Greatest Misses: Pharoahe Monch’s “Still Standing” feat. Jill Scott

I was living in a nightmare when Pharoahe Monch around he time dropped his W.A.R. album in 2010.  Everything had gone wrong and I was walking alone towards and uncertain future.  I needed this record then, but I also wasn’t ready to hear it.  When it came to me today through a cosmic crossroads of social media links, I now know that it wouldn’t have carried the same weight with me back then.  I walked past Pharaohe on the way to one of my first official hip hop journalism gigs back in ’91.  He was one of my favorite interview subjects 8 years later when I was planting roots at Blaze Online.  And he remembered me from that same interview when I ran into him in Union Square just before I left NYC for LA a good seven years later. His lyrics represent the kind of artistry I aim for: always vivid, frightening complex and ferociously raw.  This one’s been on repeat all night.  I think I’ll crank it up again tomorrow too.  I think I’m ready to listen to hip-hop again, which a good thing ;)

Fury: The Fog of War

First of all for a 2.5 hour movie I thought I was only there for 90 minutes.  Was it an extremely violent 90 minutes? Yup.  Did I feel like I was on the inside of an American tank during the last days of World War II and under skies that were never blue? Yup.  I don’t know what people were looking for from Fury.  Many don’t seem satisfied.  But to me it’s all about the rules of the game of war and what it does to your head.  Writer/Director David Ayer leaves the LA streets where he made crime classics like Training Day and End of Watch for a Germany I would never want to visit but my ancestors.  When you’re fighting a war you can’t be who you were at home.  In fact you’ll never be that person again.  For the right fight I’ll lay my life down to hold a crossroads.  A true soldier can never walk away.

The Drop: A Lesson in Gravity

As a crime flick junkie I couldn’t resist a chance to catch another of James Gandolfini’s last performances in The Drop, directed by Michael Roskam and written by crime master Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, The Wire).  Not unlike his performance in Killing Me Softly with Brad Pitt, Gandofini plays the “reverse” Tony Soprano, a local hood who lost it all and is looking to steal a piece back by any means necessary.  But The Drop is definitely Hardy’s movie.  Not only did I dig his Brooklyn accent (he’s Brit), but in a character piece about restraint and predictability it was the strength of both his performance and LeHane’s script that got me through a second act that has a few drags.  I caught it the last day in my local theater but you should definitely rent it or check it out on demand.

Slapboxing with Yeezus

Going past the local playground today I saw some dude who was supposed to be a boxing trainer doing the mitts with some guy that was supposed to be a boxer.  No speed.  No power.  I hadn’t seen a precision session that weak since the Fresh Prince tried to take on Tyson.  For some reason it reminded me that the decade of my 30s seems to have also been the decade of the loudmouth.  Whether it’s Kanye West in a cleavage top trying to get paraplegics to stand or the fact that more Black people know who Wendy Williams is than they do James Baldwin and even when you look at current fashion trends today’s world is all about being loud, even if you’re also wrong. Most of these dudes wouldn’t have made it in the old neighborhood without keeping their shades drawn.  Just a thought.

Geoffrey Holder: Another Classic Transcends

I was saddened to hear about the passing of actor and choreographer Geoffrey Holder.   I wasn’t versed in his entire resume but I first peeped him in the film adaptation of Annie that dropped in ’82, his bellowing laugh in that long series of 7-UP commercials, and later in his unforgettable turn alongside Eddie Murphy in The Hudlin Brothers’ Boomerang.   As one of the only Black kids in the summer program that took us to see Annie it was Holder’s character that got and best held my attention. For me this was where it all started.  But with all art and artists it never really ends.  May his transition be a smooth one.

Good People: Uncle Porter – Elder

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He built half of the house he lives in with his own hands.  At 95, a World War II vet of the Army Corps of Engineers, he still drives and puffs the occasional cigarette.  He grows his own tomatoes and walks where his wheels won’t take him.   It’s the 21st century and he still burns his trash.  I remember when the white hairs on his head was a dark red and when he wore a Kangols instead of ball caps.  But more than anything I’m happy that he’s still here, that he kept the words I wrote for a birthday in a frame, and that he can still laugh at himself.  I’m glad that I took these shots and recorded some of his stories for the lens and mic.   He’s gone from farm boy to living history, and I hope to document as much of the road he’s traveled as I can.