Category Archives: Features

Word Becomes Flesh: The Magic of Marc Bamuthi Joseph

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By: Justin Cook
Photos taken by: Ian Siporin

“I seek to create space for ritual magic AS performance, and also ritual magic IN performance.”

Last week, I had the privilege to witness Marc Bamuthi Joseph perform in the RCAH Theater located on Michigan State’s Campus, in East Lansing, Michigan. To say the least, it was an extraordinary experience encompassing poetry, dance, hip-hop, critical race theory and everything in between. At times, it was as if Marc was channeling an other-worldly force light years away from planet Earth. His being became living, breathing art—an animated meditation on the black experience in contemporary America that is as intimate as it is enlightening and as terrifying as it is hopeful. But before I get into the magic that was Marc’s performance, allow me to breakdown what makes this man so special.

Originally, Marc was simply a spoken-word poet. After winning the National Poetry Slam in 1999, he began to experiment with poetry and movement, incorporating elements of tap, ballet, breaking and miming in his performances. Since then Marc has become “one of America’s vital voices in performance, arts education, and artistic curation” by continually pushing the boundaries of “traditional” theatre and reimagining the power of poetry and language. His accolades include, but are not limited to, gracing the cover of Smithsonian Magazine after being named one of America’s Top Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences, an inaugural recipient of the United States Rockefeller Fellowship that recognizes 50 of the country’s “greatest living artists,” the 2011 Alpert Award winner in Theatre, and in April 2013, he was one of 21 artists to be named to the inaugural class of Doris Duke Artists.

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Now, back to the magic: witnessing Marc perform in the flesh. That night, after a brief introduction, he got right down to business. First, he made us define a few words, which were central to his whole act: hate, greed, neglect, racism, self-hate and capitalism. Some of our responses were simple, i.e. hate is “misunderstanding,” while some were more academic, “capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit.” From these definitions, Marc went seamlessly into his first piece, Word Becomes Flesh.

He began by using these words to develop a creation myth for what he referred to as the “Almighty Nigger Mentality,” a mentality that was created to oppress the African-American community through the siblings Racism and Self-Hate—the love children of Capitalism and Greed. Then, he broke into a spontaneous spoken-word/dance number that detailed the woes of the black community while simultaneously miming a lynching. Between every line, Marc let out a deep breath, and with every breath, the noose got tighter. Next, as if suddenly returning to Earth, Marc went into a causal dialogue about his relationship with his Haitian father. As a young boy, Marc wanted to learn how to tap dance. This didn’t please his father who saw it as part of Euro-American culture. But to Marc, the rhythms of tap were the rhythms of African drums, that slaves, ripped from their homeland, stripped of their traditional instruments, used their feet to keep the rhythm going on those long days in the plantation fields—because, you know, slave owners would never cut their slaves’ legs off.

Then he went right back into another section of Word Becomes Flesh detailing the inner-conflict of a soon-to-be father: should he stay and become a father, or should he run away as the “Almighty Nigger Mentality” would like him to? As Marc would later explain, with much joy, he decided to stay, his son now a teenager. The title of the piece, Word Becomes Flesh, then came full circle. Not only did Marc’s words literally become flesh through choreographed steps and miming, but also he gave his word, his promise, to stay, and now his son, an abstraction in the womb, is living flesh. This story, interwoven with over-arcing narrative of creation myth, allowed us into the intimate depths of Marc’s life while reaching outward to struggles of black manhood throughout the United States.

The second part of his performance was a few sections from his choreopoem red, black, & green: a blues, which focuses on social justice, activism and sustainability within minority communities—communities who are often absent from mainstream environmentalist movements. This piece was inspired by his work with the Life is Living project, which Marc spearheaded himself with the help of his community in Oakland, California. The idea behind the project is to create safer spaces where minority communities can come together and proactively change their environment through sustainable measures. Instead of using the term “Green” that most environmentalist groups use, which comes with many connotations, Marc decided to use the term “Life,” hence the project’s name, Life is Living (http://youthspeaks.org/lifeisliving/aboutus/). Since it’s inception, the Life is Living project has created numerous dialogues on the importance of sustainability and community across the country. It has even perked the interests of hip-hop legends such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and ?uestlove.

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He concluded on a spoken-word piece about gang violence, which is the harsh reality for many black teenagers in America. The piece was specifically about a Sudanese mother he had met while working with the Life is Living project in Chicago. Her son, and several other young men, were senselessly gunned down on a street corner. This is a tragedy that is all too common in oppressed communities around the world. The poem detailed his conversation with this particular mother, who continuously “spat seeds to the ground.” It was raw; every word, every movement, all synchronized to display the physical, emotional, and spiritual tension young black bodies face on a daily basis. It was as if the dead, as if this mother, was directly speaking through Marc.

Despite the serious subject matter, Marc sustained a light-hearted vibe throughout the night. He was engaging—often running up and down the steps of the theatre, jumping, twirling, spitting poetry like madman—and kept everyone on the edge of their seat. It was truly a unique experience, unlike anything I could have imagined. To share that theatre with Marc was an honor, and an inspiration. It was not only a testament to the indomitable human spirit, but also to the reality that art can be magic.

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Elks Lodge Summit Recap

Elks Lodge Photo

By: Gus Navarro

A recap of this event.

Organized by Ella Campbell of Back Beat Magazine, the Elks Lodge Summit was truly a great night of jazz, hip-hop, reasonably priced beer and a little bit of everything in between. The Elks Lodge in Ann Arbor is an interesting venue, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s unlike most places you go to listen to music and have a good time. Sitting on a hill overlooking the skyline of Ann Arbor, the outside looks similar to an old fraternity house. On the inside, the basement holds the bar and venue area for bands to set up and play. It’s an intimate setting, and the Elks Lodge Summit was an intimate event. The quintet of Judson Branam IV on drums, Ella Campbell on saxophone and EWI, Olin Clark on guitar, Nathan Flanders on keys and Endea Owens on bass, held it down, clearly having fun and doing what they love to do. Besides the band, four MCs, Blas FaMe, Tru Klassik, Duke Newcomb and Clay, began a cypher and would trade verses back and forth as the band grooved and continued to feed off each other. The musical foundation set up by the band created the perfect space for the MCs to rap and the crowd to enjoy being a part of the whole process. Hip-hop and jazz are undeniably linked and if you were in attendance this past Friday, you got to see and hear why. If you’re free the next time this event goes down, you should come. It will be worth it.

Check out Ella’s Soundcloud page to hear recordings from the night.

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Mark Your Calendars: The Elks Lodge Summit!

Elks Lodge Photo

By: Gus Navarro

A few months back, Back Beat Magazine co-founder, Ella Campbell, organized an open jam session for instrumentalists, vocalists and MCs to play music together in a night of improvisation. Lucky for us, it’s going down all over again at the Elks Pratt Lodge in Ann Arbor, Michigan this Friday, September 19th. Featuring a quintet made up of Judson Branam IV (drums), Ella (saxophone and EWI), Olin Clark (guitar), Nathan Flanders (keys) and Endea Owens (bass), the “Elks Lodge Summit” is guaranteed to be a night of good times, jazz, hip-hop, dancing and creativity.

The night will consist of the house band getting a feel for each other as they play various jazz tunes from some of the sax greats such as John Coltrane and Joe Henderson. From there, they will transition into the portion of the night where MCs and vocalists will be invited to take part in the music making process while the band covers artists like OutKast, Slum Village, John Legend and J*Davey. One of the coolest things about this event is how jazz and hip-hop will be seamlessly mixed and mashed, creating something special.

In anticipation of this second event, we had a chance to speak with Ella about some of the details. First we asked what her thoughts were regarding the purpose of the Summit:

“Some jazz musicians love performing with emcees, and some emcees love performing with live musicians. Bringing the two groups together and creating a nurturing atmosphere for both is one of the goals. I also want to bridge the musical language and genre induced barrier between hip-hop artists and live musicians, just like they’re doing at Revive Music now and how The Roots have been since their beginning. I think that jumping right in and creating the music together is an exciting way to do that.”

Hip-hop and jazz have been connected from the first cyphers and block parties in New York City and this continues to be the case. The best thing about this event is that you will actually get a chance to hear that connection being made.

Check out the quintet covering OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” as Rafael De La Ghetto and Blas FaMe trade verses.

When asked about what she is looking forward to most, Ella responded, “Elks is a place that many musicians feel comfortable testing out new material, and the audience is always receptive to whatever we throw at them. I can’t wait to see what experiments brew up this time around.”

Friday night is sure to feature a slew of killin’ tunes and a collaborative atmosphere that will be inspirational and fun to be a part of. If you’re near Ann Arbor area on Friday and are looking for a good time, come out to the Elks Pratt Lodge. It’s going down and you won’t want to miss this.

On this recording you can hear the band laying down Big Boi’s “Shutterbug” with Rafael De La Ghetto tearing it up on the mic once again.

Event Info:

Elks Pratt Lodge
220 Sunset Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Venue is cash only.
Food and drinks available.
No hats once you get inside.

To listen to more recordings from the first night, check out Ella’s Soundcloud page.

RSVP on the Facebook Event page, here. 

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Keeping Your Mind Focused: Michael Brown and Ferguson

Photo credit: america.aljazeera.com

In the early afternoon of August 9th, a young black male, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, was gunned down by police in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The exact reason as to why officer Darren Wilson drew his weapon and fired at the teenager remains unknown, and there are different versions of what actually happened. The shooting occurred on a Saturday and by Monday people all over the country had taken to social media to organize vigils and huge group photos in honor of the slain teen and in protest. The Twitter hashtag #handsupdontshoot became a way of connecting people and is a reference to the moment just before he was killed in broad daylight. The residents of Ferguson, a predominantly African-American community, have taken to the streets, voicing their anger, frustration and fear because of this specific incident but also because of the atrocious and inexcusable history of police brutality, oppression and hostility that has been directed towards the black community time and time again. The images of police, armed to the teeth with gas masks, bullet proof vests, assault rifles and tear gas, coming out of Ferguson are reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s. These were the days of legalized segregation and Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, when white people opposed and literally fought against racial equity. Three weeks later, what has transpired in Ferguson is bigger than Michael Brown and represents much larger structural issues within the United States. Because of this, we acknowledge that this story is continually developing and there is still more information that will come to the fore. Our attempt here is to highlight some key articles and videos that help to give context to this story and that we found helpful to understanding the history and broader systems of inequality and brutality that are clearly on display here. Additionally, we hope to give examples of where hip-hop fits into all of this. While this piece may not fully encompass everything that has gone on, we feel that the following articles are crucial in working towards an understanding of what people are feeling, thinking and wondering as the story continues to evolve.

“America Is Not For Black People” The Concourse August 12th, 2014
http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/america-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913/+GregHoward1

Written on the first Tuesday following the shooting, Greg Howard revisits the different accounts of what happened before Brown was shot. He then speaks on the militarization of police since 9/11, the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell and Eric Garner, as well as the demonization of Michael Brown. As he explains here:

“Part of the reason we’re seeing so many black men killed is that police officers are now best understood less as members of communities, dedicated to keeping peace within them, than as domestic soldiers. The drug war has long functioned as a full-employment act for arms dealers looking to sell every town and village in the country on the need for military-grade hardware, and 9/11 made things vastly worse, with local police departments throughout America grabbing for cash to better defend against any and all terrorist threats. War had reached our shores, we were told, and police officers needed weaponry to fight it.”

In this article, Howard expertly links the death of Michael Brown to the greater societal and historical context of racial oppression and fear of terrorism that continues to haunt the United States.

Ferguson Pastor: This Is Not A Race Issue All Things Considered August 14th, 2014
http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue?utm_source=npr_email_a_friend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140817&utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_term=

This is one of the most powerful things you will most likely listen to involving the story of what has been happening in Ferguson. In this interview, Melissa Block talks with Ferguson preacher Reverend Willis Johnson about a picture that was published of him in the Washington Post. In the photo, Johnson is seen speaking with, and holding back, a young black man from joining in on the protests going on around them. The young man is clearly beside himself, a mixture of anger, fear and pain etched across his face. Johnson talks about his own experiences growing up in the United States as an African-American male, what that has meant throughout his life and that to him, what has been happening in Ferguson is beyond race. Listen to this interview because when Rev. Johnson speaks, you will hear how real racism is and how much it hurts.

“The Deaths of Black Men in America” Melissa Harris-Perry August 16th, 2014
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/16/melissa-harris-perry-black-men-killed-by-police_n_5684588.html

In this video segment, MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry discusses the fact that black men have been killed by police officers at an alarming rate in just the past decade alone. As she points out, “From 2006 to 2012 a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.” To go along with this, Perry looks to the 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v Sanford as the origin of many of the issues that we face today. In 1857, it was ruled that African-Americans were not citizens and were never intended to be by the authors of the Constitution.

“How The Rest of the World Sees Ferguson” The Washington Post August 18th, 2014
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/18/how-the-rest-of-the-world-sees-ferguson/

With this article, Adam Taylor and Rick Noack share examples of how other countries are covering the death of Michael Brown. This article is helpful in trying to get a better sense of how this news story fits within the larger global context. The article touches on coverage in countries such as Britain, Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and China. The various publications have their own agendas and opinions on what has been happening in Ferguson in large part because of their country’s relationship with the United States. Predictably, much of the coverage has been focused on the racial dynamics and images of police that are impossible to ignore.

Killer Mike Interview on CNN August 20th, 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFfrNFkP2do

Atlanta native, Killer Mike, has always had a knack for saying what needs to be said in a somewhat controversial and in your face way. In short, he is a gangsta when it comes to expounding on socio-political topics such as Reaganomics and the effect that the War on Drugs has had on black and brown communities. In a conversation with CNN, he has a lot to say about police in the United States. We learn that his father was actually a police officer. Because of this, he holds police in high regard and acknowledges the difficulty of the job. Police as he says, “Are blue collar guys.” The issue is, however, that police are typically no longer from the community they serve. Instead, the culture of policing has changed since 9/11. Here, Killer Mikes forces us to think about what it would look like if police actually protected and served their communities.

“Black Life Is Treated with Short Worth”: Talib Kweli & Rosa Clemente on Michael Brown Shooting Democracy Now August 22nd, 2014
http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/8/22/black_life_is_treated_with_short

In this twenty minute interview, Talib Kweli and Rosa Clemente discuss many of the key issues that surround the situation in Ferguson. First, they recount their own personal story from the previous night’s protest in which they thought they might see another young man killed. Despite her twenty years of work as an activist, Clemente refers to it as, “the most terrifying moment of my life.” From there, Kweli and Clemente express their opinions on the use of social media within the context of the protests, what happens when we focus on the looting that has taken place, the fact that women are also being terrorized at the hands of what is referred to as “a militarized police apparatus” and that the death of Michael Brown has the potential to shift the narrative on how the police are viewed within the United States. In her final thoughts, a deeply moved and passionate Clemente asks crucial questions:

“And I’m sick and tired of this. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, I am sick and tired of this. We have so much life to live and a limited time amount to do it. And every day, the older my daughter gets, or any of my friends, all I can think about is, is this world better? Because it’s just really not. And what is going to happen to our children? What does this do to other people in the community? How does this affect white people that are anti-racism, working against racism? All of this has been so lost in this.”

Kweli and Clemente are both legends because of the work they do as social justice activists in and outside of the hip-hop community, making this interview a key component in the attempt to understand the broader scope of what has happened since the death of Michael Brown.

“Race/ Off” The Daily Show August 26th, 2014
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/ufqeuz/race-off

In true Jon Stewart fashion, he dismantles what Fox News has said in the past few weeks following the shooting of Michael Brown. In this 10 minute clip, we see everything that is absurd about the right wing news channel and the stupidity of their anchors (I’m lookin’ at you, Bill). Stewart is a master of using humor while talking about issues that are humorless. At some point, if we don’t laugh at the ignorance that is being thrown in our face (while also challenging it), it may destroy us. Despite the jokes, the reality of racism in the United States cuts through with hard hitting honesty that isn’t funny, in any way, shape or form. We are reminded that, “People of color, no matter their socioeconomic standing, face obstacles in this country with surprising grace” and that, “race is there and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.”

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “At the Water Cooler” By Abby Conklin

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This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s own Abby Conklin.

At the Water Cooler
By: Abby Conklin

I do not know what kind
of jokes you make about
the people you work
with.  Maybe their anxiety.
Maybe one OCD gum-chewer’s
jaws, or the leaver-of-stained-
coffee-mugs’ trail through the break
room.  There’s a lot to be said
for the things that make us human.
Which is likely why
my coworkers and I stood
at the edge of the indoor
track today, at our students’
summer olympics, cracking
jokes about the rattling nature
of the starting gun.
These kids don’t run
this kind of race when they hear
that shit! we laughed.  They run
as fast as they can from 
wherever it came from!  Jokes
that aren’t jokes when you’ve heard
your coworker wish for a house
in Connecticut.  Talked about a window
looking out at her sons playing
in a back yard, instead of pounding down
her auto-locked front door, trying
to get away from playground gunshots.

 

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Pushing Tracks: “Paradise (prod. God Level Music)” by Cam Minor

When you listen to Cam Minor, you can’t help but appreciate how stoic he is behind the mic. This isn’t to say that he’s not commanding, but that lush and laid back delivery is such a huge staple it literally defines him as the MC he is. Of course, this is a good thing. In fact, it’s why his music is so appealing. As outsiders, Cam’s songs look effortless, and with his smooth and clear flow he can sling multiple deliveries in one fell swoop.

“Paradise,” like many of the ganj-soaked hip-hop cuts before it, slowly engulfs you with an inviting tone, and the catchy production by God Level Music helps clear the song’s path to distinction. With Cam’s delivery and the rattle-ping beat, “Paradise” is all good feels and worthy of a listen.

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Pushing the Tracks: “Beefed Out” by Sacramento Knoxx

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If you follow this publication at all, you’re more than likely familiar with the work of producer/MC Sacramento Knoxx. Born and raised in Detroit, Knoxx incorporates hip-hop into his work as a community organizer and activist. For the last three months Knoxx spent time in Oakland and San Francisco, California as an artist in residence at the School of Unity and Liberation and the Arab Organizing & Resource Center.  As violence between Israel and Palestine intensified this summer, Knoxx’s work to address anti-arab racism, speaking out about the injustices of the Israeli Apartheid and teaching youth from a social justice lens became even more crucial .

Today we feature “Beefed Out,” from the recently released The Trees Will Grow Again, the culmination of Knoxx’s summer in California. As he explains:

“Beefed Out” speaks to the increased militarization of U.S. police in our communities. We call on our communities to continue fighting back and resisting state violence and repression. Understanding prisons, borders, surveillance and policing as tools of global repression is critical to building and maintaining powerful movements for liberation.”

Behind the heavy and frantic war drums of DeathStar Kic’s Dustin Haffner, Knoxx successfully sums up the plight of the hood at home and abroad. He does this with lines such as, “Feeling like I’m facing King Koopa/ They quick to shoot ya/ That violence, repression, that new old message” and “De-fund activities with the police/ War on terror, war on drugs, border security/ R U phvckin kiddin me?/ This is the land of the free.”

The entire The Trees Will Grow Again project is another reminder of how hip-hop can be to unite people and raise consciousness when used to speak on the social, political and economic platform. As events continue to unfold in the United States, the Middle East and around the globe, our hearts and minds are with those continuing to do battle against oppression.

More information, the link to the song and instrumentals, are here: http://sknoxx.bandcamp.com/track/beefed-out

This was produced along side fellow DeathStar Klic producer, Dustin Haffner. www.soundcloud.com/dhaffner

 

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Return of the G’s: Why Everyone Should See OutKast Before It’s Too Late

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Photo credit: diffuser.fm

By: Daniel Hodgman

Writer’s note: I would not have been able to experience this performance and reflect on it without the generosity and overall goodness of my close friend Marites. For that, I dedicate this piece to her.

“Some say we’re pro-black, but we professional. We missed a lot of church, so the music is our confessional” -Big Boi on “Aquemini”

In January, when 2014 was still a youngling, Andre 3000 and Big Boi came out of the woodwork, settled whatever differences they had and declared to the world that OutKast was back. When it was announced, it felt like a belated holiday present, kind of like that late gift your Uncle Stu sends in mid-January. The difference is that this announcement was better than any gift card you could have wrestled out of your mailbox. From the very get-go, this tour was meticulously plotted out (OutKast would settle on 40 festivals and events for the year) and triumphantly shared among critics and peers alike. More importantly however is that along with other anniversaries in hip-hop—among them, Nas’ Illmatic and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising—the return of OutKast reinforced the stern fact that although hip-hop has changed and continues to change, the golden era legends never go away and are surely never forgotten.

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