Posts tagged culture
#UnpopularOpinion: We Should Be Excited for Dark Phoenix
Thumbnail by  Darius Gordon

Thumbnail by Darius Gordon

Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is still setting box office records entering its second weekend in theaters, making a ridiculous $1.2 billion opening weekend, growing to more than $1.7 billion worldwide Thursday. The final film in the Infinity Saga is already the fifth-highest grossing film of all-time, and is almost a shoo-in to pass Avatar for the number one spot when it’s all said and done.

But while the culmination of the last eleven years of the MCU is still fresh on everyone’s minds, let’s address the elephant in the room: Dark Phoenix. The latest X-Men film from 20th Century Fox, is due in theaters June 7th, and is expected to be the final film released by Fox before it goes away and undergoes a reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"It’ll be a while. It’s all just beginning and the five-year plan that we’ve been working on, we were working on before any of that was set. So really it’s much more, for us, less about specifics of when and where [the X-Men will appear] right now and more just the comfort factor and how nice it is that they’re home."

- Kevin Feige talking about the X-Men to io9 in April

Dark Phoenix just hasn’t gotten the hype it should have; people are disinterested for a number of reasons, the impending doom being one of them. But Fox has had its inconsistencies with their timelines, and has struggled with comic book accuracy. This is also Fox’s second attempt at the iconic Dark Phoenix saga, as first-time director and long-time X-Men producer Simon Kinberg tries to fix the mistakes of 2006’s clusterfuck, X-Men: The Last Stand.

Overall, despite Hugh Jackman’s brilliant portrayal of Wolverine/Logan, Fox has been pretty sloppy with the X-Men franchise. Fans are either excited about what could be the final incarnation of this 20-year long run for the franchise, or they just want it to be over already. No in-between. In spite of your apathy, here’s why this highly anticipated movie will be good and ultimately, why you should just go into this movie ready to enjoy it!

Every X-Men fan knows there's no one character that takes the spotlight, and the people at Fox clearly forgot that. However, I've always credited 2000's X-Men as being one of the movies to revitalize the comic-book movie genre. Long before the MCU, Fox went in a very grounded direction with the famous mutants, and it worked--until it didn't. Then Marvel shook the table and created comic book movies with large-scale continuity and a shared universe full of characters that were either grounded, god-like, alien, or all of the above.

From the most recent trailers of Dark Phoenix, it looks like we’re getting the drama this story deserves. We’re getting ACTING from the Phoenix, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and as always from Professor Charles Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively). The action in those trailers has looked incredible. Can we talk about Quicksilver and Nightcrawler? Or Storm unleashing her powers?! We didn’t get a lot of non-Wolverine action scenes in the last trilogy, and I'm excited to see what Dark Phoenix has to bring.

"I thought part of what happened in X-Men: The Last Stand is that instead of making it a Jean story, it became a story of the cure, which was really Charles and Erik and Wolverine’s story, and I really wanted this to be Jean’s story. She is the dominant character in this movie."

- Simon Kinberg when asked about Dark Phoenix's focus by EW

My only ask of you is that you simply try and enjoy this movie. Rather than being cynical and waiting until Marvel adds them into the MCU, think of Dark Phoenix as the bookend of a well-told story of the mutants we have come to love )and hate). Think of it as the end of McAvoy and Fassbender’s incredible renditions of Professor X and Magneto. Think of it as an eloquent end with the dramatic re-telling of one of Marvel’s greatest tales.

How are you feeling about Dark Phoenix? Let me know in the comments section below or follow me on Twitter: @EJtheG and be sure to read some of my other work here!

The MOGcast - The R. Kelly effect

The MOGcast is a Chicago-centric podcast featuring four hard-working, slick mogs that are under the act.

What act? The act of four native Chicagoans being themselves and figuring it out in Brooklyn.

If you're a hustling transplant or just love authentic, random banter on music, sports, race and culture, then this podcast, scratch that -- This MOGcast -- may be for you.

Lastly, what is a mog? If you don't listen to the show, you may never know. And if you do, welcome! You're officially one of the mogs, joe! Yessuh!

Random Acts of Podcast EP 191: an hour and 41 minutes of toxic masculinity

On this week's episode we get extra Toxic and give our Top 5 male chauvinist pig bars on Future's new Beast Mode 2 EP, break down Plies IG videos, crazy women and a ton more other topics. Remember to send in your listener questions, #TheyNeedTheirAssBeat or #RealNiggaOfTheWeek submissions, email us at or call 424-260-RAOP to leave a voicemail.

Follow Devin: @DevinDavinci
Follow Amp: @Ampaveli

Random Acts of Podcast: Real Niggas Talkin About #E3
Kanye West VS Cancel Culture : Yeezy wins

Cancel (can·cel  \ ˈkan(t)-səl ) verb " to destroy the force, effectiveness, or validity of 

 A digital bullet with murderous motives, packed with lethal power aiming to end careers, the word cancel has become a weapon against questionable behavior yet more often than never, the target is left unscathed. Many problematic faves appear to be crafted from a cloth stitched with confidence, controversy and Teflon. The fiery outrage of mass calls for cancellation rarely transforms lively careers to ashes.  

Understanding the terms and conditions of the word "cancel", the heavy, sometimes harsh and swift judgement of the public leads to a new proposed cancellation every three to five business days. With social media encouraging little-to-no privacy among celebrities, exposing the entirety of their stardom to fans, their views, opinions and behaviors are also placed under a microscope. The validity of cancellation may vary from person to business, to brand to app. 

Recently, Kanye West, a man whom may offer many reasons to be under anyone's cancellation radar, is the latest celebrity to face backlash for political views, controversial statements and brash behavior.  His return to the spotlight debuted a more peculiar Yeezy than normal. Sporting a MAGA cap, Kanye's Twitter rants about creative licenses, supporting Donald Trump and "free-thinking" caught the attention of many, for better or for worse.

The abrasive comeback of Kanye West earned him the side eye from many fans, foes and friends, his time on TMZ is where many drew the line. Mr. West appeared on TMZ and alleged that the enslavement of African people, kidnapped and sold to colonizers and trekked across the Atlantic was a choice in which the victims could have opted out. 

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years ... for 400 years?” he said. “That sounds like a choice.”
— Kanye West

The disregard for historical accuracy and cultural ignorance placed Kanye West on the fast track to destination cancellation. As if his political support of Donald Trump, a man whose platform succeeded based on the suffering and mistreatment of those who create Kanye's fan base, wasn't enough, his remarks on slavery echoed "WAKE UP MR WEST" sentiments across the internet. 

Immediately, TMZ correspondent Van Lathan assertively interjected, informing Kanye West of the danger and ignorance of his statements, reminding him that he is indeed entitled to believe what he believes yet the underlying issue with his proclamations. The interview, rightfully, caused a Twitter storm, unpredictable by anyone. Kanye West transformed into Coonye and many dealt with the weight of visioning slavery as a choice with the comical hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAChoice. 

It has been proven many times that although Twitter births hilarious jokes, awkward interactions,  sometimes successful events and endless memes, not all hashtags are created in vain. Twitter has successfully impacted political campaigns, created social awareness, ended and began careers and highlighted racial disparities in professional and casual settings. When Twitter "does its thing" the results are often in favor of the majority. But when it comes to cancelling Kanye, the tides have turned. 

Still, the call for cancellation was not answered by all. While some of Kanye's famous friends sought to privately (and some publicly) direct Kanye to the error of his ways, the artist was met with some support. Yeezy stans, various rappers, MAGA trolls and the Ankh-Right's finest free thinkers all flew to his defense.  

The freedom of speech allows anyone, including Kanye West to be loud and wrong with potential consequences to provocative statements. In the case of Kanye, the clap-back targeted his career.  For some his antics became intolerable and the cancellation commenced.  Almost a month following the weary night of the TMZ appearance, Kanye has released new music which many vowed not to support, yet somehow his album still came out on top. While others who make statements that get them "cancelled" must issue iPhone press releases and apology tweets, somehow Kanye thrives in mania. 

His latest album Ye, his solo project created while in Wyoming, did not suffer. Ye had rappers, fans, media personalities and more flying to Wyoming for a listening party, streaming the project and carrying on about his genius. The case of Kanye offers many conclusions that are not provable with quantitative statistics. Either way, Kanye came out victorious over cancel culture. Who gets the credit (or the blame) for Ye's rise to the top of the charts? Did his cosign from Donald Trump encourage the MAGA crowd to support their new brethren or were people not serious in their call for cancellation?

The failed cancellation of Kanye West suggests that he, like others, have amassed a level of stardom and success that comes with an invisible impenetrable cloak. No matter what he does, he has proven that he can say anything and still have the support of millions. What does this say about the effectiveness of cancel culture? Where is the line drawn?   

Celebrities must realize the power of influence and the potential their words have to change the world. Kanye's statements aren't as damaging coming from a random person with 600 Twitter followers and a 9-5 as they are coming from someone with his platform. Kanye has the clout levels to mold impressionable minds. His political views, and historical blunders have undeniable impact and blur the line between right and wrong. When the MAGA crowd got the Kanye co-sign they were further pushed from seeing the error in their ways and used him as a reasoning to support their deadly ideals. 

As far as who allows fame and fortune to correlate to influence and power, the people carry the burden. As a culture, we have the ability to strip superheroes of their immortal powers by not supporting their artistic endeavors. Drawing a line and cementing the placement on what will and will not be supported is seemingly tricky yet simplistic in nature. James Baldwin writes  "The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place."

Will #MuteRKelly be the change Hip-Hop and Urban Pop Culture needs?
Prince Williams

Prince Williams

Over the past year we have seen the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements out many pop culture icons as predators. One of the giants to fall was Bill Cosby, who before the digital takeoff of the aforementioned hashtags faced several accusations and trials for drugging and raping women. Cosby, who has since been found guilty and awaits sentencing, has caused many to explore the effects his behavior has on his life work.

Especially in the Black community, Cosby was heralded as a generational father by many, serving as a guiding role model through his television persona.  Many have responded to the accusations with outlandish conspiracy theories, and showed sympathy and even remained on the convicted rapist's side. Why is it hard for urban pop culture to cancel problematic faves?

Similarly, the music industry has had several artists, producers and executives both young and old, male and female engaged in predatory behavior. With or without convictions, testimony, statements and evidence pointing to the true lifestyle of these individuals are on display for the world to see, and yet these people continue to succeed unscathed.

R Kelly and The #MuteRKellyMovement exist as examples of a man whose predatory behavior has terrorized, conditioned and trained young black girls for decades. Meanwhile he’s led profitable tours, sold millions of albums and garnered support against these claims, with damning evidence against Kelly in many of them.

Recently music streaming services Spotify and Apple Music announced they will be removing R. Kelly’s music from their featured playlists for his abusive behavior Many have exclaimed their new policies are unfair unless all artists of all genres, races and accusations are held to the same standard. Rap music, currently reigning supreme as the most popular genre in the country, has a long reputation with negative connotations surrounding its artists, lyrics and lifestyle.

Will the #MuteRKelly movement and Spotify’s announcement launch a spring cleaning of the Hip Hop world?

While not unique in housing abusers (artists and professionals of all genres have been found to be problematic) hip hop's relationship with domestic abuse, rape, and other problematic behavior is finicky. Often times, lyrics, videos and other mediums of the culture mock abusive behavior, celebrate and encourage rape and sexual abuse.

For example, think about the number of lyrics you can recite referencing the domestic turmoil between Ike and Tina Turner. The abuse Tina faced at the hands of Ike, leading her to fight back, has turned into a metaphor for rough sex, proposed as an “A-HA” moment. Countless other simple yet violent bars exist. Is this example indicative of why men such as R. Kelly remain only slightly impacted by extraneous claims?

It seems we are on the cusp of the “R Kelly Reckoning” where he will finally be held responsible in the public eye for his behavior. Could this be the precursor to an overhaul in Hip Hop and the Black community to report sexual violence and shun those responsible? For musicians like Kelly, the need to protect our own in celebration of our gifts and talents has existed for too long.

In the same breath, a family knows which Uncle not to leave their nieces alone with, but they'll still invite him to the cookout. The overlooking of sexual trauma and marauding behavior in our communities on a familial and professional level continues to exist.

The digital age has created a space for movements like #TimesUp who continue to fight for men, women and every representation of people who have been victims. The hashtag, among others, has amplified many to courageously share stories that would have otherwise been ignored until time to pass down the generational trauma.

Recently more women are coming forward to share their encounters with predatory behavior in the Hip Hop & R&B community. When revealed producer Noel ‘Detail’ Fisher was accused of physical and sexual abuse, rising vocalist Jessie Reyez shared details of her encounter.

During a segment on daytime television show The Talk, co-host and rapper Eve shared the story of how pop icon Janet Jackson came to her rescue when she was drugged at an industry party.

Even Cardi B has called out the abusive treatment of women in Hip-Hop and how these voices are ignored when vocalizing her opinion on the #MeToo movement.  Her cover story with Cosmopolitan shared a personal interview where Cardi B reflected on the uncomfortable situations she herself has experienced.

"A lot of video vixens have spoke about this and nobody gives a fuck,” she says. “When I was trying to be a vixen, people were like, ‘You want to be on the cover of this magazine?’ Then they pull their dicks out. I bet if one of these women stands up and talks about it, people are going to say, ‘So what? You’re a ho. It don’t matter.’” As for the guys who have publicly embraced #MeToo, Cardi has her doubts. “These producers and directors,” she says, “they’re not woke, they’re scared.

With the support of #MuteRKelly rising, many are hopeful that whether woke or scared, urban pop culture grows out of stagnant abusive conditions and grows to a place where creativity and talent continues to thrive.

Five ways to optimize your 'me time'

With so many things happening in the world, from Kanye’s sunken place views, traumatizing news happening every single day, weather finally jumping from Sprinter to Summer, or maybe feeling overwhelmed from life in general, you deserve a break! Your ‘Me Time’ can be anywhere from a few minutes to a whole month or longer. It’s up to you to decide how long you need to break away from all the worries of the world. Here are some ways to optimize your ‘Me Time’ that I actively do myself!

Airplane Mode

There was a time when phones were only used to call people. Now they are used to connect people to virtually almost anything, especially social media. Have you ever been out with a group of friends and everyone has their mobile device in their hands, not talking to each other? Just observe next time you’re out with friends. Our phones can consume too much of our time and energy whether we’re scrolling through Instagram and Twitter, or responding to text messages and emails. Optimize your me time by unplugging from your phone. Put your phone on airplane mode or power it off, then, place your phone in another room or out of plain site. Having it on airplane mode will prevent you from receiving notifications and you’ll be able to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect to your own mind. Utilize this time to think about ways you can improve your personal well-being or what makes you happy.

Take a Solo Trip

For some, this sounds a little scary or maybe you’re thinking why would I go on a trip by myself? When you travel with others, the activities are usually group focused to appease the majority.

Think about taking a trip, either for a day or an extended weekend, alone. This will allow you to do the things you want to do without worrying if someone else will enjoy it or not. Even if it’s just laying out by the beach all day reading a book, it would be completely up to you. Don’t be afraid to venture on your own to clear your mind and enjoy the essence of doing what you want on your time.

To really optimize your me time, try visiting another country or a city in a different state. Some of the top solo travel locations are Cartagena, Colombia; Iceland; Mexico; and New Zealand. Being in a different country can open your mind to new things as you step out of your personal comfort zone.  If you still don’t feel up to the solo travel completely by yourself, there are also travel groups that focus on bringing together solo travelers together for trips where you will have others to connect with if you so choose.


Maybe you don’t have the time to take a solo trip for your me time at the moment, but do you have five minutes to spare? If yes, you can optimize your me time by doing meditation. This allows you to sit silently and allow your mind to get into deep thought with the focus of calmness. Not too sure how to get into meditation? Well there are several apps and even podcasts that can help you start a meditation routine. Some top rated apps for meditation are Headspace, Calm, and The Mindfulness App. These are sure to help you enjoy moments alone.

Get Fresh Air

While the weather is cooperating, take advantage of going outside. Whether it’s going on a hike, taking a walk on your lunch break, or simply sitting outside on a patio with some Lemonade and a good book, it’s good to step out. A lot of people spend their time indoors majority of the day interacting with colleagues. Being able to get fresh air is not only good for optimizing your me time in a calming way, you can also get a dose of Vitamin D from the sun and burn some extra calories. If you’re able, next time you break for lunch, grab your headphones and turn on your favorite podcast, music playlist or just listen to the outdoors and take a walk outside. I find that doing this helps improve my mood so try it out and see for yourself.

Pencil Yourself In

Most importantly, schedule your ‘ Me Time’! We can get ridiculously busy that we forget to put aside time for our own self. If you use a planner or calendar app, add designated ‘Me Time Appts’  into your schedule. Try to aim for at least two times a week, or if you can, work your way up to having me time set aside for everyday, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Having a reminder set up can help you remember to give self care to who needs it the most.

What are things that you do to optimize your ‘Me Time’? Let a girl know! Protect your energy and mind!

-Delilah Shonte

Wake up black people: Bill Cosby's not Cliff Huxtable

This is an old blog post from 2016. Last week Cosby was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault. The old link is broken, so I decided to share it here. Enjoy.


In case you don’t know, Cliff Huxtable is not a real person.

Ebony Magazine, Nov. 2015

Ebony Magazine, Nov. 2015

He’s a fictional character on a popular 1980s television show. He is a figment of our imagination; a humble, righteous persona created by a comedian with far more issues internally than the character he played on the small screen. What Cliff Huxtable represents - a self-made black man in America - is a real goal to aspire to be, but as for the personage, he does not exist.

Bill Cosby may have portrayed the role for eight seasons and 202 episodes, but in reality, he is anything but. He is a black man existing in the far right. He preaches about respectability politics to the black community – his infamous Pound Cake speech being the most glaring example of his conservative viewpoints on black America – and maybe he taught you the value of an education along the way, but he’s done far more to rip apart the black community than he has to bring it together.

Oh, and he’s also a rapist.

It’s uplifting to see black people rise against the power to defend their own, but in the immortal words of Huey Freeman, “every famous nigga that gets arrested is not Nelson Mandela.” It's true the government conspires to put many an innocent black men in jail, but Bill Cosby is not one of them.

“But where’s the proof?” Thanks for asking, rape apologist! A 2005 deposition unearthed by the New York Times this summer is proof enough that Cosby was a monster.

During the questioning in a civil lawsuit against Cosby filed by Andrea Constand, an ex-basketball manager at Temple University and one of the many who have publicly accused him of sexual assault, Cosby admitted to acquiring seven Quaaludes intent on giving them to women he wanted to have sex with. These “disco biscuits” – as Cosby liked to call them – are supposed to encourage sexual arousal.

When Cosby was asked if he ever gave a quaalude to a young woman without their knowledge, his attorney objected and the question was never answered.

I know what you may be thinking; “those women wanted to have sex with him. He’s Bill Cosby! He’s rich! He could have sex with any woman if he wanted to!”

Yeah, and a sick person doesn’t stop being a sick person with the more zeroes on the end on his bank account…

Cosby will not admit to raping Constand, or the more than 25 women who have accused him of assaulting them over the past four decades. Apologists will claim a handful of them are lying, but that only feeds into the culture of rape that has made women ashamed to step forward with their cases of assault.

And who can blame them? The public has made it clear no one will believe them. Just ask Sasha Menu Courey, the University of Missouri swimmer who went into severe depression after several Mizzou football players raped her in 2010.

Oh that’s right. We can’t. She took her life.

As much as this is about Bill Cosby, and the women who’ve accused him, it’s about the women who have been afflicted by rape, and the ones who will in the future. It’s about our mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins. Our wives, our girlfriends. Nearly one in five women have experienced sexual assault or an attempted rape at one point. One in four of them were assaulted by someone they knew.

Will you stand up for them when they confide in you, or will you tell them it was their fault?

So Bill Cosby, pull your damn pants up. You’re making black people look bad.

And black people, don’t confuse the man Bill Cosby with the myth Cliff Huxtable.

Rico's Playhouse Shorts: the year of the black blogger ft. blogger Diamond Bell

On this edition of #PlayhouseShorts, blogger Diamond Bell, creator of,  joins Rico to discuss the history of the black blogger, black blogs that cover sports, gossip and entertainment. They also discuss how black bloggers/blogs have impacted mainstream media/blogs as well their impact on culture.

Knowing when it’s time to cut someone off

Have you ever felt like your friend was more of a frenemy, or is your relationship becoming more draining than refreshing?

Well when things aren’t adding up, it may be time to start subtracting those things out of your life. Not everyone in your life is meant to be around for the long run. Some are seasonal, and there was probably a lesson that needed to be learned from them in order for you to grow.

Here’s the dilemma, knowing when it is time to call it quits with someone. The following are signs that it’s time to snip snip away.

You’re starting to notice a lack of respect.

A key component to being in a healthy friendship or relationship is having respect for each other. If you are seeing that a person you are friends with is doing offensive things, such as speaking badly on you, making slick remarks towards you, especially in front of others, this person does not value you. Someone that blatantly disrespects you is a clear sign it’s time to void the relationship you have with them.

They don’t support your endeavors.

Whether you have a business that you’re starting or you’re working on achieving a personal goal, for instance, getting in shape, it always feels good to know that you have supportive people around you. If a friend downplays anything that you are working on, that person does not want to see you succeed. It could be jealousy or envy, either way, having non-supportive people in your life can deter you from accomplishing your goals. Good relationships consist of people that want to see you grow and prosper.

Receiving Negative Vibes and Toxic Energy

Positive vibes and energy are necessary in your circle of relationships. People naturally vibe off of the energy surrounding them. The more negative people in your life, the more likely you are to start being a toxic person. This will begin to affect your actions and how you perceive different situations. Whenever you notice that a friend is constantly being a Negative Nancy or has a complaint on just about everything, you may need to distance yourself from them before you’re pulled into it. Don’t let someone get your chakras off balance.

Lying is becoming second hand nature for them

Truth hurts, but lies kill. A friend that has deceived you multiple times is not going to stop. This person is also not a real friend to you. With lies, comes the inability to trust. You’re probably always questioning if what they are saying to you is made up or omitting details. Not being able to have clarity on what someone is telling you is draining and inconsiderate. Your relationships should have honesty in the foundation of them.

You’ve Outgrown Them

Do not feel bad about outgrowing people. When you are reaching new levels in your life, you realize how much further you have to go, and you also start to see the ambition others possess. Not everyone is suited to be along for the ride throughout your entire journey in life.This doesn’t mean drop all of your friends that haven’t reached the same level as you. This is more about the friends that want to pull you back down. It can be hard watching a friend not wanting more for his or herself, but they will have to take that step to go the extra mile when they are ready. You should encourage them, however, you should not put yourself on hold or allow the problems they may be facing to be a dump on your own happiness. This may be a sign to care from afar.

Begin to analyze the relationships around you and pay attention to any of the above signs that could be signaling you it’s time to remove them from your life. It’s not always an easy task to do, but it can take the weight off of your shoulders in order to have more meaningful relationships and less toxic ones.

In the great words of K-Camp,, “It ain’t nothing to cut that b***h off”. Happy Spring Cleaning with your relationships!

Friends... how many of us have them?

One of the hardest parts of growing up is realizing that everyone can’t come with you on our life journey, as it is only yours to trek. You start to understand that you can only carry yourself; you evolve and mature, thus outgrowing old things, people included.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have strong, tight-knit circles with years of foundation. A friendship that has weathered the tests of time is a rarity and should be cherished, especially in an era where everything comes fast and leaves even quicker. However you’ll find as you grow, so will your tastes in everything. Food tastes differently, your clothing style might change, and those people you once called your ‘besties’ aren’t really the best at anything in your life.

And it’s okay.  It’s literally in nature to part with what you can’t adapt to. It’s not your job to hold onto people who don’t fit your lifestyle, views and standards. No one gets rewarded for holding on to dead weight.

When I had my daughter, a lightbulb came on and it made me realize that so much of my life had to change. I had to get more serious, more focused, and put aside things that no longer served my highest good. In order to be the best mother, I had to be the best ME.

With that, I had to give up friendships that I had already been giving the side-eye to anyway. If you ever have to look around at your circle and see question marks instead of definitive periods, those may be some loose ends you want to cut. It’s almost like going natural from getting chemicals in your hair your whole life. You have to cut off the dead hair to fully see your natural hair’s potential.

This goes for people as well. How can you fly when you have dead weight holding onto your wings? There are a few signs to gauge what I consider dead weight.

One thing I appreciate about my friends is the ability to understand: understand that sometimes I’m not my happiest self and I may retreat for my own happiness, or that I may not be able to come out like I used to, or that we may go days and perhaps weeks or longer without speaking, but that the love is still there. Those that refuse to understand you as you are (if you’re not being harmful to others) may not be the friend for you.

Also, note who claps for you when you get good news and who rejoices in your trials. Some people are around you just to bask in your glow without bringing any light of their own to your life. I’ve had friends who accused me of trying to outdo them when I was merely being myself. Beware of those who claim you’re ‘too much’ when in truth, they feel that they aren’t enough.

With growth comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes change. As life takes its toll, just pay attention to who’s there to lift and support—much like a good brassiere. Don’t hang on to the leaves and branches that sway when a harsh wind blows. Pay attention to those who have put roots into you and the things you love. People who invest in your passions, those who don’t always ask of you but never give.

Protect your light and your magic, because the wrong people will strip you of both.

Amen? Amen.

Where you listen to new music helps shape your perception of it

The album listening experience has always been a favorite pastime of mine. From project announcements to new singles and promos, an album release feels like opening a new Christmas present. Its even better when the artist drops new flame.

The Twitter listening sessions for me are always priceless. In the process of coming together like one big ass happy black family, we get to analyze how each of us feel about a project through GIFs and other reactions.. It makes the listening session that much more fun and hilarious.

Once the hype subsides (par for the course since the music is fresh out the box like Krispy Kreme donuts when the hot sign is lit), the music becomes the soundtrack to our lives. We take it with us everywhere from the house to the gym, to and from work, when we’re hanging out with the homies or when trying to make a lasting impression with the opposite sex. Some music stays in rotation while others get pushed back deep into the iTunes library.

Usually an avid music listener will know automatically off the first 1-2 listens whether or not there's replay value (and whether or not we want to admit it). But sometimes we come across those projects that take some time to warm up to, whether it's a new sound from your favorite artist or a new artist you're being introduced to. There’s some records that you can get with but you’re not entirely sure if you’re just trying to forcing yourself to like it or its genuine. But  suddenly while your out and about your opinion on a song or project starts to shift. In the beginning you were like, “Eh, it’s alright,” but then all of a sudden now  you’re saying “Damn this shit is more fire than I thought."

The surroundings you're in while listening to music plays a vital role in how you perceive it. Most music listeners have figured that out. If you haven't, pay attention to the music’s vibe and see where its taking you, then examine the scene around you and see if those same vibes mesh. Some songs or albums may not fit the aesthetics of certain locations while listening, which could hurt how you perceive that project. Listening to albums like Huncho Jack or Starboy feel much different in Chicago but than in Los Angeles.

I remember this past summer I went to a listening party in Atlanta for 21 Savage's Issa. The speakers were booming, the drinks were flowing, the ladies were there and the vibe was lit. I was rocking with Issa and felt like 21 was about to surpass Savage Mode with this.

Then the album finally came out and i was replaying it, but it didn't hit me the same way it did in the club that night. There were still a few songs that made it in rotation, but for the most part Issa was a disappointment for me. It sounded repetitive and it got boring to me. The change in environment helped to put some perspective on the album.

This can also play a role for regional albums as well: albums that sound 10 times better when you’re playing it in that said region. West Coast hip-hop for me is a huge example of this because there’s so many amazing west coast albums that I’ve heard I feel would sound so much better when you’re actually out in the West Coast.  When you throw any albums whether Doggystyle, The Chronic, Good Kid, mAAd City, My Krazy Life, etc. you can close your eyes and visualize Los Angeles in a beautiful sunny day.  Some albums (whether west coast made or not) were simply made to be played on the west coast.

It’s funny thinking about all of this because our parents used to always used to tell us to pay attention to our surroundings. It's funny how life works.

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Civic & social responsibility: the platform of entertainers in 2018

Apathy was a common theme in 2017. The preceding years have gradually desensitized the globe in a way that makes you question if compassion is actually sincere anymore. Whether the event is domestic or international, violent images play on a never ending loop, displayed on various mediums 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This consistent wave of exposure to the worst that humanity has to offer has numbed our minds. Another black person slain by a police officer; \another suicide bombing in the Middle-East; another mass shooting by the hands of a terrorist (a term that is not indicative of religion).

These vicious acts of aggression flood the news cycle without actually sinking in. Collective outrage amongst the general public will take the form of combative debates across social media until the next catastrophe happens, which takes about the lifespan of a gnat to rear its ugly head. That's not to say that the major news stories for each day, each week or each month gets completely forgotten; rather, the previous event gets stored in a mental cache that'll eventually surface as a talking point during another debate. Is the talk surrounding trending topics a genuine way for us to untangle the discourse, or is it a way for us to vocalize our self-interests hidden behind the facade of compassion.

It's hard to tell. I don't know if I'm just becoming more aware as I become older, but the past few years have been a clusterfuck of societal issues. It could be due to the fact that social media has grown to be a large news outlet that rapid fires the latest topic of the day at you without much time to process it.

Not being able to digest these matters easily is detrimental; it charges us up, but overindulge and it could kill you. If you close yourself off from the constant news stream for even a week, in today's climate, a figurative amount of months will have passed.

The same goes for the avalanche of new music releases every week. According to the 2017 U.S. Music Year-End Report from Nielsen, hip-hop and R&B collectively have overthrown rock as the most dominant genre in music. The popularity and influence of these symbiotic genres have been extremely evident for quite some time. But getting officially recognized is a huge win for an art form that is largely populated by black people and minorities alike.

With great influence comes great responsibility. Hip-hop is still a relatively new genre that has been scrutinized from the jump. Outside critics look at rappers like foul-mouthed misogynistic street thugs. It may seem like that from a surface level but you're not really listening or paying attention closely. The grimy, raw and gritty sound of early 90s hip-hop perfectly grasped the overall essence of those struggling just to get by. Vivid storytelling about harrowing experiences detailed the everyday existence to an outside world that didn't readily understand.

Often viewed as glorifying a violent culture, hip-hop was meant to portray the environment by honest means. Messages of positivity and personal advice stemming from youthful mistakes were present to active listeners. Fast forward to present-day. With social media, the world's most popular entertainers have inherited the assumed role of new-aged activist, whether they like it or not. Late 80s and early 90s acts like Public Enemy and N.W.A. were known for being on the offensive when it came political statements.

"Bring the Noise" and "Fuck the Police" are two examples of using your platform to highlight the injustices surrounding their community. While hip-hop has been socially conscious since its inception, after the most recent Presidential election cycle, it feels like the fans are demanding that artists speak up about certain issues. Now, more than ever, the "Twitter Mob" mentality will pounce on musicians for just about anything said that's less than perfect. Even silence is viewed as being complicit. And, even if the rapper or singer genuinely says the right thing with a proper response, someone will comb through their history in search of something "controversial" to try and discredit, like this 2015 interview where 2 Chainz was interviewed by Nancy Grace.

Before their discussion about the merits of legalizing marijuana gets any footing, Grace tries to portray him as another mindless pothead rapper. 2 Chainz dismantled Nancy and her 1-sided stance, calmly and clearly articulated his points, and offered reasonable explanations for certain hypotheticals that she presents. It will forever be an uphill battle for the entertainer: say nothing and get harshly criticized or say something and have all facets of your character unfairly tested.

Quality-wise, 2017 was an incredible year in music in hip-hop and R&B. Not every music release that came out last year was in direct response to the most recent US political cycle.

One of my personal favorite albums from 2017, 4:44 by JAY-Z, dealt more with the maturing process of an individual going from a brash and cocky street dude to a humbled and reflective family man. Transparency and inspiration were major themes throughout the entire project. His openness about his past mistakes (I'll fuck up a good thing if you let me // 'LET ME ALONE, BECKY') and encouraging verses for black capitalism were greatly appreciated during a year of wild shit.

Stability is extremely important. I get it; audio statements in the form of music projects can be considered speed bumps. It can force you to slow down, evaluate your surrounds before proceeding forward to the open road where you can whip it as fast as possible. But that is not a bad thing in the slightest.

The social and civic responsibilities of musicians are to bring awareness to their ever-growing audience - if they feel like that should be their role in society. We as fans should not force them to be spokespeople for an entire cause, whatever it may be.

The latest Kendrick album was not meant to directly change legislation overnight. Rather, it was meant to inspire the next generation of up-and-coming politicians or people of color in powerful positions that CAN directly affect legislation for years to come. The purpose of these "speed bumps" should force us to take inventory of our own lives so we can figure out how we can have a positive impact on our communities, starting at the local level. It's ultimately up to us to choose what we do with this inspiration.

Would you rather be the best rapper or the most influential rapper?


Photograph by Craig McDean

Photograph by Craig McDean

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve scrolled Twitter & come across some silly ass rap debate, I'd be the black Bill Gates.  I remember coming across this tweet a few months back from this random rap page asking which rapper has more influence: Chief Keef and Kendrick Lamar.

Most of the time I TRY to stay away from these kind of debates because they're always started by some troll who is moreso a fan of the lesser skilled rapper (not to say Keef lacks skill).

I say this all the time but its OK to like “A-quality” rappers like Kendrick, and still like “B-quality" rappers like Keef. They both play important roles in the hip-hop culture so you can’t entirely say that one is more influential than the other.

Hip-hop has experienced some evolutionary changes musically and culturally since its inception. The game is in such a great place because there’s so many different sounds and vibes available. You got your boom bap records if you feel like listening to bars or lyrical sparring matches. You got your LA records if you're into vibing to some G-Funk or  ratchet west Coast tunes. You got trap music when you feel like whippin’ the pot in your imagination as 808s are beating down your ears. And then you got your mainstream records for when you're about to party.

Each sound is unique and thrives anywhere, and they make up pivotal parts of the hip-hop culture.

You may not like what I have to say, but different sounds and artists can co-exist among each other. Rappers like Keef have their place in hip-hop. He made his presence known through hits like “Don’t Like" and “Faneto,” and the infamous "CHIEF KEEF AIN’T BOUT THIS, CHIEF KEEF AIN’T BOUT THAT" rant. In this short amount of time, the polarizing Keef has been a major influence for this current new wave of rappers. When you listen to Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Playboi Carti and Travis Scott, you catch glimpses of Keef whether it’s musically or how raw the music video was shot. Keef's impact also brought attention towards everyday living while growing up in the Southside of Chicago. He and Chance are both products of the city and can co-exist in the same space.

Rappers like Kendrick have certain traits that some current rappers don’t possess. Sometimes that alone can a rapper polarizing. When the O.G.'s of the west coast blessed Dot with the torch, we knew he was bound to make the world shake. It’s something about his music that stands out from the rest of his peers. Even at his current status, he makes it clear that he is the student of the game. He’s studied the history of the greats that came before him and spent years mastering his craft. From “Youngest Head Nigga in Charge" to "DAMN", Kendrick has come a long way and still is able to thrive in this current climate of hip-hop. He’s a chameleon. Everybody can be a Chief Keef but not everyone can be a Kendrick Lamar.

Both caliber of rappers are great at what they do, each possessing unique characteristics that help them stand out from the field. The balance is important for hip-hop. Everybody has their preferences on who they like. But when it’s all said and done, would you rather be the best rapper or the most influential rapper?

INTERNETS, it don't ever stop: an ode to Combat Jack

Death is an inevitable transition in this unrelenting saga called life. No matter how prepared one can be for an impending cloud of darkness to reach their shores, the impact of receiving that final, distraught call about a loved one is a heavy burden to bear. Grief, whether expressed internally with repressed emotions or externally with palpable breakdowns, affects us all in different ways. There's no proper way to go about it, nor is there a one-size-fits-all manual that'll explain how to process every emotion flooding your brain after a tragic event.

We all have dealt with the passing of a dear friend, close relative, or even a mentor from the past. Upon receiving the news, for some, the reaction is almost immediate. For others, it may take some time for the feelings to set in after a period of reflection and reminiscing. A freshly carved hollowness emerges that grimly reminds us of our future mortality. With this agape space in our psyche, we can choose to fill it with depressive and self-deprecated thoughts that will debilitate our progress...or we can COMBAT these internalized detriments in the honor of the fallen.

Callously, some might say "people die every day, don't get so bent out of shape about celebrities and other people you don't know personally." While the former may be factually true, that sentiment couldn't be more off-base.

The Culture surrounding the hip-hop community at-large feels like a kinship of sorts. Relationships within The Culture aren't always tangible ones, but for those that get it - like a head nod from a stranger acknowledging the similarity in melanin - get it. There is a connectedness and a bond that manifests from shared cultural or regional experiences, that leads an organic and familial sense of community.

The hip-hop community, while laden with strife and bullshit at times, is a tight-knit community that will laud the authentic and decant the fake. If there is a slight whiff of ingenuity, the truth will come out into the light, eventually. As it happens in many societies, pioneers in the game with established footing (preservationists) may clash with leaders of the new school (trailblazers) when it comes to progressing and advancing as a society. Combat Jack, born Reginald Joseph Ossé, was both a preservationist and trailblazer in the purest sense of both words. He was an icon in the hip-hop community for 20+ years until his untimely death on December 20th, 2017.

Jack's unwavering dedication to an art form that, at the time, was widely considered as just a "phase," garnered the respect of his peers throughout his storied career.  The ORIGINAL hip-hop podcaster is widely credited as one the first media personalities to conduct interviews through the new medium when he launched his live, then archived, The Combat Jack Radio Show in 2010. Along with his co-hosts and longtime friends Dallas Penn, Premium Pete, and Just Blaze (as a DJ and commentator in the early days), the Brooklyn-born legend created a laid-back, barbershop-like environment with an open forum for the regular patrons and incoming guests to interject into conversations and launch passionate and friendly debates.

The way in which he conducted his interviews were unrivaled. Some entertainers may be cantankerous, snobbish, and dismissive towards certain interviewers. Not in Combat's studio. It spoke volumes to the amount of respect everyone had for Jack. Ironic, because of his pseudonym, his interviews were rarely contentious, but Jack always challenged his guests to be candid. His follow up commentary accentuated his questions, making for natural transitions into the rest of the conversation. The show shaped an environment where his guests could feel relaxed instead of feeling like they were in the interrogation room.

The show didn't lack the biggest names in hip-hop, culture, and entertainment: Raekwon, Bun B, DeRay Davis, J. Cole, Common, Pete Rock, Wyclef Jean, Fat Joe, Angela Rye, Jordan Peele, and many many many others were welcomed on the show. Reggie Ossé wasn't just an integral part of hip-hop history, he was at the nexus of modern Black Culture.

While I never personally met the man, Combat Jack has been a part of my life for the past several years. His death, not even 2 months after announcing he was diagnosed with colon cancer, left me shook. Disbelief would be a gross understatement. Ever since I stumbled upon his short clips with Complex, I continuously checked in to his show because of the high-quality of content. Being someone that really cares about hip-hop culture, I was intrigued by the unfiltered oral history of the beginnings of the industry. Flagrantly comedic, Jack had a goofy candor; not goofy like corny, but hilarious in his own unique, authentic way.

My affinity for Jack extends beyond the hip-hop spectrum. After graduating from college in 2014, I had plans to work within the Criminal Justice field to gain experience and eventually make the transition to law school. Certain setbacks and life adversities led me to put this 5-year plan on hold almost indefinitely... until I learned more about Jack's history prior to podcasting. Through other podcast episodes where he guested on, I learned Combat graduated from Georgetown Law School, and it was his one true passion that inspired him to pursue this degree: music. When he graduated, he finessed his way into an internship with Def Jam and worked his way up the ranks. At one point, he represented hip-hop titans like Jay-Z, Dame Dash, and N.O.R.E. After he left the legal field in the early 2000s, he remained close to the game as a blogger-turned-editor for The Source.

His life story inspired the hell out of me. He pivoted and reinvented himself when he went from Reggie J. Ossé, Esq. to Combat Jack, and did not settle for stagnant mediocrity. He made a change in his life when he felt it was necessary and flourished in his future endeavors. After hearing hours upon hours of content, he felt like a part of my extended family. The Combat Jack Show kept me company during long road trips and hellish commutes to and from work. I learned so much about the history of hip-hop from Combat, but more importantly, about life in general. Keep grinding and keep pushing forward. Change the game and INTERNETS, "it don't ever stop."

Rest in Peace, Reginald J. Ossé. He may not be here in the physical, but his legacy will live on, forever.

If you've never listened to The Combat Jack Show before, below, check out some of my favorite episodes. It's a great listen if you're a fan of hip-hop and would like to learn more about the industry. His interviews are hilarious and insightful, spanning many, wide-ranging topics.

1. Dame Dash Episode 1 (ft. Just Blaze) and Episode 2 (Both episodes are must-listens);

The exuberantly expressive Damon Dash chop it up with his old colleague in one of the most memorable interviews from the show's catalog. Dame talks about his early life as a kid in New York and shares tales about his rise to success with Jay-Z and Roc-a-Fella Records. In both episodes, he shares wisdom about how the music industry really works, calls out some people that faked the funk for a paycheck, and has a hilariously tense back and forth with Just Blaze as they hash things out about their relationship in the early 2000s. Dame's sharp intellect and business acumen are on full display in these interviews.

2. Taxstone (Listen);

Brash, unapologetic, and downright disrespectful in the funniest way possible. Taxstone, with his Tax Season podcast, was emerging as one of the most prominent voices in the industry prior to unfortunate events that transpired in 2017. A burly and gruff individual that shared his unfiltered wisdom about the trials and tribulations of street life made for a one-of-a-kind interview. But Tax wasn't bragging about his tales of growing up in New York. Rather he shared his testimonies to served as a teaching tool to kids going down a similar path. Combat's true skills as an interviewer shine in this episode as he gives space to Tax and his high-octane style and compliments it by calmly reeling him back in once it's time to move on to the next topic. Many expletives fly throughout the episode, but it's highly entertaining and insightful.

3. Stretch and Bobbito (Listen);

Hip-hop pioneers collide when the legendary radio gatekeepers Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia sit down to promote their excellent documentary, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives. Their names may sound familiar because of THE 7-minute freestyle by Big L, featuring a very young Jay-Z, which broadcasted live on their radio show in 1995. This monumental interview was important because of the shared history between these three. Every hip-hop lover will enjoy nuggets of history as the duo discuss their start as a small time radio gig that turned into one of the most influential artifacts in the commencement of hip-hop on a larger scale.

4. Bomani Jones Episode 1 (ft. Kazeem Famiyude)Episode 2, and Episode 3;

One of the most intelligent minds in the public media today, Bomani Jones sat down with Jack three times over seven years. These interviews are must-listens for aspiring journalists all over the world, each one containing a plethora of deep conversations and critical thinking about race relations, politics, and a whole host of topics. Combat is sound and poignant throughout each conversation, which sparks the fluid, lucid, and free-flowing mind that Bomani is known for. The back and forths they shared were not always about the heaviest of topics, as they diverged into plenty of jokes and music debates. Highly interesting and thought-provoking insight from the moment you press play.

5. Young Guru (ft. Rapsody) (Listen);

According to The Wall Street Journal, "hip-hop's most trusted sound engineer," Young Guru (accompanied by one of the best lyricists in the game, Rapsody), sat down with Combat Jack for a whopping 3-hour session that will keep the interest of any music fan. Guru goes into detail about his upbringings in school, which eventually led to his prolific work behind the scenes in audio construction as an engineer. He shares the story about studio sessions on Jay-Z's infamous Dynasty (Intro), Kanye West's Two Words, and Cam'ron's Welcome to New York City.

Honorable Mentions: Phonte Coleman; Vashtie; Jemele Hill & Michael Smith; Angie Martinez; Pusha T;

Listen to the whole archive here: