Noel Gourdin "Open" vs. Biggie's "Who shot ya?"

>> Saturday, July 23, 2011

You ever hear a song and think, "I heard that before." What song did they sample? Or have you ever wondered if your favorite old school songs were reworked into Hip Hop classics?

I awoke this morning with an email from one of my favorite websites, If you ever wondered who sampled James Brown, George Clinton, or where J Dilla, DJ Premiere and Kanye got certain samples from, this is the site for you.

I recently submitted Noel Gourdin's "Open." Pronounced Gor-Deen, Noel is a fresh artist. If you're not up on him, you may have heard his, "The River" track.

When I listen to "Open," I instantly recognized Biggie's infamous, "Who shot ya?" But when I submitted it to, it was rejected. Here are both songs below, you decide.

"Who Shot Ya?" by Notorious BIG

"Open" by Noel Gourdin

So, am I hearing things, or did the moderator make a mistake? What do you think?

Update: 3:00pm - Cool Hand Luke of reminded me this morning, "David Porter's "I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over" is the source material for both songs."

Do you hear me now?

I'll need to resubmit my entry.


From Alameda to Louisiana

On my way to a family reunion in Louisiana, I was able to stop in Lake Charles and visit my oldest (known) relative, Mildred Carriere.

Mildred with my mother, Deborah James. The original art is of my great great great-grandmother Francis Garland.

Mom and her cousin, Alvin, who gave us a ride from Houston.

Mildred Carriere, 98, is my great-grandmother Alma Carriere's first cousin. Mildred was born in 1913 in Lake Charles, LA.

Group photo: Carriers, Holliers and Donattos.

I was recently involved in a major genealogical project with youth in Alameda County. You can read more on the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California blog.


Music: Top Five Versions of "One Love"

>> Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writing a letter to a friend, I was briefly perplexed as to the proper salutation. On one hand, I wanted to close with "One," but her beautiful spirit made me want to sign the letter with "Love,". So, I decided to sign "One Love."

One Love is the name of a number of songs that have served as soundtracks to my life during different stages. I asked my Facebook friends, "What is your favorite version of "One Love"?

Here are my Top Five:

5. "One Love" by Trey Songs

On an album with songs like, "LOL :)" and "I Invented Sex," this song was overlooked. This was my favorite track off of Trey Songz Ready. It's one of the reasons "The Neighbors Know my Name."

The track has a thumping drum line, hot guitar licks and string/keys and a groovy bassline. The production is well put together. Whoever wrote this song was handling their biz. With lyrics like, "For the first time in my life, My pride is not a problem. I'm not afraid to tell you girl that I love you," this is one of the albums better songs.

4. "One Love" by Nas

Rooted in the New York State of Mind, Nas' "One Love" is off his debut album, "Illmatic." Produced by Q-Tip from Tribe, Nas' lyrics are conversations through letters to his incarcerated comrades.

This soulful track has a soft Kalimba melody throughout the song, with a soft piano and upright bass, giving the song a real jazzy feel. Nas' nasal flow rides the drum beat painting pictures of conversations of those locked up, and trying not to get caught in the trap. "Words of wisdom from Nas, try to rise above."

3. "1 Luv" by E-40

"1 Luv" is off E-40's album, In a Major Way. I got this tape from Record Gallery. E-40's version focuses on a conversations with those behind enemy lines. E-40 touches on unemployment due to deindustrialization, police brutality and three strikes, and hand-me downs in the first verse.

Riding on a funky bass track with some sprinkling of synths. Not to mention Leviti's crooning and another sista singing. The other two verses are written as conversation coming from his folks that's locked up, including one man who was going to get married until her got a Dear John letter from his lady. Still, 40 Water passes on a message from him. "My family thinks that I'm a thug, when you see my mama, give her a hug for me, and tell her: One Love."

2. "One Love" by Whodini

This classic is off Whodini's Back in Black album in 1986. Although I was four years old when this came out, I still fondly remember this track from my days at Woodstock Park with the Alameda Breaking Crew (ABC).

The synths and funky bassline combine with a pounding kick, and those reverbed snares. Not to mention that old school flow about love. "Better to have loved than to never loved at all." (Yeah, Whodini, paraphrasing Lord Tennyson.) This track is full of wisdom about relationships and lost (and found) love. "The L... the O ... the V... and the E."

1. "One Love" by Bob Marley

Bob Marley's "One Love" inspired most, if not all, of the previous tracks. Off of The Wailers' album, "Wailing Wailers," this track is true ska. Roots, rock and reggae. It has a real blues feel to it as well. "Is there a place for a hopeless sinner?" It's probably the only one of the above songs that you could play anywhere from a protest to a church.

The laid back groove features the Wailers handling their biz. A smooth bass groove rocks while the guitar guitar licks. The drums keep tempo, and include some nice breaks for transitions. "Let's get together and feel alright."

That's where I put them at. What's your favorite?


Protest shuts down San Francisco BART Stations

>> Wednesday, July 13, 2011

While some people were busy trying to get free 7-11 Slurpees, others were in the streets demanding justice for Charles Hill.


It's been ten days since BART Police gunned down a "wobbly drunk" at the Civic Center Station in San Francisco. The man, since identified as Charles Blair Hill, is accused by police of being "aggressive,""holding a bottle and a knife," and getting into a "confrontation" that "caused" the police to shoot him.

On July 11, about 100 people came out to protest the murder of Charles Hill. Protesters demanded the release of surveillance video of the shooting. BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey has reviewed the video and said he was "comfortable" with what he saw. Protesters weren't and, while calling for BART to be disbanded, disrupted the evening commute.

When I arrived, BART had already shut down the Civic Center, the site of the crime. Catching up with protesters at Powell Street Station and later 16th, here's a video of the protest that went down Mission Street, down Market, through the Tenderloin where Hill was known, and ended up in the tourist destination of Market and Powell Street.

Last April, protesters took action at Embarcadero Station to push for BART hired gun Tony Pirone to be fired.


Rolling with the 'White Anarchists'

>> Saturday, July 9, 2011

I thought that headline would get your attention.

If you're looking for a blog about the mysterious, elusive, alleged 'outside agitators' who get all violent and cantankerous at protests in Oakland: you should read corporate ruling class press and not this post.

On Friday, July 8, I marched in Anti-Cut 3: Austerity is Prison" - an anti-austerity, anti-police state demonstration in downtown Oakland. The demonstration is 'organized' by Bay of Rage, an anti-capitalism initiative.

Last month, I documented Anti-Cut 2, the "Books not Cops" or "Mobile Disruption for Libraries" march to the Oakland Main Library. (I've yet to post my photos or blog post, however.) Although I didn't have my camera Friday night, I joined to march in solidarity with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike. July 8 is also the one year 'anniversary' of the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

Over the past three years, I've documented about two dozen protests, from the Justice for Oscar Grant movement*, to transportation justice demonstrations* at MTC* and AC Transit, to public education demonstrations that have led me from Laney College to the Peralta Colleges District to the State >Capitol, and even on an Oakland freeway.

I'll admit; however, being at a demonstration without my camera was like being naked. Arguably, the freest I've felt in a while.

Photo: Andy Chu/Oakland Tribune

I crossed the street and joined. Mainly white men in the 20s and 30s, but there were men and women of various ethnicities, ages --including a few babies -- and even a few dogs marching.

Since the anti-war protests against the War in Iraq in 2003, I've begun to actively count African people I see at demonstrations. One, to sort of estimate our buy-in to the particular cause/issue, but two, to make sure "I'm not the only one." There's an urban legend that "Black people don't go to anti-war protests," but that was debunked (in my mind) in 2005. There were a few who were 'obviously' there at the demonstration who planned to be there, then there were my people who heard people marching, yelling "Fuck the Police," and finally had a collective outlet to express those unconscious, but conscious, inclinations. (see, first photo)

Oakland Police were adamant about keeping people confined to sidewalks. For a minute, it seemed as if they were even anti-pedestrian, and didn't want us to Walk Oakland or Bike Oakland* (Bay of Rage is very different from Oaklavia*).

As we walked down Broadway, we passed the Marriott and Smart & Final. I overheard on a police walkie-talkie, "Make sure they don't walk onto the freeway." On March 4, 2010, a group of over 160 marched onto the 980 freeway* in Oakland after police had tried to trap protests west of Preservation Park.

We marched through Old Oakland to the intersection of Clay and 8th Street: right across from North County Jail, Wiley E. Manuel Courthouse, and next to Mexicali Rose.

Demonstrators repeated told police, "Go back to Walnut Creek!" The majority of Oakland Police do not live in Oakland, and live in suburbs like Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Castro Valley. "This is our city. Go home pigs!" Across from the jail, the crowd chanted, "Inside! Outside! We're all on the same side!" At one point, you could hear those inside Glenn Dyer Jail -- who often beat on the windows -- yelling in solidarity.

We then doubled back to 9th Street, back to Broadway. After police stopped the group -- prompting one man to yell, "They're trying to force us to go to 'Radio.' Hell no, we won't go!" referring to the bar next to Burger King, we stopped in front of the T-Mobile that used to house a beauty supply store.

13th Street Party

Folks were listening to music on the sidewalk as police hung out, blocking traffic on Broadway.

At 13th and Broadway, folks gathered and listened to some music. First, the DJ played "Don't Snitch" by Mac Dre, where folks proudly yelled, "Don't ask me shit! ... You can send me to jail!" People danced as police circled around us, between the bus shelter, the BART station escalator and the T-Mobile building.

The second song was "I got Five on it" by the Luniz. This was, ironically, the most telling thing about the evening. But first, a little more "context."

Last month during the anti-cut demonstration, I put my camera down for a minute and called on people to pull out their library cards. "If you really from Oakland, and you're down with the library, where's yo cards at?" I saw one person produce a card.

Flashback to 13th and Broadway, if you're gonna play that Luniz track, you play the remix with Shock G, E-40, Richie Rich and Spice 1. That's my opinion. Despite the fact that many of people present live in Oakland presently, I doubt it's been too long. Because when the hook (chorus) came on, everybody in Oakland knows this, we add an extra line to the song. Too Short's favorite word* is affectionately added. However, when the song played, I was the only one who said, "Biaatch!" It would've been embarrassing, except, I realized, they just didn't know about it.

Now, it could be that they didn't listen to 90s Bay Area Hip Hop. Maybe they only listened to Punk Rock. Or, they never went to a dance at Skyline, or Mack, or even an old school Waterfront Party in Berkeley. Nonetheless, it was a stark reminder of the decline of the Black population in Oakland, and how cultural institutions and colloquialisms can be co-opted, or lost, stolen and strayed.

Dispersing the Assembly
During a Rhianna song, Oakland Police declared the gathering at 13th and Broadway an unlawful assembly. Time to go. Considering that the City of Oakland is being sued right now by the National Lawyers Guild, I wasn't too surprised we were allowed to leave. On November 5, 2010, a group of people protesting the lenient sentence of Johannes Mehserle were arrested in East Oakland. Police did not allow people to disperse after allegedly calling for a dispersal order. As a member of the press, I was not allowed to leave until the then-police spokesperson recognized me. I'd refused to leave unless the Youth Radio documentarian I was with was allowed to leave also. Anyway, maybe I should have stayed and got paid.

Back to Broadway, in small groups, police 'allowed' us to leave the intersection, but it appeared they were trying to filtered people out. A few minutes passed before those near the boombox were allowed to leave. Police wanted to find the "leader." Good luck finding a leader amongst anarchists. "There is no leader!" one man yelled.

The group then headed down 13th towards Franklin. I tried to get busy in the Burger King bathroom, but the security guard closed the restaurant and wouldn't let me have it my way. The march continued, but I bounced.

Before leaving, the group began chanting, "We'll be back." There's an upcoming demonstration at Civic Center BART Station in San Francisco. The demonstration is for Charles B. Hill, the man shot by BART police because he was allegedly drunk on the station platform. If he'd been a banker, he would've been protected by the police, but instead, he was considered a nuisance and he was shot down.

As for me, I'll be sure to keep my phone charged and my camera handy. Although it is fun to yell, "Fuck the Police," and walk in the streets, I'd rather carry a camera than pots and pans.

Photos by Michael Conti, of, unless otherwise noted.


Canoeing at Lake Merritt in Oakland

Getting ready to roll out with a Golden Oarsman

One of my favorite workouts is Rowing. It can be a great fullbody workout, but it's especially good on the back, biceps and abdominals.

Listening to dead prez' "50 in the Clip" I strangely got the urge to go rowing. I posted it on Facebook and my KMT Sista Jazz the Poet said she wanted to go. Next thing you know, we have an Outdoor Afro type Friday afternoon outing at the Lake.

For those that don't know. For only $10, you can go out on the water at Lake Merritt in Oakland. There is the pedal boat, the canoe, the rowboat and single and double kayaks. (Of course, you can also get real oh-la-la and get a Gondala, but that's for hot August cupcake nights.)

Here's a few photos from the adventure.

Two emcees in a pedal boat
Two emcees in a pedal boat: Tiana Wilkes and Al Pratt from Kurse Krew. I bet they were freestyling while pedaling.

Are you ready to canoe?
"I want to get on the boat," said Nassor. "Yes, Little Africa, we gone get on a canoe."

Poets can canoe too
Jazz the Poet riding up front, leading the way, with little man right behind.

Thought she was slick trying to get my "Canoe Face," so I threw up the deuces.

We had a short intermission when little man had to go "pee pee." Fortunately, the Oakland Parks and Rec staff was near by and brought him back to shore.

After we all made it back to shore, we posed for a group shot with the "Big Fish" that we caught.

I'm sure some of you are wondering, "Didn't you fall into Lake Merritt last year?" Yes, but I did not fall in again. If you want to go Boating at Lake Merritt, contact Oakland Parks and Rec.

Photos Courtesy of Jazz "The Poet" Monique Hudson.


Remembering the Johannes Merserle Verdict in the Murder of Oscar Grant

>> Friday, July 8, 2011

One year ago today, former BART police officer Johannes Merserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a Los Angeles jury that excluded all African Americans.

Oakland found Mehserle guilty of murder.

Graphic: Colorlines Magazine

I was one of the first reporters to arrive at 14th and Broadway that afternoon as we awaited the news from the the courtroom.

Youth Radio captured my initial sentiments on the Johannes Mehserle Verdict as such:
Reginald James, a teacher at the Oakland Freedom School, said of the scene after the verdict, "It's a media circus--they're trying to capitalize off others' pain. See someone crying, go take their photo."

He said when the verdict came down, "People were paralyzed. Some people didn't know what to expect, some were surprised, for some people it kinda confirmed what's already been implied in the mainstream press. I cant even get a sandwich downtown right now because people expected acquittal or involuntary manslaughter, which would lead people to revert to property damage or violence."

I first heard the verdict from an elderly Black woman. She walked past me saying, "Involuntary Manslaughter," and called it "some bullshit." Because she didn't look "official," there was a delayed reaction. But right then, I knew. Soon after, another person yelled, "Involuntary Manslaughter, that's some bullshit. *&*#!!!!" Photographers and reporters were just as stunned as activists and community members who gathered.

I came to 14th and Broadway to document the people's gathering as a photojournalist. Instead of shooting however, I ended up consoling two friends and Laney College classmates. I'm one of those "sensitive" photographers. I'm sure there are some shots of missed. Even though some friends call me "Black Paparazzi," I find myself apprehensive about invading people's space.

While warding off an annoying Associated Press photographer, another photographer managed to get the shot above. Justin Warren ( captured one of the images that I remember most about that day: Me being there for two friends in the shadow of the Amerikkkan flag.

"Is this America?" asked one man, who had hopes for justice in the U.S. criminal legal system. "This can't be happening!" screamed one of the young women I was with. Her cries, her screams, her wail woke many of us out of post-verdict paralysis. Her raw emotion, captured, wound up on the front page of the Oakland Tribune the next day.

Nonetheless, as I reflect on July 8, 2010. I remember the death of my play-grandpa Dr. David Blackwell, and I recall the recurrent death of my faith that justice can be found in Amerikkkan courtrooms.
Written 5/29/2011

Images: (1) Casa Cabrones, (2) Justin Warren photography


What does the 4th of July mean to the Negro? A Reading

>> Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth of July. A celebration of the Declaration of Independence of the colonies of what became known as the United States of America.

Every year in my hometown of Alameda, one of the largest 4th of July parades in the country takes place. The last time I participated in the parade was while working at the Alameda Boys and Girls Club. I didn't yet understand the role of non-governmental organizations in the capitalist economy, otherwise, I would have recognized how the plight of young people from my community was being pimped. The executive director was driving a pink cadillac main street while we walked the streets. Looks like pimping to me.

So when I reflect on the "Fourth", considering the enslavement of African people and the genocide of the indigenous people of this Land, I am reminded of a great abolitionist and his speech, "What does the Fourth of July Mean to the Negro?

In 1852, abolitionist, speaker and journalist Frederick Douglass delivered the speech. The speech speaks to the contraction of the celebration of American Independence that was simultaneous with the enslavement of Africans.

This video features me portraying Frederick Douglass at the College of Alameda's Chattaqua for "Constitution Day." The live jazz played in the background was performed by College of Alameda Professor Herbert Mims, Jr.'s Jazz Ensemble.

Video by Joe Sullivan of Peralta TV's P-Span program. More info:


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