On May 26th, Ozay Moore dropped Taking L’s, his first record in more than five years. Released via Mello Orange Music and produced entirely by 14KT, L’s has that classic hip-hop feel but also achieves a whole new level of depth and honesty. The record is driven by the idea that not every “L” or loss you take in life is negative. As Ozay explains, “Not every L is a bad L to take. For instance, you might take a loss and come to find out that it ended up being the best thing for your situation at the time.” As that concept propels the album forward, the genius of Ozay is in the way he combines the hard-hitting elements of hip-hop with reflections on his life and how the world has changed since he first became a rapper.
There is the B-boy joint, “Bang,” that hits hard with the assistance of KT’s thumping kick drums and on point hand claps. “The Fix” is about substance abuse and the twisted web that a dependence on drugs can create. The seventh track, “Pillow Thoughts,” finds Ozay at a level of reflection and vulnerability that can be rare for the often braggadocious mentality of hip-hop. The power of “Pillow Thoughts” is the feeling that Ozay and KT are able to create. In one well soft-spoken and insightful verse, Ozay talks about his family, being there for his kids and the grind of working a 9-5 job. “Record Store Day” pays homage to physically purchasing music from a store after a solid day of crate digging and touches on how the digital age has impacted music consumption and the changing business of independently owned record stores. As he lays it down, “Am I the last in the world without an Ipod?/ I guess I gotta get with it but the times change quicker than the pace I’m used to keepin’/ Man, I still enjoy diggin’/ Sparkin’ conversations at the mom and pop shops about releases.”
What becomes clear is that Taking L’s is a reflection on the complexities of life. There are times of elation and warmth that have to be balanced with the inevitable moments of pain and sorrow. Ozay reminds us of the power of vulnerability and that when one door closes, another opens somewhere else. With all of the self-absorbed music being made these days, Taking L’s removes the glitz and glam that is often exaggerated in popular music. Instead he shares insights and tells stories about love, family, supporting local music and the how society has changed in a way that is as relatable as it is insightful. There is no doubt that Taking L’s is a welcome and long-awaited addition to the musical archives of hip-hop culture.
This is me circa 2009. My looks have changed dramatically, but I’d like to think that my values are still the same.
By: Daniel Hodgman
The Tuesday before New Years Day, as the sun slid beyond the outer reaches of Florida’s horizon line behind cackling trees with leaves starting to fall, I found myself leaving work and looking forward to my last meal of meat and a start to a healthier lifestyle. I had proclaimed proudly, merely two weeks before, that I would cut out all meats from my diet–most notably red meat, which has hampered my health just like penalty flags for the Detroit Lions. My reasoning behind this was–because even I can admit that certain meat is healthy for your diet–that if I could cut out meat entirely, I could cut out fast food entirely, and I could also implement more sustainable foods that I had previously avoided like the plague: yogurt, soy, beans, tofu, more than a single plate of veggies.
Here I found myself standing in front of a pulled pork sandwich, the clock skulking towards my deadline–8:00, okay I have four more hours. I took a bite, and then I took a few more, and without thinking I just stopped. Maybe it was the pressure of the new year distorting my thoughts, but at some point while engulfing my last bit of meat for life I felt disgusted with myself. I felt disgusted with the fact that even though I had decided to give up meat more than two weeks ago, I selfishly chose to use 2014 as an excuse to extend my eating habits to the very crumbling precipice that is my health. I felt disgusted with the fact that it took me 23 years to realize that maybe my eating habits weren’t the best for my body. Most importantly however–and the point I’m trying to make to drive this letter home–I felt disgusted because instead of just doing something, I found some sort of excuse to delay the slow churning problem that was presented in front of me.
Often times I look at the environment in which I was raised and the environments in which I’ve taken part in throughout my life. I look for contributing factors related to behavior, I try to study examples of nature verses nurture and I assess correlations between overall behavior and normalcy of individuals within a certain institution. I do this to not only understand regional differences, but also to learn more about myself and what I am still yet to learn.
Jamal Dewar, known by his stage name Capital STEEZ, was one of the founding members and architectural mastermind behind Brooklyn’s Pro Era. He rapped with focus and precision, often times making intricate allusions to his life while at the same time throwing around rhymes about the soul, inner-perception and the new “underground mainstream.” STEEZ was a genius; he was an established MC who poured the pulsating realities of his world into songs that could persuade even the tightest of critics to engage in a Pro Era yap fest. Ultimately, what STEEZ reflected in his music was that of an enigma-wrapped soul either lost in the mysterious cavities of life or a soul that simply punctured the surface of life’s very realm. On December 23, 2012, Jamal tweeted “The end.” The next day he took his own life. He was only 19.
This past weekend, I attended the Common Ground Music Festival in the heart of Lansing, Michigan. I have attended my fair share of music festivals, but never one within city limits—this definitely gives it a slightly different atmosphere. I entered the festival grounds with a typical half-assed search, walked across a bridge decked out in glow sticks and found myself in the middle of the madness. I had about an hour before BLAT! Pack performed so I decided to roam around.
I walked along the Grand River, past craft booths, food stands and a few little games for the kids—it sure did feel like a festival, though extremely small. I stretched out on the riverfront for a bit and soaked in those loving Sunday vibes. After thoroughly Zen, I made my way to the main stage to catch a little bit of Jon Connor, a Flint-based MC. I had never heard anything by him before, but I was pleasantly surprised; he had energy, presence, and great band backing him. He spoke of unity, the great state of Michigan, the healing powers of hip-hop and of course, peace and love. Near the end of the show, his sister joined him on stage, and it started to feel like one big happy festie family—everyone was laughing, dancing and putting their drinks in the air for what was bound to be a great night. Content with the performance, I headed back downriver to see BLAT! Pack.
I arrived with fifteen minutes to spare, laid out in the grass, and watched as people slowly started to gather in front of the stage—a few folks sported BLAT! Pack and James Gardin shirts. Before I knew it, people were flooding in from left and right eagerly awaiting the show. The atmosphere around was all love, hugs and a sense of anticipation, which unleashed as BLAT! Pack took the stage; and once they took the stage, they didn’t miss a single beat.
It was the first time they had ever performed as BLAT! Pack, and shit, they had better do it more often. It wasn’t just Jahshua Smith, it wasn’t just James Gardin, or Red Pill, or Yellowkake, it was the complete BLAT! Experience—the horns, the rhythm section, and every MC took this show beyond sun, moon and stars, hurling us audience members into the next dimension. It was a funky, fun-loving show that radiated with pure artistic bliss. I don’t know who had more fun, the audience or BLAT! Pack. As I was lost in that backbeat, the MC’s were running around on stage, laughing, goofing around—organically going from mock backup dancer to main performer. The music was clean, the vocals were crisp and you could feel the heart and soul radiating through sound waves.
Underneath the music, the love and laughter, was something that resonated with the human spirit: accepting change and revolution. Throughout the concert, brief words of wisdom were spit between songs: they talked about letting go of your past, your anger, your frustrations and just letting it float away in the wind; they stated our need for revolution, not only at a societal level, but a revolution within ourselves; Jahshua Smith mentioned Trayvon Martin, but instead of being on a soapbox, he let the verdict speak for itself, and told us all to raise our fists, together. And everyone in the audience, from different lifestyles and cultures, raised their fists into the sky; I turned around to face the whole crowd and noticed sunlight pouring into the pavilion, across all our faces, across all our fists. Then, the beat dropped, and hands went wild.
After the show I was elated, and laid back in the grass, soaking up the light of the people. Moments like these are what the world needs—bringing the festival vibes to a city, speakers blasting onto the streets. You know, you read the “news” and hear about all the horrible things in the world, about how our world is falling apart, but then you go out into the world, and are greeted with nothing but love. I find when I actually leave my computer screen, unplug and live my life, the world is more vast and beautiful than ever before. THIS IS THE REVOLUTION: get up, get out, and do something! I love that local groups such as BLAT! Pack exist to expand the consciousness of man from the bottom up; we need to support more grassroots movements and recreate local culture. I believe, if we focus in on here and now, we will uncover all our souls’ desires. We just got to get up, get out, and do something.
In the 17 days since the beginning of the George Zimmerman trial, I have tried to keep in touch with everything that has been going on. Like millions of Americans, I’m invested in this case. From the very start of the Trayvon Martin story we’ve delved deep down into the rabbit hole of topics that range from race to national gun laws to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Out of all these topics—which are all important in their own right—I still can’t get over one simple thing: George Zimmerman, after being told not to follow someone he deemed “suspicious looking,” decided it was in his best interest to continue pursuing his target, which ultimately lead to a 17-year-old black male with Skittles and Arizona Tea dead on the grass with a bullet in his chest.
And yet, the more I think about this story, the more it isn’t surprising.
I’m sorry for such a pessimistic view on the nature, but if we look at some things—more specifically the slayings and unjust nature against young black youth and minorities in America—how are we at this point surprised by these events when our country is yet to progress? Need I mention Oscar Grant? Or what about Nicholas K. Pert’s riveting story about N.Y.P.D. behavior against black males in New York City? In a day and age where we are almost 50 years removed from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963), it seems that our progression as a whole doesn’t even come close to what civil rights activists in the 60s had hoped for in a 50 year span.
So with that, this is why the George Zimmerman case and Trayvon Martin story are important. And although it’s far from being the only one worthy of discussion—it’s amazing how mainstream media will invest everything into a certain story without focusing on others as well—it’s the closest America as a whole will get to understanding the core issues of civil rights in the 24 hour news cycle.
Stakes is High
Maybe it’s because we’re in an age of technological advancement and online everything, or maybe it’s because news outlets realize the magnitude of this case, but everything in the George Zimmerman trial is being taped and broadcast. This itself is a beauty, because we as a nation don’t have to take a reporter’s word or script to pass judgment; we can literally sit at our television and watch this unfold. And maybe, just maybe, this will ease the aftermath.
See, the Casey Anthony case was stunning, and the Kermit Gosnell trial was frightening and just, but the George Zimmerman case is extremely important in that the verdict will extend far beyond the reaches of the courtroom. Whatever verdict is decided at the end of this trial, it is a guarantee that this won’t signify the end of the story. If taping the entire trial for people to follow and judge for themselves as it unfolds helps ease some, then this is needed. More importantly, getting this first-hand look at the trial gives us a sense of actually knowing the story from witnesses and accounts.
The trial itself, at least through the first 17 days, has been patchy on both sides. From the jury selection, to the opening statements, and to the witnesses, both the prosecutors and defense team have gone through each and every ring a case could possibly throw.
At the end of the jury selection, it was decided that six women would consist of the jury with four alternates (the jury only has six members because second-degree murder cases in Florida only call for six jurors). Five of those women are white, and one is Latina.
Now what does it matter if the six jurors are women and that five are white and one is Latina? Why should there be questions asked? Well, for one let’s look at this case: first, the Trayvon Martin shooting has and will always focus mainly on race, because the details behind the altercation make it so (George Zimmerman was a Latino and Trayvon Martin was a black teenager; Trayvon looked like a “punk” and was “suspicious”). Beyond this, the jury selection was chosen for the benefit of both the prosecutors and defense: the prosecutors agreed upon this jury because to them, women have that instinct that Trayvon was just a kid, and that this would stir feelings of “that could have been my son.” On the other hand, the defense team agreed upon this jury because they wanted to emphasize the fact that Trayvon was a black male wearing a hoodie, and that he looked “suspicious,” trying to evoke feelings in the jury that this kid could have been trouble if they were in the vicinity. From the very get-go this trial continued to play on stereotypes, no matter how big or small they were.
As the actual trial started to commence, it looked like the prosecutors were gaining the upper hand. The defense team began their opening statements with a distasteful “knock-knock” joke, and the opening statements made by assistant state attorney John Guy directly used George Zimmerman’s line he said on the phone that went like this:
“Fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away.”
Guy later went on to say:
“Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy who he didn’t know … Those were the words in that man’s chest when he got out of his car armed with a loaded semi-automatic pistol and two flashlights to follow on foot Trayvon Benjamin Martin, who was walking home from a 7-Eleven … Those were the words in that defendant’s head moments before he pressed that pistol into Trayvon Martin’s chest and pulled that trigger.”
After day one, it looked like justice would be swift and vigilant. It looked, at least during that very moment, that George Zimmerman was doomed for what he rightfully deserved: second-degree murder.
And yet, as the trial wore on, things started to get shaky. The prosecuting team’s witnesses thus far have failed to fully bring the information they were hoping for that would pin George Zimmerman. This is especially true with Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old friend of Trayvon Martin who was talking to him that night. Not only was it hard to understand her on the stand, she was also caught with providing misleading information and wrapping herself up in contradictions. Comparatively, other witnesses have only bolstered Zimmerman’s case for self-defense, claiming that Martin was throwing punches and Zimmerman was pinned.
So as we stand, 17 days later and still in the midst of this trial, here’s what’s important:
No matter what the verdict of this case is, remember: George Zimmerman was the one who decided to follow Trayvon Martin, even after being told not to by authorities. We still don’t know who started the initial fight, but this fact is important to retain.
Despite the prosecuting team’s disappointing run of witnesses thus far, remember Zimmerman’s quote from opening statements: “fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away.”
At this point, it looks like a lot of the evidence is pointing towards a worthy case of self-defense by Zimmerman. Even more disheartening is that the chances of him being convicted of second-degree murder are slim. If anything, he will get charged for manslaughter and will likely get a reduced sentence. His chances of walking are still high.
Most important, no matter what happens, we as a community stand behind Trayvon Martin, his family and all of the similar injustices that plague not only our country, but our world as well.
Which leads me to this.
If you can remember way back towards the very beginning, you’ll remember that Zimmerman wasn’t even taken in for a crime. In fact, it was Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law that actually shielded him from such an event. It took protests, petitions, “million hoodie marches,” demonstrations ,vocal output and action to actually bring authorities around to arresting Zimmerman and charging him for second-degree murder.
One of the biggest groups behind Trayvon Martin and the calling for social justice was the hip-hop community. Not only were there demonstrations and peace talks, but also artists and MCs (both high on the spectrum and underground) were making dedication songs to a story that is all too familiar in the hip-hop realm.
“I’m pretty much not the one to be told that a trial is going to make everybody feel straight and clear … The obvious point is that this young man lost his life from an unjust situation, and it needs to be hammered home. That’s bottom line.”
In the same article, rapper Game goes on to talk about the historical relevance of the Trayvon Martin story:
“For some reason, people don’t think that they need any excuse to kill us, beat us, hit us, run us over, disrespect us or anything like that. This is just another reminder that stupidity still exists.”
And even going past race, hip-hop recognizes that this story touches so close to the community because Trayvon was only a kid. Chuck D’s wife, Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson points out:
“We’re talking about a grown armed man who shot an unarmed child, regardless of race.”
From the outpour and concerns, the hip-hop community has also unleashed a plethora of tribute songs. And although some are better than others, a situation like this shouldn’t be judged on musicality, but sincerity.
On Jasiri X’s song “Trayvon,” he raps over the fitting beat of “No Church in the Wild” to explain the event that took place. It’s a haunting tale, especially over the churning production of “No Church…,” but its Jasiri’s vocal cadence and lyrical detail that reinforces both strength and sadness regarding this story.
“He had just came up from Miami to see his daddy / Who knew such a great weekend would end badly? / In a place where you move because it’s safe for your family / When some people gotta have grown hate for your family.”
Alternatively, on “Date of My Death (Trayvon Martin),” Tahir Jahi tells about continual injustices and the fight “for whatever is left.”
“Sick of innocent getting wronged by the ignorant / Who will benefit from this medicine / Coming from my lungs to warn veterans please let them in / Fuck Democrats and Republicans I don’t care bout your publishing.”
“Made You Die,” a song by Dead Prez, RBG member mikeflo and Yasiin Bey, takes a more revolutionary approach and expresses that the Trayvon Martin shooting is the straw that broke the back.
“Cause we do the same thing expecting different results / I’m checking the vital signs but I ain’t getting no pulse.”
These are just a few examples, but from the hundreds of Trayvon Martin tribute songs, it’s a clear-cut sign that this story isn’t simply a resurgence in hip-hop awareness. Rather, it’s a sign that the problems that plagued the hip-hop community from the very beginning are still very much alive. Moreover, hip-hop has always been something representing that fight, or that something to fight for, and this 16 month story is putting that fight on the national spotlight.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman trial are part of a bigger story. On the surface you have an unjust Florida law that allowed a grown-man to murder an unarmed boy. However, at the core you have bigger issues. There are issues on race, oppression, stereotyping and issues of our country’s growth in general. It’s been 50 years since the “I Have a Dream Speech,” and yet we as a whole are yet to fully embrace it. We have continued to see the slayings of innocent and unarmed minorities (especially the black youth), and we have continued to see the perpetrators let off unfairly. Despite the vast improvements we’re making as time goes by, it’s not enough. We need action.
When the story of Trayvon Martin first surfaced, it took action to have the Sanford Police Department even consider charging George Zimmerman. This action, which included the protests and marches, directly resulted in an arrest and a second-degree charge. Millions of people around the country, whether they were involved with hip-hop or ordinary citizens, took to the streets and voiced their say.
Likewise, in the 60s and 70s, Americans protested the Vietnam War with action. Citizens marched, musicians sang and artists unveiled works all for one common cause. More specifically, these times brought upon thousands of musicians coming together and demonstrating resistance and action through song. One such example is Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die”:
“And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam. And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates, ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die.”
These examples of action demonstrate one thing that must be recognized: unity. We cannot as people continue along our petty ways of indifference if we expect to see change. Furthermore, we need to march together for the bigger causes worth fighting for. Politicians need to stop fighting for “seats” and actually work together and listen to the constituents. Law enforcement needs to stop playing stats and work on bettering the country as a whole. News outlets need to spread attention to all the important stories and stop broadcasting from one side. Focus on education needs to start playing to the needs of the kids instead of standardized tests and statistics. People need to look past skin color, culture, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation when judging one’s character. And we as a whole need to realize hatred and injustice are a waste of time; life’s too short to be full of hatred.
We need to come together like so many cultures and people have come together in the past, and fight for these things. We need to come together like hip-hop did for Trayvon Martin. We need to express ourselves, not just vocally, but through art, discussion, workshops, demonstrations, protests and marches. If we don’t take action, we won’t see change.
Along with action, we also need hope.
Tweeting from court Tuesday, Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton wrote: “Day 17 – Remember God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. Please know I can’t give up now, I’ve come too far. Continue to keep us lifted in prayer.”
Hip-hop is poetry, whether you’d like to admit it or not. I equate a great 16 bar verse to a great 14 line sonnet; sure, they are stylistically different, but both rely heavily on sound, meter and vivid imagery. Most people wouldn’t necessarily make this connection (imagine Shakespeare and Tupac freestyling with one another), but these two art forms are very intertwined. I feel the masses—especially Fox News fed White America—viewing hip-hop as a degrading art, not only to society, but to music and grammar as well. Being a poet, this frustrates the hell out of me. Some of the most honest and thought-provoking rhymes to come out in the past 20-30 years were from hip-hop artists; they are the poets of the people, the poets of the struggle. To combat this injustice in the hip-hop world, I bring to you The Art of 16 Bars. Every couple of weeks, I will break down one of my favorite MC’s lyrics.
To begin fittingly, I will discuss the poetry of Common, who is basically the poet in-residence of hip-hop. I mean, he got invited to Poetry Night at the White House, which freaked Conservatives the fuck out. They said he was a “thug” that supported “terrorists” (Assata Shakur)—man, could they be anymore off? Seriously, it’s time to set the record straight; this man has the heart and soul of a poet, spitting holy words of wisdom and health: that holistic language.
1.)Pharoahe Monch- “The Truth (featuring Common & Talib Kweli)”
Despite being a Pharoahe Monch song, Common’s verse is too good to pass up. This song gets into some real shit, real quick—by the time Common spits, my mind is already unraveling. His verse has two key elements: the internal rhyme scheme and the extended metaphor.
Common flips the internal rhyme on its head and gets meta as fuck:
“But the false prophets by tellin’ us we born sinners / Venders of hate, got me battlin’ my own mind state / At a divine rate, I ain’t in this just to rhyme great.”
In these lines, Common literally rhymes great while rhyming great; he rhymes multiple words with great (hate, state, rate), and by doing so, rhymes in a great way. Taking a step back from the words, the full poetic meaning comes into context: Common isn’t rapping just to rhyme, he’s rapping as a messenger of The Truth. He steps beyond aesthetics, unraveling a deeper meaning, by using aesthetics. Poetry!
He then concludes the verse with an extended metaphor, which I’m pretty sure contains the meaning of life:
“Took a picture of the truth and tried to develop it / Had proof, it was only recognized by the intelligent / Took the negative and positive, cuz niggas got to live / Said I got to get more than I’m given / Cuz truth’ll never be heard in religion / After searchin’ the world, on the inside what was hidden / It was the truth.”
He uses the metaphor of taking a photograph to the art of hip-hop, which led Common to his own understanding of the universe—in a sense, he is creating a “still life” within the poem. In the art of photography, it takes time to “develop” a picture, just as it takes time to develop MC skills; his “proof” are the words right in front of you. The “negative and positive” not only symbolizes the duality of life, but refers to developing negative and positive photographs. He ends the metaphor by bringing it back to The Truth, which he uncovered within himself through rapping—not through religion like commonly believed.
Just listen to this damn song. The assonance. The alliteration. The puns, punch-lines and metaphors. Everything about this track is on point. I’ll leave the poetry to Common.
Electric Circus is such an amazingly weird experience, and “Aquarius” is definitely one of the best cuts on the album. It is poetic in it’s odd delivery and interesting use of syntax. Common begins the track by comparing his wisdom to that of a revolutionary high:
“Nigga deep in the rhythm, experience speak / Some keepin’ the wisdom, the life hustlers seek / I seeking it with ‘em, I’m dope the streets need me to hit ‘em / With some of that (revolutionary rap) / Revolutionary blunted rap / My peoples want hits, I hit it from the back / Under the cherry moon, I hold notes and carry tunes.”
These lines are another example of extended metaphor; Common carries the metaphor of dope through multiple changes. It starts in the streets, representing his wisdom, as what the people need. Then, it becomes “that/Revolutionary blunted rap” that gets passed around—revolving—to whoever wants a hit. He ends the metaphor as “the cherry moon,” giving it multiple meanings; one being the cherry of a blunt, holding in the hits, and the other being the red recording light, which shines as Common “holds notes” and raps in studio.
He also uses Aquarius very nicelyas a reoccurring concept. Aquarius is an astrological sign, whose symbol is the water carrier; Common literally carries water as a metaphor throughout the song. He begins by mentioning “the Age of Aquarius,” which represents a shifting of human consciousness. He is making a connection between his knowledge, and the knowledge obtained during the Age of Aquarius: “water that arrives/to purify the world.” In the second verse, Common floods the verse with water metaphors and consciousness:
“Between churches and liquor stores, my mic leaks.” (…) “I flow over water that’s as troubled as teens / For the love of the team, trying to double the dream.” (…) “The black human genius will never play out /I take you way out, where you never been before / Been it since birth, sent to replenish the Earth.”
All in all, this is one of Common’s strangest moments, but it’s truly a beautiful, empowering song. He’s got those “punch-lines like Roy Jones poems.”
4.)“I Used To Love H.E.R.”
Like seriously, this is THE HIP-HOP POEM of all time, ever! This was one of the first songs that really made me realize that hip-hop is poetry; it functions as a poem much better than most rap music. He uses the trope of a young girl to explain his relationship with hip-hop, while in turn telling a story about the history of rap. It is thought-provoking and an example of why Common is that motherfucker. This man is a poet. He even starts the song with that classic hip-hop refrain:
“Yes, yes, y’all and you don’t stop / To the beat ya’ll and you don’t stop / Yes, yes, ya’ll and you don’t stop / 1, 2, ya’ll and you don’t stop / Yes, yes, ya’ll and you don’t stop / And to the beat Common sense’ll be the sure shot.”
This song is just the gospel of life. It is one of Common’s finest moments, and Cee-Lo just makes the experience that much sweeter. If “The Truth” and “Aquarius” doesn’t solidify Common’s Buddha mind, “G.O.D.” seals the deal—I literally feel like an enlightened angel after listening to these golden bars. Just play the damn song, paying particular attention to these lines:
Understanding and wisdom became the rhythm that I played to And became a slave to master self A rich man is one with knowledge, happiness, and his health My mind had dealt with the books of Zen, Tao, the lessons Qu’ran and the Bible, to me they all vital And got truth within ‘em, gotta read them boys You just can’t skim ‘em, different branches of belief But one root that stem ‘em, but people of the venom try to trim ‘em And use religion as an emblem When it should be a natural way of life Who am I or they to say to whom you pray ain’t right That’s who got you doing right and got you this far Whether you say “in Jesus name” or “Hum do Allah” Long as you know it’s a bein’ that’s supreme to you You let that show towards other in the things you do Cuz when the trumpets blowin’, 24 elders surround the throne Only 144,00 gon’ get home
Last week, Bonus Cut writers Justin Cook and Victor Anderson experienced Bonnaroo 2013. This is what they had to say.
How R. Kelly Saved the World By: Justin Cook
I look forward to the Bonnaroo experience every year; I first attended in 2009, and it’s been a tradition ever since. The people, the atmosphere, the love: something is so magical about that hot-ass farm in the middle of fucking nowhere Tennessee. I also enjoy the variety of music Bonnaroo has to offer every year. They cater to everyone’s musical tastes, and you get a little bit of everything—even hip-hop! In the past, I have seen acts such as Al Green, Jay Electronica, The Beastie Boys (who performed their last show at Bonnaroo 2009), Eminem, Jay-Z, Raphael Saadiq, Big Boi and Danny Brown, just to name a few.
This year was quite a crazy year though, but not for reasons one would commonly associate with Bonnaroo. It was just strange; wonderful, but strange. I went with a large caravan of people (about 20 in all), and by the end of the weekend, most of us had purged the demons out of us. Like for real, this shit was a purge; I puked up straight guts for 8 hours on Friday afternoon. I was slightly disappointed because my sickness prevented me from seeing Earl Sweatshirt, but later I came to realize, that even Earl got sick, and did not perform all weekend. But besides all the fucking chaos and vomiting, I had an otherworldly time—here are some of my highlights of Bonnaroo 2013:
1.) Paul McCartney
Now, I know Sir Paul McCartney isn’t hip-hop, but this motherfucker was in the Beatles. He came, he saw, he rocked (I’m pretty sure he was super stoned too). His performance felt like an intimate night with Paul McCartney, which is weird because about 80,000 people watched him perform at the What Stage (Bonnaroo’s largest stage). He laughed, told stories about hanging with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. We laughed as well, singing along to some classic Beatles tunes, and the love was all around. It was a great way to really kick the festival into a higher consciousness. Also, I’m pretty sure his beautiful voice cured my sickness; after those words of wisdom, my body was radiating.
2.) Hip-Hop Superjam
Every year, Bonnaroo has a Superjam, which features artists from different bands, and brings them together to form a jam band. This year they decided to do a hip-hop Superjam featuring the likes of Schoolboy Q, DJ Jazzy Jeff, the electronic group Lettuce, and some other secret MC’s. Earl was supposed to be in this too, but he couldn’t perform. But I watched a majority of the set, and that shit was funky as fuck. I really didn’t know what was going on, who was performing, or really what song I was even listening to, but I remember the music being ridiculously awesome; my body was stuck hard in the groove. I mean, this was the one of the first late-night sets at Bonnaroo, which tend to get really weird (the drugs, I mean freaks come out at night). I remember Schoolboy coming out, the horns got hazy, and I got lost.
The stage was alive. Everyone was out of their fucking minds. I swear to god the universe imploded in on itself. I was so terrified with happiness. I really can’t explain this show. Trying to capture it with words is nearly impossible. If you know Animal Collective, you know they laid it down. They began the madness at two in the morning and didn’t stop until everyone was sufficiently mind-fucked.
This show was probably the highlight of my entire weekend. I did not expect this dude to be THAT fucking amazing; R. Kelly can sing, can perform, all while saving the world from apocalyptic destruction. The beautiful thing about R. Kelly: you had bros, hoes, hippies, hipsters, old people, teens, gay, straight, people from all around the globe, coming together, bumpin’ and grindin’, and having the absolute best time of their lives. I seriously thought Bonnaroo was going to turn into a huge orgy orchestrated by R. Kelly—I was actually really close to trying to start it, no joke. Everyone was smoking that herb, passing it to strangers, that lovin’ and huggin’ going all around. And it hit me: this is what humanity needs. Just a little bit of R. Kelly and a little bit of that love making—it makes the world go round! I have never felt so much positive energy radiating from one place. All around was carefree smiles, and people just enjoyed every piece of every little second.
I left the show on a high note, literally. So I’m leaving, and one of my buddies was like, “no dude, he’s bringing out the choir!” I turn, and this motherfucker has a FULL CHOIR, in straight gospel threads, and they go into a soaring rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly”. And motherfucker, I was FLYING!!! You got a crowd of a bunch of drugged-out people singing along to the theme from Space Jam, with fucking balloons and confetti poppin’ off everyone. Holy fuck, I’m pretty in those moments, I died like 7,000 times, went to Heaven, R. Kelly performed, and then I was shot back to Earth, reborn like never before. Oh, and maybe I am mistaken, but when R. Kelly hit that last note of “I Believe I Can Fly,” he opened his chest, split his ribcage—and I swear to Jesus—fucking doves flew out of his heart and flooded the sky. And I knew from that very moment, though times are hard now, every little thing gonna’ be alright my dudes.
It was a great year. I didn’t really catch too much hip-hop though. I saw Kendrick for a few songs, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Last year, he performed on a small stage later in the night, and it was off the chain. This year they had him at the biggest stage, and he could barely finish his bars, running around on that big mother fucker; he was out of breath and just seemed out of his element. I really hope his newly-found fame won’t ruin his artistic abilities. I left to see The Swans, who shook the core of my soul and wiped the dirt clean. All you hip-hop heads should go listen to The Seer by The Swans—it’ll make you rethink your own existence. Anyway, Bonnaroo is always a pleasure, but this being my fifth year in a row, I think it’s finally time for a break. I just thank God for R. Kelly. That’s one show I will never forget, because that man did save the world. One day, you’ll understand.
Bonnaroovian By: Victor Anderson
“It amazes me that people are willing to spend this much money so that they can live like people from third world countries,” was a cynically paraphrased statement from an Oklahoma City insomniac who went by the name of Bryan. I met him in the early morning of the last day at Bonnaroo after purchasing and devouring an $8 breakfast burrito. I kind of agreed with Bryan but I didn’t see it in such a negative context.
Before Bonnaroo I had never been to a music festival but something about them always appealed to me. I try to apply the “live with no expectations” method to things in life and I wanted to go about my first music festival experience by applying that exact method. So, that’s what I did and I had an amazing time.
I went with a rather large bunch of familiar, semi-familiar and unfamiliar peeps and left there feeling pretty happy about all of the wonderful people that I got to spend time with while visiting this magical land.
The daily routine was simple: The sun would serve as your alarm clock, forcing you to leave your humid tent early in the morning. You’d pick your poison; whether it was instant coffee, water, liquor, wine or beer. The food vendors offered ridiculous prices so apples, oranges and strawberry cream cheese, jelly and strawberry sandwiches often filled my tummy. I heard great stories about the legendary Wonder Waffle but sadly I didn’t get the chance to try it. Some people came prepared with grills and dry ice for bacon, hot dogs, eggs, etc. Some people packed canned goods like peas and corn.
Overall, the place was its own tiny city. From the Ferris wheel you could see tent after tent for miles and clusters upon clusters of individuals all over Centeroo (where the stages were) and The Farm (where the tent plots were.) But it was a total libertarian city; it was like Portugal. The lackadaisical patrol officers rode stubby horses and were most likely paid to look as if they are doing something, which sat well with me. “I’ll arrest you if you’re not having fun!” They actually said that. So, people roamed The Farm with beer in hand, joint in mouth passing countless faces, port-a-potties and golf cart taxis and nobody batted an eye. For the first part of the day you almost forget that you were at a music festival. Pre-gaming commenced until the time came to enter Centeroo. Once the threshold level for “fucked-up-ness” had been reached, it was time to begin the musical adventure.
Single file lines of tens of thousands of people constantly poured in beneath the grand arch and side entrances. Half-assed pat-downs and backpack checks allowed us to smuggle in beers, water bottles full of liquor, smokeables and edibles. After passing through the beeping wristband detector which registered the trusty accessory, you were free to roam the land.
This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, What Stage and Which Stage showcased the great performances that we came to see. But if you were there to see Mumford & Sons or Earl Sweatshirt, you were shit-out-of-luck. Jack Johnson saved the day and provided posivibes for nearly 60,000 people with their heads in the sky. A very spectacular firework display followed his performance and if you were under the influence of something like LSD, you would have loved it. Oh, and the world famous Paul McCartney graced the same stage the night before and played a damn-near 3 hour set and nobody complained. He even told a rare tale about how he witnessed Hendrix asking Clapton to tune his guitar halfway during a gig.
Many others performed but unfortunately conflictions occurred and you soon realized that seeing absolutely everyone that you planned to see was not possible.
It was pretty surreal to see these artists with your own two eyeballs. Not to mention constantly being surrounded by such a large crowd of people. Traveling from stage to stage was a task because you had to correlate agendas and schedules; you also had to struggle not to get lost and detached from your group. Cellphones were almost always dead and you were forced to revert back to good ole fashion verbal communication. But by belonging to such a large group, separation was inevitable. Sometimes individuals had to roam around on solo missions to check out acts at other stages. Some factions came prepared with huge flags or unique objects attached to tall poles. These served as location indicators.
I really enjoyed the overall community because even if you were all alone, people were friendly and willing to speak to just about anyone. So many characters, young and old, living free, having an exhilarating time.
Regardless of what happened, everything was a part of the experience; whether it be the terrible hygiene, warm air, port-a-johns, jacked food prices, tents, drug pushers or the book peddling monks. For four days you checked out of the real world and were granted time to experience potential utopia. No online social networks, no phones, no internet, just raw human interaction and freedom. And music, you can’t forget the music. It was the main factor that brought us all together.
But when the final day came, I realized that I’d been living in a sort of time warp where time was on my side because it knew that I wanted to savor the moment for as long as possible so that I could truly live with no worries, only pleasure.
That last day was dreary and damp and our camp site reflected our tiredness and past recklessness. We all experienced something special and that something special was unique to every individual. But as the vacation to a far-away beautiful land faced our backs, an overwhelming sensation smothered us. It could have been the fear of returning to a normal life or it could be the joy of realizing that you want more for your mundane existence. Whatever it was, I knew that I left that place with a new revelatory experience and great memories that I would cherish and always reflect upon.