Funk, Soul, Boogieman & Zombies


Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love has been on a near constant repeat since it came out last week…..(with the exception of takin a break to mix, listenin to the new J. Cole & a homie’s weary blues….) I was drawn in by the single Redbone, whose swagger, bassline and refrain of “stay woke” worked on complex levels….the album continues the course of Glover’s recent cultural production werk, in the television show, Atlanta, which displays full and complicated expressions of Blackness which are not only the central focus of the show, but the intended gaze, the werk he is producin’ feels like it has very little to do with being palatable for white consumption.

The theme of awakening/wokeness/and other permutations of the wake, remind me of  Christina Sharpe’s latest werk…. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. In her writing she uses the various meanings of wake; the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, coming to consciousness to interrogate the ways in which Black life and being are represented and constructed in the aftermath of TransAtlantic chattel slavery. She formulates the wake and “wake werk” as sites of cultural production, resistance, consciousness, and possibility for living in diaspora which seeks to affirm the dignity and centrality of Blackness to life. Gambino’s music and other cultural productions, live, breathe & resonated in the wake.

Sonically, Awaken, My Love, builds on the legacy of Black Atlantic sounds, the funk on this album is thick…the bass is weighty, its the heaviness of conditions… and the albums got that iconic future soul sound which channels the vibes of its predecessors like Sly, The Parliament Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Prince….its undeniably southern in its delivery….Glover mentioned in a recent interview, that as a cultural producer, he is searching for moments…of this werk, he says “even on some of the songs, we play with pitches and sounds that I think affect people in ways they don’t realize is happening until the fifth listen.” ….he goes on to discuss how this album and creative process were about stripping down much of the reliance on technology to achieve sound, instead relyin heavily on a full band, vocals sans filter/pitching and percussive rhythms derived from tongue clicks.

Awaken, My Love and Glover create an interesting juxtaposition between the use of technology in the delivery of the album to audiences and the production of the album. While he werked to remove computers and their sonic influence from the orchestration of the album, he is using technology to augment the experience of listeners….thru his release on “virtual reality vinyl” which will work to simulate the experience of a concert performance he gave called the PHAROS Experience in Joshua Tree, California…which was itself a mix of heavy reliance on technology while simultaneously refusing it….lol anyways, all of this is really long aside to say that I love the ingenuity of Black and Brown folks, how we manipulate technology, and am excited to see where this every growing augmented consciousness/cyborgness takes us next…..

This album takes you places, if you let it…..the interplay between the tracks Boogieman and Zombies have been heavy on my mind…..In Boogieman, Gambino, speaks directly to  the conditions of whiteness and its need to pathologize Blackness, and in this case particularly Black masculinity as inherently violent and something to be feared…. the Boogieman is the projection of white fears onto Black bodies, to a deadly effect…..In the aftermath of the Walter Scott verdict this week….the weight of his lyrics feel even heavier….

With a gun in your hand
I’m the boogieman
I’m gonna come and get you

[Verse 2]
Every boy and girl all around the world
Knows my niggas’ words
But if he’s scared of me
How can we be free?

The track ends with a question that we have been/are grapplin with on the daily living in white supremacy. When white fear/fragility turns to white rage at the mere existence of Blackness (Otherness) , how can we be free?  The transition into Zombies highlights the parasitic relationship that whiteness and capitalism have with Black creative expressions, this concept of the Zombie, underscores the unthinkingness, the anticritical, autopilot tendencies of those who profit from the consumption of this labor, without ever having to engage with the source of its productions, or the humanity of this source.

[Verse 3: Childish Gambino]
All I see is zombies feeding all around us
All they eat are people (and you won’t survive)
They don’t know what happened, they just stay alive

[Hook: Kari Faux & Childish Gambino]
We’re coming out to get you
We’re all so glad we met you
We’re eating you for profit
There is no way to stop it
There is no way to stop it
You will find there is no safe place to hide
(That’s right, that’s right)
We’re coming out to get you
We’re all so glad we met you
We’re eating you for profit
There is no way to stop it
There is no way to stop it


In defense of Riri & rude gurls everywhere

The impetus for writing piece began with a conversation I had with a friend. Recently he notice my Riri earrings  (<-shameless plug to my side hustle), and asked me to help him work through the tension of understanding femmes in the industry, objectification & agency. I go hard for Riri, I think she’s the most underplayed of the trinity, I’ve told friends for years that I identify more with her womanism than I do with Bey’s, mostly because I try to cultivate a healthy IDGAF attitude, and I live for the pleasure of good sex & blunts. My love of the popular/mainstream, causes a lil cognitive dissonance for people that read me as a head and don’t get it twisted, I love Hip Hop, she’s where I learned to love my queerness, saw reflections of myself, & have gotten free, but its is because of this that I go so hard for women like Rihanna.

We need to create a more nuanced conversation, one of the things coloniality does so well is it causes us to get lost in reductive binaries, we like Riri exist at complex intersections. With Hip Hop, the binary is often framed artistic production is either done for the love and the culture, or its the bastard version that capitalism birthed known as mainstream, the inauthentic, the wack… however,  just because a body exists in the space of highly visible, celebrity, captilaist “success”, it does not mean its robbed of its radical/disruptive potential, simply in the act of being…Black & femme, Rihanna is a refusal of whiteness and coloniality. As a cultural producer Rihanna exists at the intersections of counter hegemony & black radical womanism. Some themes in her body/canon of werk are a revenge fantasys, rude girl/gurl aesthetics, and femme centered pleasure politics, which all work to disrupt the center with experiences of the marginal. Outside of these themes, throughout her career she has been active in maintain her self- determination over her cultural productions, she currently owns all the rights/masters of her previous works, which is crucial to her being able to control how it is licensed, represented and used.

revenge fantasys

She mobilizes revenge fantasy as catharses from the various traumas associated with the colonial encounter and her specific read on the social conditions/violence of being a Black, woman, Indigenous, diasporix body from the Caribbean… in her Man Down video, she depicts liberatory justice  over the violence of rape, when she kills her assailant. Throughout the video (filmed in Jamaica) we see Rihanna having to navigate being a highly femme presenting body in spaces where she both invites and rejects the gaze…Because the video is shot in Jamaica, & opens with her utilizing the creole sak pase it instantly shifts the focus from an American/Eurocentric–English language center, to a space that is definitely Black/Queer and complex… and we could argue, it speaks deeper to the colonial conquest of the Caribbean and rape/violence that took place against Black bodies in a larger historical context.  Knowing the origin of the production of the track, Rock City (producers) who want to create a femme-centered version of Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff, which at the time was commentary on the relationship of the oppressed with the police/state violence. This ties her body (of work) to a legacy of Caribbean cultural producers whose werk was utilizing fugitive aesthetics and concepts of marronage to reorient cultural values, the notion that justice can never come from the oppressor and that some violence is necessary.


The visual for BBHMM continue this revenge fantasy as catharsis by providing a space to werk out the violences of white supremacy and capitalism. Rihanna positions herself in a way that takes back power first by playing on this trope of white womanhood as the highest form of victimization and then through the imbalances of power due to patriarchy as its tied to whiteness and capital. These are refusals of a value system that does not serve her, the video depicts the vampiric/ parasitic relationship whiteness perpetrates on Black and Brown being. Bitch better have my money, is an assertion of all the things coloniality owes Black and Brown peoples, pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot she reminds white supremacy and capitalism that we know our history, our worth and there are consequences.

Rude girl/gurl politics & aesthetics

The rude girl/gurl as a politic is the refusal to live within the parameters of social respectability, it is the conscious knowing that comes from the embodied experiences which tell you respectable folk will kill you and say you enjoyed it, so you might as well make some noise (h/t ZNH). Rudeness is the queering of spaces and the disruption of whiteness &  cishet patriarchy. It is a swag that is not for sale, its not knowledge you get from a text book, its the ability to turn nothing into somethin’, to be pressed and fresh, its taught in the form of ritual, learnin’ passed down from hands. Rude boys (and rude girls) drew from the Rastafarians’ ideologies and rituals in order to celebrate the legitimacy of “the moralities of ghetto culture”. (The latter phrase is quoted by sociologist Obika Gray from her book, Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 1960-1972 (page 95) The  sonic markers of rudeness are grounded in the shared history/legacy of the Black Atlantic sounds of jazz, soul, ska, rocksteady, and evolved out of Afro/Indigenous Caribbean sounds. Like all Black Atlantic aesthetics, rudeness is tied to movement, its sounds and styles heavily influenced the grim, ragga, jungle and other genres began by Caribbean diasporas living in the UK. Rihanna’s sound builds on all sonic histories. Rihanna in her embodiment of rudeness, flips the script on what is social desirable/acceptable in all of her blunt rollin’ and smoking glory. In her track Needed Me off of Anti, she explicates this politic perfectly, “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? Fuck your white horse and a carriage.” She reclaims savagery, reappropriating a word that is tied to a colonial legacy of dehumanization and violence…she continues by refusing the values of cishet partriarchy…not everyone desires the fantasy of being rescued.

femme-centered pleasure politics

To be a femme presenting person who is vocal about your own bodily desires and sexual pleasure in a world framed by misogyny/misogynoir is a radical act, furthermore in a world where women are killed for refusals, pleasure politics are dangerous in the face of coloniality. In her track Cockiness (love it), she explicitly centers the conversation on her own pleasure with a lover, the track opens with the assertion “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion. Eat my words and then swallow your pride down, down. Place my wants and needs over your resistance” As femmes, we are social condition to see our pleasure as secondary, especially within heteronormative relationships, however this track asserts that “I love it, I love it -I love it when you eat it” which not only gives voice to Riri as an agent over her own body, but in terms that leave no room for ambiguity we hear that sex positivity through pussy and the eating of it are conversations that deserve to be normalized.


In her Rude Boy….the hook, “Come here, rude boy, boy; can you get it up? Come here rude boy, boy; is you big enough?” underscores the primacy of her pleasure, she is questioning her potential lover, to see if they have the ability and the size to give her what she needs/wants out of a sexual encounter. As the song continues, lyrically there are two other points that are important when discussing sex positivity and pleasure politics. The first is the countering of language that is often used to demean and denigrate the female body, “Tonight I’mma give it to ya harder, Tonight I’mma turn ya body out” . The concept of gettin’ turned/turnt out is usually used exclusively for male sexual prowess, in terms of turning a sexual submissive/shy person (typically a femme) into a freak, just through good dick. Riri puts this notion on blast by affirming that her pussy is good enuf to make you cum. The other lyrics in the track that are so important to sex pos conversation are, “I like the way you touch me there, I like the way you pull my hair” through these lyrics Rihanna reminds us that consensual sex should be a conversation, we should be telling our lovers, what we like, what we don’t & what our triggers are….These lyrics also work to normalize (hella light) BDSM, through the idea that things like hair pulling are both acceptable and pleasurable, as long as all parties involved in the sexual acts have discussed and agreed.






#BlackAugust Mixtape


Today marks the 45th anniversary of the murder of George Jackson while incarcerated at Soledad Prison in San Quentin, CA. Jackson whose incarceration began on a 1-to-life sentence after a supposed robber of a gas station for less than $70, was an organizers within the prisons. He read and advocated for Marxist theory as a critique for the social conditions facing the primarily Black and Brown populations. After meeting Huey P Newton, he became a member of the Black Panther Party and work towards unifying prisoners to push for better conditions.

Black August in many ways starts with George and his brother Jonathon, who was killed in August of 1970, when he attempted to free the Soledad Brothers/3 from a court hearing. It began as prisoners marked a time of remembrance for the Jackson brother and four other men who died while incarcerated…During the month of August prisoners in California wore Black armbands to identify one another and began reading revolutionary texts. Black August is a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance. Since its beginnings,these ideas and ways of being could not be contained by the physical walls of a prison…the practices of reclaiming history and resisting colonial/white supremacist narratives have expanded, and with the help of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement‘s Black August Hip Hop Project these concepts and teachings have spread globally.  Today, Black August is a time for us to remember our brothers, sisters, children, and families who are unjustly confined behind walls. It is also a time to focus on the long history of resistance, such as the Haitian Revolution, Nat Turner’s rebellion which began on August 21, 1831,  as well as the birthday’s of Dr. Mutulu Shakur,Marcus Garvey, & Fred Hampton.

This mixtape hopes to reclaim knowledge from current and former political prisoners, positioning their voices next to artists whose cultural productions add to the discourse surrounding the prison industrial complex, respectability politics, decentering whiteness,  signifying counter hegemonic histories by evoking the names of leaders such as Tubman, Audre (Lorde), Ella (Baker), & et al…, revolution, neoliberal imperialsim, policing and militarized occupation/brutality, and over all concepts of freedom and resistance …..this as with most of my projects, seeks to position Black women, femmes, queer, and gender non-conforming folks with primacy, amplifying that which resonates with me. I wanted to touch on the use of Tef Poe’s (2010) track Everybody Strapped, the lyrical complexity of his verses touch on Obama’s role within upholding US violence domestically and abroad against Black and Brown bodies, political prisoners like Mumia and Reggie Clemons…however he also references “ratchet ass bitch’s get abortions for Black children”, people are real and complex…. following Tef’s body of work both as an emcee and community organizer, he like all great revolutionaries is someone who is continually growing and developing in their mind and perspectives….. the juxtaposition of Mumia speaking bout youth incarceration and illusions of freedom against the J Dilla instrumental of “are you listening” ask us to pause and be reflective, taking in the full wait and reality of Mumia’s words…..In the middle of this mix you will hear an audio sample from Attica prison, this is a way to signify an uprising which has great impact on the immediate future…..prisoners have called for a nation-wide labor strike on September 9th, 2016 (the 45 year anniversary of Attica)…to throw off the conditions of slavery and bondage under which they are being housed. As persons and communities committed to the abolition of these forms of dehumanization and slavery, we must work from the outside to support our brothers and sisters, because as Assata reminds us, “we must love and support each other”…….



Southern swag

Confession, I’ve been listening to Soul Food (Goodie Mob) for weeks, ATLiens, Luda, TI, TLC and all of Cash Money have been in the rotation as well. They have been my motivation and focus when making time and space to write on the importance of Hip Hop in countering hegemony and decentering colonial conditions…..but….i haven’t found the words to write about the specific importance of Southern Hip Hop in my life.

Kiese Laymon in his talk, “Of Freshness and Stank, Grandmama and Outkast” conjures a longing for home, a deference and dignity for the work of our hands, he reminds us how as poor colored folx in the South, we know how to come correct to our spaces of commune (i.e. church, dances, cookouts), how our freshness is central to our reclaiming our humanity. His eloquence and rawness, touched my nerves, those frayed parts of me that I am always frantically attempting to weave back together, those deeply personal intersections are the ones i have the most difficulty writing about. I thought for a long time that all we had to do to leave the South, was to move our bodies through space….but the South is anywhere Black and Brown bodies find themselves, the spaces ytness seeks to bleach, its the expressions of laughter thats a lil too loud, the channeling of the past, and the holding of possibilities in our very flesh. In the colonized world, oriented towards hierarchies, the “north” is anywhere yt and rich, to quote Fanon, “You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich”. The consequences of this world and the resistance to its constructs are manifested in our southernness, the south is queer, it is poor and it is unapologetically Black and Brown. I’m slowly relearning and unlearning language, beginning to sit more comfortably in my own southernness. Growing up in rural spaces, the foothills of the appalachian mountains in KY, looking back I realize, that Hip Hop was one the spaces where I fell in love (mostly with myself). I recognize now, how deeply regional my exposure to Hip Hop during the mid-ninties and early 2000s was. The new documentary “The Art of Organized Noize” released on Netflix solidified my nostalgia for the Hip Hip I grew up on…that dank Hip Hop that smells like humidity, sweat and the spaces where bodies collide.

The first cd I ever purchased was TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool, this was also the first time I vocalized attraction towards women, the faintly masculine swagger of Lisa Left Eye Lopez and the undeniable slink of Chilli were everything for a 9 year old Scz (No shade on T-Boz, I always wanted to cop her style). Around the ages of 8-11 I was constantly transgressing the boundaries of heteronormativity, I had already kissed my first girl and I was too poor to have more than one Ken doll, so often my barbies were romantically involved. Last weekend while in San Diego, I time traveled, explaining to people how Ludacris and to a lesser degree Ginuwine, permanently impacted my grammar and were some of the first times I resisted the standardization of english in its written form, to this day I can’t spell Ludacris correct….(present knowledge and future vision mod def communicate that Luda is a problematic fave, but at the time, “what’s your fantasy” ran through a litany of potential desires, which while positioned in the context of heteronormative interactions, decentralized the idea of male pleasure/completion in these interactions. He spit a femme centered pleasure politic that deeply impacted my ideas of sexuality.) The centering on femme pleasure and the embracing of our alieness (ATLiens), were one of the first times I saw a visible queering of Hip Hop spaces….yes queerness and Hip Hop have been entangled since the beginning, but this was easily identifiable…. you could feel the familiarity of this swag.  Andre Benjamin/3000’s assertion “The South’s got something to say” recentered Hip Hop cultural productions to the South and out of spaces that were growing largely stagnant from coloniality’s desire to co-opt the form. Twenty years later, and this declaration has manifested the potency and magic of Southern Hip Hop…..this is where I plan to go in my future writings on Hip Hop, back to my past wit it, to the root, to the South…… peep Layman’s video below and make sure you check out the Art of Organized Noize…..

Hotline Bling, #Drakealwaysonbeat, & the need for joy

i want to start off by expressing a few things so we can get this outta the way, & i can get on to discussing the need for joy….and my unapologetic love for Aubrey (yeah you know, i call him Aubrey…i imagine we  close like that)… so a list of things i acknowledge: A) Hotline Bling is lyrically hella problematic…Aubrey sounds like a creepy ex at best and fuckboy at worst….(but its Aubrey, so thats kinda his MO…its not like he is a nice dude) B) A few friends have brought the colorism in the video* (i’m going to come back to this one), C) D.R.A.M. and music jacking…..(please read this Fader article for a more nuanced conversation….i will simply leave it at this….the idea of versioning, or many artists toasting over the same riddim, takes us back to dancehall and Afrodiasporic sounds outta the Caribbean, which is one of the strongest roots of current Hip Hop, and remix culture helped create so much of the joy i was able to experience after the release of the video). so let’s keep it moving……

being a cultural producer/worker who is deeply imbedded in Black and Brown struggles for liberation and justice, means that most of my days are filled with heartbreak. its the heartbreak of knowing that our children are not considered children only threats, of witnessing my people criminalized and pathologized for existing, of feeling like we are surviving, never thriving…of seeing the way my city is gentrifying communities and pushing us further to the margins. as a creator, i process violences on a very visceral and empathic level, so there are days that can easily turn into weeks, and weeks into months where i feel much more pain than joy. it begins to stifle my flow, and my production work grinds to a halt, i am still able to teach and facilitate creative spaces as an educator, but the work that feeds me, that allows me to communicate most effectively my vision of liberation, is often stolen from me by these constant conditions and feelings of crisis. i know at this point you are thinking… what does this have to do with Aubrey and joy?

within “the movement”, we often hear people espouse platitudes for the need for self care…..typically there is checklist of thing that people will run through, things like have you had food in the last few hours or when was the last time you had water? and these things are essential, right? the things we need for our bodies to continue, food, water, rest……but what about the things we need in order to feel inspire, invigorated, and motivated to continue living in a world that creates so much violence on our bodies and minds. A few months ago CarmenLeah Ascencio with Black Girl Dangerous, created the video below, and it resonated deeply with me…..the question becomes what are we doing in our practice to make ourselves feel happy and nurtured? Where is our joy?

here is my disclaimer to all you backpackers that are going to get caught up on the fact that i’m talking about Drake, instead of what you consider to be “real” Hip Hop……authenticity within Hip Hop is a complex space, and something to be discussed at a later time….. [i’m reminded of something Brother Ali once said in a talk, he broke down Hip Hop and more specifically rap as a meal, he said, most of what you want is deep nourishment, he continued this analogy by talking about how there are certain artist who are like dessert, they taste good, but too much of them can make us sick. I am unapologetic that Drake’s music is my dessert, its the kind of music you listen to when you are in your feelins, when you need to shake your ass with your friends, when you need to be on that braggadocious, i’m the trillest type shit….and let’s be all the way honest he is aided by some of the best production in the game right now, sonically his tracks are infectious….]

so a few days ago when Drake released his Hotline Bling video, i was excited….i needed a five minute break from all the pressure of my day (if you know me irl, you know that we been going through it lately)….and Drizzy did not disappoint, i barely made it 50 seconds into the video before i was smiling….the sheer ridiculousness of the visual aesthetics gave me inexplicable joy….like lol, but for really real….but the end of viewing it i was laughing with the #partnerincreation on the couch….. asking continuously…what was that dance move?  my feed on twitter was full of the best commentary on his moves. But let’s be real people love the video because he gives zero fucks, dances dorky as hell and looks like he’s having fun doing it. Unfortunately we have to ask ourselves why is it so rare to see this from of Black masculine expression? Wasn’t one of Hip Hop’s core principles “havin’ fun”? i went to sleep that night thinking, how great it was to have a ten minute reprieve from all the conditions that make life so hard…(thats right ten minutes cuz you already know i watched it back to back). little did i know that the internet was not letting go of Hotline Bling that quickly….:)

The next morning i woke up to find one of the things that invigorates me the most as a cultural producer….REMIXES….meme and remixes of the video were everywhere….followed by the hashtag #Drakealwaysonbeat, proving that his dancing transgresses genres and styles of music. i saw video of Aubrey dancing to the Cosby theme, Selena, the Rugrats theme, merengue, soca, bachata, afrobeat, other Hip Hop, as a jedi, battling with his Pokemon, he danced all the way through pop culture. over the course of Wednesday, i watched way too many videos….i laughed, i shared with my friends, and we enjoyed things simply for their silly factor, i felt like we all lightweight engaged in a competition of who could find the most ridiculous and simultaneously perfect video…..

during Wednesday, i had an experience that affirmed for me that joy is a potent and strong antidote to the trauma whiteness inflicts on Black and Brown bodies in space. i got a facebook message from a WM, asking me to unlink my twitter from my fb because “while he likes being able to use my fb to see critical analysis and keep up with the intellectual things i’m doing, he doesn’t want his feed flooded with all this low culture i was sharing today…..” And by all accounts this WM and I should be on the same side, he is involved in food justice struggles, he and his brother are heavily involved in immigrant rights work ( I’m not gonna call him out by name cuz we live in a small city and that would be petty), he ended his email with one of the most couched ways in which whiteness continues to uphold oppression and antiBlack rhetoric…”in my opinion“, like all of the dominance and violence you just tried to perpetrate can be absolved with a single phrase…just a heads up b….if you finish a sentence that is blatantly soaked in white privilege with “in my opinion” it’s on par with beginning phases with “not to sound racist but…” this is exactly what is so threatening about joy, why joy in Black and Brown people is so destabilizing to white notions of our social conditions. This man expected that my labor, my use of social media was there solely for his consumption, and that i should only be discussing things like the suffering of my people, G-d forbid I share things that make me smile. His whiteness was offended by Black and Brownness taking up so much space in a way that wasn’t predicated on the pain of our bodies. He unconsciously alluded to something that i think comes up a lot with white folks who use progressive and social justice rhetoric, their allyship only extends as far as Black and Brownness being useful to them, its one of the lowkey ways whiteness operates…..but lemme be very clear to everyone, we are down for the ratchet and the revolutionary, i am not here for consumption or co-optation…..yes i will continue to speak out and make commentary on systemic and colonial oppressions, while building low within my community hoping to heal some of the trauma inflicted upon us, however i am refocusing on finding joy and sustaining happiness with my people…..

i’m going to leave you with three of my favorite Hotline Bling remixes

Aubrey to afrobeat

The force

Anything for Selenas…..

*in addressing the claim that colorism exists in the video, i do not deny it. this video has a greater representation of light skinned women. however, i will say that Aubrey unapologetically loves Black women. one of the most frank, honest, and enjoyable conversations about Drizzy can be found here.….

SLUMFLOWER, The Rose that Grew from Concrete & Narratives of Resiliency

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Slumflower is a film based on a short story created by Street Etiquette and directed by August Romero. In their editorial Street Etiquette discusses how this film is a commentary on the misconceptions of the lived experience in a housing project as told through the lens of a ten-year old boy. Street Etiquette’s work and mission has focused on using style (aesthetics) and cultural production to communicate narratives without words. This short film is no different, it features a cast of roughly twenty men, one woman and a child. The film highlights the transgressive nature of physical aesthetics through fashion by juxtaposing the hegemonic narrative of housing projects and poverty against high fashion. The way we as poor, Black n Brown bodies in marginal spaces use our aesthetics to refute systematic dehumanization can be seen, as we view the acts of a freshly pressed suit or clean kicks as places of resistance and opportunities to reclaim our dignity.

The story centers on a young aspiring botanist named Jerimiah, blurring the lines between reality and imaginary. his interactions with his father, his father’s girlfriend and a housing project poet are often told and retold as memory, aside, and sublet narration. The poet in this film occupies a location similar to that of the chorus in greek theatre, moving scenes forwards and providing the rhetorical dexterity to communicate the complexities and nuances of social conditions that the ten-year old protagonist might lack. The poet speaks as the opening credits appear, his words start;

“stop and smell the roses, the ones sprawled out for men drawn in chalk outlines. when caution tape is the only light to be seen at night. what if we replaced bullets with seeds, and our mouths became M16s, where pullin’ triggers, trigger inspiration and growth. cultivating a garden in the mind, we will sprout and project from these cracks and every crevasse despite the odds, there is no need to cower for in the midst of gun showers, there will be slum flowers.”

and maybe because of this opening discourse, i could not watch Slumflower without being reminded of Tupac Amaru’s “Rose that Grew From Concrete”;

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air.  Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.” 

Tupac’s poetics challenge notions of growth, models of scarcity and resiliency. The film becomes in many was a visual versioning of Tupac’s expression. Both narratives provide glimpses into social conditions of Black masculinity that interrogate white supremacist contouring and aesthetics of urban poverty, bodies in space and concepts of striving and thriving.

Jerimiah is shocked to find a stargazer lilly growing in a vacant lot near his home. He worries about how best to cultivate its growth, eventually deciding to remove it from its conditions in order to provide it with a more secure space. Tupac’s assertion is that by thriving as Black n Brown people, we disrupt the very foundation of white supremacy, as its goal is to deprive communities and individuals of the resources needed to grow. These narratives complicate what it means to see the world not through the scope of white supremacy and colonial aesthetics, but through the resiliency that comes from the radical act of demanding more, of valuing self-worth, and positioning ourselves towards future thought. The film offers a complex and albeit in the end, an unsettling narrative while maintaining a level of hope. It asserts that “imaginations grow wild here”, providing a central subtext for the concept of resiliency throughout the story.

Slumflower, like Tupac’s Rose speak to audiences because of its authenticity and ability to communicate the lived experience. The themes of growth in the face of oppression, challenges to scarcity and concepts of poverty by reimagining abundance, and the vulnerability of Black men, resonate with viewers because of the parallels to everyday life. The social condition of Black n Brown bodies, especially those living in poverty, make narratives like this necessary, we need the ability to see ourselves, or part of our experiences reflected back in the media that is created and viewed.

This film through its narrative and aesthetics constructs a space where the view is allowed to engage both in the imaginative and harsh realities while maintaining the understanding that we gonna be alright.

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright….a prayer for Kendrick

at some point each day, i pray for Kendrick Lamar. i’ve been doing this for a while…… since reading Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s When the Lights Shut Off, after a deejay i have mad respect for sent it to me….i’ve been intentional about this prayer since good Kid, m.A.A.d city…became part of the canon of grad school listening, as ‘Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” wafted through open windows making a particularly painful ethics class bearable, Adi and i wrote resistance in the margins, passing notes between brown hands…Kendrick’s words disrupted the rhythm that sought to colonize minds….as brown students listened to white teachers talk about efficiency and patronize brown bodies to get results…..Kendrick’s words became the only response needed…. in my mind, he has become the archetype of Assata’s youngblood in mainstream consciousness, a throwback reminiscent of her nephew, Black masculine vulnerability in industry rap, engaging with his cultural productions over the years, the fervor of this prayer has increased…. it has increased since ever 28 hours has been reduced to every 8…..since ‘i’ become an space for self love and celebration….the intensity of my prayers grew as i listened to “To Pimp a Butterfly”….as he again, so willingly lay bear the fractured complexity of  processes of dehumanization, the honesty in talking about how white supremacy drives us toward mental illness as we attempt to hold on to our dignity and our humanity, as he explicitly calls out all the bullshit that leads to these social conditions. his critique is not always the critical analysis that “conscious” folk hope for. in fact a friend said it best on her facebook wall today (s/o to Queenita McRoberts), ” Kendrick may not have the deepest and/or critical analysis nor does he always get it right but when he does!” this was her response to Kendrick going in on Geraldo Rivera for his general fuckery and white supremacist (il)logic blaming current social condition on rap music (have a thousand seats Rivera….your rhetoric is wack, weak and tired…you ain’t got shit new to say). and this is one of the many reason i love Kendrick, he comes with an authenticity that is undeniable.

so why do i pray for Kendrick….hmmm…if you are wondering that, maybe you just don’t understand.  no amount of visibility, no amount of being good, no amount of status or celebrity will save you from the fate of being Black in AmeriKKKa. Kendrick’s most recent video for Alight, highlights the very personal social conditions of his existence against the violent reality of white supremacist Amerikka. i’ve watch the video multiple times, and in each viewing something different resonates. The aesthetics of shooting in black and white make one thing visibly clear, that white supremacy cannot exist without Anti-Blackness in the world, the video is a celebration of Blackness. i pray for him because the end of the video feels eerily similar to the way i used to feel after watching/listen to Tupac. i pray that his artistic creations do not become prophetic, i pray that his existence and self-love do not become too much of a threat, i pray that he is able to find the support he needs when anxiety and depression take hold. i pray that he remembers his own words in times like those, “We gon’ be alright. Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright”, i pray that he knows how much his music influences youth and helps them make sense of the world. but mostly i pray that he like the Black men i know and love on a much more personal level, find safe places to rest their heads each night, that peace comes to them, and that each morning they are able to walk with their heads held high in a world that tells them they shouldn’t exist.