Rough Gabfest Thoughts (The Degrees of Blackface Edition)


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I’ve enjoyed Slate’s Political Gabfest for a number of years, but found that I couldn’t listen after our current President was elected in November 2016. Everything had changed for me, and I feared that nothing would change for the hosts of the show. I enjoy listening to smart perspectives that differ from my own, but I feared that they would be likely to dismiss the unusual nature of our current political status quo. I still subscribe to the podcast and check in every once in a while, but it’s no longer my go-to political analysis podcast (I rely far more heavily on the NYT Daily podcast and Vox’s weekly Weeds podcast for that).

I listened to last week’s podcast over the weekend and was both fascinated and disappointed by what I heard.

The first segment of the show focused on the controversy surrounding top officials in Virginia’s state government, specifically the concerns around the governor and the attorney general’s admissions that they (separately) dressed in black face in the early 1980’s. Governor Frank Northam acknowledged wearing blackface while wearing a Michael Jackson costume during his time in medical school and AG Mark Herring admitted to dressing in blackface while impersonating Golden Age rapper Kurtis Blow when he was an undergrad. This came to public attention when some photos from Gov. Northam’s page in his med school yearbook featuring a person dressed in a KKK hood and an individual dressed in blackface were released (as part of an investigation by a conservative outlet). Gov. Northam appeared to admit that he was one of the individuals in the photo, only to retract that admission and admit that he wore blackface in a different context for a party.

The panelists (the New York Times’ Emily Bazelon, CBS’ John Dickerson and Atlas Obscura’s David Plotz) talked about the impact that the controversy could have on the two officials involved and marveled at the mistakes made by both politicians. The conversation was similar to the ones you probably heard in any number of forums. There was the requisite condemnation and disgust, but that was followed by a conversation that reminded me that many people have trouble appreciating the impact of racism that’s not driven by animus.

The three hosts agree that dressing in blackface is inappropriate, but there is some debate about the distinctions that can be drawn between the yearbook image and the examples shared by the Governor and Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Plotz describes the former as vile and grotesque and the latter are characterized as stupid and boorish, the actions of ‘stupid frat boys’. 

The suggestion is that one is mean-spirited and the other is… not. Maybe an ill-considered celebration of the impersonated artists. “An attempt to honor a cultural figure who you admire.” A comparison is made to (non-Chinese) people who wear traditional Chinese dresses to honor Chinese women.

I can imagine why a Chinese person might be annoyed by a non-Chinese person wearing a traditional garment. I would imagine that they would be even more annoyed if that person applied makeup to make themselves look like a 19th century caricature of a Chinese person.

Neither Michael Jackson or Kurtis Blow have ever had skin tones that one would naturally compare to black shoe polish. “Black” people come in many shades of brown, but none of us are literally black.

The discussion is dominated by Plotz and Dickerson (though Bazelon does condemn the behavior in all contexts). The two men employ the phrases used by self-styled rational/reasonable men – ‘nuance’, ‘context’, ‘continuum’ to unpack the differences between the three situations.

Context is important and I appreciate the value of nuance, but I worry when those words are used as rhetorical shields instead of tools that help us understand a situation and craft a remedy.

Context can prompt us to consider the fact that the two men (from Virginia) chose to use blackface to impersonate musicians and can remind us to contemplate the legacy of blackface minstrelsy.

Nuance can help us think and discuss the subtle power of racism that can accommodate both virulent hatred and condescending affection disguised as love.

We can use models and the concept of a continuum to help unpack different kinds of racism (and identify strategies for undoing racism) without assuming that one’s place on the continuum is perfectly aligned with the seriousness of the behavior.

It’s important to consider the emotions that motivate racist behavior when developing strategies to address racism at different levels, but we should remember that hate and loathing are not essential components of racism, particularly in the United States. We have a long history of racist policies (and practices) created and enforced by people who had no trouble reconciling their affection for black people with a steadfast belief that we were inferior and less human. Scarlett loved Mammy, but never considered her a full person. Racism isn’t always grounded in hatred, it can simply be a failure to recognize that others are full human beings.


The performance of blackface as an explicit reference to a history of racial oppression (by combining it with a person wearing a KKK costume) is different from a performance of blackface to ‘honor’ black artists, but both are tied to a long history of using makeup to dehumanize and shape prejudices of black people in this country. They are harmful in different ways, but both are pretty damn harmful.



These Are A Few…


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A few of my favorite cultural experiences of 2018. The featured image is from my son’s kindergarten class performance of Arrow to the Sun (which was my favorite cultural experience of 2018)

Here are the runner ups in no particular order:

Words and Pictures


Moving Pictures

Radio with Pictures



Music + Video



img_0354I started thinking about turning forty a few months ago, mostly because people started to ask me about it on a semi-regular basis. I was told that it was a meaningful milestone and an ordinary day, that I would feel unchanged and newly mortal, and that I would reflect on my past and think about the future. I was urged to do something fun, novel and extraordinary.

I spent a happy thirty minutes talking about travel with my brother, who is one of those people who always makes sure to do something interesting for his birthday. He was the one responsible for my last big birthday trip to Las Vegas about eleven years ago.


That was a different version of me, a much younger Jamaal with locs who smoked cigarettes.img_0112

That version of Jamaal wasn’t quite sad, but very far from happy. He was starting to have trouble imagining his future. Things turned out pretty well. He found a new job (and was laid off, but quickly found another and was later promoted into one that was a perfect fit). He proposed to his long-term girlfriend and the two were married three years after the Vegas trip. Six years after Vegas, he welcomed his son into the world and learned what it was like to feel overwhelmingly happy and terrified on a daily basis. It didn’t take much effort to imagine the future anymore.

I also started thinking about turning forty because I mentioned it to people on a semi-regular basis and was hoping to find a way to figure out how I should feel about it. November is a very busy month in the life of the Thomas family, between my son’s birthday, a wedding anniversary and the tumult of Thanksgiving, and it’s extremely easy to distract myself by attending to the needs of others. I didn’t plan my son’s party this year (my wife was the mastermind of that one), but I did take every opportunity to bury myself in work and routine and story reading and writing practice and chores and games of Tayo the Friendly Bus.

Whenever I did find time to think about my fortieth birthday, I felt a sense of joy and peace. I haven’t come close to accomplishing what I thought I would’ve done in terms of my career, but my life outside of work is far more fulfilling than I ever would have imagined. That feeling dissipated when I thought about doing something for my birthday. It made me feel uncomfortable, like I haven’t done enough in my life to merit a celebration. I don’t actually believe that, but there are definitely moments when I compare who I am to who I could have been, and feel like I’ve fallen short of my potential.

So I didn’t jump out of a plane or throw a big party or go on a fun adventure. Maybe I should have. I just took a day off from work, took a walk, listened to a great talk from a journalist who covered some of the most terrifying conflicts of the last three decades and did some writing. I saw a little bit of the Criterion Edition of Terrence Malick’s New World and had lunch with my wife. I plan to see some old friends this weekend. I would like to say that I felt like I did enough, but I’m still uncertain. I genuinely believed that I would reflect on my past and plan for my future, but it felt more like I found ways to distract myself. I still have some time (hopefully!) to figure out how I feel about turning forty.

A few things I do know – I’m an older Jamaal who cut his locs (and is slowly losing his hair), who stopped smoking over a decade ago, has a pretty great wife and kid, and who’s not always happy, but pretty far from sad. As of yesterday, I’ve lived in this world for four decades. I’ve had a lot of love in my life (I’m lucky). I’ve spent the vast majority of my career helping people and organizations (who are in the business of helping people). It may not be a lot, but it feels like something.


Here are some of the things I want to do (over the next year and beyond)

  • Write more.
  • Slow down.
  • Learn to drive. (Don’t @ me about this one – I grew up in New York and live in a small town (yeah, I said it) where a car is important, but not strictly required)

There are other personal and work related things that I won’t share (your boy’s got plans), but this is a start.


Thirty Nine


Sometimes My Heart Gets Heavy (Cell Therapy Two)

Black Panther Take Three: T’Challa Is Not Excellent

Recently Revised/Reposted

The Carter: Weezy Never Takes A Day Off

Respect the Architects

Sometimes My Heart Gets Heavy (Cell Therapy Two)


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The last few weeks have been exceptionally challenging – from the Kavanaugh hearings and the New York Times’ coverage of the Trump family’s efforts to preserve their family fortune to work related things (it’s fulfilling, but it can be emotionally draining).


Here are some things that have been therapeutic:

Writing: There are few things that I enjoy more than thinking and writing about culture. The only reason that I don’t write about culture more frequently is that the things I love and value more than writing are also pretty time consuming. Over the last few months, I’ve managed to find the time (between family, work and volunteering) to write a few thousand words about a popular superhero movie. I have more to say (I always have more to say), but I think it’s time to branch off in a different direction. I have some ideas related to afro-futurism and black pop culture heroes, but I’m not sure that I’m going to have the time to do the topic justice. I’d love to do some more writing about pop culture, but with a full time job, a slate of volunteer commitments and a family, I’m always going to be behind the ‘discourse’ (is late 2018 too late for a Phantom Thread essay?). I have the beginnings of a comic book post in my head about how modern creators are finding interesting ways to reimagine the origin stories of Golden – Bronze Age superheroes. I have a series of posts about Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton that need to be fleshed out and edited. I also have a bunch of Funnybook Babylon and Between the Stations posts to finish editing/uploading to this site, but that’s not as fun as writing something new.

So what’s next? If I have the time (crosses fingers), a post about Sorry to Bother You and something about why the most meaningful hip-hop (and popular music) in 2018 has been created and performed by women. If I really have the time (e.g., a bout of the flu), I will finally complete the Hamilton posts.

Music: I’ve spent the last few weeks listening to Aretha Franklin concert mixes and Teyana Taylor’s recently released K.T.S.E. They are very different artists, but both lack artifice and can convey the feeling of finding joy in pain and chaos. Aretha was a genius in every way that a music artist can be one – a brilliant technician and arranger whose ability to evoke raw emotion was unmatched. Teyana doesn’t have Aretha’s gifts, but there was something unflinchingly honest about her performances on this album, from songs like Issues/Hold On to WTP. On Issues/Hold On, Taylor explores the intertwined anger, passion and uncertainty present in a tempestuous romance. She doesn’t just share the suspicion and other ugly emotions that can come when one feels vulnerable in a romantic relationship, she suggests that her uncertainty is rooted in her past experiences. She is self-aware, but the pain is still raw.

WTP is a very different kind of song (as you might guess after you listen to the hypnotic ‘work this pussy’ refrain), but there’s something deeply honest about her demand that a lover give her pleasure. The song is inspired by the Harlem underground ballroom scene created by black gay men, trans men and women, drag performers of all identities and orientations and other members of the LGBTQ community in the 1960’s. I always associated that scene with a heightened sense of fantasy, but Taylor’s assured delivery reminds me that the underlying desires and emotions can be very real.

During the last two decades weeks of the Kavanaugh nomination, I found myself turning to hip-hop. During other ‘our political landscape is enraging and terrifying’ moments over the last few years, I fell into the habit of adding more hip-hop tracks and playlists to my rotation. I usually added a mix of songs that were made when I was a young man or which sounded as if they were inspired by that music (my go to is one that shares the title of this post with tracks from Black Star, Yasiin Bey, Common, Lauryn Hill, Chance, Otis Redding, Amy Winehouse and Me’Shell Ndegeocello). This time I found myself listening to Tierra Whack’s Wack World, Noname’s Room 25 and Lil’ Wayne’s Carter 5.

I don’t know why I downloaded Tierra Whack’s debut album. It may have been a recommendation from a friend online or an admiring tweet that floated by on my timeline. It’s a delightfully strange album filled with unexpected rhythms and exceptional rapping. Tierra’s songs contain some hard truths, but there’s a sense of joy and optimism at the core of her music that feels necessary in this political climate. We deserve to feel joy and “if you love somebody I promise that you should tell ’em”. I know exactly why I rushed to get Noname’s Room 25 when it became available – I’ve loved her work since I was introduced to her on Lost, from Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape. Her verse was brief but powerful – the closing line “the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams” was heartbreaking. Her debut is assured and brilliant. I loved her two collaborations with Chance the Rapper (Lost and Israel (Sparring)), but she sounds even more confident on this album. The verses are packed with meaning, but Noname is comfortable with adjusting the density of her rhymes to ensure the maximum impact on the listener – contrast the melancholic Don’t Forget About Me with the high energy playful vibe on Self. I haven’t seriously thought about Lil’ Wayne for years, since I was disappointed by the Carter 3 about a decade ago. I downloaded his album on a lark – I wanted to listen to some new music and saw that Wayne had finally released the Carter 5. I was surprised to hear an artist who had rediscovered his voice. Wayne is scattered (as he always is), but his flow is still incredible on songs like Dedicate and Mona Lisa. His rhymes are dense, profane and inappropriate, but they are also compelling. Sometimes. He’s still Lil Wayne, so we still get verses that are just terrible or feel exceptionally lazy, but even the less inspired verses are backed by impeccable production from Mannie Fresh (man, was it refreshing to hear some new Mannie!) and the team of R!o and Kamo.  I found myself turning to a playlist with my favorite tracks from all three albums to help cope with all the dark and dour news of the day on a increasingly regular basis over the last few weeks.

I’ve also been doing some reading, but more on that later. Here are some highlights:

  1. Giant Days – John Allison, Max Sarin
  2. Immortal Hulk – Joe Bennett, Al Ewing
  3. The Black Monday Murders – Tomm Coker, Jonathan Hickman
  4. The Rise of the Black Panther – Evan Narcisse, Javier Pina
  5. The Seeds – Ann Nocenti, David Aja
  6. Twisted Romance (Red Medusa on the Road to Hell) – Sarah Horrocks
  7. Black Bolt – Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward
  8. Twisted Romance (Treasured) – Trungles, Alex de Campi
  9. Batman – Jim Aparo, Jim Starlin
  10. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles – Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, Mark Morales
  11. Twisted Romance (Invincible Heart) – Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil

See you next time.

Black Panther Take Three: T’Challa Is Not Excellent


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Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is not the kind of male protagonist that we normally see in action/adventure movies, superhero or otherwise. He is refreshingly ordinary, frequently the least capable and experienced person in the room. At first glance, T’Challa’s narrative arc looks a lot like a traditional hero’s journey. He goes on an adventure, faces an existential crisis and returns transformed, but he is not learning how to be a superhero as much as he is working through his grief and deciding what kind of man and leader he wants to become.

“You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”

Continue reading

Black Panther: First Take


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On an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in early February, my wife suggested that I take a break to go see the new Black Panther movie on our way back from a local Chinese New Year parade.  We were having a very good day after an exhausting, impossible week. At the time, I did not know that this pattern would repeat itself over the following four months. We had a great breakfast at one of our favorite local spots (Zoi’s, which makes terrific breakfast sandwiches) and I successfully convinced my son that the colorful dragons marching in the parade were fun and not frightening (“See? They’re not real dragons, they’re just costumes!” <man under dragon costume gives a friendly wave to skeptical son>). img_1555-1

We discussed the Black Panther phenomenon while we munched hash browns and sipped coffee – it had premiered a few days earlier and was already a giant success at the box office and in the culture. I was curious and she was ambivalent – while the concept and creative folk involved piqued her interest, she mostly checked out on Marvel movies after the underwhelming Avengers film in 2010. When she made her offer later that morning, I thought about declining until I realized that if I didn’t accept, I probably wouldn’t see Black Panther until it arrived on Netflix (or whatever over the top digital service Disney comes up with). So I accepted her offer and was surprised by how excited I felt.


I found an amazing seat at our local theater (a spot that made up for its lack of modern features with decent screens and pleasant staff). I was surrounded by a representative sample of New Haven – earnest college students from a wide variety of  backgrounds, excited African Americans from the local community and pleasant Yale/Yale New Haven Hospital retirees. There was a lot of conversation in the room that died down when the trailers and commercials and PSAs ended. Everyone focused their attention on a dark screen and heard a boy ask his father to tell him a story.


A few hours later, another curious boy asked a man who he was, and the screen faded to black. There were two more scenes tucked in a seemingly endless scroll of credits, but they felt like post-film trailers for future Marvel movies, a reminder that Black Panther takes place in a larger (and quite lucrative) narrative and a suggestion that the cinematic Wakanda will play a much more prominent role in the Marvel movie universe than its comic book counterpart. Some stayed for the scenes, and others did not, but it was clear that the boy’s question was the end of the story that Ryan Coogler spent 200 million dollars to tell. Some people were energized, others were talking about their favorite scene or which one of the many attractive actors in the film was the most stunning. I saw a few people with tears in their eyes, a few repeating Michael B. Jordan’s last line in the film.

Black Panther is an excellent film, possibly the first Marvel movie that feels completely engaged with our world. Coogler sustains an emotional resonance throughout the entire film that can only be found in isolated sequences in other Marvel films – a glance from Jeff Daniels, a provocative question asked by Cate Blanchett, a moment of intimacy between Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan. These genuine, emotionally honest moments are as important to the Marvel Studios storytelling formula as all of the third acts filled with expensive digital effect sequences and schematic plots. Black Panther departs from this formula by grounding these moments in a personal story with meaningful stakes. The stakes of the story matter because all of the artists involved in the movie – from the director, writers and cast to the costume designer, the makeup and hair people and the experts who helped with dialects – worked to make all the characters feel fully realized,  with hopes, dreams and flaws independent from our hero and his journey. We care about the fate of Wakanda because we care about the characters who inhabit it – and T’Challa’s family turmoil matters because the love, joy and resentment expressed by the family members feels real.


Coogler reminds us that the desire for representation in the African American community isn’t just about seeing black faces on a screen. We want to be taken seriously, to feel like our gaze is as valid and important as the white gaze that we are accustomed to seeing in Hollywood films. We want to see a dramatization of the kinds of debates and tensions that exist within the black community without an explainer for everyone else. We want movies where dark skinned people are properly lit and stories that aren’t mediated by the perspective of outsiders (even the very well meaning ones).

Coogler uses a familiar hero’s journey framework to tell a story about community, societal boundaries and black liberation. Black Panther dramatizes the discourse within the black community about identity and freedom in mythic, larger than life terms without sacrificing the black perspective. He invites the audience to view in-group conversations without translating anything for them. It’s a mainstream movie about black lives that cheerfully ignores the urge to reassure or defy the “little white man deep inside all of us” who wants to limit our freedom to imagine and create fictional worlds.

Coogler trusts his audience. He trusts them to tease out the distinctions between and within the liberal and radical visions for black liberation presented in the scenes and layers the narrative with allusions to events and ideas relevant to the African American experience.

There are limits to the scope of ideas explored in Black Panther. The film is set in Africa and is filled with images and items that we associate with Africa, but its narrative is driven by the concerns, dreams and dilemmas of the members of the African diaspora who were brought to America hundreds of years ago. In one sense, there aren’t many African American characters in Black Panther, but in another, we are everywhere. We are asked to reflect on the obligations that a privileged black community owes to less privileged black communities and while the characters do reference the struggle against white supremacy (not named, but you know…) in global terms, the visual reminders of oppression and that struggle are all tied to America, and the African American civil rights movement (in the early nineties) serves as the catalyst for the story.

This dynamic is not confined to the film version of Black Panther. In the late winter, I planned to (and may still) write about Black Panther and Wakanda as incomplete afrofuturist projects. Here’s the gist: Black Panther and Wakanda were created by two Jewish American comic book creators in the 1960’s, and while a number of Afro-diasporic writers and artists have helped shape our understanding of the Black Panther’s world over the years, almost all were telling stories from a perspective that was both African and American. They explored African American hopes and fears about empowerment, colonialism and intergroup conflict, but rarely incorporated the viewpoints of other members of the diaspora, particularly those who remained in Africa. I found great value in exploring the dreams and possibilities of the African American experience through a story like Black Panther (and a nation like Wakanda), but wondered if the absence of non-American perspectives (particularly African ones) blunted its potential impact. I also wondered how much sharper – and more transformative – the story would be if we were reading/watching a story that Africans were telling us about their world.

Black Panther is also a Marvel Studios movie, and cannot escape the positive and negative associations of that corporate relationship.

blackpanthertitle car

It shares the basic plot structure as many of their films centered around a solo hero, from the role of the two villains in the narrative (and how they are introduced) to the hero’s fall from grace and eventual triumph in a CGI fueled battle.

I wonder if that relationship contributes to the intriguing tension between the radical and conventional elements in Black Panther. The film’s visuals shake mainstream (at least in the world of blockbuster commercial Hollywood filmmaking) assumptions around beauty and power, with a diverse, nearly all-black cast presented as larger than life figures and shot in a manner that highlights the richness of their individual skin tones.

We are shown pieces of culture from all over Africa in a way that makes them feel modern and vital (and not ancient or exotic). But while the story gestures towards quasi-radical politics, it ultimately delivers a full throated defense of traditional monarchy that would’ve seemed downright reactionary in another film. The dialogue that evokes a long history of black nationalism/radicalism is delivered by a character presented as a violent faux populist tyrant. T’Challa’s plan to reengage with the world felt audacious on my first viewing, but upon reflection, it sounded pretty vague. My wife (who watched the movie with me when it was released on Blu Ray) remarked that she expected T’Challa to announce an initiative that would improve the material circumstances of the people of Oakland – a housing or education or employment program.

The Africana spread throughout Black Panther highlights this tension. The visual look of the scenes set in Wakanda is thoughtfully considered and creates a distinctly non-American context for the story. The interviews and profiles surrounding the movie make it clear that the visual aesthetic for the film is intended as a celebration of a wide range of African cultures, a rare thing for mainstream American films. This celebration is complicated by the film’s narrative, which is mostly set in a fictional isolated African nation. In this context, the blend of different African cultures in a single place without any in-text explanation becomes a reminder of our troubling habit of treating Africa as if it were a single location. A cinematic Latveria (the fictional Central European home of Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom) that just combined elements of Greek, Czech, French and British visual and physical culture wouldn’t seem authentically ‘European’, it would feel artificial, the product of an outsider unfamiliar with the diverse cultures and societies on the continent.


Latveria, from a bad Fantastic Four movie. This needs some Greek columns and a couple of domes. Maybe a circuitry covered henge in the background.

The mix of conventional and radical elements make Black Panther feel less satisfying and more substantial. I would have wholeheartedly welcomed a mainstream Hollywood funded full throated meditation on dismantling white supremacy and the pain caused by colonialism, but I know that Americans – that we – have a limited appetite for blockbuster films that unnerve or threaten. I still want to see a movie that shows the non fictional black community – my community – through a non-tragic lens. Many countries in Africa still face huge challenges, but there have been a number of meaningful improvements of social and economic conditions in nations throughout the continent over the last two decades. African Americans still face a wide range of disadvantages relative to European Americans, but there has been (some) progress (particularly in the areas of education and wages). We are more than nameless youth at an urban basketball court. The scenes set in Wakanda are triumphant and transporting, but I couldn’t shake the thought that there are also happy and prosperous and successful (in the broadest definition of the word) black people who live in actual neighborhoods in real countries.

Coogler’s Black Panther is a piece of entertainment, a commodity owned by a multi billion dollar corporation that has a mixed history with black people and social justice and which is unlikely to green light a blockbuster with radical politics or that challenges viewers. It’s also a thrilling and thought provoking work of art made by a promising young African American director who has successfully infused social commentary and emotional honesty in a series of mainstream films of steadily increasing size and scope. Black Panther’s success is a win for films made by and starring black people, but it’s also a big win for Disney shareholders. It’s a story that excites by centering the perspective of African Americans (even in allegorical terms), but leaves one hungry for more that reflects the experiences of people from other parts of the diaspora.

It’s a movie that entertains and inspires, but as Yasiin Bey might say, it can’t save us. Thankfully, no one promised that it would.

Next Week: Second Take (Four Things).

The milks was chocolate, the cookies, butter crunch


The Notorious B.I.G.

He wasn’t the best of his era because of the hype machine that placed a crown on his head.

Or because he was sold lots of discs during an era when mcs from New York rarely went platinum.

Or because of his so-called beef with you know who that captured the attention of millions of hip hop fans worldwide.

It was the voice that sounded like an instrument.

The way his lyrics were always exactly as complicated or simple as they needed to be.

The casual mastery of a wide range of flows that always perfectly matched the beat.

The way he combined humor and menace in a single song, a single verse, sometimes a single line. No one was better at making us laugh and shudder.

The fact that he could pack so much power in a single generic question asked during a freestyle that crowds still go crazy when the DJ plays a sample of the line. (Brooklyn’s still right here.)

Most of all, it’s the small sensory details that resonate years after his passing. The line in the title evokes memories of cold, overly sweet chocolate milk and giant stale lunchroom cookies from a New York public school.

Christopher Wallace was always in my personal top 5 from that post-Golden, pre-bling era that I remember so fondly from high school, but every time I revisit one of his songs from his two albums or when his casually brilliant verse on Mary J. Blige’s Real Love comes up in my run mix, he creeps up the list.


Book Quotes of 2017


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At 2 East 70th Street the day-shift doorman recognized her—“That you, Mrs. Dyer?”—and with a certain amount of pride Isabel remembered his name—“Hello, Felix”—and chatted about family, his four children now all grown, the older two with children themselves, though time unarticulated was the truer subject, Felix following the doorman code and refraining from asking personal questions, but seeing Mrs. Dyer of the sixth floor gave him a passing awareness of the gap between when he was young and when she was old and how it had narrowed to a crack.
& Sons, David Gilbert

if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve certainly learned something about it yourself. The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn’t that true?”

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

It was as if he had been assigned to take apart a fiendishly complicated alarm clock to see why it wasn’t working, only to discover that an important part of the clock was inside his own mind.

The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis

You would not, I imagine, suggest that it is the task of botanists to devise more flowers? Or that astronomers should labour to rearrange the stars? Magicians, Mr Segundus, study magic which was done long ago. Why should any one expect more?”

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know, when you make love for the last time, that you are making love for the last time. Voting is like that. Some of the Germans who voted for the Nazi Party in 1932 no doubt understood that this might be the last meaningfully free election for some time, but most did not. Some of the Czechs and Slovaks who voted for the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1946 probably realized that they were voting for the end of democracy, but most assumed they would have another chance. No doubt the Russians who voted in 1990 did not think that this would be the last free and fair election in their country’s history, which (thus far) it has been.

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder

I laughed and grabbed his head as I had done God knows how many times before, when I was playing with him or when he had annoyed me. But this time when I touched him something happened in him and in me which made this touch different from any touch either of us had ever known. And he did not resist, as he usually did, but lay where I had pulled him, against my chest. And I realized that my heart was beating in an awful way and that Joey was trembling against me and the light in the room was very bright and hot.

Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

We shouted over the dinner tables and slipped away into empty rooms with each other’s spouses, carousing with all the enthusiasm and indiscretion of Greek gods. And in the morning, we woke at 6:30 on the dot, clearheaded and optimistic, ready to resume our places behind the stainless steel desks at the helm of the world.

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles

“That’s not true. Of course you do. Denise would whisper to Sharon, and Sharon would tell her husband and her sister. You would come to the office and find them whispering, and after a few days, you’d begin to think that it was about you. After a week, you would start to think that people all over town were looking at you strangely. You would notice them trying to look directly past you when you ran into them in the grocery store and on the street. When Christmas came, you would have only half as many cards in your mailbox, and least once a year, junior-high boys would throw a half-dozen eggs at your window. “If you think they wouldn’t say anything, though, you’re right. They wouldn’t say a word. It would be rude and un-Christian to do so.

All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu

She attracted attention not so much because of the qualities of her features but rather because of the naturalness and grace with which her expression moved.

IQ84, Huraki Murakami

When you borrow a lot of money to create a false prosperity, you import the future into the present. It isn’t the actual future so much as some grotesque silicone version of it. Leverage buys you a glimpse of a prosperity you haven’t really earned.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Michael Lewis


The Rest: Other Memorable Reads from 2017


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1. Justice League of America – Howard Porter, Grant Morrison
2. Jane – Aline Brosh McKenna
3. The Ultimates 2 – Travel Foreman, Al Ewing
4. Hulk – Nico Leon, Mariko Tamaki
5. Batman – Tom King, David Finch
6. Scarlet Witch – Kei Zama, James Robinson
7. Monstress – Sana Takeda, Marjorie Liu
8. Infamous Iron Man – Alex Maleev, Brian Michael Bendis
9. DC Elseworlds: Justice League Vol. 2 – Kyle Baker
10. X-Men: Grand Design – Ed Piskor
11. All New Wolverine – Leonard Kirk, Cory Hamscher, Tom Taylor
12. Mister Miracle – Jack Kirby
13. U.S.Avengers – Paco Medina, Al Ewing
14. Batman: Creature of the Night – Kurt Busiek, John Paul Leon, Phil Winslade
15. Wicked and the Divine – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
16. Batman: Black & White – Alan Davis
17. Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis vol. 1 – Alan Davis, Mike W. Barr
18. Black Panther and the Crew – Jackson Guice, Ta-Nehisi Coates
19. Kill or Be Killed – Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser, Ed Brubaker
20. Superman – Doug Mahnke, Peter Tomasi
21. Deathstroke – Christopher Priest, Jason Paz, Cary Nord, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiwicz, Larry Hama, Joe Bennett, Norm Rapmund, Jason Paz
22. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye – Michael Avon Oeming, Gerard Way, Jon Rivera
23. Cosmic Odyssey – Mike Mignola, Jim Starlin
24. The Unworthy Thor – Oliver Coipel, Jason Aaron