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?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Integration: A Gift and a Curse

WEB Du Bois said the problem of the 20th century is the color line. The problem in the 21st century is when we cross the color line, what happens next? What happens after you crash the glass ceiling to be the first?

Ta-Nehisi Coates of "The Atlantic" did a brilliant job answering this question in terms of the greatest glass ceiling breaking – Barack Obama becoming the first person of color to be President. The dilemma of integration is that while it created so many opportunities for my generations and generations before and after, it also created problems people can’t handle. 

"The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld." - T. Coates

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remember 9/11 - Looking ahead instead of Replaying the Past

The further I get from 9/11, the more interested I'm in looking ahead to how we remember it. For the past six years, I've tutored kids and seen them get younger and younger. Their 9/11 memories will become less vivid too. So instead of just looking back, I want to look ahead to how we teach them because that's as important as anything.

What will they be taught? What won't they be taught? Will they roll their eyes or will they fully understand what September 11 means. But also, we who remember that day have to be diligent in doing more than just posting Never Forget or wrapping ourselves in the flag or judging folks who react differently than the "acceptable" way.

For those who want to look back, here's my take from last year.

Football Wrap Week 1B (RG3's DEBUT, The Kicker and 40 Point Specials)

It was last year that I wrote about how Cam Newton had one of the most impressive debuts of anybody I had seen in any sport. He shattered the rookie record for passing yards and showed everybody that he could indeed be a passing QB, not just a runner.

One year later, what then can I say about Robert Griffin III in his debut?? 320 passing yards, 2 TD's (including an 88-yarder, the 2nd longest debut TD pass in history), ZERO Interceptions and defeated the Saints in the Superdome in front of his family and friends from New Orleans.

It's as good as you can expect a rookie to play. It's poise, command and great skill on display. It's the further evolution of the Black quarterback as a true dual-threat who can hurt you with his arm and legs.  And as Skins fan DragonflyJonez frequently announced on Twitter, he outplayed the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year in his house.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Football Wrap Week 1A (Pac-12 Makes a BIG statement)

(Trying something new this year - separating the Football Wrap into College and Pros. An attempt to keep both shorter and more focused. We'll see how this lasts)

Oregon State QB Sean Mannion helped the Pac-12 make big noise Saturday leading the upset over Wisconsin.

The Pac-12 has taken a lot of heat the last 2-3 years. USC battled sanctions, UCLA’s been embarrassing. If not for Oregon (and Rob Gronkowski's rise), the Pac-12 has had some inconsistent teams as the Ducks have been carrying the conference.

Well two weeks in, the Pac-12 is taking names and making statements. No. 16 Nebraska? Down to UCLA. No. 13 Wisconsin? Done in by Oregon State? And Oklahoma State? The team that barely beat Stanford last year in a bowl game. Outgunned and outmanned by Arizona and new QB Matt Scott.

Big ups to Oregon State also shutting down Heisman candidate Montee Ball, his first game without a TD in 22 games. They beat Wisconsin at their own game - ugly, low scoring and physical.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Football Wrap Week 0 (College FB returns on the Beat em Down Express)

It's baaaaaaaaaack! No, not college football season. The Football Wrap! Back to give you tidbits from the weekend in football. 

OSU head coach Mike Gundy: "Check's in the mail, Coach. Thanks for the scrimmage."

Week 1 of the College FB season is usually a Beat Em Down weekend so there’s almost nothing to get excited about. Top 25 teams and other folks battle cream puffs so it’s merely a good morale boost unless there’s an actual upset or marquee matchup.

The results are pretty ridiculous so if you’re looking for any analysis or insight, it’s usually with a grain of salt. I mean Oklahoma State blitzed Savannah State 84-0 so badly that proud booster T. Boone Pickens publicly said OSU needed to beef up their schedule.  Back in the day, I used to criticize some of these teams for playing weak when USC (in the Pete Carroll era) would always play somebody tough.

It’s also why I wouldn’t be opposed to starting college football polls after Week 2 or 3. 1) It’s hard to tell who’s the best when you play so many cream puffs, 2) It’d force more teams to play at least one tough non conference game. But then again, we don't want to shake the system up any more than it already is.