Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Your Black World Speaks To Sportswriter Dave Zirin

Interview with Award-Winning Sportswriter, Dave Zirin, by Tolu Olorunda.

Dave Zirin is an accomplished sports-writer and author. He has written several books including, "What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States," and "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports," and "The Muhammad Ali Handbook." He is a frequent columnist for The Huffington Post, The Nation Magazine,, SLAM, and the Los Angeles Times. He also runs the weblog, "Edge Of Sports." Zirin makes regular appearances on Sports-radio shows and political talk-shows, to further his gospel of outlining the chemically imbalanced relationship between Sports and Politics. Dave Zirin has been called "America's Best Sports Writer" by Lee Ballinger of Rock & Rap Confidential. He was also described by Chuck D of Public Enemy, as a "rare breed." Dave Zirin is alongside many other things, an activist and a staunch opposer to the death penalty. He has an upcoming book, entitled "A People's History of Sports in the United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play." He is a brilliant, concise and gifted columnist, with a passion to recover the lost art of edifying sports coverage. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Dave on issues of race, class and tribalism, in the realm of professional Sports:

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Zirin; it is indeed an honor and a pleasure. Can you start by informing us of your literary background, and your journey toward becoming - as described - "America's best Sportswriter"?

That’s very kind of you. Well, I'm a sportswriter by trade; I worked for a couple of very small-town newspapers in the state of Maryland, after a period as a public school teacher in Washington, DC. One of the newspapers I worked at is the only African American-owned Newspaper in Prince George's County -- which is a majority African American County; it was - and is still - called "Prince George's Post." My boss there gave me a lot of freedom to write the kind of sports column that I wanted to write, which was one that delved into issues of the politics of sports. So I owe that a great depth, because it allowed me to try to discover my voice, tone and how I wanted to communicated my ideas. And I wanted to communicate the ideas of political resistance through sports, as well as the idea that we could love sports, while still practicing the art of political resistance. And that was very encouraging, specifically because it was an African American-owned Newspaper that dealt with the issues in sports that affected the Black community. And that allowed me to explore a different layer of politics as well. And like many writers, I owe a debt to the internet, because I was able to then post the articles online and find the readership which I'm very grateful for; because otherwise, the sports writing racket is very difficult to break through, because there are very few jobs in the mainstream press who feature this kind of work.

Now, a lot of people first got in contact with your brilliance, wit and intelligence, after "What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States." Can you speak on the significance of Muhammad Ali in the political as well as athletical stadium of this country and even the world at large?

Well, Muhammad Ali has of course been a premium inspiration to me, because I write about the coalition of sports and politics, and to me, there is no more bold and contradictory expression of that, than the heyday of Muhammad Ali. I mean in the 1960s, you had the heavyweight champion of the world, with one foot in the Black freedom struggle and one foot in the anti-war movement. He became the most famous athlete in the world, and the most famous draft-resister in the history of the United States; I mean, this is profound, and what I enjoy exploring is how people reacted to him at the time, because we've so sanctified Muhammad Ali in the years since -- sort of the way we've made Dr. King a Saint. We've put people like Malcolm X and Paul Robeson on postage stamps, and what we do in that case, is extract their political teeth; and we forget what it is that made them so bold, so dangerous and even so hated back in the day. And Ali is somebody who of course is still alive, but he's lost his voice, through Parkinson's Disease, and I like exploring that period of the '60s, because Ali was somebody who just, very brilliantly, walked with the rhythm of the different struggles; and this is why you have Ali as such a Giant in the '60s, but much less of a political force in the '70s and '80s -- because he really did rise and fall with the rhythm of the moment. But then again, that is something that is fascinating about Muhammad Ali; because he wasn't just shaped by the 1960s, he also shaped that era. He was a "shaper."

You're most noted for decoding the science behind the intertwining of sports and politics in our culture. Can you elaborate on that?

Well, I think it so important, and we might not like it, but it is just the fact that more people watch ESPN than C-SPAN. And more people listen to Sports-Radio than listen to NPR. And if we recognize this as a fact, then we have to ask ourselves this question: Are people just wasting their time by looking at sports, or is there something of value in sports, that's worth relating to and understanding? I think there are two very important reasons why we shouldn't be dismissive towards Sports fans. Firstly, because I think Sports is beautiful, Sports is Art and Sports is Human expression, and a lot of people are attracted to it for these kinds of very elemental reasons. But the second reason is that I think often times, you have some very dynamic, very interesting important political discussions in the world of sports, and I think sometimes, you have a more honest discussion about racism - when people are arguing about Barry Bonds, and if Michael Vick deserves a second chance - through these shadow-issues, than in regular political talk radio or political discussion. I also think we're taught so much in this country that Politics is just what happens on Capitol Hill; yet Politics are in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the Sports we play.

You've written extensively on athletic activism: Going from Jackie Robinson, to Muhammad Ali, to Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, to early Michael Jordan, and many others. Can you speak more to that effect?

Well, I'm a big believer in the James Baldwin quote, where he once said that "America is the country devoted to the death of paradox," -- in that America often tries to put people in a little box. So, if you're an athlete, that's all you get to be; if you're a teacher, that's all you get to be; if you shovel ice-cream for a living, that's all you get to do. And athletic activists are transgressing that, and they're willing to say, 'NO, I'm not just a body, I'm also a brain;' 'I'm not just an entertainer; I have something to say, and the right to say it.' Far too many athletes feel like they've signed away their right to speak and to have political ideas -- whenever they sign that contract.

You had an article earlier this year, in which you berated the inability of Tiger Woods to speak out eloquently against the racially-inflaming remarks of the Golf channel pundit who made the "lynching" remark. Do you think there are corporate forces that muffle the political voices of big-name athletes; and can you dissect that phenomenon -- especially in light of the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and reports of crackdowns on protests?

I think you asked a very interesting question. I think for most athletes, there is certainly a corporate muzzle, a muzzle of the media and a muzzle of team-ownership. But when an athlete transgresses and speaks their mind, there's always the ability to be as bland and homogenized as can be -- so that muzzle does exist. But with respect to Tiger Woods, he's part of a very select group of athletes, who actually have power within the corporations that sponsor them, and if he wanted to say something against what Kelly Tilghman of the Golf Channel said, or concerning any injustice in the world, his corporate sponsors like Nike would be lining up to applaud him, and that's because of the powers he has, and there are very few athletes with that individual power. And with Tiger Woods, he often uses the language and symbolism of the Civil Rights movement in his ads, and if he does that, people have a right to demand responsibility from him, to step up to the plate and be part of that tradition.

How do you perceive the WNBA, and do you value it as a sincere and substantive attempt at athleticism?

I certainly do, and I always tell people that the WNBA can't be judged by the same standards of the NBA; it’s a different kind of sport that's run a different way. It is played much differently than in the NBA, and people who are more interested in the heart of team-basketball will find that the WNBA is equal to the NBA, but still remains a different kind of game. I do think it's a sincere effort to reach a very under-reached demographic: Women sports fans. And through the WNBA, men can go to the games with their daughters now. I also think it has become a whipping post for many Sport writers who choose not to engage with it, because it's such an easy target.

Did you watch the brawl last week, and what is your assessment of the remediations that followed?

Well, people got hurt in the brawl, and what it tells us more than anything, is that the games are very intense.

Dr. Boyce Watkins; Syracuse University Professor and NCAA Watchdog, as aggressively tackled the motion of the non-payment of athletes in the NCAA games -- especially during the March Madness season. He believes that the NCAA is obligated to pay the players - or at least the parents - if they are willing to pay the coaches and the administration. What is your assessment of that philosophy, and do you share similar sentiments?

I do share that sentiment, because the players are producing wealth, and coaches get 6-figure contracts just for wearing the shoes, and the players run up-and-down the court like little billboards and some schools even put star players on special VISA cards -- where you can use the card to get discounts on school merchandise. It's an exploitative type of situation, and I also think that when players don't get that fair share, something dynamically bad comes out of it: They go into the gutter. And that's where you see players being offered money under the table, offered women and offered drugs. And part of that happens because it is an illegal economy. And it also has an eerie echo to slavery and the plantation -- with the privileged slave being involved in sporting events, and offered women who we're treated like objects. But in reality, they were still slaves.

Can you explain the "The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports," as highlighted in your highly-informative book, "Welcome To the Terrordome"?

Well, the "The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" - to me - is all rooted in what framed the book; and that was Hurricane Katrina. Because in Hurricane Katrina, you saw the Pain of Sports -- as the only place the dispossessed residents were able to find shelter was in a publicly funded Dome. So money had been going for 30 years into the Louisiana Superdome, while there was no Emergency Shelter and no money for Emergency Evacuation; and so it speaks to the horrible priority that existed more broadly in that system over the last 30 years. It also speaks to the Politics of Sports, and you need to have a sort-of political approach to Sports, to see the interweaving of Hurricane Katrina, The Superdome and the aftermath. But there was also the Promise of Sports, with several professional athletes who made some statements that were far better than anything coming out of Capitol Hill, and among the best of athletes, you still see a kind of instinctive solidarity -- which is very valuable and important. And it is that solidarity and platform which athletes have that I think they need to use.

Your next book, "A People's History of Sports in the US" is due out in just a couple of months. Pls. give us an in-depth look as to what is covered and debated in it?

Yes; its part of Howard Zinn's "A People's History" theory, and it attempts to tell the history of sports in this country, from below -- especially as it was shaped by political factors. So, it's a way of understanding the creation of baseball, by first understanding the Civil War. It's a way of understanding Jackie Robinson, by understanding African-American frustration after World War II. It's a way of trying to understand Title 9, by understanding the Women's Movement and Billy Jean King. So, it tries to look at the incredible dance that's always existed between Sports and Politics, and exposes the hilarious lie, that Sports and Politics, somehow, don't mix.

How can activists generate - or contribute to - the struggle for more courageous display of athletic activism?

That is a terrific question. I think that there are battles in our future. There are going to be battles about the public funding of stadiums, and whether college athletes should be paid, and whether Women will have equal access to Sports, and battles as to the role patriotism plays in Sports. So, it's going to be very important for people to have a working understanding of the way Sports and Politics interact, and we can use the platform of Sports to speak on some of these issues, and reach a broader audience.

Lastly, just last week, a report came out that revealed how you and a few other anti-death activists were spied upon by the Maryland State Police. What is the next step in your fight to combat this 'second coming' of COINTELPRO?

We're going on offense -- to use a sports term. What they did is opposed across the political spectrum in Maryland, and people realize that when you're doing something that is legal and constitutionally protected, they have no right to spy on you. They have no right to spy on you, set infiltrators or take your name down. It was an absolutely, utter, disgusting breach of police power, and we're going to organize against it, and we wouldn't be slowed-down one bit in organizing against the death penalty. And like they say about Civil Rights; either you use them or you lose them, and we're prepared to use our constitutional rights.

Thanks for speaking with us, Dave Zirin.

Watch Dave Zirin in action:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dr. Boyce Watkins Speaks On FOX News & NaS

Dr. Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University, joins forces with NaS and Color Of Change in protesting the serial-racist network of FOX News. As noted last week, Hip-Hop Emcee, NaS, alongside Color Of Change and, sent a direct message to FOX News, with the presentation of 600,000 box-full of petitions -- signed by disgruntled viewers and concerned citizens. To Watkins, this is just another symbolic step in the ultimate struggle against all forms of degradation, humiliation and devaluation of Black People. Dr. Watkins urges readers and viewers to harness the potency of this moment, and add unto the fight against Rupert Murdoch and his White House-controlled minions:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boyce Watkins, Jesse Jackson Talk NCAA: LA Times

Dr Boyce Watkins

Quick FYI: I will be on the Jesse Jackson Show tomorrow morning from 8 - 10 am. A list of cities is here.

Some of you know that I have been in an on-going campaign to challenge the NCAA on the fact that they do not compensate the families of college athletes for what they bring to campus. Below is an article I contributed to in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Sunday, there should be a syndicated column I wrote opposite NCAA President Myles Brand on the topic. You know that I am pretty candid in my thoughts (love it or hate it), so here are some reasons I feel that we should be outraged over this issue. I speak on this issue based on my 15 years teaching on college campuses with big time athletics programs, as a Finance Professor who understands how money works, and also as a black male who has seen the devastation of this system up close. Also, as a faculty affiliate with the College Sports Research Institute at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, I made it clear to the director that I intend to pursue the racial element of NCAA compensation inequity. I am not a fan of preferential treatment for athletes. I only want fairness for the athletes and their mothers. I am sick of seeing an athlete generate millions for his coach, while simultaneously watching his family struggle to pay the rent every month:

1) The NCAA extracts somewhere near $1 Billion dollars per year from the black community. The revenues earned by collegiate athletics are on the magnitude of the NBA, NFL and NHL. However, unlike these other leagues, the players are only compensated with a scholarship. Scholarships are valuable, but only a drop in the bucket relative to the money players bring to campus.

2) The NCAA contract with CBS sports for the TV rights to March Madness was worth over $6 billion dollars. This does not include hundreds of millions earned each year in concessions, endorsement deals and other extraneous benefits. This money goes into someone’s pockets, so the question is “Who takes this cash home? Those who earn it, or those on the sidelines?”

3) NCAA coaches in revenue generating sports earn as much as $4 million dollars per year, with a large percentage of that revenue coming from endorsement deals based on the clothing that players wear and appearances that players make on national television.

4) In contrast to the luxury experienced by NCAA coaches and their families, nearly half of all black college basketball and football players come from dire poverty.

5) The NCAA spends millions every year in a massive propaganda campaign. Their goal is to convince the world that paying college athletes or their families would be unethical and impractical. At the same time, many of the arguments they make about player families do not apply to their own families. For example, in the CBS Sports special I was on last year, nearly every single person on the special (Coach K from Duke, Billy Packer, Clark Kellogg, NCAA President Myles Brand, etc.) was earning hundreds of thousands, even millions from athletes, while simultaneously explaining why athlete families should not be paid. That’s worse than Dick Cheney and George Bush sending young people to die in a war that they or their families refuse to fight.

6) The mission of collegiate athletics, unfortunately, is more commercial than educational. Players are admitted to college every year with full knowledge that the player is only going to be there for a little while. Also, athletes are not allowed to miss big games or practice sessions to prepare for exams. Finally, coaches with high graduation rates who do not win games are fired, while winning coaches with low graduation rates are promoted and given raises. This creates poor institutional incentives and leads to a mountain of academic hypocrisy.

7) As an African American, I find it ironic that many HBCUs can’t pay the light bill, yet the NCAA is earning over a billion dollars every year from black athletes and their families. This amounts to a massive wealth extraction from the black community, where some of our most valuable financial assets are being depleted, no different from mining being done in Africa.

8) While one might wonder why the players don’t simply take another option, the problem is that the NCAA is allowed to operate as a business cartel, effectively allowing them to implement nearly any and every rule they wish in order to keep athletes from having other options. This form of operation is due to a political blank check being written by Congress that allows the NCAA to do things that would be illegal in nearly any other industry. The very idea that they’ve warped our minds to the point that we think it should be illegal or immoral to fairly compensate a young man or his family for their labor is simply unbelievable. Players don’t even have the same rights to negotiation that are given to coaches, administrators, or sports commentators, all of whom earn millions from the activities of players on the court.

Personally, I think this is wrong. The article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution is below, and I believe the op-ed is going to be in the Sunday edition (also in the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and some other places around the country). Finally, I am working on a CNN special to deal with this topic. I’ll keep you posted.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Like some of his Boston College teammates, Ron Brace has played the new “NCAA Football 09″ video game. Many of the animated players look and play a lot like the players they’re patterned after.

Brace has one thing in common with every player depicted: he’s not getting a nickel from the NCAA or game maker EA Sports.

EA Sports


Images from the EA Sports ‘NCAA Football 09′ game are derived from actual players, none of whom receive revenue from EA Sports.

· Letters of support: Pro | Con

· What do you think?

He has a problem with that.

Brace, and others, take issue with the fact that college athletes are not paid beyond scholarships and aid even as their efforts earn millions of dollars for the NCAA, schools and coaches at the Division I level. Since the players are the reasons for the revenue, they say they should get a cut.

“It’s like a job. We get up early, work out, meetings, class and practice,” Brace said. “We’re giving up a big chunk of our life. I see no reason we shouldn’t be paid.”

Others say that the value and experience of a college education is the equivalent of getting paid. They point out that many athletics departments don’t make a profit. Paying athletes would make those bottom lines worse.

“Few players truly move the needle in terms of attendance, TV ratings, or merchandising, but it would be like the free agency system in baseball; you’d get a few guys making a lot of money, and others fighting their way onto campus,” Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt said. “I think in the long run, the majority of student athletes would lose in that type of market.

“The idea is to provide educational opportunities for a lot of kids who could not afford one. I would hate to treat the few and leave out the many.”

Paying athletes is a topic that won’t go away because there is seemingly so much money to be had. Consider:

• At least 68 of 119 Division I football coaches have contracts for at least $1 million, according to Seven coaches in the SEC, including Georgia’s Mark Richt, make at least $2 million. Seven in the ACC, including Tech’s Paul Johnson, make at least $1.5 million. To compare, only five coaches in the nation earned as much as $1 million in 1999, according to USA Today.

• CBS is paying the NCAA $6 billion over 11 years to televise its three-week postseason basketball tournament.

• The Big Ten and Mountain West conferences have launched their own TV networks, which are projected to generate millions of dollars. The SEC is considering doing the same.

• Nike and Reebok, among others, negotiate million-dollar deals with colleges for the players to wear their apparel. Georgia receives $1.3 million a year from Nike, as part of a 10-year deal signed in 1999. Tech has deals with various companies, depending upon the sport. In 2006, those deals were worth about $325,000. Tech will announce a new deal with Russell in August that will cover most of its teams, according to assistant athletics director Dean Buchan.

NCAA president Myles Brand defends the system.

“You have to ask yourself why do universities engage in sports?” Brand said. “The answer is because it adds education value to the student experience. It [helps a student-athlete grow] as a person and acquire attitudes and skills that will carry through life.”

Click to Read More.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Open Letter to TV One: Reconsider...

To start with, let me state my unwavering love, admiration and respect for such a dignified and classy woman as Cathy Hughes. She is a pinnacle of inspiration to those who are familiar with her background and history. Cathy Hughes, for those unaware, is an effervescent entrepreneur who created a media empire from the labor of a determined soul. She laid the groundwork of her multi-million dollar company in the ‘60s, and has ever since, worked tirelessly to create podiums and platforms that advance Black thought, Black expression, Black vocalization and Black cultural-freedom. Through her admirable ability to cut against the grain, she has founded two monumental slates, upon which Blackness is appreciated and cherished – Radio One and TV One. Radio one is a company - founded in 1980 - which owns and operates 69 radio stations in 22 American cities; TV One is a television network, launched in 2004, which runs on both Comcast and Direct TV.

With the announcement of its(TV One) commencement, the anticipation of its arrival by the Black Community was overwhelming. It was predicated upon years of disenchantment with Black Entertainment Television, and its 24 hour music video fetish. A Boston Globe article defined it as an “alternative to BET.” Reporter Suzanne Ryan was fully aware of the expectations; she stated “already, some experts have rolled out a wish list that includes documentaries, news coverage and analysis, political commentary, explorations of Africa and its heritage, and the return of beloved series with black casts that failed on broadcast TV.” To the millions of viewers who had grown weary of Bob Johnson’s ‘experiment,’ TV One was viewed as inherently superior to BET. Nevertheless, with the revelation of the scheduled programs for air-time, some worried that TV One might metamorphosize into a house of sitcoms, just like the Viacom-owned BET. Overtime, both Radio One and TV One have received their share of criticism.

Last year, Hip-Hop artist, Jahi, wrote an op-ed in stark-dissent to Radio One’s Spring-Fest artist line-up. He outlined his dissonance saying; “So I pick up the latest issue of Rolling Out Magazine… I go to a page where it says, Spring Fest Miami 2007, hosted by AG Entertainment and Radio One. These are the acts performing live according to the listing: YOUNG JOC, Boy N DA Hood, RIC ROSS, YING YANG TWINS, TRICK DADDY, and D4L… RADIO ONE, owned by a black woman, Cathy Hughes, co signs for this type of concert where many if not most of these artist are talking about the very things "so-called" people want to be changed in Hip Hop… When will Radio One be held accountable for the music they are feeding to our kids, matter of fact, all of us?” In addition to that, TV One’s very own Michael Baisden – host of Baisden after Dark - was last year, caught in a web of his idiocy, as he had slandered a highly-venerated activist group, Color of Change, and accused them of embezzling donations procured for the Jena 6 families. With subsequent revelation of the truth, certain journalists took apart the “Bad Boy of Radio” for his “sleazy tracks” and immoral ambition. One of such was Black Agenda Report Executive Editor, Glen Ford, who was vehement in writing; “Syndicated hustler Michael Baisden, eager to become kingpin of Jena Six fundraising, launched a slanderous campaign against every Black group that doesn't have access to ABC radio's corporate reach... Every word from the junkyard dog's mouth was a lie. By November 9, Baisden was forced to tuck his tail between his legs and issue a half-hearted, disingenuous "apology" to Color of Change.” Such embarrassing stunts by Baisden, a golden child of TV One, cannot be healthy for the network’s reputation. Moreover, with TV One having the moral edge over BET, while ruin it by subliminally licensing the infantile antics of the self-obsessed Baisden after Dark host. These incidents notwithstanding, nothing comes off as more insulting to the moral fabric of the network, as the scheduled “Black Men Revealed” show – slated to premier Sunday July 20 at 10 p.m.

Trailers of the show feature grown Black Men – some of them comics -- berating Black Women -- for the sake of a “keeping it real” agenda. It is still puzzling to me, how some statements of unabridged cultural-retardation - made on the show - passes as acceptable social commentary? Aired clips of the new season feature Black men who detest everything from the color, taste and attitude of Black Women. On the show, a certain comic mentions that "Black Women whether they admit it or not, want to be scared of their men." This barrage of folly - masqueraded as Black Male independent conversation - is nothing but the empty drivel that harms the already decrepit Black Male and Black Female relations. The objective of the show is purported to be an unmasking of the innermost view-points of Black Males; unfortunately, it will undoubtedly send a potentially deadly message to impressionable young black teenagers, if TV One - by promoting the show - legitimizes the vulgar and tasteless commentary of certain guests. Regrettably, it might be too late for any moral retort vis-a-vis the already scheduled aring, but bear in mind that the unity of the Black Community is at this historical junction, very dire, and any accomplice in the disunity of Black folks will be unquestionably rewarded. Please beware that no individual nor institution is above the law of reciprocity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barack Obama's Nutts: Dr Boyce Watkins, Jesse Jackson

Dr. Boyce Watkins speaks on the statements by Jesse Jackson about wanting to cut off Senator Obama's "nutts". Watkins elaborates on Jackson and Obama in this article.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Your Black Brothers: Rappers Determine The Future of Rap Music?

Rap and/or Hip-Hop are often times generalized and characterized as a genre of music dedicated to the degradation of women, the high praise of money, and the inundation of profanity in the lyrics. Too many times have I heard members of the older generation slam the entire genre, calling it a “disgraceful addition” to music as they reminisce about the days when “cats used to harmonize on the block…”

“They say hip-hop is dead…” but the artists that refuse to see it go have done a good job of bringing back the reasons why people loved hip hop in the first place.

Those that kept up the feel of the old-school rappers and their flow include artists and groups like Dead Prez, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, and even Nas or Common. These rappers have floated around since the days of old-school, and have stayed true to the hip-hop they once knew. They keep the issues and lives of black people the focus of their flow.

New age rappers like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco have come onto the scene and done the same thing to a mainstream crowd. Many fall into this category, and I call them the blessing in disguise. They have joined Nas, Common and the others above in the “Talented Tenth” of the rap world- if you will. They speak about issues that are not categorized into the three above stated classifications of rap songs, but still draw the same huge crowds.

I like to read the poetry of Tupac Shakur. There was a rapper that gained respect as both an artist and an educator/author. Tupac was a lyrical genius, with a story to tell in every single one of his songs and poems. Others like Lupe follow that path, and David Banner is somewhat close to being in the same boat- as he often discusses and exemplifies the roles of black men in America.

I respect a lot of artists. Method Man, Redman, Ice T, DMX, Snoop Dogg (although I don’t really like his music), Big Boi/Andre 3000, T-Pain, and many others are exploring their other talents as actors, businessmen and community activists. For all of these reasons, these artists deserve their fame and fortune.

I respect Lil’ Wayne for having the ability to command crowds, and come up with such creative and colorful lyrics. However, I have my reserves about his lifestyle and contributions to the world. Call me crazy, but I think a man with his power should do more with it than just sip syrup and count money.

The unfortunate thing is that rappers who only feel the need to talk about big booty hoes, makin’ it rain, crankin’ that [fill in the blank] and anything else of the sort…still are able to make money. This is where hip-hop and rap becomes almost laughable. How can the world take the genre seriously, if some of its own members don’t take it seriously.

I say hip-hop is not dead, it is just at a crossroads. The smartest rappers are educators, businessmen, and multi-talented people. Those who don’t have the super status of men like Jay-Z, Kanye West, 50 Cent, or P.Diddy need to ask themselves and decide whether or not they are capable of taking on the responsibility, and doing their assumed jobs as contributors to upholding the integrity of black music and the black community.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Your Black World Speaks With GemStones

Interview with 1st and 15th Recording Artist, GemStones, by Tolu Olorunda.

GemStones (formerly known as Gemini), is a recording artist on Lupe Fiasco’s vanity record label 1st & 15th. He was raised in Jeffrey Manor/South C on the South Side of Chicago. In 2007, he shot the video for the first single off of his upcoming album, Troubles of the World called “We On” featuring Lupe Fiasco. He appeared on MTV for “MTV Diary” and in August 2007, he was a “featured artist on MySpace.” In December of 2007 GemStones was featured on Fiasco’s sophomore album, The Cool. He appeared on tracks “Free Chilly”, “The Die”, “Go Baby”, and Lupe’s first single “Dumb it Down.” He recently endured a startling experience, which he aptly describes as his “transition.” He lost over 70 pounds, and picked up a socially-conscientious style of Hip-Hop. A highly articulate and lucid speaker, he claims to still posses the lyrical-velocity that accrued fans in the first place. Fresh off “The Cool Tour,” GemStones is now ready to take his place in the Mainstream. His mixtape, Testimony of Gemstones was released June 20th and his debut album, Troubles of the World is due to drop in fall of 2008. I had the pleasure of speaking with GemStones on his life, his music, and his overall outlook on a broad swath of issues:  

Thanks so much for joining us, GemStones. Can you pls. inform us of your background, past projects and the struggle leading up to 1st and 15th records?

Well, I grew up in Chicago, as a rapper/singer. Originally, I adopted the name, “Gemini,” because Gemini is a sleek personality, so I was double-sided. My negative side was me rapping, and my positive side was me singing. I ran into Lupe (Fiasco) in 2001. I was recording in a studio, and Lupe walked in with the late “Stack Bundles.” At the time, Stack Bundles was also signed to 1st and 15th Records. When he heard my verses, he was so impressed, and before time passed, I was signed to 1st and 15th. I then began putting songs together for a whole year, by grindin’. I was living with a couple of producers, who made beats and offered them to me. After a while, I finally got a record-deal. Then I started recording with Lupe, and then he released his first major album, “Food and Liquor,” and I was featured on almost every song on it. And in 2006, when MTV did the special, “My Block Chicago,” I was featured as the headliner. I also hosted “Sucker Free Sunday.” And then late last year, Lupe released his 2nd album, “The Cool,” and I appeared on about 4 songs. I joined Lupe on “The Cool Tour” where we performed shows in almost every major city in the world. In the middle of the shows, Lupe would stop it for me to showcase my talents, and rock the crowds of sometimes, about 15,000 people. With all that, people began to notice me, and I got a whole page in the Source magazine, and a whole page in XXL magazine. And recently, I just released my major mixtape, “The Testimony of Gemstones.”

What are the lessons you’ve learned - musically and beyond - from working with Lupe Fiasco?

Well, I’m more conscious of what I say now, and what comes out of my mouth. In the beginning, I was just rapping to put rhymes together. I watched Lupe’s music evolve, and as I was around Lupe more, I saw the impact he was having on people, with his new brand. Lupe helped me find my voice; and his influence made it easier for me to find out what my calling was. My lyrics and my rhymes are a lot more potent than they we’re before. I’m still rapping with the same intensity that I was, but I’m just more socially-conscious.

Can you describe the radical makeover that you underwent, with regards to your musical and physical life?

I wasn’t eating good; I was out drinking and smoking, and wasn’t taking care of my body. I was injecting all kinds of toxic into my body -- and destroying it. I was up to 320 pounds, when I had a mild heart attack. I was out with Lupe one night in L.A, when I felt a numbing-pain on my left side, and all I could think of was the fact that I was about to have a heart attack. I thought about how I had survived the hood - with gun-shots and so much more - and how I couldn’t go out from food. After that, I went to the hospital, and got my body back on track. I started eating vegetables, chicken breasts, and drinking water. With regards to my music, I started transitioning from the bogus, negative style of rap I was performing, to what I’m involved with today. But, I didn’t plan for it to happen; everything just fell into place after my weight loss. Before I knew it, I became healthy spiritually, mentally and physically. In the past, I had catered to my fans and whatever they wanted to hear; I had degraded women, and with my mother listening to my music, it grew uncomfortable. With my new self, I wrote songs like “Skeleton” and “Good morning.” I realized that if I wasn’t part of the solution, I was part of the problem, and so I made a 180 degree turnaround.

Why the name-change from Gemini to Gemstones?

Well, I had some legal trouble, where someone already owned the name, so I had to make the fix and change it to Gemstones.

What is your overall perspective on Hip-Hop today - especially in the Chi – which is widely rumored to be the next biggest thing?

I think Hip-Hop will be good. I never thought Hip-Hop was dead, but I also thought it was on life-support. And, with cats like Common, Lupe and myself - keeping it strong when things weren’t going as good - we helped it. It was because of cats like that who didn’t sell out for a dime -- that Hip-Hop never died. And if you notice, things are starting to get better – it’s recovering. In Chicago, we hold the elements of Hip-Hop down. We have always made good music for the soul. I also believe that with my transition, I’ve made a big impact with keeping Hip-Hop alive. Even in the clubs; the music that is being played today, trumps that of 3 yrs. ago. Yet sometimes, I feel that rap has to be responsible for some of the more negative things that happen around us. And, whether we as rappers want to admit it or not, the kids are listening to us. When young girls start to believe that they can’t be lawyers and doctors anymore; that all there is to be is some video vixen, you have to take it seriously. The tongue is mighty, and when we realize that we can speak things into existence, we might become more conscious of our lyrical content. I think that if we could turn the negative to positive, we would become so strong as a people.

What’s your take on Barack Obama, and do you have any criticisms of his campaign?

I say thumbs up to him. It’s good to see a black person in a position like that. We’ve been held back for so long, and for any black person who’s doing something positive, I’m always with it. I wish him the best of luck.  

You come from a rich musical background. In fact, you describe it as being vital in your shaping. As an artist and entertainer; how concerned are you that many public schools are slowly but drastically losing their music programs?

I’m very concerned, and I think that we as adults and entertainers need to step up and step in. We need to put our foot down. As soon as we start doing our job, things would start to turn around; but I’m hopeful that we’ll be alright though. 

Can you tell us about the Testimony of Gemstones – which is your latest mixtape?

The Testimony of Gemstones is me testifying and apologizing to all my fans, who I might have misled in the past. I might have led people to destruction with some of my past lyrics. I don’t know what to call what I do, but it’s not rapping. I’m telling the truth; it just happens to come over a beat. Rapping seems to be ‘just putting words together because they match.’ The Testimony of Gemstones is all about real life and inspiration. I came from nothing, and I’m testifying to everyone who can relate to me, and the subjects that I touch on in the mixtape, are rarely touched on by most of these rappers. Ever since the release, I’ve been getting ‘5s’ all across the board, and people are going nuts over it. The response so far has been amazing, and it is an orientation before my album, “Troubles of the World” drops -- which is slated to drop later this year. I made the mixtape to prepare the public for Troubles of the World. The album is so raw, that I had to ‘dumb it down’ for them in the form of this mixtape. 

Lastly, what advice do you have for aspiring artists and entertainers, hoping to get ahead in the ‘wildfire’ industry of Hip-Hop?

Don’t sell your soul, and don’t ever sell out for a dollar. People chase the dollar and miss the pot of gold at the end of the road. Also, never give up on your dreams – which is the main thing. Kanye West once told me, “to be with greatness, you got to play with the greats.” Lastly, keep God first and stay humble; patience is a virtue, and you can ‘Touch the Sky.’

For more information on GemStones and his latest/future projects, visit:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for