Hip Hop Literati: Talib Kweli Launches Online Book Club

Talib Kweli |Photo Credit: Dorothy Hong

Talib Kweli | Photo Credit: Dorothy Hong

In case you haven’t heard, Hip Hop artist and social justice activist Talib Kweli has started an online book club via his kweliclub.com site. I learned about this while scrolling through my instagram timeline and coming across an image of Kweli holding two books by bell hooks–one of my favorite writers/intellectual sheroes–with the hashtag #KweliBookClub.

For longtime Kweli fans, however, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Kweli has often shared his personal experiences, which include being raised by parents who worked in universities and who instilled in him at an early age an appreciation for books and reading, a sense of cultural pride, and encouraged his constant quest for knowledge. As a teen, Kweli worked at a local bookstore, but his deep concern over the lack of black literature available led him to craft a pitch that landed him his part-time position at Brooklyn’s first Black independent bookstore, Nkiru Books, founded by Leothy Miller Owens.

Talib Kweli at spoken word event at historic Nkiru Books in Brooklyn, NY [circa 1998-99].

Talib Kweli at spoken word event at historic Nkiru Books in Brooklyn, NY [circa 1998-99].

Black bookstores, like the historic Nkiru, have long functioned as safe havens and cultural institutions within Black Diaspora communities across the United States. Some may even remember back in 1998 when Kweli and Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey) purchased Nkiru, which had fallen under major financial distress. Their joint investment and fundraising efforts helped secure Nkiru’s relocation and transformed the bookstore into the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting literacy and faciltating cultural awareness for people of color through a variety of events and programs including literacy projects, hosting open mic and spoken word poetry sessions, lectures/speaker series, and selling titles by African, Latino and Caribbean writers as well as children’s books. IMG_5506

Over the span of his career, now in its twentieth year, Kweli has developed a reputation for more than his off-beat rhyme delivery and introspective lyrics, but is also credited for being one of Hip Hop’s more outspoken sons with a tendency to name-drop in his music, with lyrical references to books such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in “Thieves in the Night,” Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower in “Ms. Hill,” The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois in Gun Musicand The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho in “Mr. International” to name a few. In 2007, poet Sonia Sanchez, whose writings emerged during the Black Arts Movement, appeared on the beginning of “Everything Man” from Kweli’s third solo album, Eardrum.

There’s a reason why a Goodreads book list entitled, “Books Referenced by Talib Kweli” is circulating online. Kweli has embodied hip hop culture and has used his platform to educate, advocate, influence, and to fight against injustice and police brutality.

For fans that have been rockin’ with Kweli since his first appearance on Doom (1997), the debut album of hip hop group Mood; or since his early career collaborations with DJ Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal and with Mos Def as Black Star; or perhaps since his critically acclaimed “Get By” from his debut album, Quality (2003), Kweli has established a distinctive voice and personalized (digital) learning community for his loyal listeners and those who support his career by purchasing his music, apparel, and now books through him directly. No more middle man. After your first purchase, you gain full membership and are added to Kweli’s personal address book, where he encourages interaction:

Imagine me being able to look up every member of my fanbase on my iPhone and actually know who they are on a personal level. This is the dream I’ve always had. To be able to actually recognize you at the meet & greet. To be able to actually know how you were feeling yesterday because I’m following you on Instagram and Twitter. That’s why I’ve started this club.

IMG_5508I remember when fan clubs were simply post office boxes where you could send mail and only hope your letter or whatever you sent reached a certain artist. What a difference technology and twenty years makes.

The #KweliBookClub contains an attractive and well-curated collection of titles, including auto/biographies, poetry, fiction, and plenty of works on Hip Hop. It also includes one of my favorite children’s books, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, literally one of my childhood favorites.

If you’re looking for quality books to add to your bookshelf, from a trusted reader and MC, be sure to check out kweliclub.com and hashtag your #KweliBookClub purchase(s) to share what you’re reading and learning!

~  this post was written while listing to karma by Mood & DJ Hi-Tek ~

Eric Edwards: The Man and His Art

Eric Edwards, Photo Source: Equatorial Guinea News

Eric Edwards, African Art Collector | Photo Source: Equatorial Guinea News

This evening I came across an article by Gothamist highlighting New York-based filmmaker Mark Zemel’s documentary short, The Collectorwhich profiles Eric Edwards, a former AT&T executive and avid collector of African art. More notably, Edwards has amassed (over the span of 44 years) an attractive 1,600 piece collection of African Art, representing all 54 countries in Africa and, according to Edwards, has an estimated value of $10 million.

Along with his African art collection, Edwards has also built an extensive library, which in a 2013 interview with Whatz Up TV, he noted as “just as important as the collection itself because it tells the story of what these pieces represent…and how and why they are so important to us as a people.” In addition to his African art collection and personal library, Edwards has also developed a small-scale collection of baseball cards, antique clocks, and more than 40,000 LPs–all of which are housed in his Brooklyn (Clinton Hill) apartment.

Edwards, who began collecting in the 1970s, is a part of a long tradition of early black collectors such as Arthur Schomburg and pioneers in the Black Arts and Black Museum movements during the 1960s and 70s, including Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs and the Du Sable Museum of African American History in Chicago; The Katherine Dunham Museum in East St. Louis; the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit; and the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in Los Angeles. Their response to racial inequality, blatant disregard and obscuring of black people’s contributions to history by major white cultural institutions was through knowledge production- instilling pride in black communities and sharing the wealth of African American and African history and culture with the public through the creation of museums, libraries, and private collections that, like Edwards, once began in homes, garages, attics and evolved into important black cultural institutions.

It is in that tradition that Edwards, with financial backing, hopes to safeguard his collection with the opening of The Cultural Museum of African Art in Brooklyn sometime in 2016.

Further Reading:

Andrea A. Burns. From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013.

http://equatorialguineainfo.blogspot.com/2014/12/equatorial-guinea-donates-100000-to.html

The Ghetto Tarot

Ghetto Tarot Deck

Photo Credit: Alice Smeets | Artists: Atiz Rezistans, Grand Rue Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The Ghetto Tarot” is a project headed by Belgian photographer Alice Smeets in collaboration with the Atiz Rezistans (Resistant Artists), a collective of Haitian sculpture artists based in Grand Rue, Port-au-Prince, one of Haiti’s most impoverished districts. Elsewhere around the web I have previously voiced my reservations about the project, which I’ll reserve for a separate post. Here, I would like to shift my focus on the artists –their thoughts and contributions– as I believe in their creative license and agency as artists as well as the power of their art to foster social consciousness and change. Their work is critical to our understanding of the world through intercultural communication. As a result, I think more people should get to know more about the vibrant culture of Haiti – it’s history, it’s people, it’s spirituality, and so forth through the voices and perspectives of its artists and people. For this reason I share these artists’ vision and reinterpretation of their life experiences and artistic praxis in the Grand Rue “ghetto” because I, too, elieve in the transformative power of art and understanding.

D’Angelo and the Return of the Black Messiah

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Tonight D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s newest album, Black Messiah, was released through iTunes. If you ever needed proof of Divine timing, this is it. Black Messiah is the first album in fourteen years to be released by the R&B and soul singer. Judging by the wide ranging posts on twitter and Instagram under the hashtag #blackmessiah, D’Angelo fans and music lovers in general are more than enthusiastic and pleased with his latest project.

In the wake of all the events that have transpired in these last months of 2014, following the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice; no indictments for the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this musical project is everything political, poetical, and sensual that we here on planet Earth need to hear and feel.

Black Messiah is indeed the return, no, awakening, of something great and deep within each of us – love and soul.

On Becoming a Foodie, Somewhat

I don’t know what happened once I touched down, but my appetite certainly picked up once here and not in the way I was hoping. LA is noted for being one of the top food cities in America. I just knew that being here would transform my 75% semi-vegetarian/vegan self into 100% clean-eating. Nope! I actually regressed.

LA is not Vegan!

A friend of mine, who is actually a true LA native (which you won’t find that often), suggested I do a food blog. That eating stretch between the end of August through October were off the chain. I feel my discipline kicking in as my necessity for eating everywhere with an ambitious title or menu is slowly fading, I think. However, if I were to do a timeline or food diary it would look something like the following (please don’t judge me):

On Moving to Cali

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –Lao-tzu

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My one-way flight to LA // Photo Credit: Danielle Hall © 2014

On August 21, 2014, my journey of more than a thousand miles began with a one-way flight from St. Louis, Missouri to Los Angeles, California. As I near my 90th day in LA, I feel a bit more ready to share my journey with those interested in reading about it, interested in relocating to California, or anywhere period.

Why California?

You know when you tell people you’re making a major move or life decision, folks like to attribute it to things such as a bad break-up, a new man, a well-paying job, etc. I had none of that! Maybe a few bad memories, but ultimately, I decided to move and did what I could to make it happen.

I do believe in life that God and/or the Universe sends us people or gives us signs and symbols to guide us along. My interest in moving to California was sparked by a dream and two conversations. In the dream, I was inside an airport and received a plane ticket to San Francisco, and that was it. The first conversation I had regarding California was with a professor who was telling me about the culture of the Bay Area and how I would do well there as a creative. The second conversation was with a stranger in a park who asked me if I was from California. Suffice it to say, these isolated events were enough to provoke interest.

I was also seeking more artistic exposure, career opportunities, and ways to develop digital media skills. That’s not to say those opportunities weren’t available in St. Louis, but I’d also been there since I graduated from undergrad- I felt a tad stifled and definitely felt the need for a change of scenery.

The Plan?

IMG_9594Oh yeah, I never had a formal “plan.” The first four months of 2014 I was unemployed and struggling to complete my master’s thesis (which, by the way, is still incomplete). Nonetheless, within that first month of unemployment I pieced together my first vision board, which had several things on it including the Golden Gate Bridge and palm trees. In March, I walked into an AT&T store and changed my phone number from a 314 area code to a northern California area code (yes, you can do that). That act for me was somewhat a physical reminder to myself that my move was going to happen.

Towards the end of April, I was rehired by my former supervisor at Walgreens, where I worked prior to grad school. During this time, I was also looking at job prospects and arts education opportunities in the San Francisco Bay area and came across a program at the San Francisco Art Institute. With no formal arts training, I gathered recommendation letters from former professors, developed a brief portfolio and artist statement, took a chance and applied. To my surprise I was accepted into their Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program in New Genres. I also looked into store transfers, but after the initial email was sent out didn’t receive any responses.

Obviously, since this post is about my move to LA, the whole Bay Area/arts school didn’t pan out as anticipated, for financial reasons mostly. So I’ll skip the extended version of how expensive the city of San Francisco is, difficulty finding a roommate/housing, and the cost of attending art school even after being offered a decent amount of financial aid in grant and scholarships. Once I declined acceptance in early July, I was a bit disappointed, but I wasn’t broken. After a week or so, I reminded myself that this move was still possible and gave my supervisor a list of store zip codes in the Los Angeles area that I could transfer to. She sent out an email and within the hour, she received a reply. Bingo!

Preparation and Transition

My lease was up at the end of July, so I was already in minimalist mode because I hate packing and moving. I had started the process of donating things, giving away and selling items including furniture. By the last week of July all I had was my car, clothes, books, wall art, and other personal belongings. August 1st I was back at home with my parents. I hadn’t heard any more details from the California store so I decided to follow-up with a phone call. During that call, the man I spoke with wasn’t as sure of an opening as in the initial email. After the call, I concluded that the Cali move was a bust. Maybe it wasn’t time after all. I made my peace with living with my parents for a moment; and those California dreams were quickly turning into “maybe I’ll move towards the end of this year or sometime next year.” That is, until that email came through on the 9th or 10th of August stating that an opening was indeed available. I called the store to confirm and they penciled me in to start on August 24th.

This is truly faith and inner knowing in action. Nothing with my move was set in stone. The uncertain got certain, real quick and I only had about 11 days to get my *ish together! I didn’t have a large sum of money saved up (although I don’t doubt that would’ve helped). The point is that when things fall apart they actually, and sometimes gradually, fall into place. I had been conversing with a friend of mine from St. Louis who had relocated to LA about two years prior. Since she had once been in my same position she was eager to assist me with my move and transition to LA life. She has been a godsend for real.

Other Influences

To help my mind stay in positive space I reassured my move in various ways. First, by talking to people who had already taken the plunge. I talked to my friend who had relocated to Texas a year prior with $100 to their name and that friend is doing great. That’s crazy faith and inner knowing. I had found a sista on YouTube, Te’Erika Patterson, who documented her journey from Florida to LA and provided a lot of useful information. I reached out to her and she was actually the first person to greet me upon arrival in LA, which can be seen here.

The Warmth of Other Suns, Literally and Figuratively

warmth of other sunsThere were books that helped me too, like re-reading sections of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and reading about the various journeys to California by African Americans during the Great Migration in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I revisited sections of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and read for the first time, Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive by Bishop T.D. Jakes, which reinforced my own ideas surrounding trusting the inner voice/knowing of spirit and willingness to take risks.

Objections?

Of course! It’s natural. There are going to be family members, friends, and strangers that want to know why you want to move, what’s wrong with where you are, and try to impart some type of wisdom or advice into your life. That person for me was my dad all the way up until the day before I left. Although my mom had questions in the beginning, she came around sooner. My dad is bit more pragmatic and while I valued his reasoning, I knew that deep down the decision was ultimately mine to make. It was important that I stick to my guns, not to prove a point, but to stick with my decision and trust myself.

Lessons On Leaving

I thought flight day would be exciting. Nope! It turned out to be the most emotionally taxing day of my life. My mom drove me to the airport and in true momma fashion she cried. I cried intermittently throughout the flight when I wasn’t napping. What had I gotten myself into? My dad cried before I left the house and I had never seen his eyes well up like that. It was in that moment that I really felt unsure. Like maybe he was right when he suggested Chicago or Memphis, but those cities didn’t appeal to me. Even though I grew up with winter in the Midwest, the thought of Chicago style winters and that brutal wind was a bit drastic for someone who doesn’t like being cold. As much as I love New York City, I wasn’t quite ready for walking NY city blocks in the snow. Besides, all of those places were familiar. I had never been to California and perhaps the unfamiliar is what drew me in most.

Now That I’m Here

LA is definitely an attractive city, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not all glitz and glamour, if you’re looking for that sort of thing. Making LA home requires more work than a little bit and remember, this gal didn’t visit before taking the leap. I don’t regret my move. However, I don’t hate it and I don’t exactly love it either (at least not yet). I’m okay with that. I’m going to take my time. This is a part of my journey and no one can live it for me so in the meantime I’m learning the city and taking it one day and one dollar at a time.

Journey with me!

Remembering Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

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I’m not one of those individuals who says don’t celebrate the 4th, as a matter of fact enjoy it, get you a plate or two, spend time with family, live life BUT never, never forget the price that was paid for us to enjoy even these liberties. The first African slaves arrived in this country in 1619; the Declaration of Independence July 4,1776; slavery was not officially abolished (on paper) until 1865… You get it. So on this day I celebrate one of America’s greatest orators and freedom fighters, Frederick Douglass. This is an excerpt from his speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the American Negro” delivered in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852 to an audience celebrating Freedom and Independence:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

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Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.”