So there we were, four young black males, shivering beside the interstate in northern Virginia as the po-lice illegally searched our car. The high of hanging with the hip-hop elite at the rap conference had fallen off fast as we watched two troopers turn a Thunderbird inside out. When one of them held up a pistol he found beneath the driver's seat, I thought our long night was just beginning.
"It's a b.b. gun," the driver said.
The officer considered the weapon with his flashlight and offered, "If someone pointed this at me, I'd shoot 'im."
After a moment of silence, the search ended and they let us off with a couple of smart remarks. As we carefully rode along at 55 mph, the mood in the car shifted. The warm vibes were replaced by cold reality as race and civil rights drove our in-car discussion. We debated whether the search should have been "allowed" and the reasoning for carrying an air pistol in your vehicle. Moments before the stop, we were thinking about our future in the music and television business, now we were content with getting home.
My association with this show ended a few week after this shoot. They continued to produce "Soundwave," their program, as I jump-started Wavelength. We wouldn't be friends again, but we'll always have the connection of shared experience.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
While I waited for Wavelength (the video show that landed me here in VJ rehab) to gather momentum, I continued to assist with the production of another video show. I had worked with these guys for about a year and we had been through all of the ups and downs typically associated with a neighborhood garage band: egos, arguments, disappointments and rare moments of cohesion. It was one drama after another, but like a soap opera, it was hard to turn away and it seemed the story would go on forever.
Eventually things came to head and we went our separate ways. I would love to paint myself as the O'Shea Jackson of this situation, but perhaps that's not as accurate as I would like it to be. For the short time our shows were on the air together, there was some on-air static and a competitive vibe that drove both of our productions. Nobody got hurt and we're all cool now, as far as I know.
In February of 1992, before the separation, we took our one and only road trip. We attended the Hip Hop Conference at Howard University, sponsored by a group called The Cultural Initiative. It was a very progressive thought at the time, that hip-hop could be discussed and debated at a university. We packed the co-host's Thunderbird with A.J.'s gear and hit the road.
Shortly after we arrived, we realized how well-attended and serious this conference was. Rappers were walking the campus, in the hallways and hanging out in the parking lot. Some of them actually showed up for the panel discussions on sampling, commercial rap music and the role of hip-hop publications. I saw Tim Dog, Sen Dog, B Real, Marly Marl, Jam Master Jay, Posdnous, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Organised Konfusion and Sister Souljah. It was a great day for hip hop and for getting drops for low-budget video shows. The way back home wouldn't be as fresh.
We, four black men in a speeding Thunderbird with tinted windows, were stopped by police on I-95. I think they may have been state troopers, but I don't recall what state they were from, it was dark. They got us out of the car and asked us if we had any "drugs, paraphernalia or loose women." We amused them with our claim that we were in the television business. I would recall this unfortunate moment years later, as I watched Robert Townsend's mythical quintet forced to perform a roadside concert by racist cops at the Southgate Cinemas.
We stood on the side of interstate in the cold darkness as they began to search our vehicle without permission. I knew I was clean, but I didn't know what someone else might be holding. Things grew tense as one of the show's hosts grew impatient with the police action. They continued despite his protest, while we all shot him the shut-the-fuk-up look. Then, one of the troopers emerged from the driver's side holding a gun by the trigger guard with a pen. I think he said something dramatic and original, like "What do we have here?"
Part 2 ... posted upon sufficient request.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
There's one move I'm glad I never made in my days in the music industry. Radio. It was tempting, though. I knew the music, the artists and owned a pocket full of fame. There was certainly more money, prestige and perks to be had. But I knew I could never conform to the rigid parameters imposed on the modern day disc jockey. Say your name. Give the time. Call Letters. On to the next song. Not me. I need to tell you what I think before I play what I want you to hear.
In radio, the personality of a DJ is kept in check, while some of the P.D.s and G.M.s, enjoy exerting their strong personality traits on record promoters, local artists and their staff. It's funny to watch a radio exec get drunk on the power that a corporation has allowed them to hold momentarily and funnier still to see the look on their faces when they realize it doesn't last forever.
Another thing about radio. The music sucks, and they know it, too. The men and women picking and playing records at radio today are of the generation that witnessed the golden era of hip hop. They know a good record when they hear it, but they seldom have the nerve to play it. Radio's become a corrupt, moribund medium that's lost any kind of real connection to the needs of the community it claims to serve.
I was reminded of the best non-move I ever made when I picked up a copy of what my grandfather used to call The Black Dispatch tonight. The first FM station to play hip hop in Richmond, Va. , Power 921, gutted its staff, firing longtime personalities Stress, Rosetta Devine and the Bad Boyz. I listen to the radio just enough in the last few years to know who the latter couple is. I'm sure their games and gimmicks will transfer easily to another market and they'll be missed here, for however long a dedicated radio listener with a short attention span does that kind of thing.
Stress and Rosetta Devine however, have strong ties to the community and have been a part of Power 92 for a long time. The sound of their voices meant you were in capable, experienced hands. I didn't listen Power that often and I'm still shaking off the shock.
I guess after a three quarters of getting trounced by the competition, something had to give. Ties were severed, changes were made and the beat goes on. It's not personal, its radio.
After having my TV own show, I couldn't imagine someone stopping me from doing something I love, abruptly and without warning. I stopped Wavelength when I wanted to and on my own terms. DJs never get to say good-bye.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
In 1997, Digital Underground were well into the downswing of their career. After four records on Tommy Boy with diminishing results, they came to Alley Katz in Richmond promoting a independent release called "Who Got The Gravy." The club was nearly as empty as a bag of chips at Aretha Franklin's crib.
It wasn't normally a hip hop spot, and the event could've been promoted better, so the small turnout wasn't all a reflection of D.U.'s declining significance.
The band didn't stop us from filming, so we shot until the tape ran out. I had another SVHS stashed for the interview, but that didn't happen. Money B told us that Shock was tired and didn't feel like it. This was around the time when he was doing a lot of drug talk, on stage he mentioned "some ecstasy on the tour bus" and he had recently given a revealing interview with XXL about his experiences with illegal substances. I mentioned the article to Shock after the show and he said the interview was upsetting as he had assumed that some of what he told the reporter was off the record.
Despite the half-empty club, Digital put on a devastating show and left the with something to remember and those close enough to the front got something take home.