Monday, December 31, 2012

Time to Clean House (A Chargers/Cowboys Lament)

An expression that I've sadly grown accustomed to.
So another season ends. The Chargers are home. The Cowboys got their hearts ripped out once again. 3 straight years that I haven't seen a playoff game involving one of my squads. Ironically it hasn't happened since I quit being a full-time newspaper guy.

Reality is I've been rooting for two teams that have been impossibly hard to be confident in. The Chargers went from an explosive offense to a team that can barely run the ball and watch Philip Rivers erode from great to average. The Cowboys? A total waste of talent and cursed by injuries and inconsistency.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Bowl Preview (Return of the Video!)

Merry Christmas/Happy Kwanzaa/Happy Holidays from here at Virgo Gumbo. I'm back on the video tip as I preview UCLA and Baylor meeting this week in the Holiday Bowl. Pardon the shine cause I got a fresh haircut and having not shot too many videos at night, I realize why sunlight helps a lot.

My Prediction. UCLA 45, Baylor 35. Too much offense and I believe UCLA's defense will make more stands than Baylor will. Just sit back and enjoy it as much as we enjoyed Baylor-Washington last year.

I'll be doing a USC one previewing them in the Sun Bowl. But I'm also busy doing my year-in-review research because I've got some goodness to reveal. 2012 has been a great year of transition for yours truly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Talking Sports with the Urban Post Worldwide

Forgot to post this last week, but I did some radio work with the Urban Post Worldwide talking sports. Hosted by Niele Anderson, a friend and former co-worker at the LA Sentinel, I'm chopping it up with my former editor Kenneth Miller, the guy who helped me get into journalism.

Enjoy if you like. I'm at the beginning so don't worry waiting to see me. If I can make some time, I'll be doing this more often in 2013 so stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Farewell Nintendo Power (Another Sign that Childhood Is a Memory)

A few days, I saw a link to a cartoon that was coming from the last issue of Nintendo Power. Besides being stunned, I clicked the link. I saw Nester (the magazine's unofficial mascot) talking to his son about NP and passing out gaming tips. Can't lie, I almost wanted to shed a tear, especially at the final panel. The final cover is a great homage to the classic first cover.

Nintendo Power was the very first magazine I had a subscription to. Back when I was a huge gamer and my life revolved around reading and playing the NES. It was my guide on knowing the video game world and back then, you didn't have much to read on it. I remember one of the first issues I got in 1st grade with Super Mario Bros. 3 on the cover.

I'd read them cover to cover, over and over until the next month came. I'd take it to school and I'd read it in my spare time. Reading up the codes to help me get through Super Mario Land 2 or Tiny Toons 2 on Game Boy. Learning every little thing about every new game so I could talk about it. Finding out how to beat those extra-hard bosses. Seeing the level layouts.

I even had dreams of being a video game designer and I created a series of games called "Superevan" back in 2nd grade borrowing heroes and enemies from my favorite games. The Main Boss was named Katz and I created a few extra characters like Crabman and his little brother Cramban, a spelling mistake that just stuck.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown, Connecticut - The latest outbreak of an American Epidemic

Time has passed since the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Two funerals are happening today and more will be done. I’ve shed my tears and gone through my wave of grief as I’m sure most of you have. Now I’m realizing that I’m going back to this other feeling. Numbness.

I’m numb to this because it’s no longer a shock. Since I was 13, I’ve seen kids and adults senselessly murdered for multiple reasons. And the numbers that have died has grown.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Breaking Down Rob Parker/RG3

Watch that video above. Here is the full text of what happened on First Take when ESPN's Rob Parker and Stephen A. Smith discussed Robert Griffin's comments on race.

Let me educate people on this. Robert Griffin is doing what many Black people have done for years. They strive to be the best, regardless of race, and they don't seek to be defined by it. I have personally felt the same way that I wanted to be seen as a great guy, not a great Black guy. Yet at the same time, I've been told in college that I blew people's minds on what they expected from Black folks.

This is not about how Griffin carries himself. This is about what Parker said and why people are looking at this wrong. The problem is that Parker put all of this barbershop talk on ESPN. A conversation that Black people may have had in front of a mainly White audience and you have people of all races rushing to call him an idiot for questioning Griffin's blackness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Electric Relaxation: Blue Scholars "Loyalty"

I'm surprised I didn't do this sooner because this is one of my favorite songs of all time. But seeing Blue Scholars on Sunday reminded me just how much I love this and why I do. It's one of the best discoveries I stumbled upon and the minute I hear that intro, I get lost for the next 4 minutes.

The story behind me hearing it a good one. Just a reminder of how friends matter and share goodness with each other. Let me take you back to 2008 for a second before I break down the music.

I got a text from a friend who works at a radio station in San Diego. She told me to check out these guys from Seattle that she had just seen and listen to this song "Loyalty". I think I was up late at my newspaper so I went to YouTube and checked it out.

First thing I noticed was it used the same Sylvers sample that the Foreign Exchange used for "All That You Are". Yet it had a dreamy, uplifting groove like something you hear when you wake up for the first time. The video added to that with the clear skies and sun in the background but that sound just stayed in my ears and went to my soul.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hall of Fame Part 2: Who Should Go In

So as a follow-up to my Wednesday post on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens' Hall of Fame candidacy, I'm going to submit a few names of first-timers and repeat candidates on the ballot this year and give my thoughts on why they should be in. Some quick rules on my logic.

First, I don't believe in waiting to be a HOFer. Either you're one or you're not (unless advanced stats prove otherwise that highlighted things that weren't known during your career). Second, no rules on how many guys I can vote for. My list is short but it'll have probably more than the average ballot. That said, here we go.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer (and Roger Clemens is not easily one)

I've long said that I would vote for Barry Bonds into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Now that he's on the ballot, it's about to be time to see if he, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others did enough to prove they were HOF worthy minus the stain of steroids.

First a disclaimer. My policy on steroids has been that I don't support it and that the discussion on it was always way too simple. I never believed roids or PED's improved natural gifts but they enhanced muscle recovery and improved power. They couldn't help bat speed, hand-eye coordination, IQ or anything else that comes from hard work.

At the same time, the moral hand-wringing over steroids is funny because baseball has long benefited from some type of cheating or advantage. Whether it be banning Black and Latino players until 1947, using greenies or amphetamines to get through the drain of a long season, stealing signs, spitballs and other tricks of the trade, the game has never been pure. It was pure because of storytelling and mythmaking and a slew of other factors. But it was never 100% clean and wholesome.

That said, here's why my vote goes to Barry Bonds. He was already a Hall of Famer before he allegedly started taking steroids. Here's the breakdown that I've believed in for a few years.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Jovan Belcher and this Terrible, Complex Tragedy

There is no easy way to react to the full measure of the murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins. On Saturday, Belcher killed Perkins with multiple gun shots, drove to the Kansas City Chiefs facility, thanked several members of the organization and then killed himself with a shot to the head.

Those are simple facts. What's not so simple is what happened next. Two families are grieving as they should. A Chiefs team grieved as they debated and decided to play on Sunday. A 3-month child named Zoe is now an orphan. The NFL followed their tradition and allowed the Chiefs to play on Sunday instead of stepping in to postpone this game.

In most minds, it makes sense to grieve for Perkins, an innocent victim, while calling Belcher a monster. This is true but to say that chastises the Chiefs for grieving a teammate. It's trying to say that head coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and others shouldn't be shaken by seeing a man kill himself in front of their eyes. A man they've known for four years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Electric Relaxation: Revisiting Rage Against the Machine's Classic Debut

The other day, I found out that Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut was being reissued today for its 20th anniversary. I can't say how thrilled I was because it's one of the greatest and hardest debut albums ever. Even though I don't have $75 to spend on that full set, it had remember when I spent the summer of 2005 listening to it over and over and loving every bit of it.

(I guess November 1992 was a time for releasing volatile work. Ice Cube released his classic Predator album - the post-LA riot soundtrack until The Chronic came out in December. Spike Lee also released his biopic on Malcolm X in November.)

Anyways, being a huge Rage fan in 2005, I had never listened to a full album despite KROQ playing the singles nonstop. I remember my friend Adam loaned me a copy of the self-titled album to burn before we left for summer break. What happened next was a sonic fury that carried on the legacy of the MC5, Clash and Public Enemy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Chris Brown, Jenny Johnson and Twitter (Find Peace, Not Hate)

Three years later, Chris Brown is still a pariah. Still a poster child for domestic abuse, entitlement and the “bad boy” rebel America loves to embrace/hate/associate with maturity. His youthful defiance and musical comebacks have earned him more detractors. Everything he’s done since Grammy Night 2009 has been amplified more.

I write here not to defend Brown, something I’ve done every year since I’ve been blogging. I’m writing to ask people one question. Why does he still concern you? Why does everything wrong he does matter to you?

I could make the argument that people aren’t giving him space to grow and change. Which is true. But Chris hasn’t done himself favors with some of his decision-making.  We already know some of them but here’s other things he hasn’t done either.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Skyfall and the Dark Knight's influence

The lady and I saw Skyfall over the weekend and despite the rain outside, we stayed warm and on edge watching a great film. Not a great Bond film, a great film period. I admit that I haven't seen my share of Bond movies (Die Another Day, Casino Royale, 1/2 of Quantum of Solace before I passed out) so I can't compare it to any other in the genre.

It made me more eager to see future Bond movies. And that's the mark of a great movie. A long-standing brand shouldn't just give you what you expect but make you think you're watching it grow. And Skyfall did that in a few ways. From seeing more of the great Dame Judi Dench as M to the beautiful, witty Money Penny played by Naomie Harris, the acting surrounded Bond was top notch.

Oh and Adele's theme. Beautiful. Majestic. Perfect for the intro. See you at the Oscars for your comeback.

Monday, November 19, 2012

UCLA/USC Reports (A Change Is Gonna Come Cause of the Takeover!!!)

Well, well, well. UCLA has done what I expected. They got that payback. They stomped USC for not just that 50-0 beating but for the last 6 years of embarrassment. So needless to say, I had a lot of fun shooting this UCLA video to the sweet sounds of Sam Cooke and the Solid Gold sound of the UCLA marching band.

At 9-2, UCLA are the Pac-12 South champs and still have to face Stanford on Saturday. Beat them, we might have a rematch with Oregon from last year (assuming the Ducky Boys don't lose this week in the Civil War game vs. Oregon State).

Kudos to big games from Joe Fauria, Johnathan Franklin, Shaq Evans, Brett Hundley and the coaching staff, led by Jim Mora. If Mora isn't in the conversation for Coach of the Year, I don't know who is.

Meanwhile, USC went from Top 10 to not mentioned at all. Had a spark when they started and now they're just garbage. No. 1 with a bullet and now have to recover as their captain, Matt Barkley, will miss their regular season finale against Notre Dame. Lane Kiffin's job might be safe but will his pops, Monte Kiffin, return next year?

As a devoted listener of The Morning Jones, I know exactly what Trojans fans need today and I give to them in the video. A shot of reality chased down with some cold truth and D'Angelo in the background. I hate to say this but when Notre Dame finishes them off next week, it's going to end this glorious reign. The future does look bleak, especially as those reduced scholarships start to take effect.

Oh yeah, it was a great weekend for UCLA overall as Shabazz Muhammad was finally declared eligible by the NCAA. If you missed any of my stories on it, head over to Rant and check the profile. Or just click on them here. But I'm happy to see the NCAA do the right thing after they were shamed by their hypocrisy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Once Again, The NCAA is Decadent and Depraved (Let Shabazz Play!)
While you know my stance on saying "Free (insert name)", I support Flea getting on board with the unfair treatment of UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
Full disclosure here. I don't like the NCAA. I don't like the charade they represent. I think they are an outdated model fueled by greed and the desire to swing their power around. They claim to be about student-athletes and yet bring the hammer down on common sense situations instead of use wise discretion.

Shabazz Muhammad is the latest person to see this. The NCAA has made him ineligible to play for UCLA this season so far for taking "benefits" that apparently they knew about two years ago and approved. According to his family, the NCAA approved Benjamin Lincoln providing for housing and a plane ticket for unofficial trips to North Carolina.

Mind you, Lincoln is not connected with Duke or North Carolina so there is no bias here. He's not a booster. He's a financial advisor who's known Muhammad since he was in 7th grade. Now unless you want to assume that we all knew Muhammad would be a superstar in 2007, I believe this friendship goes deeper than just fame.

Surely the NCAA would see this after investigating for a year, right? Then again, this is the same organization that suspended Baylor forward Perry Jones at the end of the 2010-11 season after finding out his mother asked his AAU coach for money so they could make ends meet. Money that she paid back, by the way.

But they don't care. They see money exchanging hands and assume that it's corruption. It's like that famous scene in Casablanca (which upon watching reminds me exactly of the NCAA)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My 10 Favorite Sportswriters Now

As a writer/journalist, sometimes I feel it's great to share folks who inspire you. I was raised to always pay respect to those who inspire you and I never stop giving props to those who make me want to pick up a pen and keep getting better at what they do.

I tend to favor folks who are reasonable yet passionate. They share information as well as come across as grounded. They aren’t caught up in themselves. They tell stories. I admit some of them are entertaining as well but from a strictly writing standpoint, these are the people I read to help me become a better writer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

UCLA/USC Report: The Battle of Los Angeles

For the first time, I'm actually excited about this game. Past years, I've always been hyped but just because it's what I do. But now, I actually believe UCLA will make this a competitive game against USC. 2006 was a great win but nobody saw it coming. This time, it'll be even sweeter I believe.

But as I say in this week's video, I can't pick UCLA any more cleanly than I can say USC will lose spectacularly. Both teams are evenly matched (with obvious differences at WR) and while UCLA has the younger quarterback, he's way more steady I believe than Barkley, who's as polished as anybody and still has the tendency to force his decisions.

Anyways, enjoy the video. Apologies for the music shorting out early but we made up for it at the end.

And as always, if you miss me writing more on the Gumbo, feel free to check me out over at Rant Sports, where I've been serving up some goodness on UCLA and the drama surrounding Shabazz Muhammad. You know how I feel about saying "Free (Insert Name)" so while I won't say that, I'll just say the NCAA once again shows how lack of common sense hurts the players they're supposed to protect.

Now pardon me while I try to figure out how I'm supposed to start liking Mike Antoni as the Lakers' next coach. As my man Keith said, the Lakers have become the Suns but much older (and somewhat better defensively).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Electric Relaxation: Reviewing Good Kid, MAAD City

I've been excited for Kendrick Lamar's album since last year and hearing it 3 times hasn't changed my mind when I say that it's one of the best debuts I've heard since "Food + Liquor". I'm happy that he and Big K.R.I.T. give me hope for the future in rap that rappers will have as much substance as they do everything else.

Besides "Food + Liquor", it also reminded me of Ice Cube's classic "Death Certificate" just because it captured what a young man in L.A. is going through. While it lacks the political bite of DC, one of my favorite albums of all time, the window and perspective of GKMC reminds of what Cube was trying to capture.

Is it a classic? How can you call something a classic 2 weeks after it comes out? It's an incredible piece of work that'll be remembered for a while. It's a great album. It'll be one of the best albums of the year. But let's wait and give it time because just because it looks like a classic, we still gotta let it play out.

That said, go cop it. Buy some extra copies for folks. Be a good friend like I was with my lady and let them have a copy however you can arrange it. Good music must be supported with your dollars and based on the last 2 weeks on Billboard, people are supporting Kendrick incredibly. 304,000 sold in 2 weeks for a debut artist? Who barely has a Top 40 single? Incredible!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Jitters (2012 Edition)

Today is Election Day and I’m realizing that this is the first time I’m going to be in a relatively calm environment for a presidential election since 2000.  Yet I can’t shake the feeling of being nervous like I always am.

If you’ve noticed my blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts or anything in the past year, you know who I’m voting for tomorrow. I should be fairly confident that things work in his favor tomorrow but despite my warnings on avoiding all distractions, I can’t shake a feeling that not everybody is that intelligent to parse through the crap to make a smart vote on their conscious. But Election Day nerves aren't new to me

1992: 8 years old. My school had a mock vote for President George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot after each grade had to “support” a candidate in a presentation at school (I remember my 3rd grade class had to support Perot). After we took the vote, Bill Clinton won by an overwhelming margin and we all cheered throughout the school. I remember coming home to see Clinton won and feeling pretty happy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

UCLA Rising and USC Falling.

Maybe I was wrong about UCLA all this time. All the apprehension I had this year is gone as they put the most points since I was in junior high watching them put up 66 on Texas and Houston. For the first time in 14 years, I'm confident saying that they will not only compete with USC, they're going to beat them in 2 weeks.

They dismantled a good Arizona team like they wanted payback for Arizona dominating them last year. I said they'd go 2-3 over the next 5 games and now 4-1 seems the safest bet. I might be crazy suggesting even 5-0 but I won't go there yet. I did fun trying to hide my glee in that video.

I'd also like to extend a personal congratulations to RB Johnathan Franklin, who became the school's all-time leading rusher during the game. As somebody who's been impressed with his leadership and skill since he was in high school, I salute him for being a model of hard work, faith and dedication.

Meanwhile, USC's practice should be live this week since they need to practice tackling and all the basics. I took some aim at defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin being the problem the last two weeks but I also praised Oregon (esp. Kenjon Barner) for putting the Trojans through the ringer.

Marqise Lee is on his way to perhaps winning the Biletnikoff Award as the best WR in the country and he can't save this team. They've abandoned going to Robert Woods more consistently and perhaps have hurt his draft stock in the process. The Trojans should be lucky that Nelson Agholor gives them hope for this season and the next 2 because after this year, the fall could continue even more.

And in case you've been missing the work I've been doing for the good folks at Rant Sports, here's the link to my page. The most recent story is a homecoming for former All-State/McDonald's All-American Larry Drew II, the best high school PG I've covered so far in my career. I'll be doing stories later this week on the Pac-12's top players and freshmen to watch.

I'd also like to send thoughts and prayers to the 4 victims of the Halloween shooting at USC's campus. One of them was former City Section Player of the Year/All-State 1st Teamer Geno Hall, formerly of Crenshaw HS. Hall was shot 7 times according to reports and remains in critical but stable condition. I got to know Hall and his Crenshaw teammates very closely in 2009 when the Cougars went to the state bowl game so it saddens me more than usual that he was not only shot at, but may have been the target.

Fortunately Hall will survive, but it reminds me of athletes who aren't as lucky. Dannie Farber was killed 3 years ago and seeing his old high school Narbonne 2 weeks ago reminded me of being at his funeral. Jamiel Shaw was killed 4 years ago and his killer just received the death penalty over the weekend. I pray Hall and the other 3 victims will recover and grow to be grateful of that second chance instead of bent on revenge.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012-13 NBA Preview: Joy in L.A., OKC's White Flag, Boston Stranglers and Miami's Reign

It's about to be a good year to be a Lakers fan. Assuming everybody stays healthy - all eyes on Kobe's foot tonight - it's the most exciting team I've seen since 2003-04. Since we all know how that went, I'm also tempering my expectations and not talking championship yet.

But since Oklahoma City decided to blow up their core in the name of money, I'm saying the Lakers will be back in the Finals. By the way, Oklahoma City deserves props for not only reminding me of the 1995 Orlando Magic once again, but for scaring themselves into worrying about money instead of the immediate future.

At least the 1995 Magic had a chance to follow-up their Finals run with a great 1996 season that ended at the hand of the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sam Presti robbed this team of that chance by sending James Harden for a shoot-first old Kevin Martin, a talented rookie in Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. He also had the presence of mind to do this two days before the season. Genius!!

So the Lakers only have to worry about themselves and pray that everybody gels together. Steve Nash will do that just fine. Dwight Howard just has to be healthy and he'll dominate on the defensive end/rebounding side. Kobe just has to relax and stay healthy. Pau Gasol has to play like he did during the Olympics.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Week 9 UCLA/USC Report (And BIG News)

The UCLA Report (above) is a lot more fun considering we just watched the most exciting win of the season. UCLA's 45-43 at Arizona State is one to definitely hang your hat on and big ups to Kai'mi Fairbairn, Brett Hundley, Johnathan Franklin and the coaching staff for doing the Lord's work against the Sun Devils.

Meanwhile, the USC report (below) goes in on Lane Kiffin, his poor playcalling, his undisciplined coaching and wasting one of the greatest WR performances I've ever witnessed - Marqise Lee and his 16 receptions for 345 yards. A bit much? Nah. Long overdue if you ask me. He's no Pete Carroll - a coach who could win the games he was supposed to, recruit and develop talent and keep everyone focused AND loose at the same time.

Finally big news to share. I will be writing for Rant Sports this season for UCLA and USC hoops. It's a paid gig so I'll be glad to make some extra coin for the good folks over there. It's also a great way for me to stay focused as a sportswriter who knows the LA sports scene.

Here's my 1st story, a preview on UCLA's season. I'll be writing every day for them so every few days, I'll post several links in a separate entry here in case you can't keep up with them all on Twitter. I'm excited and truly grateful for this opportunity and you know how much I love hoops.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

13 Days - Avoid the Distractions

13 days left until the election and it's time to get serious. The debate theater is over. It's the final stage where we need to buckle down and shore up what's important in this election season. Unfortunately, the last act means all the clowns and hysteria has to run its course.

Case in point Sarah Palin's recent words on President Obama "shuck and jive shtick" towards his response to Libya. It's easy for me to get upset at her using that term but instead consider the source - Palin's begging for attention and hasn't been in the spotlight in a while. It's been proven that the administration called the attack "an act of terror" the day after and God forbid they show restraint, grieve for the families and let things shake out before playing the terrorist card even further.

But see, that's all a part of the game. Focus on the source making outlandish statements. Never mind more analysis on the issues or deciding if the source it's worth listening.

Ann Coulter calling the president a retard? Just another sign of her being an insensitive idiot who hides behind Fox News, her Twitter and whatever imaginary shield she thinks she has. She's got no merit and this latest statement shows her desperation and ignorance.

What's more problematic - Tagg Romney wanting to swing at Barack Obama or that he owns voting machines in Ohio. It's not even close. Considering how much Ohio has been a factor in the last 3 elections, that scares me more.

Monday, October 22, 2012

UCLA/USC Report (And Some Housekeeping)

As I introduce my weekly UCLA/USC report, there will be a change on the blog. The football wrap that I've written for 3 years will be discontinued and instead every Monday, I'll be uploading my video here on the blog. I enjoyed writing the wrap and finding cool tidbits, but I think to better focus myself as a writer, I need to invest more time in what works for me, which are short articles and videos.

I'll still be offering football-related thoughts as they come to mind, but they will be articles. Besides, it also frees me up to write something else on Monday or Tuesday if it comes up instead of being hamstrung to do the wrap.

Enjoy the video, where I salute Robert Woods and Matt Barkley's record-setting day against Colorado. I'm especially proud of Woods who I've covered since he was a HS junior. Here's a story I wrote about his work ethic and character back in high school.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Quentin Tarantino and Nas: If Pulp Fiction is Illmatic, Jackie Brown is It Was Written

Last night I was watching Pulp Fiction. Somehow it always seems to come on at night and it's led to me sharing some cool thoughts before. I got into a brief conversation on Twitter about it and right away, we mentioned how Jackie Brown was criminally underrated.

15 years after its release, it's still a great movie. A great movie about my city and a reminder that Pam Grier is a treasure of beauty/sass. But it's slept on by a lot of folks because the monster came before it. How do you follow up one of the most influential movies of the last 20 years? A movie that was getting high praise the minute it got released.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Electric Relaxation: Eminem Turns 40

Hard to believe that Marshall Mathers is 40 today. Craziest thing is that means he was 27 when the Slim Shady LP dropped. Since I just turned 28, that holds a lot more weight considering there's still a lot of living left in me.

I've watched Eminem from novelty act to serious MC to drug addict/questionable producer to serious MC once again. He's been one of my favorite rappers since I first heard "My Name Is" and everybody tried to rap it at school. While most of my friends loved the Marshall Mathers LP, my favorite will always be The Eminem Show because it was personal, dark and showed growing as a rapper with his skill and inspiration. Somehow he sounded overwhelmed, confident and hungry all at the same time.

People think Lil Wayne and Drake are superstars. But 10 years ago, Eminem was a real superstar. I remember when TRL was nearly shut down when he arrived. When he had the No. 1 movie and album in the country with 8 Mile. When Eminem Show was cranking out radio singles and album cuts on the radio all the time. When "Lose Yourself" was being compared to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and nearly every great song of the previous 10 years. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Night Massacre in the 619

I’m still feeling numb thinking about that Chargers game. Not angry, not frustrated, not even smarting from my teams (Dallas and San Diego) having a combined 4 straight stomach-punching losses. Just numb because this is a new low for a Norv Turner team and that’s saying a lot.

A 24-0 lead at home. Gone.  Fire to finish? Non-existent. Somebody as a calming, firm presence? Nowhere to be found. Philip Rivers looking like a steady leader? Nah man.

I left work with the Chargers up big at halftime. I was puffing out my chest thinking we’re going to see Peyton Manning locked up and owned by San Diego once again. I was wrong.

What I saw qualifies as the worst regular season Chargers loss in my 10 years as a fan. And that’s saying a lot considering there have been at least 2-3 gut-punching games a year. This was a slow descent from Mt. Everest to Death Valley with unbelievable mistakes that just symbolized this era of Charger football.

Football Wrap Week 6A: More Irish Luck

I now have another reason to dislike Stanford, a program I've never been fond of since their basketball team was a national power in the mid-90's. As I wrote last week, they were my new Great Hope to send Notre Dame fans back into reality.

But in the rain of South Bend - a scene fit for poetry - their old conservative ways caught up to them as they lost in overtime. Three points I have.

1. Why did David Shaw call for 4 straight run plays up the middle on the 4-yard line? No creativity against a stingy defense. No running Josh Nunes for a bootleg or spreading out the offense to fool the defense. Hard-headed.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Flow Joe Biden vs. Young Paul Ryan

Joe Biden couldn't keep a straight face most of the time when Paul Ryan spoke. Neither could I (Photo by Evan B.)
I’m still shaking my head at what I saw. After a nice, respectable presidential debate, the kid gloves came off in the Vice-Presidential debate and the punches were swinging!

A tip of the hat to moderator Martha Raddatz. As opposed to Jim Lehrer, she set the tone and demanded respect from the jump. She also wasn’t afraid to assert herself to ask tougher questions, clearer specifics and be what I expect a moderator to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

RapGenius: Not Hating the Players but Hating the Game Once Again

I looked at RapGenius over the past year or so. At first I thought it was pretty cool – a site to break down rap lyrics. They hit me up on Twitter randomly to ask me to join their site, I told them I’d think about it. Since I love lyrics, I ended up joining and added my two cents to some of my favorite Ice Cube/Nas songs.

I don’t have a beef with the site per se. Because it’s all user based, anybody can comment on a song. That’s both good and bad because while there are some great breakdowns (see Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean), some of the reasoning is silly and immature.  When you post a new meaning, there’s a corny “Yeeeeah Boy” picture afterwards.

RapGenius has also succeeded in partnering with folks like Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Murs and Jean Grae to help breakdown their lyrics. The site admits that not every breakdown is approved by an editor so that’s pretty much carte blanche to allow anything. In our Wikipedia generation, it works even if it emphasizes current rap over old school joints that deserve to be deciphered more.

So what’s the big issue? Discovering that RapGenius got a $15 million investment and it’s the brainchild of three slang-talking, non-Black guys from Yale. Guys who got started the site on a whim and watched it grow.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Football Wrap Week 5B: Mark Sanchez and the USC QB Curse

I start this week’s NFL wrap with a proclamation.

Mark Sanchez has thrown for less than 50 percent of his passes in every start this year. His passes were inaccurate Monday night. His decision-making was suspect. At this point, there’s nothing that says he should be keeping his job. But he is because the alternative is a cult hero in Tim Tebow who isn’t much better.

I don’t care if Sanchez went to two AFC title games and has no help around him. He’s not a NFL starting quarterback right now and he’s barely a capable game manager. But to be honest, it’s not his fault. It’s the USC QB curse.

In the 10 years that USC has been relevant, all of their quarterbacks haven’t panned out well in the NFL. Matt Leinart? Mentally wasn’t ready despite his gifts. John David Booty? Barely got any burn. Sanchez is next in line and unless something changes, so is Matt Barkley.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Football Wrap Week 5A: Notre Dame - Why I'm Not Thrilled They're "Back"

I guess it’s gotten too much to ignore. Notre Dame keeps on winning and we have to keep pretending they are still relevant because of their legacy.

I keep hoping teams will knock them out and remind folks that this isn’t the 80’s or early 90’s. But each week, they keep winning and the old echoes of South Bend keep getting louder and louder.

They beat Michigan State. They made Shoelace Robinson look silly in defeating Michigan. And now, they destroyed The U. A game that had to make all the former Miami players sick as the Irish scored 34 unanswered points.

This is the highest Notre Dame has been ranked since 2006.  5-0 is 5-0. I respect it. But I don’t have to like what it represents. Some Notre Dame fans getting high and mighty and pretentious. Media types saying Notre Dame is back.

Full disclosure. One of my last college friends was a proud Irish fan. A good acquaintance from college is a proud Irish fan. I don’t hate all fans. But I guess I dislike them the same way people dislike the Lakers, Yankees, Duke and all those hateable teams.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Obama-Romney I

So I just finished watching the 1st Presidential Debates. I avoided most of the feedback and post-debate analysis until I watched. Here's what I thought.

-The biggest loser in the debate wasn't a candidate. It was moderator Jim Lehrer. A respected voice in media who had no control of the debate and appeared to be walked over many times by Mitt Romney (more on that later). I felt like his voice was disregarded and as moderator, it's your place to be law and order. He appeared too old and outdated to handle a debated with forceful candidates.

CNN's Candy Crowley had better be on her game in 2 weeks as moderator. I respect her as a fair voice so it's up to her to set the tone and maintain it. Watching Lehrer made me long for Will McAvoy's debate format in "The Newsroom"

-Mitt Romney's biggest gaffe to me came when he spoke on the federal government's role in public education. He said that states and local governments should do more than the federal government. But then he said that in supporting federal bills for disabled/lower income students, he's in favor of giving that federal money directly to the parent to decide where the child goes to school. Ummmm isn't that federal government taking a BIG role in a child's education??

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Football Wrap Week 4B: The Blues (Saints, Cam, Tony Romo and Me)

2012 hasn't been kind to the Saints. They lost a thriller in the NFC playoffs at San Francisco. Then came Bountygate where the NFL accused of them of paying for big hits. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the whole season. And now the bottom has dropped out at they've fallen to 0-4.

If anybody is singing "Wake Me Up When September Ends", it's Drew Brees and Co. But on second thought, they might be singing Louis Armstrong "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" as they sleep on this week.

Clearly they're a team lost in the ocean. They've been in almost every game but something has fallen apart for them. Against Green Bay, they lost on a missed kick. It's the kind of loss that'll sting worse because it's almost a sign that it's going to be harder after this. Or it has to get better.

But chances are, it won't get better in the playoffs. They just gotta worry about getting back to .500
and that won't happen til November. The only thing they'll enjoy is when Drew Brees throws for a TD for his 48th straight game on Sunday for a new NFL record. Then sit back while my Chargers bring that kitchen sink to NOLA.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Football Wrap Week 4A: CFB on Steroids, Geno Smith and a Top Ten?

What happened Saturday in college football can only be described as football on steroids. An offensive explosion that showed how the game has changed up to this point. Some of the crazy numbers.

1) 5 guys passed for over 500 yards. Only 1 had done it all season so far. There were 6 performances last year total. So we’ve reached that by Week 5.

2) 2 guys had over 300 receiving yards in the SAME game. 4 more guys had 200+ receiving yards on the day.

3) Tennessee and Georgia combined for 95 points – 4 more than West Virginia and Baylor had combined after THREE quarters. Who said the SEC played defense?

Even as Beat ‘Em Down Month finally ends, that’s ridiculous. We’re seeing guys set passing records at crazy rates. You can blame the rise of the spread offenses that’s even trickled down to the HS level (and also the number of offensive geniuses in CFB).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Electric Relaxation: John Mayer "Vultures"

One of my favorite John Mayer songs was never released as a single. It's not a song you'd probably think of when you think of Mayer. I could've picked any of my favorite songs like "Neon" (another non-single) or "Your Body is a Wonderland." But today, I'm sharing a song that musically is as cool as anything he's done.

I first heard "Vultures" at a live concert I saw on TV in 2005 or 2006 (I've looked but I can't remember what show it was). The song got to me right away cause of that opening riff. So simple, yet funky with a groove that I could move to. It wasn't just John Mayer singing singer-songwriter ballads, it seemed cooler. Mature.

Then I heard the words. Even now when I hear them they inspire me when I feel down on myself or feel pressured. That chorus sounds like exactly what I'd say to keep myself going. It's not going to be easy all the time and I should embrace the struggle.

"Down to the wire
I wanted water, but
I'll walk through the fire
If this is what it takes
To take me even higher
Then I'll come through
Like I do
When the world keeps
Testing me, testing me, testing me"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Low End Theory turns 21

The first time I heard A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory, I was a sophomore in college. It was 2004 and I decided it was time to finally buy a Tribe album. I found it at Best Buy and the cashier told me, "You're gonna love it."

(That's one of the sad things I miss buying music today. Not a lot of cashiers know enough about the music you're buying to give you feedback anymore. It's just ring it up, exchange money/receipts and "Have a good day")

So I came home, popped it in my desktop and listened for the next 37 minutes. What happened next help spark my love affair with one of the greatest groups in hip hop history. I played that album over and over that year and when I saw Tribe reunite that summer at the San Diego Street Scene, the booming bass of "Buggin Out" hit my soul deep!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Football Wrap Week 3B: Things Fall Apart

Pictures say a 1,000 words. I hate blaming the referees but after 3 weeks of horrible playcalling, the final play of Week 3 in the NFL season was perhaps one of the worst calls in recent memory. An interception that became a touchdown. A game-winning interception to quote somebody on Twitter.

We aren't talking about Russell Wilson playing well as a rookie. We aren't talking about the defensive efforts of both teams. We aren't talking about anything but that call. The worst possible scenario for this labor dispute has just unfolded - a game's outcome has been determined by the zebras.

Football Wrap Week 3A - Never Trust Clemson

Seems like every year Clemson tries to convince me that I’m wrong. I’m wrong for doubting any of their success. But no matter how hard they try, they won’t make these 3 words untrue.

Never. Trust. CLEMSON.

Clemson has followed this formula. Win great games. Get some national love. Get a prime time game and promptly find a way to crap the bed. Saturday was no different. Ranked No. 10, they faced No. 4 Florida State on ABC  and after taking a 31-28 lead in the third, they were gonna prove me wrong at my birthday bash.

Well an hour or two later, I checked my phone. Florida State won 49-37. Clemson gave up 21 straight points. 21!!! On national TV???? That sounds like some fraud business to me. And don’t tell me FSU is that good because clearly they are. This is about those Tigers acting like kitties once again.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Electric Relaxation: Bizarre Tribe - A Quest To The Pharcyde

I haven't done a music post in a while but I heard something this week that inspired me to share it. It's a great combination of two of my favorite groups of all time that embodies how creative, fun and unique they were.

"Bizarre Tribe - A Quest To The Pharcyde" is a mixtape that mixes vocals from The Pharcyde over beats from A Tribe Called Quest. Except it's not just a pure mash-up - there's live drums, recreation of the beats, original sample sources, clips from the ATCQ documentary and mixing in different songs.

For example, "Soul Flower (We Got)" has Pharcyde's "Soul Flower" rapping over Tribe's "Jazz (We Got)" and a recreation of "Butter." The song titles give you a hint of what's going to be the main mix but be prepared to hear other Tribe songs mixed in so seamlessly. That excitement is what I love about this project.

Created by Gummy Soul, a trio of DJ/producers Wally Clark and Amerigo Gazaway along with MC Kurtis Stanley, it's great for anybody who's a fan of Tribe or Pharcyde. Gazaway was the main force behind this mix and it's obvious he respects both groups' legacy as much as I do because it doesn't seem rushed or forced together with beats that seem out of place.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Jena 6 Rally - 5 Years Later

5 years is a long time. But the pride I feel is still strong. (Photo by Evan Barnes)
Five years ago, tens of thousands of people walked the streets of tiny Jena, Louisiana. They not only protested the Jena 6 - six Black boys accused of beating up a White classmate and initially facing attempted murder charges - but the one of the 6 still incarcerated. They were high school and college students, workers from every sector, activists, reporters. All in Black shirts in 90 degree September heat.

14 months removed from college, I was there too, reporting on one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in recent memory. I covered it for the LA Sentinel and not only did I win my first national award for it, it gave me a chance to learn a lot about the world and how issues are raised.

I remember back then being angry that Michael Vick's dogfighting trial was getting more coverage than the Jena 6. The more I looked that case up, the less I cared about Vick. He was going down for being a fool, bankrolling a federal crime and participating in it but meanwhile, we had 6 boys about to be railroaded by Southern justice and people didn't care as much. 

I asked my editor to write the first story in our September 6th issue. That story became one of my favorite issues because I also had a feature story on USC running back Stafon Johnson and a picture on then HS phenom Renardo Sidney. That led to me following up with it right up to the trip.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Football Wrap Week 2B - The Replacements (and the NFL's Arrogance)

Week 1, I didn’t see the replacement refs mess up that much but that didn’t convince me all was well. The best thing the NFL could hope for was nobody to notice a huge mess-up and act like all was well.

That’s what happens when you patch a slow, bleeding wound with a kiddie bandage. It’s passable and you hope the wound’s manageable but you haven’t fixed the problem. Eventually it’ll get worse without treatment.

Week 2? I saw a bad call affect Tampa Bay. Mike Williams catches a great ball, takes 2 steps, gets hit and loses the ball out of bounds. Clearly he had possession but the refs said he didn’t.  CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman described otherscrew-ups as well.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Football Wrap Week 2A - Down Goes USC, Michigan State and Arkansas.

Usually I discuss USC and UCLA in a separate video so y’all can hear me discuss the local scene (which is still here) but I had to speak on something I noticed in the AP poll. USC’s steep decline from No. 2 to 13. 

*Also of note,  Stanford QB Josh Nunes and Matt Barkley came out of HS at the same time. I remember hearing a lot about Nunes in Upland despite Barkley getting all the hype. Almost funny how that worked out with them seeing each other*

Now as a UCLA fan, this is where I’d laugh and say they deserved it because they struggled most of the game. But a thought occurred to me. If these were two SEC teams playing a similar game and the higher seed lost on the road by only 7, would that team drop so steeply?