Trinidad James allegedly Harvard University Graduate

>> Sunday, December 23, 2012

Atlanta-based, Trinidad-born rapper quit Ivy League to pursue music

Do you think Trinidad James could attend Harvard University?


Fall 2012: One Hectic Academic Semester

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A quick note to update family, friends, and folks about life on campus and why you haven't seen me in traffic. It's hard to believe the semester is halfway over. After getting through two weeks of midterms, my feet get weary. But I may wobble,but I don't fall down. So, I have over 20 academic units and I'm still involved in some Berkeley-centered extra-curricular shindigs. I'm enrolled in two political science classes and four African American Studies courses. Yes, very busy. In Political Science, I have Latino Politics and African Politics.
  • For Latino Politics, my research paper for the class will be a comparative analysis of the 2010 Gang Injunctions in Oakland, examining the response of crime prevention measures targeting both the Black and Latino communities. The lectures are cool, but I like the readings.
  • For African Politics, the my research will answer the question: Why hasn't Tanzania had a Civil War? The lecturer is the best in the Department I've had thus far. As for the course, I find it rather forgiving of the international institutions that underdeveloped Africa, but what do you expect from Berkeley? Numerous classmates will go forth to become economic hitmen and hitwomen (pun unintentional). 
My African American Studies courses are most interesting:
  • One course, Introduction to Black Intellectual Thought has us surveying a wide group of people, from Booker T Washington and W.E.B. DuBois to Ida B. Wells and Assata Shakur. Our final assignment requires us to draft a memoir about our own ideology about race or participation in a social movement. 
  • Another course is in the History Department, called "Creating African America focusing on Black History from beginning of Transatlantic Slave Trade to Civil War. 
  • I'm also enrolled in Historian's Eye, a project focused on documenting the present moment in relation to the (most) recent capitalist crisis. My focus will be on the community at Alameda Point, the former Naval Air Station, one of the last residential concentrations of African Americans in Alameda. 
  • A related project (though I'm not getting academic credit) is a research proposal I've been working on with the Veve Clark Scholars Institute for Engaged Scholars. I'm writing a history on the Estuary Projects, a wartime housing projects in Alameda that was destroyed in 1968. My goal is to fit the Alameda Point and Estuary narratives into the larger honor's thesis. 
  •  Finally, I'm doing an Honor's Thesis. This will be my capstone project at Cal. Initially, I planned to complete "A history of African Americans in Alameda." I began working on finding information about early Black Pioneers in Alameda, through the World Wars, and the post-war migration, to the present point. However, the topic–I was told–was too large. Indeed, I've found a wealth of information (surprisingly all these other historians have neglected it). I decided to narrow my topic to Housing, specifically housing discrimination and activism.
  • Oh yeah, I sit in on a Swahili class twice weekly so I don't forget what I learned in Tanzania. 
I won't list my extracurricular, extrajudicial, extraterrestrial activities here, but believed they've been reduced--but I stay ... active.

So it may be a while until we cross paths, but pray for your brother like you had knee pads. Life happens for a reason, we can't be mad. Just know that "everything cool. And yes I will be present on the first day of school, and graduation" (Yes, that's Outkast).


Baby Got Back and Hip Hop Resistance to Mass Media Representations of Beauty

>> Monday, October 15, 2012

Sir MixaLot's "Baby Got Back"
"Oh my god, Becky, look at her butt."

So begins the infamous introduction to Sir Mixx-a-lot's classic, Baby got Back. The 1992 Billboard topping song was a controversial ode to the Black Women's other Assets. Earlier this year, my Tanzanian friends were playing Drake's The Motto, unaware of the origins of Lil Wayne's final bar.

Twenty years later, the Baby Got Back has been parodied by In Living Color and even Burger King in a Sponge Bob Square Pants remix. Still, the original song captures the contradictory roles of Hip Hop as it both celebrates Black Life and redefines Value in a society that seeks to denigrate Black Culture, while also seemingly objectifying Black Women's bodies.

Although the song was comical and alleged to be sexist, Baby Got Back was a bold, Black lyrical and visual declaration of celebration of Black Women, from a Man's perspective, challenging European notions of beauty in mass media. Through its lyrics and visual representations, it presented and praised an alternate aesthetic to dominate discourse that exalts the pure white woman and belittles the lewd, animalistic Black female.

The song begins with two young, presumably 'typical' white valley girls staring at a Black woman rotating on a raised platform in a tight, yellow dress that accentuates her figure. The voluptuous woman's posterior makes her the object of rappers' attention, according to Becky's friend, and "they only talk to her because she looks like a total prostitute." The bodies of Black women in American have long been sexualized in America. Caricatures of the Black woman as a Jezebel stereotypically present Black women as promiscuous. Lacking further words to describe this "total prostitute," the antagonist concludes "She's just so ... Black," thus completing the conflation of Black Womanhood with Prostitution.

The song kicks off with Mixx's fast-tempo flow. The song is an honest celebration of Black Feminine Form, commencing with the words, "I like Butts and I Cannot Lie." The song alludes to provocative Hip Hop pioneers, 2 Live Crew and their famous Full Metal Jacket sample, and even references Bill Withers, as Mixx is willing to let the subject of his attraction–not the object of his affection–to "use me, use me," as she's not the "average groupie." Maybe the Withers' example is a stretch, but Hip Hop has long provided another medium and platforms, as corporate media rarely allowed different perspectives than the dominant paradigm.

Mixx-a-Lot turns his attention to mass media saying, "I'm tired of magazines, saying flat butts are the thing." He sees his perspective as that of the majority of Black men. He suggests, "ask the Average Black Man," and he'll tell you that the woman they'd prefer, "gotta pack much Back." Encouraging Black Women to be proud of their physical form. "So Cosmo says 'You're fat,' well I ain't down with that." He adds "shake that healthy" butt, combating the notion that super thin models are the epitome of health, calling Playboyesque models with "silicone parts ... made for toys" "bimbos." Instead, Mixx desires to "keep my women like 'Flo-Jo'," acknowledging the gorgeous former Olympian, opposed to Jane Fonda's workout tapes.

Finally, the lyric, "Give me a sista i can't resist her," inspired the Khalid Muhammad's introduction on Ice Cube's song, "Cave B*tch," another song critiquing this white hegemonic aesthetic. The lyrics paint a picture that "Black is Beautiful," and the video–somewhat–continues this vision.

Sir MixaLot in Big Booty Heaven, during "Baby Got Back" video.
Situated in a blue-skied sort of "Big Booty Heaven" on the Mountain Top–conveniently a the Mt. Rushmore of "Big Butts"–Sir Mixx-a-Lot raps while women wearing 1980s dance skirts shaking what their mothers gave them. While the grandiose "Booty Mountain" is somewhat comical, it exaggerates his sincere admiration with big butts, thus minimizing the men and women in the video, as to lift ... the butt.

The video evokes other Black Power tropes, as Mixx-a-lot wears a DMC-like Black leather jacket and hat. He gives himself a "Soul Brother" fist-heart-pump when speaking to that average black man, whose aesthetic preferences are commonly ignored, who appears on "WBUN" news to express solidarity with 'Back.'

The song contrasts the popular images with satire of "rock videos with knock-kneed bimbos walking like h*es." A woman wearing a madonna-styled coned bra is brought down from the pedestal of high culture, to be replaced by a Black Woman with a complete figure. And a woman with long hair and more Melanin than anyone who'd appeared on Cosmo's front cover evokes the imagery of The Birth of Venus.

Meanwhile, subliminal reverse text images flash on screen throughout the video, including "RUMP" "THICK" "REAR"--even the scientific term, "DORSIUM."

The lyrics and visual imagery combine to deliver a one-two combo to white, patriarchal depictions of Black beauty. Still, the video and song are not without contradictions.

The lyrics on the bridge, "LA Face with the Oakland booty" was to the disappointment of many Bay Area women who appreciated the acknowledgement of their diverse body shapes, but not the devaluement of their faces–especially compared to LA. And the focus on just the butt could be overlooked if their were other songs like, "Baby got Brains," for example.

With MixaLot standing a top of larger-than-life butt, some imagery in the video could interpreted in many ways. Such as the various fruits as representations of other human body parts. Also, the invitation to roll in his Mercedes was part of the growing materialism that emerged during the late 1980s in Hip Hop.

The idea that in response to seeing the superior physique of the Black Women, that "even white boys got to shout," was a funny line, but it can be seen as another example of needing validation of white men.

During a time of heavy conflict over media censorship, "Baby Got Back" was a bold statement praising Black Women and combating mainstream European standards of beauty. I imagine it falls short of many feminists' standards of acknowledging the innate beauty of women, but his effort to present another narrative and acknowledge different concepts raises this song to the level of an anthem.

And his word to the 'thick soul sistas', i won't cuss or hit you," also drastically differs from music today that reinforces America's normalization of verbal and physical abuse of women. And the centering of Black Women in a video is a stark different of rapper's of today who no longer objectify Black Women, but instead idolize "others." Thus, Hip Hop must been seen as a tool of resistance that has been co-opted and now serves elite, corporate, white supremacy-infused capitalism.

Sir Mixx-a-Lot - "Baby Got Back" (1992)


Obama's '99 Problems' Remix

>> Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"If you're havin' bank problems I feel bad for you son I got 99 problems but Mitt's not one" 
–Barack Obama in 99 Problems remix "99 Problems" is a creative mash-up of public speeches by President Obama to the instrumental of Jay-Z's song of the same title. The song uses most of the profanity, critiques of magazines, some key phrases and an equivalent to Jay-Z's dialogue with the racist white cop–but with Mitt Romney instead. A side-by-side comparison of the lyrics would show how creative this remix is, but I will focus on how well this remix raises the contradictions of our 'first Black president.' The song starts off speaking on last years left-leaning Occupy protest and how Obama works for the banks:
I got protesters saying our economy blows And my Wall Street brothers want Occupy closed You b*tches keep saying, "No change = no votes." I work for the banks, stupid. What type of threats are those?
In start contrast to the Tea Party protests of 2009, Occupy Wall Street was a major critique of financial capital and capitalism. Yet, despite many tough words, Obama supported the bank bailouts, receive record Wall Street campaign contributions, his economic advisers and appointees were from big banks too. The second verse parodies Jay-Z's experience being pulled over by a racist cop while driving with a cocaine hidden inside. Jay characterizes the cop as having a sort of southern, lower class, nasal voice. In this version, Obama is speaking about his ascendancy to the White House:
"The year is 2009, and the White House is mine But the economy’s in full mother f*cking decline My choices at the time were to sh*t on the poor or Fellate the banks to get elected once more"
What were Obama's choices at the time? Were there other alternatives than to 'fellate' the banks or defecate on the poor? In the Obama-Mitt (cop) dialogue, instead of asking to search his trunk, Mitt wants Obama to prove his citizenship:
"I ain't steppin’ down from shit ‘cause this president's legit 'Well, do you mind if we see that birth certificate?' All my records are blocked, you conspiracy hack. And I know my rights. So, you gon' need a warrant for that"
In the outro, anyone still comparing Obama to King is up for a rude awakening to that 'dream.' The video indicts the Nobel Peace Prize winning Obama for "fraud, repression," and "deceit":
Criminal, fraud, repression, deceit I murder and I plunder for the world elite We invade countries till we have all they own “I have a dream.” Well, I have a drone
In 2009, many people conflated Obama's ascendancy to the presidency as the realization of Dr. King's "dream." Yet, dreams and "drones" are not compatible. King opposed militarism and called the United States the "greatest purveyor of violence" on the planet. Thus this line, simply, draws the contrast between the two figures. (Where's Rev. Wright?) What do you think of the video? Will this have any impact on the election? And if you're into Hip Hop history, Jay-Z's song was taken from an old Ice-T track. And the beat's producer, Rick Rubin, used to produced for early Hip Hop acts like Run DMC. Note: I drafted this blog post for a class. Thought I'd share.


Aboard the Slave Ship

>> Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Can you imagine being held captive on A Slave Ship? On a two month journey from Africa to the Americas, separated from family, eating mush, seeing people you've grown close to during your treacherous journey being thrown to the sharks that follow your vessel.

Here are your sleeping accommodations:

Many people do not want to be reminded of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We're supposed to forget it because it was a long-time ago; however, slavery still exists in the world, and America, in many forms, whether it be human trafficking for sexual exploitation and sweat shop labor, domestic servitude in many societies, or the warehousing of Black Men in the U.S. often called the "Prison Industrial Complex."

Today, my History professor played The O'jays' song, "Ship A'hoy." The song is an appropriate accompaniment for our text, Marcus Rediker's "Slave Ship: A Human History." The book approaches the European-dominated Transatlantic Slave Trade, in which cheap manufactured goods from Europe were shipped to Africa in exchange for labor (human beings) that (who) was (were) shipped to the Americas for raw materials. He approaches the "drama" focusing on the trade as a commercial set of transactions that affected everyone, including not only enslaved Africans, but the crews who worked in the trade, and merchants who sponsored and "invested" in the sale of human beings. Simply: It's a story of human beings and the machines that carried them.

The O'jays also provokes another memory. Besides a profound connection to the plight and suffering of my unnamed ancestors who survived the Maafa, I remember my first experience with Leadership Excellence's workshop, "The Middle Passage." The experiential workshop exposes participants to a sliver of a glimpse of what our ancestors experienced: pre-colonial life, Middle Passage, enslavement, Jim Crow, Civil Rights/Black Power Movement, to our present condition.

So I write this to honor those who came before me. Both those who would rather die than serve White Supremacy and Capitalism, as well as those who endured in order for us to breathe and breed in hopes that one day, we would see a freedom that shines brighter than the gold coin in the sky.


Hurricane Amerika: Storm Named Katrina

>> Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Katrina touched down on North American soil seven years ago today. The storm, and the (lack of) response by the United States' government, led to nearly 2,000 reported deaths, not to mention the extrajudicial murders of Black people.

In the immediate aftermath, I wrote the song, "Waiting in the Water," using the Negro Spiritual "Wade in the Water" to describe the modern day Maafa (Swahili for 'tragedy').

Below is an excerpt from a performance of that song and the lyrics from the second verse.

Verse 2, I’m asking what would you do?/
If you were in the same situation, try to be true/
Could you loot? I know that I would/
Be getting food and water distributing it in the hood/
WalMart, in Aisle 3, that’s me assorting goods/
Getting everything I need from sporting goods/
Helping elderly with inflatable rafts/
Grocery bags for my nephews’ leg in the cast/
I’ve seen mothers crying, sisters and brothers dying/
Media lying while we watching choppers flying/
Over the disaster area surveying the damage/
Instead of taking people food, they taking pictures with cameras/
Not supplying people with their basic needs/
And feeding folks, they jive supplying news live feeds/
They got the tigers outta the zoo/
If you were there, do you think they would have saved you?/

I wrote a blog four years after Katrina that includes the complete lyrics and information about Hurricane Katrina Solidarity efforts among artists in the Bay Area.


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