Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: "Black Privilege" by Charlamagne Tha God

He used to intimidate me! His truth scared me. I unfollowed him from Twitter back in the day, I'd refuse to watch his commentary when it got offensive and raw, and I brushed him off as a loud-mouthed know-it-all who was just looking for attention.

Surely, I'm not the first person to express my dislike for Charlamagne Tha God. He is, by design, a controversial figure. He's brutally honest. He's silenced by few, and has a huge platform to communicate his views which in today's social world = power.

Purchasing his book "#BlackPrivilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It" was automatic for me, however. Because between fearing his Twitter rants, and being addicted to YouTube videos of his morning show The Breakfast Club on New York's Power 105.1...I became a fan of his. A huge fan. In fact, somehow over the years I started to respect Charlamagne. Like, really respect him...and the things that I respected him for were the very things that I disliked him for previously. I had grown into his rhetoric, and appreciated his views. I looked forward to his opinions and interviews.

Many of us watch Breakfast Club interviews online. Some are fortunate to get to tune in live-to-air (but not us in Toronto who have to scramble for a decent radio signal to get our morning fix of urban culture). I feel like Charlamagne, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee are my go-to media outlet for celebrity interviews, perspectives, and to "catch up" on what's hot.

As much as I rate these guys, however, I never really dug deeper until now. I never looked into their personal stories, individual journeys, or career paths. My reference points really didn't go beyond the morning show. Partially because I'm not THAT much of a hip hop head...and partially because, I never saw the relevance.

But I can safely say now--having read Charlamagne's full life story--that I am genuinely moved and inspired by his journey. I am better off having read this book. I read a LOT of biographies (which I am finally admitting is my preferred genre of down-time reading)...but this one was special. Yes. Charlamagne's story was very special. I learned a lot, and reinforced a lot.

Everyone loves a good coming of age story, and seeing a small town hustler make it big in the Big City. It's the story of many of our favourite rappers, actors, tech experts, and activists. We love to see someone defy the odds against them, make a name for themselves, follow their passions, and create a lifestyle that they love, and use this to motivate and inspire others.

Personally, I love to read stories about artists. Musicians. Writers. Actors. People who enter an unstable field of work to begin with, driven by passion and creativity alone...and somehow find a way to make it work. I am driven by this, needless to an artist/writer/dreamer myself.

So Charlamagne's journey from a young thug and troublemaker in South Carolina, to a radio personality finding his way through the industry, and ending up on one of the most popular syndicated programs in America is a great story! I've read biographies that dragged and bored through the "wonder years," but I can honestly say that every step of his journey was interesting, filled with great lessons, and a genuinely entertaining read.

He is a great storyteller. Just listening to him on air, you can see he has a way with words, and is actually a lot funnier than I realized. He's painfully aware of his strengths, and super-duper aware of his flaws...which is definitely something I like about the brother. From his bleaching rumours, penis size, getting beat up on camera, and confessions of infidelity, there really isn't anything that Charlamagne left out. Literally, an open book.

Hearing his version of some of the best Charlamagne rumours was definitely interesting, but then also reading about the lessons he extracted from a lot of those experiences were even better. A few new characteristics came to mind when I finally finished the book, and had a moment to reflect. Newfound acknowledgement of his personal strength, courage, and self-awareness in particular. Lessons in patience, and trusting God also came to light, which is definitely not something I expected to take away from this reading.

I highlighted this story like a textbook, not wanting to forget some of the passages and anecdotes that he shared. A few gems I liked were:

-In order to change your life for the better, you must first change your lifestyle.
-Always live your truth.
-Design yourself. Construct your own dream.
-Don't try to grab someone else's gift.
-A true winner values their integrity, no matter what the fallout.
-You can never hurt yourself by helping others.
-Faith plus hard work can change any circumstance.

I really, really loved how much of an avid reader he was growing up, and his love for books. The way his parents shaped his mind. Growing up in an isolated small town, and eventually learning about Tupac's LA, and Biggie's NYC just through reading, and lyrics, reminded me of the power of telling your own story and documenting the here and now. Sharing your experience. Learning through example. So powerful.

From a small town self-professed "nerd" to one of the most prominent voices in media and pop culture, I think it's fabulous that he has evolved, and reached successes, and opened so many doors for himself from writing, to television, to radio...and yet he didn't seem to compromise himself. You can see and hear the growth by watching him over the years...but Charlamagne is still pretty much the same Charlamagne he always was. A real dude.

I admire him. For his honesty especially, and for reminding me that you don't have to change or conform or follow any set paths or methods of behaviour in order to achieve what is meant for you. He was true to himself first and foremost, and everything else fell into place as a result. He didn't compromise his personal values. He didn't censor himself or suck up to people in positions of influence to gain respect. The #BlackPrivilege is a reminder that everyone is in a position to influence the direction of their own life: "opportunity comes to those who create it."

He just called it like it was, and still does. And for that, the same reason that I was afraid to read his simple Tweets, I will gladly recommend this book to anyone who asks. Charlamagne is the truth.

Well done, brother.

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: David Rodigan, My Life in Reggae

I am not a sound clash expert, but I am a true lover of reggae music. I love music in general, from soca to hip hop, R&B to pop/dance, but it is reggae music that speaks to my soul the most. Naturally. The lyrics, the riddims, the culture, the history, the origin, the personal/family nostalgia, and the originality are like no other genre. And for as long as I have known about reggae music...I have known about David Rodigan.

I've only heard him play live Oshawa, Ontario (of all places) probably over a decade ago. I knew about the legacy of the man, and truth be told...on the surface, it was more of an entertainment factor. An older white, British gentleman who could select and chat with the best of them. On the surface, my appreciation for him was almost novelty-based...with all due respect.

News of his book's release was good news; I didn't even hesitate before ordering a copy. I love a biography. Coupled with a love for the music, I was more than happy to read my way through this book (slowly but surely) over the past couple of months.

Should it have taken me months to read? Nope. But it did. The book started off a lot slower than I anticipated, as David Rodigan carefully described his youth, his family, and upbringing. Without rehashing the fine was average. Nothing stood out to me, and it took me a few attempts to really get into the heart and soul of his story. Not because it wasn't a great foundation...but because it wasn't the heart of the music and travelling that I was looking forward to.

As the young David became a teen, and developed a passion for reggae music, for radio broadcasting, for acting, and began to excel in his craft, I started to understanding the making of the man, and it provided a greater context for his place in reggae history. The backstory became relevant again.

He is a legend, to say the least. Not because he's a "white man" speaking patois, occasionally. And not because he's a British gentleman hanging out in Kingston and clashing the biggest, and baddest of sounds in Jamaican history. I believe David Rodigan is a legend because he is SO passionate about reggae music, and culture, and development, that he can't help but be a part of the history itself.

Aside from being able to boast about interviewing Bob Marley, attending his funeral, and having unique stories about the creation of very special dub plates from a great number of reggae greats, he can also reflect on the growth of reggae music itself. From a reggae lover's perspective. From an international perspective. From the perspective of a radio professional, and also as a fan.

He was there (albeit, across the "pond") as reggae became an international phenomenon. He witnessed the great success stories of recording artists, DJs, radio personalities, and the changing musical landscape that adjusted and grew to embrace the music.

The most endearing part about this book is the passion that Rodigan has for the music. He lived, breathed, and performed reggae music to the fullest from the beginning of his career...and continues to do so now. He advocated for reggae music on the air, he developed long lasting relationships with artists, producers, DJs, and the architects of the genre. He inspired generations of reggae lovers around the world with his own passion.

I think this is a book that every reggae lover should read. It's a great collection of stories, and it's interesting to hear the tale behind the tune. Much like his live performances, where Rodigan is known for explaining the origins of his dubs, and recapping stories and anecdotes about his interactions with specific artists, the book compiles all of these great reflections into one unit.

Even if you already know some of the stories, by default from hearing him play over the years, it is still interesting to read about how particular dub plates were created, and how certain relationships were established. From Lee Scratch Perry, to Barry Gordon, there are great flashbacks of young relationships turned into deeply respected bonds and collaborations.

The book is well written. The language flows nicely, and you gain a sense of how Rodigan thinks as well as how he speaks. Descriptions of the Bogle Dance "...a bodily contortion during which waves of energy appear to pass through the torso..." or recaps of how particular riddims sound, the stories of how he gained specific dub plates in his collection, and the soundclash recaps. The clash recaps are the greatest! He literally recounts each record played, the talks before he drops them, the counteractions from his musical opponents, and crowd responses. Towards the end of the book, it is the details of the music and experience that bring the Rodigan story to life!

Too many small incidents to recap, but I highly recommend that music lovers and reggae fans in particular give this book a read. I love that his story is far from finished. I love that this particular "chapter" of his life ended with a conversation between him and Damian Marley, who had made a suggestion that he record these incidents. The full circle moment was beautiful. From a young fan hoping to catch a word with Bob a respected colleague, talking about how to document and celebrate the culture that he helped to build. Few people are in the unique position to tell this story in it's entirety.

Rodigan: My Life in Reggae is a history lesson, a musical record, and a reggae fairy tale all in one.

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