On Making The Album, Fostering Love

Just wrapping up another beautiful week in the studio with The Oneness Project, recording my first full length album, “Rites Of Passage”. It’s coming along smoothly. And its opening my eyes to a lot of new things. I’m really appreciating the journey that is taking place, and all the hard work that is being put in from every musician, and the love that is being fostered all along the way.

IMG_7033 copy

PC: Yasmina Mattison

For me, this isn’t an ordinary project. In writing this music, I had to look deep inside myself, and relive a lot of experiences in my own life: pain, love, and everything in between.

IMG_8640BW

PC: Yasmina Mattison

This isn’t my first time in the studio recording music, or my first time composing original work. But it is the first time where I’m seeing the vision I fully intended taking shape in ways I never dreamed of, and where I’ve had to stop, and say to myself “we are truly onto something beautiful.”

 

IMG_8519

PC: Yasmina Mattison

But what’s more special is when you can find a group of musicians who can help bring that vision to life. The sound reflects a level of love and selflessness from everyone involved in the project. I’m grateful to everyone who was able to get behind on such a message that we are trying to spread with this album, and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Stay tuned.

 

There is A Good Chance Kendrick Lamar’s Releasing Another Album, Here’s Why

Okay, so hear me out people: We need to bow down to the gods for this new K. Dot joint. Anyone who knows me knows that my Kendrick fandom knows no limits. Your boy been putting people on the king kunta ship since Section.80 days. So please don’t ever question my loyalties, because a nigga is about to go hard right now and say some shit that might be hard to hear. 

DAMN. is dope. In the future, when we look back on this album, it will most definitely go on the classic’s shelf. We can’t say Kendrick is slowing down even a little bit. This ain’t  a nonesense Drake project, where all you’re hearing is a dude who’s been running out of shit to say for 3 albums too many. Kendrick is still dropping gems, and we still need to hear him out.  But brace yourself for what I’m about to say: As dope as DAMN. is, it’s incomplete.  I know Kendrick is holding out on some serious fire, and I’m going to need him to stop fucking with my emotions like this. I haven’t slept in days. 

How do I know this? Because this isn’t a new Kendrick sound. It’s on a G.K.M.C vibe, which is lit af, and I’ll definitely bump it until my neck crack back, but Kendrick is a man who pushes musical boundaries. And if you heard T.P.A.B, then you know that whatever comes next has to be some serious fire that will make you question everything about reality, and that will also push a whole new sound and move Hip Hop forward.  However amazing we are all saying this album is, I don’t think it’s K. Dot’s final product.

I did some research. When Kendrick was discussing his latest album to New York Style magazine, he said, “We’re in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God,” he went on and said, “Nobody speaks on it because it’s almost in conflict with what’s going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system.” So when you hear what he’s saying in this interview, and then listen to the album, it feels like he still has something to say, and a different sound to build upon from T.P.A.B

A lot folks are out here on the internet putting some intense theories together, and I ain’t mad at them for it. The main being that DAMN. is part 1 of a 2 part album. That makes sense. It came out on Good Friday, to which Christians observe the crucifiction of Jesus, and it would seem logical that he would maybe drop another one tomorrow, on Easter, Resurrection Sunday

Here is one person taking the theoretical game to another level: 

Also, to take this theory home, a bunch of folks on K. Dot’s team were on social media alluding to something bigger than what we’re seeing and hearing right now. 

Like here:

And this:

And…:

We’re in a period of artists pulling crazy surprises. And Kendrick is leading that front. We didn’t know when T.B.A.B was going to drop, or The Heart part 4, or Humble.  I can see him announcing an album, making us feel all cozy in our seats, and then slapping us with some next-level-shit. That would be the Kendrick we all know, and it would make this the greatest Easter ever–mainly because I’ve never had a reason to celebrate before. 

So I’m just going to sip my tea, sit by my phone, and keep hiting refresh on Kendrick’s Instagram. 

On Dave Chappelle’s Return: I Ain’t For It

IMG_0779

Before I go in, let me make it clear: I have always loved Dave Chappelle. I mean, I made a whole post dedicated to him way back when–in the early days of this blog. I’ve seen every episode of Chappelle’s Show multple times. I watched his stand up. Correction–I memorized his stand up. I’ve studied his ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ interview and his Oprah interview. I watched him interview Maya Angelou before her death. For Dave’s whole career, I have been all in on “team Chappelle”. I’ve had nothing but love, respect and admiration for this brother.

…Until last month.

Since they were announced, I was anticipating his two Netflix specials, because I knew that what Dave has always said to be powerful and truth-seeking, and that now more than ever could we use his words to speak truth to power. The first special starts out smooth. As I’m watching, I’m thinking maybe the long-lost black prince has returned to claim his throne as the king of comedy.

But after about 15 minutes, it starts to get problematic real quick. I don’t know which came first–the rape jokes, the homophobia, or the transphobia. Either way, one thing is for sure: This new Chappelle, I ain’t for it.

Here are some of the jokes that made me turn in my seat from discomfort: 

On Gay Rights:

“Y’all always have some kind of gay political argument; the last one was about a petition in federal court to take the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ out of the law, and I said “Why would you want those words out the law?” He said “Because it discriminates against same-sex couples,” I was like “N****a please save me the semantics, take your chips out of the casino you’re about to crap out. Go outside, talk it over amongst yourselves, and whichever one of you is gayer, that’s the wife [audience laughs].””

On Caitlyn Jenner coming out as Trans:

“Whenever I see one of them Ts on the street I’m like “I don’t mind them but man I miss Bruce. [audience laughs]

“I knew before you guys knew. I heard things on the street in Hollywood, you know you used to be out, see people: “Hey what’s up Kanye, why the long face?” [audience laugh] “N***a you’ll see, I’ve got two mother in-laws now.”

On Trans Rights:

“I was shocked. Is this happening? Wait a minute, is this a time in American history when an American can make a decision for themselves, and even though other Americans don’t understand it they’ll support it, and let this person live a happy life? Is this what’s happening? If it is then good for America. [audience cheers] That’s Dave Chappelle, the American.

“Although Dave Chappelle the black American, he was a little jealous, I was like “How the fuck are transgender people beating black people in the discrimination Olympics? If the police shot half as many transgenders as they did n****s last year there’d be a fucking war in L.A. I know black dudes in Brooklyn, hard, street motherfuckers, who wear high heels just to feel safe.”

There are a lot of things to be critical over during the two specials. On my own end, it really hurts knowing how many parts that are cringe worthy, and the fact that it’s coming from someone who I’ve idolized since I was 14. But I kept watching regardless, because I was hoping maybe my hero would turn things around. And at moments I really thought he would, but it just never happened. What was  most alarming was how he centered one of the whole specials around the justification of rape. This is important. It is important because it was brought up in order for him to reconcile his inner conflict with the Bill Cosby rape allegations. He compares it to a super hero who can only activate his powers by rubbing a woman’s vagina. So in the event of a crisis, the only way he can save people, is by raping a woman. Chappelle’s words: “He rapes women. But he saves more than he rapes.” The audience laughs. 

To Chappelle, Bill Cosby more than likely raped these women, but even still, he was his idol. His conclusion–not mine–is that even if he did rape these women, he did a lot of good for the black community, and somehow that should absolve him from the trauma he instilled on these women.  With this in mind, everything else he says make sense. It’s an age-old dilemma, or not really a dilemma, but a plague within the black community. And it’s one that has always been reinforced: Black cis straight men, are really only here for other black cis straight men.

The Bill Cosby debate showed not just how  little we value women’s voices, or black women’s voices, but also their trauma. Dave also displays how much black men don’t value the trauma of LGBTQ and Trans folk, especially within black communities. He can only stand for his own oppression as a black man, and everyone else’s oppression needs to get to the side. Regardless if the same violence that has plagued black men also plagues LGBTQ folk and women, even in–especially in–the black community.

So I ain’t for it for a lot of reasons, but mainly because he has claimed before to be on a platform of social responsibility. Ten Years ago, when Dave came back from Africa, he told Oprah why he left Chappelle’s Show in an interview. He explains how he felt that he didn’t feel he was making white people question their racism, but rather enabling it. 

Chappelle’s Show was great for a lot reasons, mainly because of how he confronted the racism we see all around us. Chappelle’s Show took the reality of racism, and put a humorous spin onto it. In doing so, Chappelle was able to make the viewer stop and think, “maybe we need to stop normalizing all these things that are racist AF, and do better.”

But at some point in making the third season, Chappelle noticed a white dude laughing at his jokes behind the set. He discusses this in an Oprah interview. It was a different type of laughing, Chappelle notes, as if the racial stereotypes he was attempting to dismantle were actually being reinforced instead. As in this dude wasn’t laughing at the irony of Chappelle’s joke, he was laughing because he was probably racist AF. Chappelle felt that being on such a platform, meant understanding the social responsibility he had, and that maybe he wasn’t using his heightened visibility responsibly. That’s real. This is important, because ten years later, he has finally returned to the stage, but he appears to have abandoned any sense of “responsibility” when he chooses to discuss LGBTQ issues or rape culture. 

Dave Chappelle could have made a nuanced conversation around rape culture, homophobia, and transphobia. He could have highlighted the bigoted statements, and then brought it home by pointing out how ridiculous it is to hold these stigmas against these marginalized people. In short: he could have given their struggle the same level of respect he gives the struggle for black men, but he didn’t. He was lazy. And I ain’t for it.

I think comedy can be used as an amazing weapon. I do agree that maybe we shouldn’t hold comedians to the same standards of everyday conversations. That maybe we shouldn’t have such soft skin, as well, and be able to take a laugh. But this new Chappelle feels different, and it has dangerous implications. You watch Chappelle’s Show, and when Dave tackles race, no matter how you see it, there is nuance to it. At face value, it can make you cringe. But the more you dig, the more you see how profound the message is that he is getting to.

But in his new special, there is nothing deep about how he tackles homosexuality,  trans folk, or rape culture. It’s all surface level. What’s worse is he never actually challenges these phobias, but rather just reinforces it.  

Some people say comedy should be exempt from the rules, but I see comedy as art, and art as protest. It ain’t just laughs when people are dying for the same shit Dave is saying in these specials. We can choose to fall back into the patterns of a dangerous culture that says its okay to spit out whatever hate we want to so long as it makes people laugh in the name of comedy, and reinforce centuries old hate; or we can challenge ourselves to think differently, to do better, and be better human-beings.  

Whatever helps y’all sleep at night, I guess….

Making Meaningful Music: Inspiration Behind The Oneness Project

I don’t where to begin, but I guess I have to start somewhere. I remember 2 years ago being unsatisfied with music. I was playing with bands, writing music, touring, but it was missing something. I had been playing music for a long time. It’s always held a special place in my heart, and that’s why I was feeling empty. When you know how powerful music can be, when you’ve had the ability to touch people’s hearts in certain ways, even just once, when you fall short of that, no matter how “good” the music may sound, it just can’t feel right.

The Oneness Project is a response to that. I began writing the music a little over a year ago. These songs are dear to me, they represent spiritual growth, overcoming real hardships, and finding love in all things.  It is an understanding that your soul can’t be full, and your music will never reach the highest level, until all aspects of yourself, and your art, are ONE.

It was one year ago when we recorded the first and only video, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Since then, it’s only received great responses. it’s reminded me the power of music, and what purpose it should serve, and who. Now, a year later, I’m realizing I need to finish what I started, and do an entire album.

It’s a huge an undertaking, and I can’t do it alone. I’ve a started a GoFundMe Campaign, and I’m reaching out to all of you–my friends, my family, to people I’ve never met but who have continually supported me over the years–to help make this a reality, to donate, share, and spread the word to the people they know, and even the people they don’t. Here is the link. 

The goal is to raise $1,000, it seems like a lot, but making an album isn’t easy, and that goal will only help with some of the costs, the rest I will carry on my back.

Here’s what the funds will go towards:

1. Studio Time – Studio time is not cheap, especially when you want to make something that does not feel rushed.

2. Musicians – All of the musicians involved are amazingly talented, and deserve to paid their worth. From rehearsals, traveling across the region, and the actual recording, they will be dedicating a lot of time to this project. I want to make sure it is not in vain.

3. Distribution – Purchasing CDs, artwork, and shipping are all critical to getting the music you.

4. Most importantly: Through meeting this goal, I will be able to give away this music for FREE! I don’t believe in selling music, and I want this music to be accessible to everyone. You all can help with that.

Thank you to everyone who has helped, encouraged, and supported me this far. It’s meant a lot, and you all are the reason I am doing this.

Here’s to making good music!

-Mtali Shaka Banda

Emma Watson, Feminism, and Spirituality

Emma WatsonEarlier this week, Emma Watson spoke as a Goodwill Ambassador at the UN for a new campaign, HeForShe, a righteous attempt to make gender equality a universal dialogue by bringing men into the discourse.

For many reasons, we could break down that speech for  the so many ways it was problematic. I don’t agree that Emma should have called out women for man-hating, and put the solution on women to be more open to men coming into the circle of feminist dialogue.

I also think for many of the reasons people praise it, we can also criticize it–like when she acknowledged her own privilege as being one of the few women in this world who can appreciate that level of economic, social, and professional success because of the resources she had readily available to her, claiming that the forces of sexism were never present in her life. And yes, we could make the case that that would have been an amazing moment to highlight all the women in the world who make far less than 78% of men, of women who have to rely on being sex workers to survive while privileged women criticize their choices, of a world of feminism that continually marginalize the experiences of black, brown, and poor voices.

All of these points can be debated to great lengths. But I also think that when you only focus on these points, you’re missing how beautiful the speech really is. It wasn’t until  the end of her speech that it really hit home with me:

“Men, I would like to give this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too….Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are. When they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

Being a member of the Baha’i Faith, the concept of true Gender equality has never been a foreign topic, but rather one of the cores of my religious beliefs. There was a spiritual component that resonated with me when I heard this, and that is what made this so refreshing. As I was listening to her speak, I was reminded of the Baha’i Writings:

“ The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.”

When we speak about eliminating patriarchy, we aren’t just talking about getting rid of prejudices, ending rape culture, or tearing down the walls of misogyny. we are talking about humanity’s–particularly men’s–spiritual salvation.

The older I get, and the more speeches like these I hear, the more I am becoming aware of the role that I have–as a man–in fostering the world that I want to live in, as well as a better understanding towards these Baha’i Principles I hold so close to me. It was men who made patriarchy what it is today, and so men play a crucial role in breaking down those barriers. Currently, the stakes are too high to do nothing and to sit idly.

When we allow ourselves to live in a world that lets patriarchy go unquestioned, we aren’t doing anyone any favors. We aren’t giving men the chance to be great, to raise them up as compassionate role models, to see women as equals, to go against the norms of what is or isn’t masculinity–of what makes a man a man. What we are doing is crippling their souls. Materially, patriarchy puts men ahead of women, but because of this, it puts us behind spiritually, and it makes us monsters because of it.

In an ideal world where women and men were equals, there are a lot things we wouldn’t see. We probably wouldn’t see Ray Rice dragging his fiance out of an elevator, or an institution like the NFL deem it a sufficient punishment to only suspend him for two games. We wouldn’t see men killing innocent people because they felt entitled to women’s bodies. We wouldn’t see a culture of rape dominate every sphere of our lives, and that sympathizes the perpetrators. Maybe Chris Brown would never have hit Rihanna . But even if he did, maybe we wouldn’t continue to support his music. We wouldn’t accept a government run almost entirely by men, and then allow them to dictate what women could, or could not, do to their bodies. In a world where women and men were equals, this post would be have been obsolete, because there would be no need.

Emma may not be the first to say what she is saying, but she is saying it. And for that, thank you.

The Grammy’s Gentrified Hip Hop

images (5)That night when Macklemore won 4 Grammy’s and Kendrick came out empty-handed. This is why I stopped taking awards shows seriously. It stopped being about talent a long time ago, and last night it reached new lows when they straight dissed “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Hip Hop just got gentrified.

Once in  a decade–and I mean that–an artist will come along and transform an entire art form. Today, that artist is Kendrick Lamar. He embodies all the things we look for in a hip hop artists: flow, consciousness, genius conceptions, and a gangster complex. Even before “good kid, m.A.A.d city” dropped, I was pushing the K. Dot bandwagon hard. So hard, in fact, by the time the legendary album did come out, most of my friends didn’t want to hear what I had to say, because they already knew the extent to which my man crush could carry in a conversation.

A lot of people want to compare him to the second coming of Nas, and “good kid” to the “Illmatic.” It’s not a bad comparison, and I think it fits. There is a lot weight behind that album, and so many layers that speak to me when I listen to it. The themes of being black, living in a cesspool of violence, and the unpredictable violence that follows is a heavy pill to swallow when you actually listen to it. So often we hear artists acknowledging where they come from, but how they conquered it. Kendrick doesn’t take that route. Rather, he shows that he is, in fact, a good kid in a mad city.

The fact that we would witness a rapper like K. Dot, who represents everything you could ask for in an artist, get dissed that badly proves there is always an agenda behind awards shows like the Grammy’s. And this year it was validating white hip hop–if that’s even a safe word to call it.

 

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.