Previous Joints

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Man of Steel Week: Fathers

So, season three of this blog starts next week. I’m going to kick things off with a Man of Steel week. I have watched this film three times – that is over £30 damn pounds...gone. But I loved every second of it. After each sitting I felt like I had watched something special – but also the more I watched it, the more emotional I got.

For me, I think the emotional core of Man of Steel rests with the fathers, especially Russell Crowe’s Jor-El. Every time I watched the beginning sequence or when Jor-El’s essence appears in the fortress of solitude, I couldn’t help but think of my own late father and what I would give just to have one last conversation with him.


My dad died of cancer the week I turned 18. I wasn’t particularly close to him – I was in awe of him and scared of him. Also, in truth, at 18 I wasn’t the most mature of people, I wasn’t interested in anything particularly serious such as school, religion, what my future held or my own heritage. The only thing my father and I ever bonded over was Formula 1, films and, to my every-lasting gratitude, Arsenal Football Club.

And then he got a brain tumour. I can safely say that the next 2 years after my mother told me and my sisters the news about our father were the worst of my life. I closed him and my family out so I wouldn’t have to face up to the truth that he was dying. In fact the only meaningful conversation I had with my Pa after he was diagnosed involved me making him promise that he wouldn’t die. There isn’t a single moment in my life I regret more than that one.

So he died. But at his funeral I remember being captivated by these stories of my father’s life that I had never heard before. Amazing stories. I heard about how at an early age he went to do manual work in Mozambique to help his family out. I heard about how he was even smarter than I realised at school. My mum told me stories about how they got together, how he reacted when all of us kids were born and how he sacrificed his career as an account to work in the NHS so we could stay in the country.

Of course the next couple of years were difficult for the whole family but every problem I had, I couldn’t help but wanting to speak to my father about it. I wanted to ask him about women mostly and was desperate to know more about Malawi and his childhood. I remember coming out of university and being unemployed for a hell of a long time and thinking what I wouldn’t give to have the advice of my dad. But in reality the reason why it took me so long to accept my dad’s death was guilt – mainly guilt about not knowing him well enough and not asking him all these questions I had in mind when he was alive. I had a lot of growing up to do (I still do) and felt like I had no guide.

So the brooding Clark went through absolutely resonated with me. This is why I ignore the criticism of the film being too dark and miserable because to me it makes absolute sense. Parents are bloody important to understanding a lot about yourself when you’re a human being – they must be vital when you are an alien.


I think Man of Steel is a remarkable film and I am finding it fascinating reading the mixed reviews it is getting. I hope the film makers are just as bold with their vision in the sequel and they don’t compromise.

Anyway, next week we have three great guest posts on the film so make sure you check them all out.


Friday, 28 June 2013

The Dark W. Knight

I find it difficult to write about films I have a true burning love for, simply because I turn such pieces into an exercise of fitting clich├ęs into sentences. So I end up writing about newish films that I have yet to form a concrete opinion on, or flawed films which I can give backhanded complements to, or films I absolutely hate so I can vent my frustrations.

But I actually wanted to try and write about a film I genuinely and whole heartedly love – Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. 

I remember back when I was in secondary school, coming home for my lunch break – which was strange because I rarely did that. My Ma was kind enough to rustle something up and while I was talking to her through the kitchen window I noticed something on the telly. I ignored it at first because I figured it was a trailer for an action movie, but this image of a burning skyscraper was on there for sometime. Then I started to pay attention to the bright banner running along the bottom of the screen and just like that – a plane appeared on screen and crashed into the building.

“What the fuck?”

I was 12 years old.

For me, The Dark Knight was one of the first truly great post-9/11 movies. It captures how I felt after that day in 2001 – and that was mainly scared.

Previous films and depictions of Batman show that it’s very easy for him to degenerate into a silly character. Nolan made the character a product of 9/11 – his Batman was deadly serious.

Everything about this film reminds me of how I felt after September 11 and how I saw other people react around me.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

For me, at the centre of The Dark Knight is the idea of protecting innocent people by any means – even if the protector himself becomes corrupted by his task.

Yes, Heath Ledger’s Joker is an agent of chaos, but he had a simple role throughout the film and that was to corrupt the incorruptible – bring people down to his level.

This theme is at the centre of every thread of TDK. The corruption of the protector is at the heart of Harvey Dent’s plot and ultimately it drives Batman to develop the invasive sonar technology that helps to capture Joker.

Basically, this is a long winded way of me trying to say that to this day I believe TDK is a defence of President George W Bush.

Another haunting image that I can’t ever forget is when Bush was in that school room, reading to the kids and an aide tells him what has just happened in New York. And he just sits there.

I’ve always asked myself why he didn’t abandon that photo-call, go straight into a war room and get to work. But the older I get, the more I question that initial reaction.

I’ve read quite a lot about President Bush and it is clear that he really wasn’t an intelligent man – a fact which I always find hard to reason with. How can someone with his academic record and his failed business ventures end up being President of the United States? Only in America, right? (To be fair to Bush, he was a successful Governor)

And it’s this man that America entrusted great powers to. America is a fascinating country, because, despite their hatred of monarchies and dictatorships, one man holds a huge chunk of power. The pressure George W Bush felt at that moment in the class room must have been greater than anything anyone who has achieved his position ever experienced.

This is why I feel a great deal of sympathy for him – everything after that photo-opportunity in the class room changed. Everything.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I cringe when people blast Bush for being a war criminal (he may very well be) and the worst president – especially if they argue this in an American accent. Polls before the invasion of both the Afghan and Iraq wars show that a majority of American approved of it. And of course they did, because if they were like me, they were terrified.

You have to remember the way people spoke after 9/11. People were rightly angry, scared and vengeful. Damn it, it was ok to discriminate towards Muslims after 9/11 – Google “Muslim hate crime after 9/11”, it makes for terrifying reading.

Bush was the leader Americans and, to a certain respect, Britons wanted because in him we saw a protector.

Another image that resonates with me after 9/11 is Bush standing on Ground Zero giving his much celebrated at the time, “We hear you” speech. Bush was encouraged every step of the way in the actions he took, not just by his Darth-Vader-like Vice-President, Dick Chaney, but by the public. 

Never forget that George W Bush was re-elected.

I love The Dark Knight because it makes me re-evaluate the past. The great films reflect the time in which they were made. I think Christopher Nolan's Batman does greatly resemble the presidency of George W Bush.

I personally believe that the world is a much more dangerous place because of George W Bush’s presidency, but I don’t think that’s because he’s evil or even a bad man. I just think he wasn’t clever enough or strong enough to deal with the situation he was dealt with.

But it is also disingenuous for us, the public, American or British, to wipe our hands of the mess Bush made – we are complicit. We allowed it to happen. Yes, a lot of people protested, but simply not enough. Again, he was re-elected.

Every time I hear a Bush basher (giggles) deconstruct his admittedly poor terms in office, especially when it comes to foreign policy, I think of the boat scene in TDK. We all believe that we have convictions and if given the power we’d do something about them. But, in reality, the majority of us would have done nothing and hope that somebody else does the hard work for us - like the characters in TDK.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Three Unicorns part 3

1 - D'Angelo 

4 years ago I used to tell my missus that we will get married when D'Angelo brings out a new album. That was how confident I felt about D not brining out another CD. It was as likely as (the then alive) Michael Jackson turning black again.

We are now engaged.


I truly believe that D'Angelo is the most important black artist whose name isn’t Prince, B.B, Aretha or Stevie. In fact, I consider D’Angelo to be an artist worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as those 4 legends – even with just two albums to his name.

I’d put Brown Sugar and Voodoo up against any albums, from any artist, of a genre, from any time period – I think they would both fare very well.

D’s albums achieve the contradiction of being case studies of music gone by, whether it is old school RnB, soul and funk, while sounding as fresh as anything on Youtube today (I was going to say radio… but you know). I’d say that his albums haven’t dated and for me this is an extraordinary achievement.

D’Angelo blurs lines. With his first album, released in 1995 (damn), his appearance and demeanour screamed hip-hop. But dig deeper into his music and you find out that isn’t the D'Angelo's vibe at all. You may expect to hear two-dimensional tracks about sex, weed and more sex with a number of different women on Brown Sugar, but the music is far more complicated than that. The song Brown Sugar sounds like it is an ode to a sister D was feeling, but after a few more listens you realise that it is an ode to drugs. Instead of macking the ladies he is telling them to trust him and everything will be ‘Alright’ because they are his ‘Lady’.

In fact, Brown Sugar is remarkable in its sensitivity. D is almost entirely venerable on this album. Even when he is displaying anger it is because his lady has cuckolded him.

Why is his vulnerability important? Well, understanding the nature and psyche of hip-hop will tell you that black heterosexual men are not supposed to be vulnerable. They are not supposed to show this amount of longing. They are not supposed to show this amount of respect to women. D breaks all of these hip-hop rules without appearing emasculate or un-hip-hop.  This is why he is so important – he is my generation’s Marvin.


And then you have Voodoo – an album which holds the record for the longest time spent in my car’s CD player uninterrupted by another disc. I listened to nothing but this album for 9 months straight. I just didn’t understand it and just like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I had never heard anything like it. It sounds nothing like Brown Sugar, if anything it sounds rougher – rawer. There is no polish to the album like there was to Brown Sugar – it sounds like D and his musicians were making it up as they go along.

Yet Voodoo sounded and still sounds like magic. For the sake of my life I don’t understand why. I’m still trying to work it out.

Every single song on this album is unpredictable – grooves change and switch up on you without any warning. D’Angelo doesn’t always sing on this album, he mumbles, growls and grunts. 

And I'm not sure you can be certain of what musician or era influenced a certain song on the album. I heard James Brown, Sly and Prince  on Chicken Grease alone - but that song in its entirety is something utterly original.  People hear Prince all over the much lauded Untitled but I always get Marvin and Teddy Pen (The song always reminds me of Close the door). 

The craftsmanship shown on  Voodoo is something that has been found wanting in modern-day RnB. Artists are not making albums that are made to listen to from start to finish - they are just making a collections of songs that have little to no relationship with one another.


Like the other two Unicorns, D has been on a very long hiatus; but unlike the other two Unicorns, whose comebacks have been littered with disappointments,  D'Angelo's return has got me impatiently waiting for his new CD. 

I should have known that he hadn't lost a step when I heard him on the J-Dilla produced So far to go, as well as Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's  Imagine, but Ms Hill had me questioning all of my heroes. Watching the Youtube videos of D'angelo's return has me believing in miracles. It has made me believe that one day pigs may fly or that there is a massive dinosaur swimming underneath a lake up in Scotland. 

The only thing different about D'Angelo now is his weight and I personally don't give a shit about that. I am just happy that he has conquered his personal demons. I am extra happy that he spent his hiatus time learning to play the guitar and not just getting busted by the police and getting high.

I love his new material so much that I actually know the words to a lot of his new songs already. I think Really Love has the potential to be one of the best songs ever made.


I don't envy D'Angelo - It must be hard being the chosen one. He is living proof that black men can be are talented, complicated flawed and intelligent. Like I've said before, I see D as a hub for so many spirits of other great artists that have come before hi, - but he is always the conductor.

 I think out of all the Unicorn he has the most to gain. If he gets his next album right, he could become a legend to the many, not the few D apostles 


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Alternative: The Three Unicorns part 2

2 - Ms Hill

Lauryn Hill wrote another book for the bible in 1998. Nothing short of divine intervention could have caused a mere human being to produce such a (almost) perfect album.

I distinctly remember the first time I heard the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I was too young –  I wasn’t ready for what I experienced. I wasn’t in the car, I wasn’t chilling out somewhere – I was smack bang in front of our family’s portable stereo, with my nose to the speakers. I was unable to move. I was transfixed. 

That album is vitally important to black music. It is rare to hear a confident and intelligent black woman talking about religion, relationships and her life without sexualising herself. Ms Badu is probably the only other artist to come close to Ms Hill. I didn’t have an overbearing need to shag Ms Hill when I was listening to her album, I had an urge to listen to her and by the end of it I was awe struck. You compare this album to any hip-hop/ RnB offering of today and you start to realise how far black music has fallen.

To this day, I had never heard anything as fierce, as delicate, as raw or as beautiful as The Miseducation. It was and it still as an extraordinary album.

The problem is the greatness of Ms Hill’s debut solo album. The Miseducation was/is so great that expectations were impossible for Lauryn Hill to meet. In other words – the only way was down. The music that she did release after that act of God, such as that MTV Unplugged album that had no beats (word to 50) didn’t come anywhere close to meeting the standards she set for herself. Not even close.

Then she went on a decade long hiatus. A hiatus which saw all sorts of rumours about Ms Hill starting to swirl. A hiatus which saw her fellow Fugees add fuel to the fire by feeding those rumours. I started to lose hope that we would ever see Lauryn Hill come back into the public spotlight.

Then she, along with Pras and Wycleff, took part in David Chappelle’s Block Party and her performance was nothing short of magical. I started to dream again. Then every song she released since, every performance she has done has been substandard. It breaks my heart to say it, but there it is. Substandard.

I went to a gig she did in London. Ms Hill was late, but I didn’t mind. What I did have beef with was what she did during her performance. The majority of her set was double timed and most of the singing tracks she did was a hybrid of untimed rapping. It hurt so bad watching that performance – but it didn’t feel good (I’ll get my coat).

To make it worse, my experience at this gig wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. The reviews she got from her own fans were just hard to stomach.

Also hearing her talk lately is even more  heartbreaking. She sounds pretentious and has lost her ear to the ‘streets’. One of her biggest asset was that you related to everything she said and I don’t get that impression when I read her open letters.

So why I'm hopeful that she’ll release a new album and I’m I hopeful that album will be any good? The answer is... I don’t know. I am more hopeful of a Lauryn Hill album than I am of a Dr Dre album, that is for sure.

In the past 5 years, Ms Hill has tried to engage more with her fans, which is a start. Yes, there have been moments of madness, but it is a start. Also, her latest track Neurotic Society isn’t half bad – she’s trying to say some real shit on that track.

Importantly, as cruel as it sounds, I think we’ll get an album because she needs the money. Her tax woes have forced her to sign a new music deal which I hope gets her to focus making a stellar album.

I am well aware that this all sounds very selfish, hoping that another human’s plight forces them to do something that might benefit my life – but bloody hell does RnB need Lauryn Hill. All I know is that Janelle can’t do it by herself and Beyonce sends to many mixed signals for my liking.

Importantly, hip-hop needs her because Nicki Minaj is doing Ms Hill's legacy of female MC-ing an injustice that smacks of disrespect. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Alternative: The Three Unicorns

Music, for me, is intensely personal – even more so than films. It seems like the older I get, the more serious I take music. No longer do I consume singles and albums like I do a chocolate bar – I now think long and hard before make a purchase. And yes, I still legally buy albums.

The problem is a lot of what is popular today just isn’t for me. Whether that is popularity in terms of album sales or critically - not a lot of music from today moves me. This is especially the case when I think about black music. Black music has lost it’s cool and it is heart-breaking to see. If your name isn’t Janelle Monae or Esperanza Spalding then you are likely not breaking any new ground.

But there are three artists that keep me irrational hopeful. There is something about these three artists that make me believe – that make me hope – that they will swoop in and save black music. I call them the Unicorns – you all probably know them as Lauyrn Hill, Dr Dre and D’angelo.

I consider all three of these artists legends who’s titan status within black music can never be questioned. All three of these artists have created music that mean the world to me, music that has changed their genre and music that I keep going back to. I love them all.

In the next couple of days I’m going to talk about why they are important and why I am still hopeful they can save black music. Of course I’ve also ranked them because I’m weird like that.


3 – Dr Dre

Here is the thing, I am 90% sure that Dr Dre will never release another solo-album ever again. Yet it is that 10% that I keep obsessing about. I think hip-hop needs Dr Dre more than Dr Dre needs hip-hop and he’s making so much money off of those damn headphones that the chances of him making music ‘for the love of it’  are not likely. Yet, it is that 10% that keeps me hoping.

And why do I hope? The Chronic and 2001 is why. One of these albums would be able to buy and drink alcohol in America, while the other is a teenager but they are two of the best albums I have ever heard – from any genre of any generation. 

Although I am not a gangster, or a pimp, nor do I drink 40s (what the hell is a 40) and I’ve not smoked so much as a cigarette in my whole life, these two albums make you believe that you know that life, that you’ve lived it and you are part of that west-side gangster culture.

Now I am not trying to say that Dr Dre and co’s skill of making you feel like Tony Montana is a good thing (that is debatable of course), but the way Dr Dre makes you feel while all these gangsterisms are flying around is nothing short of magic. Dr Dre is simply one of the best producers to ever live. He’s the hip-hop’s Quincy Jones. I listen to songs like ‘Nuthing but a G thang’ and just wonder why I can’t help grinning and walking like I have a limp. Dr Dre’s beats almost force you to nod your head furiously and not many hip-hop producers can do that consistently.

I am also one of the few who believes that Dr Dre’s finest achievement is 2001. An album which has grown on me ever since it was released in 1999 and just like Chronic, this album changed hip-hop. This album introduced us to the ultra-gangster, a more polished gangster than the one introduced to us during Dre's Chronic era. This gangster was richer and more careless, but ultimately likeable. 2001 was Dr Dre basically introducing the world to the YOLO lifestyle before it was bastardised by the rest of hip-hop. 
 The older I get the more I listen to 2001. Just when I think I am too old to listen to such music, the summer comes along and suddenly Dre is telling me that “things just ain’t the same for gangsters”.

I personally don’t think that Dr Dre has anything to prove – the problem is that I am in the minority. If he came out after 2001 and told the world not to expect any more solo albums, I think no one would have batted an eye lid. But instead Dr Dre actively promoted his follow up album Detox for almost a decade. There have been so many false starts, so many singles that gave people hope that Detox may materialise that I understand people’s frustration with Dre.
These false hopes and rumours of Dr Dre’s anxiety about Detox not being up to scratch has opened the door to people questioning his legacy – unfairly so. People also point to Dr Dre’s age and the terrible ‘I need a Doctor’ song as evidence of Dr Dre losing his mojo.

While I think Dr Dre’s critics make worthwhile points, I listen at Dr Dre’s recent contributions
with Kendrick Lemar (Compton and The Recipe) and feel heartened. I listen to Dre's Detox single Kush and feel that certain uncontrollable urge to nod my head and grin. I listen to the whole of Eminem’s Relapse album and Dr Dre’s production and think that he’s still one of the best producers working in music (seriously listen to the beats on that album). I listen to the majority of hip-hop (2 Chainz anyone?) and I believe without a doubt that hiphop still needs the doctor. 

As long as there is still hope left that Dr Dre will release one more album, I am willing to wait patiently. If that album never comes, well, I am left with two outstanding pieces of art and an iPod full of classic songs and albums by other artists which the Doctor has had a heavy hand in crafting.  

Saturday, 1 June 2013

End of Season 2

So, I’m taking another short break to write season 3 of this wee blog.

No real reason for the break apart from my laziness. I have a grudging admiration for people that write something new every day, all year round for their site.

Another reason is to catch up on some films people have suggested – mainly British ones. In fact, the lack of posts about British films is the single biggest complaint about my blog and it’s something I am determined to put right in season 3.

As always, thanks for putting up with me for the past 2 seasons and for those that get in contact via twitter and other means, thank you for not totally slamming me. Thank you to this season's guest bloggers.