Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 5 Recap 'Nobody Beats The Biebs'

Photo: Guy D'Lema/FX

"Oh I know who you are. You're the guy who shot someone." So says a local reporter to Alfred as he attempts to woo her with promises of trips to Benihana's, before she shoots him down, saying she's not into the whole "gangster thing" as she smiles away and continues texting on her phone.

The conversation happens early on in "Nobody Beats The Biebs," which manages to further explore the nature of celebrity while throwing in some good old fashioned racial politics for good measure, and is a telling moment. His music aside, much, if not all of Alfred's notoriety has come from that convenience store showdown, and has grown from a simple (if violent) altercation to a tale of Paperboi blowing some dude's brains out. Yet is somehow ol' boy is free to participate in charity basketball games.

Speaking of which, Alfred, with Earn is tow, is super excited about hitting the court with a roster that includes Jaleel White, Lil' Zane and Lloyd, telling Earn he's sure he'll make MVP. No shade, but Alfred strikes me as one of those dudes who treated every P.E. basketball game like it was game seven of the NBA finals, screaming for the ball while he waited at the three point line and nearly getting into a fight before bell time because someone was "foulin' too much." But that could just be my 8th grade trauma talking.

Anyway, close to game time, Justin Bieber--who in a Louie-style twist, is black in Atlanta's universe--strolls into the building with entourage in tow. He quickly proves that, not unlike the real-life Biebs, he possesses a boundless capacity for acting a straight fool, going on a one-man assault of assholery that includes smashing his hand into the face of the same reporter who spurned Alfred's advances, and taking a pre-game piss in the hallway.

Alfred's not amused, and that, mixed with his own competitiveness, culminates with he and the Biebs tussling on the hardwood. But just like his real-world counterpart, Justin redeems himself with a few shallow gestures; a paper-thin apology, flipping his hat forward, getting religion and debuting his latest single, all under the space of five minutes. A head-shaking Alfred makes one last play for the reporter who's bopping along to the Biebs' latest jam, but she summons her inner Andre 3000 and offers a word of advice: Play your part P-Boi, play your part. "People don't want Justin to be the asshole. They want you to be the asshole," she says. "You're the rapper. That's your job."

It's hard to disagree with her. The same qualities that make folks squirm at the ATM are also the ones that allow Alfred to get into a stupid fight with a teen heartthrob or shoot a guy at a convenience store and emerge relatively unscathed. That's a confining box to be placed in, but most celebrities' public personas--rappers perhaps more so--typically consist of one or two defining characteristics. As Alfred's profile rises, he has to decided whether wants to embrace that role (even more than he already has) or decide to push back against it.

Meanwhile, Earn had his own good day that went sour courtesy of Janice, a chain-smoking manager who mistakes him for a former co-worker named Alonso and invites him up to the press room. Earn wisely keeps his mouth shut about his true identity and works the room, taking cards (of course he doesn't have his own)-and possibly making some legitimate headway for himself and Alfred.

Little did we know that Janice was simply lying in wait (or waiting until that fifth to drink kick in--hey oh!), as she launches into a rant about how Alonso betrayed her and sold her out to Gayle--fucking Gayle!--and how she plans to lay waste to his miserable little life. Earn tries to come clean, but is met with an order to "wipe that sharecropper's smile" off his face before she storms off, declaring she'll sure make he dies penniless. Aw, its fun to make random, racist-ass enemies.

Darius' story was disconnected from Earn and Alfred's plot wise, but it certainly fit thematically. With presumably nothing better to do, Darius decides to head to the local shooting range, choosing his firearm and getting two boxes of ammo. So far, so good, at least until some of the other customers realize the target Darius is popping caps into is a dog.

A couple of rednecks march over to Darius and tell him he can't shoot dogs, to which Darius responds by asking why human targets are more appropriate.  A Middle Eastern man (one who came more than a little stereotypical I might add) jumps in and comes to Darius' defense, citing the dog lover's Mexican target, but no matter. Kids like dogs, dogs' lives are always more important than humans', so shooting a target of a dog is morally reprehensible. So sayeth the rednecks. Soon the owner comes in, points a gun at Darius and tells him he's got to go.

Why the store owner needed a gun to tell him that I don't know. I guess calm, slightly quirky but non-threatening black men are some scary motherfuckers.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 4 ‘The Streisand Effect’

Photo; GuyD'Alema/FX

I said it in my recap of Atlanta’s series premiere, and I’ll say it (or write it, whatevs) here again: fame’s a helluva drug. Paper Boi/Alfred got his first hit of the spotlight narcotic in “Streets On Lock,” when his convenience store altercation and time spent in lock up made cops and mothers alike ask for selfies and earned him a box of the good lemon pepper wings.

“The Streisand Effect,” spends its running time examining the flip side, as well as the way social media has made celebrity—any type of celebrity—within reach of just about anyone willing to exploit themselves and others in the name of likes. This is embodied by Zan--or as the hashtag hat he gives to Darius reads, #ZanStan--a social media junkie and all around douche who accosts Earn, Alfred and Darius for Instagram and Snapchat pics and possible musical and sneakies (baby shoes for adults…yea) collaborations.

After Alfred gives him a gruff brush off,  Zan launches an extended troll campaign against him and if you’ve perused social media anymore than a nanosecond, you know what comes next—Youtube rants, Vine videos, the works. It’s enough to make a Paper Boi go postal, and Alfred tracks down Zan at his pizza delivery job to confront him and/or beat that ass.

“I scare people at ATMs boy. I have to rap,” Alfred brusquely tells Zan as he rides along with Zan and Quentin, his “business partner,” a foul-mouthed little boy who immediately needs to be snatched up by social services, because whoever let him ride with Zan needs those parental rights snatched.

But I digress. Alfred dismisses Zan as poseur who doesn’t care about rap. But from everything we’ve seen and heard from Alfred up to this point, his attitude toward his burgeoning music career is more as a hustle than any personal, artistic pursuit.  Zan correctly points out that as much as he’s exploiting Alfred’s notoriety for his own benefit, Alfred is exploiting his own circumstances to justify being a rapper. What’s also left unsaid but lingers in the background is the way hip hop culture has pulled from Asian culture, a fact hinted at in both Alfred’s and Earn and Darius’ story lines.

That said, there’s a big damn difference between trying to become a rap star and bolstering your rep with small-time drug dealing and filming a random little kid you took on your delivery route being robbed by a grown-ass man, as Zan does, all with a gleeful lack of fucks to give. A disgusted Alfred gets out of the car and walks away. The takeaway?  Zan’s a douche. Don’t be like Zan. Don’t encourage real-life Zans by liking/watching/retweeting the idiotic things they post. Message!

In other news, Earn continues to be broke, leading him and Darius on a magical adventure to that cesspool of bargaining and quiet despair known as the pawn shop. Having had several adventures to said place myself, I did an inner fist pump when the shop owner offered $190 for Earn’s phone, then a literal face palm when Earn decided to trade it for a Samurai sword Darius had his eye on for the promise of more money.

Darius keeps his word, trading the sword for a dog, and then giving said canine to another man, who’ll pay them when the dog breeds and has pups…in September.  “Poor people don’t have time for investments, because they’re too busy trying not to be poor,” Earn rants, a valid point that temporarily made me feel some pity for his latest foray in fuckboydom. Darius gives Earn his phone, calls them BFFs and all is right with the universe.

At least until tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 3 Recap: 'Go For Broke'

Photo: FX/Guy D'Alema

Poor Earn. Literally. Atlanta's third episode, the aptly titled "Go For Broke," concerns itself with the perennial question "where dem dollas at?" They sure as shit aren't in Earnest's pocket, as he's been reduced to attempting to order a kids' meal from an employee who's all about the P's & Q's of corporate policy. You know the kind, and clearly Glover and Co. do too, as the worker's switch from super serious minister of fast food protocol to bright and cheery "sure!" when Earnest asks for a free cup of water was disturbingly accurate.

But I digress. Like last week's "Lock Down," this episode splits Earnest and Alfred/Paperboi up early on and follows the two cousins down the rabbit hole of their respective days. For Earn, that means scraping together enough coins to take Van out of on a fancy date, while Alfred and Darius hope they simply survive the night after a trip to visit his drug connect goes decidedly to the left.

The series' two-part premiere revealed early on Alfred was a street pharmacist, and Alfred himself made it clear he was less interested in being a kingpin and more in just paying the bills. However, in the wake of his recent brush with fame via a convenience store shooting, his day job is becoming more precarious. What as supposed to a routine re-up trip with Darius turns into a journey to the center of the forest. No sooner than they roll up than guy pops out of the dope boys' RV in his da dun di das (a.k.a. undies --Urban Dictionary also cites da dunts da dunts, so take your pick), begging for mercy. The guy in charge lets him put his clothes and make a run for it before grabbing a firearm and killing him.

Later, the shooter questions why Alfred is suddenly ordering more than usual, but luckily Earn breaks the tension by calling and asking for $20 to help pay for his dinner date. Though he leaves unscathed-physically anyway--Alfred is visibly shook up by what he witnessed, which may have him rethinking his cousin's glib suggestion he "just try not to die."

Earn's story contained no such life and death elements, but when you're forced to bicker with recently promoted day managers about kids' meals and have only $67 to your name on payday, it's hard not to feel like the walking dead. The two-part premiere dropped hints that, early-morning pillow talk aside, things are coming to a head in Earn and Van's complicated relationship. They technically aren't together, but Van obviously  hasn't pushed Earnest firmly into ex-boyfriend territory either, given that he's living in her place and she bailed him out of jail. Yet she's also openly dating other guys. 

Their dynamic is the classic dreamer-pragmatist. As a creative person myself, I can relate to Earn when asks Van why he has to compromise himself in order to be provide for his child. But, as someone who doesn't have crumbsnatchers but does have bills, I can also lift up my hands from the amen corner when Van responds to his "support my dream for the sake of our child" speech with a succinct "that's some dumb-ass shit Earn," and give a holy "yaass" when she calls him out for "turning me into the angry black woman" when she expresses understandable exasperation with his man-child tendencies. The clock is ticking on how long Van will indulge Earn's aimlessness, a countdown that may have started with his dropping out of Princeton but definitely began when they became parents.

The episode ends with Earnest calling to report his debit card stolen while cursing the taste of champagne. Ah, never change Earn.

Other Thoughts:

--Darius insists on handcuffing himself to the briefcase containing the money, because why wouldn't he?

--The lead drug dealer that shot down random dope boy all The Most Dangerous Game style also mentions he's part of a rap group, which makes me think Alfred hasn't seen the last of him.

--"You smell like work. Is that kush?"

--I could be reading too much into this, but was there some subtly commentary going on with the close up shots of random dead dope boy's feet as he ran through the forest in the dark--i.e. like a runaway slave--and Earn and his co-worker's earlier quip about his lack of funds being like 12 Years A Slave?


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 1 & 2 Recap: 'The Big Bang/Streets On Lock

Courtesy: FX


In its hour-long, two-episode premiere, Atlanta does a stellar job of introducing us to the both the series' namesake city and its protagonists.

Pilot "The Big Bang" sets things in motion with a literal bang, as a car door mirror being broken by a passerby quickly escalates into a shot being fired by Paper Boi, an underground rapper who's starting to get a little heat locally. Rather than milk that moment of potential "that's so gangsta" drama for all its worth, Glover, who wrote the episode, works his way backwards, showing the comparative ordinariness of Paper Boi (who's real name is Alfred) his friend Darius, and cousin Earnest's day up until that point.

We quickly get a sense that Earnest "Earn" Marks is a man lost at sea. A Princeton dropout-turned "technically homeless" slacker who works at the airport and currently lives with his on again, off again girlfriend/mother of his child Van, he see his chance to possibly change his life when a co-worker shows a clip of Paper Boi's latest single. Alfred quickly gives him the brush off when he brings up the idea of managing his career, both because of Earn's personality ("I need Malcolm. You too Martin," he says) and because Earn hasn't come around since Alfred's mother's funeral. Yea...these two are gonna have issues. Earnest manages (no pun intended--well maybe) to get into his cousin's good graces by getting one of his songs on the radio via payola, which leads to him hopping into Alfred's ride and being present when mirror-gate kicks off.

"The Big Bang" does a great job establishing the show's world and its comedic and dramatic sensibilities, from the offbeat, hilarious conversations Earnest, Alfred and Darius have about using rats as phones and Earnest's creepy interactions with a guy who may or not be on the bus he's riding with his daughter to its cinematography, which captures Atlanta in a way that feels both naturalistic and surreal.

But "Streets On Lock" is when Atlanta really starts to show its cards. The aforementioned shooting incident makes the local news and lands Alfred and Earnest in lock up for disorderly conduct, with Alfred being bailed out early while Earnest has to wait to go through processing. Through their respective days, the episode makes subtle comments on fame and the way a small, pretty inconsequential event--yea, Alfred shot the dude, but this was hardly a 50 Cent, shot nine times situation--can grow into something bigger; for every Gucci Mane-loving cop and free box of good lemon pepper wings--with blue cheese dressing!--he gets for being "that nigga,"by a newfound fan, there's the odd stranger mean-mugging him or weirdo showing up to his door in a Batman mask.

Later Paper Boi sees a little boy imitating him and watches as his mother tells him not to play with toy guns--a warning that sadly, carries extra weight in a post-Tamir Rice world--and earns her hostile shade when he awkwardly introduces himself. Until she realizes who he is at least. Then its all smiles and more photo-ops. Fame's a helluva of drug.

Meanwhile, Earnest gets a lesson in lockdown, as he watches a frequent jailhouse resident and obviously mentally ill man get cracked across the face by police after he spits toilet water in one officer's face. Like some of Alfred's interactions, it's played for laughs until its not, as is the treatment of a man and his ex Lisa , who's a trans woman a fact known to everyone but him. Earnest tries to offer up a live and let live perspective ("Sexuality's a spectrum,") but it's shouted down amid cacophony of "nigga you gay!" reactions. As Michael Arceneaux noted, being that the ATL is pretty much known as the black LGBT capital of the South, it's a little hard to believe this guy wouldn't know Lisa was trans. Perhaps it was more a case of the lady protesting because her tea hath been clocked. But kudos to the show for broaching the topics of homophobia and transphobia anyway.

In the end, Earnest gets bailed out by Van, and tries to blunt the severity of her side eye by saying one day this will be a funny story they'll laugh about when their daughter's older. That's probably assuming everything works out for them, which, given Earnest's track record for fucking up so far, doesn't seem that likely. But fortunately, the same can't be said for Atlanta.

Other Observations:

--A quick two cents on the white boy nigga situation: the show makes the point--one that I agree with--that the reason Dave is comfortable calling Earnest a nigga is because he doesn't him as threatening the same way he does Alfred and an older black co-worker. But I'm hoping at some point Earnest will come for that ass.

Watch the first episode below.



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lazarus Rises Again...

Photo: Weird Rabbit Photography
I know posting has sporadic the past few months, but trust, Mama hasn't been sitting on her ass and filing her nails. I've been wiling the hours away in the studio, working on music for a new album called After Hours. One of those new tunes is "Lazarus," a tech-house track which focuses on the dark side of religious indoctrination, a subject which, if you've perused my musings on religion on this blog, shouldn't be a surprise.

Remixes are coming down the pike soon, and After Hours is set to drop in October. Until then, get into--and download, it's free--"Lazarus" below.

Monday, August 15, 2016

WATCH: Official Trailer for FX's 'Atlanta'



So, the official trailer for the first season of FX's new series Atlanta has been unveiled. The show, which premieres September 6 and is executive produced by Donald Glover--who, if you haven't guessed from all those Louie-esque 15 second promos, also stars in the series--is about two cousins seeming misadventures through the ATL rap scene, where there'll be art vs. commerce clashes aplenty.

According to IMDB, one said cousin is "Earnest 'Earn' Marks," an ambitious college drop-out." Me-thinks that character will be played by Glover...just throwin' that out there. And if the aforementioned trippy promos are any indication, I also think I'll spend part of the premiere going "wait, what?" before slipping to the show's groove.

Check out the trailer below:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Politics As Usual

Hey boys and girls! First off, I ain't dead, it's just this music and artistic shiznit has been taking up loads of my time (more on that in future posts...promise:). And secondly, a new podcast of Bayou Blasphemy is up!

On this episode we talk about the pressure politicians and other figures feel to present a "respectable" public image, one often influenced by religious ideas. Also a recap of DNC 2016, why the military needs a few good women, a niqab-fearing Family Dollar manager, After School Satan Clubs and a pop culture potluck that includes AMC's Preacher (spoilers), Looking: The Movie (again spoilers), Tyler Perry and Oprah's latest creation and southern rock and metal.
 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Diverse Actors Nominated for Emmy Awards




Diversity is the word of the week for nominees of the 2016 Emmy Awards. Eighteen people of color received nods across lead and supporting actor categories, seven more than last year's awards, which featured a historic win by Viola Davis as the first black woman to capture an actress in a drama Emmy for her role as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder.

Blackish received several nods as did its leads Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, along with comedy Transparent, nominated for the second year in a row. Parks and Recreation alum Aziz Ansari and co-creater Alan Yang's superb Master of None--seriously, Netflix and chill that shit ASAP--received four nominations, including best comedy, series making Ansari the first Indian American to snag a major category nomination.

And in "yaas queen!" news, Tituss Burgess received a nominated for his portrayal of Titus Andromedon--star on the rise!--in Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Unfortunately, with the exception of Master of None's Yang, Asian-Americans and Hispanics were largely shut out of the major categories.

Read more about the nominations HERE. 

WATCH: Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade's 2016 EPSYs Speech



Watch the superstar athletes deliver a powerful message about police brutality, the value of black and brown lives and community activism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Food For Thought: Marlon Riggs


Silence kills the soul; it diminishes its possibilities to rise and fly and explore. Silence withers what makes you human. The soul shrinks, until it's nothing.

--Marlon Riggs, activist, writer, filmmaker

Marvin Gaye 'What's Going On?" Documentary In the Works


A documentary on the life and career of legendary R&B singer/songwriter Marvin Gaye has been confirmed.

The film, which will cover his early life in Washington D.C. to the creation of his seminal 1971 album What's Going On' --which FYI, helped irrevocably change the course of soul music with songs about political unrest, poverty and racial tension--is the first to get the approval of the late star's family, who will contribute never-before-seen archival footage from his three children and former wife. The documentary will also feature interviews with Motown's biggest stars.

 "We look forward to participating and sharing what we can through friends, family, photos, footage and priceless stories that only those who knew our father up close and personal would know, as well as his contemporaries, purists and fans who have studied him and his art over decades," Gaye's children said in a statement.

The documentary is slated for release in 2017.

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