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How Black Panther Explores Pan-Africanism

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Photo of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther

The Hype is Real….Wakanda Forever

Y’know sometimes people hype up a movie that you think it can never meet expectations. Gladly, this is not one of those times.

Black Panther is probably the freshest superhero movie to come out in a long time. While the cash grab that is the Extended Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown rather stale, Hollywood is continuing to pump superhero movies at a rapid rate. But what differentiates Black Panther from its peers is that Black Panther is that it innovates with its subtext.

It is not just a superhero film. It’s a film that addresses the black experience in America. And one that particularly takes its cues from hiphop. It poses the same hard existential questions about identity. Take, for example, the film’s main antagonist, Erik Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan. He’s complexed and layered. In one of the most talked about scenes, Killmonger equates prison to slavery. There is a depth here not found in many mainstream Hollywood movies – never mind superhero blockbusters.

Black Panther has a frank discussion about identity and representation woven in its narrative. And Killmonger is the epicenter from which the audience is able to find stable footing in Wakanda. Raised in Oakland, he is disconnected from his African heritage, losing his father early in his life, and goes on a misguided journey. But the audience understands his motives. The antagonist is not really a bad guy. He’s almost a tragic hero.

In Poetics, Aristotle lays out the characteristics of a tragic hero as follows; he is prideful; he creates a feeling of empathy within the audience as they feel they could befall similar fortunes, and his misfortune is a result of an error in judgement.

Killmonger is the equivalent of the rapper who has made bad decisions in the streets and has been able to transform his narrative into a position of power. His story is one of resilience. His swag reminds us of a Jay-z or Sean “Diddy” Combs; in that he’s a black man with power.

But aside from the depth of the characters, I felt that representation was another feature that really made the film stand out. Representation is important. Angela Bassett, a legend in her own right plays the Queen mother. A role that she seemingly was born to play.

Hero T’Challa being played by Chadwick Boseman was also a great choice in casting. No one knew what to expect as he is an actor of a certain age. The actor has represented icons James Brown and Jackie Robinson in the past. Now, he is immortalized by the role of Black Panther.

The addition of the South African dialect present in the film also gives it an air of authenticity. While the audience is still captive in the fictional Marvel Universe, there is a real connection to real human roots being played out here. The dialect is an important choice. South Africa was known as the most racist country on Earth at one point in time. By using the South African dialect, it inherently makes a pro-black, anti-racist statement.

What Black Panther does really well is that it uses cultural tropes that have a black origin and effuses them into the narrative. This leads me to my next point.

The Hiphop Element

If you’re really about this hiphop culture, I think you’ll love this movie. One of my favorite parts of the character backstory is that Killmonger grew up and identifies with the Oakland as home. Oakland is a very important area for hiphop with the Bay Area  being a predominantly black community, with a very prominent hiphop community. The Bay Area’s hiphop scene had a whole subcultural movement with Hyphy music. For the average viewer, this may be a throwaway scene. But for the black community and hiphop community, it’s meaningful in how it informs how we see the character of Killmonger.

Killmonger grew up in a culture that learned how to make something from nothing. While the Bay may be known to poverty-stricken, it also has a swag, and cultural code to maneuver.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the scene where the heroes were in South Korea was also, in part, a hiphop signifier. South Korea too has a large hiphop scene that has expanded internationally. And I think there’s perhaps an affinity between these two groups. So the choice of location was deliberate.

Personally, this was when I realized that film adheres to a unifying hiphop code, rather than a strictly pro-black, pro-African code. Don’t get me wrong – it absolutely has elements of Pan-Africanism. But the hiphop elements and Pan-African sentiments are not mutually exclusive. Hiphop is filled with references to Pan-Africanism. One need only look to CyHi the Prynce’s Nu Africa, for a recent example. So, I would argue that the film is grounded in hiphop roots and not solely a pro-African statement.

This also may explain why so many white people went to the see movie as well. Hiphop has always been a sort of vanguard for the black experience in America, and in truth has become a way many white people have come to better understand what it means to be black in America. By making this film infused with hiphop, there is a cyclical effect in that it promotes hiphop and because the movie is pro-black – it also reclaims hiphop as part of the black identity.

In Summary, Black Panther is an above average Marvel movie that lived up to expectations. Proper representation was adhered to, and the film benefits from its subtext and themes. Particularly, those that use a hiphop lens to better examine the sociocultural phenomenon. Amongst these ideas, most prominently featured of course is Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is an important concept in the black community. And this film explores this ideology with graceful hands. At the end of the day, the film is entertaining and stands on its own. The film isn’t flawless, but it succeeds in its ambitious goals.

A-

 

Why Lil Dicky Continues to Be Problematic

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Source: Google Images

Lil Dicky has been on my radar since his debut, and I’ve often brought him up on the podcast over the years. Much to Brian’s chagrin, I’ve often defended Dicky’s place in the game to little avail. However, at this point, I feel I’ve meditated on his presence enough to flesh out my opinion properly. This is as much an op-ed as it is an attempt to find catharsis, as I find Lil Dicky’s career to have gone from exciting to frustrating.

With the release of his new music video, “Freaky Friday,” I felt I had an opportunity to clarify my feelings about David Andrew Burd, known to the rest of the world as Lil Dicky. Lil Dicky consistently misses the mark without respecting or even really understanding the culture he’s trying to be a part of; thus creating dissonance within his career that riddles his songs with problematic content, robbing him of the opportunity to be genuinely insightful, and hurting other potential artists in his lane.

Let’s start at the beginning. Lil Dicky, or Dave Burd, is a rapper from Pennsylvania. I first heard of Lil Dicky when the video for his song “Ex-Boyfriend” hit the front page of Reddit. The song is an expertly performed, hilariously written song about a guy who feels inadequate when he meets his girlfriend’s gorgeous ex. The song worked because it was playful and funny. Also, Dicky’s bars were intricate and well delivered. In this track, I saw the potential for something that I had been yearning for years – an artist who can utilize the tools of hip-hop to tell stories outside of the traditional culture.

The hiphop playbook is tired and cliché. I’m not interested in your diamonds, money, cars, women, or your drugs. It’s like I hear the same verse reinterpreted over and over again since the Bling-era. I understand that life in the hood is hard, and we should celebrate success, but I can only connect with it so far. I don’t have these experiences and likely never will. With Lil Dicky, I saw the potential for an alternative, and more exciting than that, one that spoke to my own human experience.

However, when I checked out his mixtape, “So Hard,” I found a few tracks that made it crystal clear that Dicky does not get it. The track “White Dude” in particular proves it. It’s a track where Lil Dicky celebrates his white privilege in a hip-hop song. Everything is wrong with this song. He dedicates the first verse to rapping about how great it is to be white, the second verse how great it is to be a man. It seems that Dicky doesn’t understand that it isn’t appropriate to celebrate white privilege, especially through the medium of hiphop.

Now, this track could potentially be defended as a hard satire if it existed in isolation. However, the songs “How Can I Become a Bawlaa” and “All K” serve to double down on Dicky’s ignorance.
In “All K” Burd attempts to equate being Jewish to being black, by using an anti-semitic term in place of the N-word. While the Jews have indeed seen centuries of hardships, their struggle and the struggle of the black American are two completely different things. It’s clear that Burd just saw two words that are meant to reference offensive stereotypes and switched them without any real thought. And “How Can I Become a Bawlaa” is a fucking tragedy. This song gets so close to expressing a sentiment I’ve held for years – my jealousy over the insider’s club aspect of the hip-hop community. Dicky raps about how his race and his class leave him an outsider looking in, which does sound like a unique an interesting topic for a rap song. The track has its moments; it’s just baffling that Dicky doesn’t seem to have the answer to the titular question of the song.

“Other people get to rap about, like home cooked crack, and, like, jail and shit and I gotta spit a lotta shit about a motherfucking kid up in a crib that’s got the central air” – raps Lil Dicky.

After this debut mixtape, I still had hope for Dicky despite these problematic tracks. I knew that if he smartened up, he could create refreshing and well-crafted songs, so when his album dropped in 2015, I had to check it out. And guess what? It happened again. Dicky gets so painfully close to creating a unique set of tracks but gets bogged down by his need to prove himself as a legitimate artist. “Professional Rapper” is Lil Dicky’s mission statement to the hip-hop community; essentially explaining why he should be allowed to be there.

“Well, I wanna be the dude that came in and made the stand up rap

Put the random rap in demand like that for the people that was anti-rap

Yet, the fans of rap start to recognize that anti-rap

Is ironically one of the real brands of rap left”

Dicky then proceeds to miss the mark on this album because he’s trying to transition into being a serious rapper. He tries to make more serious songs, but they don’t work because he doesn’t understand how to approach these topics in a witty or satirical way. Right after stating that his mission statement was to tell stories through “stand-up rap,” he punctuates his album with tracks that don’t carry a hint of irony. It’s a shame too because Lil Dicky has some funny and subversive ideas on the album.

I skipped the Brain project but recently was greeted by a fresh Lil Dicky video in my Youtube recommendations. And let me tell you, it’s as irksome as ever. Dicky’s new video has him switching bodies with Chris Brown, giving each person the opportunity to appreciate things about each other’s lives that they don’t have access to. Instead, he squanders the opportunity, and abhorrently one of the first things he does is use Chris Brown to have the N-word peppered in the song.

In addition to this, Dicky makes the mistake of equating a rich black man with a middle-class white man. Once again, Dicky had the opportunity to create something genuinely subversive, but he missed the mark.

I understand that Dicky is limited to artists who are willing to collaborate with him, and if Chris Brown says ‘yes,’ you don’t turn him down. But imagine for a moment if he switched bodies with Killer Mike. What if he spits a verse about the benefits of being black without bringing class into it? I can’t shake the feeling that there was a missed opportunity here.

I love the craft of hip-hop. I love rappers like MF Doom who focus on the bars and tell unique stories with them. What has carried Lil Dicky and what continues to carry him is his evident appreciation of the craft. Songs like “Bruh…” are enough to show that the dude can rap. It’s just a shame he doesn’t seem able to appreciate his platform. Dicky has the opportunity to say some important and exciting things. He has the chance to break away from the traditional hip-hop paradigms and tell fresh stories. I hope that one day he realizes that potential, but if any of his recent work is a sign of what’s to come, that hope seems bleak.

Episode 65: Goofs and Gaffes

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This episode is a bit of a throwback in that it was recorded a few weeks ago. We discuss the drama between Dj Envy and Desus & Mero, Nav and the XXL Freshman List, Logic talk and the state of hiphop today and the Blurred Lines copyright law, some technical difficulties at the end.

Episode 64: The Variety Show #3

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This episode we try to cover as much as possible in a half-hour. We talk about the continued Martin Shkreli saga and the implications for “that Wu album”, Safaree nude leaks, why does Tekashi 69’s music bang?, Vince Staples’ PSA, Lil Xan’s interview with Hot97 and him calling 2pac boring. And last but not least:

This episode we also feature local Toronto artist Raz Rabin and his song Get Away. Listen below:

Episode 63: Fridges Can Kill You Fam

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This episode features Steve Harmony as a fill-in guest with Tyler away this week. We talk about the death of Craig Mack and his alleged involvement in a cult, Diddy being a ruthless businessman and the Lox threatening to throw a fridge at him.

We also chat about albums that were worth the listen in 2017. 

And preview  Lil Boat 2, Bobby Tarantino 2,  and Victory Lap.

Check the albums out below:

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 62: The Cadence Weapon Interview

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Photo Credit: Mark Sommerfeld

This week’s episode we interview Cadence Weapon. We talk about his latest album, a self-titled effort shaped by his experiences in Montreal that has Kaytranada and Jacques Green on the production. We discuss upcoming Toronto rappers, a police raid in Montreal, technology and conspicuous consumption, losing the Glowed Up beat to Anderson .Paak, and the renaissance of the black nerd.

Check out his brand new album on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/4h8c9MHdJvzcdwk1YbKQGM

This week’s sponsor is Grammarly:  ——————>  https://deepfreezechillin.com/grammar

Cadence Weapon 002 - Final Draft-Recovered

Photo Credit: Jon Barry

 

Episode 61: The Christian Influence on Hip-Hop

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As part of our REWIND! series we talk about God’s Son and It’s Dark and Hell is Hot/Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood by Nas and DMX respectively to discuss themes of Christianity within Hip-Hop.

This episode is sponsored by FreshBooks – Try FreshBooks free for 30 days by using the url: http://gofreshbooks.com/thefreeze

Episode 60: The Variety Show #2

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This episode is sponsored by Shopify. Check it out: https://deepfreezechillin.com/shopify

We talk about Wale getting dropped off Atlantic, the Eminem River video, Tyler, the Creator working with A24 film studios, Atlanta Season 2 talk, the God’s Plan music video and charity.

 

How DJ Khaled Went from Club DJ to Mogul

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We all know DJ Khaled as the living meme he has become today. Through his prolific posting on Snapchat, his involvement in several chart-topping pop singles and his unparalleled chauvinism, DJ Khaled has cemented his place in hip-hop culture. Now, what if I told you that not only is he not a DJ, but he isn’t a producer either? While Khaled often receives production credits for his involvement, his name always appears alongside other producers. This begs the question, who is DJ Khaled? Where did he come from? How did he get the celebrity endorsements that accelerated his career into overdrive? And most importantly, what does he actually do these days?

DJ Khaled was born and raised in New Orleans, to a musical family. During his teen years, Khaled worked at a record store, where he was fortunate enough to be present at Lil Wayne’s first meeting with Birdman. He then spent a few years as an actual DJ, performing in sound-clashes. These sound-clashes are intense performances where DJs compete for the best sound system and control of the crowd. It was here that Khaled refined his skills as a hype man. It’s easy to forget that the “DJ” moniker was in fact earned – not a title he just slapped in front of his name.

Khaled moved to Miami in 1998 to co-host a program on WEDR “99 Jamz” and was given a show after a few years. It was during his near ten-year stint as a Miami radio DJ that he made the connections he needed to take his career to the next level. Between then and his record debut in 2006, Khaled befriended Akon, Rick Ross, and Pitbull to name a few. In addition, he became an official member of terror squad and began producing beats for Fat Joe and his label mates.

DJ Khaled Actually Djing…..Whaaaat?

After spending about a decade sowing seeds, Khaled launched his debut album, which featured verses from several heavy hitters, most notably Kanye West, Fat Joe, and Jadakiss. This started a routine of Khaled creating rap albums where he doesn’t rap at all. Over the next few records, Khaled would also stop producing; instead recruiting the hottest young producers to provide beats for his tracks. So how are these even his albums? The simple answer is that Khaled is a catalyst. He is the creative driving force behind the music, despite not being an active feature. Khaled gets the people he thinks are the best or most creative in a room and lets them do their thing. In many ways, Khaled functions as more of an executive producer. He oversees the grand vision rather than diving into the nitty-gritty of the instrumentals or the lyrics.

The next and final stage of Khaled’s career was his explosion onto the mainstream. Khaled dropped a few music videos getting traction based on Khaled’s over the top bravado.

DJ Khaled Brings In the Numbers

In particular, the “Hold You Down” video got reviewed by H3H3 productions, receiving over 3 million views. The video itself, on the other hand, received 256 million views to date. In addition, Khaled’s Snapchat became legendary. When he documented being lost at sea on the platform;  it was a boon not only to Khaled’s brand but also to Snapchat itself; showing the power of the platform’s stories feature. The story was picked up by several major news outlets; and gave Khaled the exposure he needed to realize his true potential as a prodigal living meme.

DJ Khaled. The Icon.

These days, Khaled seems to spend the majority of his time touring around the U.S. promoting various brands he’s associated with. Or, he is at home with his son Asaad. Khaled’s policy of never taking Ls coupled with his wholly defiant belief that he is God’s gift to music has played a role in the way many artists have approached their own music. The collaborations he has orchestrated has been a boon to many artist’s careers. His most recent single “I’m the One” is currently sitting at over 950 million views on Youtube. Khaled’s unabashed positivity has blessed the internet with a slew of hilarious catchphrases, propelling him to celebrity status. With all of these accolades, Dj Khaled has earned his status as a top-tier producer and cemented his place in hip-hop culture.

Episode 59: Thou Shall Not Pass

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This episode is all about gatekeepers and critics in an ever changing media landscape. Tyler and I debate the role of the critic and shoutout our favorite youtube reviewers from TheNeedleDrop to DeadEndHiphop.

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