Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful at 30

This year has seen a lot happen so I had to dust off the Gumbo just to share how thankful I am for the last 365. The more I think about it, the more I have to say and follow the old maxim of count my blessings.

I still need to write the 30 Things I've Learned By 30 and hopefully I'll do that before the year is up. For now, enjoy this and just indulge my joy. So since November 2013, here's some of what I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for being able to see some of my family this year at my cousin's wedding. I hadn't been to Texas in 3 years so to see them again, it made me smile.

I'm thankful for finally going to see Boston and meet up with my brothers and sisters at NABJ.  Thankful to see how my friends have hustled and gotten great gigs and to feel like I belong with even more peers instead of just happy to be there.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Garden State Turns 10 (An Intro to Indie Culture)

So I realize Virgo Gumbo is turning into an anniversary site. Already this year I've written on classic albums I love and there's more coming down the pike. It's been a nice distraction from covering sports and it's also good sharing what you discover about something you like as time passes.

With that said, I'm happy to share my stories about Garden State turning 10. A film about quarterlife crisis before I even realized what that was and a film that I would've passed over if not for friends in college saying I should watch it.

One thing I enjoyed about college is being exposed to a ton of things I wouldn't have known. I came to school thinking I would hear about singer-songwriters* and indie artists. So when I entered my junior year in 2004, I was invited to watch this movie in a friend's dorm.

I saw the commercials for Garden State that summer but I didn't get around to it even though I knew Zach Braff was from "Scrubs" and Natalie Portman made it seem good. All I heard was this movie was going to change your life - you know, typical young adult hyperbole we all indulged in. I figure why not watch it.

After I did, I had a feel-good moment that I hadn't felt too often from movies. Just something hit me in a deep place of great storytelling, acting, writing and music. It was different, funny, quirky and had a soul that didn't feel forced or over-the-top.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Paul's Boutique: The Beastie Boys Grow Up and Get Funky (25th Anniversary)

Quick story to celebrate today being the 25th anniversary of one of hip-hop and pop music's greatest records.

Around my college days and shortly after (2004-2007), I stayed visiting The strong, well-written reviews inspired me to dig in the crates and get albums like Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, UGK's Ridin Dirty, and The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better.

This particular review was a favorite because while I heard about the Beastie Boys' Paul Boutique being this all-time great album, I had no idea why especially since they had no singles. The best Beastie songs to me were all over the radio so why is this obscure 1989 record so good? Well that review convinced me to finally check it out.

Since I was at a point where my musical education was starting to blossom, it opened my eyes in a big way. It's a masterpiece of sampling and a declaration of independence for hip-hop's party boys saying goodbye to Def Jam, their image and showing me the bridge to the Beastie Boys I saw in high school on.

I've called this album part of the Holy Trinity of Sampling along with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions and De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. It's not just taking random beats and looping them - these albums created sonic landscapes by stitching together the familiar and unfamiliar to make something new. It reminds me of a term I learned in a communication theory called bricolage, the creation of something new from a diversity of things.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better (25 Years and Still True)

For years, I’ve felt that the greatest hip hop tragedy not involving a death was what happened to the D.O.C. Thanks to a car accident that trashes his vocal cords and suddenly, one of the West Coast’s most promising talents has been altered forever.

The biggest outcome is that future generations of rap listeners like myself would never get to hear him on records that dominated the West’s landscape. Future generations would also forget his talent and perhaps only remember him from Dr. Dre’s shoutout on “Nuthin But a G Thang” or his voice on this Jock Jam/sports arena classic.

To be honest, I didn’t even listen to No One Can Do It Better until 2009. Yet being forgotten or known as a sidekick does a disservice to perhaps the most technically gifted MC on the West Coast who could’ve made an even bigger impact that he has now as a ghostwriter.

This month is the 25th anniversary of the D.O.C.’s debut and it’s one of my favorites. He made rapping sound so easy and with Dr. Dre continued to build on his production style, it was a marriage that added a new layer to the West Coast beginning to make an impact on rap.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mark Cuban and the Good of Admitting Prejudice

Honestly, there was nothing wrong with what Mark Cuban said when he admitted his prejudices. My first reaction when I saw this was YES! A White person who wants to be honest and admit their prejudices with the hopes of working on them.

(By the way, watch that entire video. Cuban, one of my favorite people in sports, speaks frankly and honestly like he does when he criticizes in the NBA. Don't take the soundbyte, swallow this and then process what I say next)

This is what I want more people to do. I've written about it before (see the bottom of this post) and I think that the best way we can understand and live with each other is to work on our prejudices as much as we call out others for theirs along with ignorance and racism.

Yet because people are such children whenever we get honest on discussing race, this became a bigger deal. I'm not speaking on good folks like Bomani Jones and others who pointed out worthy critiques of what he said. I'm talking to others who are unable to distinguish between Cuban and Donald Sterling and think this is a bigger deal than it is.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Illmatic at 20 and How It Shaped Me at 20

I can’t say enough that Illmatic is one of my favorite albums of all time. Not just because Nas is one of my two favorite rappers of all time but because it’s a timeless record that is a gold standard for lyricism and production being married so perfectly.

As the 20th anniversary is celebrated Saturday, I want to just share my reflections from hearing it for the first time. I believe that if I heard Illmatic at any other time, it might have resonated differently to me but I think the timing was perfect. So here we go.

Back in 2003, I was still exploring Nas. I loved Stillmatic and I was getting into God’s Son - which was the first Nas album I bought. I lived through the feud with Jay Z and was getting ready to enjoy Jay’s farewell on the Black Album.

It hit me to finally listen to Illmatic - an album I had heard of for years but never bothered to check yet. So I began to search and download the album. This was back when the Internet was so tricky, you might have to download stuff before bed and wait til you woke up to hear it. So there I was on Bearshare downloading every track to Illmatic.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The College Dropout: 10 Years Later with Kanye

10 years ago today, the greatest rap (musical?) debut of this century came out. Kanye West’s College Dropout dropped in like a breath of fresh air and my ears and love of hip-hop would not be the same. I wrote in brief for Bro Jackson about it but I need to expand more.

For me, it was the first time a rapper had touched me in a way I could relate. I connected with Eminem for his passion, Nas for his lyricism and Tribe Called Quest for their vibe. I enjoyed Nelly and I tolerated 50 Cent while not becoming the full G-Unit fan most were. I still hadn’t found too many rappers that spoke to where I was.

That’s where Kanye West came in. A middle-class kid from Chicago who grew up like I did. A guy who didn’t fit in to what convention said a rapper should be just like I wasn’t what most of my peers expected of Black kids. He cared about his fashion, wore backpacks and looked like a combination of underground cred with mainstream appeal.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

5 Years on Twitter: What I've Learned

That was my first tweet. January 12, 2009. I had no idea what to expect after I got convinced to join Twitter by my friend Bree. I remember thinking "Is this just like posting status updates or what?" and it'd be a fad I'd give up since I was so into Facebook.

Five years later, Twitter's become everything Facebook was back in 09-10 and more. A news source. An outlet of emotions. A way of interacting with people you'd never meet everyday. A community. And for me, it's been as much a part of life since 2009 as anything.

Back in 2009, I was looking for a spark. 2008 was a huge year for my newspaper and I wondered what the year would hold now that Barack Obama was President. Personally, I was slowly recovering from a breakup and wondering how I would start meeting people outside of work. 2 1/2 years out of college, I still had yet to find a consistent circle of friends to hang out with besides church.

That's when Twitter came along. I only knew that one friend and I ended up following President Obama and Dart Adams, a writer who had inspired me with his site Poisonous Paragraphs. I didn't know what to expect but I figured it was a bold new world. Plus I was just about to start this blog so the timing was perfect.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013: Music Favorites and Digging Deeper

I dug deeper into (clockwise from top left) Passion Pit, Haim, The National and my new favorite band, Vampire Weekend in 2013.
I do this every year and I wasn't going to forget in a year where I dove deeper into more artists and took some chances.

10. Booker T. - Sound the Alarm (A summer classic from one of America's finest soul men/arrangers)
9. Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go (Finally realize how great he is)
8. Killer Mike/El-P - Run The Jewels
7. Justin Timberlake – 20/20 Experience Part 1 (Welcome back JT)
6. Janelle Monae – Electric Lady (Best R&B album of the year
5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (It got so much better with time)
4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
3. Haim – Days Are Gone
2. Arctic Monkeys - AM
1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Why Vampire Weekend? Modern Vampires is a great album about growing up and questioning your world around you. It’s questioning faith without giving it up. The single “Unbelievers” sounds like a folk song that fits the grown nature of the album without sacrificing the light-hearted optimism in Ezra Koenig’s voice. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013: A Year of Transition

2013 felt like Jesse Pinkman in Season 3 of “Breaking Bad”. You finally shake some demons and step up to be the person you need to be.  It started on a cold January day running a 1-mile loop in my neighborhood and it ended with me driving home from a game on December 30 in my new car.

In between there, I lost 30-35 lbs, started a sports blog, added another job, challenged myself to think even more critical. I learned more about discipline and patience through running than I did before. In total, I ran 370 miles and some change, which still blows my mind.

Losing weight was one of the hardest things I’ve done and for 3-4 months, I sacrificed fast food, late night eating and devoted myself to night workouts.  When the summer came, I realized how much different I looked. Clothes fit better, energy was stronger and I was more motivated to write and think.