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Raphael Saddiq:  Stone Rollin’
Wax Poetics
 

Like Raphael Saadiq’s acclaimed 2008 album, The Way I See It—a downtown ode to the Motown-Stax-Philly International eras—his latest album due out May 10, Stone Rollin’, conjures up nostalgia, with dust-track roads and sock-hop, bluesy, British soul fusion. Saadiq keeps proving that he is a master of musical reinvention and one of the last pure musicians and great songwriters from the New Jack Swing era operating in commercial music.

“He’s not doing what he was doing—never mind when he first started out—he’s not doing what he was doing on his last album,” notes Gary Harris, industry veteran and musical director for the upcoming Tribe Called Quest documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life.

Not everyone can rock out in homage to Solomon Burke with Mick Jagger and have the Grammy audience in a near raucous church stomp. In that artistic spirit, the multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and vocalist ushers in a new soul invasion with Stone Rollin’—invoking fresh-faced beach boys, church growlers, blues twanging, marching bands, old-school crooning, and legendary bass lines.

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The Toughest Lap
The Washington Post

He rolls along in his battered wheelchair with the rusty bearings and the wobbly wheels, chattering loudly into his cell phone as he passes drugstores, steakhouses and outdoor cafes, maneuvering into the street to avoid curbs.

It takes him about 15 minutes to make the mile-and-a-half trip from his apartment at 16th and Belmont streets NW to the YMCA on Rhode Island Avenue. Inside, the smell of chlorine hangs in the air. Lifeguards circle the pool in their red T-shirts and trunks while swimmers stretch their muscles on blue mats in the musty artificial heat.

After tugging on his gray swimsuit, he rolls out to the pool, easing himself from the wheelchair onto the floor. A tattoo of a wave ripples on his biceps as he scoots into the water.

He starts out easy, wearing paddles on his hands to improve his stroke and a buoy that he designed tucked between his legs to keep them afloat. Swimming at a steady pace, he stretches his arms to pull deeper, his chin tucked into his chest for better momentum, squeezing maximum distance out of every stroke. When he reaches the wall, instead of doing a flip turn, he uses one hand to maneuver himself around and push off for the next lap.

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Microphone Fiend Rakim Is Back
Wax Poetics

In 1985, DJ Marley Marl was working in his studio that doubled as his sister Belle’s second-floor apartment in the Queensbridge Houses—a sprawling ninety-six-building project, a small city of some thirty thousand residents in Long Island City, Queens. The apartment was sparsely decorated with a creaky couch that Eric B. slept on, reel-to-reels against the wall, records from floor to ceiling, and a drum machine that Marley slept with because he didn’t want anyone to touch it.

During the day, Marley worked at the Sergio Valente jeans factory. A barely teenage Roxanne Shante was becoming well known as a rapper and a booster—shoplifting for mothers in her building. Her own mother sold underwear to hookers from a shopping cart by the Dutch Kills ho stroll. A stone’s throw away was Hollywood’s second cousin, the newly minted Silvercup Studios where new movie stars were being bred daily. But inside Queensbridge, there was a different kind of movie rolling without the Klieg lights. Residents were robbing people for their sneakers, walking around with blades to snatch the patches off Lee jeans, and claiming the uninitiated for their sheepskins and leather goose coats. Foreigners to Queensbridge were chased out, and if they went in the wrong direction to get to the train station, “They’d find themselves butt naked by the river,” recalls MC Shan by telephone with a wicked laugh.

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Blind wrestler battles way to Maryland championships
Sports Illustrated

Michael Spriggs, a 6-foot-3, 189-pound senior at C.H. Flowers High (Prince George’s County, Maryland), listened intently as his coaches directed him in a wrestling match against Bladensburg (Md.) High’s Marcus Bates last month.

Because Spriggs is blind, battling opponents with vision, the rules require that he and his opponent maintain contact throughout the match. They begin with both palms touching each other. When the whistle blows, Bates immediately dives for a shot at Spriggs’ legs, takes him down and Spriggs ends up on his back. “Let’s go Mike! Stay in control, circle left!” head coach Odist Felder yelled from the sidelines.

Despite this apparent disadvantage, Spriggs finished his second season with a 27-11 record. His humility and determination led him to become one of two team members to qualify for the state championships last weekend where he was defeated, 9-3, by reigning champion, Danny Miller, a junior at Stephen Decatur High (Ocean City, Md.).

“He has a lot of heart and courage,” Miller said. “And if your opponent has a lot of heart you could easily find yourself on your back.”

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Jazz Meets Hip Hop
Jazz Times

With the next millennium fast approaching, we are witnessing a musical and cultural phenomenon—a collage-producing jump-cutting, mix and match blending of American urban music—jazz and hip-hop. Not that this strikes a lot of folks as good news. Some see hip-hop and jazz as an unholy alliance, the trivialization— maybe even vulgarization of jazz, that great American art form.

But musicians who share the same bloodlines often see the genre-melding as a positive development.

More and more these days, in fact, the offspring of famous jazz musicians are experimenting with jazz and hip-hop hybrids—with their parents’ blessings. Quincy Jones’ son, QDIII, is a rap producer. The sons of Ornette Coleman and Roy Haynes are also involved with the music. Kenyatta Bell, the son of bassist Samuel Aaron Bell, produces rap records, as do the sons of saxophonist Marion Brown and Horace Silver— Djinji Brown and Greg Silver.  Three generations down the line, rap producer Rene McLean is part of an emerging musical dynasty, being the son of saxophonist Rene McLean, Sr., and the grandson of sax legend Jackie McLean. Many of these artists were happy to discuss the trend toward blending the two musics—the problems, the promise and the controversies.

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Profile of Little Melvin Williams and The Wire
Baltimore Magazine

Melvin Douglas Williams waits in a small room off of the main entrance to the Bethel AME church on Druid Hill Avenue, wearing his signature all-black clothing. A black towel draped over his shoulder, yellow tinted sunglasses by his side. A picture of a crucified, brown skinned Jesus hangs on the wall to his left. In front of him are lockers tacked with BELIEVE stickers.

As camera crews, extras and cast from the third season of theHBO series The Wire mill around him, Williams sits in a red leather chair, self-possessed and indifferent to the confusion around him. Bethel AME is his church, but today, it’s where he will work on his acting chops.

Moments later, Williams is sitting in a pew, facing stained glass windows, filming a scene in which he counsels a young man trying to get his life in order after being released from prison. Williams plays a deacon at this church, a man whose job it is to tend to wayward souls like the one now before him.

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Creating an Oasis, Inner City or Desert

The New York Times

WHEN Jackie Mullins suggested to her husband, Houston, that they celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary in East St. Louis, Ill., a largely black city known for its social problems, he didn’t think there would be much worth seeing there. Gradually, she persuaded him, and the couple came up from Memphis and signed in at the Parker Garden Bed and Breakfast, a 1912 Tudor-style home owned by Herrett and John Parker.

There the Mullinses ate homemade honey-nut wheat bread and omelets for breakfast, and relaxed in a whirlpool bath. Mr. Parker, a game enthusiast, taught them how to play mancala, an ancient African board game somewhat like Chinese checkers. And they got the real flavor of St. Louis from their hosts, who drove the couple past blues clubs; the Trans World Dome, where the Rams play football; Busch Stadium, home to Mark McGwire; the St. Louis Black History Museum and the Black Repertory Theater, and the flamboyantly colored pink and lime-green historic houses of Lafayette Square, with their turn-of-the-century French styling.

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Gentrification in DC
Crisis Magazine

AS Louise Thomas begins the third-hour of her shift at Martha’s Table, a social service organization in Washington D.C., construction workers from a nearby project of new condominiums stop by.

Thomas, 76, has lived in Northwest Washington for 60 years. In the last decade she has seen the complexion of her neighborhood near Florida Avenue and 14th Street change dramatically. Her block, once notorious for a ruthless open-air drug market, is now hot property. Buildings that were burned out during riots in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr. assassination in 1968, have been replaced by big businesses and loft—style condominiums.

The disabled and elderly men and women from Clifton Terrace, a former public housing complex, no longer make the short trek to Martha’s Table to get daily meals, because they no longer live there. The housing complex is now a condominium with a mix of low-, moderate- and high-income residents. The public schools in the area, like Cardozo Senior High School, where six of Thomas’s seven children went, are no longer filled to capacity. Most of the newcomers don’t have children, and those who do send them to elite, private schools.

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Confessions:  Floyd Mayweather

Uptown Magazine
 

The whipping sound of a jump rope falls in time to James Brown chanting, “The Payback,” over the loudspeaker at Floyd Mayweather’s training gym in Las Vegas a little more than a week before the big event.  Mayweather is a whirlwind, entertaining the crowd with is BFF 50 Cent, punching the heavy bag, sparring for hours with his uncle Roger.  With 26 knockouts, 43 wins, and $200 million in winnings, his place in history is cemented.  He has reinvigorated a sport marred by corruption.  Mayweather is the man everyone loves to hate, but no one can bear to turn away from him for too long. 

There he is on HBO’s 24/7 eating fried chicken and onion rings.  He has bags of cash divided into 10k bankrolls that he can spend on a whim, or recklessly gamble.  He has a fleet of white cars in Vegas, black ones in Miami.

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