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Saturday
Feb112017

The Disgrace Of The Garden - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: ESPN Images

As long as I have watched and loved basketball, I have 
watched and been a fan of the New York Knicks.

The events of the past two and a half days have
made me now question that loyalty more severely.
And it hasn’t been since 2007 since I’ve felt this way.

By now, you’ve heard and seen the incident where
former Knicks great Charles Oakley was confronted
by security at Madison Square Garden Wednesday
in the first quarter of a home game against the Los
Angeles Clippers. The entire nation got to see how
Oak was accosted and then dragged over to the
tunnel by security officers and handcuffed while on
the ground thanks to the game being broadcast on
ESPN. The whole scene was surreal, and adds to
the utter embarassment that has surrounded the
franchise for over a decade. Never mind the fact that
the Knicks are in possession of a losing record(again)
or that there is discord surrounding the star forward,
Carmelo Anthony(again) or that there is now a battle
between Anthony and the front office, mainly Phil
Jackson that resembles a cast off scene from “The
Vampire Diaries.” The entire nation now has something
else to hang on the Knicks as a franchise that was
a has been.

But no, we just can’t have this die down. We have an
owner in James Dolan who HAS to essentially dance
among the flames with a kerosene can. That was my
thinking as I caught transcripts of his infamous radio
interview with Michael Kay on his show yesterday
afternoon where Dolan basically not only painted Oak
as a drunken and abusive menace, but essentially
confirmed that he would be temporarily banned from
Madison Square Garden. Hearing the interview and
seeing Dolan sit there with a smug look on his face
as he danced around questions and kept belittling
Oakley’s character was and is galling. But not out of
the ordinary for him.

Photo Credit: New York Daily News

Yet and still, the treatment of Charles Oakley by Dolan
and his staff is disgraceful. James Dolan has proven that
if there is a cancerous element that lives within the New
York Knicks organization, it is him. When you take into
account that the franchise since the ‘Melo trade with the
Denver Nuggets has gone through at least four coaches
and EIGHTY different players on the roster, his insistence
on getting the deal done without any sense of reason is
to blame. Fans have long been incensed at an owner who
hasn’t seen fit to even look towards Patrick Ewing (PATRICK
EW-ING if you want to keep it real as the announcers would
do it)for any position in the organization outside of a
D-League coaching stint. An owner who created chaos via
his friendship with NBA great Isiah Thomas by hiring him
as the GM and seemingly looking the other way with regards
to his actions in the role until a former executive with the
team, Anucha Browne Sanders, had to sue him and Thomas
for sexual harassment. A case that she won in 2007, but
not after a great deal of denial and an environment where
she was unable to find work after. It was at that point where
I started to be jaded about the team’s direction. And it got
more so when word got out a few years later that Dolan
was willing to hire Thomas AGAIN despite the fact that he
and MSG had to cough up $12 million in damges to be in
the front office. That was when then-commissioner David
Stern had to step in to stop the madness and insist that
Dolan hire Donnie Walsh, who had a rep as a good team
builder with his years overseeing the Indiana Pacers.

Think about that a moment. A business magnate who feels
he has a wealth of knowledge and will double down on his
mistakes. You’d be remiss if that didn’t remind you of the
current president of these United States. But that is the
mindset of someone who not only feels they can do no
wrong, but is emboldened by the fact that the end results
prove that no matter what, they will still turn a profit.
And that is the bedrock of fans’ frustration. Dolan still is
the chairman and owner of the Knicks, the one constant
that drives the team and as such, has driven them to be
a near-annual laughing stock. Despite the woes, the team
still ranks among the top of the league in profits through
ticket sales and net worth. He knows it. And he more than
likely feels he doesn’t have to change. Couple that with
the fact that he’s also overseeing the Rangers hockey team
which are perennial playoff contenders and he’s in clover.
But winning seasons are never guaranteed, and consistent
losing will drain your profits.

Let’s break it all the way down. Dolan has now picked a
battle that he will not win. Charles Oakley, for his time
here was the heart and soul of a basketball team and city
that despite the veneer of glitz and glamour posseses a
core of grit, hard work, pride and passion. Oakley was and
is never one to shy away from expressing his opinion. He
and Dolan have had beef for YEARS because Oak will speak
his mind. Oak has been critical of the team because he
loves the team. Oak is still beloved throughout the league
and outside of it because of that. Removing him in that
fashion is, whether intentional or not, an embodiment of
how native New Yorkers have been feeling over the past
sixteen years when you take into account the rising rents,
gentrification and other factors that have changed the overall
look and feel of the city to where they feel like outsiders.

With regards to last Wednesday, I look at it like this. Oakley
went there to take in the game and needle Dolan a bit. The
man has smacked up teammates in the face (I still recall the
time that he gave a two-piece to a teammate in Toronto
during his time there before practice), but I don’t think he
was gonna go and be reckless enough to assault Dolan. All
he has wanted was a sit down with him, face to face. In
return, Dolan has privately shut Oak out of any interactions
with the team that would strengthen ties. If sources are
correct, that has even been exercised through Allan Houston,
a former player with the Knicks who is now in the front office
and reportedly won’t even take his calls. Oakley had been
asked to leave at another game in November, but this was
done in a discreet manner. As much as Oak wanted to maybe
jab Dolan by being in the same section, Dolan took it to an
entirely different level by escalating the situation with a large
security detail and then having the PR staff issue not one, but
TWO brief statements that attempt to paint Oakley as an abusive
drunk.

If you’re trying to spin it that way, you are in effect trying to
gaslight the public.

Photo Credit: SBNation

If I’m NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, I would be in the
midst of preparing a lengthy sitdown with James Dolan
with this in mind: either you sit down in a mediated
conference with Charles Oakley to get this resolved or
you may have to consider stepping down from your
position and letting someone else be the public face of
the team. Because this will only hurt the New York
Knicks in the long run. The league took great measures
to get Donald Sterling to give up ownership of the Los
Angeles Clippers, but it wasn’t until decades of his
racially antagonistic behavior became too much to bear
for the league to let him continue in that stead. I’ve
had talks with a lot of my friends who feel Dolan needs
to give up ownership of the team along those lines. I
am not confident it will happen unless Silver and other
owners feel that their business overall will be hurt by
what’s going on. There’s already word going around that
potential free agents were wary of coming to New York
to begin with. It’s doubtful that’s improved after this weel.
To that end, disrguntled fans will have to make their
displeasure known in the best way they can. Don’t go to
games, protest. One of my close friends wound up putting
together a campaign stemming from one video 2 years
ago that helped to voice all of the frustration of fellow fans.
“We Want Oakley” will be a constant chant at home games
going forward if the game against the Denver Nuggets last
night was any indication. Money talks where other forms
of speech aren’t heard.

It’s high time to get rid of the disgrace at The Garden. 

Saturday
Dec242016

True Magic of The Travelin' Man - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: Author

“In those days it was either live with music or die with noise,
and we chose rather desperately to live.”

- Ralph Ellison

The thing about being a witness to history is, the moment can
be heightened by simple connections of events. I thought about
this as I made my way back home 48 hours ago from the venerable
Apollo Theater in Harlem, after seeing one of the last concerts
that will ever be peformed by Yaasin Bey, formerly Mos Def. My
main man sent word that he had been given a pair of tickets,
we made plans to link up, and once at the venue, we wound
up being there no more than twenty minutes before being
invited to sit in the front row. Call it karma, call it divinity at
work, call it good fortune - it made the scene that much more
magical.

Magic is the word that you will more than likely bear witness
to the most in this post. Undeniable Black magic.

From the moment Yaasin appeared on stage bearing a basket
of rose petals for every soul who ever appeared on the Apollo
stage, to the triumphant ovation at the end, true magic was
the mode of the evening. Like almost everyone else in the
first three rows save for one or two, I stood up for the entire
show. Black and gold balloons dotted the stage, as part of
Yaasin’s celebratory salute to the late Jean-Michel Basquiat
who’s birthday was on the same day. Two little girls came out
to join him in kicking most of the balloons out into the crowd,
as we sang the Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday” song. From
there, Yaasin ripped through his discography like a true maestro.
He was tapped into all of our emotions. So much so that at
key moments, he was overwhelmed to tears. Each time, the
audience clapping and shouting love to him. Thankful for what
he spoke, and sang. Thankful for the breaks where he cracked
jokes. Thankful for the energy, both the mindful strains and
the high octane further strengthened by a guest appearance
from Pharoahe Monch for “Oh No” and “Simon Says”.

True magic. Enough so that at moments you didn’t realize
how warm it was in the place until the song ended and the
sweat collected on your brow like commuters at a bus stop.
It was a bonafide house party in the Apollo. Yaasin made it
comfortable, embracing. A man who in the past few years
has obviously seen and been impacted by so much. This show
was a house party for the soul, so needed after this year.
No pretensions. No airs. Just the freedom to…be. It was
evident in the way he danced throughout. Whirling, moving
like the dervishes of Sufism. And as he did “Umi Says”…he
stopped and listened to the crowd sing his own words with
him, to him. The light multiplied in his eyes. True magic.
True Black magic. Radiating throughout “Pretty Dancer”, 
resounding as he rocked “Mathematics”.

If this is indeed the finale of Yaasin’s career as an entertainer,
then what he has given us in that time is nothing short 
of epic. Undeniable truth and joy. Black magic that connects,
moves and manifests. And amplifies. As we all stepped 
out into the lights and sounds of 125th Street, that gift 
still sits in the spirit. Life, in malevolent but still marvelous
times.

 

Saturday
Dec032016

A Short Rant On How To Run To Daylight In The Midst Of Darkness - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: www.bet.com

This is going to be a short article. Straight to the point.

The road-rage murder of former NFL running back Joe
McKnight two days ago by Ronald Gasser in a suburb of
the player’s New Orleans hometown was shocking. The
fact that local police took Gasser into custody, then LET
HIM GO on his own recognizance is extremely disturbing.
All under state law that allows someone to commit homicide
if they feel their life is threatened. You guessed it - “stand
your ground” all over again. Never mind the witness that
initially reported Gasser as the aggressor. Never mind the
fact that Gasser had already been cited for assault at that
same intersection 10 years earlier. It is disturbing, and 
disgusting all the way around no matter how you see it.
But it is, sadly, reaffirming one honest fact that cannot
be debated. This nation is inherently fractured at its core,
and systemic racism that allows someone to be degraded
and extinguished on a whim is a major reason why. Now,
on the precipice of an incoming presidential administration
that has risen by racism and sexism and pure meanness,
this is clear more than ever.

We are now facing a grim horizon that will see more of these
incidents spring up now. Men, women and children of color.
All marginalized communities. There’s been a little over
1,000 incidents involving hateful acts across this nation.
Many perpetrated by emboldened cowards with aliases and
cutesy avatars, because the more upfront or plain dumb
are going to end up as news items for different outlets. The
more twisted individuals will seek to inflict this damage on
innocent people because they feel they can. Because they
now assume their elected leader will cheer them on with a
beer as cheap as his soul is. A huge cross-section of people -
mostly white - voted for this to be flung into the open. From
all walks of life. McKnight’s blood, and the blood of many others
who have lost their lives in this manner, soils their hands.
Period. They now must deal with the consequences of  the hate they
have polished and trotted out like a discount store lawn ornament.
Their masks are off - don’t let them off the hook.

We are entering another dark storm. For those who may be 
the most targeted, let this situation be motivation to run to
daylight however you have to. Confront bigotry when you see
it. Don’t waste your time aruging with trolls and others who
see a lark in amateur online lawyers. Especially if they’re folks
you thought were cool, friends, whatever. If you’re angry, there’s 
a number of organizations to donate time, money and other
resources to. Don’t just rant on social media, build. For you,
your family and all others who don’t want things to be this way.
Study the past and present struggles clearly. Seek shelter in
those who care for you. Radical change doesn’t happen without
radical hope and outrage to fuel the action. The lessons from 
those spirituals sung in the time of the Underground Railroad
still apply. 


As always, walk good. 

Tuesday
Nov222016

The Fight Behind The Flashing Lights - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: www.etonline.com

The last 48 hours for Kanye West have been a hurricane
of news flashes, each more incredulous than the next.
The latest news, which reportedly stated that ‘Ye had to
have Los Angeles Police Department members summoned
to his house and resulted in the producer/rapper being
placed under psychiatric watch and hospitaliztion, makes
this another high-profile look at what may very well be
the onset of a mental breakdown. All of this after two
highly publicized rants at his shows, and the abrupt
cancellation of the rest of his Saint Pablo tour. It confirms
the worst of what many have suspected, and for others
it has been a spur to heap nothing but more jokes and
insults.

One recent name that comes to mind, is why I am not
joining the latter group: Deborah Danner, of The Bronx.

For those who don’t recall the name off-hand, Deborah
Danner
was a woman who had been struggling with
crippling mental illness. On October 18th of this year,
NYPD officers arrived at her apartment as they had done
so many times in the past - she had been hospitalized 
before in a number of incidents since her 20’s, as recounted
by her family and in her own writings revealed after
her death. A death that occurred after she was shot
by the sergeant who responded to the call, after she
had swung a baseball bat in a state of agitation at him.
That tragedy is added to the rising number of those
afflicted with mental health issues losing their lives in
contact with the police. It has spurred the NYPD to ramp
up mental health training for their officers on duty for
future calls, and the City Of New York has now installed
a helpline for those struggling with such issues to reach
out and connect with professionals who can aid them
in times of need. Too late for Deborah Danner, but perhaps
not too late for others.

Which brings me back to Kanye. Personally, I’m glad that
he’s in a position to get the help he may need. I don’t
know what struggles he may be facing, I like many others,
can only ascertain a theory. It all goes back to the passing
of his mother, Donda West, in 2007 after undergoing a
elective surgical prodcedure. There still hangs a heavy cloud
over what led to her demise, and last year in an interview,
‘Ye blamed himself. That’s not a thing to overlook. Add 
that to the fact that he’s survived a car crash that could’ve
taken his life a few years prior to her passing, gone through
a torrent of rage & dislike directed at him for his comments
on then-President George W. Bush during a televised benefit
for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2004, and then the
wrestling villain-heel turns that he’s incorporated into his
persona since then. His wife, Kim Kardashian, getting robbed
at gunpoint in Paris, France this past summer. The fact that
her having any more children could mean she could lose her
life. And the publicity-hungry side of her family that he has
to swim through. Kanye has been working and rising in
the midst of dark clouds for over 10 years. Ten.Years. As I
write this, it’s the sixth anniversary of My Beautiful Dark
Twisted Fantasy, an album some consider West’s best recorded
work. In hindsight now, that album was somewhat of a
full-blown essay that unveiled a lot about Kanye at that
point. That’s not to say that ‘Ye hasn’t made it a point to
be open and confessional in his music overall.

Photo Credit: FACT Mag

I’ve written about the need to seriously examine, recognize and
deal with mental health issues in our communities of color before,
given recent examples being seen through our celebrities like Kid
Cudi’s recent struggle. It’s not a coincidence that when Cudi got
out, one of his most recent public appearances was with Kanye
onstage. We’ve now seen three high-profile instances of possible
struggles with personal issues come out from behind the flashing
lights - one of them being rapper and controversial figure Azealia
Banks. She and West will get a lot more scorn and jokes because
of the sharp and erratic turns in behavior both have made, with
race, politics and gender at the root of their actions. Do they have
to deal with the consequences of their actions? Yes. Will they?
They are and probably will continue to, Banks more than West
due to her positioning within the eyes of the industry. Can one
have empathy for both of them while highlighting their mistakes
and intentional bad choices? Absolutely. Some fans of Kanye who feel
he has and can’t do any wrong are faulty because they wanted
him to be extra brash and projected their own personality hopes
onto him need to heed that last point. Also, those who want to
excessively dump on him need to step back a bit. Should people
use more empathy towards those in their own lives who may be
afflicted the same way? Absolutely. When you sit and ponder that
these issues in the community are rising, it’s a necessity that we
try to find some empathy in order to better guide our actions
towards those afflicted - even ourselves if we feel we may be going
down that road. Especially now, given that the holiday season
heightens these issues and incidents related to them. 

The fight behind the flashing lights has once again proven to be
all too real. Get well soon, ‘Ye. 

Saturday
Nov122016

Instinctive Paths Of Rhythm In The Time Of Chaos - Chris "Preach" Smith

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep
creating they have to be about change.
- Miles Davis

It would be foolhardy to begin this article without at least
acknowledging the tragedy - travesty in the eyes of some -
that was the recent Presidential election. In sore times, in
tough times it becomes even more apparent that folks will
need to go to the well of community and love and creativity.
Every period of hardship, has been followed by artistic creations
that have not only depicted the mood of the times, but have
allowed those going through it to endure and ascend, and
speak to other generations as well.

In this case, the problem and the solution share the most
unlikely of birthplaces - Queens, New York. And it is the 
solution, the farewell album from one of hip-hop’s most 
iconic groups by the name of A Tribe Called Quest, that 
has brought some much needed light back into the epicenter
of the current state of the times.

There’s no subtle irony in the release of We Got It From 
Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
. When the news broke
a week ago that ATCQ was going to release a final album,
with ALL the original members, it spread like wildfire. To
do it on Veteran’s Day was even more poignant given what
the group from Linden Boulevard gave to the culture and
that one member is longer here to bear earthly witness
to how this album is being received. Phife Dawg passed on
this March, and this album is also a tome of gratitude to
his presence as the heart and soul of A Tribe Called Quest.
In listening throughout, Phife’s voice and spirit is highly
evident. It stokes a great deal of emotion at times on 
certain tracks, especially the last one. To some degree, it
is like the effect David Bowie’s Blackstar had after his own
passing that began the topsy-turvy year that is 2016. 

The album opens with “The Space Program” and immediately
puts you in the midst of what I’ve come to realize is a safe
zone for the soul. To hear the opening refrain - “we gotta
get it together for brothers…we gotta get it together for 
sisters…” you are immediately reminded of how much Tribe
owes to the armada of music that came before them and
how much it shaped their own sound. We saw ample evidence
of that in their Beats Rhymes and Life documentary and it
is used to the maximum extent here. “The Space Program”
lets you know you’re here to get lost in the rhythm, but you
will also hear some real deal truths. To hear Jarobi - Jarobi -
back on the mic in this fashion is another eye-opener just
off of these bars:

“space vessels off to Mars/population is overflowin’
what you think they want us there?/all us n****s
not goin’!!”

From there, the sequencing of tracks becomes more valuable
as Q-Tip flows over a synth-laden harmony of discordance that
has tinges of Loose Ends and Human League with bars that
speak directly to the angry and divisive rhetoric of Donald 
Trump’s presidential campaign. But Phife’s joining in provides
clarity and swagger to make the track have a positive underbelly
despite the ominous chorus. “Solid Wall Of Sound” is a welcome
melange of styles thanks to Tip’s production work with Jack
White, and Busta Rhymes steps in with his signature bravado
to tie everything together more neatly than one would think.
And that is another powerful factor behind We Got It From Here…
the amount of collaborative effort that both defines the beauty
of rap music and hip-hop culture as both truly American and
ultimately, global. German electronica, Jamaican reggae, Trini
soca, psychedelic and alternative rock music, even a touch of 
grime from the U.K. bubble throughout like a fine and hearty
serving of chicken and dumplings soup you’d get from the 
gleaming silver cookpot at your local pattie shop. Look at the
artists who took part on this album. Andre 3000, Elton John,
Jack White, Marsha Ambrosius, Kendrick Lamar, Talib Kweli,
even Kanye West. (Side note - I do think that on a sonic level,
We Got It From Here is successful because of what ‘Ye’s Yeezus
put forth but never quite hit the mark on consistenly in terms
of overall production capturing a bridging of punk & rock influence.)

(Photo Credit: Seattle Times)

We Got It From Here also serves as keen observation on the way
that rap has evolved. Take “Kids” for example. Andre Three Stacks
starts out with his deep and laconic style in a track that on the
surface seems to be an “old head” throwing shots at the current
generation of rap fans that dig the contemporary artists who some
view as having little to no substance. His wordplay with Q-Tip’s bars
depicting a young cat’s wanting to be grown and equating that to
material possessions makes this a track of understanding and
reconciliation once the two go back and forth to bring the lesson to
light - you have to have perspective. Andre 3000’s words here are
sharp as ever with some shades of the “Class of 3000” days. This
is real when you considered that ATCQ essentially disbanded in the
midst of the reign of Southern rap and the “bling” era. Another
generational and genre merge point is to be found on “Conrad Tokyo”,
with Phife joining forces with Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar to craft
a groovy and piercing track that could fit in 1995 as well as it does now.
Hell, one could even see this being done live with Bad Brains as a
backing group. Then there’s “Moving Backwards”, a highly introspective
duet piece with Q-Tip and Anderson .Paak. That track is lush, and
gives you some of the same feeling found on ATCQ’s The Low End
Theory. And then…”The Donald”. I had to listen to it a few times,
and felt a bit wistful. It is a fitting way to close out the album, with
Phife being the lead MC over a backdrop of Busta Rhymes providing a
‘90’s dancehall chorus to fit the cadence of production crafted by Q-Tip
and Jack White. At times during the album, you can hear Phife’s voice
slightly different but here - here is where the studio becomes a 
DeLorean-styled time machine. Also, I tend to believe that the name
of the track is more of a defiant middle finger to the reality-show magnate,
the signature “to hell with you”. Bear in mind, ATCQ rose to fame in
a city that was dealing with racial strife due in part to opposition by
some to the first Black mayor, David Dinkins as well as incidents like
the Central Park Five which Trump inserted himself into viciously and
without pause in true arrogance. 

In all honesty, what this farewell album does is the same as what 
has been brought forth by albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A
Butterfly
. D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. Solange Knowles’ A Seat At The
Table
and many others. It is now part of the wellspring of healing and
revolutionary music that Black and Brown people - all people in the 
long run - can count as their own in these uncertain times. It’s right
on time and OF the time. That distinction can’t be overlooked. We Got
It From Here
also provides the perfect bookend to what A Tribe Called
Quest truly was. Think about the pop-up shop they’re putting on
this weekend. It’s located in Chinatown, a short ways from the site
of one of NYC’s most beloved concert venues, The Wetlands. Which is
now like many other cherished spots a victim of the onslaught of 
gentrification. Their appearance this evening on Saturday Night Live
with the great Dave Chappelle is also a reflection of a New York City
that many miss and only the stick-in-the-muds downrate. With this
album, A Tribe Called Quest cements their importance as one of the 
greatest rap groups of all time, but as one of the greatest influences
on music. Period. And in true fashion, they’ve given us the gift once
again of finding and keeping to the instinctive paths of rhythm we 
have had obscured in these dark times.