Yuri Kochiyama, Tupac Shakur and Liberation

Yuri Kochiyama, Tupac Shakur and Liberation

Yuri Kochiyama, who recently passed away, inspired generations of activists, including a young Tupac Shakur. Hyphen Magazine has the story:

One of my favorite stories about Yuri is also about Tupac. In an event curated by the late Fred Ho in celebration of Diane Fujino’s 2005 book release of the biography Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama, Laura Whitehorn spoke of the activist harbor that was the Kochiyama house. Dubbed “Grand Central Station” or the “Revolutionary Salon,” this Harlem apartment and Kochiyama family residence was a hub for activists, artists, students and other community members for much of the last four decades of the 20th century. Whitehorn recalled a then 11-year-old Tupac Shakur speaking eloquently and passionately about the need to free political prisoners at a meeting in the Harlem State office building. This 11-year-old Tupac was, of course, not just talking about abstract historical figures, but members of his own family — his stepfather Mutulu Shakur, his godfather Geronimo Pratt, Sundiata Acoli, Sekou Odinga, and others.

Read more at Hyphen

‘Souls of Mischief’ Welcomes You to ’90s Oakland on New Album (Full Stream)

There are things to know about Oakland in the 1990s: the Ebonics debates, the crack-era violence, 2pac’s emergence, the Raiders’ homecoming. Souls of Mischief, one of the city’s stalwart hip-hop groups, made the classic “‘93 Till Infinity,” a song whose rhythm and cadence perfectly encapsulates the era. Now they’re back with a concept album called “There Is Only Now,” that looks back at the decade to make sense of the present. 

It’s the group’s fifth studio album and boasts some of the decade’s most influential artists, including A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg and 70’s legend William Hart of The Delfonics.

Tajai Massey, one of the group’s four members, told San Francisco Weekly that the new record is meant to celebrate the city’s head-scratching contradictions, which include high crime rates and some of the country’s most distinctive multicultural communities. “We’re not walking around saying we are from big bad Oakland,” he told Gary Moskowitz. “People condemn the violence, they make it too much of a topic, but it’s part of living here. It’s not a constant daily thing for us in the band, thankfully, but for some people here, it is. And dealing with violence is traumatic.”

The record was recorded over the course of three months in Los Angeles with producer Adrian Younge. You can stream it below. 

How Addiction, Mental Illness Inspired a Journalist to Make a Rock Album

How Addiction, Mental Illness Inspired a Journalist to Make a Rock Album

For years, Benjamin Booker thought of himself as someone who did interviews, not someone who gave them. The 25-year-old Virginia native spent his college years in Florida training to become a journalist, performing occasionally and recording songs in his spare time. When an AmeriCorps job brought him out to New Orleans to work at a local non-profit, he knew his heart wasn’t in journalism, so he took it to the stage. “I was doing both,” he told Consequence of Sound about his first year in the Bayou. “Playing shows around town and working for the non-profit. I stayed there for a little bit, and then I went back to Florida and got Max [Norton] who plays drums and then brought him back to New Orleans.”

The storied home of black American jazz and blues became fertile ground for Booker to build a base. Now, on the heels of the release of his self-titled debut LP and after heightened buzz following a performance at Brooklyn’s AfroPunk festival, he’s got more fans than ever interested in the raspy voice and guitar riffs that have become his signature sound in detailing life in contemporary black America.

Like most good art, Booker’s album was influenced by pain. He’s got a history of addiction and mental illness in his family, he told VICE’s Kyle Kramer, which has undoubtedly left its mark on his songwriting: 

Well, I first started writing the album when I was living with that girl that I was talking about who was like addicted—this was at the point where I had been like high for basically four years of my life like 24 hours a day and drinking and not taking care of myself. And she was worse than that. I have a history of schizophrenia in my family, and I was afraid that—I don’t know, that’s like the age that that stuff happens. II was afraid that I was like losing my mind because there was a couple of nights that I had some crazy visual hallucinations, and I wasn’t even—I thought I was insane. It was just like a getting my shit together time. Just like ‘I can’t be a kid anymore and getting fucked up all the time.’ And I guess also [I was] just ready to accept certain things about myself. My parents were super religious and conservative and not the type of people that you could go to and talk about things. So I think it’s just communicating the things that I hadn’t been able to say for my whole life. All the pent up things that you want talk about to people but you don’t know how to say it.

That girl, there’s a song called “I Thought I Heard You Screaming” on the record. This was around the time that I thought I was losing my mind, and I was like constantly worried about her all the time. And one night I was in my room, and I heard this blood-curdling scream, and I thought it was her. And I walked in, and she was fine. Like all the worrying manifested into this crazy hallucinating thing. That kind of stuff. Just, like, the people around me, there was so much happening. I was seeing this girl whose father had been murdered in a home invasion, and that was going on at the same time. It was just like a lot of shit happening. And I guess it was me just trying to make sense of that all happening.

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You can also listen to a full album stream on NPR

CeCe McDonald Talks About the Bullying That Pushed Her Out of School

CeCe McDonald Talks About the Bullying That Pushed Her Out of School

Around fourth grade, CeCe McDonald realized that she was trans. “There was this fierce little diva inside me and she wanted to be free,” McDonald recently told a crowd at the Gay-Straight Alliance Network’s (GSA) national gathering.

But that diva had to fight for her freedom.

McDonald detailed the intense bullying and harrassment that drove her away from the classroom. “I felt like I was robbed of my education by other people’s ignorance.”

She shared her story in order to bring attention to the need for more inclusive school settings for queer and transgender children. “We must keep stories like CeCe’s at the heart of our work in GSAs. We must keep working for justice. Commit your GSA to working against criminalization this school year,” wrote Mustafa Sullivan, director of national programs at GSA Network.

Last year, The Atlantic’s Nanette Fondas reported on the harsh reality facing LGBT students of color:

In one study, more than half of LGBT students who are African American, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and multiracial said they had been verbally harassed at school in the past year. Another reports nearly half (48 percent) of LGBT students of color experienced verbal harassment from both their sexual orientation and race or ethnicity, and 15 percent had been physically harassed or assaulted. The physical, emotional, and mental health impacts of a hostile climate at school easily encourage avoidance behavior, and students often skip class or stay home. This has deleterious effects on their school performance and college entrance prospects. Serious long term effects of harassment at school emerged in one study: 32 percent of transgender people who were physically assaulted at school reported a history of work in the underground economy, including drug dealing and sex work, compared with 14 percent who had not experienced violence at school. In a different survey, a staggering 51 percent of LGBT people who reported being harassed or bullied at school also said they had attempted suicide.

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Lifetime Fails Its Awful Mission to Bring Out the ‘Strong Black Woman’ in White Women

Lifetime Fails Its Awful Mission to Bring Out the 'Strong Black Woman' in White Women

Because black women make great accessories for folks basking in too much white privilege, Lifetime has announced a new show called “Girlfriend Intervention.” From the looks of it, the show — featuring four stereotypically “strong” black women (Tracy Balan on beauty, Nikki Chu on “home and sanctuary,” Tiffiny Dixon on fashion and  reality star Tanisha Thomas) — will bring out the “girlfriend” in timid white women.

From NPR’s Monkey See:

Like so much of makeover television, this is shaming dressed up as encouragement (they actually call the segment where the makeover candidate shows them how she currently dresses the “catwalk of shame”). It’s conformity dressed up as individuality, and it’s submission to the expectations of others dressed up as self-confidence.

Only now, with obnoxious racial politics slathered all over the entire thing!

It is not like those politics need to be introduced by the viewer, either: They are the premise of the show, and they are repeated over and over. Black women, we are told in so many words, are unerringly confident, gorgeous, stylish, unflappable, and — ah, yes — better at pleasing men, especially black men. 


The show’s already one episode in and the reviews are terrible. Take this scathing piece from TV columnist Brian Lowry at Variety: “Loud, brash and filled with stereotypes, it’s hard to know what’s most irritating — the sweeping declarations about black women as if they were monolithic, or the forced remodeling of women who are perfectly comfortable with their looks and style, after subjecting them to a ‘Catwalk of Shame.’ If indeed there’s cause for shame here, the producers should start with a mirror.”

Celebrity Chef Roy Choi to Open Healthy Fast Food Chain in California

Celebrity Chef Roy Choi to Open Healthy Fast Food Chain in California

It looks like Roy Choi is using his star power to bring healthy food to communities that need it the most. The celebrity chef recently announced plans to open Loco’l, a chain of healthy fast food restauraunts, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

“We want to go toe to toe with fast food chains and offer the community a choice,” Choi told the Inside Scoop SF.  “I’m in the streets with communities and the youth everyday. The food options are ridiculously bad.”

Choi and his business partner San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson are known for opening restauraunts in trendy parts of town, but they’ve stressed that this new chain will be in areas where communities don’t have access to affordable, healthy food options:

“Don’t tell me we don’t want great delicious cheap fast food,” Choi told the Inside Scoop SF. “It’s only because we haven’t been given the choice to choose, and we destroy our youth and our neighborhoods with corporations that serve addictive poison that we convince ourselves otherwise.”

It’s a move that’s long overdue. In South Central L.A., which is a predominately working class community of color, healthy food is scarce. Take a look at this infographic from the Community Coalition in Los Angeles:


(h/t Los Angeles Times)

This Is What Happens When Your ‘Punk-Funk Communist Revolution Band’ Goes to Cleveland

This Is What Happens When Your 'Punk-Funk Communist Revolution Band' Goes to Cleveland

Boots Riley is the outspoken frontman for The Coup, a hip-hop funk band from Oakland that’s been around for the better part of two decades. The band’s known for, among other things, songs with titles like “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” “Fat Cats and Bigga Fish” and “Ghetto Manifesto.” It’s decidedly political work, because being black in Oakland is a decidedly political thing. 

All of this was apparently lost on the host and producers of a local Cleveland FOX affiliate who interviewed Riley ahead of the Lakewood Music Fest. They were shocked when Riley described his band as “a punk-funk Communist revolution band” that wants to “make everyone dance while we’re telling them about how we need to get rid of the system” and that “exploitation is the primary contradiction in capitalism.”

Riley appeared alongside festival organizer Kelly Flamos, who wound up getting a strongly worded email from the station about his “political rant.”

Here’s the email:


Meanwhile, Riley was pleased:

(h/t Spin)

Listen: Ms. Lauryn Hill’s ‘Black Rage’ Responds to Ferguson

Listen: Ms. Lauryn Hill's 'Black Rage' Responds to Ferguson

Ms. Lauryn Hill posted a new track called “Black Rage.” Hill says she recorded the track in her living room:

Hauntingly set to the show tune “My favorite things,” here are the lyrics:

Black rage is founded on two-thirds a person

Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens,

Black human packages tied up with strings,

Black rage can come from all these kinds of things.

Black rage is founded on blatant denial

Squeezed economics, subsistence survival,

Deafening silence and social control.

Black rage is founded on wounds in the soul!


When the dogs bite, when the beatings,

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember all these kinds of things and then I don’t fear so bad!


Black rage is founded: who fed us self hatred

Lies and abuse while we waited and waited?

Spiritual treason, this grid and its cages

Black rage was founded on these kinds of things.

Black rage is founded on draining and draining,

Threatening your freedom to stop your complaining.

Poisoning your water while they say it’s raining,

Then call you mad for complaining, complaining

Old time bureaucracy drugging the youth,

Black rage is founded on blocking the truth!

Murder and crime, compromise and distortion,

Sacrifice, sacrifice, who makes this fortune?

Greed, falsely called progress,

Such human contortion,

Black rage is founded on these kinds of things


So when the dog bites

And the ceilings

And I’m feeling mad,

I simply remember all these kinds of things and then I don’t fear so bad!


Free enterprise, is it myth or illusion?

Forcing you back into purposed confusion.

Black human trafficking or blood transfusion?

Black rage is founded on these kinds of things.

Victims of violence both psyche and body

Life out of context is living ungodly.

Politics, politics

Greed falsely called wealth

Black rage is founded on denying of self!

Black human packages tied and subsistence

Having to justify very existence

Try if you must but you can’t have my soul

Black rage is founded on ungodly control

So when the dog bites

And the beatings

And I’m feeling so sad

I simply remember all these kinds of things and then I don’t feel so bad!

Protesters Gather at CNN’s Atlanta Headquarters

Protesters Gather at CNN's Atlanta Headquarters

So remember when CNN suggested that police in Ferguson should use water cannons on protesters? It was just one of the more infuriating moments in the network’s coverage of the escalating violence that’s happened in the St. Louis suburbs since Michael Brown’s death on August 9.

On Monday night, at least 250 protesters showed up to the network’s headquarters in Atlanta to protest holding signs that read “How good must we look to be considered innocent?” The message was in response to CNN’s coverage late last week and over the weekend that focused on what Brown did to make himself a suspect.

So far, the network hasn’t reported anything about the protests happening on their front lawn. 

Ferguson Hires All-White PR Firm to Help Deal With Black Uprising

Ferguson Hires All-White PR Firm to Help Deal With Black Uprising

It’s pretty safe to say that the city of Ferguson is in the middle of a complete public relations meltdown. Waging a nationally televised war on your black residents tends to do that sort of thing. Now, because the city’s leaders still don’t seem to get it, they’ve hired Common Ground Public Relations, an all-white PR firm, to help manage their official response.

From Talking Points Memo:

Common Ground is “assisting the city of Ferguson’s media relations department with the large volume of media queries,” Common Ground’s Nina Kult told TPM. “We’re just assisting in handling the large volume of queries.”

The “Meet The Team” page on Common Ground’s website seemed to only display Caucasian employees. When asked how the apparent lack of diversity on their team might factor into Common Ground’s work for Ferguson, given the heightened racial tensions there over the death of 18-year old Michael Brown, Kult declined to comment directly on that aspect of their work.

Stop-and-Frisk Chief Ray Kelly Thinks Ferguson Cops Went Too Far

Stop-and-Frisk Chief Ray Kelly Thinks Ferguson Cops Went Too Far

Ray Kelly was known to support and condone harsh police tactics during his tenure as commissioner of the New York Police Department. Under his watch, the NYPD violently clashed with protestors at the 2004 RNC convention, dismantled Occupy Wall Street, shot and killed several unarmed black men including Sean Bell, and ratcheted up stop-and-frisk. But even he thinks that police have gone too far in Ferguson.

From Gawker:

The toothpaste is out of the tube here,” Kelly told Bloomberg News, which interviewed several high-profile police commissioners about the way law enforcement has handled the unrest following Michael Brown’s death. “There’s lots of things that should have been done differently, and you have to live with them.”

Kelly said that it is “mind-boggling” that 50 of Ferguson’s 53 police officers are white, while the area’s population is 70 percent black, and criticized police for closely guarding relevant information, rather than releasing it to the public: “[Information] certainly has the potential for quelling or lessening disturbances. You tell them what you know and tell them what you don’t know, rather than dribbling it out.

Yeah, it’s that bad. 

Sybrina Fulton Writes Moving Letter to Michael Brown’s Family

Sybrina Fulton Writes Moving Letter to Michael Brown's Family

Sybrina Fulton knows about anger. She knows about grief. And she knows how it feels to bury a son while the world is watching. As Trayvon Martin’s mother, she’s become an outspoken advocate for victims of gun violence since her son’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman. She wrote a moving letter in Time that detailed what Brown’s family can expect now that their loved one has become a high profie victim of gun violence:

Facts, myths, and flat out lies are already out there in Michael’s case. Theories, regardless of how ridiculous, are being pondered by the pundits. My advice is to surround yourselves with proven and trusted support. Through it all, I never let go of my faith, my family, or my friends. Long after the overwhelming media attention is gone, you will need those three entities to find your ‘new normal.’ Honor your son and his life, not the circumstances of his alleged transgressions. I have always said that Trayvon was not perfect. But no one will ever convince me that my son deserved to be stalked and murdered. No one can convince you that Michael deserved to be executed.

But know this: neither of their lives shall be in vain. The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light. I would hate to think that our lawmakers and leaders would need to lose a child before protecting the rest of them and making the necessary changes NOW…

Read the entire letter over at Time.

Jesse Williams on Ferguson: ‘We Are Not Treated Like Human Beings’

Jesse Williams on Ferguson: 'We Are Not Treated Like Human Beings'

Actor Jesse Williams spoke all sorts of truth about what’s happening in Ferguson this morning on CNN. Jezebel put together some of his most pointed statements:

“We also have to talk about the narrative and making sure that we’re starting at the beginning. You’ll find that the people doing the oppressing always want to start the narrative at a convenient part, or always want to start the story in the middle. This started with a kid getting shot and killed and left in the street for four hours. I’ve never seen a white body left in the street for four hours in the sweltering heat. The cop doesn’t call in the shooting, the body isn’t put in an ambulance, it’s shuttled away in some shady unmarked SUV.

There’s a lot of bizarre behavior going on and that is the story, that’s where we need journalism. That’s where we need that element of society to kick into gear and not just keep playing a loop of what the kid may have done in a convenience store. That’s unfortunate, if that happened, that’s going to be factored in, like it or not. But we need journalism to kick in and start telling the story from the beginning, this is about finding justice for a kid that was shot, an 18-year-old that was shot, period.

This idea that because he stole a handful of cheap cigars, what’s that $5? I’ve lived in white suburbs of this country for a long time, I know plenty of white kids who steal stuff from a convenience store. [There’s] this idea that every time a black person does something, they automatically become a thug worthy of death when we don’t own drug crimes. We’re not the only ones who sell and do drugs all the time. We’re not the only ones that steal and talk crazy to cops.

There’s a complete double standard and a complete different experience that a certain element of this country has the privilege of being treated like human beings, and the rest of us are not treated like human beings, period. That needs to be discussed, that’s the story. That’s what gets frustrating for people — because you don’t know five black folks, five black men in particular, that have not been harassed and felt threatened by police officers. You can’t throw a rock and find five of them. We’re not making this up.”


Olivia Pope’s Daddy Just Had a Very Good Weekend

Olivia Pope's Daddy Just Had a Very Good Weekend

Joe Morton, the actor who plays Olivia Pope’s father on ABC’s “Scandal,” just won a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor. From The Hollywood Reporter:

When my category came up, I looked for a door marked ‘exit,’” joked Morton from the stage, acknowledging that he didn’t expect to hear his name.

Backstage, Morton expressed his appreciation for the award: “It’s an incredible feeling to have been in the business this long — this is the first time I’ve been up for one of these things. And given who I was quote unquote up against, it’s terrific.”

He added: “My head is in the clouds somewhere, and my feet are trying to touch the ground.”

Papa Pope don’t play.

(h/t The Hollywood Reporter)

Uzo Aduba Wins First Creative Arts Emmy for ‘Orange is the New Black’

Uzo Aduba Wins First Creative Arts Emmy for 'Orange is the New Black'

The Creative Arts Emmys happened over the weekend and “Orange is the New Black” won even more critical praise. The awards show isn’t the televised Emmys ceremony that we’re used to — those happen next month — but focus on more of the technical aspects of making TV.

Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on “Orange is the New Black,” took home the award for outstanding guest actress in a comedy. 

(h/t US Magazine)

One Year Later, Justice Remains Illusive for Islan Nettles

One Year Later, Justice Remains Illusive for Islan Nettles

This past weekend marked the one-year anniversary of Islan Nettles’ savage killing in Harlem. Nettles, a 21-year-old transgender woman, was beaten while walking near her home with friends on August 17, 2013 and died in the hospital days later. Police have been mysteriously silent about the investigation into her death, and no has been charged in her murder.

Shortly before her death, a man was charged in her assault, but those charges were later dropped. Another man has since come forward and claimed responsibility, but he says he was too drunk to remember exactly what happened. While the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said last November that they’re still “aggressively investigating” the case, Nettles’ supporters are tired of waiting. 

In an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Michael Silverman, executive director fo the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, spelled out some of the frustration. “It’s been a year and there has been little visible effort spent on finding justice,” Silverman wrote. “For the transgender community — scarred by a long and difficult history of violence and an often uneasy relationship with law enforcement — the vacuum of information makes reasonable community members question whether or not resources are truly being directed towards this investigation.”

The Anti-Violence Project, a New York City-based advocacy organization, published a statement marking the anniversary and showing that Nettles’ death wasn’t an isolated event. 

In 2013, twelve transgender women of color were killed throughout the United States,’ AVP wrote. ‘Since June 1st of 2014, we have lost five more. 

‘This is an epidemic and it’s one that hits close to home: in New York City, transgender and gender non-conforming people reported violence at increasing levels (up 21% from 2012). This violence has a specific impact of transgender people of color:  74% of all reports of hate violence came from people of color.’

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‘Support Darren Wilson’ T-Shirts Have Sold Out Near St. Louis

'Support Darren Wilson' T-Shirts Have Sold Out Near St. Louis

Amid the chaos in Ferguson, there are plenty of people who have come out in support of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown more than a week ago. There’s a Facebook group called “Support Darren Wilson” that had more than 14,000 likes by Sunday, August 17. These supporters are rallying around what they believe is an injustice done to WIlson: “This page only for Support of Officer Darren Wilson! He was doing his job! To protect and serve! no trash here you will be banned!”

Supporters also rallied outside of KSDK, St. Louis’ local news station. T-shirts baring the message “Officer Darren Wilson — I stand by you” were on sale for $7 and reportedly sold out.


Mystic’s 13-Year Journey Toward ‘Beautiful Resistance’

Mystic's 13-Year Journey Toward 'Beautiful Resistance'

It wasn’t the allure of another Grammy nomination or the possibility of teaming up with hip-hop heavyweights Kanye West and Mos Def that brought Mystic back to music. Instead, it was a professor at U.C. Berkeley, where the 39-year-old rapper is working toward finishing up a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. In the middle of a lecture about global poverty and the role of artists in facilitating social change, she broke down in tears and then sought advice from Professor Ananya Roy about what to do next. Roy’s advice: Keep making music.

That’s at least some of the story of how, 13 years after her debut solo album “Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom” spawned the hit “The Life” and earned her a BET award nomination for best female hip-hop artist, she’s on the verge of releasing her second album “Beautiful Resistance.” It’s a journey that’s had detours and pit stops. She met and buried her father, became committed to arts education, appeared in a few films, worked on the business side of a major label and went back to school. Each experience gave her perspective, some of which appears on the new album, which she began as a protest to George Bush’s re-election in 2004. “I wasn’t interested in the music business,” she says of the time between albums. “I wanted to create music freely and on my own.”

I spoke with Mystic by phone about the new album, which will be released digitally through W.A.R. records on August 26.

Tell me about what’s been happening since “Cuts for Luck.”

After “Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom” was released and the original distributing label folded, I went over to DreamWorks. We were going to re-release the album with new tracks on it with people like Mos Def and production from Kanye, Donelle Jones and other folks. Then DreamWorks was absorbed into Interscope, which was disheartening. I actually fought through a legal battle to get released from my contract. When I was finally released from my contract, I wasn’t really interested in taking meetings with other labels that were interested. People were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, but there was nothing wrong with me [laughs]. I just wasn’t interested. It had been heartbreaking watching people lose their jobs.

That was around 2003 or so, and I also decided that I really wanted to go back to school. I had dropped out of high school at the end of 11th grade, got my GED, and began working with children when I was 17. I always dreamt about opening a community arts center and elementary school in Oakland. So I entered into community college in about 2004 and fell into love with anthropology. I was still engaged with art here and there. I did stuff for a couple films, but really I was dedicated to school. I also started to record the “Beautiful Resistance” album around that time. That’s how long ago this album was started, and I know that specifically because the title track was written after Bush stole his second election.

Were you still making music during this time?

While I was in school, I continued to record the album with [producer] Eligh. I’d go over and we’d work on music and I would go home and study. I was kind of balancing it all. I graduated in 2009 with an A.A. in anthropology, with honors. I was also working in the music industry on the business side of Universal Music, which was a fascinating experience. I got to learn about how the business works from the inside and obviously the digital aspects of the music industry, which were really growing.

Tell me about when you decided to finally release the album.

I got to Berkeley and one of my first classes was Global Poverty with Ananya Roy. She’s an amazing professor and researcher, but in one of her later lectures during the semester she started talking about what she called “insurgent architects.”We were talking about them about them in the context of the I.M.F. and United Nations, people who work from within institutions to help facilitate and create change even though those structures may not support the progressive kind of change that they think will be most impactful. She just talked about how insurgent architects could be anywhere, and they could include artists. I cried during the lecture, came home and sent her an e-mail in which, for the first time, I shared that I was an artist. I shared a couple songs and she wrote me back saying, “You gotta keep making music.”

How did you react to that?

It created this shift within myself where I saw that it was possible for me to be a full-time student and pursue tools to be of greater service to children around the world, but also to be an artist and come back and try to use the platform to advocate for children and basic human rights issues. Here we are. I finished my first year at Berkeley. That’s kind of a journey. I wasn’t interested in the music industry, the business. I wanted to create music freely and on my own.

Your music has always centered around activism. It seems like you made this conscious decision to engage in that activism in a way that wasn’t been recorded and shared with fans, which is as important as anything else.

Exactly. I don’t know that it always fits within the music. That’s why I think of the platform that the music provides me. It’s not that I don’t think that people would respond to it or I don’t feel like sharing that part of myself. It would be a little bit more challenging to write lyrics that are about designing curriculum, but I think that whatever the album is after “Beautiful Resistance” — there will be one and it won’t take 13 years — we will begin to see more in my music what I’m learning at Berkeley. I’m able to listen to this album and songs like “Country Road” and know that at the time I was taking an African-American studies class and we were looking at slavery. Then in a song like “Payback,” I can tell that my references to Ancient Rome are because I was taking a Western Civilization course. I think being introduced to wider theoretical frameworks at Berkeley will definitely show up in my music in the future.

What strikes me is that a lot of the album is very California in tone. You have what’s probably one of the more unique Californian experiences in that you’ve literally lived all over the state, including the actual Northern California. How did your experience growing up and living in different places in the state impact your music?

Most of my life has been in the Bay Area and I say I’m from Oakland because it’s where I became a woman and discovered myself. But I was conceived in Berkeley, my mother took me to U.C. Santa Cruz with her when I was in kindergarden. That was in 1980 or so and it was the kind of environment where people believed that children have voices and I got to be around all these awesome students who were critical thinkers.

Then we lived in Visalia where my mom was working for the Legal Aide Society with farmworkers on water pollution issues; that was obviously a different experience. It was a part of California that was racist and my mother was very concerned that I would internalize that racism as a black child. Then we went to San Francisco and lived in the Mission District. I’ve just grown up around diverse people in California. But I think definitely the Bay Area has made me who I am because of the natural resistance and rebellion that exists here.

You open and close the new album with tracks with “mommalove” in the title. Can you talk to me about tapping into that energy? On “Cuts for Luck,” one of the most popular songs was “Fatherless Child,” so that seems like a little but of switch.

The intro “Mommalove” is actually a poem by a young woman who’s also an amazing artist named Emoni Fela. Emoni and I connected via Myspace and she’s become a daughter to me. To journey with her from the time that she was about 15 or 16 to being a young black woman in this country has been beautiful but also challenging. She calls me Mommalove, and I call her Lil’ Mama — and I was calling her that before the artist Lil’ Mama blew up, no disrespect. I asked Emoni if she would write a poem and she wrote one about our relationship, mentoring, sisterhood, and the connection between women and young women. I made this intentional decision to put it first on the album because I was thinking that if nobody knows anything else about me, they will have a look into this beautiful, powerful relationship that I have with this brilliant young woman. The closing track, “Love, Mommalove” is a spoken word piece from me to her. 

But describe the shift, because it’s very palpable on this album.

There is a shift on this album. The song “Higher Ground” is a reference to my mother. The only references to my father on this album are in “Clean Paper” which is about me coming to understand that love is not supposed to hurt. I was having these behaviors where I would wait for these men and I was hurting inside. I had to love myself and examine how my father’s absence in my life was impacting my romantic relationships. I think having my father come into my life right around when I was signing my [deal], that’s why it was so present on the first album. I was also in my 20s and still processing that. I’m still on a journey.

But in the time since then, I’ve really grown into my relationship with my mom, who was the primary person who raised me. She showed me what it is to be dedicated to the community; she taught me how to be a black woman. Even though she’s a white woman, she gave me the books, the inspiration to really love my identity. I’ve come back to her and realized that I’ve put her through painful things, so “Higher Ground” is an apology to her.

J. Cole Honors Mike Brown, Releases New Song ‘Be Free’

J. Cole Honors Mike Brown, Releases New Song 'Be Free'

J. Cole has a new song out that speaks directly to the rage following Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson. The track is called “Be Free” and features cover art of the widely circulated social media image of Brown’s body sprawled on the sidewalk after he was shot and killed by a police officer. On it, J. Cole sings his painful plea: “Can you tell me why/every time I step outside I see my niggas die?/ I’m letting you know, that it ain’t no gun that they make that can kill my soul.”

Cole released a written message with the song: “Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black. I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free - Cole”

Within the first 6 hours after it was uploaded to Soundcloud, the track has been played more than 62,000 times. 

Vigils Sweep the Country to Remember Victims of Police Violence

Vigils Sweep the Country to Remember Victims of Police Violence

Thousands of people took to the streets of American cities on Thursday night to remember the victims of police violence. They hoisted the names of images of people whose youth and blackness made them targets: Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin. And they wondered aloud if they, or their brothers or cousins or best friends, would be next.

The events represented an almost unprecedented degree of quick-thinking online organizing led by Feminista Jones. Protestors took to the streets of cities like New York, Chicago, Oakland, Denver and Decatur to stand in solidarity with residents of Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb that’s been awash in demonstrations and police violence since an officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown last Saturday.

Here are some of the images from last night’s vigils.

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