Kendrick Lamar’s Shock Therapy

k dotI’m sure we all heard about our boy Kendrick Lamar dropping one of the hottest verses of the year on Big Sean’s track, “Control.” I’m vibing with this track for so many reasons: the tasteful sample, the diverse approaches from all three emcees, as well as the buzz that was created over K. Dot’s words–in less than a wee–from the hip hop universe are all reasons to get  your blood pumping over this joint. It’s a special thing to witness a rapper name-drop so many other emcees, self-proclaim himself as the king of a city he isn’t even from, and the response isn’t hate, but rather other driven emcees simply answering his call to arms in friendly competition–but competition nonetheless.

It’s a common occurrence for people to divide themselves into two camps for hip hop: Old School and New School.  For as long as I can remember, the “old school” fans of hip hop always loved to reminisce on the “Golden Age of Hip Hop”, when rappers could do no wrong and the only thing that mattered was the integrity and quality of the music; as opposed to now, when most of the hip hop that receives publicity is mediocre at best, and revolves more around profit than actual content. These opinions are justifiable, there are a lot of mediocre emcees out there dropping a lot of trash that’s getting undeserved attention, but it’s not like this is anything new. We have a tendency to over romanticize the past and pretend like old school hip hop was this ratchet-free zone where every emcee was immune to imperfections. The reality, however, was that mediocrity existed then as much as it does now, it’s just that hip hop has become so large, reaching so many spaces around the world, that it’s impossible to not notice how much sub-par content currently exists.

That’s what makes Kendrick’s verse so amazing: he’s reminding us that hip hop ain’t dead, because many of its inhabitants are still reaching for greatness, determined to be all they can be, while at the same time bringing others along for the ride. The music may keep changing forms, but it is as alive now as it was before, it’s just we sometimes forget what to keep our ears open to. The one word that comes to  mind when I think of the music that has been released these last few years is “ambition.” So much innovation, creativity, and originality is coming  from this new generation of artists, and Kendrick Lamar reminded us that this is the new norm. You listen to “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” and you can sense the dedication that was put into such a masterful work. The same goes for so many other artists attempting to test their limits, as well as what our own ears are willing to handle.

So for me, K. Dot’s verse isn’t anything revolutionary, because it’s what I’ve grown to expect from him and so many other emcees who have been attempting to push the bar to another level: a determination for excellence, and nothing less than. 

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Ashton Kutcher: “Build a Life, Don’t Live One, Build One”

At this years Teen Choice Awards, Ashton Kutcher decided to get real with teenagers, and in a way that most of Hollywood as been avoiding for sometime now. In just four minutes, he preaches of humility, integrity, and the power of an imagination to an audience of youthful admirers hanging on to his every word.

What resonated with me the most, however, wasn’t Kutcher’s first point about working hard when opportunities present themselves, and it wasn’t when he redefined sexy as being something of the mind and not the body.  It was at the end of his acceptance speech that spoke to me, when he gave the audience one of the most valuable gifts: the power to believe in their own potential, to envision the world they want to live in, and then make it a reality.

“Steve Jobs said when you grow up,” says Kutcher,” you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is. And your life is to live your life inside the world, and try not to get in too much trouble, and maybe get an education, get a job and make some money and have a family. But life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing. And that is that everything around us, that we call life, was made up by people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things, you can build your own life that other people can live in. So build a life–don’t live one–build one.”

I’m not a teenager, but that doesn’t mean this speech didn’t give me chills or feel just as relevant to my own life. When you look outside and see everything that is happening in the world today, it’s impossible to not feel powerless. I’m that guy that acknowledges the negative things around me, and then just willfully accepts those as my only options. I can imagine my mindset not being much different from so many others who have also internalized feelings of helplessness after various setbacks, and so they aim low–not because they don’t want to work hard, but they just don’t want another disappointment weighing down on their souls.

We live in a world where the norm is to think small–to be pragmatic–because just because we want something to happen, that doesn’t mean it will. So, for me, it’s always refreshing seeing someone who is happy living the life they want to live, and then telling us we can do the same.

After Trayvon (Part2): An Honest Gun Debate

images (4)It was in December of 2012 when the nation wept as Adam Lanza–within the span of five minutes–was able to kill twenty-six people with 152 bullets in a Newtown, CT elementary school. Through heated debates, the nation felt an obligation to avenge the deaths of innocent children with an open discourse on gun control laws and discussing the dangerous outcomes that come from allowing people to so easily access dangerous firearms. Yet, because of the post-racial environment in which politics function under today, the debate failed to acknowledge who would actually benefit from such legislation: not suburban America, but urban America–mainly Black and Latino youth, many of which are poor.

What was also missing from this debate was a failure to remember that it was only in the beginning of 2012, not even a year prior to the incidents of Newtown, when a seventeen-year-old African-American by the name of Trayvon Martin was shot in his own neighborhood for wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of skittles. It would take 40 days to arrest and charge his murderer, George Zimmerman, followed by another year to find out justice would not be served as he was acquitted of all charges.

With the Zimmerman verdict last month, Americans’ consciousness woke up. No longer were people willing to accept that America was post racial, but rather they became more aware that the racism that killed Trayvon Martin was the same racism that terrorized African-Americans for the last 400 years, along with an understanding that the same injustice that acquitted Zimmerman was a product of the same injustices that filled so much of an American history which reinforced the doctrine of white-supremacy.

Fast forward almost a year later, just weeks after Obama’s inauguration, we would witness  Hadiya Pendleton  become another victim of another senseless shooting just blocks from Barack Obama’s Chicago home.

With the circumstances of both Pendleton and Martin put together, now is the time to understand the tragedy of being black in America and discuss ways in which to better them. It’s important to not just acknowledge the role racism played in the death of Trayvon Martin and Hadiya Pendleton, but also what role could  adequate gun control laws have played in saving them, along with so many other black youth living in America?

Here is the reality today in America: young black men in America have an eight times greater chance of dying from gun violence than whites. Of cities with the highest murder rates, most of them have majority Black or Latino demographics. When you look at these numbers, it’s impossible to adequately talk about gun control  laws without keeping in mind the racial implications of such legislation. It’s impossible to talk about Trayvon Martin, and then not wonder what would have happened had Zimmerman been without a gun.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, a real gun debate means coming to terms with a racist legacy that continues to haunt us today. The ghosts of such a legacy are present at all times. With the circumstances and verdict of Trayvon’s murder, with the shooting of Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, along with the hundreds of deaths each year of young African-Americans to gun violence, race is continually manifested. We can’t choose when to bring up racism, it’s a matter of  being open and honest with ourselves, along with acknowledging the violent reality so many people have to live with.

(This is Part 2 of the “After Trayvon” series. To see Part 1, click here, and follow Soul Latte to be notified of part 3’s publication)