sum of their parts. For example, his brand new CD, All Day, pits "Party in the USA" against "Robbin' Hoodz" to create a softer M.O.P. and a bad-ass version of Miley Cyrus. The album, now available for download, has thus far earned excellent accolades. We recently asked Gillis to reveal a few of his personal faves.

Mother Jones: What's your favorite release this year?

Girl Talk: Rick Ross' Teflon Don—it's heavy in many different ways.

Sasha Frere-Jones' Listening Pleasures

| Mon Nov. 22, 2010 7:45 AM EST

Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker's prolific pop-music critic, is about to get busier. Last week, the news broke that he had signed on as the new culture editor of The Daily, News Corporation's soon-to-debut iPad newspaper. For now, Frere-Jones, a musician in his own right and current member of the bands Piñata and Calvinist, continues to write—on race in American pop music and the end of hip-hop, among other volatile subjects—and to document his surroundings in photos he calls "barely photography." We caught up with Frere-Jones to quiz him about his current music faves and the perks of being one of the world's Top 30 critics.   

Mother Jones: What's your favorite new or upcoming release?

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Tina Fey's Censored Palin Joke (VIDEO)

| Tue Nov. 16, 2010 2:26 PM EST

So Tina Fey gets this award Sunday night, the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is kind of a big deal. In fact, they wrap an entire PBS Kennedy Center TV special around her, with special guests and happy clapping crowds. And when she gets this award, she gets to talk onstage, as awardees are wont to do. And according to Joe.My.God. and the Washington Post, here's part of what she says:

And, you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women—except, of course, those who will end up, you know, like, paying for their own rape kit 'n' stuff. But for everybody else, it's a win-win. Unless you're a gay woman who wants to marry your partner of 20 years—whatever. But for most women, the success of conservative women is good for all of us. Unless you believe in evolution. You know—actually, I take it back. The whole thing's a disaster.

Except if you were watching the thing on PBS Sunday night, you didn't see or hear any of that. According to the Post's Paul Farhi: "The part about rape kits and evolution was gone, leaving only Fey's more harmonious—and blander—comments about Palin and politics: 'I would be a liar and an idiot if I didn't thank Sarah Palin for helping get me here tonight...'"

For its part, PBS told Farhi the selective editing "was not a political decision...We had zero problems with anything she said":

But with the 90-minute show running about 19 minutes long after the taping Tuesday night, a few things had to give, Kaminsky said. "We took a lot out," he said. "We snipped from everyone."

Uh huh. Anyway, a video of Fey's full acceptance speech is below; skip to about 12:30 for her invective on Alaskan dystopia. Oh, and by the way, also on TV Sunday? The premiere of Sarah Palin's Alaska on TLC, which hooked in 5 million viewers. Apparently she illegally molested a bear with her fishing tackle. But that didn't get edited out.

OK Go's Tim Nordwind Loves Treats

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 7:25 AM EST

[Also read our interview with OK GO's Damian Kulash]

OK Go is a dapper pop-rock foursome, and singer/bassist Tim Nordwind is quite possibly the dapperest of the bunch. Admittedly, I'm only saying this based on Nordwind's awesome last name, stylin' togs, and prominent sideburns evident in the band's inspired videos—which have made it a YouTube sensation. OK Go's fame began with the backyard-dance-routine video "A Million Ways" and took off with their so-called treadmill video, which you may well have seen—you and at least 60 million others. Then came the astounding Rube Goldberg machine. The band's latest hit is "White Knuckles," a video they no doubt concocted to get a share of the millions of people who search YouTube late at night for videos involving dogs. Their brand new one, posted just last week, is a more artsy affair called "Last Leaf," involving stop-time animation and thousands of slices of toast. Singer/guitarist Damian Kulash—whose sister's choreography has been instrumental in OK Go's success, answered our questions about the making of the videos that have brought so much short-term pleasure to so many. In the meantime, I asked Nordwind about the music that inspires his creative mind.

Mother Jones: What's your favorite new release this year?

Tim Nordwind: Sleigh Bells, Treats. It's as if they put a tape recorder in the brain of a three-year-old kid, and then wrote a bunch of songs around the constant bombast of the kid's hyperactive, sugar-blown imagination. It's definitely a record to blast out loud.

The Fierce Urgency of Sows

| Wed Nov. 10, 2010 7:00 AM EST

When we last heard from Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association's issues director was calling for the public stoning of Tillikum the killer whale, for its role in the death of a trainer at Sea World last spring. "When an ox gores a man or woman to death," Fischer declared, quoting Exodus, "the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten."

The whale was not stoned (in fairness, it wasn't eaten, either) but Fischer seems undeterred in his assault on charismatic megafauna. Here he is yesterday, reacting to a Los Angeles Times article about Wyoming's threatened grizzlies:

One human being is worth more than an infinite number of grizzly bears. Another way to put it is that there is no number of live grizzlies worth one dead human being. If it's a choice between grizzlies and humans, the grizzlies have to go. And it's time.

It's hardly an isolated incident; earlier this year, Fischer called the grizzly, "a fierce, savage unstoppable killing machine." This time, he's offered a solution: "Shoot these man-eaters on sight."

Avey Tare's Secret Listening Habits

| Mon Nov. 8, 2010 11:05 AM EST

As a member of Animal Collective, one of those rare bands that define a sound (weirdo experimental psych-pop) rather than be tied to one, Avey Tare (a.k.a. David Portner) has produced some of the more compelling music to come out of the 21st century indie-rock hype machine. While Panda Bear, AC’s McCartney to Tare's Lennon, has released well-received solo albums on par with the main band’s output, Tare has remained conspicuously quiet—until now. Down There, his solo debut the on Paw Tracks label, hit the streets on October 26. A decidedly melancholy affair, it seems to recount a dark journey through a mind troubled by place and circumstance. It’s a bold move for a man at the critical and popular pinnacle of his career; in other words, just another unexpected and mind-bending release from a member of the Animal Collective family. I hit up Tare for the lowdown on his own listening habits.

Mother Jones: What's your favorite new release and why?

Avey Tare: Teengirl Fantasy’s 7am. I've been digging the EPs these two dudes have put out in the past year or so online. Home brewed house.