The Ascendancy of Black America (Part Three of Four)

What is the power of the African-American? What makes us special, unique, or able to contribute anything of great value in the context of America? Is it our artists, our singers, dancers, our authors, our  poets and painters that grant our people an invaluable square on the quilt of this country? Is it our athletes who have broken down walls of separation in every major sport by not only their talent but their tenacity, their toughness of character? Or is it the legacy of black intellectuals and civil rights leaders, of preachers and professors who have been bold enough to stand and to decry the evils of our persecution in the face of the mighty and the wrong? It is indeed Maya Angelou and Sam Cooke. It is Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson. It is W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is all of these of course. Yet our power comes from more than any of these. The seat of our power lies seeded in a place deep within our moral memory and lights our path forward as we try to determine how it is that we as a people will win the future.

Black Americans are a proud people. And sure, we have accomplished much that gives us cause to be proud. And I know that pride may seem to be a virtue, but the truth is many people are proud. The Bible urges us, in the words of Zephaniah, “Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3). Believer or non-believer, what the Bible here seeks to tell us is what we African-Americans should from our own experience already know: that it is not pride that is the face of righteousness but humility, and that in those inevitable days which history in its cycles always brings about wherein the deeds of men are placed squarely before the judgment seat of their own consciences, our best defense from the judgment of mankind and our very our own souls is simple innocence. In our own time, we can be innocent again.

Now as I say “we can be innocent again,” I speak as to be heard. But I know that man is never innocent. We must know even as we consider the tragedy of our tribal history that we came here as the children of evil men. We made war on our brothers like evil men, as did the Native Americans even after the nations of Europe established themselves on their shores. We fell into slavery at the hands of evil men. We were sold into slavery by the hands of evil men, into to the hands of men whose wickedness was driven not only by  vendetta-less greed, but a dark and subconscious fear of everything they did not understand. And as we know, fear bubbles over into hatred and covers the land when the spirit of scorn marries profitability. Still it remains true that our mothers and fathers reaped much evil in the grounds of Africa before her soils gave them up. Just as the fathers of God’s tribe sold their youngest brother into slavery, so our brothers in Africa once sold us as Joseph into Egypt. Yet like Joseph we through our misery have gained an understanding of the price of freedom that informs us both as to how it is obtained in a hostile land, as well as how it is cultivated with people vastly different from ourselves. The answer is that we like Joseph must love our enemies as Joseph loved the king of Egypt, transcending their spiteful fear. We must love one another, coming together in what is most excellent about us, our culture and our values. Only then can we rise up and speak to America in one mighty voice in declaration of what is wrong and what is right.

Today our country is paralyzed in the twin grips of a broken political system and a broadly degenerating culture. In the first instance, the people who dominate our media and our government are so invested in exploiting their own differences, whether for money or political gamesmanship, that they bring all progress this nation could make on the problems that it faces to a screeching halt. On the other, we find that the dysfunction in our politics is mirrored by the vast fragmentation of the American people themselves. In a nation where a vast and ever heterogeneous people section themselves off according to subcultures, to ever narrowing musical and cinematic tastes, to ever more particular forms of news media, and to ever drifting standards of moral conduct, the less we are able to come together as a people in times of crisis. This problem exists for black America as much as it does for the rest of the nation. But in our case we are better positioned to overcome these symptoms of disintegration.

First however we must recognize the peculiar nature of the cancers that lie within the black American community. Yes, we understand the daunting challenges represented in our high unemployment, our high imprisonment rate, our rate of births outside of wedlock. But these problems themselves could be more effectively challenged if black America herself came together on what values she stands for. We embrace a hip-hop culture, a reality t.v. culture and a culture of materialism that prevents us from uniting as a cohesive moral force in this country. It is not that I have any problem with Hip-Hop or reality t.v. in and of themselves. There are always some things that are good to be found, (if Hip Hop were more about real love and substance in the Common and Talib Kweli variety and less about gratuitousness, and if there were actual values to be discerned in shows like “Flavor of Love” or “Basketball Wives,” I would be all for them). But the fact is that there is little nourishing substance in the art of the black community today, a community which has long reaped from the most fertile soil of this country’s great artists. Our music, our shows and our films may still make money. But little enough do they edify the soul. We need to think about the implications of that fact.

Now you might think that I am wrong, or least simplistic in placing so much significance on the impact of certain types of figures in our culture. Pardon me if I sound a little like Bill Cosby, for I do largely sympathize with the no none-sense style criticism’s he himself fielded so much criticism for voicing against our contemporary black culture. But the only partially justified indignities of Professor Michael Eric Dyson and others on behalf of our contemporary black culture aside, the source of Mr. Cosby’s righteous, albeit sometimes condescending, anger and disappointment is that he well remembers a time in this country’s history when even though the chips were stacked against us we could largely unite around the positivity of our art and our culture. (That now somewhat iconic episode of Aaron McGruder’s controversial cartoon The Boondocks wherein he brings Martin Luther King Jr. out of a forty year coma to see what has become of black America, pointedly if stingingly throws in our faces the extent to which we have sunk into a cultural perversion that serves us neither politically or socially.)

There are people in our communities of course who do not want to hear such talk. Some people like Professor Dyson are quick to point out, and rightly so, that there is a myriad of structural obstacles that still vie against black America’s equal  acquisition of the American dream. Even still, can those who might call themselves advocates of our cultural status quo suggest with a straight face that our culture sustains us now in the face of adversity as it did for our enslaved ancestors? Does it nurture us in the way that the stirring, primal and majestic melodies of our “negro  spirituals” provided hope and solace for those enduring the the cruel malice of the slave master’s whip? Does our culture today provide for the moral center of gravity upon which a Dr. King as well as a Malcolm X could stand; two men who both rejected materialism, who were both intolerant towards profane speech, who upheld a standard of black manhood which itself could only abide within it a high standard of reverence for black womanhood? Is their legacy reflected in the music of Lil’ Wayne and of Jay Z, for the most part? Are the values we teach in our churches reflected in the values imparted by the lyrical sentiments of Rick Ross or Rihanna? Do we uphold the standard of respect and admiration we should have for our women in these songs and videos of these artists, particularly when Black Entertainment Television is willing to show us these images over and over again but does not cover the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King at the time that they happen? I speak here of the vast trends of our culture. Surely I could think of a couple positive songs that Snoop Dogg has written, but I can’t think of a single song Marvin Gaye ever sang that was demeaning to women or disrespectful to anyone. The image we construct of ourselves in our culture, that we accept of ourselves, is wholly unbefitting a great people. But it’s so easy to accept it. That is why those among us who are willing to must band together on a higher plane of cultural observance. One which upholds the higher trends of our history and which cares not to appease the rest.

I am called to remember W.E.B. Du Bois’s belief that Afro-America could only uplift itself if “the advance guard of the race,” pursued a cultural awakening within the black community.  (W.E.B. Du Bois labeled those blacks who would take up this charge, perhaps a bit snobbishly, as the “talented tenth,”) It was this conviction on the part of W.E.B. Du Bois and other prominent black artists and intellectuals including the NAACP, which prompted the direct engineering of the Harlem Renaissance, which really did elevate both black and white America’s view of the negro people. So did black operatic performance, black drama, poetry, literature and Jazz find their first major platform from which to leap into the imagination of the country at large. From this conscientious attempt to change the nation through high art did we get Langston Hughes, Bill Robinson and even Duke Ellington and these artists and many others of the time largely paved the way for every great black actor, singer and author who would come after.  Art was the vehicle by which black America reached out across racial lines because in art and literature we were able to speak a language of the heart that was defiant of our differences. What language do we speak now with our artistry of materialism, sexual gratuity, disrespect and violence? Even if we do bring people together with these, what do we bring people together for?

Dr. King described the movement he led as a spiritual movement, one in which agape love and goodwill for mankind was recognized as the central element of their striving.  In this is the ultimate show of humility. In this is the long-suffering self-sacrifice that I know some determined African-Americans will embody as they set the moral compass for this country in the 21rst century. Yet we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves to enduring the bitterness of those black people, those white people, and all those cynical voices so automatically arrayed against those who would labor to lift our consciousness to a higher state of mind. In this we make the path straight for the ultimate liberation of black America, which is the ultimate liberation of America herself. Those who carry this burden are the sons and daughters of slave heroes and martyrs. We are the Day Breakers, in the words of Renaissance  poet Arna Bontemps. Non-violent resisters of a decadent social order. But even so:

“We are not come to wage a strife,

With swords upon this hill,

It is not wise to waste the life

Against a stubborn will.

Yet would we die as some have done.

Beating a way for the rising sun…”

Microphone Check

This past weekend Arclight Theatres showcased the long awaited documentary, “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest” to a throng of hip hop fans, myself included. Most of us sat in silence, mouths open as we soaked in the 95-minute film that gave the background of and made an attempt to explain the division amongst the legendary hip hop group. We also got a bang for our buck when it was announced that ATCQ member,  Phife Dawg and the film’s director, Michael Rapaport were there for a Q&A afterwards.

For a true Tribe fan the documentary does not disappoint. Learning how the group formed, chose their name, why Jarobi is the ghost member, the inspiration behind some of their greatest hits, and who the key players were in their success was more than any hip hop head could ask for. Further, we heard all of it from the members themselves and the nation of musicians that surrounded them during their hey day. We also got a perspective of why the group dissolved in the first place, and the amount of bitterness that exists between members of the group who have known each other their entire lives, pointedly Q-Tip the Abstract and Phife Dawg.

However, my ears perked up during the Q&A with Phife and Rapaport when one audience member went on a 4-minute diatribe about a recent article in the LA Weekly. I couldn’t make out his argument exactly thanks to all the audience boos and jeers, but it was clear Mr. Rapaport had no desire to touch on the topic then and there. He told us all, “Read LA Weekly. It’s in there.”

So I did. It turns out there was a reason only Phife Dawg was in attendance to the documentary that night, and for the most part has been the only member of the group in constant support of it. According to the story, a producer on the film accidentally sent an email with Q-Tip copied on it expressing a desire to keep the entire group out of receiving production credits for the film. Rapaport himself admits that the group is not legally entitled to any producer credits, though he has verbally agreed to give them a percentage. Additionally, the slant of the film, and decisions made about the music selection for the film were not agreed upon by the group. As such, Q-Tip, Jarobi, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have not been in full support of the documentary’s release, speaking out about it on MTV (see clips below). However, they support fans seeing the documentary because of the music history lesson it presents.

The Arclight was packed on Friday night for its first showing and with a crowd lined up outside for the next showing. Between its limited screenings and DVD sales, the documentary stands to make a killing and I wonder how much of its proceeds the group will actually see. Nonetheless, this is a MUST-SEE for all real music heads. Rapaport’s redemption here is that he put together a quality documentary on hip-hop and encapsulated a bit of Black music history in a way Black folks can be proud of. Ironic that he’s the one to do it – but what else is new?



Get More: MTV Shows


Get More: MTV Shows


Get More: MTV Shows


Get More: MTV Shows


Get More: MTV Shows


Get More: MTV Shows


Get More: MTV Shows

Black Is…Open Mike Eagle

As y’all know we are picky with our eardrums over here at Black Is. Open Mike Eagle is one of LA’s extraordinary MC’s, (though he is Chi-town born and bred) and his latest single, “Nightmares” is one the BI family cannot stop listening to. If you can catch this brother live, that’s a show you don’t want to miss. Not only will his lyrical content make you laugh, it will make you think. What better blend is there than hip-hop and food for thought? We are too proud to call him a member of the family. Listen up!

Ashley Judd vs. Hip Hop

This has been a hot topic floating around the ‘Nets lately.  Ashley Judd apparently thinks that Hip Hop promotes misogyny.

Her condemnation of Hip Hop had people raising their arms in protest from the following statement in her autobiography:

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”

My questions is this…what would make her make such a statement?

Could it be that a lot of Hip Hop is very…misogynistic?

I’m sorry…are we talking about Hip Hop?  The same music form that has had countless forums and debates on how misogynistic it is within it’s own community?  What was all that uproar against Nelly about again?

Take a look at and search what the top Hip Hop songs are right now.  Then tell me if the artists have a history of positive images of women in their work.

I have listened to Hip Hop music all of my life, so trust me I know very well that there are many artists who are nothing like all the artist on the charts.  But I can’t expect a person not learned in the culture to know that, and especially if the biggest selling representatives have “bitch” and “hoe” in their rhymes and strippers all in their videos.

“But Merc, Rock music is misogynistic too!”


Here’s the thing:  each community and culture is going to make allowances for itself.  Devil worshiping in Heavy Metal is not going to be taken that seriously in that scene, just like those who love Hip Hop are all going to sing “It Ain’t No Fun” when it comes on at the party.

Wasn’t No Hands the hottest song last year?

I think the hottest song out right now is from a group called Travis Porter.  I forget the name of the track, but I know the first line is “Run into the pussy like a crash dummy.”

It’s hard to point the finger at someone else when your whole hand is stained up.

“But Merc, these Hip Hop artists are being more promoted by the labels.  It’s the system brutha!”

That’s true; but at the end of the day, someone is buying the music and singing it out loud.  The artists are not without responsibility either.  They wrote it, they sang it, and someone bought it.  Be it white kids from the suburbs or not.

Now suddenly people seem to be making light of Ashley’s childhood, in which she says she was raped and sexually abused.  All in the defense of “Hip Hop”.

I think the real problem is people saw “Hip Hop” and read “Black people”.

It’s just like another article I wrote last week, people need to analyze the information given to them.  Many of these reports are from people already infusing their own opinions on Judd’s statements, such as that says

“Just in case no one cares about her ‘woe is me, my childhood sucked and I grew up to be a wealthy, well-adjusted successful actress’ sob story, Ashley Judd has decided to randomly throw Hip-Hop into her new autobiography.”

Oh, that’s right.  Being rich means that all issues of sexual abuse in your childhood are now washed away.  Just ask Oprah!

But in another statement Judd states the following:

“My intention was to take a stand to say the elements of that musical expression that are misogynistic and treat girls and women in a hyper-sexualized way that are inappropriate. That is not acceptable in any artistic expression, in any cultural form, whether its country music or in television story lines. And if they read more than one paragraph in the book, they would see that all four hundred pages are about that,”

Just a few months ago a 10 year old girl did a song called “Letter to Lil Wayne”.  If you read the comments section, the people who were against the girls said some of the most crass, demeaning, and embarrassing things I have ever read.  Yes folks, a 10 year old girl makes a song pleading for Lil Wayne to stop being so disrespectful to black women, and many of the people who saw it, called the girls little bitches and so forth.  Great way to make the music look positive.

People have their own perspectives and minds on this, and that’s fine.  I am of the firm belief that many artists and the entertainment industry DO have some responsibility to the messages they promote.  Misogyny has existed before Hip Hop for sure.  But if our society values our women, or at least wants to start promoting the idea of value, then why are we not singing songs of love instead of “I don’t love these hoes”?  Everyone has a role to play if they want things to be different.  Ashley Judd didn’t say any critique I haven’t heard from the Hip Hop community itself.

So why the uproar?

Gifted from MERC80.COM.

Music Heads! It’s the Reality Show of Your Dreams!

If you’re like me, you’re tired of music-themed reality shows full of up and coming artists competing for their 15 minutes offame, and if you’re giving time to television, you want it to be worth your while.

Enter in Master of the Mix Ultimate DJ Competition, premiering on November 3rd on Centric TV. If you don’t have Centric as part of your cable line-up MOTM will also air on BET at  midnight on Saturdays. (Tell your Centric-having homies to not ruin it for you.) Judged by hip–hop icons Just Blaze and Kid Capri, the show boasts the following DJ line-up: DJ Mars, DJ Rap, DJ Revolution, DJ Scratch, Jazzy Joyce, Rich Medina, and Vikter Duplaix. This is definitely a show for the heads so be sure to tune in!

Master of the Mix. 8 Episodes. 7 DJ’s. 1 Master

Premieres November 3rd at 10:30 PM on Centric and on November 6th at 12 AM on BET

Black Is…Dubelyoo The Art Bishop

Born in Brooklyn but raised in North Carolina, Dwayne Wright, aka Dubelyoo (pronounced W) is a world-renowned mixed-media artist and producer. Based out of Atlanta, GA, Dubelyoo began his art career in ad and web design and starting branching out into urban illustration for companies such as Lugz and Ecko. These early projects led to larger commissions from companies like Apple and Pepsi.

In 2004 Dubelyoo collaborated to produce the traveling urban exhibition Art, Beats + Lyrics. Other art shows soon followed, such as Cold Busted, that worked with celebrity mug shots and My Uzi Weighs a Ton, showcase of guns in American culture.

Dubelyoo’s art has been said to provide social commentary, specifically focused on the relationships between corporations, hip-hop culture, and pop culture. His most recent work entitled, social Surveillance, speaks to these relationships while commenting on pop culture and the effect it has on the public.

Black Is….Kehinde Wiley

Los Angeles native Kehinde Wiley has found his place within the milieu of famous fine artists. Based out of New York, Wiley is a skilled portraitist,  and his art depicts urban black and brown men from around the world in heroic stances. Compared to great portrait artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, and Ingres, Wiley stands apart in his fusion of traditional and contemporary, often mixing styles such as West African textile design with everyday hip-hop clothing.

Kehinde Wiley’s art was initially influenced by young black men on the streets of Harlem,but as he traveled he began to incorporate the images of black and brown men in urban settings from around the world. His paintings which showcase the physicality and masculinity of black and brown men have been described as having the power to “awake complex issues that many would prefer to remain mute”.

A graduate of both San Francisco Art Institute and Yale University, Wiley’s paintings can be found in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Hammer Museum in California, The Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art, Detroit Institute of the Arts, and Miami Art Museum, amongst others.

Listen to an interview with Kehinde Wiley here.

Bilal’s Greatest Hip Hop Collabos

courtesy of

The good folks over at spoke with Bilal Oliver about his favorite HipHop collaborations that he was a part of. Here’s his list:

Common f/ Bilal “The 6th Sense” (2000)

Guru f/ Bilal & Jay Dee “Certified” (2000)

Bilal f/ Jadakiss & Dr. Dre “Fast Lane (Remix)” (2001)

Talib Kweli f/ Bilal “Waitin’ for the DJ” (2002)

Clipse f/ Bilal & Pharell Williams “Nightmares” (2006)

Jay-Z f/ Bilal “Fallin” (2007)

Scarface f/ Bilal “Can’t Get It Right” (2008)

88-Keys f/ Bilal “M.I.L.F.” (2008)

*The Game f/ Bilal “Cali Sunshine” (2008)

Reflection Eternal f/ Bilal “Ends” (2010)

*Little Brother f/ Bilal “Second Chances” (2010)

This sounds like it would be a great mixtape *hint-hint*

you can hear & read more about each selection on

AND go get Bilal’s new album Airtight’s Revenge

* =Bonus songs not on the list but still Hot!

My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women and Hip Hop

I increased BET’s viewership about 10% the other night when I watched their documentary, My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women and Hip Hop. Though excellent programming for BET, part of it was cut and paste from VH1’s Rock Docs on Hip Hop, but what can you expect when they are all owned by the same company?

But I digress.

BET’s trip through the female hip hop MC timeline was enjoyable, and they pulled some female MC’s out the woodwork for this one: Nikki D, Rah Digga, Ladybug Mecca, The Lady of Rage, and my personal favorite, Los Angeles underground godmother, Medusa (Other MC’s might make your head bob/but I’m gon make your neck lock – yeah she said that).

The most informative part of this documentary was the shift of the female role in hip-hop from the 90’s to the new millennium. It was made clear that when Lauryn Hill dropped her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998 and then dropped of the face of hip hop Earth, the game for women has not been the same. Lauryn’s album was such a game changer that unless you were as solid of a triple threat as her, you weren’t going to make much noise. Since the new millennium, the primary face of females in hip-hop is the hypersexualized female MC. Actual talent on the mic won’t trump one’s sex appeal.

Which brings me to the one female MC who I believe has changed the game but is constantly glossed over in this sex-obsessed society we live in and that’s Bahamadia. The Philly native’s name was mentioned only once towards the end of the show, but this sister’s dedication to her art form in spite of being ignored by mainstream hip hop was reason enough for her to have her own segment in the show. Her talent and skill on the mic is without question, and if you’ve been fortunate enough to catch her live performance you know Bahamadia is anything but a studio MC. She is better recognized and respected internationally than stateside, yet let her step in the ring with any of today’s current female MC’s and battle – most chicks won’t have the heart to try.

So here is my personal tribute to Bahamadia – and if you happen to catch this sis, know the real heads recognize. A few of my favorites from her catalog of classics:


I Confess

3 The Hard Way


Finally, I would be remiss if failed to throw out an honorable mention to Boss, the first female gangsta rapper. Her persona was too hard and too much for most folks to handle.


As far as hip-hop goes, it doesn’t get much blacker than The Roots – the name says it all. Before they became known as the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, they were known to us heads as “the hardest working band in show business”, with a tour schedule that would make the greatest performers tremble. Luckily for all of us, that tour schedule would give the band the opportunity to travel the globe several times over, and give fans a chance to see them do their thing at least once, maybe twice in a year. Since the band was formed over 20 years ago in Philly, you can imagine how many people they’ve come in contact with.

Founding member, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson decided to give us mere mortals a glimpse into their world with his website Questlove’s Celebrity Stories. The homepage in and of itself is daunting with a long list of Who’s Who in the entertainment world. Singers, rappers, rapsingers, actors, etc. all make the list of interesting tales that Questlove shares on the site. My faves so far? Erykah Badu, Jay Dee, and Jeremy Piven (who knew Prague was off the hook like that?) but trust, I’ll get through the rest during 15 minute breaks and spare time. You should too.