Ten Minutes On The Stoop: Being Broke Is Better

The Stoop! The most legendary place in the urban community. Depending where you are in the world you may call your stoop another name: porch, foyer, front yard, and if you’re West Indian your veranda.  The stoop is where most millennials spent their time. It’s where we laughed, cried, played, and participated in some of the hardest conversations of our lives. So of course it’s only right that we create a column called “Ten Minutes on the Stoop”.

 

So, if you’re reading this welcome to the stoop.

 

Okay, find your spot on the stoop. Let’s talk about the Grammy’s. More particularly let’s talk about the “Rap Album” of the year award that Kendrick Lamar won. Yes, we can say he is very deserving but I don’t think his album was as impactful as 2014 Forrest Hill Drive.  Let’s face it the year 2015 has been the awakening of a golden period for new age for music not just hip-hop. We’ve been blessed with great music that is easily resemblance of 1996 (arguably the best year in hip-hop history). Now I know you’re reading saying to yourself NO WAY but really, compare the music and you’ll agree. Even though there was as a lot of great music put out I want to discuss a song that really describes what the Millennial generation is going through which ultimately should have sealed the deal for J. Cole to win at least one Grammy.

J. Cole’s “Love Yours” is exactly what society needed to hear. Now for the record J. Cole’s whole album can easily be the soundtrack for every millennial life who graduated from college and trying to obtaining opulence. However, let’s just dissect a few bars from this song. Cole jumps on the track and says Love Yours! “Heart beating fast let a n*gga know that he alive fake n*ggas mad snakes snakes in the grass let a n*gga know that he arrived.” This line describes the experience every young professional on the fast track to moving up in their career feels. It’s like a constant paranoia and  CYA’s (CoverYourAss) that you have to be aware of while advancing in your career. People you thought genuinely cared about you and your career’s progression really don’t! Eventually you constantly find yourself assessing their loyalty; it’s maddening. If you experience this you know that it’s overly draining and annoying.

 

Now Cole goes into a line that truly encompasses this obsession of  instant gratification that the millennial generation struggles with. “Don’t be sleeping on ya level struggle There is Beauty in Struggle ugliness in success”. Listen, as millennials in the professional world we’re always trying to figure out what we can do to get better and sometime we get frustrated with our struggle not knowing that it is our very struggle that makes us who we are. Cole let us know that there’s a beauty that evolves in us as we struggle and the “ugliness in the success” is all the nonsense that comes along with being success. So don’t sleep on your level because you’re doing what you have to do, so trust your process!  The next three quotes from the song pretty much sums up life as we know it. “The good news is you came a long way the bad news is you went the wrong way”, “I think being broke was better”, “No such thing as a life that better than yours”. All three quotes speak to the apprehension in our careers versus our passion. We do not want to devote all of our energy to something that we are not madly in love with and realizing that we went the wrong way. Funny thing about the these quotes is that it is coming from someone who we think has it all and he’s telling us indirectly that he was happier when he was broke. So stoopmates, remember love your life to the max cause there’s no such thing as a life that is better than yours!

 

More Dope Songs For The Soul V.S.OP Approved: K. Lamar “King Kunta”, J. Sullivan “Mascara”, Wale ft J. Cole “The Pessimist”, and Lupe Fiasco “Blur My Hands”.

By: #SlickStarks

Twitter: @Barrettr2

IG: TheVSOPLIFE

#AreYouVSOP

 

V.S.OP Spotlight: “Cut From A Different Cloth”

The Virtually.Seizing.Opulence (V.S.OP) team is happy to introduce to some and present to others, Mr. Tommie Lark, Jr. the Chief Executive Officer of Superego, LLC. Tommie was born and raised in Massachusetts.Some would say that the odds were stacked against him from the time of conception, as he was born to two teenage parents. Things become harder for Tommie when he was seven years old. His father was murdered, leaving his 24 year old mother with two young children to raise.

Despite the early traumatic loss that Tommie experienced, he excelled as a student and joined the Amherst Chapter of “A Better Chance” (ABC), a college preparatory program. In addition to his success in the classroom, Mr. Lark also experienced great success as an athlete. His prowess as a scholar athlete led to him being accepted into the prestigious Wesleyan University, where he served as the captain of the track team and went on to be a four-time All American Triple Jumper.

While balancing his coursework and a rigorous training schedule, Tommie found time to join the Beta Beta Chi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated. Phi Beta Sigma is an international Fraternity founded on January 9, 1914, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, DC. As a member of the Fraternity, Tommie utilized the leadership skills that he gained at an early age and served as the President of his Chapter for two years. In an interview with the V.S.OP team, Tommie shares how he overcame the adversities of being born to teenage parents and losing his father to go on to become a college graduate, All-American athlete and up and coming entrepreneur.

V.S.OP: “Tell us about your journey. How did you get into the industry that you are in?”

TL: “I am someone who came from nothing, born in a society where most that looked like me would be predisposed to drugs, violence and poverty. I somehow fell into the fashion industry, but I am using my brand and movement to redefine culture and make sustainable living more accessible to underrepresented millennials.”

Tommie truly believes in the old mantra that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and he attributes much of his success, both personally and professionally, to individuals that served as mentors and role models for him.

TL: “Coming from nothing, I am grateful and know the importance of giving back. I would not be where I am today without the support and guidance of many along the way including the staff of “A Better Chance”, my coaches and the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated.”

Defining your purpose can often be difficult to do. People spend a great deal of time trying to establish who they are or to make sense of what they are placed on this earth to do. Tommie believes that he is living in his purpose and is using his craft to inspire others to achieve greatness. He also envisions himself as a barrier breaker in the fashion industry and has established lofty goals for Superego, LLC.

Coming from nothing, I am grateful and know the importance of giving back. 

 

V.S.OP: “What makes you do what you do?”

TL: “My purpose in life is to do what I do. I was given a gift, destined for greatness. It is my duty to give back and uplift our youth, paving a path for them to have a more positive future.”

V.S.OP: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

TL: “In 10 years I would like to be a successful business owner that is known for changing the very fabric of reality (making hemp the new standard for t-shirt as opposed to cotton). I would like to have concept stores around the world, connecting the dots and empowering creatives to live their dreams. I would eventually like to start my own foundation or non-profit organization to give back to youth in underprivileged areas.”

V.S.OP: “What legacy do you want to leave behind through your craft?”

TL: “(BE)lieve in (YOU)rself. I want to leave this earth knowing that I have made an impact, knowing that my children and grandchildren will be born “Cut From A Different Cloth.” I want people to feel comfortable in their own skin, knowing that life’s a journey of creating yourself. Do what makes you happy and never let anyone get in the way of your dreams.”

Success is not easily attainable and this is even more evident in companies trying to establish themselves in major industries that have been historically dominated by larger corporations. The V.S.OP team inquired as to the challenges that Mr. Lark has faced as he seeks to “change the very fabric of reality.”

(BE)lieve in (YOU)rself. I want to leave this earth knowing that I have made an impact, knowing that my children and grandchildren will be born “Cut From A Different Cloth.

V.S.OP: “What are some obstacles that you have faced in pursuit of your goals?”

TL: “I was born to lose, but built to win. Born in poverty to high school sweethearts, losing my dad to violence as a child. Raised by a single mother working 3 jobs to provide for my siblings and myself. I was able to get over all of the obstacles in my way. Currently, a major obstacle that I am facing is building a brand from the ground up and spreading awareness. As a small business, working capital is always an issue, but we continue to work with the means that we have in order to get to the next level.”

Seizing opulence is not only about achieving success, but making an impact while doing so. Those that are living the “opulent life” are individuals that intend to use their personal brands to excel within their industries while shifting the social conscience of everyone that they encounter. Mr. Lark was candid in sharing that he hopes to inspire future generations and create a better living environment for them through his company’s success.

V.S.OP: “What does your craft mean to you?”

TL: “My craft is everything to me, as I am set out to literally change the very fabric of reality. I am introducing a sustainable alternative to the very wasteful fashion industry in a way that makes it ‘cool’. I want to appeal to the youth, educating and empowering them to make conscientious decisions that impact their everyday lives. Through our clothing we are empowering society, the environment, and in turn, our economy.

V.S.OP: “If there is one piece of advice that you could give a young person looking to get into your industry, what would it be?”

TL: “One piece of advice that I would give to a young person looking to get into any industry would be to study the greats and become greater. Complete your goals and value the process. Be patient and persevere through it all! Hard work pays off, so work hard and never give up!”

The V.S.OP team is happy to share that at the time of the interview with Mr. Lark, his company had recently launched a kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000. The campaign was a major success and Superego, LLC met their goal! Mr. Tommie Lark is the epitome of resilience, perseverance and creativity. He is an up and coming leader in the fashion industry and is certainly living the “opulent lifestyle”. Tommie Lark, we salute you for all that you represent and for being “Cut From A Different Cloth!”

For information on Tommie Lark, Jr. and Superego LLC, please see below:

Superego: www.superegoclothiers.com
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram: @SuperegoWorld
Personal Twitter: @TommieCFADC
Personal Instagram: @T_Larkington
Email: TLark@SuperegoClothiers.com

Written By: Tai D. Richardson

V.S.OP Vision Board Challenge

Virtually Seizing Opulence CHALLENGE

#VisionBoardChallenge

It took 7 days to create the world as we know it. A lifetime was spent from up high pondering the perfect plan of action. Like a game of chess, every move was strategic. Life as we know it began with a Vision. Even the great creator, whatever you may call him/her/it, executed a masterpiece that was deemed perfect, and everything was as it should be. The word VISION takes on a powerful meaning not easily gifted to random empty vessels. Webster defines the word as the ACT or POWER of IMAGINATION: UNUSUAL discernment or FORESIGHT.  Every great man or woman that has done something eventful, that impacted the world, started with a vision. All great leaders have a very POWERFUL testimony as it relates to having a VISION that they put into ACTION.  

So why are we even discussing thoughts and ideals that surround the makeup of elite visionaries?  Well it’s that time of year again. 2016 is among us, and we all share something in common as we depart the present year. Many of us typically sit back quietly and do a true evaluation of self. Personally, I always take a look at my year end review and assess where I am in life. People across the globe speak about plans for their NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION. People who know me can attest to my creative capacity. I have been told I am an innovative person that is full of ideas. One of my personal mottos is “My vision is clear, now let the journey begin.” Most of the time when I have a vision, it usually happens first thing early in the morning. I see an amazing ending to something that I would like to do. That thought alone excites me enough to pursue maximum efforts to begin working on the project. My business partners and friends get so frustrated with me often. They say that I give them ideas that are “end sighted” (yes, I just made that up).  I have been told that my vision, when presented only consists of the X-Z while A-W is lost, unclear, or not properly outlined.  

Have you ever had a dream that excited you, but you only remembered how great the ending was? When trying to tell a friend all about your dream, you get so frustrated because everything that led up to the ending remains a blur. You remain excited while they’re stuck in between a delayed chuckle or the, “I had to be there” type of awkward moment. That’s how a lot of us set goals and articulate our visions to others and, most importantly, ourselves. The disappointing fact about my ideas is simple. I leave a lot of ideas on the table because I lose sight of the vision after the initial thrill or excitement wears off. As I exit 2015 and approach 2016, I want to be sure that I eliminate this problem so that I can properly and successfully MASTER my goals. Around this time last year, I was speaking to a good friend of mine, Elijah Oliver aka Take Flyght Captain, and he mentioned something about completing his yearly vision board. Strangely enough I never really paid that concept any mind until I started writing this piece here tonight.  What is this “VISION BOARD” and how can it help me be an elite coal conqueror? Let’s take a closer look.

 

#VISIONBOARDCHALLENGE

WHAT IS A VISION BOARD?  A vision board is one of the most powerful ways to help navigate your way to help you clarify, concentrate and remain consistent towards achieving your goals. You are Picasso, Mozart, and Steven Spielberg; given a blank canvas or script for you to begin manufacturing your vision as you see it.  By gathering a list of images, words, pictures, or slogans you can orchestrate a harmonic symphony of your visual goals.

WHO IS A VISION BOARD FOR?  This vision board is for anyone that is looking for an exciting way to organize their expression of self. Vision boards can be utilized by anyone in any capacity, as a way to act as a visual reminder of what you aspire to achieve.

 

HOW DO I MAKE A VISION BOARD? The V.S.OP way is simple.

Identify the person places or things that encompass your NOUNS.

  1. Who are people/persons you want to associate with to help you with your goals?
  2. What are some places you wish to visit, travel to, or retire in life?
  3. What are things that you absolutely enjoy and make you happy? How do you reward yourself?

 

Write down ADJECTIVES that drive your personality. How would you describe yourself?

  1. Be honest with yourself. What are a few things about your personality that have delayed your goals?
  2. What are words or images that you can use to articulate positive energy that will serve as a reminder of who you are and what you excel at?

 

Finally select three VERBS to drive your why. (You why is a specific reason why your goals are important to you)

  1. Be organized and plan for success.
  2. Be action oriented and put your plan into fruition.
  3. Be motivated and resilient as obstacles present themselves.

 

WHAT MATERIALS ARE NEEDED? This project is very simple and can be completed with just a few pieces of material.

  1. A pen and paper to brainstorm your Nouns, Adjectives, & Verbs
  2. A poster board, scissors, glue
  3. Magazines, internet printings of images

 

WHEN DO I BEGIN? Well there is just only one question. #AreYouVSOPIf you are reading this BLOG, you have already begun. The challenge is on. You have now been chosen to participate in the vision board challenge.  I challenge you to send this blog to 7 people on your social media and give them 7 days to post pictures and videos of their vision board on social media. Organize vision board parties with your peers and start 2016 off with a bang. No Goals Left Behind!  Join the members of V.S.OP with The VISION BOARD CHALLENGE. The journey is on. #AreYouVSOP #VisionBoardChallenge

 

 

Mr. Nice Guy Signing Off

@thevsoplife

Happy New Year

Feature Image from http://ethnicskinaficionado.com/vision-boards/

#OpulentBeats: FNX for the Culture

FNX is Like a Knight of the Golden Era Transported in Time to Save Hip-hop From Non-lyricism” -Kool G Rap

 

Everyone has their own struggles to deal with and to eventually learn from. However, it’s being able to rise from it all with confidence, poise, and grace that sets FNX (formerly known as ‘Symon Feenixxx’) apart from others. Hailing from Norwalk, CT FNX is not your ordinary rapper that you hear today. While today’s rap artists promote the status quo – rapping about money and jewelry – FNX is a blend of social consciousness, lyrical bravado, and a mixture of that same urban grittiness.

“Music inspired me to persevere. Persevere and self-educate myself. When I was going through it, the thing that held me down was my walk-man and tape deck. That’s why I’m so loyal to the cause and loyal to the culture. I feel like I owe it to hip-hop to do the best I can”

Inspired by the likes of Nas, Tupac, and Eminem, FNX displays a range of lyrical content not popular amongst modern day rappers. From songs discussing mental illness, ‘Monsters’, to songs about strippers, ‘Private Dance’, FNX holds one thing constant in his music – bars.

FNX has big time potential, and it is easy to tell that he is well on his way. Despite such, it’s more than just the music for him. It’s not about becoming a huge star in the hip-hop game, but just inspiring those along the way through educating and motivating.

“I see me and my team making an impact with our music but passing the blessings I received from Hip-hop forward.”

FNX currently has out “Blue Moon” and his most recent project the “Who Am I” EP which delves deeper into his unique vision of life in the future and how his music has led to a higher knowledge of self. FNX says FNX Vol. 1 the mixtape is coming out soon as well. FNX continues to make moves and an impact while doing it. You don’t come across too many artists who are actually doing music for the love of the culture, not for the money and fame. In his last words in the interview FNX said it best, “Make sure you do it for the love of the art and love of the culture. And if you’re not, you need to find something else.”

 

Check out FNX‘s Marching Prod. by Kenny Ca$h, from the “Who Am I” EP

 

 

FNX Links:

http://www.fnxmusic.com/
www.soundcloud.com/fnxmusic1
https://www.facebook.com/Fnxmusic1
https://twitter.com/Fnxmusic1

 

Your Newborn Doesn’t Give A SH!T Bout The NBA Finals

Merry Sports Christmas, ladies and gentlemen. Yesterday was the first day of the NBA finals. Now I understand that basketball is the number 2 sport in our hearts, and that the NFL is the juggernaut in the United States, but the Superbowl is only one game. The Superbowl is Thanksgiving and the 7 game series that makes up the NBA finals is the 12 days of Christmas.  The first day was incredible, right?! We saw 48 minutes if phenomenal basketball that had us at the edge of our lay-z-boys (then a bull shit extra 5 minutes where the Cavs looked like they ran up the 5 interstate from LA to Oakland, and the Warriors looked like they took a stroll around Lake Merritt, but that’s besides the point). Lebron gave a King-like performance. Curry gave a Chef-like performance. Tristan Thompson was saying go-go gadget arms on the offensive glass. Klay Thompson was locked in from 3. Kyrie had the Golden State defense on skates. Draymond Green screamed. A lot. It was incredible to watch!

So let’s backtrack. If you have followed my earlier posts, you would know that I have a newborn. Reece Austin Rubenstein is 12 weeks old today. He’s getting bigger and cuter by the day. It’s an amazing experience watching him literally grow in front of my eyes. I fall in love with him more every day. Seriously. I’m sure the parents reading this understand, and the non-parents will when you have kids. I promise.

So, my wife’s niece was staying with us for a couple weeks before she moved into her apartment for the summer. Last night my wife took her to that apartment so she could move in, so it was just my son and me in the house. Thus, I did what every great father does, I put him up on game. We talked about women, we talked about being a good person, we talked about his (my) aspirations for him; we were the homies for the night. It was about 8:17pm eastern standard time, and I got everything ready. I changed his diaper, I set up my bowl of chips and my drink, and I turned it on ABC to watch the pre-game for the first game of the NBA Finals. Everything was perfect. I sat him on my lap and gave him my finger to hold. He was happy. I told him that this is the game that has shaped my life to this point. This is the pinnacle of the highest level of basketball, and he needs to appreciate it. I told him who each player was and what they can do. He responded with drool, laughter, and incoherent speech, that sounded like a mix between “no” and “damn dad, you’re so awesome in every way, thanks for making me and showing me all this cool stuff”. Probably closer to “no” though. Whatever.

So it’s about 8:54pm and it happened; the first whine. Ah, but I know how to mitigate that. Threw the pacifier in his mouth with swift speed, made sure he was comfortable, and continued to watch the pre-game. 8:57pm he spit that out and gave a bit of a cry. Nothing too serious though. I threw the pacifier back in his mouth, picked him up and started carrying him back and forth in the living room. But the crying got louder, the head was thrown back, and we were at full fledged problem stage. It happened so quickly! We went from male bonding to panic mode within a 4 minute span. Seriously, his face went from this (smiling pic) to this (screaming pic). I couldn’t believe it. I turned him on his stomach because he likes that, but NOPE, still screaming. 9:03pm. I took him to his changing table and checked his diaper – it’s clean. 9:05 pm. I’m still carrying him around the apartment, and I see it! His swing! Let’s use that. I placed him in the swing, I threw on the classical music he loves, turned on the vibration, and I threw that bitch on level 6! Success! Silence! 9:07pm. Louder screams. I’m certain my neighbors can hear. I’m dejected. I picked him up and carried him some more. Did some swinging with him. Nothing was working. 9:10pm. I missed tip off. I pleaded with Reece, “Please son, this is important to us!” He had no respect for me, my eardrums, or my basketball watching aspirations.

The young man was tired. I ended up getting him to sleep around 9:23pm. The Cavs were winning. Lebron already had 5 points. I missed the beginning of Christmas.

My wife came home around 9:40. I handed Reece to her and explained what happened. She consoled me. She’s a good wife. I watched the rest of the game. I loved it. It was everything I hoped it to be, and more. Honestly, I haven’t had as much fun watching an NBA game in my adult life. In complete silence. No cheering allowed. With my son sleeping between my wife and me. Because your newborn doesn’t give a SHIT about the NBA Finals.

By: D. Rubenstein
@wildmanjones
#TheVSOPLife

#OpulentBeats: LeVarsity-By Any Means

Black Monk Ent. Artist LeVarsity

Hailing from Brooklyn, Black Monk Ent. rapper LeVarsity is bringing us some early Summer heat with his track “By Any Means” off his first EP 4Play. The 23 year SUNY Cortland grad received his BA in Communications last May afterwards, deciding to fully commit his energy into perfecting his craft in rapping which, began all the way back in the 5th grade. LeVarsity credits Kanye West as having a major influence on his musical style and also pays homage to the contemporary hip hop icons J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar & the timeless Jigga Man.

If you’re truly about the VSOP life this cut speaks volumes and needs to be added to your daily playlist with it’s authentic concrete jungle of NYC feel throughout. Check out the visual for By Any Means directed by BrannDannArt  below with LeVarsity showing off his spoken word prowess offering some of the realest insight on whats holding most millennials back from truly taking control of their lives and seizing the opulence that they conceptualized for themselves.

Its like you know you got the talent
but fear of getting smacked by your reality
is probably the reason that you haven’t
dropped out of school yet
venture on a new quest
forget all the consequences
man you taking huge steps.
But you ain’t tryna be a failure
in your mother eyes
your dreams could be reality
fear makes you think otherwise”

You can listen to and download the 4 Play EP here which features a sample from classic Eminem film 8 Mile on the track “kingpin” and bit of flexing for the ladies on “that song”. According to LeVarsity he has MANY ideas and projects to come, best believe VSOP will be supporting him all the way and keeping you informed. #AreYouVSOP?

The “Black” Album, No Jay-Z Though: To Pimp A Butterfly

Initial reaction

To Pimp a Butterfly…“Stupid…a horrible attempt in sounding deep and creative”. At least this is what I thought. The ever so loyal Kendrick Lamar stans did not make me any less forgiving either with their justifications, but it is simply the high standards I have for the great artist that Kendrick Lamar is. K.Dot, the rapper with the most potential in the rap game. King Kendrick, the rapper that has consistently produced good to great music. Kendrick “I break the internet with a guest verse” Lamar, the rapper that is not afraid to take risks and push limits with his music, whether that is sonically or with his content. I cannot give him a pass and sip the Kool-Aid. He has to come correct.

Then it all came together when I pressed play. We as listeners are used to straightforward albums; Forest Hills Drive 2014 and Dark Sky Paradise. Both of these albums are self-portraits. But To Pimp a Butterfly… (The title sounds so much better since listening to the outro by the way) To Pimp a Butterfly is an abstract painting that’s not only a reflection of Kendrick Lamar, but his perception of the world. There are recurring themes, emotions, layered, beautiful beats, multiple perspectives, and all of these moving parts and I simply couldn’t do this album any justice by sitting down quickly half-assing a review. You know, label this album an instant-classic, crown him the King of Rap at the moment (that term is thrown around like a hot potato whenever a good album drops), then pat myself on the back. No, I committed myself to living with this album over the course of a few days to serve you right. Following is insight on each song along with a little subjectivity and a rating based off content and overall sound( “*” = rating based on a scale of 1-5) to bring some clarity and help you enjoy this album as much as I did. Let the dissection begin:

Wesley’s Theory ****:

The album begins on a Funkadelic note. Let’s go! Kendrick all out commits too, with a George Clinton feature and FlyLo production. This is a nice foundation for the album; setting the tone, but not too deep. Kendrick starts as an aspiring rapper in the hood; his aspirations are of what he sees on TV, misguided. The government or “The Man” takes advantage of his poor education and lack of guidance, providing a hedonistic life until his earning potential has been sapped dry. Once the artist has nothing else to offer to “The Man”, he becomes the next victim. This is the Wesley’s [Snipes] Theory. What makes this a great illustration is the betrayal comes in the last two lines of the last verse. That’s how quickly entertainers can be knocked off their high horse.

For Free (Interlude) ****:

Percival Jenkins is that you! This could’ve fit on Idlewild, though it’s not rapping, more spoken word. There are two messages in this song delivered effortlessly. In one way it’s a message to women who see Kendrick as a meal ticket, only providing what’s in between their leg. A step away from the song you realize it’s Black America talking to White America. White America views African Americans’ purpose as a stepping stool. Kendrick realizes both parties should instead act as business partners, because this “friendship” has been one-sided throughout history.

King Kunta **:

The come up. This is Kendrick’s claim from going from rags to riches. Not only becoming wealthy, but mentally freeing himself. People want to cut the legs off him like a runaway slave. It has already been referred to as “unapologetically Black”, or soundtrack to a Blaxploitation film. I cannot disagree. This is not a favorite. Out of context, it’s okay at best.

Institutionalized *****:

This song was everything I loved in 90’s rap all in one. I get vibes of multiple 90s rap groups. Kendrick is a student of the game. Then here comes that West Coast feel. It all flows so well. It’s intriguing the inner conflict Kendrick faced in the track was not represented in the beat at all, smooth. He’s conflicted. He is reaching success and wants to take the hood with him, but his homies (and at times even Kendrick) are prisoner to their hood mentality.

These Walls ***:

Haaaa, I don’t even want to give this one away, but screw it. This song is based on Kendrick’s sexual relations with a woman that for “some reason” was hesitant at first. A reference to GKMC reveals her man is actually serving life for killing Kendrick’s friend (the one that died at the end of Swimming Pools). Altogether, it’s a good song, consistent with the album with the funk.

*****:

This might be the heaviest rap song I ever heard. It takes a lot to write a song about yourself like this, so honest, so vulnerable. You feel the pain. As the poem continues at the end of These Walls, from there we find Kendrick battling with depression in a hotel room by himself (and some strong alcohol) not even answering for room service. He puts his flaws, failures, and fights he has to deal with every day for everyone to see. He wants to change the world, but can’t even steer his sister from bad decisions (referring to Keisha’s Song). He always refers to the love and loyalty for his city, but failed his friend when it mattered most. The battle ends with him tell his deepest secret of being suicidal throughout his life. Damn…this is such a raw, emotional song. The production, the screaming not even having a pattern at times cuts into you. Respect.

Alright ****:

Exactly, what I needed. This is the most perfectly placed optimistic, feel good song. He admits that he has battles and does get stressed, but if he keeps his faith leaving it in God’s hands, he’ll be alright.. Pharrell did his thing. Kendrick came with the flow and content. Dope. Sidenote: Lucy is introduced and promises the same exact thing that the government did in the first track

For Sale (Interlude) ****:

Just erase interlude, must have been a typo. Kendrick, using a very corky voice, is confronted by the devil, Lucy, trying to seduce him to sell his soul. This time the betrayal will be worse than the tax man coming. Kendrick refuses to sell his soul for he has faith in God that is demonstrated throughout all of his projects. This still does not stop Lucy. Nicely done, a different way to attack a concept that is brought up in a lot of rappers’ music.

Momma ****:

This is the reality check. He is realizing the delusions of grandeur that fame brought, but coming back home proved to be the remedy. He realizes his power and how to use his “antennas” to make a positive impact. This leads to the reintroduction of Kendrick Lamar. This is similar to the theme of J. Cole’s album. Love, spiritual growth, peace, these are what we should strive for.

Hood Politics ***:

Hmmm…Reminiscent of K. Dot with delivery and rawness. As the “hood politics” are described, there is a bigger message. Kendrick is not worried about beef because there are bigger issues at hand. Kendrick talks about losing homies, institutionalized racism, staying true to himself, the perception of good rap, and avoiding violence by avoiding a rap beef altogether.

How Much a Dollar Cost *****:

Don’t we all fear this happening to us? A very persistent bum happens to be God in disguise. How much does a dollar cost? How about your spot in heaven. Kendrick once again showcases his superior storytelling. It’s a song you sit back and have to appreciate. I get chills at the end.

Complexion (Zulu Love) ***:

The only real rap feature on the album comes from Rapsody. We are in the midst of the album where Kendrick is being direct in his message. In short, he wants to reverse the effects of the Willie Lynch theory. Colorism divides the Black community and we are oppressing ourselves doing so.

Blacker the Berry ****:

Speaking of oppressing ourselves, this song sort of personifies what Complexion was about. Why do we fight the power and protest, yet we embrace destroying our own community? People say “Hands up, don’t shoot!”, yet in the hood people are shooting each other. If you fit the description, which doesn’t have to be as drastic as being a murderer, you’re a hypocrite. Think…

You Aint Gotta Lie(Momma Said) ****:

Be yourself. Kendrick had an epiphany when he came home to Compton about being true to himself and what really matters. He advises all those who fake it because their low self-esteem to do the same. In reality, all that bullshit they talk does not go by unnoticed. It ain’t cool. This is something effecting a lot in the Black community. Don’t live life doing what you perceive to be cool or “in”, it’ll just lead to isolation and emptiness. Kendrick takes a micro approach for solutions of problems in the Black community which is explained furthermore in…

i ***:

I felt sonically “i” fit more with the first half of the album, but the content is the reason it is placed where it is. Though I don’t agree with live performances on albums the acapella ending adds something special to it. Fixing problems in the Black community starts with each and every Black man. Have respect for yourself and others, know your self-worth, value history and rebuild our culture into something positive. This is how we can progress. Is it possible?

Mortal Man*****:

Mortal Man bridges the gap between every song as Kendrick reveals the big picture (though most songs revolve around his experiences, there’s a bigger, general message). I thought “u” was heavy, but this may be just as heavy for different reasons. First, Kendrick sees himself as an activist, a servant for humanity. He realizes there may be consequences in his actions and speaking out on this album. Are we still going to stand behind him or will we alienate him when higher powers damage his reputation, throw him in jail, or kill him? Now as a follower, is your support system still going to stand behind you as the same happens to you for standing up for the people. He knows he will only know when the time comes stating “how many leaders you said you needed then left ‘em for dead?” He then lists martyrs throughout history, each name like a dagger getting pushed further in your heart. Are we that afraid as people…of death…of being alienated…are we all spineless?

The poem that is said throughout the album is now delivered in its entirety. This poem is the foundation of the album. Each song captures each part of the poem, the story of Kendrick Lamar and his path to this new way of thinking (or back to his original). The rise to his blinding fame and manipulation was met with resentment, self-hate, and depression. The devil and the government were persistent in tempting Kendrick, but Kendrick found his refuge in his faith in God. Along with his religion, a trip back home (which can take multiple meanings) transitions his way of thinking, similar to Malcolm X. He wants to use his influence to change his world for the better inside out starting with the Black community. We have to restructure our culture and the mental chains we place on ourselves at times. This is the only way to fight the outsiders holding us back, lets reverse the Willie Lynch Theory.

(Hey, this is a twelve minute outro that is ridiculously dense)

Pac is now being interviewed by Kendrick. It’s pretty straight forward, but beautiful. The fact this conversation can still apply with the world today shows the lack of progression doesn’t it. Countries with the wealth disparity that U.S. has in history has all led to revolutions, which is what the outro infers may be among us, even provoking a sense of urgency in this generation to act now, because there may not be a later for us in this targeted age group. The highlight is Tupac saying “we ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories through us.” We all collectively say “damn” with Kendrick.

The essence of the last poem is the story of the album. Compton, every ghetto, hood, 3rd world country, there is a man that the world looks down upon. They hate him, but love what he can do. This can be music, comedy (Sony Picture Studio Executive email about Kevin Hart), athletic ability (Kobe’s image during accusations), everything. We can hate ourselves and resent it, sometimes falling for the fake smiles of approval. We also can use it. We have to stay humble, in tune to the caterpillar’s reality, and use our experiences for the greater good. This is how you pimp a butterfly, we use this spotlight to tell our stories, influence the world, and bring change. This can be comedy (Dave Chappelle with his countless socially conscious skits), sports (Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fist at the Olympics), music (Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Lupe Fiasco are the few mainstream rappers that have albums with the intent to bring change) and there is the rest of us. We have so many educated men, but we are brain draining our communities. We have to use the talent we have to make the changes in the community we want to see. The Black community has to learn to pimp our talent and not be pimped. Such a powerful message, and we are not going to be spoon fed the answers. Sometimes we are left to find out things on our own, fail, learn, and prevail. This is shown as Pac does not answer back.

Wrap Up:

That’s all she wrote. This is a true Black album, no disrespect to Jay Z at all. The album integrates almost all Black music in America throughout time. There was funk, jazz, blues, old school hip hop, gangsta rap, neo soul, and of course the content matched. This is an album that speaks so much about our culture and what can become of it. It’s optimistic, pessimistic, and ambiguous. There is so much emotion. It is hard to understand it all in your first-listen or if you did not hear Kendrick’s prior albums/mixtapes. I never rate an album a 10/10 because part of the scale is longevity, meaning right now the rating is incomplete. With understanding of the album and appreciation of the music, this is an 8.5/10 for me. Some people are not as impressed, but maybe this insight will change their minds. It’s downright inspiring, heartfelt and I haven’t felt this way a well-known artist in a long time. He effectively challenged every Black musician to pimp their butterfly. Now will the rest of the music world follow suit? Will we all unify and find a way to fight modern oppression? What’s next? An album like this is going to be viewed by its impact. With that being said please let me know what you think. I missed some points to save myself from writing a thesis. I want to discuss how you perceive the album, what direction we are in as a society as a whole and the Black community, am I reaching with my interpretations, did I not go deep enough… I’m just a mortal man I do not know everything. Feel free to enlighten me. Let the discussion begin…

By: J. Taylor

@C00L_JO

Music Enthusiast

#AreYouVSOP

Glory & White Privilege

My wife is a writer for an entertainment magazine. Scratch that. My wife is a writer for the biggest entertainment magazine in the world. What does that mean for Doug? I’m glad you asked. It means a couple things. First that my premier life is poppin. I’ve been to more premiers than I know what to do with. Secondly, our “free shit” closet is craccin. Everybody gives writers free products. We haven’t spent a lot of money on Christmas for the family in like 3 years. And it also means that every single awards show has to be watched live and recorded to watch again because the recap of every single awards show is important to bring hits to my wife’s employer’s website.

The Oscars happened this past Sunday night. I normally don’t watch the Oscars. I very rarely go to the movies (something I should really work on) and I just never really had an interest in watching over-privileged white people receive awards for things I don’t care about and talk about struggle that they no longer have. But now that these types of events bring money into my household, we’re all in.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because I was moved during the performance of Glory. I’ve seen this song performed 3 separate times. I know all the words. I always know that John Legend will kill, because he’s John Legend. I also know that Common will enunciate his words well and the audience will understand him, which I also think is dope considering the content. But for some reason, Sunday night was different. The performance gave me goose bumps, something that rarely happens now a days. Maybe it’s because I was upset that Selma was snubbed from the director and leading actor nominations. Maybe it’s because the Academy is 94% white and 77% male. Maybe it’s because I REALLY like watching Ava DuVernay speak (seriously, go youtube her interviews) and I felt there was an injustice that played as a microcosm to racial tensions in the country today that loosely parallel the struggles that they were going through in Selma 50 years ago. But the weight of the performance JUST. FELT. DIFFERENT. All those black and brown faces on the Oscar stage, sounding beautiful in front of all the white faces in the audience, the tears in the crowd, the standing ovations; everything was just awesome!

Selma was nominated for best picture, but we all know that it was never gonna win. It was a formality.  It was a formality I appreciate, as oppose to the opposite, but a formality nonetheless. Still, with knowing that it wasn’t going to win, I felt that the academy and the at large community watching the awards understood the importance and power in Selma because of this amazing performance. I felt hopeful. I felt accomplished. I felt understood. I felt PROUD to be a black man. Unapologetically, James Brown, black and proud.

But then I saw what Patricia Arquette said back stage after she accepted her best supporting actress Oscar. DAMMIT PATRICIA! Let’s rewind. When Arquette accepted her award she made the first of many political speeches in the night. She demanded equal pay for women for equal work! I actually clapped in my living room. CO-SIGN! I was ready to anoint her one of the good whites, but she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut afterwards. Backstage she said:

The truth is even though we sort of feel like there is, there are huge issues that are at play and really do affect women. It’s time for all the women in America, and the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.

……….. WUUUUUT?!

Cmon son. I became lost after that. All of the understanding that I felt white people might have had vanished. Even the ones who make amazing political stands don’t understand their privilege. How little does she think of women of color? How about gay women of color? What about black male feminists?  And I’d love to know who was able to vote first, black people or white women? Maybe I forgot. I’m all for soapboxes, but there’s an issue when her soapbox cost more than my condo.

Arquette basically said that the Black struggle finished it’s time on the court and white women are choosing sides for pick up. It’s just so frustrating to read things like that. Especially from the ultra rich who didn’t give half a voice to any other recent civil rights issues. To fathom the notion that other communities fighting for their rights for equality need to stop what they’re doing (you know, because their fight is done thanks to… white women?), and come help the white women make more money is, well…. Privileged. It’s a clear proud privilege. An unapologetically, proud, rich white woman privilege.

I went from proud to confused so quickly. Blacks have so much work to do in order to be understood and accepted. It’s a daunting thought that can be consuming and did consume me last night. But then I re-watched the Glory performance because my wife writes for the biggest magazine in the world and we record every awards show – and everything became kinda ok again. So thanks, babe.

 

By: Doug R.

#AreYouVSOP

Faint Pulse: Why hip-hop isn’t dead

Hip Hop is dead! We’ve all heard this before or something along the lines of music being in a general state of decline. Rarely is there any blame placed on factors such as an artist’s lack of talent or Hip Hop is just different now. Even with the proverbial sh*tty music out today, there are still great artists and tons of up and coming artists that are on the cusp of recognizable; but that’s another conversation. For now we’ll talk about this whole idea of Hip Hop and its “demise”.

Hip Hop can’t be dead and if it is dead, who is to blame? Do we look to the lack of quality we deal with every time we turn on the radio or television? There isn’t a concrete answer of the origin of who’s at fault; comparable to the chicken or the egg, similar to the plot in Bamboozled (is it the man at the head of the table behind the scenes, is it the artist themselves, or is it us as fans?). Altogether we do one hell of a job suppressing good music and uplifting the stereotype-filled and substance lacking crap, we are forced to digest by major labels and your “Hot 97’s everyday that’s my word!” (See what I did there). Which ultimately makes us (the consumers) the Prime Suspects.

Outside of the consumers being the prime suspects for the declining of Hip Hop, we also know the music labels play an integral role in suppressing good music. Labels have changed the game; there is less of an emphasis on the actual artists and more of an emphasis of having the next trendy, radio & club hit. It’s a political game; labels seek to reach the largest audiences by supporting shallow artists that lack skill and depth of thought. The deeper and harder you are to understand as an artist, the more likely you are to offend someone, and the less likely you are to make money for the label. With the help of social media and this generation’s 140 character limited attention span, good production and a dance (i.e. “Hot n****” and the Shmoney dance) seem to be more important than what messages are being delivered by the artist. Let’s be real, all of those songs have a place in Hip Hop, yes even Iggy Azalea (she sucks by the way). When we’re in the club, we don’t want to hear a reference to politics. We just need lyrics that are easy to digest and a dope beat in some situations. Which tells  more about the fan-base wanting to escape reality than listening to soul shifting music (but let’s save that for another post). The labels are out to take our money, so obviously  “we” are communicating a love for the music tearing down the Hip Hop culture. With the exception of those artist cosigned by the moguls, (Dr. Dre, Jay Z..etc) . It is no coincidence that Eminem, 50cent and Kendrick Lamar’s careers skyrocketed after their affiliation with Dre.The same can be said about Jay Z’s affiliates: Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Wale and J. Cole. There is always the possibility that these immensely talented artists would blow up regardless, but it would be foolish to downplay the mogul’s impact on their careers. It’s the art of the co-sign; without one, the greatest lyricists can be another starving artist. Rappers are forced to sacrifice their artistic integrity to satisfy the label’s direction for them; what the consumer needs to hear. Well, unless you’re a Lupe fan. Some how Lupe fans were able to switch the label’s practice. Lasers, Lupe’s 3rd album (which was a flop), did not receive an album release date until fans protested outside of Atlantic’s headquarters. Talk about consumer power! There is the proof of the power that we (the consumers) choose not to exercise. Now the blame shifts on the artists.

There has always been horrible music, but with the advent of YouTube and other popular social media platforms, releasing music to the world is as easy as a click of a button. It is  so simple to go viral recording a song and sending it to the masses. Back in the day, rappers had to get through a couple barriers; luckily for the artists now, they can skip all the middle men. It is hard to compete as a conscious artist since being trendy seems to be where the money is. Consequently, some artists sell out and follow suit. Did they forget that self-expression is the base of all music? This is why artists like Kanye, J. Cole, and Drake (the list goes on) continually succeed.They are being themselves and we all can relate or at least admire that. If Hip Hop is dead, it anti-climatically died from natural causes due to its unhealthy lifestyle. What a bummer! The rather complicated formula of commercialism, which embodies components of all three of the “prime suspects”, led Hip Hop to dig its own grave. Each component correlates with one another, but there is no true causal relationship. Rappers and labels attempt to appeal to fans; fans individually have the least amount of power and have to make due with what’s given. Each of these parts are interdependent to one another, being an integral piece to the overall process.

What can we do as fans? We have to form a united front and begin to demand more effort, authenticity, and overall higher quality music. On a local level, we must begin uplifting our artist with true potential and not be afraid of what the rest of the country may think. This is one reason why you have to respect the West Coast culture, they truly stand behind their artists like  Blu a Los Angeles rapper who If you haven’t heard of his albums “Below the Heavens” and “Her Favorite Colo(u)r” please give them a listen. Through social media and famous Hip Hop blogs, we can voice our opinions on what we want and what we deem as great music. Pitchfork, a popular music website, is known for deleting or adjusting old reviews, once the artist’s work boosts in national recognition. Lastly, don’t fall for the hype. Make your own decisions, define what good music is, do not let the number of views and plays on a radio deter your integrity as a listener. We are Hip Hop’s pulse and need to begin to realize that. As long as we can identify good music and hold artists to our high standards, Hip Hop will be alive and well.

We at VSOP acknowledge the power and rarity of good music. However, In recent conversations on the topic,we’ve realized that the opinion of what good music is varies from individual to individual. Nonetheless, we feel confident that we know a classic when we hear it. We want to make sure that our take on music is not the typical thumbs up, thumbs down critique. Our vision is to break down how music makes us feel and what contribution it makes to our everyday life.  Through our conversation of what good music is, we will find ourselves in classic debates about the musical talent of our time. Please feel free to comment and communicate with us as we examine music. Consider this your invitation the Save the Music!

By: J. Taylor
@C00L_JO
Music Enthusiast