Thursday, April 30, 2009

Looking back at the L.A. Riots

“April 29, 1992. There was a riot on the streets, tell me where were you?” (Sublime)

It’s been 17 years since the Los Angeles Riots took the city captive and a nation by storm for nearly a week (April 29-May 4, although the worst of it was over by May 1 when the Nat'l Guard came in)

I remember being a 7-year-old watching the news and just in shock. You could see smoke from buildings in the sky, you could see buildings that you got comfortable in being looted. I remember a Thrifty’s that we always went to for ice cream being burned out.

On either April 30 or May 1, my second grade teacher asked us all to raise a hand if we knew a building that was burned or had a story to tell. Every one of us raised our hands (20+ kids) and we all had to write those stories as well as our feelings. The irony of being at school was that we weren’t too far from the epicenter of the riots: Florence and Normandie.

That time feels like ages ago. A time when Black communities in L.A. were ready to explode over rampant police abuse. They had just gotten over the effect of Freeway Ricky Ross’ cocaine empire turning the streets into the Wild Wild West. They had to deal with rising tensions with the Korean community and shop owners. And then came a series of incidents that forced all hell to break loose on April 29.

First, we all know about Rodney King getting beaten in that grainy home video. I remember Nick News doing a special on it as a kid but at the time I was naïve to a lot of the nonsense going on behind the scenes. As a result, it was the first time I ever heard of Simi Valley (where the trial of the officers was held) and I remember seeing the LA Times headline after the verdict: NOT GUILTY

But what most people don’t know is that 13 days in after King’s beating, there was another major powder keg. 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was shot and killed after a Korean store owner mistakenly thought she was robbing the store. The owner was let off with five years’ probation and a fine despite the jury recommending a much longer sentence. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well with Black folks.

Throw all that together plus years of frustration and BOOOM! There goes the neighborhood (I remember seeing the rise of “Black-Owned Business” signs to prevent them from being burned)

At the same time, you had L.A. rappers making the most powerful music of their career to fit the mood before and after the riots. No one did this better than Ice Cube. If his second album, Death Certificate, hinted at some issues with “Black Korea”, his next album, The Predator, was practically the riot’s theme music with references littered all over it. None more obvious than “We had to Tear This MF Up,” a tale describing someone’s instant reaction to the riots.

Everyone knows Dr. Dre’s The Chronic for its classic hits but right after “Dre Day,” he’s got a joint describing the mood of most looters “The Day The N***az Took Over” featuring RBX and Snoop Dogg. Arguably one of the best songs is the one I posted at the start: Sublime “April 29, 1992” which came out four years later.

But of course, the most famous song of the year (besides Smells Like Teen Spirit) would come courtesy of L.A.’s gangsta poet laureate Ice-T and his metal band Body Count. A little ditty called “Cop Killer.”

(One more music note, an indie punk band from Orange County made a song called "LAPD" talking about it in 92. They blew up two years later and then of course we all knew who they were. You might have heard of them - The Offspring)

Another thing about this was for the first time, rival gangs stopped killing each other and joined forces against a common enemy. Bloods and Crips realized that there was a bigger enemy than and famously called a cease-fire. That’s the big thing about this event: these people were united behind a common theme and it brought a sense of pride that many may not understand. How can people be united to commit crimes and property damages? As I’ve demonstrated, there were plenty of factors.

But enough looking back, what has happened since? 17 years later, the aftermath is pretty interesting. Compton is starting to revive itself under the new moniker “Birthing a New Compton” and there are some great businesses coming to the area. Inglewood has a great shopping center as well.

The problem is that a lot of businesses never recovered. It took years for these renovations to take effect and thriving communities lost plenty of income as a result. Since there's no such thing as riot insurance, buildings were never replaced (unless you called it a civil uprising). Citing safety concerns, businesses never invested and as a result, sectors of inner-city neighborhoods have barely improved.

However the biggest factor is how the Black community has spread out. Before 1992, most Black people were centered in Compton, Watts, Inglewood, Exposition Park, and Los Angeles Proper not too far east and west of the 10 Freeway. After the riots and its aftermath, most families had enough and if they could, they moved out to places like the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Covina, Riverside and Lancaster. My godmother lived near Exposition Park and after 1992, she moved out to Palmdale.

The Black community of L.A. became spread out and coupled with the rise of more Latino residents coming through, it has dramatically affected the demographics of hoods. It’s also true in sports as we see more Black kids on teams in these areas and the suburbs have developed great talent. 20 years ago, most of them would have been playing for inner-city schools like Crenshaw, Dorsey, Manual Arts, etc…

The police situation in L.A. have been mixed since then. We added two Black police chiefs (Willie Williams and the still popular Bernard Parks) The Rampart scandal shook the department in a major way but for the part, tensions have cooled and are pretty much like any relationship between police and the inner-city (terse but not tense).

It’s a seminal moment in the city’s history. Many could argue that the O.J. Simpson verdict was payback for the officers acquitted. Rodney King went from victim to an embarrassing mess-up to a rehabilitated man with no ill will on Celebrity Rehab. If anything, the riots were the last final act of a desperate sector of a city/era and its consequences are still evident today. It's an important lesson to never forget on this day

(I recommend Wikipedia’s article on the 1992 riots, especially how it played out in popular culture. Lots of other songs, TV shows, films drew inspiration from this)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Problem with HS Big Men

Back in February, Fairfax and San Diego High School met in a bball game at my alma mater, University of San Diego. Featured were two of the most hyped big men in the state and country, Renardo Sidney (Fairfax) and Jeremy Tyler (San Diego). Sidney schooled the young junior for the second time but with ESPN2 showing the game, it gave America a chance to see the latest Clash of the Titans.

What happened since then? Tyler is now skipping his last year of HS to go play in Europe and Sidney, once orally committed to USC, has now backed out mainly due to suspicion over NCAA investigations into Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo. Speculation is that he's headed to Mississippi State, where he was originally born.

It's not easy being a big man in high school. Much is expected and usually it hasn't been fulfilled in recent years. Let's look at the last few big men in California.

Amir Johnson (6-10) - started playing out here at Verbum Dei before having to sit out a year after transferring to Westchester HS. In his only year with the Comets, he led them to a state title and was named Mr. Basketball in 2005. All set to go to Louisville.......BUT decided to go pro and barely got out of the 2nd round. In four years with Detroit, he's been much a role player whose promise earned him a 3-yr, $11 mil contract in 2007.

David/Travis Wear - The 6-10 twins from Santa Ana Mater Dei, they spent three years on varsity and earned two state titles. They're great finesse players with nice hands/shooting touches and some have wondered if that translates to lack of toughness. David is a two-time CIF Player of the Year and All-State selection and Travis is no slouch either. Both are headed to North Carolina and time will tell how they turn out. They weren't hyped up too much beyond what they were so the future remains bright.

Renardo Sidney (6-10) - I'll never forget the first time I saw him. 2007 = Artesia HS vs. Mater Dei (No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the state), two future McDonald's All-Americans on the court in James Harden and Taylor King (and 3 more in Sidney and the Wears) . I was all set to watch those two and then Sidney dominated with 18 pts and 19 rebs. Next time I saw him, at the Division III state regional finals, another double-double, couple of threes and a big man that was easily the best sophomore in the country.

When he transferred to Fairfax (D1 state champs) after winning state, we all thought they would win at least one more City title if not another state crown. Well we were wrong. Despite some truly dominant games, the murmurs about his conditioning/attitude/lack of assertiveness at times sometimes overshadowed that. By his senior year, he did end up an All-American but he was no longer the No. 1-ranked player in the state (Jordan Hamilton), the second-best player in his section and did not win Mr. Basketball.

It's anyone's guess what he'll do at Miss. State but he'll probably be a lottery pick in 2010 based on potential more than output. Many will debate whether his two years at Fairfax were a disappointment based on no City titles or because he lacked the supporting cast of other teams.

Jeremy Tyler - The latest big man. Touted as the best since Greg Oden. And by the way, I know what Oden did in high school but if y'all remember him in college, there's NO WAY he was an All-American. He may have broken his wrist the first part of the year, but he still lacked an offensive arsenal. An outstanding rebounder/blocker but the Bill Russell comparison were true. He was at best a 2nd or 3rd team cause he didn't impact games the way Kevin Durant did (or Kevin Love a year later). And we're seeing that unfold now...but I digress

Tyler is a great kid, great prospect but as I saw with him against Sidney, he still has room to grow. He would have dominated San Diego for another year and then get further developed by one of the best in the business, Rick Pitino at Louisville. But he and his family called an audible and citing constant triple teams, lack of development and a desire to be somewhat paid - he's taking his game to Europe before he has a high school diploma.

By the way, you have to feel a little bit for Pitino. This decade, he had a chance to coach Sebastian Telfair, Amir Johnson and Jeremy Tyler. Everyone bailed on him. But then again, one Final Four and three trips to Elite Eight say he's doing just fine without them.

Telfair and Johnson have been busts and now Tyler is taking a huge risk heading to play against grown men and a coach who won't give him plenty of minutes (and he's being "shepherded" by Sonny Vaccaro - the same guy who speared Brandon Jennings abroad). I respect what Sonny has done but something doesn't feel right about him looking like a pimp here for the 2nd year in a row. He has an agenda against the NBA but is it always in a kid's best interests to get paid without the promise of personally developing from it.

Then again, we never have a problem with child actors or tennis players making bank before 17. You know why? Because usually they are good enough to earn that money against grown folks. How many teenage basketball flamouts have we seen since 1995?

Here's hoping the best for the kid and I hope he personally benefits from that European Vacation. Hopefully he'll have a better time than Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo.
Big men get all the hype for one reason. Their size which you can't teach. But as we've seen, you can be a tall guy who amounts to nothing more than that. The best big men were developed to be versatile. Able to shoot, able to post-up, able to move their feet for positioning and be tough in the middle. Most of this came to NBA draftees courtesy of the great Pete Newell (R.I.P.) and his legendary Big Man Camp

We don't see a lot of that development today so as a result, we have big men who can't really be dominant. It was rare that Dwight Howard came with great athleticism like the next Shaq but let's face it, how many big men are truly developed with 1 year of college. In high school, they dominated everyone the minute they stepped on the floor. It's like a point guard, there are certain things you have to learn about your position that can only come from great coaching, not game experience.

So note for anytime you watch a great big man play in High School. Look at what he can be, not just at what he does against smaller kids. Jeremy Tyler and Renardo Sidney are not NBA-ready big men and quite frankly, no big man can ever be deemed ready by what he does in high school. And of course, you have to factor those intangibles (in Sidney's case) that can't be measured.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

VSR: Game 5 Come Alive

Tonight, the Lakers should knock out Utah to advance to the 2nd round (just as I predicted a week and a half ago). After sleepwalking through Games 1-3, they finally woke up and thoroughly dominated the Jazz in Game 4. Kobe Bryant shook off a bad Game 3 (18 pts, 5-24 from the field), had a bit of inspiration from LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke's piece on Saturday and came out aggresive and efficient (38 pts, 16-24 from the field). Lamar Odom started and validated his new role (10 and 15).

This has been the problem with the Lakers. One minute they can look like a team that should blow everyone else out of the water, the next they can struggle and look downright lazy. There's been a lack of consistency that everyone has noticed and Charles Barkley said it best: They've been winning more on talent instead of being the more dominant team. The fact they only lost by 2 in Game 3 highlights this.

By far, Cleveland is hungrier. Denver is hungrier. And we know by now, that titles go to not just the best team, but the team that wants it the most.

But despite that, Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza have proven their worth off the bench. Brown's size and toughness have made him a difficult matchup and throw in his shooting touch, he's shown why he may be around for a while (and Jordan Farmar may be effectively on his way out). Phil Jax loves big guards and while I love Farmar's game, he may be in the doghouse for good as his confidence is shot and his jumper is lukewarm.

Tonight, they'll knock out the Jazz and start getting ready for presumably Houston (although I assume Portland will win Game 5). Here's hoping they learned their lesson from Game 3 and will show the hunger needed to prove themselves worthy of that Larry O'Brien Award.

Other Playoff Notes
-Hands down, Boston-Chicago has been the best series so far. Two certified classic games (Games 2 and 4), D. Rose's coming out party, Rajon Rondo proving the haters wrong with two triple-doubles, Ben Gordon and Ray Allen shooting the lights out in the clutch and all the role players stepping up. I seriously can't wait to see how Dart Adams describes this series when it's over. You almost want this series to go 7 games.

-Denver has really impressed me as well. They've been playing much better defense than they typically do and they aren't just a weak No. 2 seed. Chris Paul had to play out of his mind in Game 3 for the Hornets to win and I think they'll be motivated to win Game 4.

- I've been sleeping on the Dallas/San Antonio series but Tony Parker (43 pts in Game 4) has been the only Spurs player consistently showing up (29.3 pts, 5.5 assists, 55.2% from the field). If Chris Paul and Deron Williams are the two best PG's in the game, Parker has to be No. 3. The Spurs may be aging fast, but Parker is still going to be deadly for quite a while. And he's only 26!

- 32.0 pts, 11.3 rebounds, 7.5 assists. Oscar Robertson did it, Larry Bird did it, LeBron James just did that against Detroit. That is all.

- The Portland/Houston series is 3-1 Comets for one reason. Experience over youth. Portland is the league's youngest team and they've been able to hang but they have to learn how to win. Houston is eager to prove why they've had one of the West's sneaky-good teams all year and despite losing Tracy McGrady and trading Rafer Alston, they've finally one game away from getting out of Round 1.

And don't you feel a bit sorry for T-Mac though. I mean, this guy has been close to getting out of the first round and the one year that he's hurt, the Rockets have the best chance to pull it off. From losing the chance to play with Grant Hill to suffering back problems and other injuries (and heck, even starting from having to share the spotlight with Vince Carter), he's gone from being in the same convo as Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson to probably being the most unlucky superstar of this era.

I know, I know. I need to start talking baseball more, especially when the Dodgers have the best offense in baseball (our pitching on the back end, eh.....). I'm gonna try to hit up the games this weekend against the Padres. It's funny, I get more inspired by these blogs sometimes that my actual assignments for the Sentinel. But hey, that's what happens when you have to write two-three days ahead of time (deadline Monday, come out Thursday).

Oh, I'm going to post up something about the All-Star Game I covered this week. The 11th Collision All-Star Game featured the best talent in Southern California and it was an incredible day of high school basketball. Look for that on Thursday at the latest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flashback Friday: 1999 Albums

It's hard to believe that these albums are 10 years old. But more importantly, it's crazy how many these albums sold. This was the beginning of the end for albums consistently selling like crazy because Napster was looming and completely changed the music game.

To me, the biggest surprise of the 2000's was when Usher, Outkast and Norah Jones sold over 10 million copies of their albums. All it did was remind me of how our favorite (and not so favorite) artists used to do it in 1999-2000. You could pretty much go platinum easily if you had a monster hit like "Mambo No. 5."

It was the year of pop success that wouldn’t stop til 2001. Shania Twain, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock were the faces of music. Again it boggles my mind that this year was 10 years ago. A lifetime ago when the record industry was in the middle of making its last stand and pop stars were seemingly made overnight.
It was the perfect storm of MTV’s “Total Request Live” blowing up and a year where people wanted to party. It was like everybody wanted to end the 20th century on top and pretty much, nearly everybody did.

Favorite 5 Albums of 1999

1. red hot chili peppers – californication
2. rage against the machine - battle of los angeles

3. mos def – black on both sides (Black Dante's Illmatic)

4. moby – play (changed the game with marketing despite no hit single until summer 2001)
5. the roots – things fall apart
* right at No. 6 - Dr. Dre 2001

Top Comebacks

1. Santana

3. Dr. Dre

4. Slick Rick (Street Talkin was the joint)
5. Jordan Knight/Joey McIntyre (tie - all the New Kids fans came out the wood work for these two. Top 10 hits for both)

6. Stone Temple Pilots (“Sour Girl” is still one of my Top 5 STP joints)

Top debuts (besides the Mighty Mos Def)

1. Ja Rule (hip hop’s next big superstar)/Britney Spears (Queen of Pop til 2004)

2. Christina Aguilera (pop’s greatest voice since then)

3. Eminem

4. Dixie Chicks (country wouldn’t be the same)

5. Slipknot (brought some much needed edge to rock)

6. Ricky Martin (everyone was “Livin La Vida Loca” that summer)

*other notable debuts – Pharoahe Monch, Staind, Lil’ Wayne, Jessica Simpson, Q-Tip
Career-making Albums

1. Creed – Human Clay (hailed as the kings of rock before the backlash started)

2. DMX – And Then There Was X (the last No. 1 album of the century and believe it or not, the 2nd biggest 1st-week sales of the year behind the Backstreet Boys...just a reminder how HUGE this guy was and how far he's fallen.)
3. Limp Bizkit - Significant Other

4. Backstreet Boys – Millenium (hate to put a pop joint on here, but it signified the rise of pop taking over the radio and the biggest artists selling a million in their 1st week - everyone who sold a mil)

5. Blink 182 – Enema of the State (hello Travis Barker, hello pop charts, hello plenty of imitators)

6. Hot Boys – Guerrila Warfare (another key cog in Cash Money’s takeover)

7. Incubus – Make Yourself (possibly their best album and just like Moby, another 2-year build to greatness)

Great Albums that came through

Method Man & Redman “Blackout” (“Da RockWilder” is one of the best beats of the last 10 years)
Kurupt – Streetz is a Mutha (West Coast Classic)

Jimmy Eat World – Clarity

Jennifer Lopez – On the 6 (more on this in Flashback on Latin Pop)

Eve – Ruff Ryders 1st Lady (the last female rapper to debut with an impactful career – sorry Remy Ma, Scenario 2000 smashes most posse cuts since then)

ODB – N***a Please

Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile

311 – Soundsystem

Foo Fighters - There is Nothing Left to Lose

Metallica – S&M

Biggest American Flop: Robbie Williams. The biggest pop star in England tried to make a splash over here and after being signed to Capitol Records, he only went gold. Consider him the music version of soccer, everyone else loves him, we don’t (“Millenium” is a great pop song though)

* Of course that doesn’t includes Memphis Bleek, whose debut flopped in 1999 and he’d keep trying to make hits to no avail. If you couldn't sell during THIS time, is it any surprise he didn't sell this decade?

That's Flashback Friday, hope y'all enjoyed it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Power of/Problem With Words (Miss CA)

“Well I think its great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” she said. “We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you very much" - Carrie Prejean (Miss CA) in response to Perez Hilton's question during the Miss USA pageant

Everyone has an opinion on what Miss California (straight outta San Diego - La Jolla to be exact) said. So here's mine. Put on the spot, Prejean tried to answer P. Hilt's question gamely without compromising her views or offending other people. She got booed (which isn't shocking) and perhaps lost her crown as a result.

Now I don't follow beauty pageants (and let's be real, how many guys would watch it except for the swimsuit portion), but I assume that the ladies are not judged for their response but how they respond. If they handle it with grace, poise and confidence, they earn more points. You beauty pageant fans can correct me on that if I'm wrong. But here's where I go deeper than the average viewer (puts on English major/social critic cape).

The problem with the uproar about Miss CA’s remarks isn’t what she said. It’s the fact that people are not ready to embrace a true dialogue on gay marriage and listen to both sides of the coin. And it's the fact that people can't handle someone with a different opinion.

If you disagree with gay marriage, you’re labeled a hater and any good works you do get reduced to your position. If you are for gay marriage, you’re in the popular majority but it’s a majority that feels like a minority the way James Baldwin described it (you don’t have the power)

It’s why Atty. General Eric Holder called us out for being a nation of cowards when discussing race. We want a neat discussion where no one will get offended instead of allowing hands to get dirty. I saw this firsthand at USD where the best discussions on race came from classes where we looked at major issues and people confronted them head on. Ignorant things were said, but we all learned from it. How come that dialogue stops the minute we leave college?

It’s the same with gay marriage. Now that it’s a discussion being played out in public, it shows the lack of ability on both sides to discuss it civilly. While I hate comparing the two, it is very much like a discussion on race in that it’s a hot button issue that will divide friendships and alter your image of someone.

We need to reach a point where we can discuss all issues and learn from each other. The point isn’t necessarily reaching a compromise but an understanding of where the other stands. See it from their point of view and even if you don’t agree, you respect them and go from there.

If the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt could exchange Christmas cards and have a friendship despite their strong disagreements and their famous Supreme Court case, then I believe anything is possible if we listen as much as we speak.

And for the record, Perez Hilton was wrong for asking the question at the event. It’s like if I brought up civil rights at a fancy graduation dinner…wrong place, wrong time. You may be a gossip blogger Perez, but you need tact and dignity in handling the gay marriage debate in public. Throwing a hissy fit takes the focus off the question/debate and puts it on you. Take a lesson from the civil rights movement…even the Black Panthers were articulate in their anger. Miss CA tried to make her point in an inoffensive way and you ream her like that?

*As one of my friends on Facebook said. Having him there was another ratings gimmick for a show that is headed toward irrelevancy. Which reminds me, let's have another good laugh at Miss South Carolina, shall we?*

Here's a quote from the director of the Miss CA pageant

“As co-executive director of Miss CA USA and one of the leaders of the Miss CA family, I am personally saddened and hurt that Miss CA USA 2009 believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman,” wrote Keith Lewis on Hilton’s blog. “Although I believe all religions should be able to ordain what unions they see fit, I do not believe our government should be able to discriminate against anyone. Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family.”

Keith Lewis should be castigated for not standing up behind his representative. You disagree with her, fine. But in your rant, all you focused on is what she said and how you disagreed with it....never mind that she did not mention religion (although she is a Christian), never mind that you attacked for her views which should NEVER have come up in the first place. Whatever happened to "We strongly disagree with her beliefs but we salute her for handling the situation with the grace and dignity befitting someone who wears the crown of Miss California."

Sigh, I love America. We have forgotten how to disagree with people or respect them for their views if they are not disrespectful with it.

I applaud Hilton for apologizing and doing the right thing by offering to meet with her. But he's exactly why this conversation will never be had in public without it turning into a shouting match. I agree that Perez had every right to be mad, but as a gay public figure, he could have used this situation as a teaching moment. The spotlight was on him and he dropped the ball before meekly picking it back up. There's so much I wanna say about him but you can ask me that directly (or re-read my Tweets from last night)

Words do have power but where does the power come from? And how do you turn this power into a positive? Only then can we grow as a society that re-learns to agree to disagree without malice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Remembering Columbine 10 Years Later

April 20, 1999.
I was a freshman at West LA Baptist High School. A year removed from a wave of school shootings all over the country, I was happy that nothing major had happened. Knowing how bad bullies can be, I was grateful that I had a strong foundation and never thought twice about violence outside of maybe fighting back. Everything seemed like it was going to be calm and then it happened.

I can’t remember what exactly happened when I heard about it. I think I was in homeroom when a teacher mentioned it. But I didn’t have to react live to have complete shock when I heard the details. Shots fired at Columbine High School, campus being evacuated and all of a sudden, Littleton, Colorado was a town I’d never forget like Peducah, Kentucky – the site of one of the 1998 school shootings.

This hit close to home. Not knowing where it was, we called my family in Denver to find out how far the school was. Thankfully they were nowhere near it but I was a bit disturbed for a minute. One of the victims was a football player and at the time, my cousin played HS football. Soon we’d all hear about another victim, Cassie Bernall, who reportedly said she believed in God before being killed (a story that has since been attributed to another victim who survived her gunshot wound).

We heard hero stories like the teacher/wrestling coach who shielded his students with his body as gunshots claimed his life. And because I read and remembered everything, the irony of the shooting date was not lost on me. It came one day after the anniversary of the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City bombing so I wondered if the two gunmen knew that in advance (stories indicate they not only did, they planned for a major catastrophe)

For so long, the only images I saw were that of students being marched out of the school with their arms over their heads, the shirtless kid who was being pulled out the window by the police and the many, many tears that followed. It wasn’t until I saw Bowling For Columbine that I was really haunted as I saw school cameras of kids falling over themselves trying to escape, kids desperately hiding and running for their lives and finally, the two gunmen.

The eerie silence of watching that four years later was something I’ll never forget.

I remember our school holding prayer sessions for the victims and their families. I remember talking about how if those kids were bullied, then as someone who was bullied I understood how they felt. They felt lonely and ostracized because they were picked on. We talked about school safety and noticed how metal detectors were being added to certain schools around the country.

And of course, we looked for scapegoats (hello Marilyn Manson and rock music! – sidenote, Manson gave an eloquent statement in “Bowling for Columbine” regarding the incident. Just one more reason that movie ranks in my Top 15.)

But in light of this USA Today story (later copied by CNN), 10 years has cleared up some of the stories we had from that day. According to this investigator, it turns out the gunmen were not loners, not part of this Trenchcoat Mafia and did not target particular victims.

Perhaps this was one of the first major stories of the 24/7 media cycle. Information was coming in so fast and media coverage was so swift and dominating that anything worth noting was reported. Even though there were five school shootings in 1998 that held our attention, this story was different. So many different layers, so many factors and they were all exposed before our eyes as they were revealed.

What have we learned 10 years later? Not just if schools are safer but have we improved recognizing kids being bullied and stopping bullies before they get worse? The story may be a part of our history but what does it say to us now? I think that Columbine helped shatter the innocence of the 90’s, something that 9/11 took away once and for all. It reminded us that just like 1998, schools were losing their sense of safety – something painfully aware as just last week someone was shot at Locke High School here in Los Angeles.

April 20 soon took on another meaning for me as I discovered it’s a holiday for marijuana smokers. But since I don’t smoke, I prefer to remember it as a day when a nation turned its eyes to Littleton, Colorado. When a senseless tragedy made us stop and pause and when freshmen like me battled fears of going to school.

Still feels like yesterday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

VSR: 1 Down, 15 To Go

The Lakers opened the 2009 NBA postseason with a surprisingly dominant start over a good Utah Jazz team. 113-100 may be the final score but this game was pretty 1-sided. It says a lot when Trevor Ariza set a career high with 17 points (including a monster slam around Carlos Boozer) and Shannon Brown had 9 in his playoff debut.

From what I saw, we just shot the lights out. The bench stepped up with Odom and Brown leading the way and with Ariza's energy and scoring, you almost forgot that Kobe put together a solid outing (21 and 8 dimes).

Probably the 3 plays that said a lot about this game were back-to-back jumpers from Kobe where he snuck around a failed screen from Pau Gasol and still shot it over Andrei Kirilenko with ease. On the third series, Kirilenko picked his pocket, only to ruin a fastbreak by passing around Kobe instead of trying to dunk on him, leading to a turnover.

The Jazz simply had no energy. Nuf said.

But I was worried because Deron Williams had an off night shooting and still had 17 assists that came pretty easy. Because the Lakers looked lackluster in the 4th quarter and that 22-pt halftime lead was down to 9 a few times. Because Andrew Bynum (7 pts, 3 rebs) was a non-factor against a team that rebounds pretty well. Because Mehmet Okur didn't play.

I'm expecting more in Game 2 from Utah because Williams will not have a back-to-back nightmare from the field and Okur could return. But at the same time, I know the Lakers will not give up homecourt advantage because they know what's at stake - having not won in Salt Lake this year.

If Ariza and Brown continue their great play, they have the energy to match anybody on the Jazz. And of course the Black Mamba will find ways to torture the Jazz slowly and scientifically. Think they weren't a little motivated after watching Portland, their possible 2nd round opponent, lay a stink egg on Saturday at home against Houston?

See ya for Game 2 on Tuesday. Other quick hits from the Playoff Weekend

- How long did it take people for people to get flashbacks of MJ in '86 when Derrick Rose tore up the Celtics in Game 1. How long did it take for them to wake up and stop comparing the two? D. Rose (36 and 11 dimes) had a phenomenal debut but it said more about the Celtics missing KG in the middle. And don't forget Rajon Rondo had a nice game too (29 pts). That said, the C's are in trouble if Ray Allen doesn't find his stroke because the Bulls are gonna come in tomorrow amp'd up.

- LeBron James. Amazing. Game 1 just looked like a foreshadowing of things to come.

- Portland and Miami take the biggest L's this weekend. How did Portland get in a 30-pt hole against a T-Mac-less Houston Rockets at home!!! And how did Miami just look silly and young all of a sudden against Atlanta?

- Philly's comeback says a lot about Orlando not being ready for the big moment. They've been a somewhat soft defensive team outside of Dwight Howard (31 and 16 Sunday night) and if they fool around, they'll be seeing the Sixers for 6-7 games instead of 5.

- Chauncey Billups is still Mr. Big Shot. But if they're No. 2, the rest of the West is still below the Lakers' level.

- San Antonio isn't dead. Mark my words. They won't go down without a fight against Dallas. But they're gonna miss Ginobli big time because the Mavs just have so many weapons to account for, including your soon-to-be 6th Man of the Year Jason Terry and one of the best backup PG's in bball, Juan Barea.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NBA 1st Round Predix

Forgot to do this last night but here they are. Picks were made before today's 1st game and they'll all be fun to watch.

Lakers over Jazz in 5
Denver over New Orleans in 7
Dallas over San Antonio in 6
Portland over Houston in 6

Cleveland over Detroit in 4
Orlando over Philly in 5
Boston over Chicago in 6
Miami over Atlanta in 7 (D-Wade could have a monster series here)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Road Before Miley Cyrus (Sharks Dead Ahead)

The advent of TMZ, a 24/7 media cycle and a public desire to know it all has doomed a lot of these young starlets who are growing up and making mistakes. It really started in the 80’s with Drew Barrymore but it’s got worse with Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen Twins, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie.

And now we have our latest candidate: Destiny Ray Cyrus aka Miley Cyrus aka every teenage girl's role model. Sweet 16 and growing up before our eyes for better or for worse. For every hit she makes, she takes two more for something stupid she does. And then of course you have people taking hilarious shots but for no reason (Jamie Foxx and Co.)

Is it any surprise then that she is being set up to fail? Why else are we seeing all these questionable photos of her (as well as see her regain her name with these award show performances). But the road before this little guppy at 16 is already troubling thanks to her forbearers and this transforming pop culture of sharks aka the Paparazzi.

I can only imagine what Drew Barrymore would have gone through now. By the time she was 15, she was a Golden Globe nominee who went through drug and alcohol addiction, rehab, club-hopping at Studio 54 all under the glare of a watchful media. And this media was gossip magazines, Entertainment Tonight and word of mouth. Imagine if TMZ and Perez Hilton were out chronicling every step and gave her no room to breathe. Especially given her last name?? She was Paris Hilton before Paris Hilton minus the sex tape.

And let’s not forget Dana Plato and Todd Bridges from Different Strokes. They darn near flamed out together, but fortunately Bridges recovered. Plato, unfortunately, did not and succumbed to her demons in 1998. (and on a sports note, Jennifer Capriati's glorious rise, fall and rebirth)

If that happened now. Drew would have no chance at redemption because the 24/7 paparazzi pretty much wants to see your next misstep, not your recovery. Why? Because they’d be out of a job. They subscribe to the journalist ethos of following the story although they do it with no sense of honor or decency. They also know that the public loves a good tragedy more than an uplifting story so they need more bad news to get that exclusive shot of trouble.

It’s why I thought Britney Spears was going to never recover. She went from the biggest selling pop star from 2000-2003 to the biggest free-fall I’d ever seen. No need to list them all here but from the shot-gun wedding to introducing us to K-Fed to shaving her head, she literally grew up and screwed up for the world to watch. Just when you thought she hit rock bottom, she went lower. Thankfully she recovered to make two comebacks (one failed) and is running a Circus around the country.

But worst of all was the paparazzi. They suffocated her and in turn, squeezed every last drop of her soul for the world to watch. I remember telling people that it was like a slow, painful public execution and if she died, I would hold the paparazzi just as accountable as her actions. They're like a pack of wolves that smell blood. Welcome to Shark Week - the Human Edition.

Even on a smaller scale look at Lindsay Lohan. My generation remembered her first from “The Parent Trap” (on that note, R.I.P. Natasha Richardson who played the mom). Then she got new life from “Mean Girls” five years ago when she looked ripe for the picking once she turned 18.* But look what happened since. You mean to tell me that if she had a quiet rehab and some time to chill and focus on making movies, she wouldn’t have ended up skinny, coked out and caught up by the nightlife. Maybe the last point isn't true, but you get me.

*(I had to do a double take when I typed that. She’s barely older than my sister but packed more in the last 5 years than most people do in their first 21.)

We all saw what happened to the Olsen Twins, Paris Hilton, Nichole Richie and a few others. Glorious implosions that people fed into every step of the way. Thing is though, it’s no big deal. Kids grow up, they make mistakes and learn from them. Saw it in high school, saw it more in college. Only problem is that we aren’t famous and we aren’t doing it in the nightlife and the glare of the L.A. paparazzi. It’s a natural part of life but they make it sound so shocking. Bigger stage, bigger scale, same issues.

Another issue is the lack of privacy or secret stories. Back in the day, there was plenty of dirt behind the scenes of favorite sitcoms (Can you watch Brady Bunch without thinking about Greg and Marcia's secret relationship?) The luster of hearing about it now is that we had NO idea it was going on. But now, the media doesn’t want to let those stories simmer behind the scenes. They want to expose it as it unfolds. Every secret scandal is going to be a public scandal. Instead of waiting 10 years to find stuff out, they want the story to be told right now. They want the dirt fresh instead of digging it up.

Finally, people don't want to see you rehabbed. Amy Winehouse had it wrong, it should be "I tried to go to rehab but they said NO, NO, NO!"But I won't forget something I heard Deelishis from Flavor of Love said on BET. Nobody wants to see the rehabilitation, they want to see you the way you were portrayed and don't want that picture to change. Like I said, the paparazzi feeds on their failures to stay alive and we the public love the drama more than we love redemption.

So knowing this cycle, are we surprised that we’re seeing all these instances of Miley Cyrus blown up. Photos of her being a normal teen teasing the camera? That Vanity Fair cover that was pretty dumb? Her slanty-eyed photos? She’s being set up to fail and since she’s the Disney Golden Girl, oh what a tragedy that will be for the world to see.

I'm no fan of hers by any means and for the record I hated looking for pics of her (an easy google search will, however, give you the evidence of her "wild side"). But for a girl who comes from a normal family life and is well grounded by her famous dad, I hate how she's slowly being picked apart.

It’s just the evolution of the vicious cycle that we’ve seen evolve from the 80’s with Drew Barrymore and Dana Plato to the 24/7 game that it is now. So will Miley end up like Hilary Duff and Raven-Symone or like the Olsens and Lindsay? And my heart almost shudders to wonder how Dakota Fanning and Abigail Breslin will turn out and how the media will try to swallow them up.

Either way, it’s almost up to the media too. Like any good plant, you have to let it breathe to grow. If you smother it, it’ll remain stunted and could regress. The crush won’t die but hopefully parents will take notice and guide their famous kids away from making as many mistakes as they can.

Don't get me wrong. We have to hold everyone accountable for their actions and rightly so, everyone I named screwed up based on their own free will. But it’s all trial and error. Too bad, you’re doing it for a public audience instead of private one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

VSR: Welcome to L.A. O-Dog!

I was supposed to be there. I was supposed in the press box thinking of what to ask Orlando Hudson for a potential feature. I was supposed to hear the fly-over and soak up the atmosphere of my first Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. I was supposed to see Vin Scully throw out the 1st pitch. The date was circled on my calendar and inputted in my phone weeks in advance and wouldn’t you know it, 1:10 came and went as I sat in the office typing up some stories.

Life and work have a funny way of screwing with your plans.

But I'm over my disappointment because you couldn’t have asked for a better Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. An 11-1 victory over the hated Giants. Chad Billingsley gave a tired bullpen some relief with seven strong innings and 11 K’s (including his last 5 batters). Andre Ethier had two home runs that broke the game open. Matt Kemp extended his on-base streak to 8 games. The star of the day, however, was Hudson making his debut at Dodger Stadium in the whites.

He got it started with a single in his first at-bat. Then the third-inning homer off Randy Johnson broke the scoreless tie. A double in the fourth inning helped send Johnson to the showers (6 runs in a two-out rally!). Finally, he cranked a triple to right field and slid in before the tag to make it official. First cycle by a Dodgers player in 39 years and the crowd gave him standing ovations the rest of the day.

The most famous O-Dog in L.A. has been Larenz Tate’s character in “Menace to Society” but I think after today, Hudson took one step forward in claiming that nickname in his own way. He broke out two days ago with a homer and a triple and I think I can definitely start yelling “SOUL POWER” whenever he does something now (although I need to find a way to describe his speed)

Pitching will still be a big concern for us after James McDonald’s bad start, Hiroki Kuroda moving to the DL, and the bullpen’s strange implosion (I’m blaming injuries among other things – but Cory Wade, bring the heat next time, please?). We probably need a veteran arm but if Randy Wolf pitches more like he did Sunday, who knows what can happen.

Offensively, this team looks like they can score with anybody – a remarkable shift from Dodgers teams of the past built on pitching. This is probably the best offensive team I’ve seen since Eric Karros, Mike Piazza and Raul Mondesi were loading it up; we just need to see some pitching.

Finally the playoffs start for the Lakers and you can tell because Laker fans are already breaking out the car flags. The glorious return of Andrew Bynum right next to Easter has fans in a frenzy but sloooow down.

Yes, Shannon Brown has effectively replaced Jordan Farmar off the bench and done a great job. Yes, Bynum is showing his tenacity on the rebounding tip. And yes, Lamar Odom happily coming off the bench could be the secret weapon that teams aren’t ready for. BUT don’t get too happy just yet.

That second-round matchup with Portland is going to be brutal. Considering the Lakers haven’t won there in 8 games and the Trailblazers aren’t short on motivation, Brandon Roy and the boys are going to make it a war. And that’s after we get through a first-round date with Dallas or a dangerous Utah team.

But who am I kidding? This Lakers team has proven they can beat anybody (except for two fluky losses to Orlando) and right now, they’re the only team to beat Cleveland at home. Bynum has played really well and I feel he can only get better with more game time. Brown adds one more younger, athletic body off our already solid bench. Chances are, they should cruise through the Western Conference finals but I do think a semifinals series with Portland will go 7 games.

Funny story from last week. I never thought I’d ever attend anything related to the LA Sparks but there I was Thursday at their draft party downtown at the ESPNZONE. But there I was, watching fans watch the 2009 WNBA Draft and interviewing the team’s first two draft picks by phone, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton (above) and Ashley Paris. Candace Parker was there greeting fans and even though she's 8 months pregnant, I was surprised she got around pretty well.

Women’s sports always get a raw deal for various reasons (not compelling, not hot enough, boring). But I gained a different respect for women’s basketball after I played a few games with my school’s basketball team sophomore year. After I befriended a few of the players, I tried to catch a few games when I could. But I respected the passion they played with and the love they had for each other out there.

I may never rush to see a Sparks game (although I will make it out there), but at least I can scratch off one more thing that I did this week. By the way, the ESPN ZONE downtown is on point. I’ve been to the one in Anaheim twice and this one will definitely get some love.

*I end this Sports Report with thoughts and prayers to the families of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas and Detroit Tigers legend Mark Fidyrich. Adenhart became the latest victim of drunk driving, Kalas collapsed while getting ready to broadcast today’s game and Fidyrich, a legendary character I discovered through Sports Illustrated, died in an accident.

Three tragedies plaguing the West/East/Midwest worlds of baseball. May God bless their famiiles and teammates and fans.*

Friday, April 10, 2009

Flashback Friday: Songs from 1999

I've been thinking a lot about 10 years ago. I'm vividly remembering how interesting 1999 was musically, film-wise and pop-culture as well as tripping out how long ago that is. So with that in mind, I'm starting a new weekly post to help us all recall the year Prince sang about. First up: some music thoughts

It was the year when I starting watching MTV more, consistently listening to more than just gospel and the first year I bought a CD (might as well admit it, first CD purchase - Christina Aguilera). It was the peak of pop music but pop music had so much going into it that anybody could listen to their local Top 40 station or hear a diverse sound on MTV (back when they actually still played videos in prime time).

But of course this was still the jiggy era, the rap-rock era and boy-band era. It was a turning point where literally boundaries were crossed for better or worse and memorable nonetheless.

Ten years ago, these were some of my favorite joints that still sound awesome today

Lenny Kravitz "American Woman"
Rage Against the Machine "Guerilla Radio"
Eminem "My Name Is" "Guilty Conscience" "Role Model" (personally still a Top-10 Em joint)
Third Eye Blind "Never Let You Go"
Lit "My Own Worst Enemy"
Offspring "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)"
Blink 182 "What's My Age Again"
Fatboy Slim "Praise You"
Naughty By Nature "Jamboree" (still a great summer jam)
Sugar Ray "Every Morning/Someday"
Limp Bizkit "Nookie" (don't front, everybody was bumping this song then)
TLC "No Scrubs" (one of the greatest comeback songs ever)
Smash Mouth "All-Star" (probably one of the first played-out songs I remember)
Everlast "What It's Like"

Shania Twain "You're Still The One" (like I said, I was on my pop ish back then)
New Radicals "You Get What You Give"
Orgy "Blue Monday" (one of the best covers I've heard)
Korn "Freak on a Leash"
The Roots "You Got Me" (my first introduction to the Legendary)
Nas "Nas Is Like/Hate Me Now" (unfortunately, this would lead into the low-points of his career)
Staind "Mudshovel" (i didnt hear it then, but i love it now)
Maxwell "Fortunate"
Santana f. Rob Thomas "Smooth"
Eagle Eye Cherry "Save Tonight"
Juvenile f. Mannie Fresh and Lil Wayne "Back That Thang Up"
Red Hot Chili Peppers "Scar Tissue"
Pharoahe Monch "Simon Says"
Mos Def "Ms. Fat Booty"
Ol Dirty Bastard f. Kelis "Got Your Money" (classic Neptunes/ODB/Kelis moment)

Alright, I'm gonna burn y'all out reading that. Note that it's not all of my favorites but a snapshot of them. But I'll take a look at the albums, moments, trends, great movies, etc....from a year that we all looked forward to.

*Special note: Today is Good Friday which is honestly one of my favorite "holidays" because of what it means. Usually it meant 1/2 day at school or no school, but now it's a time for people of faith to reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. It's one of the most important events in the history of the world for a variety of reasons. But be reflective and just take time to give thanks for a moment that's given a lot of people direction.*

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mythbusters (Hip-Hop Edition)

Good albums are finally starting to drop (on my list: Prince, UGK…and dare I say, The Dream?) and with a great slate of dope music coming out, we’re gonna be talking about our favorite mainstream artists for a while. Perfect time to clear up some myths I’ve heard or either had in my head the last year or two.

For the record, I'm not gonna mention Lil Wayne because I already spoke on him last year as well as gave him props in my Year in Review. Besides, everyone's got an opinion on him that they've expressed anyway. Now on to Mythbusters: E-TV style

MYTH: Eminem has lost it. It was way premature to put on the greatest rappers of all time list. Encore was trash and the game has passed him by. *insert race-baiting comments here*

FACT: Marshall Mathers fell victim to the curse of most hip-hop artists having a questionable fourth album in their discography (Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas and Jay-Z to name a few). Encore was an inconsistent album with some garbage on there but it still had solid songs (“Mosh”, “Yellow Brick Road” “Toy Soldiers”). Unfortunately, it means these next two albums are going to be critical for his legacy. If it succeeds, it’s the biggest comeback since Nas. Here’s why I think he’ll succeed.

1) Best friend died. Proof (RIP) will be inspiring his friend in spirit.
2) Personal life. Em’s one of the best at writing great songs relating to his personal turmoil and with all that’s happened, he’s got a wealth of inspiration
3) Legacy. Shady’s a student of the game and he knows what’s at stake. Hence why Dr. Dre is producing most of this album and if you heard that “Relapse” freestyle, you know he’s still got it.

If he makes stuff that’s more like his verse on Game’s “We Ain’t” instead of Akon’s “Smack That”, you don’t have to worry about Relapse being a critical success. That’s all I care about – screw sales.

Unfortunately, he's gotta do better than this. The video is hilarious but the song reminds me too much of his old 1st solo joints. I need to hear more.

MYTH: Black Eyed Peas got wack when they added Fergie. Y'all are exactly who Ice Cube talked about in the 2nd verse of "True To The Game." Y'all ain't hip-hop anymore.

: It's partly true (at least in the minds of hip-hop fans, where they got booed at Rock The Bells here in SoCal last year despite only performing joints from their 1st album). Listen to stuff like “Weekends” “Joints and Jams” and “Cali to New York” and imagine if you can hear that same group doing “My Humps” “Let’s Get It Started (as opposed to the original Let’s Get Retarded)” and “Boom Boom Pow.”

BUT at the same time, you can’t just write them off as sell-outs either. Pop success didn't completely change them.

I actually bought Elephunk on the day it came out solely based off their past ("Weekends is still my joint") and "Where Is The Love" before that song became a Top 10 hit. It’s a good album – especially the singles. Hey Mama sounds more reggae than the calypso-sound of this single, Let’s Get Retarded (It Started) has a much better sound that unfortunately got diminished by adding more drums to the single version. “WITL” has a great message that fit in completely with who they were pre-Fergie. Not to mention good jams like “Anxiety” “Latin Girls” and “Hands Up”…

Too bad the radio screwed the singles up - and in no coincidence, they became more popular.

As far as Fergie goes, when she raps/talk-singing, she’s terrible. When she actually sings, she fits in better (see Latin Girls, Fly Away and her live version of Heart’s “Barracuda”). Thanks to Polow da Don she made think I was hearing “Time After Time” when I heard “Glamorous.” All that said, I'd still steal more than a glance at her for obvious reasons.

Take away the terrible two singles on Monkey Business (“Don’t Phunk With My Heart” “My Humps”) and that last song with Sting and you have a decent album. May not be your cup of tea, but it’s better than some of the crap since it dropped. Had they completely sold out, you wouldn't hear joints like "Like That" or that song with James Brown.

BTW, is hit or miss as a producer/songwriter (and frankly who isn't - even Dre/Primo/RZA have bad joints) and he’s got some heaters in his resume (ask Nas, Game, Sergio Mendes, John Legend, Talib Kweli and Common for starters).

BEP has never been the best lyricists in their era but their dedication to the hip-hop culture is still real. They're also great at live performances but too bad they had to add Fergie to get some attention from these pop fans. Will I buy this new album, prolly not, but I'll give it a listen.

MYTH: 50 Cent is only good for dissing, not rapping. He went from the rapper who brought back that grimy sound and re-introduced folks to the mixtape game to a walking publicity stunt.

FACT: 100% true. Quick, name the last meaningful song that 50 has made in the last five years. “I Get Money”…DING DING DING. Before that…”Just a Lil Bit”

Let’s face it, he’s only been famous for his business moves and starting feuds. He tried to battle Kanye for album sales supremacy but forgot to actually make a pop hit to combat “Stronger” (Ayo Technology flopped hard, regardless of what Billboard said). He tried to battle Camron but nobody really cared after a while. Now he’s battling Rick Ross and merely showing how much better/craftier/ruthless he is at dissing than rapping since Ricky is lyrically beneath 50 – that porn movie was in terrible taste though, Fif.

We almost forget that his album is supposed to come out this year. We almost forget that “Shut Your Blood Clot Mouth” reminded me of the 50 I heard back in 2002. Actually I did forget all this because of this battle with Ricky – which I lost interest in after the first video. Face it, 50, you’re falling from grace faster than our economy and believe me, hearing you rap is no longer a high priority on our radar.

Enjoy that Hollywood money. (Sidenote: G-Unit may go down as the last successful crew to impact hip-hop...unless Slaughterhouse crosses over)

*Coming up - has Kanye West lost it? will Lupe, Wale and the new Kidz on the Block save hip-hop?*

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rock the Bells 2009 Lineup

Showing my support for the best hip-hop concert that never disappoints every year. Just some quick hits

- Nas and Jr. Gong promoting their new album? YEAH!!!!

- Slaughterhouse coming through after rocking Paid Dues out here? YEAH!!!!!

- You can't go wrong with seeing The Roots and Common, arguably two of the best performers in hip-hop (although the Roots are a clear No. 1)

- The REUNITED Reflection Eternal!!!! Back in '07, I got there right when Kweli finished up so I'm psyched to not only see him but Hi-Tek as well.

- La Coka Nostra/House of Pain should be dope. Mad respect for Everlast and DJ Lethal (despite that lil tiff with Eminem).

- I can already imagine people getting knocked the eff out when M.O.P. comes through and performs "Ante Up" or "How About Some Hardcore"

- I've never seen Big Boi or KRS-One live so I'm pumped to see them. I'm a big fan of Buckshot after seeing him perform out here with Kweli in '06 so that's a dope plus.

- WEST COAST REPRESENT! Some of L.A.'s finest will be in full effect in Evidence & Alchemist, Chali 2na.

- A personal highlight from last year, hearing Raekwon and Ghostface do "Daytona 500" over Dr. Dre's "Next Episode." I can only what the Chef will do with RZA in the building.

- You can't get any better hosts than Murs, KRS, the legenedary Pete Rock and the supreme freestyler Supernatural.

I wondered how they were gonna top last year's Native Tongue/Pharcyde reunion and this just may do it. Here's my story from last year's event. Let's hope Year 3 keeps the good times coming.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Opening Day - the best two words to a baseball fan. The sense of newness and optimism as sport’s longest and oldest season begins and every baseball fan thinks this will be that year. The first crack of the bat, pop of the mitt and handful of popcorn and Cracker Jacks give way to the first base hit, first strikeout, first home run and hopefully the first victory.
I've been in a baseball mood for a while now after reading two outstanding books by the late great David Halberstam. His classic "Summer of '49" and its follow-up "October 1964"

But enough about the background, let’s get down to business.

The Dodgers got off to a great start today by beating San Diego 4-1 down at Petco. More importantly, they beat Jake Peavy for only the 2nd time in his career, which lets you know how bad it could get for the Padres this year.

Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson combined for 3 hits as the new 1-2 leadoff punch and they already showed how deadly they can be. They both got on base in the 1st inning and James Loney brought them home. If they can both do that consistently, we’ll be in great shape.

Loney was the game’s MVP with three hits but for sheer flash, you have to be happy at Matt Kemp. He made a huge diving catch in the sixth to help stop the rally and then hit a bomb in the seventh to ice it. He did strike out in the second but I’m hoping that’s not the restart of that trend.

Hiroki Kuroda only got through 5.2 innings but Cory Wade got out of the jam and along with Hong Chi-Kuo helped set it up for Jonathan Broxton to get the save. Not a bad way to start it off.

And all that was done without Manny Ramirez picking up a hit – although he did walk and score thanks to spooking Peavy on first base into an error. That’s probably the most encouraging thing. If we can produce without him being on point – and him just being a factor that pitchers have to fear – that bodes even better.

Some other notes from Opening Day
- Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 8th Opening Day homer, tying him with Frank Robinson for the record. Welcome home, Junior. Still my favorite player.
- CC Sabathia bombed in his opening start for the Yankees (4.1 IP, 8 R, 6 H, 5 BB, 0 K). It doesn’t matter because he’s typically a better pitcher after June but not a good start for a team panicking at the first sign of trouble – a bigger problem was that Mark Teixiera was 0-4.
- The Dodgers are going to miss Derek Lowe (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R). Just watch tomorrow if Randy Wolf bombs
- Boston got rained out. Ah yes, the beauty of Opening Day killed by Mother Nature. But I can’t laugh because rain is coming my way this week.

Game 1 down out of 162, here’s hoping the Dodgers end this SD trip as well as my vacation was two weeks ago.
Speaking of baseball, I just bought Jeff Perlman's book about the 1986 Mets and expect it in the mail this week. Since he gave the Cowboys' 90's dynasty a great treatment

*I'm working on some music myths to debunk for y'all. So far I've done Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, 50 Cent and Kanye and I got a few more before I decide whether or not to make it one post or several.*

VSR Part 1: I Got The UNC Blues

Congrats to North Carolina for winning the 2009 College Basketball championship. They dominated from start to finish – winning nearly every game by double digits – and they let Michigan State know they meant business. 55 first-half points, 8 steals by Ty Lawson, led most of the game by 20…for a second I thought we were going to watch a repeat of UNLV-Duke in the 1990 final.

This UNC squad was a preseason No. 1 and during the tournament they looked like the team everyone thought was going to win the title. Most dominant run we’ve seen in a while? Absolutely.

It’s been an interesting decade for Roy Williams. 2003 – his Kansas squad loses to the title to Carmelo Anthony, Gerry MacNamara and Syracuse and despite speculation he’s leaving for UNC, he famously tells CBS’ Bonnie Bernstein “I don’t give a sh-t about Carolina.” 2005 – beats Illinois with a great starting five who hasn’t done much in the NBA to get his first title. 2009 – won as many titles as mentor Dean Smith.

Best college coach in America? Hate to say it as a Duke fan, but he’s surpassed Coach K as of now. Better recruiting, better teams and frankly if I could ball, I’d sign with UNC.

So now comes the debate if Tyler Hansbrough is one of the greatest college players ever? Well he’s one of the most celebrated and decorated players ever. A four-time All-American (twice on the first team), national player of the year, ACC Player of the Year, jersey retired by UNC…BUT he’s probably the most unlikely great player in recent history. He’s not Tim Tebow (although the media’s treatment of him reminds me of such) but he found a way to produce every game.

Frankly I don’t know. I didn’t watch him thinking I was seeing one of the all-time greats. I saw him as a great player who had an outstanding career. Is he really one of the greatest Tar Heels ever – better than Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Antawn Jamison? Sometimes we confuse most decorated for best ever and sometimes that just isn’t the case. I generally assume you’re the best by virtue of how you play, not your collection of stats. Hansbrough was one of the best players of this decade but if Blake Griffin played two more seasons, I’d say that he was a better, more dominant player.

But maybe Psycho T’s dominance wasn’t evident to the naked eye. The fact that he was so active on the low block, the fact that he was – hate to use this stereotype – a hard worker who maximized the most of his ability. Maybe because in any other decade prior to the 90’s, this debate would be stupid because he’d stand out among his peers.

So I’ll let longtime basketball observers with more perspective make the call. I just can’t see it right now and maybe I need some time to pass to make the call.

Props to backup PG Larry Drew (left) who won a L.A. City Section championship last year with Taft High School in Woodland Hills and was the City Section Player of the Year. One of my first stories was on him as a junior and it's great to watch him potentially take over for Lawson next year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

VSR: How to flunk Bracketology 101 (while waiting for a Dodger distraction)

The recent events of this week forced me to postpone the Virgosis Sports Report. I was gonna do it last night but a long night at the office (3:30 bed time) coupled with an early wake-up call (5 am PST/7 am CST) led to me feeling mentally dizzy and unable to do anything but read James Baldwin and listen to the I-pod. So here we go....

Flunking Bracketology 101 is no easy feat, especially when the Sweet Sixteen was sweet and I was a futile comeback away from having a perfect Elite Eight. (Note to self: Never put faith in Memphis again, especially after John Calipari is headed to K-Tuck now...two years and counting). It's like acing a pivotal quiz only to flunk on the last major exam before finals. Pitt and Louisville (my title game picks) just croaked before my eyes and only the hated UNC bunch made me smile.

Welp, we got no choice but look at what we got here and see what to make of it. I'm gonna take Carolina and UConn to advance and UConn will be cutting down the nets for the 3rd time in 10 years....congrats.

The Lakers finally come home after that 7-game trip that just sucked the life out of them. 2 sluggish losses and a sluggish victory tonight have left them two games behind Cleveland for home-court advantage. Fortunately some home-cooking this week could be a boost but the biggest boost could come if we get Andrew Bynum back by the postseason, if recent reports are true.

By the way, that story about Bynum at the Playboy Mansion...a non-issue to me. Oh, let's get mad because somebody who is probably rehabbing every day to get back for the playoffs took time out to party. You think he's rehabbing 24/7??? If you do, then you should have no problem if your boss is mad if you partied away from company time. Much ado about nothing and Shakespeare would laugh at what fools you mortals be.

"These hussies won't catch thy use of my language but keepeth on preaching, fellow scribe."

Anyways, the only games that really matter now are Houston on Sunday, revenge for Denver on Tuesday and Utah in the season finale (all at home). Other than that, we're just waiting for the postseason.

And its tiiiiiime for baseball season (cue the Vin Scully and Dodger Stadium organ). Opening Day starts Sunday but for my beloved Boys in Blue, their season starts with their own trip to San Diego, which I assume will go just as well as mine considering the Padres are expected to lie at the bottom of the MLB barrel.

Dodger fans are happy that Manny Ramirez has been signed, sealed and delivered but despite how good our offense just got, our weakness is going to be our pitching staff. With only three spots locked down (Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw), the rest is up for grabs with the likes of Randy Wolf, Jason Schmidt (so far, healthy) and James McDonald, last year's surprise in the NLCS.

I'm honestly worried about how to fill those two spots. I really like McDonald in there at the No. 5 spot because he's been one of our better prospects the last few years but I'm worried that he might get sent back to the farm to tighten him up (a la David Price in Tampa Bay...hence why I had to sadly clip him off my fantasy team). If Schmidt is fine, he's No. 4...if not for Andruw Jones, he'd be the biggest bust the Dodgers have had since Darren Dreifort's contract. I seriously can't remember a meaningful start he's hard in Dodger Blue.

Pretty much, either guy needs to eat enough innings to give our solid bullpen a chance (Cory Wade is a solid set-up man but we need Jonathan Broxton to step up and be the closer).

Offense-wise, all eyes are on outfielder Matt Kemp. I mentioned my thoughts on him in this week's paper (Link coming in the morning) but I have high hopes for him after he worked on cutting down his strikeouts in the second half. He'll probably benefit most from Manny as he settles into that No. 5-6 spot and I won't be surprised if he winds up close to a 30-30 season (not 40-40 like most think). This will be the year he moves from being just a great athlete to a solid player.

Besides Kemp, Rafael Furcal is perhaps our most pivotal player. He sets the tone in the leadoff position and with him being hurt last year, it was hard finding any sense of a spark plug. And in a a pitcher's park like Dodger Stadium, he was sorely missed. We're definitely the favorites to win the NL West but it's anyone's guess how far we can get in the NL playoffs.

By the way, i'm gonna try my hand at fantasy baseball again (P-Nuts and Cracker Jax in the Road to Cooperstown league). Led by NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Mo Rivera, and Francisco Liriano on the mound and Curtis Granderson, B.J. Upton, Alex Rios and Michael Young at the plate, I'm gonna try to keep my eye on it and see what happens.