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Posts Tagged ‘Q-Tip’


It’s late in the evening here, and I’m up thinking. Given the fact that I am a long time nocturnal creature this is not an unusual occurrence. I picked up my unusual sleeping habits during my time as a New York club kid. As I write this, these are what would have been prime time club going hours from another era. Back in the day when New York was a seething cauldron of cutting edge street fashion, all night dancing, and young girls with long legs in short skirts, I was on the guest list of every club in town.

Some of this reminiscing has been prompted by my decision to return to the Soul City area after having been away for nearly 20 years. Soul City was the place where I was born and raised. It’s the place where Clyde Otis, the first black A&R man to work for a major record label lived and raised his children. It’s the place where “Wicked” Wilson Pickett, the great midnight shouter lived while he recorded a string of history making hits for Atlanctic Records. It’s the place where The Isley Brothers lived, and where I began my career in the music business at the legendary Sugar Hill Records.

A wise man said that it’s better to have good groove and no money than to have plenty of money and no groove. I concur. Obviously, music has played an enormous role in my life, and it has sustained me when nothing else could. The path that was paved with hits has led to a gig with Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio, and for the past year and a half, I have served as an announcer on Q-Tip’s Abstract Radio Show. On Tip’s Friday night mix show, my voice is the first one you hear. Apple is the dominant music and technology firm of the current moment, and I am honored to be a part of their team. 

Normally I introduce Q-Tip or a guest DJ with a bit of copy that I have written for the purpose of providing the drama of aural theater. Later tonight, at our usual starting time of 10:00 PM EST, I will be the in studio host for a Soul City Takeover of Abstract Radio. In a moment of sheer lunacy, Q-Tip has decided to let me both choose the music and narrate the mix. Our esteemed producer Lady Chellz, will be on the 1 and 2’s spinning Soul City classics with new music liberally sprinkled throughout. Chellz and I will endeavor to keep it funky for you for two hours, and of course, we can be heard on better devices everywhere exclusively on Beats 1. C ya on the radio.

insideplaya 

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I got a text from a friend yesterday morning. She’s young, beautiful and talented, so young that she was really a baby when George Michael rose to prominence. She wanted me to know that she thought he was corny in a New Kids On The Block kinda way. She had no idea how hurtful she was being. When a true Soul Man dies all of us in the community feel the loss. She knows a lot about music so her opinions are usually informed, but in this case, she just hasn’t been around long enough to know that George Michael was one of the most special artists who broke through during the MTV era. Michael benefitted from the star making power of MTV and along with Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Duran Duran, Culture Club and a few others, he became a poster boy for the music channel’s ability to make household names out of pop stars.

My friends Nile Rodgers, Mark Ronson and Q-Tip all shared their condolences and shock over the superstar’s loss through social media. My old collaborators from the New Jack Swing days, Al B.Sure! and Keith Sweat paid tribute on their Facebook and Instagram accounts as well. Because you see, George Michael was a Black Thing.

I first heard George Michael’s music in 1984. Well, truthfully, I’d heard him just a bit before, but I started to pay attention in 1984 when Michael was fronting kiddie pop duo Wham. At that time, his appearance was more important than his sound, but Wham’s second album featured an anthemic slice of slick working class pop funk called “Everything She Wants”. Michael’s gruff pleading with a girlfriend who wanted more than the narrator could give had an appeal to a twenty something kid on the hustle with, two jobs, a demanding girlfriend, and an ambition to rise to the heights of the music industry. I loved that track.

Soul Music had taken a hit that year. In the spring, Marvin Gaye had been shot and killed, and I was walking around in a daze, but I kept pushing on. I was working in a small but important independent record shop in New York’s Greenwich Village. Vinyl Mania was the name of the store, and it did a brisk business in imported, independent and domestic major label dance music that was driven, mostly, by what underground overlord Larry Levan was spinning at The Garage, the Village hotspot that influenced two subsequent generations of dance club culture around the world. That was my part time job. For a day job, I worked at ASCAP identifying songs and their uses. The import 12″ single on “Everything She Wants” was a hot seller for us. On WBLS, the heritage Black FM outlet owned and controlled by the Inner City Broadcasting Group, “The Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker had a grip on progressive Black listeners, but a threat arose to his dominance as 98.7 Kiss FM began to reach out for Frankie’s younger listeners by playing early hits from the fledgling Hip Hop industry. Frankie rocked “Everything She Wants”.

Ed Koch was the mayor of NYC, and he’d let the police run amok; they’d killed an unarmed Black graffiti artist named Michael Stewart, and a Black grandmother named Elanor Bumpers was shotgunned to death in her own apartment. Ronald Regan was in the White House, and he oversaw sinful deregulation of the financial and banking sectors that resulted in the Savings and Loan industry being gutted, and he ignored the rising body count from AIDS until it was almost too late. Funding for programs to help the poor, the vulnerable and the victims of AIDS was slowing to a trickle that never quite made it as far down as it had been advertised to reach.

It was with all of this as a backdrop that young George Michael – a working class kid from Margaret Thatcher’s England and a proud son of disco – began his assent in the game. Yes, disco: the derivative of funk and soul that sprouted up out of New York’s Black, Latin and Gay underground and became the music of the outsider looking for a way in. This often derided music was perfect for Michael’s worldview, because he was an unabashed celebrant of Black Music and his funkiness was obscured by his looks, his glibness and a uniquely potent gift for pop song craft.

While Michael was experiencing the peak of his success he was never fully appreciated. Much like the early Beatles – Wham/Michael was dismissed as a disposable pop group for young girls, but “Everything She Wants” sent a signal to the R&B and Black Pop markets that this kid was coming to get his and that he would be disruptive while doing it. Later, when his song writing became more introspective, he ran afoul of corporate politics, and he rebelled against the big money string pullers who would have had him release the same formulaic ditties that made him a phenomenon. Michael was thought to be too pretty and too slick with his writing to be taken seriously and his deep connection to the Black Music tradition was overlooked.

Before the tabloid headlines, the police entrapment, the forced outing, the near death accidents and trials with addiction, George Michael suffered the burden of the beautiful when he split with Andrew Ridgeley, his Wham bandmate, and embarked on an historic run as a solo artist with the release of the title track from “Faith” a rockabilly workout that smashed around the globe. If you only saw the video or didn’t get the album you may have missed “Monkey” or “Hard Day” the two funk joints on the album, or the subtle and soulful begging on “Father Figure”.

But I was in the Black Music business that George Michael was a factor in, and I witnessed this: Grandmaster Flash destroying a dance floor at the original location for The China Club – when it was a hangout for the best session players in The City – by cutting up the bass line from “Freedom 90” back and forth. Regional representatives from two major labels (one of whom had gotten Madonna’s “Material Girl” added to rotation) arguing with the PD from Kiss FM on the merits of adding Jam and Lewis’ remix of Michael’s “Monkey” to the station’s playlist, and the PD ignoring their objections to put the fifth or sixth single from “Faith” on the Urban powerhouse’s airwaves. The dance floor of The Garage packed and getting busy to Wham’s “Everything She Wants”. Stevie Wonder crooning a duet with Michael from the stage of the “World Famous” Apollo Theater. George Michael performing all covers including McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” backed by The Sounds of Blackness at Madison Square Garden.

Yes, George Michael with the Patrice Rushen loops, the Gap Band interpolations, the James Brown samples, the Aretha Franklin duet, the Mary J. Bilge duet, the Stevie Wonder covers and big churchy choruses that screamed freedom out of radios and televisions was a Black Thing. The older he got the blacker he sounded. He became an avatar for Gay Pride and a vessel for those who remembered when Soul Music was a means for protest. He used the fashion business to promote his sound by casting Christy Turlington, Eva Herzigova, Tatijana Patitz, Linda Evangelista, Beverly Peele, and Hip Hop’s favorite dinner date, Naomi Campbell in his videos. He shone a bright light on the AIDS crisis and gave away tons of money to charitable causes. He kept it funky while doing it all and reminded us to listen without prejudice. I loved his music. I do not think that his dying exactly ten years to the day that we lost James Brown was coincidental. He’s probably somewhere trying to show James how to rock one of those slick Italian suits that he used to wear. He made a mighty contribution to this thing of ours. For this I am grateful.

insideplaya

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The Ab is the abbreviated name of The Abstract Poetic, another fly pseudonym for the player more widely known as Q-Tip, the leader of A Tribe Called Quest. We work together on Apple Music’s Beats 1. He spins and I announce. We’ve got chemistry that we’ve developed over a period of nearly thirty year’s time. 
He called yesterday. Hearing from him is not the most unusual occurrence in and of itself, but he’s been busy lately – mad busy. Monday he and his fellow band mates shot a video, Wednesday night they had a listening party in Queens, and yesterday he was rehearsing for an appearance in support of Dave Chapelle’s first shot at hosting Saturday Night Live. The SNL gig jumps off tonight.

While he was on the phone, he had to pick up another call from Jonah Hill, and he’d already heard from Bradley Cooper. Rick Rubin texted his congratulations. Nas checked in, Alicia Keys and L Boogie checked in. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Rev. Run of Run/DMC checked in. All of this uptick in activity and interaction with these film, comedy, soul and Hip Hop headliners has been prompted by yesterday’s release of the sixth and last album from A Tribe Called Quest “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” the band’s first record in nearly twenty years. And the first one since the heartbreaking and sudden death of Tribe cofounder Phife Dawg, from complications due to Diabetes last spring.

“We Got it from Here… ” is on fire, and showing early signs of penetrating the public’s consciousness by receiving commercial acceptance in a way that is rare for records in these times. In an earlier era, you could easily track the success of a new release through radio air play and retail sales. Now, the online radio community, Soundcloud, You Tube, streaming, unauthorized downloading, file sharing and the rest have diminished the ability of record companies to quantify the success of their product. Even so, early indicators are that the record is already top ten in sales in eighteen countries (without the availability of a physical CD), and may possibly enter next week’s pop chart at number one. Epic Records chieftain and Black Pop overlord, L.A. Reid has got a left field smash with significant cultural importance on his hands.

The current political climate has upended the American status quo in a shockingly definitive fashion by unearthing an ugly underbelly of hatred that had been previously held in check. In an effort to reclaim economic and political power, working class whites and a large portion of voting Latinos elected an immature and bigoted political novice to the Oval Office. Blacks, Latinos with sounder political views, Muslims, women who want to maintain the right to choose, gays and people in need of affordable health care all feel less secure than we did at the beginning of the week. In uncertain times the need for solid, dependable ideas, concepts and institutions increases. A Tribe Called Quest is one of those durable brands that we can count on in times of distress to soothe our souls with the healing power of Black Love.

Yesterday at an impromptu retail pop-up promotion in New York’s Chinatown, a line of eager Tribe fans, that went totally around the block in both directions, and met itself at the beginning, began to form six hours before the doors opened. While attending the event, Tip encountered a young woman who was despondent about America’s recent choice for president. She confessed that she’d been considering suicide because of our national folly until she heard “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and now she has the hope to go on.

The young fan is not the only one who has been feeling a little down lately. The record has been giving me life too. It’s dope, game changing and badly needed.  I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of WGIFHTY4YS in various stages of completion for nearly a year. The intensity of the production and performances far outshines anything else in the marketplace right now – Tribe is playing chess while the rest of these kids are playing marbles.

When I visited Tip in September at his home in Soul City, he played a relatively complete version of the project for me over the course of three nights. The majority of the record was recorded in the Ab Lab in the basement of his crib. Based on that first night’s playback, I was so overwhelmed by what I heard that I had to excuse myself and go to sleep. I didn’t have the required stamina to hear that level of sophistication and fury. Subsequent listens inspired tears.

Sonically this record is somewhat undefinable but it is rooted more in a slick Pop/Funk thing that can only be described as the Q-Tip sound. He’s been digging in the crates where the rarest of grooves can be found, but has incorporated. a good deal of live playing that fits his overall concept well. With this record, Q-Tip, the master conceptualist, DJ and MC has stepped forward to the elite ranks of record producers working in music today.

They’re all on it. All the Tribesman; Tip, Busta Rhymes, Jarobi, Consequence, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife. A few friends helped out too; Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Marsha Ambrosious, Jack White, Elton John and a new voice on the record’s tribute to better living through chemistry “Melatonin,” Abby Smith. The group addresses hot topics in the intellectually conscious, insightful, humorous and funky way that has made the band one of Hip Hop’s best of all time. Tip, Jarobi and Phife set the pace from track one on “Space Program,” a demand for the listener to wake up to the pervasiveness of the affects of wealth inequality among other things. Other standout tracks include ; “Whateva Will Be,” a proud display of human and lyrical identity; “Dis Generation,” a tight freestyle with pop potential; “Lost Somebody,” the tribute to a fallen comrade and the b-boy workouts; “Möbius” and “The Donald,” a couple of joints where Consequence, Busta, Phife and Tip rock steady.

It’s been a long journey from the beginning for Tribe. It’s been a path laden with success, disappointment, defeat, death, healing and triumph. A lot of life was lived in the eighteen years that passed in between now and their most recent record. We are reminded that creating great art requires sacrifice and pain. Without it there will be no joy. This record sounds like all of that took place and got poured into its creation. Those eighteen years were time well spent because this is the best Tribe record ever. Get one right away. You can thank me later.

insideplaya

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Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix wanted to make a record together, but Hendrix died before they could get it done. And before his death, Davis was searching for a hip hop producer to cut tracks with. Davis was an adventurous spirit who pushed the envelope until the end, and he was definitely not going to continue to play Bill Evans charts or Cole Porter and Gershwin standards forever – he moved on. At some point, we all have to. I loved the record business of the ’80s, 90s, and ’00s but I’m excited about the way it is now, and I am optimistically looking forward to the future.

As a major label promotion man who eventually experienced platinum level success as an A&R man, I was a reasonably well compensated and high profile participant in what was essentially a manufacturing business that placed ultimate importance on the shifting of the plastic and vinyl that the music was embedded on as its end game. But that’s all changed, even though there’s an upswing in vinyl sales, now the little pieces of plastic and vinyl are being phased out – by the record companies that once all but murdered in order to sell them – so the music itself can be consumed digitally over the web. 

Technology has realigned virtually every critical relationship in the process that begins in the mind and soul of a creative individual – with musical intentions – and eventually makes its way to the end user. Internet and satellite radio are plentiful, and this has all lessened the grip that brick and mortar retail, terrestrial radio and record companies had on the game. With no one to guide, lead, force or promote them, consumers can now find new music on You Tube, on Soundcloud and Mix Cloud. Once they’ve heard it they can download the music legally or illegally from any number of independent digital outlets, underground file sharing services or from iTunes. Or they can stream the music on one of several services. 

I adapted to this new reality; I began to network aggressively on social media, I took several digital subscriptions to consumer publications and read them for news of e-business. I read The Digital Music Report and Pitchfork. I used my extensive knowledge of music, and my collection of over 30,000 MP3 files to program iPods for celebrity friends and others. I read books. I read scripts. I looked for Music Supervision gigs in film and television by using the apps for Hollywood trade publications. I became an advisor to the Universal Hip Hop Museum and suggested that in advance of breaking ground on a physical space, a “virtual museum” collection could be curated and displayed on a website. I became a freelance writer, and an announcer on Beats 1 Radio. I realized I wasn’t going to beat ’em so I joined ’em. Call it gospel, blues, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, trap or Urban it’s all Black Music, and much of it is still the music of struggle, of strength, of joy and pain and I am proud to continue to play some small part in its preservation and it’s exposure. 

Black Music is no longer the sole province of the well dressed occupants of corner office suites located on high floors of Sixth Avenue skyscrapers. The democratizing affect of the Internet has eroded the need for the middle man mentality that impeded the progress of hip hop in its early years, and denied the impact of downloading and file sharing until it was almost too late. Now the music has outgrown the relationship that record companies enjoyed with retail and radio for decades. It’s viral, it’s infected everything and everyone in its wake, it’s global. It’s bigger than the radio, bigger than spins, bigger than anyone who induced spins for a living. 

For the entire summer of 2010, leading up to the release of his Dark and Twisted Fantasy project, on a weekly basis, Kanye West previewed early mixes of each album track on Twitter, for free, before he dropped the completed album in the fall. During the promotional set up phase of the project he went to the home offices of Google and Facebook to perform selections from the album. When the record was released he went to number 1 on Billboard’s Pop Albums Chart. Beyoncé no longer turns her record into her record company or services radio with a single, she now shoots a long form video, plays it one time on HBO, and for a limited amount of time, she now makes the album exclusively available through Tidal – her husband’s streaming service – waits a bit, puts the record up on iTunes for downloading and goes to number one. She then embarks on an extensive Black Lives Matter influenced tour and sells out football arenas across the nation. And Frank Ocean, after feeling unappreciated by his record company, fulfilled his contractual obligation to the label by releasing an album exclusively through Apple Music, and then bought his way out of his deal, digitally released another record the following week with no radio, no set up, and no warning and entered the Billboard chart at number one. Clearly things have changed. The artists are no longer playing the game the way it had been played before. They’ve started a league of their own. 

Now the music is in the The Roots Picnic, The Made In America Labor Day jump off and Afro Punk. It’s in the fourth season of the Yeezy fashion collection, it’s in the bespoke sartorial splendor of Nile Rodgers’ gear, it’s in the startling world wide success of Straight out of Compton, it’s in the deal that Apple struck with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, it’s in Barack Obama’s voice as he sings an Al Green classic from the stage of the Apollo Theater. It’s Q-Tip going to the White House. It’s in the Hotline Bling, it’s in the Bad Boy Reunion Tour, the Netflix series, The Get Down, the 50 Cent produced, STARZ series, Power, the deeply sarcastic and brilliant humor of Donald Glover’s FX series, Atlanta. It’s Rhianna covering Vogue, it’s in her Work. It’s in Revolt TV. It’s in the bohemian hood funk of Anderson .Paak, the songs of freedom of Gregory Porter and the sweet and low sexiness of Kandace Springs. It’s Amy Schumer telling Charlie Rose that Obama’s summer playlist is cool because it includes a track from D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar album, it’s in Chris Rock’s Top 5 MCs, it’s Black Thought and ?uestlove rocking with Adele on The Tonight Show. It’s in All Def Digital. It’s in the prose of Colson Whitehead, Bryan Stevenson, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Heather Ann Thompson. It’s Kendrick Lamar illustrating the genocide of over incarceration on stage at The Grammys. It’s in the bold swagger of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, it’s in Common’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, it’s in Meshell Ndegeocello’s moving score for Queen Sugar. It was on the CDs that Alton Sterling was selling, it’s in Formation, it’s in your Lemonade, it’s in this essay, it’s everywhere. Can’t you feel it? 

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Q-Tip

Q-Tip’s co-manager, Kim Lumpkin confirms that Tip has received an invitation to the White House via the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to address the winners of Thursday’s National Student Poets Program. This will be the fifth class of student poets to be honored by noted hip hop head and long time ATCQ fan, Michelle Obama along with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as well as the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Always keeping it arts and crafts, Tip, the host of Apple Music’s Beats 1’s Abstract Radio Show was recently named the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Hip Hop Culture, and is maintaining the Native Tongue tradition of mixing progressive politics, conscious thought and rhyme.

The five students who will be honored are Stella Binion of Chicago, Maya Eashwaran of Alpharetta Ga., Gopal Raman of Dallas, Tx., Joey Reisberg of Towson, Md. and Maya Salameh of San Diego, Ca. Tip is expected to speak to the young poets and presumably offer encouragement and insight to the creative life. While discussing Thursday’s event with the playa, Kim Lumpkin asked, “How dope is that?”

We think it’s mad dope.

the playa

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Nina Simone was way ahead of her time. “What Happened, Miss Simone?” the new Netflix documentary – that went up on the site this weekend – clearly depicts this fact. Oscar nominated, Liz Garbus and producer/music industry vet, Jayson Jackson have come up with a tale of art, power, pain, and sacrifice that has lit up the independent film festival circuit and is a must see.

Simone was a bi-polar, bi-sexual, genre defying artist/activist, whose career arc began as a child prodigy in the Black church. While growing up in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, Jim Crow was master of all he purveyed. But in spite of this, Nina’s obvious talent attracted the attention of white patronage and tutelage. Eventually, aspirations were stoked within the young artist’s soul for a career in classical music. The dream of glory on the stages of the great European concerts halls, playing the compositions of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms was dashed, when racist thinking prevented her acceptance into a prestigious Philadelphia based music school.

Young Nina found hope and opportunity nonetheless, and began to pursue a career as an Atlantic City nightclub singer. Notoriety that she received from this period led to a recording contract and the release of her smash rendition of Gershwin’s standard “I Loves You Porgy” and a stunning debut at the Newport Jazz Festival. What then appeared to be a promising career as a jazz influenced standards singer was redirected by the bombing death of four little girls in a Birmingham, Alabama church, the assassination of Mississippi activist, Medgar Evers and Nina’s eventual participation in a civil rights movement in full swing.

With all of her standing in the international creative community, she chose to fight for the rights of her people. Nina’s commitment to change, to justice and to better may have caused her to lose millions. The radicalized Simone performed for marchers on the eve of the Selma protests, hung out with James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes and became the next door neighbor of Malcolm X. Simone’s defiant expression of Afrocentric creativity not only planted seeds for the eventual emergence of hip hop, but found supporters and followers in a nascent feminist movement that has flowered into a serious presidential candidacy for Hillary Clinton.

Last February, when John Legend received his Best Original Song Oscar for “Glory,” his collaboration with Common, from the soundtrack of “Selma,” he both quoted and thanked Nina Simone when he said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” Through his music and his work with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Legend has proven to be a creative and political son of Nina Simone’s that she might have been proud of. Along with Talib Kweli, J. Cole, Jigga and Q-Tip, Legend has risked commercial acceptance by raising his voice for justice.

The recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and Charleston remind us that the struggle that Simone was engaged in is not over, and that lessons from the past must inform our fight for a better present and a more hopeful tomorrow. Revolutionary activist, Angela Davis has contributed liner notes to a forthcoming compilation album, “Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone” that has been inspired by the film, and that will feature five new vocal performances from Ms. Lauryn Hill. Davis wrote this of Simone, “I first heard Nina Simone’s music as a high school student in the late 1950’s in New York. Although her name did not yet by itself evoke black freedom, as when she later sang “All I want is equality/ For my sister, my brother, and me,” I do not think that I was alone in feeling that something in her phenomenal voice beckoned us toward the battle to come. It was from Nina Simone that we learned, for example, how not to interpret the tactical importance of nonviolence as mitigation of our collective anger against racism. Thus “Mississippi Goddamn” became as important an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement as “We Shall Overcome.”

On this last weekend of Black Music Month, and while we fight to reform an unjust system that must be reminded that Black Lives Matter, it might be instructive to watch “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and remember how much further we must travel before we overcome and how hard Nina Simone fought to get us here.

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LeBron James

The phone started ringing early Thursday afternoon. My fellow Knicks fans had been checking in all week either in search of, or to deliver, updates on whether or not scoring stud Carmelo Anthony had rejoined the team for $129million – the expected maximum amount he is due. As of this writing, he is believed to have rejoined the team that is now being rebuilt in the image of 13 time World Champion Zen Master, Phil Jackson. The day before, Ed Eckstine, former president of Mercury Records, called to say that another World Champion Laker expat, Rasheed Hazzard has joined, new head coach, Derek Fisher’s staff as an assistant coach. Rasheed is a champion that I have watched develop and grow since he was 12 years old. Along with other members of his extended family, I am proud that my old friend has joined the team.

But something else happened on Thursday: Jayson Jackson, former manager to Lauryn Hill, who long time readers of this blog may remember as “The Epicurean” called with stunning news, LeBron James announced that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers and leaving the Miami Heat. The basketball world is reeling.

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Q-Tip

For two weeks prior to the announcement, my good friend, Hip Hop legend, Q-Tip insisted, in private conversations with me, that James would be returning to play in Ohio, the state of his birth, and to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the organization where he began his professional career, when he was drafted out of high school as the number one overall pick in 2003.

Tip and I spoke about this several times, and I grew increasingly more and more dismissive with each mention, “C mon son, who moves from Miami to Cleveland by choice?” I went on, “There has never been a major free agent signed by the Cavaliers.” And, “Who in their right mind would move to Cleveland from Miami after they’d already lived in Cleveland?” Tip grew more and more subdued as I became more emphatic with my dismissals of this preposterous notion. But he remained confident.

Every year, My Beloved Knicks are an important lens through which I see much of the world during the months that begin shortly after Halloween and continue on until a couple of weeks past Memorial Day. Since the Knicks haven’t made a deep playoff run in fifteen seasons, in order for my passion for the sport to be fueled, I have had to broaden my view, and pay more attention to the league as a whole by watching the development of other players and organizations. As a result, I have seen situations that have illuminated race relations, class disparity, labor relations, cultural issues of importance and business practices.

Based on recent developments, I believe that we are witnessing events that are forming a paradigm shift and a watershed moment in the history of sports in America. During the NBA playoff season, Donald Sterling, the former controlling owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, engaged in a conversation with his jump off that, unknown to him, was digitally captured and shared with the world. While he was giving his young paramour the benefit of what he’d learned about how the world works; he went on and on about why she shouldn’t be photographed on social media platforms with Blacks, why she shouldn’t invite them to his games and how Magic Johnson was unfit for her to be seen in public with.

By making the recorded conversation available on the worldwide web, TMZ broke the sensational scandal on the day before my birthday in April. This initiated a chain of events that resulted in; the NBA stripping Sterling of day-to-day control of his team, Dick Parsons, an outstanding corporate executive of color being installed as the interim CEO, it caused sponsors to withdraw their support, catalyzed the Clippers players to threaten a boycott of the playoffs, prompted President Barack Obama to weigh in from a trip abroad in Asia and the NBA’s best, most visible and most important player, LeBron James stated, “There is no place for anyone like Donald Sterling in our league.” “Our league,” he said. Sterling – who is litigious to the extreme – is currently involved in a court battle with his wife that, when settled, will determine whether or not she has the right to sell the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for the inflated price of $2billion and if Sterling is mentally competent. Last week, reportedly, during court proceedings, Sterling was inexplicably absent one day, and on another, referred to his wife as a “pig”.

Back to the lesson at hand: With the heightened media interest that accompanies the NBA free agency period, Thursday afternoon, in the midst of all of this activity, professional basketball proved once again that on the whole, it is a game played for and by progressives, when LeBron James announced that he was leaving the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In an exclusive announcement for Sports Illustrated, among many reasons given, James explained that, “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People, there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

I’ve seen James play live, during his senior year, in a high school showcase game, that was played on the campus of UCLA, and the summer afterward in Magic Johnson’s Mid Summer’s Magic charity game at the Staples Center. I was impressed by his combination of size, speed, agility and passing ability. It was obvious he could score, but he wasn’t greedy – he passed shots up to get teammates the ball. This is the essence of LeBron James: He often sacrifices for the good of others.

Thursday when the news went public. J. A. Adande, the sports correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and ESPN credited my man, Q-Tip with breaking the story on Twitter when he Tweeted, “Q -Tip did kinda win this” RT@QtipTheAbstract: Man all y’all who was acting like I didn’t know what it was w lebron check my timeline.”

Despite Miami having summer 10 months out of the year, young hot ass Cuban girls with thongs, beaches, food, close proximity to the Caribbean, nightlife and no state income tax, James made the choice to change teams. Why would you leave Miami to go anywhere else? Never mind Cleveland. So I called Tip, to pay respect for his obvious insight, and asked, “What made you think LeBron was going home?”

The legend said, “I don’t know. I keep my ear to the street. Basketball is not just a game, it’s a community, it’s about grassroots, it’s about getting knocked on your ass and getting back up. I hear rumors, but you have to process who’s said them. I heard a few things from credible sources, and I believed them. So I went with it.”

When I asked him, “Why do you think he did it? Obviously there are his reported reasons, but why do you think he did it?”

He responded, “LeBron is a Soul Man from a Soul town. The area of the country he’s from is having it rough right now; people are being deprived of water in Detroit, Black on Black murder is rampant in Chicago, Cleveland has some of the highest unemployment in the country, he (James) has always tried to be a beacon.”

James himself said about the move back to the Cavaliers, “But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

I also asked Tip if he knew of other athletes that reminded him of James, “Of course, but they are from different eras; Bill Russell was an activist for social justice and a freedom fighter. Arthur Ashe, Curt Flood… Billy Jean King used her status to fight for gender equality, and who could forget Muhammad Ali?” He went on further, “During the Trayvon Martin tragedy, he (James) led his  team in protest. He’s a special dude. He’s blue collar, his mother raised him right.”

Frank Cashen was the General Manager of the New York Mets during an exciting period in the franchise’s history. He made a distinction between sports fans and customers: fans root, customers buy tickets. I’m basketball people. My mother played, and coached. She put me in the loop during Bill Russell’s last active season, and then the next one, My Beloved Knicks won the watches. I played and have friends all over the country that I have met through the sport. I have seen over 400 live games in the NBA. It is in my blood. With this latest move by LeBron James, he has validated my belief that sports can unite like very few other human endeavors, and for a little bit, maybe restored the faith of a few of us in the possibility of America. Great move by a great guy that has warmed my heart and made me smile. This season, I hope the Knicks beat his brains in.

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