Category Archives: Politrix

Ponderings on politics from my perspective, paying special attention to trying to understand and break down the game aka “tricknology” politicians use to influence opinion

riquespeaks Inaguration Day Music Special

Friday January 20th, 2017 marks the Inaguration of the 45th President of the United States. It is clear from the divisive, childish, rude campaign he ran, and the den of thieves he has appointed to his cabinet that he is coming in with very clear plans to undo many positive things that have taken place in this country over the last 50 years. For me personally, this is one of the most dramatic political events of my life, following the election of Barack Obama, and the drama over George W Bush’s election in 2000. But this new Administration poses a greater threat to what I hold dear in both style and content than that of GWB. Times like this demand that I go back into what brought me here to understand whats going on and how to go forward, and that is the social and political information distilled in some of my favorite music! So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some music with you today that will be uplifting, informative, insightful, and useful on the first day of the Trump “Error.”

“Party for Your Right to Fight” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy is one of my favorite musical groups and their music and the lyrics of Chuck D have been a guiding force for most of my life. “Party for Your Right to Fight” is a lesser played track from their classic second album, “It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The title inverts The Beastie Boys classic rebel without a cause anthem, “Fight For Your Right to Party” into a rousing call to arms, with the “Party” in the title being synonymous to political action, especially that of the Black Panther Party. In a unique production move for P.E, Chuck and Flavor rap the whole song together, with one voice slightly delayed behind the other, in a break from their usual style of Chuck raps and Flavor interjections. The song itself minces no words, attacking the U.S Government’s COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s. It also features a great sample from prime period George Clinton, saying, “Aint nothing but a party ya’ll, lets get it on!”

James Brown Economic Plans




The Godfather of Soul James Brown always used his musical voice and powerful standing in the Black International community as a platform to speak on various issues of wide concern. Although he was reputed to be a conservative, the economic philosophy he espouses on these songs is far from the “Trickle down greed and pain” that has been Republican economic philosophy since Ronald Reagens time. “Take Some, Leave Some” for example espouses a communal, humanistic economic philosophy over a brutally crawling funk groove. JB says, “Ive never been the type of cat that has to have it all.” “You Cant Take It With You” from 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” LP is a companion piece, a furiously funky B-Boy/Locking groove where JB disavows money as the full measure of a persons life because at the end of the day, theres no such thing as a rich dead person! The classic breakbeat “Funky President” is a commentary on the Presidency of Gerald Ford and the tough economic times the country was facing in the mid ’70s. Here JB unveils an economic plan of self sufficiency for Black America, inspired by Marcus Garvey, Booker T Washington, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, “Lets get together/get some land/raise our food like the man/save our money/like the mob/put up a factory OWN the job.” “The Whole World Needs Liberation” from the “Get on the Good Foot” LP is a track built off the earlier Bootsy Collins fired “Brother Rapp” that focuses on a topic of Third World liberation, which on the economic side is still one unfolding today. JB states strongly, “It’s neither Black or White/it’s what’s right/its neither White or Black/It’s a fact/the whole world needs Liberation.”

“We the People” by The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers used the guitar playing of “Pops”, and the wonderful voices of Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne to provide a soulful companion in sound to the Civil Rights movement. When the tide turned to Black power, pride and identity, The Staples actually hit their peak from a popular standpoint, as their rootsy, gutsy sound was very much in league with the heart of the Black community at that time. “We The People” is a funky national anthem for the community at that time, and it’s message is very pertinent in the age of Trump. Although we have a very despicable man taking office today, it is “We the People” who “have to make the world go round.” Meaning this can not only be Donald Trumps America, the people must remain engaged and vigorous in checking his hand!

“B Movie” by Gil Scott Heron

This song is still hands down the best summation of the types of forces in American life that got us to the point a Donald J Trump could get elected, for my money. It’s that because of the cutting, insightful brilliance and experiences of Gil Scott Heron, and its also that because it was inspired by the election of a somewhat similar figure, Ronald Reagen, 36 years ago. In this epically funky poem and song Heron traces America’s enthusiasm for Ronald Reagen to the celluloid images of white masculinity and manifest destiny sold to the American public by actors such as John Wayne. Ronald Reagen himself became the stand in for John Wayne because Wayne was “no longer avaliable for the part.” Replace the Saturday matinee with television reality shows and you get an analysis of how the American forms of media speak to the dark side of American ideals and produce figures like both President Reagen and Trump. And it also makes you wonder if Americans could ever resist a half credible celebrity being sold as a political savior?

“International Thief Thief” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is the artist I think of the most during the Trump error. When George W Bush won the election in 2000, a local Nigerian commentator in the Bay Area, Tunde Okorodudu, laughingly commented on a local Black news show, “So you people want to make America a BUSH huh?” Meaning in the African sense, backward, less developed and potentially chaotic. Some of the things a vote for Trump represents, ethnic strife, less world engagement, less immigration, less civil and political freedom, are exactly the type of strongman politics many people in the world have been running away from. And here we have a winning plurality in America running TOWARDS them. The voice of Fela Kuti wailing out against his own government in Nigeria and the way it had been ill set up and miseducated by the colonial powers in Britain loom large in this environment. And we must remember that the Nigeria Fela was railing against was a nation swimming in oil cash, doled out very selectively among an elite and split along ethnic lines of tribe. Fela was a tireless critic of every segment of the Nigerian society that needed change, and he always tied it back to their history of colonialism and getting away from African values. This song attacks the “International Telephone and Trust Company” which with African humor, Fela calls “International Thief Thief”. “Thief Thief” is what African people yell in neighborhood settings as a call for the community to apprehend a fleeing criminal and bring them to community justice. In this way, Fela brings the high and mighty governmental and business leaders down to an understandable level of common thieves operating on a mass scale. This is the way Trump’s cabinet seems to be shaping up, a consortium of rich buisness leaders being put into positions they can profit from.

“This is My Country” by The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions song end this playlist on a positive note. Curtis actually caught some flack from this song from some in the Black militant community at the time it was released. They thought it was jingoism, but in reality Curtis song is a strong, soulful declaration that he and other Black people would not cede this nation to the Bull Conners, Governor Faubeses, George Wallaces and Storm Thurmonds of the country. The reason? “We struggled 300 years or more!” This song then is a soulful rallying cry for Black people, women, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT, poor people, middle class workers, Native Americans, Muslims, and any other group that faces hatred in the Trump years. This country does not belong solely to people like Donald Trump and his “mad as hell” voters but to everybody who lives here and contributes!

This list could go on and on but I will stop here for now. I hope I’ve give you some thoughtful grooves on this Inaguration Day. Sociopolitcal music will be a strong presence on this blog in the next four years, both through classics such as these as well as highlighting newer grooves to come that will take on the ironies of the Trump error. It will be wild ride for sure, but one thing I do know is that Donald Trump is NOT God (or Godly), meaning even he will have to bow before a committed majority of freedom loving Americans.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Politrix, Social Timing

Jim Brown, The Donald, and Black Leaders in the Trump era…

Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault

Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault

The Election of Donald J Trump to the Presidency has intensified the dilemma that famous Americans from all sectors of American life face when confronted by an invitation from a President who’s politics they don’t respect or possibly despise. In the United States, the office of the Presidency is supposed to hold all the power and respect, and the individual who holds that office is due that respect by virtue of the office. But what do you do when you feel the President the American people have elected either got there by illegitimate means or represents a philosophy that you feel is dangerously un American? We’ve seen this from people on the left when President George W Bush was in office. It intensified and reached its highest peak during the Presidency of Barack Obama, fueled by a toxic combination of racism and hatred for liberal politics steeped in racial anxiety. Even by the standards of those two relatively controversial Presidencies, Trump’s election presents unprecedented challenges of affiliation in our Social Media age.

Donald Trump the man, is an entity that has always had one foot in the world of entertainment. That’s been his area, from owning a franchise in the USFL, to throwing boxing events in Atlantic City, to hobnobbing with Hip Hop businessmen like Russell Simmons and Diddy, to starring in the hit reality show “The Apprentice.” He’s gained many friends and acquaintances in the entertainment world over the years. If his politics were not so nativistic, bellicose and race baiting, he would probably rally entertainers to his Presidency on a level unseen for a Republican President since Ronald Reagen. But the strategy that Trump ran on, which was in emulation of Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W Bush during his two elections, was a wedge issue based plan that aimed to appeal to the slim majority that white Americans currently hold in this country. As Dick Cheney used to say, “it only takes fifty plus one.” That’s why Trump lost the popular vote by a large margin but won in key states where the white demographic could be manipulated by their anxieties.

“Fifty plus one” may be a pragmatic mindset for winning a close election, but its not a good strategy for an entertainer who relies on a plurality of Americans and people around the world from all walks of life to support their projects. Which is why Trump is having problems securing even one big name, broadly popular musician or actor to co sign his Presidency by appearing at his inaugural. The wish list that has made the rounds of the internet is laughable, including Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin, and Katy Perry, three artists who have strongly supported Democratic politicians in the very recent past and who’s entertainment and personal brands stand in direct opposition to the exclusionary campaign inflicted on the American people by Trump. It is another sign of the Donalds ego and obliviousness that he thinks he can run the type of campaign that he did and still gain such artists support. On the one hand I blame the ignorance of arrogance, and on the other I point to the bully’s conviction that he will abuse you and you’ll like it. No matter what cordial relations Trump had with people in the past, he doesn’t realize how much damage he’s done by spitting pure hate from the depths of his shallow soul.

Last week, three notable Black male celebrities made an exception to this unofficial, “hands off Trump policy.” I was not surprised that the mentally ill, fame addicted musical superstar Kanye West went to visit Trump, in correlation with a certain strain of Hip Hop thought that views Trump as a kindred spirit. I was also not surprised that Ray Lewis, who’s been tap dancing along the lines of respectable coonery for some time was at Trump Tower to meet the great Orange man either. The man with the gravitas however, did not surprise me, yet disappointed me on some levels, and that is NFL Hall of Famer and social activist Jim Brown.

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Just a few weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about Jim Brown in relation to Olympian Tommie Smiths ceremonial torch lighting before an Oakland Raider game in Mexico City. That blog can be read here:
https://riquespeaks.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/tommie-smith-athletic-protest-and-the-greatness-of-the-raiders/. Jim Brown for me personally has been one of the people I’ve admired the most in life, a hero both on the gridiron and on the city streets. He was an African American man who came to fame during the late 1950s during the Civil Rights movement and totally dominated his sport, displaying what was once the first requirement for notoriety in American life, extreme competence. He parlayed that success on the football field into very visible symbolic and concrete activism, supporting Muhammed Ali during Ali’s ban from the sport of boxing for resisting the call to the draft. He also cultivated through his scripted movies and his interviews a fierce, indomitable image of Black masculinity. His whole public career has been like looking at a modern day image of Frederick Douglass, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, Toussaint L’Overture and other Black men who resisted impression.

But more important than his image was the very valuable work that Jim Brown did with the Los Angeles gangs, including the Crips and Bloods. Jim Brown stepped in to be the father that he himself did not have for many young Black men at risk to the penal system and the prison pipeline. He reminded me of my own father, and he was in a sense Black America’s Dad in the same way that John Amos portrayal of James Evans on “Good Times” was. His “Amer-I-can” program was focused on teaching young people responsibility and furnishing them with opportunities to make it in this country. I always admired the fact that Brown’s South Carolina Gullah bred and NFL validated toughness, his inner grit, gave him the strength to talk to and work with young men that many others even in the Black community had written off. I always aspired to his ability to walk up to the roughest Brother and find some common ground.

Like all public figures, Brown had aspects of his personality that were troublesome as well, and like most, they seem to be the shadow or flip side of his good qualities. But I still viewed him, and still do as a hero, which to me means not somebody to put on a pedestal to worship, but somebody to emulate the good qualities of while also learning from their missteps and frailties, and I do believe his meeting with Donald Trump last week was a misstep.

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I still recall Jim Brown’s write in candidacy for President in 1992 after the LA Riots, with him making television appearances in a Kufi, and Chuck D’s endorsement of him in the Public Enemy song “I gotta do what I gotta do.” So his appearance at Trump Tower surprised me on some levels, and yet made perfect sense on others. African American Presidential access has always been a tricky thing. On the one hand it can represent tokenism at its highest form, and on the other, there must be somebody to advocate for Black issues at the highest levels of American society.

Obviously Mr. Brown views himself as an Emissary or Ambassador from the African American people, and by virtue of his life’s work and deep connection to the community still, I would agree he would be one person of many that fill that role. So on that level, even with the clear opposition Trump has already voiced on many issues relevant to Black people, I’m not surprised or upset with his meeting with President elect Trump at all. Even countries in the buildup to war have Ambassadors in the enemy territory. The ejection of Ambassadors is usually one of the major acts in the declaration of war, but even during the war periodic diplomatic talks occur.

I use the wartime Ambassador example because its very clear many, myself included, view Trump’s election as a declaration of war on some sort. But even then, I don’t fault Jim Brown at all for meeting with President elect Trump to take some measure of the man and for seeing if Trump would be agreeable to any parts of his agenda. Even as much as I despise Trump and his rise, there are still important issues that need to be addressed that effect all humanity at this time. Democrats and forces on the left have to decide whether they will go the Republican path of full obstructionism in order to challenge the legitimacy of Trumps government or whether they will work with him on the most important issues and protest him and block him on others. Evidently for Jim Brown, Trumps illegitimacy was not enough of a hindrance to prevent him from meeting with the President elect, while it would be for me and many other people. Brown himself said that he was very upset upon Trumps election before his faith in America took over.

Sadly though Brown’s appearance with Trump has drawn justifiable heat on the Internets. Many Black people are angry and some have even resorted to calling him a “coon”, while others know and trust his record enough to feel that his meeting with Trump is not tantamount to selling out. I do not disagree with the Brothers and Sisters anger and I do feel that public figures need to be held accountable in some way, not that I think that an older, proud man like Jim Brown is going to waste too much time thinking about what people say about him on social media.

Still, even for a fan like myself, the spectacle of seeing Mr. Brown at Trump Tower was one I’d rather not have seen. I was already disappointed in Kanye, but in light of his mental health and sometimes disgusting chase of fame and acceptance, not surprised, nor did it seem out of character. Mr. Brown, independent man that he is, went up to Trump Tower in an Independent way, with some combination of “when your President calls you answer, along with some sense of his own personal importance. I’m sure that Donald Trump bowed before Mr. Brown and told him everything he wanted to hear. You see, despite the tough talk, Donald Trump is a man who knows how to flatter and genuflect better than most, as he did the Mexican President even after beginning his campaign by slandering Mexico. Trump has also been involved in football before and genuinely admires athletes.

Jim Brown, actor and athlete, is also a man with a healthy sense of his own importance, to put it mildly. He is also a man who believes a man will do his best to carry out his word. So when Trump looked at him and promised to back his agenda, I’m sure Brown believes him. I however, absolutely do not, and neither do a large number of Americans. So in many ways I feel this was a trap uniquely laid for somebody like Jim Brown with his strengths and human weaknesses. Knowing his type like I do, I’m sure he’d tell me that he did what he thought was best and positive to secure a good result for people, and I believe that. Still I would advise him and anybody else not to let Donald Trump make a photo op out of them and their real concerns. There is nothing wrong with negotiations and consultations on policy, there will have to be Black, immigrant, environmental, feminist, gay leaders of all stripes at the table when Trump tries to pull what he’s trying to pull. But of all things, don’t allow Trump to use your image and your credibility to try to show that he’s not prejudiced and will be a President for all people. Because Trumps embrace of the great Jim Brown means little for the respect he will have for me or you “down here on the ground.”

And Trumps whole game is public entertainment, Roman bread and circuses, while he assembles the greatest cabinet of unqualified robber barons seen in U.S history. There is nothing wrong with negotiating with the leader of any country, even one you are opposed against, in the interests and with the backing of of the people you represent. But it is shameful to be a part of a distracting clown show, which is what I view many of the meetings going on at Trump Tower to currently be.

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Jim Brown’s program:
http://www.amer-i-can.org

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Tommie Smith, Athletic Protest, and the Greatness of the Raiders

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This past Monday night was a very special one as both a Raider fan and a Black history buff. My hometown Oakland Raiders went down to Mexico City to play a Monday Night Football contest and defeated the Houston Texans. This was special on several levels. For one, it was a unique experience to see an Oakland Raider game played in Mexico. Many of the most die hard Raider fans in the Bay Area and L.A are of Spanish descent, including many close friends, and some of them even made it to the game. I could tell from the social media posts they were sharing that to be able to explore the country of their ancestors while also enjoying their hometown team play (and win) a football game is an experience that touched them deeply. It was also special validation of the Raiders to win a big international game on Monday Night Football. During the Raiders decades of dominance in the 1970’s and ’80s they were especially known for their excellence when the lights shone the brightest, on prime time Monday night games. Those Monday night games exposed the nation to the pirates, bikers, soul brothers, renegade drinkers, central casting running backs (Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson), and reckless hitters who together created the Raider mystique. Winning on an internationally televised stage legitimatizes what we’ve known in the Bay Area all year, The Raiders truly can play! But Raiders owner Mark Davis did something else that made a very powerful statement.

Colin Kapernick, starting QB for the 49ers has drawn both haters and lovers for his National Anthem protests this football season, with some even dubiously claiming they are behind the NFL’s current ratings drop. Those protests have evolved from simply remaining seated to taking a dignified knee, and he’s been joined in them by members of his own team, as well as players on other teams and in other sports. The motivation behind them has been the nearly unceasing stream of officer involved, racially motivated shootings by police officers against Black men and women during the past few years, which leads back to the legacy of Jim Crow and America’s history of racial repression. With Kap’s proud Afro and Ethiopianesque visage, both his image and his stance remind one of the Black sports heroes of the 1960s in particular, people like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Muhammed Ali, and many other athletes of that time. He has been counseled in his sports activism by a Soul Survivor veteran of the Civil Rights and Black Power days, Dr. Harry Edwards, who organized a legendary boycott by black athletes of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games.

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Those games are legendary for the manner in which they highlighted the racial tensions of the time. Dr. King was killed in April, and America endured it’s largest scale racial rioting in its history. The phrase “Black Power”, unleashed by Stokely Carmichael right next to Dr. King in 1966 had resounded with a powerful echo in the worldwide Black community, and James Brown had already released his anthemic “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” The Black Panthers had been around for two years and were fixtures on the nightly news, and every force in Black life, from the right, left, and center were being galvanized on where they stood on the new wave of Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Third World Liberation Black militant thought that had finally come to the forefront.

It was in this environment that Dr. Harry Edwards called for a boycott by Black Athletes of the ’68 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Muhammed Ali had already provided the greatest example of a star Athlete resisting racial and governmental tyranny by refusing his induction to the draft in 1967. By the late ’60s professional sports had emerged as possibly the largest positive reflection of Black people in the United States and increasingly the world, with the way paved by stars such as Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Don Barksdale, Woody Strode, the great Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali, and many others. Many of these stars were very explicitly socially and politically active, but even those who were not were very useful to demonstrate the fact that Black people had the ability to do great things in modern society. Back when Jesse Owens owned the 1936 Olympics, it was suggested by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi propagandists that “Blacks lacked the intelligence to run”, which is an absurd claim considering people of African descent are known for our athletic prowess today. But it represents the totalitarian thinking on race that gripped the 20th century and would exist today if not for the obvious exploits of so many great Black people.

What made a larger impression on history was not the boycott, but two Bay Area sprinters who actually competed in the games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Gold and Bronze winners of the 200 meter race. Their black glove raised protest, feet shorn in black socks standing on the podium in victory, provided possibly the greatest visual of the Black Power era, an image that matched Brown and Mayfield and Franklin’s music and Malcom X’s speeches. This action, though celebrated now, resulted in death threats and ostracism from the Olympic and Track and Field establishments.

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History has been very kind however to the legacies of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Raider owner Mark Davis added to that on Monday Night. He invited Dr. Tommie Smith to fly with the team to Mexico City to light the torch that a Raider great lights before every home game in honor of his father, Al Davis. This was significant on several levels because Tommie Smith (who had a very brief NFL career) never played for the Raiders but is like the Raiders, a Bay Area legend who is a symbol for standing for what you believe in. The man who’s torch he lit that night, Al Davis, was perhaps the supreme maverick of NFL history, a man who drafted a Black Quarterback in the first round and hired one of his former players, Art Shell, to be the first Black NFL Head Coach in 1989. Davis was also known to be one of the first men in professional football (along with Bill Nunn Sr. of the Pittsburg Steelers) to regularly scout the HBCU’s, where he found Hall of Famers like Gene Upshaw and Art Shell.

The symbolism and the reality of this action shocked me for several reasons. While I know Al Davis and the Raiders have always been a very progressive team socially and culturally, they are also a very “blue collar” team. In fact, Im pretty sure that the small numbers of people who voted for Donald Trump in the Bay Area had many Raider fans among them. But the Raiders also represent a powerful coming together of Black, White, and Mexican working class people in the East Bay Area of California, other places like Los Angeles and the rest of the country. The Raiders have strong Mexican associations such as their legendary theme song, and the original name of the team was slated to be “The Senors” before a little girl suggested the name “Raiders.” They wear Black, just as Smith and Carlos did in Mexico City in 1868, and just as that other great Oakland institution, The Black Panthers, and another one, The Hell’s Angels. And they also always had the renegade vibe of the Hells Angels with players such as Ken Stabler, John Mutusack, Ted Hendricks and many other Raider greats.

The Raiders did this in a Bay Area sports world that has always been as progressive and nonconformist as the Bay Area as a whole. The Bay Area has had wild sports visionaries like Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, who clad his team in the perfect “Have a Nice Day” 1970s uniform of Green and Gold while winning three straight World Series. It also had my favorite coach, the visionary Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, who elevated offensive football to a science and also instituted a minority coach apprenticeship program in the NFL that led to Black NFL Head Coaches like Dennis Green, Marvin Lewis and Ray Rhodes. Walsh did this while employing and being advised by the organizer of that ’68 Olympic boycott, Dr. Harry Edwards, who also advises Colin Kaepernick almost 50 years later in 2016.

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In the end, Tommie Smith’s Al Davis torch lighting was an incredible moment for the NFL, The Raiders, Black athletes and the legacy of Bay Area sports. When Colin Kaepernick began his protests, I had the feeling no Oakland Raiders would be able to participate as freely in the protests. In fact, two players did raise a fist before a game and caused some friction among the team. Mark Davis has stated that he did not mind his players protesting but did not want them to do so, while in uniform, which he felt would tarnish the Raider brand. However he had met Tommie Smith through his father when he was in college and had a great appreciation for what those men did on that day. The Raider fan base is unique, probably containing both Donald Trump supporters with Black militants and Obama supporters, and some of those same Mexican Americans and native Mexicans Trump wants to build a wall to exclude. What unites them is an independent, hard working, that provides an example of how united America will be once the old divisions can no longer be used to run games, which is what the best of sports does as a whole. While I don’t want Dr. Tommie Smith’s torch lighting to be used to suggest all Black struggle is a thing of the past and not relevant when modern day athletes express their desire to see social change happen today, I applaud it as the most “Raider” thing I’ve seen in too long of a time!

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Heil Trump, Mein Imperial President

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Last week’s Presidential Election marked one of the most incredible political turn of events of my lifetime, as Donald J Trump, the real estate tycoon who’s rude antics I’ve been a witness to the majority of my life, won the Presidency of the United States with a solid electoral college victory, while losing the popular vote. Count me among the ranks of those who, although not energized by Hillary Clinton as a candidate, thought that she would triumph after watching the Trump campaign make one blunder after another. But no bullying, rude remark was enough to quell the wave of white resentment at the center of Donald Trump’s appeal. As Adolph Hitler once wrote, “The mentality of the masses has no use for half measures and weakness. It recognizes only ruthless strength and brutality.” Or as Donald Trump would say, “Take the oil.” It’s very clear that Barack Obama’s caution and gift for nuance might seem next to Trump, only a more successful, two term version of Jimmy Carter’s, coated in carmel. Trump in this scenario fulfills the American taste for heroes of old, bold white men who dictated terms to the rest of the world rather than asked. But in the 21st Century, the image of the dictatorial white man has changed. It is no longer the swaggering cowboy of old, represented by Ronald Reagen during his Presidency, it has now been replaced by an eastern business tycoon. And “The Donald” has convinced a winning plurality of working class (and college educated) white people that he is the most qualified person, inherited billions and all, to look after the common man. Now there have been rich champions of the working class before, such as FDR and JFK. But neither represented the visceral pull of Trump in this past election.

In reality, Donald Trump’s victory, though shocking, is many years in the making. The dominant political narrative, brought to the American people in its greatest form by Ronald Reagen, is that “big government” has become the problem in American life. My argument has always been that we never heard one peep about “big government” until Blacks and other minorities began to be seen as benefiting from government programs. Reagen and his advisors brilliance was to tie hatred for government into racicalized issues such as affirmative action, school busing from black to white districts, employment laws, minorities studies programs, welfare programs, jobs programs, and any other measure directed at fixing or mending racial inequality in America.

This wave is a very old one, that was brought to the fore by George Wallace and Barry Goldwater in 1964. Before that it had been seen in the violent “whitelash” after Reconstruction in the post War South. Trump emulated one of the most divisive of American politicians, Richard Milhaus Nixon, on his way to victory last Tuesday. Except with even less grace, playing to the reality TV deadened American mob of the early 21st Century. As much of the rest of the world denounced Trump’s antics in revulsion, a certain segment of American’s rapturously cheered his every rude, ill tempered tirade. Here finally was a person running for office who “kept it real.” Even some Blacks, who knew that Trump inspired the most vile and blatant racism seen since the 1960s, found Trump and his supporters real hate refreshing.

The great writer Playthell Benjamin wrote an essay on the unique American appeal of Donald Trumps brand of neo facism. It can be read here https://commentariesonthetimes.me/2016/03/14/is-donald-trump-a-uniquely-american-fascist/. Benjamin raised a fascinating point, which is basically that these extreme right wing movements, playing on simplistic ideas of going back to some lost glorious past (Make America Great Again!) and steeped in ethnic and racial chauvinism, need leaders who fit the history, myth, and temperament of the nations they’re attempting to mislead. And that Donald Trump, business tycoon and reality television star, has a personality and background uniquely suited for a number of Americans to trust him enough to turn over unprecedented power to.

Trump has, since his rise to celebrity during the 1980s, represented the American ideal of a bold, wheeler dealer businessman. This figure has replaced the cowboy and soldier as totems of American masculinity, with business and the competition for dollars seen as the true warfare. In this America, even wars such as the one’s we have conducted in the middle east are seen clearly as conquest for material resources, that all add up to money and prosperity. As Herbert Hoover was once reputed to say, “The business of America is business.” Trump is also a much different figure than the internet geeks who are much wealthier than he. Compared to them, he seems to have more of the patriarchal American boldness that is imprinted on our acquisitory history.

It seems that Americans have been running away from Democracy for many years. Benjamin Franklin was said to have remarked after the forming of the United States that he and the founding fathers had created “A Republic, if you can keep it.” The strength of the American Republic will be tested as it has not for a long time. The supporters of Donald Trumps argument, as well as right wing movements around the globe, is that the increasing wave of globalism, in which borders are undermined and resources do not find their way to actual citizens of the nations they’re supposed to be there for. This argument is problematic, as Its always been my point that the wave of globalization began with the creation of the Atlantic world, and was set in motion years ago by tragedies such as Slavery, Colonialism, and Native removal. As Malcom X said, “The Chickens are coming home to roost.” I will continue to use this blog as a space to monitor the coming changes in America, as a journal to advocate for things I believe are beneficial to human beings of all persuasions. And we will all need to remain vigilant as we’re being driven in the most sophisticated car in the world, by an elderly first time driver.

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Donald Trump, Political Version…..

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Like most American’s, I’ve been eagerly following this nightmarish Presidential Election. I have not been able to get myself enough together to write about it, but trust me, I’ve been talking about it with friends, family, and random people in the street who will listen. The threat posed by Donald J Trump to American Democracy is a unique one. Mainly because although his “winning” right wing Demagoguery threatens to unhinge Democracy as we know it, it also springs from the unique nature of American popular Democracy. And the one thing Trump has going for him (besides his money and his melanin deficiency) is his money. Maybe the size of his mouth and the brain attached to that mouth, but that’s clearly a double edged sword. Some Republicans claim shock at Trumps antics, but that’s merely because he’s foolish (and smart) enough to say in public what they’ve been uttering in private for many years. As an episode of Roots the Next Generation once had a character mention, the classical post Civil Rights act Republican politician has generally been one who’s had the dignity to use code words (Welfare Queen) when they want to signal out the word “Nigger” (or “Arab”, or “Liberated Woman”, or “Hispanic”) to their base. But Donald Trump is that child who curses in public. From the way the child cusses, you know how his Parents speak in private. As polarizing as Trump is to those who oppose him, he’s just as much of the right candidate for those who support him. He’s ridden a wave of racial anxiety brought to the surface by President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. This is a wave that has been building for a long time. It had such warning signals as George Wallace’s campaign for the Presidency, Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign. George H.W Bush’s “Willie Horton” ad. Ronald Reagens whole Presidency. In the 1990s we saw it in the standoff at Ruby Ridge and Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. We saw it in Pat Buchanan’s failed run for the Republican nomination in 1992, and his more upfront twin, David Duke. We even saw it in President Obama’s election in 2008, in the fire bombing campaign of Sarah Palin. As soon as Obama got elected we got more of it in the Tea Party, and Birthirism, through which Trump finally found his entire onto the legitimate American political scene. It’s the same attitude Carol O’Conner immortalized on television through his portrayal of Archie Bunker back in the ’70s, but the election of the first Black President, and the changing Demographics of America have made it even more desperate.

One of my best friends told me about a saying he grew up with in San Francisco back in the ’60s. He told me that he and his friends would talk about buddies they had who could “play something all the way to the bus stop.” These were dudes who were guilty of one crime or another and would still maintain their innocence after they were released from jail, all the way out of the jailhouse to the Bus stop to go back home, long after other people had accepted their guilt. Donald Trump is that kinda dude. When you catch him in a lie, he lies some more. When he’s wrong, he argues. If he’s guilty, he’s gonna show why you’re guilty as well. Nothing particularly new about that, we all probably know someone similar. The problem with Trump is that a certain section of America, which claims Democracy, would actually view Donald Trump as “strong.” For me? Donald Trump is a three card monty player. He’s a used car salesman. He’s a boss with camera’s in the bathroom. He’s not strong in the slightest, in the traditional moral and spiritual definitions of strength, he’s simply a hustler who does not respect anything but the dollar and his own reputation.

There have probably been political candidates throughout the years who have been as ugly as Donald Trump. But the scary thing about this particular moment is the way the media, celebrity, racism, legitimate economic problems, and the American worship of the false God Mammon, has led to this moment where the most spectacularly unqualified individual to ever run for the Presidency stands perilously close to the Oval Office.

Donald Trump has been a name I’ve known all my life. He was the epitome of fast talking, New York City wheeler dealer wealth in my youth. In the 1990s, I saw him from a different angle, as I watched my Hip Hop heroes like Russell Simmons, Puff Daddy, the RZA and several other figures “politic” with “The Donald.” And it was quite a fitting connection because I realize Trump is just like those figures in many ways, with less talent, and millions of dollars in seed money from his father. I grew up in the ’90s when “Trump tight” was a hip hop phrase of praise! But the Donald exemplifies Jay Z’s eternal line, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” He also exemplifies the paper rich economy created by Reagenomics. The economy that does not truly produce any value. Trumps business is Trump. The image of success, be it real or illusory. Just like the rappers who admired him, he’s done television shows, started clothing lines, and ejaculated his name across any willing surface if it would make him a dollar or two.

And that’s part of the reason some people respect him. The first time I saw it assumed that a businessman would run the country better than politicians was in the candidacy of Ross Perot in 1992. George W Bush ran on the same idea and actually “won” in 2000. But the idea itself is actually an old Republican one expressed during the days of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

But Trump isn’t simply a businessman, he’s a fast talking, trash talking white man, and an entertainer. He’s just as much of an attention whore as any reality television star the country claims to be tired of. And any attempts he’s ever had to spread his business acumen have been frauds because his business acumen has been more personality based than technical. Yet, Trump sits very close to the Presidency.

I don’t believe Donald Trump will win this coming election. But it matters little whether he wins or not because he has already broken the hymen of Lady Liberty. Some Americans believe that a billionaire who’s catchphrase is “you’re fired” is the most capable person to look after the needs of middle class and working people. All because at the end of the day a white guy with orange hair is the one they feel they can trust.

This is by no means an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, mind you. But a diatribe against “The Donald.” I was a critic of The Clintons in my teenage years during the 1990s! I was always appalled at the term of praise laid on Bill Clinton, “The first Black President.” I was also quite aware of the provisions of the 1994 Crime Bill, as many of them were originated right here in California, including the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law. The Clinton’s contribution to American politics has been for many of us a terrible one, which is a Democratic Party that was no longer Liberal. This was not some new decision that came on a whim. Bill Clinton was chairman of an organization called “The Democratic Leadership Conference” that formed after the Dems lost two elections badly to Ronald Reagen. That organizations goal? To destroy the Democrats reputation as the party of the poor and minorities and make it more appealing to the “Reagen Democrats” a group of Middle Class voters who voted for Ronald Reagen, but were traditionally Democratic.

What were these policies? A focus on “Middle class tax cuts” instead of cash handouts. In education, things such as charter schools and vouchers to combat the Republicans call for Private school choice vouchers. A get “tough on crime” stance that included both policies Republicans hated such as assault weapons bans, and policies they loved, such as sentencing laws that would disproportionately affect minorities. And for the most part it worked. Clinton caught the good wave of the Internet boom to preside over the best peacetime economy America has ever seen. He also managed to do something, win the White House twice, that was thought to be impossible for a Democrat post-Ronald Reagen.

But even though Clinton won the White House twice, he did so with a minority each time. Also the agenda he ran on left little room for the Democrats to enact their traditional social agenda’s. This was seen when GWB won the White House pretending to be a “Compassionate Conservative.” Some people say the damage had been done however, as some Democrats had finally accepted Ronald Reagen’s America, an America of limited government, as the framework for American life. Of course the racists support “Limited government” because it would mean no Department of Education, no Affirmative Action, no student loans, no Head Start, and no other program to challenge the unfair advantages gained during the bloody founding of our nation.

As a person who was there at that time, getting my first lessons in politics, it is through that sense I see Hillary Clinton. She got her first lessons in this way before Ronald Reagen was elected, in 1972 when George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon by a landslide. The message was clearly that the 1960s, with its activism and hopes for equality in America, was over. She’s been a politician ever since, even though she has only been an elected one since the early 21st Century, conflicting with Trumps charge that she’s been in office “30 years.”

The claim that she’s been in office “30 Years” is a part of the sexist energy that has always made American uncomfortable with Hillary Clinton. People forget that when she came on the national scene she was still known as “Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Which meant that she was one of those “unmastered” women who still held on to the name their daddy’s gave them. I saw men like Pat Buchanan get up on Republican stages and attack this woman simply because her husband respected her opinion.

One of the interesting features of this election is Black people’s outlook on it, which is the outlook I’m most concerned with. Some of the ill will that was built up for Hillary during the 2008 election cycle when she ran a dirty campaign against Barack Obama has not subsided. Also, many people in the Black community are finally getting hip to the Clintons mixed record on racial relations.

However, I’m not sure if Hillary is to blame for Bill’s history of triangulation and neo Liberalism. To me it seems to be a classic case of “blame the woman.” My mother always told me, from experience, one of the hardest things for a woman to do is be the wife of a charismatic man. A charismatic man’s wife is the ultimate “Bad cop.” Hillary has always been the “bad cop” in her relationship to Bill, the scapegoat for all his failings and even his biggest failed policy, the 1994 Health Care Bill. “Super predators” comments and devilry in Haiti aside, I see that as Hillary’s main problem politically, the bright light that her husband shone and the way she comes off in comparison.

At the end they’re both people after power for their own reasons. But a Trump Presidency is simply intolerable for me, and I believe anyone else as well, whether they currently know it or not. My only sentiment is the same one Stokely Carmichael used to raise, “Are you ready to survive America!?!?!”

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#SummerofJB I: J.B’s antitdote to ’70s Malaise

President Jimmy Carter gave a speech in 1979, which many felt doomed his Presidency, which has popularly been known as the “malaise speech” ever since, which is interesting because he never mentioned the word “malaise” once in the speech. The speech was based on a book called “The Culture of Narcissism : American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” by Christopher Lasch. The book theorized that phenomenon such as Americans apetite for things such as oral sex proved that Americans had been babied during the ’50s and ’60s, and really, for the whole 20th century, leading to a people now incapable of making the types of sacrafices that made the country great. Carter translated this into a speech about how America had lost the can do, optimistic spirit it used in World War II and its aftermath to become the most powerful industrial nation the world had yet seen. I think this speech in particular is one reason my parents and other people I grew up around always said President Carter was too honest for politics. All of this was done in an effort to get Americans to consume less oil, as it was becoming clear America’s dependence on OPEC oil combined with the Muslim countries new fundamentalism would spell the end of the United States ability to dictate to other countries. This speech was seen as one of the primary reasons Carter got thumped by Ronald Wilson Reagen in the 1980 election, or at least, the attitude contained within. Carter was asking the United States to do something it was not ready to do, to limit itself in order to remain self sufficient and powerful. The counter message coming from Ronald Reagen was that this was fundamentally un American. Accepting limits in American life, mainly the power to consume, would be like surrendering to Germany and Japan in 1941. Reagen brought a Cowboy optimism that was the exact opposite of President Carter in style, and truthfully, more in line with the American spirit.

The Godfather of Soul James Brown, ever hip to cultural currents, gave his “Malaise Speech” four years before President Carter gave his, in 1974. Inflation and gas supply were still a problem then, but added on top of that, one of the biggest crisis of leadership America has yet faced, the Watergate scandal, had replaced Richard Nixon, who J.B endorsed in 1972, with Gerald Ford, who the Godfather found to be a total drag, as did the rest of the country. The difference between J.B’s indictment of American malaise and President Carter’s is that the Godfather laced his with one of his phattest grooves, one that has stood the test of time in funk and hip hop.

The ’70s are largely seen today as a decade of breezy fun, disco, cocaine, free sex, good rock, funk and soul music, and a kind of continutation or day party for the party that started in the late ’60s. It was that, but it also was a decade where American political consensus had been rocked by the protests of Civil Rights, Womens Rights, Black Power, Immigrant and Indian Rights, and finally Gay Rights. At the same time there was little consensus at home, the end of Colonialism and the Third World Revolution raised the prices on commodoties. America was very much an old dad trying to deal with the younger generations. Gas prices and prices on all kinds of products went up.

Amazingly, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, was toward the end of one of the best periods of his career in 1974. The Funk that had been introduced with “Cold Sweat” in 1967 and been supercharged by Bootsy and Phelps Collins in 1970 had become fully mature by 1974. J.B had an incredible run of early ’70s hits, including “Get on the Good Foot”, “Hot Pants”, “Sex Machine”, “Soul Power”, “Get up, Get Into It, Get Involved”, “King Heroin”, “Super Bad”, and many others.

But even with that amazing string of hits, there were problems. For one, J.B’s 1968 Black pride anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, seemed to doom him on the pop charts, as he did not crack the top ten of those charts until 1986’s “Living in America”, even while dropping generation defining funk songs that hit #1 R&B. Mr. Brown’s son, Teddy, died in a car crash, and the mom & pop record label he dominated, King Records in Cincinati, got bought out by a German company, Polygram. Yes, Mr. Brown was in the situation many American workers were, going from working for Americans to working for a large multinational conglomerate, and he came to feel they didn’t understand him or his music. Also, there were tax problems. And to top it off, he was taking hits in the black community for endorsing a man they viewed as their clear enemy, Richard M Nixion, in 1972.

Brown, a Gold Glove boxer in his youth, would never in his life go down without swinging though. 1973-74 feature some of his biggest and best known hits, from Fred Wesley and The J.B’s family reunion classic “Doin It to Death”, to “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, to “The Payback.” But on “Funky President” he addresses the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The “Funky President” of the song is President Gerald Ford, a transitional figure who is mainly known in pop culture for falling off airplanes, which was potrayed by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. Brown mentioned that he thought Ford was a good man, but every time he spoke people seemed to get depressed. Ford would only serve out the end of Nixons term before losing to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Brown’s “Funky President” deals with what a drag the country was becoming, but it proposes super heavy funk as a motivator and togetherness as the antidote. The track itself is funky, but different for James Brown, when you listen to the funk of “Superbad” or “Get on the Good Foot” or “Soul Power.” Maybe the reason for this is because Brown uses studio musicians instead of his J.B’s on the track. The sound of the track is also different, being recorded at Sound Ideas studio in New York City. James Brown was known for recording in various places whenever the mood hit him rather than holing up in one studio as many other great acts do. The sound on “Funky President” is clean and well seperated, and I want to go out on a limb and say I think it utilizes heavy overdubbing as well, which was not the general wasoy Brown recorded. Brown preffered to get everybody in the room together and cut the song from top to bottom live with minimal fixing of mistakes. It’s almost as if the political plea of “Funky President” demanded a clean, apple pie All American funk sound so the message wouldn’t be lost.

The band was made up of well known studio musicians such as David Sanborn, Joe Farrell, Joe Beck, and Gordon Edwards. Very interestingly, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis is also on the track, which is interesting because he was James Browns arranger during the early period of J.B’s funk in the late ’60s and hadn’t worked with Mr. Brown for some timewhen “Funky President” was recorded. The drummer, who must be noted, is Allan Schwarzberg, a white Jewish guy, and not one of J.B’s regular drummers. That’s signifigant because “Funky President”‘s drum pattern is one of the most sampled in hip hop, and it didn’t even come from one of Brown’s regular drummers, like Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield, or Melvin Parker. Conga Player Johnny Griggs is the only player from J.B’s regular band listed.

The music itself is unique for J.B’s heavy funk period. It’s very clear, clean, in control, yet heavy. It seems tailor made for doing the classic ’70s dances. The sound is also very studio centric as opposed to Brown’s famous live sound. The song begins with a super heavy, phat drumbeat from Allan Schwarzberg. The drum beat starts with a snare drum fill that would be a favorite of hip hop samplers such as the Legendary Marley Marl. The drum part is really just a super funky 8th note pattern, very well recorded and prominent in the mix. The combo of the drums, the wah wah guitar, and J.B saying “Funky”, is the jelly the hip hop samplers would go crazy over in the ’80s, but we must remember, the original hip hop D.J’s , Kool Herc, Afrika Baambaata and Grandmaster Flash were playing this joint when it came out as well. The bass line is very simple and funky, leaving space for the drums, the incessant and almost sequence like guitar riff, and a very involved horn chart that serves as J.B’s back up singers. The song also has very funky breaks that allow Brown to really emote.

J.B describes the litany of problems facing America in the 1970s He says the “Stock Market is going up, the jobs going down.” That phenomenon the Godfather mentioned is one that affects America even today. Basically, whats good for the capitalist class who run business and own stock, is not always good for working folks. “Productivity”, which could mean cutting jobs, increasing hours, cutting benefits, etc, is good for a company’s stock, but usually not the working man. That can be seen in the recovery from the 2008 “Great Recession”, as the stock market has rebounded fully while jobs have not.

J.B speaks of taxes going up. Browns tax problems have been well documented, and the saddest thing about them is he thought the political work he’d done would save him from the I.R.S, but generally it didn’t. Brown uses blues like lyrics to describe how tight things were, saying “I changed from a glass/now I drink from a paper cup, getting bad.”

But this is no blues. This song is a funky song of motivation. At the heart of the song lies James Brown’s advice for Black America in particular, and it’s one he consistently advocated and practiced in his own life. The Godfather tells us:

“Lets get together, get some land/Raise our food like the man/Save our money like the mob/Put up the factory on the job.”

The Godfathers economic plan is one that had been espoused by Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey and The Honorable Elijah Muhammed for years. In the America of 1974, with rising commodity prices, gas shortages and coming off the Vietnam War, James Brown advocated self sufficiency for Black people in particular. Just four years after this song in 1978, the Civil Rights Movement would come to an official historical en with the Bakke decision. J.B, being a man with his ear to the street as well as experiencing the pinch in his own life, knew the outlook was bleak for both America and Black people in particular. The program he advocated in particular would have been a great boon to the black community going through the 1970s into the 1980s, with Republican Governments hell bent on rolling back Civil Rights gains as well as a country with a lessened ability to dictate terms to foreign countries.

But Brown went for that ass in delivering this message. Strangely, right after this political rap, J.B goes back to talking about sex. He talks about praising the Lord, and then says “Get sexy, sexy, get funky and dance.” Love me baby, Love me nice/Don’t make it once/but can you make it twice/I like it.” Then he goes right from that to his encouragement, telling people to “Turn on their funk motors.” Its almost as if the religious faith and the sex are the things Brown is proposing as the spiritual and physical fuel people need to get up offa that thang and face the challenges of the times. He ends this verse with encouragement, telling folks “Hey , give yourself a chance to come through/tell yourself I can do what you can do.”

The phat, well recorded Allan Schwarzberg James Brown drumbeat would go on to become a staple in Hip Hop. In the early ’80s the Sugarhill house band would actually recreate the beat with live musicians for people like Spoonie Gee to rap over. In the sample heavy late ’80s, Marley Marl would sample other drums and use them to play the pattern Schwarzberg played on classic cuts such as “Eric B. is President.” J.B would go on to have other hits, but 1974 would be his last year as a consistent hitmaker, with “Funky President” getting all the way up to #4 on the R&B charts. He’d have other monsters like “Bodyheat” and “Get Up Offa That Thang” a few years later, but “Funky President” stands tall in the Brown ouvere for it’s funky beat laid down with studio musicians and the funky political stump speech that got people out of their malaise rather than bathed them in it, with the true “Funky President”, James Brown himself accomplishing something Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagen could not!

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Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex

Here is an excellent blog post about Mr Kanye West. Though I appreciated Kanye over the years for trying to introduce a more thoughtful dialogue into hip hop, his masterful soul music samples, and have been amazed by his ability to piss off the general public, I have also found many of his rants immature and counter productive. The writer here takes the time to explain how he undermines any social points he may make due to his self centered ness

Kanye's Frantz Fanon Complex.

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