Thursday, December 29, 2011

Toronto Raptors Home Opener

I've been to Raptors games before, but this one definitely had a different energy. A lot of the guys are the same, a lot of the fans are the same, but there was something extra "Toronto-ish" about last night's home opener against the Indiana Pacers.

The evening of Wednesday, December 28 began at 6:00pm, with Toronto-native Jamaal Magloire addressing the crowd, thanking the management, and promising the fans an exciting season. Although a new member of the team, it has been great to see the media unofficially annointing Magloire the "voice" of the Raptors.

My footage from the game intro...

Despite the well-appreciated presence of Bargnani, Calderon, and DeRozan, I think the fans, the media, and the team are enjoying the toughness and personalization that Magloire's addition to the team brings. Giving him the mic to start off the season is a perfect indicator of what he means to the franchise at this time. Magloire "is" Toronto. Naturally. It's a good look.

The game itself...close at times, occasionally disappointing despite the hype, but definitely exciting! DeRozan scored 22, Bargnani 21, and Bayless 13. The Raps fought the good fight, but still were defeated by the Pacers 85-90. Sucks...but it's only day 2 of 66. There's plenty of time and many moments to be had.

But trust me, the The energy in the Air Canada Centre...craziness!

I don't know if it was the waving of rags (and memoirs of the energy of carnival) that I have grown to love...but there was something about the vibe in the ACC that was definitely intangible. It was great to hear Drake's voice while the Raptors video intro was on, and during the player introductions.

It was wicked to see Kardinal Offishall performing at half time, and DJ Doc tearing it up on the court.

Cool to see Mark Strong; I was psyched to hear 4 Korners playing "Palaaaaance" up in the place, and a few other soca tracks. For the first time, really ever, this felt like MY Toronto Raptors. Like a real Toronto event, and a real Toronto team.

Even little Bieber was there. It doesn't get more Canadian than that! Exciting stuff. Only thing missing was Drizzy, and it would have been the complete current picture of the face of Toronto culture.

Not taking away from the previous 16 years of the organization...and I will always appreciate the Raptors through thick and thin, because I'm all about the home team...however, this time was different.

As mentioned, the setting, the fans, and the team may have been consistent for the most part over the past few years at least, but there was an added sense of personality this time around. Of familiarity. Of passion. Of excitement.

I don't want to be a bandwagon-ist but I'm definitely feeding off of the energy of last night, and hoping to channel it into the future games. I love to see people supporting "their own." Whether it's the Leafs, the Blue Jays, the Olympic teams, or individual players like Tristan Thompson or Cory Joseph. I love hometown pride, I love Canadian patriotism, and it's moments like last night that really bring out the Canuck in me!

Despite the fact that we're starting to hit double-digit temperatures below zero right now, I'm just grateful for the energy that this whirlwind NBA season is bringing in general(how is anyone supposed to keep up with 7 games a night?!) and I love to feel like Toronto is developing as an urban centre, developing it's identity, and really having fun.

I can remember the days when vibes in Toronto were relation to other exciting places like New York, Miami, or LA. I remember when it wasn't necessarily cool to rep Toronto, or to sound like a Canadian, or listen to Canadian music. But now, the culture is definitely changing.

I look forward to attending more Raptors games. I look forward to seeing more Kardinal, Mark Strong, and all of the other hometown greats that bring personality, recognition, and energy and entertainment to our city.

And even though this cold weather is reminding me that our Canadian winter is finally here (boooooooooo)...I'm just going to be grateful for the local amenities that make being a Torontonian super-fun.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Proud of Drake

How can I not like this guy?

I'm admittedly a bit late jumping on the Drizzy bandwagon, but I'm definitely on it now that I picked up his "Take Care" album. For years I only semi- paid attention to his lyrics, his stories, and his relevance, but like everyone else in this city, I was proud of him nonetheless.

Proud of what he represented. Proud of his mannerisms and the way he carried himself. Exceptionally proud that every time I stepped into the U.S. over the last two years because their top hip hop stations and clubs were downright over-saturating the airwaves with this guy's hits.

Proud is probably an understatement.

We take our people real seriously, don't we? I remember when Kardi was on Jay Leno a few years back performing his hit "Dangerous," I damn near had tears in my eyes! Didn't know the brother personally, but I knew the environment from which he came, and the great footsteps he was taking on behalf of all of us.

Even in sports! Toronto native NBA player Jamaal Magloire is signing with the Raptors this week, and can't help but get that sentimental feeling.

It's motivating to see one of our "own" (whether we know them or not) achieve their goals. Maybe this is commonplace in New York, LA, and other major cities. But for Toronto, we feel each success strongly. We realize the impact of these movements, and the hard work, the dedication, and ultimately the perseverance that it takes to get to that place.

We know, firsthand, that it ain't easy.

So I did the patriotic thing and finally bought a Drake album, "Take Care." And it's great!

I can't lie...I bought the Rihanna "Talk That Talk" CD the same day, and was a lil bit surprised to hear that Rihanna's album was edgier than the rapper's. Rihanna's album had me moving...Drake's had me...reflective I'd say.

I thought to myself, as their collaboration "Take Care" came on..."this is the album that will inspire me to finish my latest book."

I've mentioned this many times before, that I can only write when I'm creatively or emotionally inspired. Sometimes that means every day. Sometimes that means I don't write a thing for weeks. Sometimes I am in a complete literal standstill! But right now I can thank Drake for penning the soundtrack to my latest Urban Toronto Tale.

I can't even break it down track by track yet. I'm still taking the album in collectively. It's inspiring something in me, and if I analyze it too closely, I might lose the very inspiration that I am seeking.

It does remind me in essence of my dear Kanye, in that there's lots of choral sounds, lots of instruments. It's like real mood music to me.

What threw me off was that Drake went all KC-I and Jo Jo on us, with the high falsettos and R&B vocals. Wasn't quite expecting that, but I guess he's just riding the riddim and following his soul. I can tell that Drake has an inner Keith Sweat to him that he really can't keep back. As much as he's a rapper...this boys loves to sing!

Not mad at that.

It's boooooooooooooooooooorderline corny just how incredibly sensitive he is...but at the same time, I believe it shows his confidence. Yeah, he'll sing about women, and love, and sadness, and heartache and he doesn't care who wants to judge him!

Again, why this boy is so appealing. He's cool. Confident and cool, without trying too hard. Yes, he can maybe tone back the Yankee accent at times (your dad is from the south, we get it), but otherwise I think Drake's as authentic as they get.

What is appealing to me--now that I'm a fan--is how he conducts himself in interviews, his humility, his ability to articulate himself, and really and truly that he has mastered the game of music and entertainment, and probably has the intelligence and talent to stay on top for a good while.

This isn't so much an album review as it is a slight tribute to our homeboy Aubrey. I will joyfully add this CD to my collection (yes, I'm old school and don't do iTunes...or bootleg). I will put it in rotation with my Rihanna and "Watch the Throne," and I will allow his stories, music, and rhythms help me to formulate the plot of my next book.

I absolutely live for this. Music is my fuel!

Written by Stacey Marie robinson for Kya Publishing's Urban Toronto Tales blog.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Album Review: Talk That Talk ~ Rihanna

I like this album! And this time I'm not surprised. Last year when I purchased Rihanna's "Loud" album I was almost shocked at how much I was grooving to it...but this year, as an official "fan" of Ms. Fenty, I know that this CD will be on rotation for a while.

Something can be said for music that makes you feel good. There are albums that inspire me. Albums that motivate me. Albums that excite me...and then there are albums that just simply make me feel good.

Produced by Rihanna and Roc Nation, "Talk That Talk" is a combination of hot dance tracks, and traditional Rihanna pop numbers. High energy and fast paced for the most part, it's a great mark of Rihanna's evolution as an artist and woman, and a tribute to her stability in life.

There were periods of darkness, insecurity, and sadness in Rihanna's music, and this second consecutive album of positive and uplifting compositions shows us that she's growing, she's enjoying life, and she's still not afraid to express her needs, since most of the songs are based around the subject of love and longing.

There's no real exposition of her strong vocals or any heart-heavy ballads, like we've heard in the past. But as a testament to Rihanna's talent displayed thus far, I think she can get away with passing on those elements for this album. We know she can sing. We know she can tear up a slow jam...but for now, we just want to dance.

My first impressions of the album, released on Friday, November 18, 2011:

1) You Da One ~ This has a slight island vibe to it, which is always appreciated from Rihanna. Although she rarely goes all out into a full reggae or soca track (not since the early days of her career), I do think it's important that each of her albums attempts to contain an element of her Caribbean heritage.

2) Where Have You Been ~ I think Rihanna continues to stay on top of her game is because she's a favourite with men...and women. The content and subject matter of her songs can always hit that emotional chord with women, when she speaks exactly what's on their minds. Again, early out, she sets the tone for the album with a dance track, letting the listeners know that she's going all the way there...almost to the point of trance and out of the pop realm. She wants you to dance. She wants you to feel good, and she makes this very clear early in the album.

3) We Found Love ~ This song is seriously hot! Loved it from the first time I heard it. Love the energy, love the video (below), love the pace of it. It's the kind of song you can get lost in, on a dancefloor, in your car, or even just watching the video...can bring anyone into automatic Vegas-style fist pumping.

4) Talk That Talk ~ This song is cool. Didn't love it immediately, but know it will grow on me with the right presentation (video, live, or otherwise). The end breakdown segment is dope...very dancehall-esq. The rest...your average Rihanna/rapper collabo. Even if that rapper is Jay-Z, the track is just aright.

5) Cockiness ~ Whoa whoa whoa. Vulgarity from the jump! Suck wha...? Well, it wouldn't be a Rihanna album without a song or two sexually going over the top. Being provocative has kinda become her thing. Well, not her "main" thing, but at least a "side" thing. So this song is partially an expectation at this point...while still being borderline uncomfortable. I remember feeling uncomfortable for the mothers accompanying their 10-year-old daughters to the Rihanna "Loud" tour's stop in Toronto due to similarly provocative content. But it is what it is...she's grown, she is a fan of expressing this side of herself, and it makes for an interesting song, nonetheless. Sounds like a sure shot strip club anthem to me.

6) Birthday Cake ~ OK, so another song that will make an audio appearance at King and Diamonds and other establishments of that nature. "Sounds" sexy, and the lyrical content matches. Truth be told, almost sounds like Beyonce could rock this as her own. I wanted to hear where this song was going, but it ends abruptly. Almost too abruptly like an error, or an unintended interlude.

7) We All Want Love ~ This is a nice peace-n-love feel good Olympics type song. Nothing spectacular, but pleasant lyrics and a "nice" feeling as a result.

8) Drunk on Love ~ Definitely my favourite song on the album. Nice vibe right from the start, with a hint of 80's synth and drums. I love mood music, and think this is definitely movie soundtrack worthy...the breakdown in particular is tight.

9) Roc Me Out ~ A strong song, and another high energy track. A bit forgettable, as even as I'm writing this...I forget which one it was! But fundamentally, I remember it was a good song.

10) Watch n Learn ~ This one was interesting, and again, I appreciated the slight reggae undertone to it. It's no "Man Down" but a good attempt at bringing in that vibe.

11) Farewell ~ This is surprisingly the only read ballad-like song on the album. Again, an average song, and the vocals aren't particularly impressive...but a nice song. As this wraps up the album, you can see that while she committed to themes of love and passion, she wasn't going there from a place of extremely vulnerability, but moreso from a place of recognition, celebration, and partially diving into the core of the emotion.

From I first saw the video for "We Found Love," I had a feeling this album would be a little bit carefree, a little bit reckless, and that images of the red-haired party Rihanna might be taken to another level. The album imagery completely compliments this mood of potential disaster yet total emotional intoxication.

Job well done again for the complete packaging and slight reinvention of Rihanna's image with each album. While the songs themselves paint a picture, and develop overtime, so is the story that is Rihanna's career and visual metamorphosis.

Writtey by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

12 Reasons Why I Should Have Bought "Watch the Throne" Tour Tickets

Yes, I'm bitter. I was "stickin" as the Trinis would say. I was stickin, and I didn't jump on tickets the day they went on sale like I normally would. And so, tonight and tomorrow night (Nov. 23 & 24, 2011), Jay-Z and Kanye West will be just mere kilometers away from me, down at the Air Canada Centre for their Watch the Throne tour...and I will be at home, listening to the CD and cursing my bad timing.

But so it go.

Big concerts for me are like inspiration waiting to happen. Especially from big artists. It's an opportunity for me to take in someone else's phenomenal creativity, internalize it, and eventually reproduce it into my own art form: writing.

Here are 12 reasons why I SHOULD have bought "Watch the Throne" tour tickets...

#01) No Church in the Wild ~ I originally loved this song because Frank Ocean really reminds me of Canadian rapper K-OS. And I think K-OS is dope. The sombre rap-singing (now made signature style by Drake, of course) but it truly fits the ongoing crescendo of this song. Perfect intro to the album.

#02) Lift Off ~ Right now this is my favourite track on the album. I don't know about Miss Beyonce...but her vocals have really strengthened lately. I notice that this year she's got a new passion, a new depth, and new texture to her voice that I haven't really heard before. This song inspires me, and she blends well with Ye and her huuusband. Love that Q-Tip helped produce this.

#03) Niggas in Paris ~ This song is a banger. Labour Day weekend this year I was tuned into Hot 97 in NY online, and the DJs literally played this song around the clock. Every half hour, easily and I was hooked! A couple weeks later during a trip to Miami, it was also on heavy rotation. That makes this song the unofficial soundtrack to the end of 2011...and it still sounds good!

#04) Otis ~ I didn't like this song at first, but it took me going back to the original Otis Redding track to truly appreciate it. It doesn't have the vibe and style I've grown to love from Kanye, but definitely has a distinctive Jay-Z flavour to it. It always sounds like a bit of an interlude, rather than a full track...but I can still vibe to it same way.

#05) Gotta Have It ~ Love the production on this song. So crisp. This was done by Kanye and The Neptunes, and it's great. I like the bounce and the punch to this song, and particularly how Kanye flows on it...Maybachs on bachs on bach on bachs on bachs...fantastic!

#06) New Day ~ Lyrics on this song are dope. I love Kanye. Honestly. I love him because there's 101 reasons to NOT like him, but I really just take to his spirit. Behind that braggadocio there is total vulnerability, and I think this song is a perfect example of that. This track reminds me of his last album...could easily blend in with that mood/feel. Jay-Z's verses are aright...not as powerful, but still continues to the story...less vulnerability, but same passion.

#07) That's My Bitch ~ Not my favourite song on the album, but very reminiscent of the early 90s to me. Kinda reminds me of Eric B & Rakim's song from the movie "Juice," Know the Ledge. It moves.

#08) Welcome to the Jungle ~ This song is funky! Produced by Swiss Beatz; I don't mind it. The track is a little bland (since my preference leans more to Kanye's orchestral riddims), but I do enjoy the little bit of melody that comes in and out. Lyrically, it's aright...but overall just a smooth interlude...

#09) Who Gon Stop Me ~ This is the type of song that needs to play at the end of the movie when the credits are about to roll. Very powerful, very conclusive, very heavy. Jay-Z flows nicely on this one...

#10) Murder to Excellence ~ Swizz Beatz again...and while I don't doubt he's a great producer, I can definitely feel the difference between his tracks, and Kanye's. I'm a Kanye fan 99% based on how his songs make me FEEL...this one doesn't have it. Definitely has it's own vibe, can't help but dig the piano loops. My favourite parts are when Kanye and Jay rap over the riddim breakdowns. Also love the second half of the song when the beat changes entirely...Jay-Z definitely shines here.

#11) Made in America ~ Sweet song, sweet vibe, very fitting for the end of the album. Again, I love Kanye's storytelling abilities. Love Jay's family tribute.

#12) Why I Love You ~ This song is cool. I love my rock music when I'm ready, and I particularly love it when it's infused with hip hop or other urban genres. Heavy strings, can't go wrong. Now this one would go hard in the big arena...but guess what? I won't get to hear it in the big arena for now.

So there's 12 reasons why I have had this album on steady rotation for a while now. 12 reasons why I SHOULD have called Ticketmaster the day the tickets went on sale for this week's "Watch the Throne" tour stop in Toronto...and 12 reasons why I will eagerly await the YouTube footage tomorrow morning to see how Yeezy and Jigga tear down the place tonight.

Here's some footage from the Madison Square Garden show back on November 7. I hear they pulled up "Ni**as in Paris" like 3 times...and rightfully so! These guys are dope. Top of the world right now, and a nice moment in hip hop history.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering Heavy D (Dwight Myers) 1967-2011

This week music lost another legend. Jamaican-born rapper/actor Dwight Myers aka "Heavy D" passed away on November 8 in Los Angeles due to respiratory distress. He was only 44.

His death came only 4 days after the release of "Tower Heist," starring Eddie Murphy...a movie that would rejuvinate Heavy's acting career. Do you remember him in recurring roles on Roc, Living Single, and even on A Different World? New Jersey Drive, Life? He was a talented brother.

What's crazy is that just a few weeks ago, he tore up the stage at the BET Hip Hop Awards (footage below). I was so happy to see him looking well, still moving like the ol' Heav, and bringing back the hits that I had grown to love. The crowd loved him, and it reaffirmed my appreciation of old school hip hop. No matter what Weezy, Jeezy, or Yeezy ever did on that BET stage...nothing compares to the old familiar feeling of hip hop classics.

It is always sad to hear when one of your childhood icons has come to the end of their creative journey. But while the news was sad, I notice that the overall impression that Heavy D left on his fans and family has been extremely positive. The music he left has been uplifting. And his legacy will be fitting of the impact he has had on all who enjoyed his music and work.

His latest album Love Opus was just released in September of this year, representing his 9th studio album, and a recording history spanning almost 25 years.

He was a star. Nominated for 4 Grammy awards, including a recent nomination in 2009 for Best Reggae Album. He was also a 4-time Soul Train Award nominee, and easily walked away with the award for Best Rap Album back in 1990.

And who can forget the CLASSIC theme songs he performed for In Living Color, and even Mad TV. Theme songs that could rock a club, and always made us jam on our sofas when the Wayans' show was about to begin.

When I remember Heavy D, I will remember his dancing! This brother could groove! And even as the self-described "overweight lover" he could move with the best of them, big and slim.

When I remember Heavy, I will remember his songs...those songs that were the soundtrack to my adolescence and continue to sound fantastic and rock dancefloors no matter where the music is played. I'll remember the chart-toppers like "Somebody for Me," "The Girls They Love Me," and "We Got Our Own Thang" from his 1989 album Big Tyme. I'll remember my favourite Heavy D tune "Now That We Found Love" from the 1991 album Peaceful Journey.

Remembering Heavy, I will automatically go back to the other music of 1991. Because while his songs were playing, they were accompanied by hits from Boyz II Men, Naughty by Nature, Salt n Pepa, PM Dawn, Ralph Tresvant, and Hi-Five. It was a classic era of feel-good music.

Even hearing Pete Rock & CL Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" today reminded me of Heavy, because Trouble T Roy was once one of "The Boyz" when Heavy D performed as Heavy D and the Boyz. They were all a part of a generation of legendary New York rappers, Uptown Records, and truly foundational years in hip hop music.

When I remember Heavy D, I will remember how GOOD music used to make me feel. It was an era of dancing, of bright colours, baggy clothing, funky beats, and true celebration of development of hip hop culture. When it was OK to bounce around and music was all about having a good time, and enjoying life.

Heavy D performing on the Arsenio Hall Show:

Heavy D perfoming last month on the BET Hip Hop Awards; his first performance in over 15 years.

Go Heav! You will be missed.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson, for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Welcoming The Oshawa Power NBL Team

I was born in Scarborough, grew up in Malvern, and lived the majority of my life in Ajax. Went to Pickering High School, and am by nature, acutely familiar with all things Durham.

Even after years in Windsor, Detroit, and eventually settling back in Scarborough again permanently, I am often surprised at my allegiance to Toronto's east...the love for my home town, and particularly how much it feels like "home" whenever I head down the 401 and return to the Durham Region.

Attending last week's (October 27) pre-season Oshawa Power basketball game against the London Lightning, and last night's (November 3) home opener against the Moncton Miracles, has confirmed my hometown support and furthermore, my Canadian pride. The more I learn abot the NBL in general the more I realize how dedicated I am to seeing this culture grow. Sports culture. Entertainment culture. Urban culture. Canadian culture. I love the progression, and I love what it represents.

Upon entry to the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, I was pleased to see Quisha Wint rock the Canadian National Anthem. I have become familiar with her work and seen her perform numerous times...I think her voice was the perfect blessing for the game.

The game was exciting! The Oshawa Power held the lead all night, and kept the fans captivated. Particularly memorable performances from Akeem Wright (#35) and Morgan Lewis (#20) on the dunking tip, with some great plays from Toronto's Tut Ruach (#4), and Jushaw Rockette (#10) as well. EJ Kusney (#31) and Brandon Robinson (#15) hit some 3's...all of the elements of a great game were there. The Power won, 107-80.

It was great to see some of my former classmates in positions of leadership in a sport they have loved since back back back in the day, and have now easily transitioned it into a career.

I enjoyed seeing John Henry, the major of Oshawa, sitting courtside in his orange scarf, caught up in the hype, waving his orange Power towel. Also enjoyed seeing Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia courtside: a fan is a fan is a fan, no matter where the game is taking place. Support is golden.

Awesome to connect with Drew Ebanks and Theleepan Surendra. Respect due to Gary Durrant, the President of Operations, Mark Strickland, the head coach, and CEO Marcus Williams, for organizing and managing a great team. On point.

It was wonderful to see the supporters (particularly the young boys) lined up to meet the players after the game, take photos, and get autographs. These are icons and role models that they have access to, that they can aspire to emulate...and that make their dreams (of sports, or otherwise) that much more tangible. So important.

It was a good experience overall, and one I look forward to seeing escalate on so many levels. There is nothing better than watching something from its inaugural days, and anticipating the development, the growth, and the inevitable successes that come as a result of the passion put into it.

So thanks to the Oshawa Power and those who worked hard to establish the NBL, and who are working even harder to maintain it. Thanks to the players, many who have left their home countries to help establish a league in our country, all for the love of the game. Thanks to the fans who do what they have to do to keep the energy of basketball alive (despite the inactive Raptors as the NBA continues to work through their issues), and to those who have allowed us this escape and entertainment for the winter...and the future.

Next home game: November 14 against the Saint John Mill Rats. See you there!

Founded in 2011, the National Basketball League of Canada is the country's only professional basketball league. NBL Canada is committed to developing the next generation of Canadian athletes and raising the excitement and awareness for basketball throughout the country. Seven teams will play in the inaugural 2011-2012 season and the league is poised for continued expansion across Canada. NBL Canada is headquartered in Toronto, Ont.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Reason Why I Write

This has been on my mind a lot lately..."why" I have decided to dedicate my life and related aspirations to the art of writing.

I have always been a writer. Those of us who are writers know that it has nothing to do with being a NY Times Bestseller, book signings, fame, fortune, or even literary status. Those of us who are writers know that we are writers because we have no choice.

We need to write. We live to write. We write to live.

And while the ultimate goal would ideally be to be able to write "for a living"...that doesn't ever stop a true writer from writing. It is what we do. Regardless.

While on vacation a few weeks back, I decided not to pack my netbook, in order to save some luggage weight for shoes, clothing, and anything else fun I'd pick up while shopping at Sawgrass and Aventura malls in south Florida. So I didn't bring my computer. I didn't bring my memory key. I foolishly didn't even bring my journal, a decent pad of paper, or a notebook.

This is the first time I've travelled without a formal mechanism for recording my thoughts, and I was about a day and a half into the trip when I desperately resorted to my BlackBerry to record my thoughts, and sufficiently capture the emotions and the other nuances and by-products of my getaway that I might not be able to recreate when I returned to Toronto.

I thought to myself: I NEED to write! And while I tapped the little BlackBerry keys...I vowed to never travel without my tools again. Even though it was a beach-and-party kind of trip...I still needed my equipment to be able to work when the mood hit me.

And that's what writing is about for me. On a very basic level, it's about capturing a mood. Remembering a moment. Transferring an emotion, or creating a greater emotion. It's about taking that unsettled energy and moulding it into something permanent. It's about documenting an experience--directly, or indirectly--and benefiting from it at a later time.

When I try to articulate (to myself) the "reason" why I write...a few words are always prominent in my psyche: inspiration, motivation, energy, vibe, and capture. It's a combination of these feelings, searching for brilliant moments, and finding the words to use to hold on to them.

I write because I want to take the positive energy that I experience, and preserve its value. Or I want to take a powerful negative emotion, and work through it with words so that it didn't occur in vain.

I write to heal. I write to learn. I write to experience things that I might be trying to avoid or overcome in real life. I write to entertain myself. I write to grow.

Again, 99% of the process selfishly has everything to do with me...and actually very little to do with the "virtual" reader who may or may not have a chance to digest my words.

I trust that this is different for a best-selling author who has a dedicated and distinct audience to serve...maybe if that was the case, I would conciously "try" to create particular texts and evoke particular reactions. Or maybe the process would be exactly the same...

But at the root of it, I think the writing process in itself is a very personal one. And one that very few are fortunate to be able to share publically...for compensation.

So as I transition from a child writer, using pencil-and-lined paper to create characters, situations, and dialogue as a an adolescent writer, using my stories as a tool to explore social fantasies and future a teenage writer, capturing the juicy events of her peer group on paper, and figuring out the dynamics of the a student writer using the process as a an adult writer, who still desperately NEEDS this release to navigate the world.

I write because I have to.

Now that I've taken on the role of "publisher" at my independent company Kya Publishing, I realize that my love for writing and my passion for story-telling may have a greater purpose, aside from personal satisfaction. I realize that my love for writing, over the years, has naturally told a story of a first-generation Jamaican-Canadian female growing up in the city of Toronto and its surrounding suburbs.

While I have never specifically written the intimate details of my life, or about those around me, through my fictional creations I have still managed to capture a moment in time. From my first book at the age of ten in 1988 to my last book at the age of 32 in 2010, I have been capturing the journey of an "urban" adventure, coming of age in this country, and developing a literary commentary on what that is like.

I write because "this" story needs to be told.

As a "writer," my goal was to entertain myself, and occasionally entertain my friends, classmates, and colleagues. Over the past few years I've been fortunate enough to have my audience grow to those outside of my immediate circle, which has been awesome. As a "publisher," I feel it's my responsibility to accurately document my journey in this place, space, moment, and time, and allow it to serve as a record of my generation and my culture.

It was never a deliberate become a "publisher." It was an act of necessity. An act of cultural preservation, and an act of love. By publishing my own books, and eventually helping others publish their books as well, I truly believe that I am contributing (even if in a minor and insignificant way) to Canadian history. Urban/Black/Caribbean-Canadian history. I write because I don't ever want the specific experiences of my cultural generation to be overlooked or forgotten.

There is absolutely nothing else I'd rather do.

Written By Stacey Marie Robinson, Kya Publishing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Call Me Russell" ~ the biography of comedian Russell Peters

I love a good Canadian success story...and I love to read inspiring biographies of those who started with a dream, and didn't quit until that dream was fulfilled. The biography of Canadian comedian Russell Peters, "Call Me Russell" (2010) fulfilled both of these interests, with an easy read and a familiar tale.

I miss having a good laugh, sometimes. And not the every day chuckle, giggle with friends, or sitcom humour. I miss like real hearty, eyes-watering, can't-breathe type of laughter. The type that only a true comedian can give you. Russell Peters is one of the few comedians who has been able to provide that type of laughter for me over recent years, and I'm proud that he is one of "our own."

Of course we have Trixx and Jay Martin, Jean Paul, and a few others in Toronto who are definitely consistently hilarious, and provide comforting familiarity as well. Then there are the American greats like Katt Williams and Kevin Hart, also kinda making their come-up as stand-up headliners lately.

One of the best parts about the story of a comedian, is watching it grow from brief performances on stage with a mic in hand, a few dollars compensations, and tiny localized audiences of supporters...and then seeing them explode into multi-millionnaires with international appeal and blockbuster marketability.

We saw it happen with all of our faves: Chris Rock, Martin, Dave Chappelle, and even Eddie Murphy who has just been annouced as the host of the upcoming Academy Awards program. We love to see them succeed, because we watch them develop, we watch them mature, and we owe a great deal of our laughter and entertainment to their creative minds.

I remember back in around 1998 or 19998, I was a student at the University of Windsor, and a "board member" of the ever-political and ever-dedicated Black Youth Taking Action group, founded on the campus by the then-infamous Brother Noel. As a student organization, we did our best to maintain a sense of culture, peer unity, and bring diverse events to our temporary home-away-from home, in an effort to keep the students entertained and socializing.

One of the best BYTA events we had was hosting the F.A.M.E. All-Star Comedy Tour. I can remember voicing the commercial down at CJAM 91.5fm (the campus radio station), and excitedly announcing appearances by Russell Peters, Ron Josol, Jean Paul, and Marc Trinidad. I had no idea who any of them were at the time.

We sold tickets, and we packed the campus Pub that evening. An event of that kind hadn't been around on campus yet, and comedians that so intimately knew our culture and our generation were such a rareity.

I laughed like I had never laughed before. The show was an absolute HIT. And I can remember thinking, this Russell Peters guy does the BEST Bajan accent I've ever heard...that accent is not an easy one to duplicate. I immediatley rated Russell for that. His Jamaican accent, Trini accent, and of course the beloved Indian accent were off the chain. He knew all of the cultures so intimately, and I was so impressed with his ability to recreate and retell stories of things that we were all so closely connected to. As Canadians (of all races) I was impressed with how fluidly he spoke of his cultural experiences.

Everyone LOVED him. And I think we maybe payed the collective group about $250 for what was one of the funniest nights I can ever remember.

Fast forward to 2011. I started and completed this book pretty quickly because I enjoyed reading about how Russell came from the guy we essentially "hired" back as a broke-pocketed student org, to the guy that is selling out Madison Square Garden, and impacting the comedy world on a level few will ever reach.

I don't have much to say about the book was a good read. I kind of expected some hilarity and punchlines, but it was really just a casual conversation between Russell and his fans, and easily could have been an afternoon conversation.

The book doesn't follow a set chronology, beginning to end, but it does break his life's experiences down into themes, sagas, individuals, and stages of his journey.

You get a good feel for the challenges he faced, both personally and professionally, as well as the sights he has now seen, and the hard work he put in to perfect his craft, develop his identity as a comedian, and sustain a remarkable career spanning around 20 years.

What touched me most with his story was Russell's sense of family. His love and respect for his late father, who passed away in 2004. The deep connection and awesome working relationship he has with his one sibling, his brother Clayton. The pride of his mother, the closeness of his extended family, and the fact that at this stage in his life, he is able to easily provide for all of them.

His parents, Anglo-Indians (which is a demographic I knew nothing about until reading this book), and their journey to Canada marked the beginning of this biography, which immediately made me think of essentially everyone I know...a first-generation Canadian, sons and daughters of immigrants.

The great thing about contemporary Canadian stories, is that we all on some level have the same story. The same ambitions. The same purpose. Our parents arrive in this foreign land, often with only a few dollars and maybe one or two good links that they can call...and they are determined to make a life for their family. To find opportunity, and to open doors and associations to them that they may or may not have had access to "back home."

And that's why I love a good Canadian success story, because we all carry the same emotional baggage...knowing that our parents made great efforts to move to Canada, and that we as their successors have an obligation to take their courage, and take their dreams, and to work hard to fulfil them. We have an obligation to continue the legacy now as "Canadians" for our children, and nieces, and nephews, and neighbours, and do so with a pride that would make our families, and our ancestors proud.

Sounds like a lot of weight to carry, but I do believe that this is the mission of the majority of "us" take what we can, our gifts, or talents, or even just our need to work hard and build...and create new legacies. Here.

So Russell's book was a nice tale. A nice story of a humble guy from Brampton giving his all to his craft, and seeing it through to monumental levels. It really just an honest look at his life (porn obsession and all), and a testament to what hard work, family love and support, and wise choices can do.

He's a self-made man, and his lessons in "Call Me Russell" can be implemented by any of us. Russell Peters has done his family, and his country, exceptionally proud.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson, author, and founder of Kya Publishing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What are "Urban Toronto Tales" ?

The word "urban" is a sticky one. It's extremely general, has multiple definitions that mean multiple things in multiple instances...yet it still manages to define an entire culture, movement, and demographic.

Yes, "urban" at it's core means "of the city"...however, over the years it has also come to specifically mean "emerging and developing in densely populated areas of large cities, esp those populated by people of African or Caribbean origin."

Hip-hop culture or "black" culture used to have strong racial connotations...however, it's fair to say that while culture does play a huge part in the composition of an "urban" entity...the culture no longer specifies race or heritage. The culture is a movement of it's own, and is easily comprised of individuals from a variety of ethnicities.

The "Urban Toronto Tales" are specifically about the urban/city culture of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and those who are a part of. The people of Toronto who have built the urban culture from conception. The first- and second-generation Canadians of African, Caribbean...but also South Asian, Filipino, and other cultures that are just as much a part of the creation and maintenance of the culture.

The people of Toronto are urban by nature. By location. However, in the spirit of the culture is strongly based on African and Caribbean traditions and musical influences. Perhaps the "black" culture is more closely tied to urban culture...however, it is not mutually inclusive.

I have written the "Urban Toronto Tales" novel and short story collection predominently from a "black" perspective, only because it is the perspective that I know. One of the early lessons I learned as a writer was to "write what you know" and the authenticity can not be questioned.

I know Caribbean culture, from a Canadian perspective. I know "black" culture, and the elements of growing up as a first-generation black Canadian. I am intimately connected to this experience, therefore it is the basis of what I write.

I write these stories from a place of familiarity. I write these stories from a place of passion. I write these stories from a place of love. I write these stories becuase the Canadian "urban" culture is one that I have seen develop, and grow, and begin to define itself...and I want my stories to represent the interpersonal experiences, the conversations, and the slight nuances of this culture that may not easily be captured in other mediums.

So while the music, the fashion, the entertainment, and the overall character of what it means to be "urban" Canadian continues to expand and define itself over time, my stories are a literary snapshot of what this means as a citizen of Toronto, developing alongside the culture.

There are currently 8 stories in this collection (possibly more) that each reflect a period in time. From adolescence in the early 1990's, high school in the late 1990's, college/university life in the early 2000's, and then firm adulthood, matured relationships, and career building in the late 2000's. The stories have grown with me, as I have observed the culture growing.

Reflecting our "urban" culture in a way that has not yet been captured in literature. Putting the experiences on pages, and documenting them as a part of our Canadian history. My testament to a city I love and respect, through characters that reflect the heart of the culture, and the true faces of our beloved city.

For more information about the "Urban Toronto Tales" novel and short story collection by Stacey Marie Robinson, please visit

Friday, September 9, 2011

Partnerships in Omar Tyree's "Pecking Order" and Ice Cube's "Janky Promoters"

I haven't read a good Omar Tyree book in a while, so I was glad when I discovered a copy of "Pecking Order" (2008) at my local library. Two of his previous novels, "Just Say No" (2001) and "Diary of a Groupie" (2003) are easily amongst my favourite books of all times...this one also didn't disappoint.

Overall, I found the book to be a bit too long. I loved the story, and was definitely interested in seeing what would happen to the overnight sensation, commoner-turned-celebrity promoter Ivan David...but I found that it took a long time to get to the end.

Around 500 pages in length, "Pecking Order" is a story about a California accountant who is tired of being just a regular guy. He wants to be on the VIP list. He wants to side-step the lineup at the club. He wants to ball with the ballers and begins to yearn for recognition and status in the town of San Diego where he works and resides.

After glimpsing the beautiful and intriguing Lucina Gallo outside of a local event, he is jump started into his mission to be a top-a-top man in his city.

His journey is interesting: he plans, he networks, skillfully builds relationships--and surrounded by gorgeous women, professional athletes, and the city's richest business people, he quickly rises to the top of his game.

What I love about the Omar Tyree books that I've read thus far is the element of entertainment fantasy. By reading these three novels (by no coincidence) of his over the years, I really and truly appreciate how he recreates the "inside look" into the lives of the rich and famous. It's fascinating to me in real life...and fasinating to me in fiction as well.

However...and this is a big much as I enjoyed the book, a part of me was waiting for at least a tiny glimpse of reality. As Ivan David rose to the top of his game, hooked up with models, and secretly yearned for his business partner Lucina...I kind of expected at least something to go wrong. I mean...isn't that how stories go? There's a rise...maybe a little fall...a bit of redemption, and then inevitably a lesson learned or some relief/redemption at the end?

Not this story. Ivan got bigger and better, his website blew up to a multi-million dollar corporation. Even situations with females didn't turn out as disastrous as they could have (and should have!)...and in the end, well, Ivan is on top of the world.

Everyone loves a happy ending, but something about the constant success, and consistent ease with which Ivan's success came proved to be a little bit disappointing almost.

Furthermore, I didn't even really like Ivan. He got cocky, he hardly showed any sentimental moments that made me trust and believe in his integrity...he just continued to be a hard ass business man with a brilliance for numbers and accounting. And I guess that's why he became the face of San Diego...and not just another accountant stuck behind a cubicle, wishing for "more" of out life.

Nonetheless, it was a great read, and I truly did need to get to the end of that book (desperately) to see if Ivan would fail. But he didn't. And he even got the girl. No problem. Easy stuff.

A funny contrast was Ice Cube's movie "Janky Promoters" (2009) that I happened to watch while in the middle of reading "Pecking Order." HORRIBLE movie, but because of Ice Cube's fine azz and the cutie Young Jeezy...I watched it from beginning to end.

I know the first time I saw Cube in "Friday" I thought it was also some stupid s***....and then it turned out to be one of the funniest movies I'd ever seen when I caught it the second, third, (twentieth...) time. "Janky Promoters"...not likely. I had a few chuckles, but overall it was pretty dumb and it will not be on repeat.

But because of my entertainment selections, promoters have been on my mind hard. What does it take to make it as a promoter? What does it take to be a respected business person? And both "Pecking Order" and "Janky Promoters" really made it evident. At the core of both stories was one thing: a partnership.

The partnership between Ice Cube (Russell Redds) and Mike Epps (Jellyroll) was a joke. There was no trust, bad communication, and a complete lack of knowledge and experience. But with the partnership between Ivan David and Lucina Gallo, there was great judgement, sharing of strategies, and a loyalty that couldn't be shaken.

So no huge life lessons or light-bulb "ah ha" moments from either, but I really did love the strength of the partnership between Ivan and Lucina in the book and felt that it was the most powerful message of the text. Despite the money, the status, the yachts and luxury cars, partying with celebs, and taking over the city...the one thing that felt satisfying throughout was that when all was said and done, Ivan had maintained a solid relationship with Lucina.

If nothing else, that was inspiring. Because as we saw with Russell Redds and Mike Epps, having the right people on your team really does determine how well you are going to do in life sometimes, and even how quickly and efficiently you are going to do it.

So Redds and Jelly got Young Jeezy to perform...Ivan and Lucina got a house in the hills, and the partnerships proved to be the real prize in the end after all the fiascos and plotting that it took to get these promoters to a pleasureable plateau.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.