Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dave Chappelle in "The Age of Spin"

I saw Dave Chappelle perform live in Toronto back in 2006 at Massey Hall, and can't believe it's been a little over ten years since the peak of my love and appreciation for this comedic artist. I made sure I purchased those tickets the second they went on sale, and remember how difficult it was to catch a glimpse of this superstar at that time. He was hotter than hot, and I was happy to be in the audience downtown taking part in that experience.

Like most fans of Chappelle's Show remember, it was tough when the program came off the air because we all felt a gap in comedy for a minute. In "black" comedy in particular. There was a void that took a long time to fill. Gone were the days of laughing hysterically, and repeating lines by heart. There were hardly any other hilarious shows left on TV. Times were hard.

Eventually, Kevin Hart took over and refreshed our smiles as the comic-of-the-moment, but Dave was one of a kind. He was then, and he is now. And even with Kevin Hart still shining bright like a diamond out there in the world of entertainment, I can now see just how special Dave is with his return.

He is simply the best. I mean, Eddie Murphy was the best too. And to some Richard Pryor was the best. Etc. Etc. Every generation has their comedic genius, and in watching the Netflix special "The Age of Spin" (released yesterday) I quickly realized that Dave Chappelle is definitely THE comedic icon that I will remember, and appreciate the most.

"The Age of Spin" is a unique special. It's funny. It's definitely funny. But not in a tear-jerking kind of hilarity, or a punchline type of humour. It's funny in a traditional good-old-Chappelle way, but with an infusion of wisdom and intelligence, and social commentary.

His style hasn't changed. He still sounds the same, and has the same cadence and tone to his stories. He still looks the same, and moves the same. But he's beaming with a new confidence, and a really admirable sense of himself and the world that you can really appreciate the time he's been away, and can see how his perspective is better off because of his absence.

It was great to hear him talk about OJ Simpson, about the Bill Cosby scandals, the success of Kevin Hart, and even Bruce Jenner's gender transition. There are so many things that have transpired since we've had regular public access to Chappelle, so I'm glad he took the time to recap some of the pop culture and social highlights, negative and positive. It was nice to hear his perspective.

He touches on racism, as per usual, and even drops MLK and the Flint water crisis into his set. He has always had this unique ability to take the most awkward and uncomfortable and even depressing scenarios, and somehow...make them funny. He's "silly" at times and says some corny shit, but he's just also so brilliant that even the ridiculously inappropriate jokes are hilarious.
For instance, he has a segment about the Care Bears. And I can appreciate a lot of his references, knowing that he represents a generation that I grew up in. He's 43 years old, but immediately set himself apart from the current generation of smartphone-addicted, technology-obsessed people that many of us have transitioned into by default.

But he grew up in an era of Care Bears, and went to great lengths to describe the significance of the cartoon, and the innocence of the message, and its purity. As I listened to him tell this particular story, I was just extremely proud to have grown up in an era where Dave Chappelle was a comedic leader. Despite the other jokesters that have come and gone in the ten years that Chappelle took a slight hiatus from "celebrity life"...I felt comforted by his return, and like comedy was in good hands again.

The world is kinda messed up right now. The daily news is driving me crazy. The politics are unbelievably insane, and it's almost suffocating to imagine the potential outcomes of this current state of affairs on the world. So it is remarkably refreshing to have someone like Dave re-emerge and just speak his mind.

When he hosted that episode of Saturday Night Live, after Trump was elected...I remember feeling that same type of comfort. Like I knew that things were unstable...but I also knew that there were still a lot of great, and positive things in the world. A lot of critical thinkers. A lot of people who were clear-headed and acutely aware of the bullshit...but were also moving, and speaking strategically.

Comedy, and entertainment, and celebrity have a role in society. And just like journalists and scholars, these artists often reflect our world back to us, and remind us of who we are and who we aspire to become. What we hope to see.

In the strangest of ways, seeing Dave Chappelle emerge back on the scene (with a bang), has been one of the most comforting and satisfying occurrences in a good while. Somehow encouraging. Because he survived the negative press, and the rumours, and the speculation, and the fragility of his career. He waited. He lived. He learned. He moved at his own speed. And in life's perfect order, he came back to what he loves most--making people laugh--and he did so at a time when "America" and the world of entertainment needed it most.

By returning to the public eye now during this disgusting era of Trump-ness, and by adding his unique voice to the global conversation...Dave has proven to be an outstanding mind and a trusted familiar voice, among the unstable media "spin" and illusion. That is what makes him a genius. In comedy, timing is everything

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

HAJJI BLACKSTONE // Multi-Lingual Hip Hop Artist Highlights Harlem's LIL SENEGAL in Upcoming Project

Hip hop artist HAJJI BLACKSTONE is releasing his first solo project, entitled "Lil Senegal" and is proud to highlight the Harlem location characterized by a large concentration of Senegalese and West African residents. A Senegalese-American, Hajji has been a musician for years, participated in various group projects and group albums, but "Lil Senegal" will be his debut as an independent artist, and he couldn't have picked a more timely moment in history to highlight the immigrant story, and the cross-section of American dreams.

He's lived in America since the early 90's, and identifies most with the New York City/east coast lifestyle although he now resides in California, and grew up in the D.C. area. Despite there being various Senegalese communities in different states across the U.S., Hajji feels that the closest thing to Senegal on the continent, is the New York neighbourhood referenced in his project.

Challenging himself to a different sonic vibe, Hajji strives to incorporate more of his influences in this project, and differentiate himself from the popular hip hop cadences and tones. "I dared myself to be different," said Hajji. "But most importantly to be me. I went in the studio thinking I just want to make feel good music, and speak from the heart.

His creative inspirations come from all sources. "It could be a word someone said, a movie, a song, an epiphany, a book, a painting, an interview, anything. I operate off feeling. If I don't feel it, I'd rather not create. I don't like forcing the process; I just keep living and let it come to me naturally."

One of his most powerful motivators is pursuing his music, despite the doubts and discouragements of some.

"Where I'm from, people think you're crazy if you want to get involved in music, and sports, and things like that," Hajji said. "I could have been anything in the world, but I chose this route because I felt it was my calling. I believe artists can make a big difference in the world--even bigger than presidents, or any government."

Using Bob Marley as an example, Hajji notes that although he passed away decades ago, his messages still live on. Strongly. He would like his legacy to follow in the spiritual footsteps of his predecessors in music: "That's the type of legacy I would like to leave behind. Something positive, and durable. Something thought-provoking. Ideas live forever!"

Influenced by music from across the globe, Hajji speaks (and thinks!) in six languages. He's had the opportunity to visit almost every continent, with the exception of Latin America. He believes his home country of Senegal is a country of intellectuals, and tries to integrate that element of his culture in his music.

"Africa as a whole, and its diaspora definitely plays a big role in my work," he said. "Here in the States, and in Canada, everyone reps their hood, or their block. Well, I wanna show that I'm proud of where I'm from as well, and that I can run with the best of them. I would like to make my Senegalese people proud, you know...and God willing, also be able to make a real change. At the end of the day, Senegal is still a developing country. I say Senegal because that's where I'm from, but I relate to the struggle worldwide. Period. I've always sided with the underworld, and the underdogs. That's just me."

His core messages have always revolved around unity in diversity, although sometimes due to life and personal circumstances, he admits to having strayed from that main focus. Overall, he ensures that his message is positive, but he understands that the youth that listen to his music, and the music of others, are the future, and all artists do have a responsibility in their messaging.

"There's no love in these streets: I had to learn that the hard way," Hajji said. "I understand that it's a privilege to hold a microphone in front of if I say something, I try to say something that I can be proud of at the end of the day. Something that can affect and gear someone in the right directions, and make them think...but also feel good."

He's lived in Canada as well, and attended school in Montreal. With a group of musical friends from Washington, D.C., they migrated to Montreal because it was a bilingual city, and they would easily fit in, having come from a French school. He believed strongly in their vision as a group, as the friends performed in Canada, and also had the opportunity to travel to France and Africa for festivals as well.

"I thought we were going to be the next big thing, so I sacrificed everything for music...but unfortunately, we all went our separate ways after a while, for various reasons."

Hajji took this opportunity to take a hiatus from music, and realign himself to find his own sound. He believes that living in Canada helped to shape him as an artist, for live shows in particular. It was his first time living on his own, and he was proud of the name he was able to build for himself along with his peers.

"I have nothing but love for Canada," he said. "It's one of the most multicultural places I've ever lived."

Now a resident of California, Hajji is acutely aware of the volatile political climate, racial climate, and tries to hold his corner where he can.

"Like Talib Kweli once said his lyrics...'I don't f*ck with politics, I don't even follow it,'" he stated, citing his father's influence when it came to politics. "Growing up, my dad always used to tell me to never get involved in politics...especially coming from Africa, poli-tricks was like a synonym for corruption to us. I have never voted a day in my life, and I don't think I will ever vote...but that's just the rebel in me."

He's received backlash for his dis-interest in participating in the American politics, but he feels strongly that overall, history repeats itself. A strong believer in self-governance and self-empowerment, he thinks that the current state of affairs in the U.S. is sad.

"If I could sum it up in 3 letters, it would say: FDT!" he joked.

Overall, his main message to those paying attention to his career, his lyrics, and his voice in general, is that it's OK to be yourself as an artist.

"You don't always need to portray an image of who you are not, just to try to satisfy the public. Most people will tell you to do what's working, or what sells as the moment...I am all about doing what I do best, and trying to make it work. Granted, I haven't accomplished anything too crazy yet, and I'm still on the rise...but I think being yourself is the greatest satisfaction and reward of all."

Everything else that he has to say is in his music. The "Lil Senegal" project is on the way, and will be released this year via Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, and all major digital outlets. One single has already dropped, and he plans to release the remainder of the project this year when he believes it's maximized its potential as a whole, quality-wise.

You can connect with Hajji Blackstone on Instagram at @h_blackstone, or via Facebook at "Hajji Blackstone." Catch samples of his music via Soundcloud at HajjiBlackstoneMusic.

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